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Oil sands jobs too few, too GHG-intensive to justify expansion: report

A new report on Canadian greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) weighs the toll of oil sands expansion in terms even the most hard-bitten economist could understand -- jobs.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) report Green Industrial Revolution: Climate Justice, Green Jobs and Sustainable Production was released today, providing a bird's-eye view of the GHG emissions per job in everything from retail work to oil and gas extraction.

The authors weighed GHG emissions against the fiscal gain of rapid oil sands expansion, and concluded that expansion would create too few jobs to be worth the environmental costs, said report author and CCPA economist Marc Lee in an email.

"We take a close look at the GHG emissions and employment by industry category, and show how few jobs -- but how massive the emissions -- are from our obsession with fossil fuel extraction and export," wrote Lee. The report "has added importance given the charm offensive we are currently seeing from the federal government and the oil and gas industry."

The report found that less than one per cent of Canadian workers are employed in Canadian oil, natural gas and coal extraction, he said in a CCPA press release.

Lee wrote the report with Amanda Card, a University of British Columbia student researcher. The document builds on a 2010 Green Jobs report for the Climate Justice Project, and also provides a game plan for how to shift from a carbon-intensive economy to a sustainable one built on green investments, said Lee. 

Some further findings include:

- Three-fifths of Canada's non-household GHG emissions come from just a handful of sectors: fossil fuel production, electricity generation and agriculture.

- Electricity generation facilities composed the top two-fifths of the biggest 522 CO2 emitting facilities in the country, while oil and gas plants made up the the top third.

- Many of the GHG intensive jobs were also unionized and high-paying. In contrast, many service sector jobs have a small carbon footprint -- but also low pay.

"For a green industrial revolution to truly fulfill its potential," the report said, "green jobs must be synonymous with decent work."

The report recommended investment in green sectors such as net zero emission construction, clean energy sources -- like hydro -- and more zero-emissions transport, like new rail corridors for both freight and people, as part of a policy game plan to transition to a sustainable economy.

Ultimately, the report added, ensuring those investments would require the federal government to take the initiative.

Adam Pez is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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