Tracking the Energy Revolution – Canada, is the first annual status report by Clean Energy Canada, released in early December 2014. The report states that $25 billion has been invested in clean energy, resulting in a 37 percent employment increase in the sector in the past five years, so that by 2013 the clean energy sector (manufacturing, power production, energy efficiency, and biofuels) accounted for more direct Canadian jobs than the oil sands. To back up their job creation claim, Clean Energy published an explanation of the calculations. Full of infographics and tables, the report goes beyond statistics to highlight the leading provinces, companies, projects, and investor groups. It also makes recommendations for the federal and provincial levels and aims to spur laggard jurisdictions to more action.
More good news comes in a new report by the Canadian Wind Energy Association: 2014 was a record-breaking year for wind in Canada, with 37 new wind energy projects representing over $3.5 billion in investment. Fifteen of the projects involved municipalities, First Nations, and local farmers; activity was strongest in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta. The Grand Renewable Energy project in Ontario can be considered a poster child for the industry, with over 98% of the workforce on the project from Ontario – from turbine manufacture to construction, installation, and operation. Samsung and Pattern Energy are equity partners with the Six Nations of the Grand River, which owns 10% of the project; Samsung and Pattern Energy provided a $400,000 donation to the Grand River Post-Secondary Education Office, to help Six Nations students. In B.C., the government has provided more than $5.8 million since 2011 to support the participation of over 90 Aboriginal communities in the clean energy sector, including wind energy, biomass and run-of-river hydroelectric power. See “First Nations Clean Energy Funding tops $5.8 million” in the Vancouver Observer (Jan. 6, 2015). And also of interest, a report in January 2015 by Oceana conservation group concludes that offshore wind has the potential to generate more jobs (91,000 more over 20 years) produce more power, and lead to a higher degree of energy independence than offshore drilling for oil and gas, while posing fewer environmental threats. Read Offshore Energy by the Numbers: An Economic Analysis of Offshore Drilling and Wind Energy in the Atlantic
All this, despite the assertion in a December report that the $548 billion that is paid annually in fossil fuel subsidies around the world have impeded the growth of the renewable energy industry by making fossil fuel power generation appear cheaper than it really is. The Impact of Fossil-Fuel Subsidies on Renewable Electricity Generation was published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Yet even so, Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2014, a landmark report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), states that “biomass, hydropower, geothermal and onshore wind are all competitive with or cheaper than coal, oil and gas-fired power stations, even without financial support and despite falling oil prices. Solar photovoltaic (PV) is leading the cost decline, with solar PV module costs falling 75 per cent since the end of 2009 and the cost of electricity from utility-scale solar PV falling 50 per cent since 2010.”
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) “Living Planet @ Work” campaign profiles successful Canadian companies who have switched to 100% renewable energy and are employing green business practices. Toronto’s Steam Whistle Brewing and Miratel Solutions (a fundraising, call-centre, and online and mailing services company) have been featured so far.
In the case of Steam Whistle Brewing, facilities are kept cool by harnessing cold water from the bottom of Lake Ontario; company vehicles are fueled with biodiesel, and renewable energy, via Bullfrog Power, saves the equivalent of 128 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.
Miratel Solutions began the path to greening the workplace with a ban on plastic water bottles, an extensive recycling program, eco-friendly lighting and retrofitting, and energy-efficient electronics. Since 2006, Bullfrog Power allowed the company to support the transition to renewable energy despite the fact that they rent office space and can’t control its energy supply. Miratel saves the equivalent of 38.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Other Canadian case studies of energy efficiency projects are profiled in Heads-up CIPEC, the online newsletter of the Canadian Industry Program for Energy Conservation (CIPEC) of Natural Resources Canada.
An article written jointly by Arnold Bercov, President of the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada (PPWC), and two campaigners with the Wilderness Committee environmental group states: “We believe the B.C. government has gradually abandoned the province’s forestry heritage in pursuit of an unsustainable pipe dream: liquefied natural gas exports to Asia. The better option – for a resilient economy and for our climate – is to rebuild an innovative, sustainable forestry sector…What B.C. needs is legislation that supports an innovative and adaptable forest industry that creates local jobs and moves products up the value chain. Raw-log exports must be banned. Strong laws should also be enacted to protect the ecological values of our working forests for future generations”. See “Trees are the Solution that LNG will never be” in the Times Colonist (Dec. 21). The same article appeared in The Tyee (January 5, 2015) under the title “Prosperity? Forestry not Fracking”. The PPWC has also been critical of the unequal distribution of funds in B.C.’s 2014 policy document, Skills for Jobs Blueprint, whereby training support for LNG jobs appears to come at the expense of funding for other sectors, such as forestry. See Local Knowledge and Government Funding Vital to Training the Next Generation of Foresters.
