Christiana Figueres Steps Down, Patricia Espinosa Steps Up

Patricia Espinosa of Mexico, nominated by U.N. head Ban Ki-moon, has been formally confirmed as the new Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC),  at the first meetings since the Paris Agreement, in  Bonn, Germany May 18 and 19   . See:  her first interview, with Reuters, on May 19  – in which she is asked about Donald  Trump’s statement on the Paris Agreement; or “Patricia Espinosa: Who is the UN’s incoming Climate Chief”, including a copy of her CV from Climate Home (May 5) ;  or  “A crucial handoff between UN Climate Chiefs ” from the Brookings Institute .

 

Want to fact check climate change science in the media?

A new project, Climate Feedback,  is currently crowdfunding  to finance a website to offer an “ effective and scalable way for scientists to share what they know with readers and journalists.” News articles will be reviewed and assigned a “credibility rating”.    The project began at University of California at Merced; the crowdfunding description  says it includes over 100 scientists and has been widely endorsed. Read the reports at the Yale Climate Connections  or in The Guardian .

Millions of people, Trillions of dollars at risk from coastal floods

A report on May 16 from an agency of the World Bank, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), says that cities around the world are failing to plan for fast-increasing risks from extreme weather and other hazards, and by 2050, 1.3 billion people and $158 trillion in assets will be threatened by worsening river and coastal floods alone.  Losses in 136 coastal cities are projected to rise from $6 billion a year in 2010 to $1 trillion a year by 2070.  The report, The Making of a Riskier Future: How Our Decisions are Shaping the Future of Disaster Risk is here  ; a summary from Thomson Reuters is here   .  A separate report, also in May, from Christian Aid, ranks cities with the most to lose from coastal flooding.  Topping their list: Calcutta (14 million people), Mumbai (11.4 million) and Dhaka (11.1 million).  Miami, with 4.8   million people, ranks 9th in population but tops the ranking by exposed assets in 2070 , with  $3.5 trillion. New York City ranks 3rd in exposed assets with $2.1tn.  The report also discusses the risks to the city of London, U.K.  Read Act Now or Pay Later: Protecting a billion people in climate-threatened coastal cities    .

Air Pollution and Coal: A Public Health issue around the world

On May 18, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, along with the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), the Canadian Lung Association, the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA)  joined a global call   for the G7 nations to accelerate the transition away from coal­-fired electricity, to bring “ immediate and significant air pollution-­related health benefits and health care savings. A coal phase-­out also slows climate change, thereby reducing current and future illnesses and deaths from heat waves, droughts, malnutrition, flooding, air pollution and wildfires.” The Lung Association of America  recently ranked air pollution in U.S. cities and found that  Bakersfield, California, was the most polluted city for both short-term and year-round particle pollution, while Los Angeles-Long Beach was the worst for ozone pollution.  In the U.K., air pollution was cited as a “public health emergency” in a report published by a Select Committee of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministry  .  The World Health Organization (WHO)  ranked the world’s most polluted cities on May 12,  with four of the five worst cities in India. WHO surveyed 3,000 urban areas; the data shows only 2 per cent of cities in developing countries have air quality that meets WHO standards, compared to 44 per cent in developed countries. A WHO official also stated, “Probably some of the worst cities … are not included in our list, just because they are so bad that they do not even have a good system of monitoring of air quality, so it’s unfair to compare or give a rank.”

Retrofitting and Energy Efficiency in New York City

In April, 2016 New York City  Mayor de Blasio announced a program of new energy efficiency initiatives, including a requirement for retrofitting,  to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the city’s residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. Details and testimonials are at the city’s Sustainability website   .   Also released in April from the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, The NYC Climate Justice Agenda: Strengthening the Mayor’s OneNYC Plan,  which  assesses the City’s earlier initiatives   through the lens of  community-based climate justice, and makes recommendations.

U.S. EPA sets new rules for Methane Emissions

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken what the  New York Times calls “A Much Needed Step on Methane Emissions” on May 13, to significantly reduce methane emissions from new oil and gas facilities as well as those undergoing modifications (although existing sites remain unregulated) . Read Inside Climate News  for a thorough report, which reminds us  that Prime Minister Trudeau and President Obama committed in March 2016 to jointly pursue regulation of methane emissions at existing oil and gas facilities.

