A Moratorium On New Coal Development in the U.S. And China; U.S. Clean Power Plan Survives its First Major Court Challenge

On January 15, 2016, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior announced a halt to licenses for new coal development on federal lands for 3 years while the department conducts the first comprehensive review of the federal coal program in 30 years. Calling it “an historic day” the Natural Resources Defense Council summarizes the details of the announcement, including that the review “will also include an accounting of the carbon emissions of all fossil fuel production on federal lands”. Inside Climate News sums up reaction of environmental groups to the announcement and the New York Times offers a compilation of articles about the coal industry  . On January 21, the New York Times reported “Court Rejects a Bid to Block Coal Plant Regulations” , saying that a “federal appeals panel .. rejected an effort by 27 states and dozens of corporations and industry groups to block the administration’s signature regulation on emissions from coal-fired power plants while a lawsuit moves through the courts.” Further court challenges are expected, with a likely ruling by the Supreme Court in 2017.     And in December 2015, Bloomberg News reported that China will suspend the approval of new coal mines in 2016, pledging to reduce coal’s share of its energy consumption by almost 2% , to approximately 60 percent in 2016. Read more at Climate Progress  and The Guardian .

 

 

Northern Gateway Supreme Court Decision, and Kinder Morgan Pipeline battles in British Columbia; NEB improvements promised

On January 13, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the B.C. government breached its duty to consult the Gitga’at and neighbouring First Nations on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. The decision is seen as a major victory for Coastal First Nations , effectively nullifying the federal government’s initial approval of Northern Gateway , and also providing a precedent protecting First Nations rights in the Trans Mountain pipeline hearings. “ First Nations win court challenge against B.C. over Enbridge pipeline”  includes a copy of the Court’s decision. The West Coast Environmental Law group provides a history of the Northern Gateway case, and its implications for the Kinder Morgan NEB review in Province Can’t Pass the Buck on Oil Pipelines: BC Supreme Court.

The B.C. government formally submitted its letter of opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline  to the National Energy Board on January 11 , citing the grounds of safety and the risks of an oil spill. Unifor has also consistently opposed the project, seeing it as a exporter of energy jobs, and a threat to its members in the fisheries industry. (Alberta submitted its letter of support on January 12 ).    Even U.S. Aboriginal tribes have filed complaints before the NEB regarding the threat of Kinder Morgan, according to a report in The Guardian . Read an overview of the arguments against KinderMorgan from EcoJustice  . The Tar Sands Reporting project of the National Observer, based in Vancouver, has compiled a series of articles documenting the NEB hearings and the many public protests.

The Kinder Morgan NEB hearings have developed as a symbol of the new Liberal government’s intention to live up to its campaign promises  to review the NEB process and restore transparency and evidence-based decision making in environmental assessments, according to DeSmog Blog.

The Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development  was tabled in the House of Commons on January 26, and was strongly critical of the National Energy Board’s regulation of pipeline projects. (The CBC summary is here ) . In response, the government has promised additional climate tests and First Nations’ consultations for the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, Energy East pipeline, and Pacific NorthWest’s planned LNG export terminal in B.C., according to the Globe and Mail on January 25. (“Ottawa to mandate climate tests for proposed pipelines, LNG terminal ” )

 

Context for Alberta Climate Change Policy “After the Sands”, and Energy East

Two recent sources provide context for the new climate change policies of the Alberta government under Rachel Notley:  “The Path to Alberta’s Climate Deal ” (Jan. 7) in the National Observer , and “Alberta: Fossil fuel Belt or Green Powerhouse” in the CCPA Monitor (Nov/Dec 2015 issue, pages 26 – 32 ).   The Monitor article is an excerpt from the recently released book by Gordon Laxer, After the Sands.   The governments of Alberta and Manitoba announced a Memorandum of Understanding on January 8 , committing to share information and develop co-operative measures related to energy conservation programs, renewable energy development and greenhouse-gas reduction policies,   as well as recognizing the importance of improving integration of electrical grids in western Canada.