A strategy document released in December tackles the triple bottom line, with ten proposals that would create jobs – up to 40,000 per year – while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change. The report is notable for two reasons: it was produced by a broad group of community, environmental and labour union groups in New York, including ALIGN, the National AFL-CIO, the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the BlueGreen Alliance, and the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.
For each of the ten proposals, there is a detailed discussion which includes consideration of workforce issues: for example, the energy efficiency retrofit proposal includes a recommendation that, “building owners should ensure that building operators are trained in energy-efficient operations. To this end, the City Council should pass Intro 13-2014, a bill that will require large buildings in New York City to have at least one building operator who is certified in energy efficient building maintenance”.
In November 2014, following the G20 Leaders Summit in Brisbane, Australia, the Labour 20 (L20) issued a statement calling on the G20 to take action on climate change and green growth, and to implement a plan for jobs and growth that reduces inequality. From the statement: G20 leaders should “commit to an ambitious and fair share in reducing emissions” to ensure the success of the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations; should contribute to the Green Climate Fund and support green bond development; commit to investing one percent of gross domestic product in infrastructure in every country, especially that which supports a transition to a low-carbon economy; support industrial transformation measures to protect the livelihoods of those in climate-vulnerable and energy-intensive sectors; support sustainable economic activities; and set attainable food and energy security targets. In addition, the L20 called for measures to promote inclusive growth by enabling women and youth to participate in secure jobs; responsible, green investment strategies; and trade and supply chains that help create decent work and safe work places. The L20 is convened by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). See L20 website and read a summary of the L20 statement.
Labour organizations are decrying the lack of language pertaining to just transition policies in the final negotiating agreement of the Climate Conference in Lima in December.
Organizations such as BlueGreen Alliance and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) lobbied leaders prior to the Conference, providing recommendations and wording suggestions to facilitate the inclusion of worker protection and reducing inequality in the climate agreement. BlueGreen advocated for improved international collaboration on best practices for just transition, and joined TUED in calling on the parties to prepare data on the positive and negative employment impacts of climate policies to support decision-making.
While a number of governments did raise labour issues at the Conference, co-chairs ultimately left them out of the text altogether. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, however, there was an overall trend of greater recognition of the centrality of just transition to sound climate policy, an active role played by labour organizations at the Conference, and the ongoing expansion and diversification of the climate justice movement, including increasing attention to labour issues. See Lima climate conference deceives, but not the climate movement. A similar assessment was made by the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Climate talks advance slowly, but activism on the rise.
The Professional Institue of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) represents scientists employed in some 40 federal departments and agencies, including many directly involved with climate change. Having previously documented the culture of intimidation felt by their members in two reports, The Big Chill and Vanishing Science, the union is now addressing the issue at the bargaining table. Amongst the demands in the current round of bargaining: the right to speak about one’s work; the right to attend professional development meetings and conferences; and the development of a scientific integrity policy. The bargaining proposals have both an English version and French version.
A Green Guide for Universities published by Sustainia of Sweden in December, provides suggestions, tools, and best practices for university building maintenance, purchasing, transportation, and student and employee engagement. The main focus of Chapter 8, Employee and Student Engagement, is to urge the establishment of a sustainability office in each university. Case studies are presented from Yale, Cambridge, Peking, and Copenhagen University. Many Canadian universities have well-established Sustainability offices, including: Queen’s; University of Toronto; University of British Columbia; Universite Laval. The 2014 Annual STARS Review by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education also presents case studies of sustainability at universities. The 2014 report features 105 higher education institutions, mainly from the United States, several from Canada, and some pilot international participants. The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) rates institutions on a host of practices, including Human Resources practices such as the presence of sustainability information in professional development courses and new employee orientation, commuting and telecommuting policies, etc.
A White House Fact Sheet, released on January 14, announces a new goal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 – 45% from 2012 levels by 2025. In general, reaction from environmental groups has been tepid, citing the need to address existing operations, and to rely more on regulation and less on voluntary industry action. Read “Climate Hawks aren’t impressed with Obama’s Methane Plan” in Mother Jones (Jan. 20) for a summary of reactions.
Re-elected Governor Jerry Brown used his inaugural speech in January to lay out three climate-related goals for 2030: Increase the proportion of electricity sourced from renewables to 50%; reduce petroleum use in cars and trucks by 50%; and double the energy efficiency of existing buildings in the state. Calling for “active collaboration at every stage with our scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, businesses and officials at all levels”, he envisioned changes such as more distributed power, expanded rooftop solar, micro-grids, and millions of electric and low-carbon vehicles. On January 1, the state’s cap and trade system expanded to include oil and gas refineries and distribution, and on January 5, a groundbreaking ceremony was held to launch the controversial high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles, due for completion in 2028. Read the Legal Planet analysis.