The WMO Statement on the Status of the Global Climate presents a depressing catalogue of statistics, including that 2015 was the hottest year on record, with CO2 concentrations breaching the symbolic benchmark of 400 ppm. The Global Footprint Network released the 2016 edition of the National Footprint Accounts , reveals that the global Carbon Footprint is 16 percent higher than previously calculated. The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the Catholic University of Louvain Brussels, and the U.S. Agency for International Development released analysis of the human cost of disasters , showing that 98.6 million people worldwide were affected in 2015, and that climate was a factor in 92% of those events. Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Office estimates that over the next five years, the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements program can expect claims of $229 million per year because of hurricanes, convective storms and winter storms and $673 million for floods, for a total of $902 million in Canada. To this litany of bad news, add another cost: the mental health cost of climate change.
The issue is addressed in a recent three-part series of articles in the Toronto Star and raises the profile of the effects of climate change on the mental health of those most exposed and affected by it. “Climate change is Wreaking Havoc on our Mental Health, Experts say” (Feb. 28), discusses the mental health toll on environmental scientists and activists, provides links to studies, and applauds the American Psychological Association (APA) for taking the issue seriously (unlike the Canadian association). “For Normally Stoic Farmers, The Stress of Climate Change can be too much to bear” (Feb. 28) highlights the plight of farmers, already recognized as having one of the highest rates of occupation-related depression and suicide, and expected to worsen with increased frequency of weather disasters of flooding and drought. “Aboriginal Leaders are Warning of the Mental Health Cost of Climate Change in the North” (Feb 29) portrays Northerners as front line victims of climate change . The author of the series, Tyler Hamilton, calls on the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Psychological Association to acknowledge the issue and develop a position on the grounds that climate change stress is both a public health concern and a factor in economic productivity.
In a Working Paper titled Carbon Markets After Paris: Trading in Trouble , Sean Sweeney, Coordinator of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), argues that it is time for unions to reevaluate their stance on emissions trading. He asserts a “Paris Contradiction” – that the INDC’s targets from COP21 in Paris in December 2015 are not sufficient to reduce GhG emissions, and are part of a “neo liberal fantasy”. Focusing on Europe and the problems of the European carbon market ( the EU ETS), Sweeney criticizes the European Trade Union Confederation for its “defensive approach (prevention of carbon leakage and the protection of existing jobs)”, and its continued participation in the Social Partnership framework. In his accompanying blog , he states: “ Facing up to the the failure of carbon markets will allow unions and their allies to better concentrate on developing and organizing around the kind of programmatic commitments that can seriously tackle climate change and the systemic roots of the crisis…. by extending social ownership of key sectors like energy, a genuine ‘just transition’ is possible and that unions can play an important role in making it happen.” Even outside the neo-liberal fold, Sweeney’s call to reject carbon markets is controversial. The European Trade Union Confederation, subject of Sweeney’s criticism, most recently issued its “Position on the structural reform of the EU Emissions Trading System” in December 2015, reflecting a concern for “carbon leakage” but demanding a Just Transition Fund to protect workers. The ETUC claims to have consulted widely amongst European labour unions to reach its position. The Canadian Labour Congress, in the lead-up to COP21 stated (Nov. 2015) “The Canadian labour movement supports a national cap and trade carbon-pricing system”, and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, in its response to the 2016 Federal Budget states, “CUPE supports putting a price on carbon, but it must be done in a progressive way that penalizes corporate polluters rather than low-income and working Canadians. Revenues raised from carbon pricing should be used to invest in complementary green investments, job retraining, create green jobs, and to mitigate negative impacts of climate change and carbon pricing measures on vulnerable Canadians.” See also Marc Lee, “Don’t believe the Hype on B.C.’s Carbon Tax” (March 4), and in the U.S., the Center for American Progress called for an integrated North American carbon market on March 17.
