2020 Lancet Countdown report on Health and Climate Change finds Canadians most at risk from extreme heat and air pollution

The Lancet Countdown Report on Health and Climate Change has been a landmark report since its first edition in 2015 (earlier reports are here ) .Compiled by an international team from more than 35 institutions including the World Health Organization and the World Bank, it documents the health impacts of climate change, and discusses the health and economic implications of climate policies. The global  2020 Countdown Report was released on December 2. Along with troubling statistics comes one core message:

“The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change represent converging crises. Wildfires and tropical storms in 2020 have tragically shown us that we don’t have the luxury of tackling one crisis alone. At the same time, climate change and infectious disease share common drivers. Responding to climate change today will bring about cleaner skies, healthier diets, and safer places to live–as well as reduce the risk factors of future infectious diseases.”

The Countdown project produces country-specific reports , with the Canada Briefing written by Drs. Claudel Pétrin-Desrosiers and Finola Hackett, and endorsed by the Canadian Medical Association.  The Canadian briefing presents updated information on two major issues: extreme heat and air pollution. Some highlights:

  • a record 2,700 heat-related deaths occurred among people over the age of 65 in Canada in 2018;
  • there were 7,200 premature deaths related to fine particulate air pollution from human-caused sources in Canada in 2018;
  • the work hours lost due to exposure to extreme heat was 81% higher in 2015-2019 than in 1990-1994 in Canada, with an average of 7.1 million extra work hours lost per year.

Although previous Canadian reports have called for carbon pricing, the 2020 report offers six recommendations which prioritize retrofitting and energy efficiency policies, along with funding for low-emissions transportation and active transportation.  The report also calls for: “…a recovery from COVID-19 that is aligned with a just transition to a carbon-neutral society, considering health and equity impacts of all proposed policies to address the climate and COVID-19 dual crises, directly including and prioritizing the disproportionately affected, including Indigenous peoples, older persons, women, racialized people, and those with low income.”

Courtney Howard, past president  of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment writes “COVID-19 recovery is an opportunity to tackle worsening climate crisis: New report”  (The Conversation, Dec. 3).  The Canadian Medical Association announcement of the report is here ; and the CMA also released a recent survey  of its members, showing that 95% of respondents recognized the impacts of climate change, and 89% felt that  health professionals have a responsibility to bring the health effects of climate change to the attention of policy-makers . The World Health Organization sponsored the survey as part of a global initiative –  the Canadian results will be included  in a global WHO report scheduled for release in January 2021.

Costs of climate change in Canada go beyond wildfires and floods: a call for urgent action to build resiliency

 The Tip of the Iceberg: Navigating the Known and Unknown Costs of Climate Change in Canada was released on December 3 by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, providing eye-popping evidence of the damage of climate change. Using data from the Canadian Disaster Database (CDD) and the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) – (provided graphically here ) –  the report states that insured losses for catastrophic weather events in Canada totalled over $18 billlion between 2010 and 2019, with the Fort McMurray wildfire of 2016 the largest single weather-related insurance loss event in Canadian history, with nearly $4 billion in insured losses and broader costs of almost $11 billion when property, infrastructure, business interruption, and other indirect economic losses are included.  The report also notes the growing trends: the number of catastrophic events has more than tripled since the 1980s, and the average cost per weather-related disaster has soared by 1,250 per cent since the 1970s.

The main message of this report is directed at policy-makers, and goes beyond costing out the catastrophic losses. It warns that other types of climate change damages are more gradual and less dramatic in extreme events, and that Canada lags the U.S. and other OECD countries in assessing the overall and complex impacts of climate change. The report hearkens back to 2011 as the  last examination of the broad range of national costs to Canada, in Paying the Price: The Economic Impacts of Climate Change for Canada, a report by the now-defunct National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, archived in the ACW Digital Library .

The main message of the report appears in this 6-page Executive summary , in the three over-aching recommendations, and in these selected quotes:

 “The imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions tends to dominate the debate over Canada’s progress in addressing climate change. Yet, as a climate solution, adaptation—ensuring human and natural systems can adjust to the spectrum of effects of climate change— will have a critical impact on the well-being and prosperity of all who live in Canada in the decades ahead. Current adaptation policies and investments in Canada fall far short of what is needed to address the known risks of climate change, let alone those that are still unclear and unknown. This has to change…..

……It’s essential to transition from a state of ad hoc responses to a changing climate and weather-related disasters to one of building resilience. This includes continual learning about what works, what doesn’t, and how to plan for uncertainty. Instead of waiting for more information, the uncertainty inherent in climate change requires acting decisively on what we already know while also developing improved foresight.”

 

The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices intends to follow up from The Tip of the Iceberg with other reports over the next two years, focused on health, infrastructure, macroeconomics and the North.

 

Green bargaining in Europe: theory, legal structures, and case studies of 6 countries

Agreenment – A Green Mentality for Collective Bargaining is a European project to investigate the role of social dialogue and collective bargaining in promoting sustainable development and the transition to a low-carbon economy.  Labour and Environmental Sustainability : Comparative Report is their newly published overview, which is accompanied by separate, detailed reports for each of the six countries studied: France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK..  The Agreenment website has further resources and bibliographies.