On January 21, the mayors of the Montreal Metropolitan Community announced their opposition to the Energy East pipeline. A rapidly-convened meeting of the premiers of Alberta and Ontario on January 22 illustrates the east-west politics of Energy East, with a press release which states “the people of Ontario care a great deal about the national economy and the potential jobs this proposed pipeline project could create in our province and across the country.”

For a summary of the national political reaction , see the CBC, “ Trudeau, Coderre meet after Tories blast Energy East comments”.   Prime Minister Trudeau, seeking to calm the waters, is promising a thorough, neutral environmental review. Read the Globe and Mail article: “Trudeau says Ottawa will be ‘responsible mediator’ in energy debate”.  ( January 26) or another  CBC report of Trudeau’s meeting with the mayor of Montreal, when he states that he will not be a “cheerleader” for the pipelines.

Reports from Davos: Climate Change, Circular Economy, Ethical Supply Chains

The annual  World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, brings together the corporate and political elites  – this year’s theme from January 20 – 23rd is “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”. Yet climate change ranks high on the agenda and several reports relevant to climate change and labour have been released. Notably, the Global Challenge Initiative on Environment and Natural Resource Security project  produced The Global Risks Report 2016  , which ranks global risks, in terms of likelihood as : 1. Large-scale Involuntary migration; 2. Extreme weather events   3. Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation. A project about the Circular Economy released a report commissioned by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and conducted by McKinsey & Company: The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of Plastics . ( press release here ). The new report addresses the problems identified in a 2014 report from the UNEP Plastics Disclosure Project, Valuing Plastic: The Business Case for Measuring, Managing and Disclosing Plastic Use in the Consumer Goods Industry , which projected that, “ in a business-as-usual scenario, by 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight), and the entire plastics industry will consume 20% of total oil production, and 15% of the annual carbon budget. ”

Regarding supply chains, a report by an Accenture consulting firm, Beyond Supply Chain: Empowering Responsible Value Chains   discusses the “triple advantage” of ethical supply chains which include environmental goals. The Accenture report paints a favourable picture of corporate behaviour, in contrast to Scandal: Inside the Global Supply Chains of 50 Top Global Companies, a hard-hitting report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The ITUC focuses mainly on working conditions and wages, as well as health and safety of workers. Bringing it all together and released in advance of Davos, research from the University of Sheffield concludes that “ Audits are ineffective tools for detecting, reporting, or correcting environmental and labour problems in supply chains. They reinforce existing business models and preserve the global production status quo…. The growth of the audit regime is carving out an ever greater role for corporations in global corporate governance and enforcing an ever smaller role for states.”  A summary of the Sheffield research appeared in The Guardian  on January 14; the full report is Ethical Audits and Supply Chains of Global Corporations  (registration required to download). A related article, focusing on the coffee industry, appeared in The Conversation (December 1): “Why corporate sustainability won’t solve climate change ” .

Further Canadian Reactions to Paris COP21

The December Work and Climate Change Report  compiled early responses to the COP 21 Agreement. Other Canadian reaction since then include: Tides Canada, in cooperation with the Toronto Star, with a compilation of articles re COP21 , including “What’s next after the historic Paris climate change agreement?” by Tyler Hamilton  ; The Real test of Paris Climate Agreement will be how Markets and Regulators react (by Marc Lee) ; Success of the Paris Agreement will be measured by Policy progress here at home (Pembina Institute) ; Collaborative approach will be key to realizing Canada’s climate change obligations (Canadian Labour Congress ).  The Executive of the Toronto and District Labour Council published their Response , which announces their intention to publish and promote a “Greenprint for Greater Toronto” as part of Labour’s contribution to the fight against climate change, and also holds up model of the role of Environmental Representatives in unions in the U.K..