Smart Prosperity is a new Canadian group, launched at the Globe 2016 conference in Vancouver, and supported by a civil society groups including business, youth, Indigenous people, researchers, environmental groups (including WWF, Pembina Institute, Nature Conservancy), and labour organizations, notably the United Steelworkers. Its launch document, New Thinking: Canada’s Roadmap to Smart Prosperity outlines five action areas: 1. Accelerate clean innovation across the economy; 2: Boost energy and resource efficiency; 3: Price pollution and waste ; 4: Invest in advanced infrastructure and skills; 5: Conserve and value nature.
From the Broadbent Institute, which is also a member of the Smart Prosperity collaborative, comes A Green Entrepreneurial State as Solution to Climate Federalism by Brendan Haley. The author supports a uniform national carbon pricing system, but continues.. “ the government should also not limit itself to market-based approaches, since other policy actions are needed to create low-carbon economic and political momentum attuned to regional needs and catalyzing concrete low-carbon innovations.” Conclusion: “The federal government can support the development of low-carbon transition pathways by providing analytical tools in areas such as GHG accounting, energy systems analysis, and scenario development. The results can inform the allocation of federal R&D efforts, infrastructure funds, and green development bank investments.” Haley acknowledges a large debt to the work of Mariana Mazzucato and her widely-cited book, The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths (2013) . Mazzucato has since published The Green Entrepreneurial State (SPRU Working Paper October 2015) , and “A State-powered Green Revolution” in The Syndicate (March 10).
Two recent international reports add to the mounting evidence that a low carbon economy can be achieved within a healthy economy. The International Energy Agency in Paris titled its March 16 press release, “Decoupling of Global Emissions and Economic Growth Confirmed” , as it released data showing energy-related emissions of CO2 steady for the second year in a row, while renewable energy surged. And an OECD study, Do Environmental Policies Affect Global Value Chains? (March 10) concludes that regulations to curb pollution and energy use do not necessarily hurt businesses by creating new costs – challenging the theories of carbon leakage made by some. Based on historic trade data for developing and developed economies, the OECD report concludes that countries with stringent environmental laws suffer a very small disadvantage in pollution-intensive sectors such as steel-making, chemicals, plastics and fuel products, but that this is compensated for by advantages in cleaner industries like machinery or electronics. The study uses an “OECD Environmental Policy Stringency indicator”, is a composite index which assigns higher values to represent a more stringent policy. An interactive table shows Canada’s Stringency score at 2.8 in 2012, (which is the OECD average). The most stringent country is Denmark (4.2), followed by Netherlands (3.6); the U.S. and Japan rank 2.6.
February 29, 2016, dubbed Leap Day, saw the launch of a campaign to transform Canada’s postal system while creating a greener and more equitable economy. The “Delivering Community Power” campaign proposes to leverage Canada Post’s unparalleled delivery and outlet network, including rural and Indigenous communities, by offering electric vehicle charging stations at post offices, and providing postal banking as a means of financial inclusion and green investment. It also proposes converting the postal fleet to made-in-Canada electric vehicles. In her blog at the Council of Canadians website, Andrea Harden-Donahue states, “This is a very useful concrete proposal that brings together the inter-sectionality at the heart of the Leap Manifesto, aimed at social justice, environmental and climate objectives.” Rabble.ca describes the background for the campaign. Coalition members and supporters include the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, LEAP Manifesto, the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association, ACORN, Idle No More, Friends of Public Services, SmartChange.ca, and the Canadian Labour Congress; they are urging Canadians to actively participate in a public review of Canada Post, to resist cutbacks and reimagine future directions. The Campaign website offers a download of the full 20 page proposal: Delivering Community Power: How Canada Post can be the Hub of our Next Economy .
“Why Work And Workers Matter In The Environmental Debate” appeared in the March 19 issue of Green Agenda, an online forum hosted by the Green Institute , a think thank associated with Australia’s Green Party. It provides an introduction to the prevailing arguments about a green transition, with Australian examples and context, and argues 1) that the world of work is a critical element in a successful shift to a green economy, and 2) that political parties and environmental organizations in Australia need to engage more deeply with the concerns and interests of workers in the face of labour market and job disruptions. Pointing to the “more nuanced” positions of the Leap Manifesto, the 350 movement, and Australia’s Earthworker Co-operative, the author challenges leaders in politics, business, the environmental movement, and the labour movement, to craft and implement Just Transition policies which re-imagine work and society, providing North American and Australian examples of what is at risk for communities and workers. The author, Caleb Goods, is a Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia, and this essay draws on his work as a Co-Investigator in the Adapting Canadian Work & Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) project at York University.
