Just Transitions and False Solutions
The climate justice movement is calling for tremendous change between now and 2050 – a 35-year window of opportunity to decarbonize our economies. We understand both the gravity and enormity of the transition for which we advocate. This transition will fundamentally change many of the social and economic systems that we belong to today - and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
This change must happen quickly, but more so, this change must happen justly. But what does a justice-based solution framework look like?
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion that featured Gopal Dayaneni (Movement Generation) and Wahleah Johns (Black Mesa Water Coalition). Both are doing incredible work within the evolving definition of what a just transition can look like.
During the panel, they showed me justice-based energy systems that are decarbonized, decentralized, diversified and democratized. Here on Turtle Island, many of us also feel it is crucial to include decolonization in this framework. Without a justice-based, decolonization-focused framework for development, any renewable energy project on stolen land, is still a capitalist infrastructure project on stolen land, like any other.
Here in Canada, we have no shortage of false solutions to exemplify some dangerous wrong turns on the path to a just transition, including Saskatchewan's unimpressive $1.4B carbon capture and storage facility and the ridiculous prospect of “green fracking” in Nova Scotia. To top it off, the leading wind energy proponents in Canada include the oil and gas megagiants Enbridge and Suncor.
For me, if the largest proponents of our shift to renewable energies are the very same corporations who also happen to be the key proponents of continued expansion of the tar sands and exploitation of Indigenous rights - then we have a problem.
However, the haste of this shift has come at a cost. Ontario’s wind energy regime is now among the clearest examples of how not to develop renewable energy in a way that respects the rights of Indigenous peoples, community autonomy and a justice-based transition. Ontario is now home to countless anti-wind energy organizations, entire municipalities passing resolutions to disallow wind development, and numerous First Nations-led blockades of wind energy project construction.
Technology plays an important role in this transition. However, the importance of community, justice, reconciliation and relationships cannot be understated.
It doesn’t have to be all bad!
I have had the privilege of spending three years developing community-owned wind energy projects in unceded Mi’kmaq territory, here in Nova Scotia. The ‘Community Feed-in-Tariff’ program prioritized renewable energy projects with ownership from First Nations, universities, municipalities and co-ops. The projects developed under this program played a key role in moving the province’s electricity sources away from nearly 90% reliance on imported fossil fuels. Unfortunately, this program was cut once a new government was elected.
There was no mention of revenue from electricity staying in local communities. No mention of the agency communities felt in participating in their own electricity production. No mention of the 25MW of Mi’kmaq-owned projects.
The death of this program highlights how critical it is that we celebrate the steps we make toward a just transition, integrate a justice lense into our communities’ economic development, and fight for continued action.
Indeed, we have little time left. We have burned away the luxuries of half-measures and false solutions. The time for concrete commitments was yesterday. The time for meaningful, just, transformative change is right now – but let us not fall into the traps that haste sets for us. We need to transform our energy systems in a real hurry, but it would be a tragedy in its own if we allowed the coal plants, pipelines and tankers to be replaced with ‘solutions’ that were driven by the same tenets of capitalism, colonialism and extractivism that got us here.
For these reasons, the Canadian Youth Delegation to COP21 are calling upon the Canadian Government for strong, definitive action, as outlined below in one of two of our key pillars that will help guide our work at COP21;