For business reaction, read “Canadian business leaders say COP21 agreement a good start, but only that” in the Globe and Mail (Dec. 21), based on the 4th Quarter C-Suite Survey  by consultants KPMG . 56% of executives agreed that   “Canada should be part of any global agreement to reduce greenhouse gases if it includes most of the world’s major economic powers”. When asked, in regard to your own company, “what policies would you most like to see the new Canadian government implement?”, only 8% included “address climate change”. The survey also surveyed attitudes to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

A New tool for Responsible Investing and Divesting in Canada

As it does every year to coincide with the World Economic Fund Meetings, Canadian magazine Corporate Knights released its rankings of the 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World in January 2016 . Perhaps surprisingly given the current VW emissions scandal, a German automaker, BMW, is ranked #1 in sustainability, based on its energy, waste and water reduction performance and for linking the salary of its senior executives to their sustainability performance. Corporate Knights also introduces its Eco Fund ratings , along with a discussion of responsible investing , “to make it easy for Canadian investors to see which funds provide the best combination of economic and environmental performance.” Canadian mutual funds are ranked, with calculations of their 3-year annualized returns, weighted carbon intensity, and exposure to green companies.  Such ranking may prove useful to the financial managers at the University of Toronto, who are currently considering the recommendations of a Presidential Advisory committee on divestment from fossil fuels . The committee has recommended that the university determine a method to evaluate whether a given fossil fuels company’s actions blatantly disregard the 1.5-degree threshold, and then proceed with “targeted and principled divestment from specific companies in the fossil fuels industry”.   Alternatives Journal puts this in context of the wider university divestment movement in “U of T could make Divestment History” (Dec. 2015)  . Disappointingly, the Globe and Mail reported on December 23 “Ontario Teachers, CPPIB opt to maintain fossil-fuel assets” . The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board say they are committed to their roles as “engaged investors”, seeking transparency from companies regarding risk.     On January 1, 2016, Marc Lee summarized the issues in The Tyee and asked, “Is your Pension Fund in Climate Denial?

Wind and Solary Energy in Canada, U.S., and Renewables in 2030

In a press release on January 12, 2016, the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) announced a five year annual average growth rate of 23 per cent per year for the industry, led by investments in Ontario and Quebec  . The Association anticipates continued growth, especially with the policy announcement in 2015 from Alberta (already the 3rd largest wind market) to replace two-thirds of coal generation with renewable generation. CanWEA also released a report by Compass Renewable Energy Consulting in December 2015. Wind Dividends: An Analysis of the Economic Impacts from Ontario’s Wind Procurements   forecasts that from 2006-2030, wind energy in Ontario will have stimulated more than $14 billion in economic activity, including 73,000 full-time equivalent jobs and $5 billion in wages and benefits. The report warns, however, that Ontario “currently has no plans for new wind energy purchases, and risks losing many of the good-paying, wind-related jobs it has created.”

Canada ranks 7th in the world for the installed wind generation capacity, which meets 5% of Canada’s electricity demand. In contrast, Denmark announced on January 19th, that it has set a new world record for wind energy generation with nearly 40 % of the country’s overall electricity consumption in 2014). For a thorough statistical overview of the wind energy industry and employment in the U.S., see Wind Vision, released by the U.S. Department of Energy in March 2015. According to the 6th annual U.S. Solar Jobs Census  ( January 2016) by industry-group The Solar Foundation, the industry created 1.2 percent of all new jobs in the U.S. in 2015, nearly 12 times faster than the national rate. Total solar industry employment was 208,859 , with installation as the single largest solar employment sector. Women in solar jobs increased by 2% and now represent 24% of the solar workforce. Prospects for growth in U.S. wind and solar are greatly improved after the renewal of the renewable energy tax credit system in December 2015 , with spillover benefits expected for Canadian manufacturers as well: see “U.S. tax move brightens picture for Canadian wind, solar firms”  in the Globe and Mail (Dec. 21).