Written mostly by lawyers, the Comparative Report reviews the theoretical concepts influencing labour unions’ positions on environmental issues – with a key section titled “Treadmill of Production and Just Transition: Two Contrasting Patterns?”.  The Comparative Report also reviews the legal structure of collective bargaining and the forms of social dialogue in each country, and for each country, discusses topics which might be included in collective bargaining – for example, linking pay to environmental performance; health and safety considerations; inclusion of environmental issues within labour-management bodies.  The conclusion:

“It is up to the social partners to promote environmental sustainability as a goal for
collective bargaining or to continue with the traditional inertia that divides labour
and environmental regulation……. Collective agreements could take a leading role in driving the just transition towards a low-carbon economy, but in practice they do not regard this mission as a priority. Environmental clauses in collective agreements are still exceptional and lack momentum.”

The U.K. Study  states:  

 “Based on extensive review of policy documents and qualitative interviews with key informants, our research confirms that UK unions have attempted to seize upon the possibilities inherent in a voluntarist system of industrial relations, in so far as broadening the scope of what are deemed to be union issues or issues that could be negotiated or bargained with management. …. However, despite the fact that many workplace initiatives have been reported throughout the UK, relatively few comprehensive agreements on environmental sustainability have been concluded… .  The authors call for  “…. (1) the statutory recognition of environmental union representatives together with rights to facility time and pay (rights that unions have advocated for a long time), as well as (2) expansion of the statutory scope of bargaining to include issues of environmental nature. Finally, for Just Transition processes to be operationalized in practice, UK unions should have more input in policy development. For this to be possible, (3) social dialogue must be institutionalized in a more meaningful way at the regional and national level.”

Updated Net-zero strategy for Greening Canadian government operations includes work from home provision

The Treasury Board of Canada released a statement on November 26, updating the Greening Government Strategy  which governs operations and procurement by the federal government. Because the government is the largest owner of real property in Canada and the largest public purchaser of goods and services (more than $20 billion in 2019), the strategy promises to make an actual impact on GHG emissions, as well as provide a model strategy for Crown Corporations and other employers.  According to the press release, “the new strategy includes, for the first time, commitments to achieve net-zero emissions from national safety and security (NSS) fleet, green procurement and employee commuting. In addition, Crown Corporations are being encouraged to adopt the Greening Government Strategy or an equivalent strategy of their own that includes a net-zero by 2050 target.”

The full Green Government Strategy is here , and includes goals for buildings and retrofits, clean energy, waste management, water, as well as employee engagement and transparent reporting of GHG emissions reductions. Highlighted changes below come under the heading “Mobility”, and  will impact employee commuting, work-from-home, and business travel:

  • The Centre will encourage employees to use low-carbon forms of transportation to reduce emissions from employee commuting and will track these emissions by the 2021 to 2022 fiscal year.
  • The government will facilitate opportunities for flexible work arrangements, such as remote work, by enabling remote computing telecommunications and by supporting information technology (IT) solutions.
  • The government will promote and incentivize lower-carbon alternatives to work-related air travel. Departments will contribute to the Greening Government Fund (GGF) based on their air travel emissions.  The GGF aims to incentivize lower-carbon alternatives to government operations by providing project funding to federal government departments and agencies to reduce GHG emissions in their operations.
  • Emissions from other travel related to operations, such as major events hosted and ministerial travel, may be offset by departments.
  • Purchase of carbon offsets for events, conferences and travel may also be used as an eligible expense for grants and contribution program recipients.
  • Regarding vehicle fleets, 75% per cent of new light-duty unmodified fleet vehicle purchases will be zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) or hybrids, with the objective that the government’s light-duty fleet comprises at least 80% ZEVs by 2030. Priority is to be given to purchasing ZEVs.
  • All new executive vehicle purchases will be ZEVs or hybrids.

An update of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory of emissions from federal operations was also released, showing a decrease of 34% from 2005 levels from real property and conventional fleet operations.  The details from the Inventory are here .

More detailed information about each of the priorities is available from the Greening Government Centre website. 

 

A study of Canadian manufacturing plants demonstrates the economic damage of extreme hot or cold weather

Researchers at the Sustainable Prosperity Institute at the University of Ottawa released a Working Paper on November 24,  forecasting how manufacturing productivity will be affected by weather extremes. Based on longitudinal data from 53,000 manufacturing plants across Canada, the authors find that the productivity of the plants is reduced in extreme weather – both hot or cold. They highlight the importance of labour input as a main contributor to the productivity loss.

The authors’ summary appears in a blog, Estimating the impact of climate change on the Canadian economy,  which explains that the typical manufacturing plant in Canada currently experiences 4 extreme cold days and 14 extreme hot days per year, but under a scenario of high GHG emissions by the end of the century, that typical plant would experience one extreme cold day, but over 80 extreme hot days each year. They state: “Using medium and high greenhouse gas scenarios for 2050s and 2080s, we find that the annual losses of manufacturing output due to extreme temperature would go from 2.2% today to 2.8-3.5% in mid-century and to 3.5-7.2% in end of century.”  The authors claim to be the first to estimate the effect of extreme temperatures on establishment performance in Canada, and the first to estimate the potential economic impact of climate change in a cold environment. The full results and discussion appear in a 50-page Working Paper, “Manufacturing Output and Extreme Temperature: Evidence from Canada” by economists  Philippe Kabore and Nicholas Rivers.