Canada’s Speech from the Throne sketches out its plans for Covid recovery in pale green

The Liberal government opened the new session of Parliament on September 23 with a Speech from the Throne titled A Stronger and More Resilient Canada.  Acknowledging the perilous moment of history in which it was delivered, Catherine Abreu of Climate Action Network Canada states: “Today the Government of Canada delivered the most progressive speech from the throne heard in a generation. The promises made acknowledged the inequalities and vulnerabilities that have been laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic and spoke to the scale of action needed to confront them. Of course, we’ve heard similar promises before from this government. It is the policy and investment decisions made in the coming months that will determine whether the spirit articulated in this historic speech is turned into meaningful action.”

Stating that “this is not the time for austerity”, the Speech emphasizes measures to deal with the impact of Covid-19.  General summaries by the CBC here and the Toronto Star are here;  Trish Hennessy of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives summarizes and critiques the speech with a focus on inequality, the workplace, and health care.  The Canadian Union of Public Employees response appears in  “Promises are good Proof is better”. The Canadian Labour Congress reaction  is supportive of the Speech and highlights provisions of greatest impact to workers, including the government’s promise to create one million jobs through  “direct investments in the social sector and infrastructure, immediate training to quickly skill up workers, and incentives for employers to hire and retain workers.”  Other key promises: the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy will be extended through to summer 2021; modernization of the Employment Insurance system will address the growth of the self-employed and gig workers; and yet again, “significant, long-term, sustained investment to create a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system “.

From the Speech from the Throne:  The section titled, Taking action on extreme risks from climate change” :

“….Climate action will be a cornerstone of our plan to support and create a million jobs across the country….. The Government will immediately bring forward a plan to exceed Canada’s 2030 climate goal. The Government will also legislate Canada’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

As part of its plan, the Government will:

Create thousands of jobs retrofitting homes and buildings, cutting energy costs for Canadian families and businesses;

Invest in reducing the impact of climate-related disasters, like floods and wildfires, to make communities safer and more resilient;

Help deliver more transit and active transit options;

And make zero-emissions vehicles more affordable while investing in more charging stations across the country.

The Government will launch a new fund to attract investments in making zero-emissions products and cut the corporate tax rate in half for these companies to create jobs and make Canada a world leader in clean technology. The Government will ensure Canada is the most competitive jurisdiction in the world for clean technology companies.

Additionally, the Government will:

Transform how we power our economy and communities by moving forward with the Clean Power Fund, including with projects like the Atlantic Loop that will connect surplus clean power to regions transitioning away from coal;

And support investments in renewable energy and next-generation clean energy and technology solutions.

Canada cannot reach net zero without the know-how of the energy sector, and the innovative ideas of all Canadians, including people in places like British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Government will:

Support manufacturing, natural resource, and energy sectors as they work to transform to meet a net zero future, creating good-paying and long-lasting jobs;

And recognize farmers, foresters, and ranchers as key partners in the fight against climate change, supporting their efforts to reduce emissions and build resilience.

The Government will continue its policy of putting a price on pollution, while putting that money back in the pockets of Canadians. It cannot be free to pollute.

This pandemic has reminded Canadians of the importance of nature. The Government will work with municipalities as part of a new commitment to expand urban parks, so that everyone has access to green space. This will be done while protecting a quarter of Canada’s land and a quarter of Canada’s oceans in five years, and using nature-based solutions to fight climate change, including by planting two billion trees.

The Government will ban harmful single-use plastics next year and ensure more plastic is recycled. And the Government will also modernize the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

When the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration was closed by a previous government, Canada lost an important tool to manage its waters. The Government will create a new Canada Water Agency to keep our water safe, clean, and well-managed. The Government will also identify opportunities to build more resilient water and irrigation infrastructure.

At the same time, the Government will look at continuing to grow Canada’s ocean economy to create opportunities for fishers and coastal communities, while advancing reconciliation and conservation objectives. Investing in the Blue Economy will help Canada prosper.”

