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CCPA: B.C. Must Plan for Managed Decline Before International Fossil Markets Scale Back

British Columbia may be running out of time to plan for a managed decline of its fossil fuel industry, given the prospect that the Asian governments the province is counting on to buy its products may soon be making their own transition to a green economy, warns a new report issued this week by the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

The report by CCPA B.C. Senior Economist Marc Lee and public policy researcher Seth Klein urges the province to set carbon budgets and fossil fuel production limits, invest in a domestic transition based on a green industrial strategy, ensure a just transition for fossil workers and communities, and reform its current royalty regime for fossil extraction.

“Imagine it’s 2025 and because of the escalating climate crisis, governments in Asia have declared ambitious new climate action plans and an aggressive transition off natural gas,” Lee and Klein write in a CCPA policy note based on the report. “B.C.’s fossil fuel exports would soon dry up, workers would be laid off, and local communities would lose public and private sector jobs.”

It’s that type of scenario that “needs to inform planning for B.C.’s fossil fuel industries (coal, oil, and gas), not the government’s continued interest in expanding their production and export,” they add. “The government has shown little willingness to contemplate a managed wind-down so long as there are external buyers for B.C. fossil fuels.” But that attitude is risky when market conditions could suddenly change, other countries could shift to more ambitious climate policies, or importers could cut their fossil fuel consumption.

“Fully phasing out B.C.’s fossil fuel industries over the next 20 to 30 years may be—for now at least—politically unthinkable,” Lee and Klein acknowledge. But that just points to a “necessary conversation” about a shift that must be grounded in a fair transition for fossil workers and resource communities, and acknowledgement of Indigenous rights and title.

Much of the summary points to the opportunities B.C. can tap into by taking charge of the shift ahead.

“Decarbonization is increasingly seen as a new framework for economic development transition,” Lee and Klein write. “A forward-thinking green industrial strategy, informed by climate justice considerations, should serve as a template for growing jobs and incomes in the transition to zero-carbon. Shifting investment patterns away from fossil fuels and toward green alternatives is essential for a managed wind-down.”

But that transition only works if the government puts affected workers and communities at the centre of its thinking. “The transition before us will see a net increase in jobs overall,” they note. But “they will not be the same jobs in the same places,” and “the bigger challenge is that direct fossil fuel jobs are highly concentrated in certain regions of B.C., and green investments (such as a new transit line) may not be in the same geographic area.”

In the course of a 20- to 30-year process, many of today’s fossil workers will be ready to retire with the promise of decent, stable pensions. For those who stay in the work force, “examples of green jobs include remediation of old coal mines and oil and gas wells, building green infrastructure and renewable energy projects, and deriving additional value from renewable resource sectors, in particular forestry.”