Skills critical to delivering on Canada’s climate change ambitions

The conclusion of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) saw renewed climate change commitments from more than 200 countries, Canada among them.

Now that the targets are set, it is time to get to work. Canada’s Climate Plan focuses on cutting energy waste in buildings, improving the efficiency of transportation and energy production, building a clean industrial advantage and adopting nature-based climate solutions. From Canada’s infrastructure plan to setting a price on carbon, the federal government is dedicating resources to incentivize a net-zero transition

Yet, the underlying truth is that reaching our targets will rely, first and foremost, on people.

Given Canada’s winters, it is easy to understand why homes and buildings account for 18 per cent of this country’s emissions. More than 285,000 people are already working on improving energy efficiency in the construction industry, many of them trained by Canada’s polytechnics.

Algonquin’s one-year Energy Management Graduate Certificate focuses on energy, innovation, entrepreneurship and the development of efficient energy technologies. In-class learning is complemented by laboratory work and contributions to real-world projects. Learners collaborate with their peers and industry partners to create an energy strategy for a commercial building, with an optional paid work term. Scaling up such programs stands to ensure Canada is ahead of the curve when it comes to meeting green labour demand.

Action to address climate change will also generate growth. For example, as consumers transition to electric vehicles, the related workforce is expected to increase 26-fold to 184,000 within the next eight years.

Though this is good news for those displaced from carbon-intensive industries, job creation is not enough.  Many mid-career workers will require reskilling, which can be difficult for those with domestic and financial responsibilities.

Few want to start their careers from scratch, speaking to a significant risk that people will be left behind without support to facilitate transitions. New wraparound supports and incentives stand to mitigate costs, reduce harm and maximize benefits for all Canadians.

However, Canada’s training approach should be even broader, helping every Canadian make a contribution to reducing emissions. At the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, a series of courses on Sustainable Environment and Green Culture is teaching people how to reduce bills, increase efficiency and improve resilience in their own homes and communities.

At the British Columbia Institute of Technology, a sustainability vision has been incorporated into the institution’s strategic plan, which includes activities such as fostering conversations through Diversity Circles that engage students, faculty and staff, as well as collaborating with BC municipalities on sustainability projects.

Initiatives like these translate knowledge and best practices to communities and industry. Encouraging partnerships, collaboration and integration across institutions, the private sector and communities drives local benefits and promotes grassroots contributions to Canada’s net-zero goals.

With international consensus around climate targets growing, it is time to turn attention to meeting our commitments at home. A labour force able to deliver on Canada’s net-zero ambitions will be key.

About the Author

Alexandra Apavaloae

At the time of publication, Alexandra Apavaloae was a Policy Analyst at Polytechnics Canada.