Reaction to climate change provisions:

From The Tyee ,“What’s in This Throne Speech Stew? Straight from the pandemic cookbook, it’s light on green garnishes. No election on the menu.”  Reporters at The National Observer agree in “Liberal throne speech targets COVID-19 over climate” (Sept. 23), stating: “Though the Trudeau Liberals promised an “ambitious green agenda” ahead of the throne speech, the vision for the coming months unveiled Wednesday focused more on COVID-19 and its economic fallout.”  Their compilation of reaction from green groups echoes the cautious optimism in a Greenpeace Canada statement  and from West Coast Environmental Law  – which commends “promising signals” but asks “how the climate goals set out in the Throne Speech tally with the federal government’s continued support for climate-destructive projects such as the Trans Mountain pipeline and tankers project.”

In the lead up to the Throne Speech, many green groups had lobbied with their specific proposals : a few examples include an Open Letter to Ministers coordinated by the Climate Action Network; the One Earth One Voice campaign;  and the Draft Throne Speech offered by Greenpeace Canada.

The National Observer highlighted the proposals of the Smart Prosperity Institute in an  Opinion Piece by Mike Moffatt and John McNally ,  “ Want a green, inclusive recovery? You can’t rush that” (Sept. 24).  They condense the arguments from an earlier blog post, ” Making a green recovery inclusive for all Canadians which lays out specific green recovery proposals but warns that a “full recovery” cannot begin until Covid-19 has been brought under control: “The risks of infection from bringing people together, potentially leading to future lockdowns, are too great.”

Recommendations and research from Scotland’s Just Transition Commission

The Just Transition Commission in Scotland released an Interim Report in February 2020, and has continued to provide research as it works towards its Final Report and recommendations for a green and fair transition.  In August, the Commission released Just Transition: Comparative Perspectives, which provides both theoretical discussion and case studies of JT experiences in  Canada, Germany, Peru ,Norway and the U.S.. In a section on Lessons Learned, the report states that the experiences of Norway’s oil and gas industry, and of Peru, are the most relevant to the Scottish situation.  

In July, the Just Transition Commission released its Advice for a Green Recovery from Covid-19. Subsequently, Government’s measures were announced in early September, in Protecting Scotland, Renewing Scotland: the Government’s Programme for Scotland 2020-2021.  The government’s press release highlights “nearly £1.6 billion to directly support up to 5,000 jobs and tackle fuel poverty”. Specific commitments include £100 million for a Green Job Fund; £60 million to help industrial and manufacturing sectors decarbonise, grow and diversify; boosting youth employment opportunities in nature and land-based jobs by expanding apprenticeship and undergraduate schemes in public agencies”….; and  £70 million to improve refuse collection infrastructure , improve recycling, and achieve a circular economy. The plan received lukewarm reaction from Friends of the Earth Scotland.

U.K. Citizens Climate Assembly report reveals a window on public opinion

On September 10, after meetings which spanned 5 months and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Citizens’ Climate Assembly issued its final, 556-page report, The Path to Net-Zero, with over 50 recommendations on how the U.K. should reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The 108 member group, ages 16 to 79, was selected to be representative of the country in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, education, rural versus urban, geography and level of concern about climate change.  Their recommendations, summarized by The Guardian here and by Carbon Brief here, were built on agreed-upon principles that included urgency and fairness – “Fair to people with jobs in different sectors. Fair to people with different incomes, travel preferences and housing arrangements. Fair to people who live in different parts of the UK”.  In general, participants preferred protecting and restoring nature over technological solutions, and stressed the value of ‘co-benefits’ of improved health and local community and economic benefits.  Specific recommendations included measures to decarbonize transport  (including a ban on SUV’s and a frequent flyer tax for air travelers) and a reduction in  meat and dairy consumption by between 20% and 40%.

The recommendations will be tabled and debated in the U.K. House of Commons, and the six select committee chairs that commissioned the report will provide responses.  A press release by the Assembly describes the process further.

