81% of carbon captured to date used in Enhanced Oil Recovery according to new report

Canada’s newly-released climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy   (Dec. 2020)  states that one of the government’s objectives is to: “Develop a comprehensive carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) strategy and explore other opportunities to help keep Canada globally competitive in this growing industry.” As a  clue to where that is going, the government also states: “The broad range of compliance strategies allowed under the proposed Clean Fuel Standard will give fossil fuel suppliers the flexibility to choose the lowest cost compliance actions available. The same compliance strategies that will support the Clean Fuel Standard will also ensure Canada becomes a leader in carbon capture, utilization and storage, hydrogen production, and other technologies that will allow Canada to extract energy from its resources while significantly reducing and eventually eliminating carbon pollution.”  The government is no doubt influenced by such views as those in the energy-industry Public Policy Forum, which calls for a favourable regulatory environment in Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage – The Time is Now (July 2020). (this report is mainly focused on energy industry applications but also discusses decarbonization of industrial processes briefly).

A December report commissioned and released by Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness focuses only on energy industry applications, and comes to a different conclusion. A Review of the Role of Fossil Fuel Based Carbon Capture and Storage in the Energy System concludes that carbon capture and storage systems will not be as effective in reducing GHG emissions as would  ramped up renewable energy generation and  energy efficiency measures. Further, the authors state that “2030 emissions reduction targets are being set up to fail due to the huge emphasis placed on CCS.”  The authors, from the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, highlight three main barriers to success: prohibitive costs;  time to reach commercial scale;  and the residual emissions from CCS, especially methane. Canada’s Boundary Dam coal-fired power plant in Saskatchewan is discussed, and cited as an example of prohibitive costs, with capital costs of approximately US$455 million and a capture cost of US$100 per tonne of CO2.  The report notes that there are just 26 operational CCS plants in the world, and significant scale is not forecast until at least 2030.  And the authors state that 81% of carbon captured to date has been used for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) – a process which pumps captured carbon underground to push previously unreachable fossil fuels up for extraction, extending the life of oil fields.  This contributes to the problem of CCS-linked emissions of carbon dioxide and methane .

A Review of the Role of Fossil Fuel Based Carbon Capture and Storage in the Energy System is summarized in an Executive Summary and by the Climate News Network . The International Energy Agency has released a number of reports related to CCUS , most recently Special Report on Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage; CCUS in clean energy transitions.  Another source of information is the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute which maintains a database of information and advocates for CCUS adoption in its publications.  

Global Just Transition case studies from a trade union viewpoint

Just Transition: Putting planet, people and jobs first” is the theme of a special issue of Equal Times, published in December 2020. The compilation of articles provides a trade union point of view  to describe the just transition experiences in Bangladesh, Tunisia, Argentina, and Senegal, as well as the more frequently cited experiences in Spain and Scotland.  The complete Special Issue is here , and was supported financially by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

Although Spain’s 2018 agreement regarding coal transition is well known, this article is a welcome English-language text, translated from the original Spanish version written by Spanish journalist María José Carmona. Another useful English text on the topic is The Just Transition Strategy within the Strategic Energy and Climate Framework, translated and published by the Spanish government in 2019.  And an earlier report from the Central Confederation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) provides brief summaries of Spanish and other Just Transition frameworks, in A Fair Climate Policy for Workers: Implementing a just transition in various European countries and Canada (2019). It covers Germany, Spain, France, The Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, and Canada in a brief 32 pages.