Canada’s Forest Sector commits to a voluntary emissions reduction target

On May 2, 2016, the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC)   announced its 30 by 30 Climate Change Challenge  – a pledge to remove 30 megatonnes (MT) of CO2 per year by 2030.  FPAC claims that the forest sector is the first to voluntarily contribute to the federal government’s climate goals under the Paris agreement;  the target is “more than 13% of the Canadian government’s emissions target” for 2030.  The details are not yet clear, but  FPAC states generally that it  will rely on improved forest management, increasing “the use of innovative forest products and clean tech to displace materials made from fossil fuels, and by further efficiencies at mill sites.” According to the  Globe and Mail , “the association endorsed the adoption of carbon pricing – either taxes or cap-and-trade systems”. See the Vancouver Sun coverage here    .

NEB Conditional approval for Kinder Morgan Pipeline is met with Determined Opposition

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On May 19, a National Energy Board press release stated,  “Taking into account all the evidence, considering all relevant factors, and given that there are considerable benefits nationally, regionally and to some degree locally, the Board found that the benefits of the Project would outweigh the residual burdens.”  The Kinder Morgan TransMountain Pipeline NEB approval, with 157 conditions , is subject to review by a three-member federal panel, announced on May 17    , which has until  November to report to  the Minister of Natural Resources.  The final decision will then be made by the federal Cabinet. See “ Trudeau Declares Resource Promotion a PM’s ‘Fundamental Responsibility’” , and “McKenna won’t give a straight answer about Enbridge pipeline” (May 17)  , summarizing the mixed messages and political manoeuvering over pipeline development.  Also of interest, from DeSmog blog: “Enbridge and Kinder Morgan lobby hard as Feds change tune on Pipelines”  .

The Kinder Morgan decision had been the focus of Canada’s Break Free divestment protests on May 14, and Canada’s 350.org states that the NEB decision doesn’t change “the simple fact that the Kinder Morgan pipeline will never be built.” EcoJustice reacted with: “Ready to continue fight against Kinder Morgan”  in the courts, and citizens , local governments, and environmental groups also oppose Kinder Morgan: see  “Local Governments deeply disappointed”   , and “NEB sides with Texas-based pipeline company against B.C. citizens, First Nations”  .   Chances that First Nations will approve the pipelines are non-existent, according to a National Observer report (May 19)   in which  Rueben George, spokesperson for the local Tsleil-Waututh Nation, states ” First Nations have won 170 legal cases around resource extraction, that’s a 97 per cent victory rate. It’s pretty clear to me that we have veto power over this company.”  The  interactive map  (above) by the Wilderness Committee shows the Kinder Morgan route and summarizes the opposition by First Nations throughout the NEB consultations .

The Alberta Government  calls the NEB decision “a responsible national approach to energy infrastructure. Canada is balancing the need for much stronger action on climate change with the need to pay for that action, by sustainably developing our natural resources – including our energy resources.”  From the British Columbia government: “ We will only support new heavy-oil pipelines in British Columbia if our five conditions can be met. These conditions include the successful completion of the environmental review process, ensuring world-leading marine and land-based spill response, prevention and recovery systems are in place, ensuring legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights are addressed and First Nations are provided with the opportunities to participate in and benefit from a heavy-oil project, and, finally, that British Columbia receives a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits from any proposed heavy-oil projects.… “The responsibility for meeting the five conditions is complex and will take a great deal of effort from both industry and governments….we will continue to work with the proponent and all stakeholders to address B.C.’s needs.”  And indeed, the B.C. government passed legislation  to alter the boundaries of Finn Creek Provincial Park in May, after a Kinder Morgan submission that requested changes to four park boundaries .

Unnoticed amidst the Kinder Morgan debate was a report released on April 28 by the Council of Canadian Academies(CCA). Commercial Marine Shipping Accidents: Understanding the Risks in Canada , explores the likelihood of commercial marine shipping accidents, including oil spills,  and considers their potential social, economic, and environmental impacts. Noting significant gaps in the available data, and that there have been few such accidents, the report concludes that the Pacific Region has the highest level of shipping activity, but has a relatively low risk profile. The report concludes that Canada has a well-developed oil spill response regime overall, but identifies areas for improvement as “ the need for a hazardous and noxious substances (HNS) preparedness and response regime across Canada, as well as further research into how substances classified as HNS behave in a marine environment.” The report was commissioned by the Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping,  a not-for-profit  based in Vancouver since 2014.  Its goal is to provide unbiased, independent research; its funding comes from the governments of Canada, Alberta, and “industry groups represented by CAPP” (the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers).