The First Ministers meeting in Vancouver raised enormous expectations, culminating on March 3 with the release of an 8-page Vancouver Declaration on Clean Growth and Climate Change , (in French here ). The Declaration pledged immediate federal investment in green infrastructure, public transit infrastructure and energy efficient social infrastructure; investing in clean energy and clean tech R & D, as well as electric vehicles and clean electricity. It creates working groups to report by October 2016, in four areas: Clean Technology, Innovation and Jobs; Carbon Pricing Mechanisms; Specific Mitigation Opportunities; and Adaptation and Climate Resilience. Acknowledging that ANY federal-provincial discussion represents progress from the Harper years, reaction to the meetings was generally optimistic – for example, Four Reasons the First Ministers Meeting on Climate Matters from Clean Energy Canada, and Vancouver Declaration Moves Canada Closer To A National Climate Plan from DeSmog Blog. The Council of Canadians disappointment is explained in “Council of Canadians protest as first ministers fail to take needed action on climate change” , and the outrage of some Indigenous leaders marred the meetings, see “Indigenous leaders shocked at exclusion from climate change meeting” in The National Observer . For a simple, balanced overview, read “From Paris to Vancouver: What happened at the First Ministers meeting on climate” by Marc Lee at Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives , who rightly points out that achieving a clean economy is a political problem, not a technical problem, and who advises us to “watch the budget”.
Action on climate change is listed as one of the top 10 things Canadian unions want to see in the federal budget, according to the Canadian Labour Congress. And the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives included a call for a national carbon price of $30 per tonne in their Alternative Budget . When the actual federal Budget was delivered on March 22 by Finance Minister Morneau, he characterized the new government as a “champion of clean growth and a speedy transition to a low-carbon economy.” Spending allocations include: $2.5-billion for public transit; $1.8-billion on green infrastructure; $574-million for energy and water efficiency upgrades in social housing; $401-million for a variety of clean-tech development efforts; $1.7-billion for climate and environmental protection, and an additional $1-billion in each of 2018 and 2019 to establish a low-carbon economy fund for provinces and territories that sign on to a national climate agreement. The Budget did NOT eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, and DID include a provision to allow LNG producers to write off their capital investments at an accelerated pace for the next 10 years. For an overview, see “Liberals unveil spending as ‘Champion of Clean Growth” in the Globe and Mail (March 22). Read CUPE’s response here .
On March 10, 2016, following star-powered meetings between President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau in Washington, the U.S.-Canada Joint Statement on Climate, Energy, and Arctic Leadership (in French here ) was released. Again, there were optimistic and positive reactions, mainly centred on the provisions to work collaboratively on federal measures to reduce methane emissions. Environment and Climate Change Canada has pledged “to publish an initial phase of proposed regulations by early 2017.” Summaries of the agreement appear in “Trudeau vows to Clamp Down on Methane Emissions” in the Globe and Mail (March 10) and “Obama and Canada’s Justin Trudeau Promote Ties and Climate Plan” in New York Times (March 10). For reaction, read “How big a deal is Trudeau and Obama’s methane pact?” from the UVic PICS Newsletter ; “Why Closer Canadian-American collaboration on clean energy is a good thing” at the Institute for Research in Public Policy ; and “Celebrating Crucial climate progress in Canada’s oil and gas sector” , from the Pembina Institute. For a U.S. point of view, read “Sea Change: U.S. and Canada Announce Common Goals on Climate, Energy and the Arctic” from Inside Climate News, which summarizes the recent activity of the EPA regarding methane emissions. The Natural Resources Defense Council calls for a commitment to end fossil fuel subsidies in From Dialogue to Results: Blueprint for Joint Climate Action and Clean Energy Deployment between Canada and the United States , which the joint agreement did not do.