New centre for Vancouver to spur urban climate action, especially building retrofits

Retrofitting is a priority for the newly-announced  Metro Vancouver Zero Emission Innovation Centre, to be administered through the Renewable Cities program at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. According to the SFU press release of January 12, the Metro Vancouver Zero Emission Innovation Centre “will be seeded by a generous $21.7 million endowment from the federal government to identify, finance and scale up local climate solutions, such as building retrofits and electrification of transportation.”  The top priorities stated include “ “Identifying and initiating programmatic priorities, and integrating the Zero Emission Building Exchange to support building sector capacity building”.  For now, though, “the new centre’s work will start modestly. It is expected to grow steadily through partnership, programming investment, leveraging and innovative financing”.  The launch of the Centre is scheduled for  September 2021, after input is gathered “from a range of stakeholders, including local and provincial government, industry, non-profit organizations and the finance sector.”

The Vancouver Centre will be modelled on The Atmospheric Fund – originally known as the Toronto Atmospheric Fund when it was established in 1991 through the advocacy of then-Toronto City Councillors Jack Layton and Dan Leckie.  The Atmospheric Fund now serves Canada’s largest urban area, the Greater Toronto/Hamilton region of approximately 7 million people, and is part of  the  Low Carbon Cities Canada (LC3), a  partnership which also includes Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax, as well as  the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

In What does Canada’s new $15 billion plan mean for urban climate action?” (Dec. 15), The Atmospheric Fund reviews the federal government’s latest climate plan and discusses the two sectors most relevant to municipalities: buildings and transportation. The Atmospheric Fund states that its own priorities for 2021, include: “Partnering with housing providers to initiate deep retrofits in 3,000 housing units this year; Mobilizing $150 million in investment to leverage public funding and attract more capital into low-carbon activity;  Supporting municipalities to adopt green development standards for new buildings and performance standards for existing ones; Providing grants and investment capital to enable even more low-carbon activity like workforce development (clean jobs!) and EV charger installations; and Publishing new research on growing challenges like fugitive methane emissions and embodied carbon in new construction.” 

The governance of climate action in Toronto and Vancouver is summarized in a new article by three academics from the Universities of Waterloo and Toronto, “Strategies and Governance for Implementing Deep Decarbonization Plans at the Local Level, published in the latest issue of the journal Sustainability. It offers case studies of the best practices in climate action governance in Toronto and Vancouver, along with Bridgewater, Nova Scotia; Guelph, Ontario; Park City and New York City in the U.S., Lahti in Finland and Oslo in Norway. These cities range in size from 8,400 people to 9.6 million, but were chosen as “leading and ambitious” cities. The authors identify the importance of transnational networks in city decarbonization planning, and highlight their efforts “to expand their green economies and the capacity of their workforces to meet the future demand for skilled workers, especially in the buildings and construction sectors.”

And briefly:  A recent article in the New York Times also noted the importance of retrofitting: “New York’s real climate challenge: Fixing its aging buildings” (Dec. 29, New York Times). Stating that  “Nearly 70 percent of the city’s total carbon emissions come from buildings. A project to retrofit nine buildings with green technology is pioneering a new solution”.   The article describes the Casa Pasiva retrofitting project , one of a number of  RetrofitNY projects funded by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority.

A Just and fair transition from fossil fuels in Australia

In a new report published in December by the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute, author Jim Stanford argues that Australia’s labour market could transition away from fossil fuel jobs without involuntary layoffs or severe disruption to communities—if governments plan a fair transition which includes: a clear, long-term timeline, measures to facilitate inter-industry mobility and voluntary severance as fossil fuels are phased-out, and generous retraining and diversification policies. Fossil fuel jobs, though only 1% of jobs in Australia, have higher than average compensation, so in order to be attractive, alternative jobs must have decent compensation, stable hours and tenure, and collective representation.  Employment aspects of the transition from fossil fuels in Australia echoes a recent New York Times article about the career disappointment of young oil and gas workers, with this: 

“Far from being ‘supportive’ of fossil fuel workers by attempting to disrupt and delay appropriate climate transitions, in fact is does them a great disservice to pretend that these industries have a long-term viable future. It seems a cruel hoax to encourage young workers to begin their careers in industries with an inevitably short time horizon. It would be more compassionate and honest to give fossil fuel workers (both current and prospective) fair notice of the changes coming, and support them in building careers in occupations and industries that are ultimately more promising.”    