 

 

 

 

 

Recent research on Carbon Taxes and Cap and Trade

Before the May announcement of Ontario’s Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act ,   a working paper released in April by the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity at the University of Toronto models the impact of Ontario’s proposed cap-and-trade program on economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions, considers complementary policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions , and makes ten recommendations.  Read  Towards a low Carbon Economy: The Costs and Benefits of Cap and Trade here  .   The Effect of Environmental Policies on Jobs: Painting a More Complete Picture   explains a new general equilibrium model, developed by economists at Resources for the Future,  which incorporates a job search requirement in the model.   The subsequent Discussion Paper, Unemployment and Environmental Regulation in General Equilibrium  concludes that “a modest economy-wide carbon tax would likely cause a substantial shift in employment between industries, but would have little overall effect on unemployment, even in the short run…An environmental performance standard causes a substantially smaller sectoral shift in employment than the emissions tax, with roughly similar net effects.”

Ontario’s New Climate Change Legislation centres on Cap and Trade and Green Investment

Bill 172, Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act, 2016 passed 3rd reading in  the Ontario Legislature on May 18th and will become law upon Royal Assent.   The law sets GHG emission reduction targets of of 15 per cent by the end of 2020;  37 per cent by the end of 2030; and 80 per cent by the end of 2050. The bill also sets out the framework for the Cap and Trade program: the official Ontario Regulation 144/16 (May 19)   is here  ; the government summary is here  ; a summary by the National Observer is here .   The first year of the program, 2017, sets  an economy-wide cap of 142 megatonnes per year , declining to 125 megatonnes per year by 2020. All proceeds from the cap and trade program will be deposited into a new Greenhouse Gas Reduction Account,  which will “ be invested in a transparent way back into green projects that reduce greenhouse gas pollution and help homeowners and businesses save energy such as public transit, clean-tech innovation for industry, electric vehicle incentives, social housing retrofits.”   The details of implementation will come in June when the government releases the first of the Climate Action Plans required under the legislation.

Key to the Government’s public relations battle is a report by EnviroEconomics, Navius Research and Dillon Construction: Impact Modelling and Analysis of Ontario Cap and Trade Program , which analyses four alternate program structures and concludes that the proposed program will be least costly  to households and have the lowest impact on provincial GDP ( the proposed plan resulting in the equivalent to a drop in growth of 0.03% in 2020). The Clean Economy Alliance , a multi-sector coalition of 90 green organizations, had called for explicit Just Transition language for workers in the legislation, according to a Unifor press release , but the only “transition” changes in t he final text of the legislation appear in section 2.1, regarding households:  “The action plan must consider the impact of the regulatory scheme on low-income households and must include actions to assist those households with Ontario’s transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Nevertheless, reaction by environmental groups has been enthusiastic: the Clean Economy Alliance press release welcomes the legislation, and Keith Brooks, Director of Clean Economy, calls the legislation “a big deal”, “a huge step forward, and one worthy of celebration” in his blog; the Pembina Institute says  “ it is laying the foundation for solid success”.  In the mainstream media, pushback started with a story in the Globe and Mail on April 27, “New Ontario agency will be given sweeping mandate to overhaul energy use”  – which summarized details of a leaked, preliminary draft of the the Climate Change Action Plan (still under discussion in Cabinet).  More leaked details were revealed in “Ontario to spend 7 Billion in sweeping climate change Plan”    (May 16) , which states that the province will set lower carbon fuel standards for gas and diesel, change building codes to require all new homes by 2030 to be heated with electricity or geothermal systems (currently 76% of homes are heated with natural gas), and set a target for 12 per cent of all new vehicle sales to be electric by 2025.  In “Ontario passes bill to create cap and trade system”  on May 19, the Globe tempers the storm their reporting has created with: “The Liberals deny a published report claiming their climate change plan would include phasing out the use of natural gas for home heating, and point out they are expanding the gas grid to more rural areas of the province.”  On May 20, Nic Rivers, Canada Research Chair in Climate and Energy Policy at the University of Ottawa, weighs in with “The Ontario climate plan: Should provinces follow or flee?”  .

Is British Columbia losing its leadership position on Climate Change?

On May 10, the Chair of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission wrote in the Globe and Mail  , urging Premier Clark to increase B.C.’s carbon tax and emulate the revenue transfers in the Alberta carbon tax structure.   Some members of the government’s own Advisory panel on Climate Leadership sent an Open Letter to the Premier   on May 17  (one year after the panel had delivered its recommendations  ), urging action and questioning the delays on their recommended initiatives.  The Open Letter coincided with an Opinion piece  in the Victoria Times Colonist, and an article by Tzeporah Berman (one of the signatories) in the National Observer  . For the best summary of the current state of climate progress in B.C., see the Pembina Institute/Clean Energy Canada backgrounder: Evaluating Climate Leadership in British Columbia   .