Scientists actually DO know how climate change contributes to California’s wildfires

Despite Donald Trump’s off-hand dismissal of climate scientists on his visit to California’s apocalyptic wildfires, there are plenty of scientists who ACTUALLY DO know how climate change contributes to these disasters. Below are some recent examples of this well-established relationship and impacts.  

Climate change is increasing the likelihood of extreme autumn wildfire conditions across California”  appeared in Environmental Research Letters in August. One of the co-authors, Daniel Swain, writes an ongoing blog, Weather West, which chronicles and explains “California weather and climate perspectives” from his perch at the University of California at L.A. Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. The Union of Concerned Scientists have also posted an Infographic: Wildfires and Climate Change, which summarizes trends, impacts and costs, including health costs.

Some mainstream media is giving voice to climate scientists :

 “How Can We Plan for the Future in California?” by transplanted Canadian climate scientist Leah Stokes, appeared in The Atlantic (Aug. 23). She is also interviewed by Democracy Now in “This is climate change : West Coast Fires Scorch Millions of Acres & Blot Out the Sun” (Sept. 10).

 “The Burning  West” special feature compilation of articles from Inside Climate News, which includes “California and Colorado Fires May Be Part of a Climate-Driven Transformation of Wildfires Around the Globe” (Aug. 22) and “10 Days of Climate Extremes: From Record Heat to Wildfires to the One-Two Punch of Hurricane Laura” (Aug. 29 ), and “A Siege of 80 Large, Uncontained Wildfires Sweeps the Hot, Dry West”  (Sept. 9), which catalogues the fire events to date.

“A Climate Reckoning in Fire-Stricken California” in the New York Times (Sept. 10,updated Sept. 14)  

These Are Climate Fires”: Oregon Firefighter Ecologist Says Devastating Blazes Are a Wake-Up Call” in Democracy Now (Sept. 14)

Climate change is worsening California’s hellish wildfires” in Yale Climate Connections (Aug. 24).

California wildfires getting bigger, moving faster than ever” in the Toronto Star (Sept. 10)

Climate grief is burning across the American West” in Wired (Sept. 14)

Wildfire Impact on workers

On the Front Lines: Climate Change Threatens the Health of America’s Workers  was released in July by the Natural Resources Defense Council, and documents the “myriad threats” posed by wildfires, explaining “Increases in wildfires will put more emergency responders and recovery workers in dangerous situations and expose more outdoor and indoor workers to unhealthy wildfire smoke.” The report also explains some of the mental health aftermath and provides dozens of links to scientific research.

Pandemic, Wildfires & Heat Wave: Undocumented Farmworkers Face “Triple Threat” as West Coast Burns” in Democracy Now (Sept. 14).

A Human Tragedy”: Wildfires Reveal California’s Reliance on Incarcerated Firefighters” in Democracy Now (August 25).

In the US West Scorched by Wildfires, We Can Barely Breathe. It’s Going to Get Worse” from the Union of Concerned Scientists (Sept. 14) – an overview which briefly discusses outdoor workers and relies on a 2016 article from Climate Change to conclude: “All told, there are roughly 4.8 million outdoor workers across the western US who are exposed to wildfire smoke in an average year.” 

California Bill Clears Path For Ex-Inmates To Become Firefighters” at NPR (Sept. 11) , describing AB2147 , a Bill which lets prisoners who had worked in California’s prisoner-firefighting program petition the courts to dismiss their convictions after completing their sentences.

Green skills training for recovery

Many green recovery proposals have recognized the importance of energy efficiency and retrofitting. Below, some examples from voices within the Canadian building sector itself, focusing on green skills training:

Workforce 2030 is a practical initiative launched in Toronto on July 23 –  a cross-sectoral coalition of employers, educators, and workers in Ontario’s  building sector, coordinated by by The Atmospheric Fund (TAF) and Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC).  John Cartwright, President of Toronto and York Region Labour Council, and a member of the 14-person Advisory Council states:  “Workforce 2030 is a collaboration that will increase the capacity of the skilled trades to meet the low-carbon standards required in the built form of tomorrow. We need to continuously improve low-carbon skills for the entire sector, deepen our commitment to high-quality training, and grow our workforce through equity and inclusion.”  The Statement of Principles outlines values of collaboration, accountability, and equity.  More details are here.  

Canada’s Green Building Council published Ready, Set, Grow: How the green building industry can re-ignite Canada’s economy in May 2020.  Some of its proposals are endorsed in Efficiency Canada’s Pre-budget submission to the Government of Canada (August 5)  – specifically, a call to allocate $500 million ($1000 per employee) to access existing training programs, and a further investment of $1 billion to attract and train new people to create energy efficient and green building careers. The pre-Budget submission states:  “The multiple benefits of energy efficiency can help Canada manage both demand and supply shocks from COVID-19 while improving the operation of our buildings to reduce virus transmission.”   Its recommendations also include $1.5 billion in government funding to expand green building workforce training.  

In September, Efficiency Canada released Tiered Energy Codes: Best Practices for Code Compliance , which “explores the evolution of energy codes, reviews compliance regimes, and provides high-level recommendations to assist in the compliant expansion of advanced tiered energy codes nationwide.” As the paper explains, codes and practices vary widely across jurisdictions in Canada. The report points to the British Columbia Step Code, B.C. Hydro projects, and Toronto Ontario as best practice models. Regarding training, it focuses on  the training needs of builders and  building inspectors, rather than on the skilled trades.

The Pembina Institute published recommendations for British Columbia, in Accelerating B.C.’s economic recovery through building retrofits Submission to the Government of British Columbia (July 28). One of its Guiding Principles is : “Build the workforce: Partner with public and private organizations to deliver subsidized training programs, develop design guides, conduct integrated design sessions (charrettes), create data tools (e.g. remote energy audits), etc. Provide retraining support for impacted economic sectors to join the retrofit economy workforce.”

Much more detail is provided by Pembina in Training up for deep retrofits (July), which enumerates what green skills are needed, how governments can help, and where existing training opportunities are currently available in Canada.  The Pembina Institute is one of the partners in the Reframed Initiative, which works with designers, builders, owners, financiers, and policy-makers to scale up deep retrofits.

The  Toronto Atmospheric Fund, partner in Workforce 2030, submitted a formal Presentation to the federal Pre-Budget Consultations, calling for the federal government to invest at least $50 billion over five years in climate-focused clean stimulus measures, including at least $27 billion in climate resilient and energy efficient buildings, with at least $2 billion over 5 years to support deep retrofits that maximize carbon reduction and community benefits.

On July 22,  the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery released  its Interim Report ,  costing out five key policy directions for the next five years, with a total price tag of just under $50 billion.  The Task Force lists key actions and actors to achieve five broad goals:  “Invest in climate resilient and energy efficient buildings; Jumpstart Canada’s production and adoption of zero-emission vehicles; Go big on growing Canada’s clean energy sectors; Invest in the nature that protects and sustains us; Grow clean competitiveness and jobs across the Canadian economy .  As part of #1, investment in climate resilient and energy efficient buildings, the Task Force calls for “investing $1.25 billion in workforce development for energy efficiency and climate resiliency, including for enhancing access to training programs and for developing new approaches.”  The Task Force Final Report is scheduled for release on September 16 at their website .

Seven renewable energy co-ops send a 9-page Letter to federal ministers on June 24 , titled  “Federal Post COVID 19 Recovery Stimulus to Unlock Community Investment in Clean Energy”.  While their suggestions focused on clean community power , they also called for incentive grants of $100 million over 5 years for community- financed mass, deep retrofits of community, institutional, and multi-residential buildings.  Participating co-ops include the Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-op (OREC)/CoEnergy, SES Solar Co-operative Ltd. in Saskatoon, Bow Valley Green Energy Cooperative in Calgary area, Colchester-Cumberland Wind Field Inc. in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, the Solar Power Investment Co-operative of Edmonton, Wascana Solar Co-op in Regina, and SolarShare in Toronto.