 Author Jim Stanford, formerly with Canada’s Unifor union, now splits his time between Canada and Sydney, where he is director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work. He and the Centre are profiled in “The People’s Economist” in the Australian magazine In the Black. This research was commissioned by Australian health care industry super fund HESTA.

How the U.S. Capitol mob threatens climate change activism everywhere

The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 has relevance for all climate change activists, including Canadians.  The overlapping universe of climate change denial and the political extreme of white nationalism is outlined by Eric Holthaus in The Phoenix on January 8 in his essay White nationalism gave us the climate emergency. Now, it’s our biggest obstacle. Holthaus argues: If we don’t acknowledge the racist roots of opposition to climate action, the world is going to keep spiraling towards chaos. It’s bad now. But it will get much, much worse…..Trumpism and the rise of “Big Lie” politics – climate denial, anti-masking, embracing conspiracy theory – is rooted in white supremacy. It’s rooted in the lie that “this world belongs to me, and not you”. …. white nationalism is not a case of rural, backwards hillbillies. It’s in boardrooms. It’s in the white exodus of public schools. It’s in the privatization of health care. It’s in the fossil fuel industry. It’s in the White House.”

One might also argue it’s in some police forces too, to explain the obvious differences in police tactics meted out to the Capitol mob vs. climate protestors. “Capitol Rioters Walked Away. Climate Protesters Saw a Double Standard” in the New York Times (Jan. 7) sketches out the issue and states, for example, that more than 600 arrests were made over the course of the non-violent Fire Drill Fridays protests led by Jane Fonda in 2020 – which in itself was treated very differently than the 2016 Native American protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, (never mind the extremes of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests!).  In Canada, we have our own recent examples: the RCMP violence against and arrest of 14 members of the  Wet’suwet’en First Nations for their protest against the Coastal Gas Link pipeline in 2019 . Media accounts of that struggle include  “No Surrender” (Feb. 20) in The Intercept .

Brian Kahn wrote “The Climate Crisis Will Be Steroids for Fascism” (in Earther, Jan. 7)   explaining: “It’s never been clearer that a large chunk of the nation’s top Republican leaders will embrace and even fuel this extremism and hate. The Venn diagram of people who push election denial and climate denial has near-perfect overlap, but even if these figures deny the climate crisis, they’ll still look to exploit it. At the end of the day, their goal is to use easy-to-disprove lies to build and consolidate power.”  This agrees with Melissa Ryan, who writes about the alt-right and white nationalism as editor of  the Ctrl Alt-Right Delete weekly newsletter and is quoted by Desmog Blog saying: “The goal isn’t necessarily to convince anyone of anything…. The goal is to sow so much confusion that it’s actually hard for people to tell the truth from fiction…..I feel like it’s a very clear end of the Trump administration, …but what’s terrifying is what it is the birth of.”   “Climate Deniers Moved Rapidly to Spread Misinformation During and After Attack on US Capitol” (Jan. 8) provides examples by  reproducing some shocking post-riot tweets and messages from prominent climate deniers such as the Heartland Institute and Marc Marano. (check out such individuals and organizations in DeSmog Blog’s Climate Disinformation Database).     

Meanwhile in Canada

And for Canadians in general who might feel we are in less danger from right-wing extremism, we are reminded that Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys, was born in Canada, in “Canadian government weighs listing Proud Boys as a terror group”. McGinnis led the first Canadian Proud Boys demonstration in Nova Scotia in 2017 . In 2018, the CBC warned us that “Three Percenters are Canada’s ‘most dangerous’ extremist group, say some experts”.  A very complete description and analysis of this Canadian scene appears in  “Meanwhile in Canada’: The Groups Inciting a Fascist Insurrection in Washington Are Here in Canada Too” in Press Progress on January 7.