A January report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (NREL) and the U.S. Department of Energy updates the on-going NREL analysis of clean energy policy impacts in the U.S. . Examining state-level Renewable Portfolio Standards policies in 2013, the authors found an average of $2.2 billion in economic benefits from reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and another $5.2 billion in benefits from reductions in sulfur dioxide and other air pollutants. Further, the report estimates nearly 200,000 jobs were created in the renewable energy sector, with over $20 billion in gross domestic product.   Read A Retrospective Analysis of the Benefits and Impacts of U.S. Renewable Portfolio Standards .

A new report released at the sixth Assembly of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in Abu Dhabi on January 17 quantifies the macroeconomic impacts of doubling the global share of renewables in the energy mix by 2030. Renewable Energy Benefits: Measuring the Economic Impact  states: “Doubling the share of renewables increases direct and indirect employment in the sector to 24.4 million by 2030. Renewable energy jobs will grow across all technologies, with a high concentration in the same technologies that account for a majority of the employment today, namely bioenergy, hydropower and solar.” …“The jobs created are likely to offset job losses in sectors such as fossil fuels because the sectors involved in the renewables supply chain are usually more distributed and labour-intensive than the conventional energy sector. For instance, solar PV creates at least twice the number of jobs per unit of electricity generated compared with coal or natural gas. As a result, substituting fossil fuels for renewables could lead to a higher number of jobs overall.” (p. 16-17). The report also states that “training is essential to support the expansion of the renewable energy sector. This requires systematic access across all layers of the society to education and training in relevant fields, including engineering, economics, science, environmental management, finance, business and commerce. Professional training, as well as school or university curricula must evolve adequately to cover renewable energy, sustainability and climate change. Vocational training programmes can also offer opportunities to acquire specialisation and take advantage of the growing renewable energy job market. The elaboration of specific, certified skills and the categorisation of trainees based on their level of experience and training is recommended.” (p. 79).

Manitoba Social Enterprise Program Trains Disadvantaged Workers for Jobs in Clean Energy, Retrofitting

The Manitoba Research Alliance, part of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, recently released a report which summarizes the activities of three Manitoba social enterprises: Aki Energy ( training geothermal energy installers); Meechim Foods (a food sovereignity project northwest of Winnipeg), and the Brandon Energy Efficiency Program (BEEP) (training for green retrofitting at public housing). Most of the workers involved in training and job placements are disadvantaged Aboriginal workers. The report, Government Support for Social Enterprise Can Reduce Poverty and Green House Gases  also examines the legislation and policies that support these initiatives, and the important role that Manitoba Hydro and Manitoba Housing play in providing work opportunities for trainees. Considering the future after the next provincial election in April 2016, the author states: “If Manitoba were to follow Ontario’s example and privatize Hydro the damage would be considerable”. The report is summarized in a January 13 article  in Rabble.ca.

Building Workers as the Engine of a Just Transition to a Low Carbon Society

Construction Labour, Work and Climate Change”  appeared as a special issue of Construction Labour News, published by the European Institute for Construction Research in December 2015. Against the backdrop of the COP21 negotiations, the need for Just Transition policies is the overriding theme of the issue. In their introduction, editors Colin Gleeson and John Calvert highlight the importance of the building sector: ‘which employs at least 110 million construction workers worldwide, has the highest potential for improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions in both industrialized and developing countries’ (ILO, 2013), and ‘emissions reductions in the building sector provide the greatest savings per unit cost’ (UNFCC 2007). Further, they state: “Construction trade unions and their allies must transform the image of construction to celebrate the building worker as the engine of a just transition to a low carbon society.” The editors propose four elements of a broad-based strategy to achieve that goal. Subject Articles include: “British Columbia Insulators Low Carbon Building Campaign” (by John Calvert);” On the Energy [R]evolution: Sustainable world energy outlook” (by Colin Gleeson); “Climate Protection Policy of IG BA” (by Dietmar Schäfers); “Just Transitions: Origins and Dimensions” (by Dimitris Stevis and Romain Felli), and “Low-carbon skills development in UK construction” (by Gavin Killip).

The State of Climate Change Litigation: Can Canada and the U.S. follow Urgenda?