On March 6, 2016, the Speech from the Throne announced intentions to reinvest revenues from the carbon levy into creating jobs and economic diversification, to enact a Promoting Job Creation and Diversification Act , and to appoint an Energy Diversification Advisory Committee which will include Labour. On March 15, Alberta and the United Kingdom announced a Low-Carbon Innovation and Growth Framework agreement. On March 16, the press release “Alberta takes next steps to phase-out coal pollution under Climate Leadership Plan” explains the process underway.
Activists in B.C. are dismayed by the March 22 appointment of the person who will lead B.C.’s upcoming Climate Leadership Plan: see “Fazil Mihlar, former Fraser Institute director, tapped as B.C.’s Deputy Climate Minister” in the National Observer. Despite widespread public opposition – especially from the local group My Sea to Sky – the Woodfibre LNG project was awarded federal approval, with conditions, on March 18 . And in what is seen as a serious test of Canada’s climate commitment , Federal Minister McKenna has delayed the decision on the Pacific Northwest LNG project ; see “ Tensions tighten as Ottawa Prepares Decision on Pacific Northwest LNG” in the Globe and Mail or “Decision time for Trudeau: Climate Commitments or LNG legacy” in the National Observer. See also the Policy Note from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, “B.C. government spin cycle on LNG” (March 15), summarizing the results of freedom of information requests regarding natural gas supplies, environmental impacts, and economic benefits of developing LNG. On a more positive note, Premier Clark announced funding of $11.9 million from the Province’s Innovative Clean Energy (ICE) Fund for three programs aimed at promoting clean-energy vehicles, clean air and clean water. Details of the Clean Energy Vehicle Program are here .
On March 2, 2016, the Government of Manitoba introduced Bill 20, the Environmental Rights Act , summarized at the Environmental Law Centre ( Alberta) blog . The Act incorporates fundamental environmental law principles: precautionary principle; polluter pays principle; principle of sustainable development; principle of intergenerational equity; and principle of environmental justice. The Bill also includes Employee Protection from Reprisals, which states that “An employee who uses a measure set out in the Bill to protect the environment is protected from any reprisal from their employer. ”
Update: The EcoJustice blog, A Tale of Two Provinces highlights the many strengths of the Manitoba legislation, and compares the reforms with Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights. However, with the election call in Manitoba, Bill 20 died on the Order Paper. The Manitoba election will take place on April 19 – see CBC coverage here.
The Ontario government introduced Bill 172, the Climate Change Mitigation and Low Carbon Economy Act to the Legislature on February 24, 2016; a summary is available here ; the Bill and status is available here . It proposes to establish greenhouse gas emissions targets in statute for 2020, 2030 and 2050, with the option to establish interim or more stringent targets through a regulation. Most notably, it establishes the expected cap and trade program, with requirements for greenhouse gas emissions quantification and calculation, reporting and verification, the submission of allowances and credits to match greenhouse gas emissions, the creation , distribution and trading of allowances and credits, and an offset program. The full and detailed outline of the Regulatory proposals re the Cap and Trade program are available at the Ontario Environmental Registry, open for public comment until April 10, 2016. . Other announcements: $5 million from the Green Investment Fund to provide Indigenous communities with training, tools and infrastructure to address climate change, with additional $8 million to develop advanced microgrid solutions in First Nations communities(March 17); provincial investment and partnership with a Japanese company Mitsui High-tec to build the first manufacturing facility in Ontario, in Brantford, to produce motor cores for electric and hybrid vehicles.
A March 2 article in The Tyee, “How a B.C. union dumped fossil fuels and cashed in” highlights the profitable decision of the B.C. Government Employees Union to move $20 million in its strike fund and general reserves from equities (and fossil fuels) into cash in 2014. The article then discusses the more complex issues of climate risk in pension fund investing (B.C.GEU did not divest its pension fund). A March 1 article in Grist, “New York lost Billions with Fossil Fuel Investments” estimates that the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the third largest pension fund in the U.S., lost $5 billion over three years through its investments in fossil fuel companies. The estimate is based on the analysis of Toronto-based Corporate Knights, using its Decarbonizer calculator. Another Corporate Knights analysis of the performance of 14 major funds , including Harvard’s endowment, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the pension plans of Canada and the Netherlands, estimated that the combined losses of the 14 funds since 2012 was $23 billion.
