Prof awarded Tri-Agency Synthesis Grant to study climate, jobs

York labour studies Professor Carla Lipsig-Mummé is puzzled and concerned by Canada’s silence about the threat of climate change and its effect on jobs, employment, people and communities. She wants to know what work will look like in the future.

“It’s not out there in the public domain being debated,” says Lipsig-Mummé. “We couldn’t find almost anything in Canada on climate change and jobs, except in the labour movement.” So stark is the dearth of information on the likely affect of global warming on jobs in this country, that Lipsig-Mummé began writing op-ed pieces in newspapers just to incite discussion. She believes much of the silence on the issue stems from a deep-rooted skepticism in politics, including those of the current Canadian government.

Right: Carla Lipsig-Mummé

That prompted Lipsig-Mummé to assemble a team, which includes York information technology Professor Jimmy Huang, York geography Professor Steven Tufts, Queen’s University geography Professor John Holmes and climatologist and Professor Amanda Lynch of Monash University in Australia. In addition, Lipsig-Mummé is teaming with communications, energy and paperworker unions and the Ontario Ministry of Labour. Together, they will study the impact of climate change on the future of work and employment and what Canadians can expect.

Lipsig-Mummé and her team recently received a Tri-Agency Synthesis Grant: Knowledge Translation for their project “What Do We Know? The Implications of Global Climate Change for Canadian Employment and Work: Regional Climate Change, Regulatory Challenges and Employment Transitions.” The tri-agency grant is a collaboration between the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada.

“We need to gather the information and get it out there,” says Lipsig-Mummé, coordinator of the Labour Studies Program in the Division of Social Science at York. “Climate change is already emerging as the single most important factor in work and employment in the first half of the 21st century.” Australia and the European Union have already started looking into the issues associated with climate change and jobs, but so far a pervasive silence has been Canada’s answer. Global warming, however, is already changing what Canada produces and where, but there is no plan in place. Key sectors, particularly those that are transport and energy-intensive, are directly affected by climate change; others are indirectly affected through greenhouse gas emission cuts.

“We want to draw together all the perspectives from workers to scientists to labour unions,” she says. The trade unions are doing some interesting work, but it’s not getting out to the public and being debated. That’s what Lipsig-Mummé hopes this one-year project will do – make people aware of the issues and get them talking about them. It is important to have a plan regarding the jobs and industries most affected if the country is going to continue to move forward.

“The economic and social consequences of global climate change will shake up the nature of work and the availability and distribution of employment both within and between countries,” says Lipsig-Mummé. “Global warming will change regional labour markets, human resource practices, workplace industrial relations and skill demands.” Each region, however, will be affected differently.

“Everything about our environment and the resources we use will be affected by climate change and it will be transforming how we use our resources. It will affect everyone,” says Lipsig-Mummé, who was director of York’s Centre for Research on Work & Society, from 1990 to 2001. “We’re going to have to become more energy wise and efficient in the way we use resources.”

People will need to be trained and retrained – rather than pensioned off – and the gaps in knowledge will need to be identified. “The need for jobs is not going to disappear,” she says. Instead, there will be a need to do research and development as well as restructure training and education. Some of the questions Canada needs to ask are: Does it have the human resources to train and retrain people given the effects of climate change? What skills will be in demand and which ones will no longer be needed? What industries will be affected the most? How will it change work and employment in the various regions of Canada? How will it affect various sectors like agriculture, fisheries and manufacturing? What new industries will emerge?

“Climate change is not just a threat, it is also an opportunity for certain sectors,” she says. The manufacturing sector could be revivified. Green manufacturing equipment could be designed, produced, marketed and sold. Older manufacturing plants could be retooled.

The tri-agency synthesis project is meant to result in a grassroots push. It uses peer-reviewed sources, expert and practitioner knowledge as well as grey research – government reports, research reports and minutes of meetings – to tap into the latest news on climate change and jobs.

After the information is gathered, the next step is getting it out to the public. Lipsig-Mummé says the team will be looking at every possible way of disseminating the information in plain language through brochures, workshops, lectures and the like. She is also hopeful the government will open a one-stop Internet shop on global warming so the public can become climate literate.

By asking the necessary questions now and engaging the public in the debate, Canada can better position itself to respond fairly to a changing world.

Lipsig-Mummé has already been asked by the Australian Senate to prepare a submission analyzing the country’s skills and skills training to make sustainability work should Australia take a green turn.

It’s important to have a social climate change agenda in place, she says.

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer