Federal Government approves Pacific NorthWest LNG project in B.C.

Is there a pattern  emerging in the federal government’s leanings regarding controversial energy projects?  After its approval of the Site C dam in B.C. in August 2016,  the Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced, late on the evening of September 27, approval with 190 conditions  for the Pacific North West LNG project, to be built near Lelu Island, north of Prince Rupert, B.C. . See the Government of Canada press release and the full text of the Decision Statement, including conditions, released by Canada Environment Assessment Agency.  For summaries, read the the Globe and Mail (Sept. 28)  or  the Vancouver Province (Sept. 28) or the National Observer   .  CBC offers a brief analysis at “Trudeau government at pains to explain Pacific West LNG” at the CBC.

More reaction is sure to pour in as environmentalists analyse the Decision and conditions, but an article in The Tyee (Sept. 28) summarizes initial reactions by major environmental groups.  The Pembina Institute’s Matt Horne been writing about the climate change implications for a long time, as recently September 27  in IRPP’s Policy Options,  “Cabinet should not allow BC’s and Petronas’ mistakes in Pacific NorthWest to be locked in for the next 30-plus years”. For Pembina’s initial reaction, plus links to many earlier critiques, see “Pacific NorthWest LNG approval is step backward for climate action in Canada” .

B.C. also awaits a federal decision about the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C., due in mid-December.

Pricing carbon: views from Marc Jaccard and Unifor

Energy economist Marc Jaccard has written previously on the need for political reality in the discussion of carbon taxes.  In September, he and colleagues at Simon Fraser University released a new paper  Is Win-Win Possible? Can Canada’s Government Achieve Its Paris Commitment. . . and Get Re-Elected?. As described at his own blog , the report uses a national energy-economy model to simulate climate policy scenarios that explore the effect of current Canadian policies, and contrast the current policies with 1. “must-price-emissions” policies  and 2. Flexible regulations, such as those in California.  The  alternative policy approach in Is Win-Win possible assumes that the federal government would apply flexible regulations in key sectors – transportation, electricity generation, industry, etc. – in conjunction with a modest emissions price, reaching $40 by 2030.

Another carbon market piece, released in iPolitics at the end of August summarizes Unifor’s position on Ontario’s cap and trade regulations.“Could Ontario’s climate strategy trigger an industrial exodus? Not if the province acts now to blunt the effects” by Jordan Brennan  identifies industrial leakage as “an obvious threat” to the  cap-and-trade program underway in Ontario.  Stating that firms operating in emissions-intensive trade-exposed (EITE) industries …(like auto manufacturing for instance …)  might relocate to jurisdictions that do not price carbon,  Brennan summarizes recommendations that his union,  Unifor,  has made : “ First, ‘transition credits’ should be allocated to industries that bear an extraordinary burden of change. Second, the cap-and-trade program should include a ‘carbon price border adjustment’ to ensure that commodities entering Ontario from jurisdictions without a carbon price (or with a lower price) do not gain an unfair cost advantage over Ontario producers. Third, the carbon revenue system should not be revenue-neutral. The Green Fund should be used for ‘just transition’ as well as mitigate the impact on low-income people and to foster the development of low-carbon technologies such as energy efficiency, retrofits and renewable energy.” Unifor’s public reaction to Ontario’s Climate Action Plan in June 2016 is here. 

Alberta keeps its options open with renewable energy targets and preliminary approvals for 3 oil sands projects

In addition to a commitment to phase out coal-fired power by 2030, on September 14,  the Government of Alberta announced a firm target to generate 30 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind, hydro and solar by 2030. The government press release  associates this target with a projection that “at least $10.5 billion in new investment will flow into the provincial economy by 2030. This will mean at least 7,200 new jobs for Albertans as projects are built.” The health benefits of shutting down coal plants are highlighted in Breathing in the benefits: How an accelerated coal phase-out can reduce health impacts and costs for Albertans, a joint report from the Pembina Institute, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Lung Association of Alberta and NWT, and the Asthma Society of Canada, released on September 14.

On September 19,  the government appointed a Task Force, to be chaired by Gordon Lambert,  to make recommendations on targeting investments in climate technology to help transition to a lower-carbon economy. Submissions are invited; a report will be submitted by the end of November, summarizing the findings of the engagement and providing recommendations for a provincial Climate Change Innovation and Technology Framework.  Also underway: an Energy Efficiency Advisory Panel   which was launched in June 2016 (see the Discussion Document here )  and an Oil Sands Advisory Group  .     But not all is renewable in Alberta:  on September 15, the government announced  early stage approval of 3 new oil sands projects, representing “ about $4 billion of potential investment into Alberta’s economy and about 95,000 barrels per day of production”.  The proposed developments will still undergo further environmental reviews and will fall under the oil sands 100 megatonne greenhouse gas emissions limit, announced with Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan.

International Criminal Court expands its priorities to include cases of environmental destruction

The International Criminal Court in The Hague, normally associated with war crimes of violence, on September 15  issued a new Policy Paper  which expands the terms of its case selection and prioritization  to include cases relating to “the destruction of the environment and the illegal exploitation of natural resources or the illegal dispossession of land.”  The Guardian summarized developments on September 15:  “ ICC widens remit to include environmental destruction cases” in The Guardian (Sept. 15) , and Global Witness issued a press release: “Company executives could now be tried for land grabs and environmental destruction”. The policy change comes as the  Prosecutor of the ICC considers whether to investigate a 2014 case filing that catalogues mass human rights abuses linked to systematic land seizures in Cambodia.  Global Witness, an advocacy group, published On Dangerous Ground in  June 2016,  documenting the extent of the problem:   “More than three people were killed a week in 2015 defending their land, forests and rivers against destructive industries. … we documented 185 killings across 16 countries – by far the highest annual death toll on record and more than double the number of journalists killed in the same period.”

berta-caceres-770x4702015 was also the year of the murder of Berta Cáceres,  the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize-winner for her decade-long opposition to the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on her community’s land in Honduras.

Canada falling behind in the Parade to Ratify the Paris Climate Agreement

cop21 logoAfter a special ceremony at the United Nations on September 21, 2016, with 31 nations participating, the U.N. announced  that 60 countries representing 48% of GHG emissions had formally joined the Paris Agreement. Brazil had already ratified on September 13,  and Theresa May, Britains’s new Prime Minister, had also pledged to ratify the agreement before the end of the year. Video messages from nations including Germany, France, the EU, Canada, Australia and South Korea all promised to ratify the Paris accord in the coming months.  Importantly, a Reuters report  on September 25 states that India, representing approximately 4% of global emissions, will ratify the agreement on October 2, the anniversary of Ghandi’s birthday. See also the Times of India report .    Watch the Paris Agreement Tracker  for the status of ratification as the world pushes to reach the trigger point of 55 nations which produce 55 percent of the global carbon dioxide pollution.

Where does Canada, responsible for  approximately 1.9% of emissions, stand? Text of Justin Trudeau’s speech at the United Nations on September 20  focused more on the needs of  Syrian refugees than on our climate commitments.  Official statements have not been forthcoming, but interviews indicate  “Canada to ratify Paris climate deal while still working on national plan” (CBC, Sept. 16). Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is scheduled to meet her provincial and territorial counterparts on October 3 in Montreal to discuss the options put forward by the four working groups formed at the Vancouver meetings last April.   Their recommendations were due by the end of September. On September 18, the Globe and Mail reported  that the federal government may impose a national carbon price plan, and that the emissions reduction target will not exceed that of the previous Conservative government: 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.  See also “Federal government sends mixed messages on how provinces can price carbon” from the National Observer (September 25) for an update.

Parliament has now returned from summer recess, but a meeting between the Prime Minister and the premiers is not expected before the COP22  UN climate conference in Marrakech,  Nov. 7-18.

Not only scientific urgency is pushing the recent global rush to ratify .  On September 20, 2016, 375 members of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S., including 30 Nobel laureates, published an Open Letter  warning that the consequences of opting out of the Paris agreement would be severe and long-lasting for the planet’s climate and for the international credibility of the United States.   “The political system also has tipping points. Thus it is of great concern that the Republican nominee for President has advocated U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord. A “Parexit” would send a clear signal to the rest of the world: “The United States does not care about the global problem of human-caused climate change. You are on your own.” Such a decision would make it far more difficult to develop effective global strategies for mitigating and adapting to climate change. The consequences of opting out of the global community would be severe and long-lasting – for our planet’s climate and for the international credibility of the United States.”

