Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s narrow election victory this week reinforced Canada‘s commitment to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but workers in the country’s sizable fossil fuel sector said they also expect him to keep his promises to retrain them for jobs in a clean-energy economy.
Oil worker advocacy group Iron & Earth estimates Canada will need around C$10 billion ($7.8 billion) over 10 years to retrain fossil fuel workers, but is sceptical about government promises to help after past pledges failed to materialise.
“At what point do these stop being promises and start being actions? These are people’s livelihoods on the line,” said Luisa Da Silva, executive director of Iron & Earth.
Da Silva said the country risks losing the skilled labour crucial to a clean energy economy if the government does not prioritise transition funding, which the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement recognizes as important to ensure no workers are left behind as the world decarbonizes.
As the clean energy economy takes off, it will generate some 640,000 jobs by 2030, a 50% increase from 2021, with strong growth in Alberta, industry body Clean Energy Canada forecasts.
But Steve MacDonald, CEO of Emissions Reduction Alberta, a provincial government-funded organization that invests in emissions-reducing technology, said it would be difficult to recreate the sustained economic contribution that was associated with the oil and gas sector.
Two years ago, the Liberal Party announced a “Just Transition Act” to support and retrain oil and gas workers, but only launched consultations to shape that legislation in July, and then put it on hold in August when the election was called. Trudeau announced a similar programme worth C$2 billion during the 2021 election campaign.
The oil and gas industry is Canada‘s highest polluting sector, accounting for 26% of all of carbon output. Yet Canada is the world’s No. 4 oil producer and some 450,000 jobs directly or indirectly linked to the industry are at risk over the next three decades as the country slashes climate-warming carbon emissions, TD Bank estimates.
So any talk of shrinking the sector is touchy, particularly in the staunchly conservative energy heartland of Alberta where many oil and gas workers live in remote communities scattered across the prairies and northern boreal forest. Trudeau sparked fury among them in 2017 when he talked about “phasing out” the oil sands.
Those remarks contributed to a wipe-out of Liberals in Alberta during 2019 election, although Liberal candidates are leading or elected in two seats in the just-concluded 2021 election. Failing to help retrain workers could batter local economies and sap support from government efforts to tackle the climate crisis.
“With the loss of any position in the oil and gas industry, the effect trickles down seven times due to the loss of economic spinoff effects,” said Gerald Aalbers, mayor of Lloydminster, a city of 31,000 straddling the Alberta-Saskatchewan border where an estimated 15% of jobs depend on the fossil fuel industry.
“The costs to retool the economy and businesses, let alone employees, will be tremendous.”
Canada‘s petroleum sector, which includes oil and gas extraction and refining, contributes about 5.3% to national GDP.
The Trudeau government is working with major producers like Suncor Energy to develop technologies like carbon capture to allow companies to bury emissions underground rather than cut production.
Still, downsizing of the industry seems inevitable if Canada is to meet its 2050 net zero goal, and an interim target of cutting emissions 40-45% from 2005 levels by 2030.
In the oil sands hub of Fort McMurray, where a nearly a third of all jobs are in fossil fuels, workers are nervous.
“We are a one-industry city,” said Dirk Tolman, 59, a heavy equipment operator and union leader at Suncor, who has worked in the oil sands since 2008. “Without the oil sands I don’t know if anybody would be staying in Fort McMurray.”
Even if clean energy jobs do replace oil and gas jobs, they are unlikely to be in the same location.
Sean Cadigan, a professor of history at Memorial University of Newfoundland, who has studied the impact of the collapse of Atlantic Canada‘s fishing industry in the 1990s, said oil and gas communities need new industries to develop alongside any shutdown of fossil fuels.
“(Otherwise) it will lead to a profound dislocation of people and that will always have grave impact on communities left behind,” he said.
($1 = 1.2822 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Denny Thomas and David Gregorio)
U.N. plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray
An Ethiopian government air strike on the capital of the northern Tigray region on Friday forced a U.N. aid flight to abort a landing there, the United Nations said.
In neighboring Amhara region, people were fleeing intensified fighting.
Humanitarian sources and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the area, said a university in the regional capital Mekelle was hit by the air strike.
Government spokesman Legesse Tulu said a former military base occupied by TPLF fighters was targeted, and he denied the university was hit.
Reuters was not able to independently confirm either account. TPLF-controlled Tigrai TV reported that 11 civilians were wounded in the air strike. It was at least the fourth day this week that Mekelle had been attacked.
The United Nations suspended all flights to Mekelle after a U.N. plane with 11 passengers had to abort landing on Friday.
The flight from Addis Ababa had been cleared by federal authorities but was told by the Mekelle airport control tower to abort the landing, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said
“This is the first time that we had a flight turn around, at least to my knowledge, in the recent past in Ethiopia because of air strikes on the ground,” senior U.N. aid official Gemma Connell, who heads U.N. humanitarian operations in southern and eastern Africa, told reporters in New York on Friday.
The passengers were aid workers traveling to a region where some 7 million people, including 5 million in Tigray, need humanitarian help, she said.
The flight safely returned to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Dujarric said.
‘THE WHOLE CITY IS PANICKING’
The two sides have been fighting for almost a year in a conflict that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than two million amid a power struggle between the TPLF and the central government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa.
The TPLF dominated the Horn of Africa country’s ruling party for decades before Abiy, who is not a Tigrayan, took office in 2018.
The government has stepped up air strikes on the Tigray capital as fighting has escalated in Amhara, a neighbouring region where the TPLF has seized territory that the government and allied armed Amhara armed groups are trying to recover.
