Worth a Second Look –

Are jobs really the stumbling block to Kyoto? SEPTEMBER 18, 2002

Good News! The Prime Minister has finally announced his intention to ratify the Kyoto Protocol by the end of this year. As a union activist, I was glad to see Canada live up to a promise made five years ago, when our nation made a commitment to join others in the fight to stop the progression of global warming. Overwhelmed by delays, the success of Kyoto hangs in the balance. One simple word could tip the scales the wrong way. Jobs.

Fear mongers would have Canadians believe that if Kyoto is implemented, our current lifestyle will be negatively affected. The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters warns, that among other perils, that implementing the Protocol will lead to driving smaller cars and using public transportation more often. The media is waving a bigger red flag than the CME. The biggest threat to Canadians according to politicians and industry is that we will all lose our jobs.

If that is true, why should the labour movement urge the Prime Minister to ratify the Kyoto Protocol? Why worry about the environment when, according to political leaders, we could all end up unemployed? Canada should ratify the Protocol because it is the right thing to do. Canadians know this and want the Prime Minister to get on with it.

Alberta and Saskatchewan have been vocal with their warnings about massive job losses in the energy sector if Kyoto is implemented. It is true that jobs may be lost, but the door has been open for some time to create new jobs in public transit infrastructure, alternate fuel source development and environmental protection. Environmentalist David Suzuki disputes the claims of massive job losses and points out that between 1990 and 1998, 80,000 jobs were lost in the energy sector due to technological advances. Another 55,000 jobs disappeared when gas stations converted from full-service to self-serve. That is about a third of the total job loss predicted by the CME and these jobs disappeared prior to the ratification of the Protocol! Labour acknowledges that the concept of our jobs as we know them will have to change. 123,000 Canadians are already employed in “green” jobs in pollution control or recycling.

Politicians and industry need to face reality. Most of the major auto manufacturers are developing or have announced the development of hybrid electric/gasoline vehicles. Industries like Canadian National, BP, Dofasco, Inco and General Motors have voluntarily reduced their greenhouse gas emissions and are at levels that meet or exceed the targets specified in the Kyoto Protocol resulting in financial savings and affecting few jobs. Most have plans in place to continue reducing emissions. Large urban centres are aware of the health risks facing their citizens if something is not done to slow the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. Toronto, Regina and Sudbury have reduced their emissions; providing a healthier environment for their citizens and creating jobs in the process. The opponents of Kyoto, while vocal, appear not done their homework. Jobs and environmental protection can mix.

No one knows the exact cost to Canadians to implement the Protocol. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce predicts that by the year 2010, the Kyoto Protocol will cost 2-1/2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product or about 30 billion dollars. Has anyone considered the cost to Canadians by not ratifying Kyoto? Predictions of 450,000 lost jobs are played up in the media, while the jobs that will be created to combat global warming are ignored. Fear mongering creates great headlines. As a union activist, I encourage the Prime Minister to ignore the voices of those who are using the threat of job loss to manipulate Canadians. Our government should just get on with ratifying the Protocol. Ultimately, Kyoto isn’t about the Gross Domestic Product or jobs. Canada is one of the worst polluters on the planet. And it is time to do something about it.

Teresa Neuman is a member of the Board of Directors of Briarpatch Magazine. She lives in Regina with her family and is a member is CUPE.