In early March, the investment committee for the largest pension fund in the U.S., California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) voted to require that the corporations it invests in must include people on their boards who have expertise in climate change risk management strategies. On March 24, CBC reported that the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) has ordered Exxon to put to a vote at its shareholders’ meeting in May a resolution which would require Exxon to make annual disclosure of risks to company’s operations from climate change or legislation designed to control carbon pollution.
These are all evidence that the investment community is paying attention to the investment risks of fossil fuels, particularly stranded assets. At COP21, a global Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) was established, with Michael Bloomberg at the head, to“consider the physical, liability and transition risks associated with climate change and what constitutes effective financial disclosures across industries”… and to “ develop voluntary, consistent climate-related financial risk disclosures for use by companies in providing information to investors, lenders, insurers, and other stakeholders”. In January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, proposals for risk reporting by fossil fuel companies were set out in Considerations for Reporting Disclosure in a Carbon-constrained world from Carbon Tracker Initiative and the Climate Disclosure Standards Board . Too Late, Too Sudden: Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy and Systemic Risk (Feb. 2016) from the European Systemic Risk Board in February recommends that policymakers increase disclosure of the carbon intensity of non-financial firms (that would include the fossil fuel industry), noting that “Fossil-fuel firms and electricity utilities are substantially debt financed, exacerbating the potential financial stability impact of a sudden revaluation of stranded assets.” For a Canadian context, see an October 2015 working paper from SHARE, Integrating the Economy and the Environment: An Overview of Canadian Capital Markets .
Clean Energy Canada released the 2016 edition of its Tracking the Energy Revolution: Global Survey on February 29, subtitled: A Year for the Record Books because 2015 was the first year in which more money was invested in clean energy in developing countries than in developed ones. Further, investment in renewable power totalled a record US$367 billion, a 7% increase over 2014. More than half of that amount was invested in China, the United States and Japan. For specific examples of U.S. progress, read the White House briefing, America is Building a Clean-Energy Economy with Unprecedented Momentum , which summarizes the accomplishments of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) in promoting clean energy investment and research.
At a total investment of $4 billion, Canada ranked 8th globally in the Clean Energy survey – and investment decreased by 46%. Yet consider the projections of the Solutions Project , led by Marc Jacobsen at Stanford University, which has developed plans for 100 percent renewable energy for 139 countries around the world, including all U.S. states and Canada .
Also of interest, the International Energy Agency released its review of Canada’s energy policies , on March 3 – the first update since 2009. It states that Canada was the fifth-largest crude oil and fourth-largest natural gas producer in the world in 2014; in 2014, the energy sector contributed 10 per cent of gross domestic product, employed about 280,000 people and accounted for about 30 per cent of Canada’s exports.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees released a practical guide, How to form a Workplace Environment Committee on March 7, stating “CUPE recommends that its members set up either a workers-only environment committee or a joint worker/employer environment committee. Sometimes, joint health and safety committees extend their mandate to take on environmental issues. However, a separate environment committee that focuses only on green issues is the better way to go to ensure that workplace environmental issues are front and centre for the committee.” The Guide suggests starting with an EcoAudit , which CUPE also supplies online , as well as examples of existing committees in CUPE workplaces. For a catalogue of collective bargaining language related to workplace environment committees, visit the database compiled by York University’s Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change project.
A March 22 announcement establishes a A$1 billion clean-energy innovation fund to invest in clean-energy technologies and businesses in Australia; the Australian Renewable Energy Agency will also be retained. Yet a controversy continues over the Australian government’s cut-backs on climate change science – see “Grim prospects: the shake-up of Australia’s climate science” from the Sydney Morning Herald (March 11). Another current controversy is highlighted in The Guardian: “Australia’s emissions rising and vastly underestimated, says report” (March 18).