Motivating people to act on Climate Change

Joe Romm of Climate Progress recently compiled a good quick guide:  Here’s what Science has to say about Convincing People to do Something about Climate Change   .  Romm references a core academic article, “Improving Public Engagement with Climate Change: Five ‘Best Practice’ Insights from Psychological Science” (2015)   and there have been many others.  The Washington Post has been following the issue and summarizing other academic papers :   “The vicious cycle that makes people afraid to talk about climate change” (May 12) in the Washington Post summarizes “Climate of Silence: Pluralistic ignorance as a barrier to climate change discussion” in Journal of Environmental Psychology , which states that people avoid talking about climate change if they feel that others  are sceptical, for fear of being judged as “less competent”. This leads to a vicious cycle, where no one is talking about climate change, so no one wants to be the first to raise the issue.

Why even people who are very alarmed about climate change often take little action” in the Washington Post is based on “Social norms and efficacy beliefs drive the Alarmed segment’s public-sphere climate actions” , which appeared in Nature Climate Change in May .  This paper shows that people’s willingness to vote, donate, volunteer, contact government officials, and protest about climate change can be encouraged if “alarmed individuals” (those already concerned about climate change) act as public role models and communicate their views.  However, raising awareness without providing a path for action does not drive behaviour change amongst potential followers.

In practical terms, a recent paper published by the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Foundation contrasts the arguments used to advocate for clean energy – ecological arguments, job creation, self-sufficiency and community empowerment-  in Germany vs. the United States.  Read Building Political Support for a Clean Energy Transition — How Arguments on Solar Power Affect Public Support in Germany and the US  here .

In Canada,  a book to be launched in Vancouver on May 25, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: the Toxic state of Public Discourse and How to Clean it Up   examines the broader issue of misinformation campaigns, including climate change, and offers suggestions on how to improve communications and advocacy strategies.  Two encouraging recent examples of clear, factual public statements to counter fear-mongering by climate sceptics:  “Setting The Record Straight on Ontario’s Green Energy Plan” by Keith Brooks in the Huffington Post, which refutes “Coming soon: Ontario’s green energy fiasco, the sequel”, an OpEd in the Globe and Mail (April 29)   and “ What does the carbon levy really mean for me?”   published by the Pembina Institute (May 19), which sets the record straight on the benefits of Alberta’s new policy.

The State of Human Rights policies in the international Renewable Energy Industry

In May, 2016 the Business and Human Rights Centre  , an international monitoring and advocacy group,  released the results of their survey of the human rights policies of  international wind, hydropower, and utility companies.  Key issues identified by the 14 responding companies:  local community rights, land rights, community health and safety, labour rights, and rights of Indigenous people.  Results  show that  two thirds have human rights policy commitments, although only half refer to international standards. Two thirds of companies state a commitment to consultation with local communities, but only three companies (Engie (France), Lake Turkana Wind Power (Kenya) and Vestas (Denmark)) commit to the internationally recognised standard of  free, prior and informed consent.  Only 2 North American companies were included in the survey: Ontario Power Generation (Canada) and NextEra Energy (U.S); neither responded to the survey.  Responses of participating companies are provided here.  Case studies are promised in future.

85,000 Clean Jobs in New York State

Clean Jobs New York   was released  in May by E2 consultants and New Yorkers for Clean Power.  The report, based on databases and survey responses from employers, shows  that clean energy employs more than 85,000 workers at more than 7,500 business establishments across the state, with an anticipated growth rate of 6% for 2016.  80% of the clean energy workers are found in energy efficiency; other major sectors are alternative transportation and greenhouse gas (GHG) management and accounting.  The report makes several  policy recommendations, including  “Governor Cuomo and NYSERDA must show continued leadership by finalizing and implementing a robust Clean Energy Standard, further strengthening RGGI post-2020, leveraging the Clean Energy Fund, and doubling down on energy efficiency by establishing clear, ambitious, binding targets.” New Yorkers for Clean Power  is convened by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Frack Action, Catskill Mountainkeeper, The Solutions Project, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) and is partnering with many organizations, businesses and other groups across the state.

How can U.S. Labour recover from the Keystone XL Fight?

