COP21, Just Transition, and Canadian Reaction

cop21 logoThe UNFCC official website includes the Official Text of the Conference of the Parties. For one of the best summaries, see “Paris Climate Deal: Key Points at a Glance” in The Guardian (Dec. 12).
Although Equiterre acknowledged that Canada had pushed for the inclusion of indigenous rights and just transition, these issues did not appear in Article 2 of the formal articles, but rather in the non-binding Annex, on page 21, amongst a list of considerations:
“….Taking into account the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities,
Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity…”

Most reaction in Canada and around the world acknowledges the imperfections of the agreement but express the importance and potential of what was achieved.
Some Examples:
“Climate change Met Its Match in the Will of a United World” in the National Observer (Dec. 12), summarizing reaction from National Resources Defence Canada, Clean Energy Canada, and Pembina Institute.
“Global Climate Deal is an Historic Moment” from the Climate Action Network Canada.
“Paris Climate Accord Marks Shift Toward Low-Carbon Economy” in The Globe and Mail (Dec. 12) (which paints a flattering picture of Minister McKenna).
First Thoughts on the Climate Deal by Professor Kathryn Harrison, University of British Columbia, who states, “I see the commitment to revisit targets and progress every 5 years as the heart of the Paris agreement”.
Did Canada Show up at the Paris Climate Talks with its Pants on? (Dec. 11), despite the playful title provides a serious overview of the major issues, including indigenous rights, common but differentiated responsibility, and loss and damage. Author Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law says, “Canada’s position on loss and damage is extremely aggressive and unhelpful”.
The Road to a Paris Climate Deal, a compilation of reporting from the New York Times, includes an Opinion Piece by Bill McKibben, “Falling Short on Climate in Paris” (Dec. 13) which can act as the last word: “That we have any agreement at all, of course, is testament to the mighty movement that activists around the world have built over the last five years. …. But what this means is that we need to build the movement even bigger in the coming years, so that the Paris agreement turns into a floor and not a ceiling for action. We’ll be blocking pipelines, fighting new coal mines, urging divestment from fossil fuels – trying, in short, to keep weakening the mighty industry that still stands in the way of real progress. With every major world leader now on the record saying they at least theoretically support bold action to make the transition to renewable energy, we’ve got a new tool to work with”.

 

COP21: Labour union actions and Reactions

On December 3, the Canadian Labour Congress, along with the Climate Action Network, and the Green Economy Network, convened the One Million Climate Jobs event,  bringing together Canadian labour and green groups. The background discussion document, One Million Climate Jobs: A Challenge for Canadians, estimates costs and job creation in a new economy, where public investment supports four strategic priorities: clean/renewable energy; energy efficiency/green buildings; public transit; and higher speed rail. Also at the December 3 event, the National Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) spoke, arguing that “Public Services are at the Heart of a Just Transition”. And Ken Smith, a heavy equipment operator from Fort McMurray and the head of Unifor Local 707A told the audience that oil sands workers “get” climate change, concluding with “We want to be full partners because we have no choice”. See “At COP21, Oil Sands Worker Urges Smooth Transition Off Fossil Fuels” in The National Observer.
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Labour’s responses to the final COP21 agreement were mainly disappointed but constructive. In  “Collaborative Approach will be Key to Realizing Canada’s Climate Change Obligations” (Dec. 12), the Canadian Labour Congress expressed disappointment that the sections protecting human rights – including indigenous rights – and the right to a just transition for workers appeared only in the non-binding preamble of the agreement. But President Hassan Yussuff states “Canadian unions are committed to doing their part to fight climate change; and we will work with governments and employers to ensure a just transition to a carbon-free economy that supports displaced workers and creates millions of decent, green jobs”.
Similar sentiments came from the U.S., in “BlueGreen Alliance Lauds International Climate Agreement”, which states “we will continue to fight for just transition-along with human rights, gender equality and the other core social issues that were in the text going into COP21-to become an operational item within the structures created in the Agreement and the UNFCCC. Still, the inclusion in the preamble is without a doubt a call to action to all nations to take on climate change in accordance with the needs of their people, and we plan to hold them accountable”.
From the U.K., Philip Pearson, Senior Policy Advisor at the Trades Union Congress wrote a blog on December 11 which reproduced a Joint Letter to the French Presidency, protesting that “civil society is highly disappointed that references to the protection of rights, equality and ecosystems have been removed from the core of the climate agreement”. And in a December 12 blog, Pearson summarizes the overall deal, and concludes that “it’s up to us to make sure that union voice, just transition and decent work are central to the transformation that lies ahead”.
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The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) had issued a Call for Dialogue: Climate Action Demands Just Transition (Nov. 26), which was signed by representatives from ITUC,   environmental groups (Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, WWF), faith groups and charities (Actionaid International, Oxfam, ChristianAid), and, unusually, businesses (We Mean Business, the B Team). The ITUC response to the final COP agreement states that the commitment to securing a just transition for workers and communities is just a first step, requiring further work. ITUC states that another of its goals, to raise ambition and realize the job potential of climate action, is missing in the final agreement.
And from Philip Jennings, General Secretary, UNI Global Union, in Saving people and the Planet in a World of Unprecedented Changes (Dec. 14), “after this new global climate deal, unions will advance progress in the millions of workplaces around the world through all the negotiating platforms we have from local to national and global levels. We will make it happen. This is our human right to a safe planet”. UNI hosted a dedicated website for Climate Change which includes a brief assessment of strengths and weaknesses.