The landmark Urgenda decision in the Netherlands  in June 2015 has ignited and re-ignited activity around the world, around the prospect of using litigation to fight climate change . “Unlawful or Above the Law? ” in the CCPA Monitor (Nov/Dec. 2015) reviews the Urgenda decision in detail, and puts it in the context of Canadian policy and historical legal cases which have challenged Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol.   A fuller treatment of the article, titled Canada’s Failure to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions (October 31, 2015) appears on the Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada website . The authors advocate a legal challenge to Canada’s GHG emissions reduction policies. Much of the legal argument is based on the concept of environmental rights as human rights; a Canadian pioneer on this issue is David R. Boyd, whose article “ The Constitutional Right to a Healthy Environment” appeared in Environment Magazine in 2012  . (a fuller treatment appears in his book The Environmental Rights Revolution: A Global Study of Constitutions, Human Rights and the Environment (2012)).   A more recent publication by Ecojustice, The Right to a Healthy Environment: Canada’s Time to Act    (2015) , acknowledges a large debt to Boyd’s work, and the BlueDot movement  of the David Suzuki Foundation works in practical ways towards the goal. In December 2015, Toronto became the 100th municipality in Canada to pass a declaration supporting its residents’ right to a healthy environment . Climate Change: Tackling the Greatest Human Rights Challenge of our Time (Feb. 2015) by the Center for International Environmental Law and CARE considers how to address the issue within the UNFCCC process.

Regarding liability for climate change damages, West Coast Environmental Law in B.C. and the Vanuatu Environmental Law Association released Taking Climate Justice into our own Hands  on December 8, 2015  “which explains the legal basis for climate-impacted countries to set the rules for climate damages lawsuits and how those rules can be enforced against international fossil fuel polluters.” Further, the authors propose language for a Climate Compensation Act, based on common law and thus adaptable to in any country in the world. (Vanuatu released a Statement for Climate Justice in June 2015  ).  A newly-launched blog series by the Alberta Environmental Law Centre promises “to provide updates on climate change law developments and include insights from our related law reform research.”

The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at the Columbia Law School, New York, publishes compendium of cases in the U.S. and non-U.S. , and maintains a database called Climate Change Laws of the World . In 2015, the Center published Climate Change in the Courts: An Assesment of non-U.S. climate litigation , as well as Climate Change and Human Rights 2015  (in cooperation with UNEP). The introduction states: “The question is no longer whether human rights law has anything to say about climate change, but rather what it says and how it can best be brought to bear. This report is the most detailed and comprehensive study yet undertaken of those questions”.

In a November 2015 blog, “Failure to take climate action is not only morally wrong, it’s illegal” Michael Burger discusses the Urgenda and Ashgar Legari case in Pakistan, and links them to current climate change cases in the United States.   Most high profile of these have been led by Our Children’s Trust, arguing for the right of children to live in a healthy environment. In November in Washington State  , Judge Hollis Hill ruled in favour of youth, stating that “[t]he state has a constitutional obligation to protect the public’s interest in natural resources held in trust for the common benefit of the people.” Other cases are being pursued by Our Children’s Trust in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. In August 2015, Our Children’s Trust filed a landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit against the federal government in the U.S. District Court of Oregon; plaintiffs include 21 young people and climate scientist Dr. James E. Hansen, serving as guardian for his granddaughter and for future generations. The complaint document is here; the plaintiffs request a court order requiring the President to implement a national plan to decrease CO2 to a safe level, defined as 350 ppm by the year 2100. In January 2016, a judge granted intervenor status  in the case to the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers ,the American Petroleum Institute, and other energy industry groups. To watch for: March 9, 2016: the first oral arguments will be heard in a Eugene Oregon court.

Internationally, cases claiming damages from climate changes are underway in the Philippines and Peru .  To keep up to date internationally, follow eLaws News by the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW) , who have also published Holding Corporations Accountable for Damaging the Climate (2014)   . The Center for International Environmental Law  also focuses on climate liability and climate justice.