Contested Futures: Labor after Keystone XL”  was published in New Labour Forum   and reproduced on the website of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy , where author Sean Sweeney is Coordinator.  His analysis begins with the considerable complexities of union positions in the  Keystone XL pipeline debate in the U.S. between 2011 and 2015, and continues to the present, considering the divided approaches towards the Clean Power Plan and the upcoming U.S. election campaign . His vision:   “Labor’s KXL fight could be the precursor to more disunity and acrimony in the labor movement in the years ahead, especially if the Black-Blue Alliance remains in place and “Saudi America” imaginings continue to shape labor’s discourse. Alternatively, unions in all sectors—the Trades, transport, health, and so on—can work together to support an approach to energy and climate that is needs-based, grounded in the facts, and independent of both industry interests and the mainstream environmental groups that support renewable energy “by any means necessary.” Sweeney calls for labour to unite behind an energy democracy agenda which would shift control over energy toward workers, communities, and municipalities.

The U.S. Clean Energy Future: Jobs, Health, and Union involvement

The Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) launched  The Climate Jobs and Justice project  on May 18. It seeks to present “a credible, workable plan” for Just Transition at local, state, and national levels, and to provide organizers, activists and advocates with concrete objectives and examples for local action. The ultimate goal is to influence legislative proposals at the national level in the U.S.  The first, overview report released,  The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs and Saving Money,    examines the  electric system, light vehicle transportation (cars and light trucks), space heating and water heating, and waste management.  Leveraging the current progress in energy efficiency and renewable energy, the plans outlined will result GHG emissions reductions of  80 percent by 2050 while adding half-a-million jobs –  most in manufacturing and construction –  and saving Americans billions of dollars on their electrical, heating, and transportation costs.  The interventions are presented as “a floor, not a ceiling “.

The report states that “the most surprising part of the Clean Energy Future may be its projected expansion of the auto industry. We assume that it will be possible to expand renewable electricity production and electric vehicle production fast enough to convert 100 percent of gasoline-powered cars and light trucks to renewable electricity by 2050.”  It projects increased employment in auto production, based on an assumption that 48 percent of the new demand for electric vehicles can be met by production within the United States.  Regarding the need for Just Transition policies for workers, the report also states: “The deterioration in the quality of jobs is directly related to the reduction in the size and bargaining power of labor unions; reinforcing the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively should be an explicit part of public policy for climate protection.” The Clean Energy Future was written for LNS and 350.org by Synapse Energy Economics.

Low-wage workers, Women, and Migrant workers will suffer most from Climate change-induced heat

Climate Change and Labour: Impacts of Heat in the Workplace   identifies heavy labour and low-skill agricultural and manufacturing jobs as the most susceptible to heat changes caused by climate change.  India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Cambodia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and part of West Africa are the countries most at risk. Quoting the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report, it states that “labour productivity impacts could result in output reductions in affected sectors exceeding 20% during the second half of the century–the global economic cost of reduced productivity may be more than 2 trillion USD by 2030.” Even if countries meet their Paris emissions reductions targets, rising temperatures may cut up to 10 percent of the daytime working hours in developing countries.

On the human scale, the authors surveyed more than 100 studies in the last decade which document the health risks and labour productivity loss experienced by workers in hot locations- most recently, 2016 studies from India which concluded that 87% of workers experience health problems during the hottest 3 months, and which highlighted additional problems for pregnant women workers and migrant workers.

Several important indirect effects of heat stress include: alteration of work hours to avoid the heat of the day; the need to work longer hours to earn the same pay for those whose productivity falls due to heat stress, or suffer income loss; increased exposure to hazardous chemicals when workplace chemicals evaporate more quickly in higher temperatures; and possible exposure to new vector-borne diseases.  The report calls for protection for workers , including low cost measures such as assured access to drinking water in workplaces, frequent rest breaks, and management of output targets, incorporating  protection of income and other conditions of Decent Work.

At the regulatory level,  the most relevant standard cited was adopted by the ILO in November 2015:  “Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all”,    which includes occupational safety and health and social protection policies which call on social partners “to conduct assessments of increased or new OSH risks resulting from climate change; improve, adapt or develop and create awareness of OSH standards for technologies and work processes related to the transition; and review policies concerning the protection of workers.”

The report was as a joint effort coordinated by the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Secretariat and in partnership with the International Labour Organization (ILO), UNI Global Union (UNI), the International Organization of Employers (IOE), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the NGO network ACT Alliance. See The Guardian for a summary .