 

COP21: Actions of the provincial and federal governments

On November 27, on the eve of COP 21, the Government of British Columbia released the  recommendations of its appointed Climate Leadership Team, summarized in a press release. The recommendations centred on increases to the carbon tax and a 2030 target to reduce emissions across three broad sectors: Built Environment, Industry and Transportation, by 40%, compared to 2007. In a Nov. 30 interview with the CBC, Premier Clark’s response was non-committal and dependent on public consultations in 2016; in an interview with the Globe and Mail on December 9, she stated that B.C.’s position will now depend on national targets. On December 8, British Columbia became the first Canadian jurisdiction to sign on to the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) – a subnational collaboration between 29 states and provinces from Brazil, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Spain and the United States.  

On November 27, Quebec announced an ambitious GHG emissions reduction target of 37.5% below 1990 levels by 2030, and launched a new social campaign to inspire its citizens. The campaign, Let’s do it for them or Faisons-le pour eux includes further news.

On December 3, on the way to COP21, Manitoba released Manitoba’s Climate Change and Green Economy Action Plan, as well as Green and Growing: Manitoba’s Commitment to Green Jobs, both available here. The plan is wide-ranging, including targets for emissions reductions through enhanced green building standards, green infrastructure investment, greener government operations, and cooperation with Indigenous people. It promises to create 6,000 green jobs in the next five years. Most attention however, focused on the announcement of a cap-and-trade system. Read the CBC News report (Dec. 3) or a summary at the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.
On December 7, the Premiers of Ontario, Québec, and Manitoba signed a new memorandum of understanding signalling their intent to link their respective cap and trade programs under the Western Climate Initiative, the North American carbon market which also includes California.
Both Quebec and British Columbia joined the International Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Alliance – Quebec on December 3, and B.C. on December 10. Members of the Alliance agree to strive to make all new passenger vehicles in their jurisdictions ZEVs by no later than 2050. Also at COP21, the Alliance released a paper by the International Coalition for Clean Transportation, Global Climate Change Mitigation Potential from a Transition to Electric Vehicles.    
The first Compact of States and Regions Disclosure Report was released at COP21 on December 7, listing GHG reduction targets for 2020, 2030 and 2050, as well as progress to date on the targets, and renewable energy and energy efficiency targets. According to the summary press release, the collective goal is to reduce GHG emissions by 12.4 GtC02e by 2030 – greater than China’s current annual output, and 47.4 GtCO2e by 2050 – equal to total world GHG emissions in 2012. The Compact of States and Regions, formed in 2014, now includes Alberta, B.C. Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Ontario, and Quebec among its 44 members.
On the national level, the greatest surprise came when Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna announced support for the 1.5C target; see the Globe and Mail   (Dec. 6) or “Canada shocks COP21 with Big New Climate Goal” in The National Observer.
Canada also joined 36 other countries including the U.S., Germany, France, Mexico and the UK, in a December 1 communiqué committing to the reform of fossil-fuel subsidies. The communique calls for three key principles: transparency on subsidy policies and reform timetables, ambition in scale and timetable for reforms, and supports to assist in the transition away from subsidies. In November, Oil Change International released  Empty Promises: G20 Subsidies to Oil Gas and Coal Production which estimates that 8 countries – Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – spend a combined $80 billion a year on public support for fossil fuel production.