Buzz on Kyoto
From today’s FP – I’ve dropped the misleading headline – this is a much more reasoned piece than some recently and widely circulated short quotes from Buzz on the implications of Kyoto for workers.
Friday, April 20, 2007
As the president of the Canadian Auto Workers Union, I often find myself taking controversial positions, usually with a strong opinion on one side of the debate. But on the issue of the environment I find myself actually taking a position in the middle. I’m not used to that.
On the one hand, I have no time for those who deny the science of climate change and who steadfastly resist reductions in greenhouse gases or try to hide them with intensity targets. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that Stephen Harper and his Tory colleagues were climate-change deniers.
But I also oppose those who insist that a full-steam-ahead, immediate, damn-the-consequences approach is the only answer. Instead I find myself in agreement with those environmentalists who propose the twin goals of improving the environment as well as strengthening our economy.
The CAW continues to support the objectives of the Kyoto protocol and the principle of international obligations. While it is impossible to achieve Kyoto targets in the time frames spelled out in Kyoto, Canada needs to work vigorously towards them and be part of a broader community of nations in our efforts to halt and reverse the degradation of our environment. All of which means we need clear targets, achievable timelines, the commitment and the resources to turn these goals into a workable plan.
I’m in a similar position when it comes to cars and the environment. I reject the proposition that reducing our environmental footprint means we must drive small vehicles or get rid of cars altogether. I think that Canadians are eminently practical – the top three selling vehicles in the country are a subcompact, a minivan and a pickup truck. These vehicles speak to the demands of life in Canada. Whether driving a pickup truck or a subcompact, consumers need to know that their choice of vehicles is meeting targets for fuel efficiency improvements.
It doesn’t make any sense that the federal government, in its recent budget, would announce higher incentives for imported 4-cylinder vehicles than for leading-edge, Canadian built products. For the Conservative government to introduce an incentive program that rewards imports while punishing Canadian producers with higher taxes on Canadians products is unconscionable. The government’s incentive program will encourage consumers to buy imports from Asia at the expense of our manufacturers and Canadian jobs.
I am overwhelmingly concerned about the manufacturing job crisis in Canada. This country has lost more than 250,000 manufacturing jobs in less than five years. It is a huge mistake to accelerate the problem through government policies.
The CAW understands the necessity of maintaining a clean environment as one of the most important legacies we can leave future generations. Since the formation of our union in 1985, our constitution has mandated all CAW local unions to have active environment committees.
Over the last few years the CAW has taken an active role in schools and communities throughout Canada, spending over $3-million educating students on the importance of a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Centered around Earth Day, each year CAW volunteers reach out to Canadian schools to educate youth on environmental
issues. In 2006 alone, the CAW brought this message to over 82,000 students.
Our union has already adopted a green car strategy and later adopted an Extended Producer Responsibility policy that would ensure all manufacturers must dismantle older vehicles and recycle the materials.
Our union recognizes that any solution will lead to some of our members losing their jobs. What Canada needs is a just transition period that recognizes this. We need government programs to support workers who lose their jobs and a serious retraining commitment that will allow industry to make responsible adjustments to ensure workers and their families don’t pay the price of cleaning up the environment.
Clearly, reducing greenhouse gases means reducing the amount of fossil fuel we consume. In addition to greater fuel efficiency and new technologies, we need a transportation strategy that will increase the use of renewable fuels and reduce the use of vehicles overall. This requires investments in clean and alternative fuels, mass transit, rail, as well as efforts to reduce gridlock.
The CAW supports mandatory fuel efficiency standards in the vehicle industry and believes that setting a clear target across all classes of vehicles, phased in by 2014, is achievable. These targets need to be constructed in a manner that drives improvements while at the same time strengthening, rather than undermining, Canada’s auto industry. There are real challenges to meeting those twin goals, but we can achieve both.
In addition, we need programs that support innovations in developing lighter materials, alternative fuels, green engine technologies, and fuel-efficient components. The federal government should introduce a Green Vehicle Transition (GVT) fee on each manufacturer that sells into our market, based on each company’s total Canadian sales. Companies would earn back the fees through Canadian investments in ‘green’ technologies and green production.
We need to look for opportunities to boost our economy and at the same time protect the environment.
A Ford engine plant in Windsor is closing– why wouldn’t government and industry join together to develop a new facility that produces a ‘green engine’ to replace those jobs? Through projects like these we can make our nation a leader in automotive and other green technologies. We need to find ways to protect the environment through ecologically-sound technology that create jobs.
The federal government has already recognized that incentives are needed to encourage homeowners to retrofit their homes. Similarly, we need real incentives to get older vehicles off the road. There are over 1? million vehicles that are over 20 years old on Canada’s streets and highways. Getting them off our roads will do more to solve GHG problems than any other proposal.
If the political parties are genuinely concerned with climate change, they should quit playing politics and work together to ensure that proper strategies and incentives are in place that will boost our economy and at the same time protect our manufacturing jobs. The future for young Canadians could flourish with a sustainable environment, a robust economy and a thriving manufacturing sector. A balanced approach is needed. – Buzz Hargrove is president of the Canadian Auto Workers.