Residents in Dessie, a city in Amhara, told Reuters people were fleeing, a day after a TPLF spokesperson said its forces were within artillery range of the town.
“The whole city is panicking,” a resident said, adding that people who could were leaving. He said he could hear the sound of heavy gunfire on Thursday night and into the morning, and that the bus fare to Addis Ababa, about 385 km (240 miles) to the south, had increased more than six-fold.
There are now more than 500,000 displaced people in the Amhara region, the National Disaster Risk Management Commission told Reuters.
Seid Assefa, a local official working at a coordination centre for displaced people in Dessie, said 250 people had fled there this week from fighting in the Girana area to the north.
“We now have a total of 900 (displaced people) here and we finished our food stocks three days ago.”
Leul Mesfin, medical director of Dessie Hospital, told Reuters two girls and an adult had died this week at his facility of wounds from artillery fire in the town of Wuchale, which both the government and the TPLF have described as the scene of heavy fighting over the past week.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroomAdditional reporting and writing by Maggie Fick and Ayenat Mersie in Nairobi, additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by John Stonestreet, Peter Graff, Alex Richardson, William Maclean)
Nigerian state to shut camps for people displaced by insurgency
Nigeria‘s Borno state, the epicentre of an ongoing Islamist insurgency, will shut all camps that are holding thousands of internally displaced persons by the end of the year, its governor said on Friday, citing improved security in the state.
The conflict between the insurgents and Nigerian’s armed forces has also spread to Chad and Cameroon and has left about 300,000 dead and millions dependent on aid, according to the United Nations.
Borno, which shares a border with Niger, Cameroon and Chad has for more than a decade been the foremost outpost of an insurgency led by Islamist group Boko Haram and later its offshoot Islamic State for West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Speaking after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Borno governor Babgana Zulum said security had improved in the state so much that those living in camps in the state capital Maiduguri could return home.
“So far so good, Borno State government has started well and arrangements have been concluded to ensure the closure of all internally displaced persons camps that are inside Maiduguri metropolis on or before 31st December, 2021,” Zulum said.
But humanitarian groups say most families are unwilling to return to their ancestral lands especially in the northern parts of Borno, which they deem unsafe.
Buhari has in the past months claimed his government was gaining ground on the insurgents. Last week the country’s top general said ISWAP leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi was dead, without giving details.
Zulum said Borno state authorities would continue to repatriate Nigerian refugees from a camp in Cameroon.
Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau died in May and Nigeria says hundreds of fighters loyal to the Islamist group have been surrendering to the government since then.
(Reporting by Maiduguri newsroom, Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by David Gregorio)
Exclusive-U.S. hopes to soon relocate Afghan pilots who fled to Tajikistan, official says
The United States hopes to soon relocate around 150 U.S.-trained Afghan Air Force pilots and other personnel detained in Tajikistan for more than two months after they flew there at the end of the Afghan war, a U.S. official said.
The State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to offer a timeline for the transfer but said the United States wanted to move all of those held at the same time. The details of the U.S. plan have not been previously reported.
Reuters exclusively reported first-person accounts from 143 U.S.-trained Afghan personnel being held at a sanatorium in a mountainous, rural area outside of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, waiting for a U.S. flight out to a third country and eventual U.S. resettlement.
Speaking on smuggled cell phones kept hidden from guards, they say they have had their phones and identity documents confiscated.
There are also 13 Afghan personnel in Dushanbe, enjoying much more relaxed conditions, who told Reuters they are also awaiting a U.S. transfer. They flew into the country separately.
The Afghan personnel in Tajikistan represent the last major group of U.S.-trained pilots still believed to be in limbo after dozens of advanced military aircraft were flown across the Afghan border to Tajikistan and to Uzbekistan in August during the final moments of the war with the Taliban.
In September, a U.S.-brokered deal allowed a larger group of Afghan pilots and other military personnel to be flown out of Uzbekistan to the United Arab Emirates.
Two detained Afghan pilots in Tajikistan said their hopes were lifted in recent days after visits by officials from the U.S. embassy in Dushanbe.
Although they said they had not yet been given a date for their departure, the pilots said U.S. officials obtained the biometric data needed to complete the process of identifying the Afghans. That was the last step before departure for the Afghan pilots in Uzbekistan.
PREGNANT AFGHAN PILOT
U.S. lawmakers and military veterans who have advocated for the pilots have expressed deep frustration over the time it has taken for President Joe Biden’s administration to evacuate Afghan personnel.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was pressed on the matter in Congress last month, expressing concern at a hearing for the pilots and other personnel.
Reuters had previously reported U.S. difficulties gaining Tajik access to all of the Afghans, which include an Afghan Air Force pilot who is eight months pregnant.
In an interview with Reuters, the 29-year-old pilot had voiced her concerns to Reuters about the risks to her and her child at the remote sanatorium. She was subsequently moved to a maternity hospital.
“We are like prisoners here. Not even like refugees, not even like immigrants. We have no legal documents or way to buy something for ourselves,” she said.
The pregnant pilot would be included in the relocation from Tajikistan, the U.S. State Department official said.
Even before the Taliban’s takeover, the U.S.-trained, English-speaking pilots had become prime targets of the Taliban because of the damage they inflicted during the war. The Taliban tracked down the pilots and assassinated them off-base.
Afghanistan’s new rulers have said they will invite former military personnel to join the revamped security forces and that they will come to no harm.
Afghan pilots who spoke with Reuters say they believe they will be killed if they return to Afghanistan.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Grant McCool)
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