China’s Official 5-Year Plan for 2016 – 2020 was released on March 5, and for the first time, China has set a limit on energy consumption, to 5 billion tons of standard coal equivalent. Kate Gordon of the Paulson Institute considers the impact on coal workers in “ The Fate of Industrial Workers in China’s Proposed Green(er) Economy” (March 22) . For a general overview of the Plan, see the World Resources Institute analysis ; or “China’s New Five-year Plan is out and it doesn’t Sacrifice the Environment for the Economy” in Grist (March 18) .
Oregon passed “precedent-setting” legislation in March with the passage of Senate Bill 1547, which will eliminate coal from the state’s energy supply by 2030, and provide half of all customers’ power with renewable sources by 2040. The state’s one existing coal plant is its largest source of GhG emissions, according to Yale 360 .
Reported in The Guardian on February 28 as a “watershed moment”, the biggest energy lobbying group in the country, Energy UK, has shifted its position on green energy and will start campaigning for low-carbon alternatives. The shift in policy follows the publication of Pathways for the GB Electricity Sector to 2030 , commissioned by Energy UK and written by consultants KPMG. (For comparison purposes, see the Canadian Electricity Association documents Vision 2050 ( 2014) , and Adapting to Climate Change (2016).
The U.K. Budget delivered on March 16 initially imposed a VAT increase from 5 – 20% on solar panels and other energy-saving products, but Chancellor George Osborne was forced to backtrack by political opposition. Small comfort when the Petroleum Revenue Tax was effectively abolished and a supplementary charge on oil and gas extraction dramatically reduced – the government claims that it has provided tax support worth 1 billion pounds to the oil and gas industry.
In early March, the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions released the first update since 2008 to its Common Vision for Sustainable Seafood , a widely-used best-practices guide used by the North American food industry. New in the 2016 edition are strong prescriptions for labour rights and traceability of the supply chain. From the preamble: “…socially responsible seafood ensures that sourcing does not impact the food security of vulnerable communities, provides a living wage for workers in seafood supply chains, and supports the sustainable livelihoods and cultural heritage of communities.” Specific steps are outlined, including: “ Establish effective grievance mechanisms for labor abuses and worker safety that meet the minimum standards set forth in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and include a meaningful role for workers themselves in the monitoring of workplace conditions and resolving disputes. • Develop corrective action plans with suppliers found to violate human or labor rights.• Include requirements in purchasing agreements and contracts that suppliers will respect fundamental labor rights, including freedom of association and right to collective bargaining, and will pay workers a living wage.” The Association website also includes a Social Resource Centre , with links to all the major organizations and documents relating to sustainability and core labour standards in the fisheries industry.
“Environmental Activists Take to Local Protests for Global Results” in the New York Times (March 19) features the arrest of Bill McKibben at a protest at Seneca Lake, New York, and illustrates the growing climate protest movement. Case in point: Breakfree 2016 is scheduled for May 4 – 15, and will coordinate a “global wave of mass actions will target the world’s most dangerous fossil fuel projects, in order to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground and accelerate the just transition to 100% renewable energy.” In “A New Wave of Climate Insurgents Defines Itself as Law-Enforcers”, Jeremy Brecher of Labor for Sustainability characterizes the Breakfree protests as part of a “climate insurgency”, which is seen “not only as a moral but as a legal right and duty, necessary to protect the Constitution and the public trust for ourselves and our posterity”. Brecher catalogues other U.S. examples, including the court challenges led by Our Children’s Trust . In an article in Rolling Stone , (March 12), the children’s case is described as part of an emerging legal strategy dubbed “Atmospheric Trust Litigation”.
In contrast to the right to protest that many North American activists enjoy, there stands the murder on March 3 of Berta Cáceres , the Honduran Indigenous and environmental rights campaigner and winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015. A website for Berta http://bertacaceres.org/ tells her story and that of other environmental activists worldwide, and compiles the calls from around the world of outrage and for an independent inquiry. In Canada, a rally was held at the Honduran embassy in Ottawa on International Women’s Day.