Recommendations by House of Commons committee is at odds with GHG reduction

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources  released its second report, The Future of Canada’s Oil and Gas Sector: Innovation, sustainable solutions and economic opportunities  on September 21. The report summarizes the comments from 33 witnesses who appeared before the committee in 7 meetings, and makes recommendations, including: “1. The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to promote the benefits of investing in Canada’s Natural Resources sectors, including oil and gas, which shall include the continued encouragement of innovation, research and development.” And “2.The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada work in collaboration with industry and the indigenous, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to develop the supporting infrastructure needed to create a favourable environment for natural resource development and transportation, and to deliver oil and gas products to strategic domestic and international markets.”    The Dissenting Report from the Conservative members goes even further to support the fossil fuel industry, making 5 recommendations which include:   “We strongly encourage the government not to impose any additional tax or regulation on the oil and gas sector or the Canadian consumer that our continental trading partners and competitors do not have. This includes measuring the upstream greenhouse gas emissions from pipelines…”  The Opinion statement by the New Democratic Party members of the Committee calls for speedy, permanent changes to the National Energy Board assessment process, and for the Government to honour its obligation for a Nation to Nation relationship with Indigenous peoples, including proper consultation and accommodation on all energy projects and the protection of Indigenous rights.   The NDP also states its support for the testimony of Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, calling for support for  value-added development of the oil and gas industry, “because these kinds of investments not only create jobs directly in upgrading, refining, and petrochemicals but also create other jobs”.

Contrast these recommendations with the message released on the next day, September 22,  by Oil Change International in its report,  The Sky’s Limit  .  The report states that developed reserves of oil and gas alone would take the world beyond 1.5°C, even if coal were phased out immediately, and lists examples of some of the biggest projects around the world that cannot go ahead – in the U.S., Canada, Australia, India, Russia, Qatar and Iran .   It concludes that “To stay within our carbon budgets, we must go further than stopping new construction: some fossil fuel extraction assets must be closed before they are exploited fully. These early shut-downs should occur predominantly in rich countries.”   (This urgency is in the spirit of a recent Dutch parliamentary vote in favour of closing down all remaining coal-generation power plants, even though 3 of them were just opened in 2015: see the article in The Guardian ).

The Sky’s the Limit states further, “extraction should not continue where it violates the rights of local people – including indigenous peoples – nor should it continue where resulting pollution would cause intolerable health impacts or seriously damage biodiversity.”  Finally, in a discussion of Just Transition, “ The most critical questions lie in how industry and policymakers will conduct an orderly and managed decline of fossil fuel extraction, with robust planning for economic and energy diversification.”

Just Transition: U.S. viewpoints and 2 new Policy proposals

Just Transition: Just What Is It?”: An Analysis of Language, Strategies, and Projects   is a paper published by the  Labor Network for Sustainability, along with  Strategic Practice: Grassroots Policy Project.  It traces the history of the Just Transition concept from a U.S. point of view, starting with  the Jobs for Peace movement post-WW2, to the Super Fund for Workers initiated by Oil Chemical, and Atomic Workers leader Tony Mazzocchi, to the adoption of the idea by the environmental movement, the resistance that has developed to the “just transition” idea within much of organized labor, and finally to the adoption of the term and its reinterpretation by the environmental justice and climate justice movements.  An analysis of policy is followed by  seven “mini-case studies”  of concrete social experiments, and the paper concludes with a series of questions which aim to bring a common vision to the fight for Just Transition.  The report  is based on 17 interviews conducted between October, 2015 and March, 2016. Leaders of the following organizations reflect on their experiences and interpretations of “ Just Transition”:  Climate Justice Alliance; GreenWave; National People’s Action; New Economy Coalition; ALIGN: The Alliance for Greater New York ; Asian Pacific Environmental Network; Buffalo PUSH; Kentuckians For The Commonwealth; Movement Generation; AFL-CIO; Black Workers for Justice; BlueGreen Alliance; Labor Network for Sustainability; Oregon AFL-CIO; North Carolina League of Conservation Voters; and Sierra Club.

A related paper, jointly published by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), is another example of the many  policy proposals to achieve Just Transition.  The unique aspect in  Beyond a Band-Aid: A Discussion Paper on Protecting Workers and Communities in the Great Energy Transition , is the  proactive approach to  Just Transition strategy, calling for direct investments to be  made in local economies dependent on fossil fuel jobs before devastating economic disruption begins.  A Community and Worker Protection Fund (CWP Fund) is proposed to replace the taxes and fees paid by fossil fuel facilities; it would make targeted investments designed to create jobs, before or at the pace that fossil fuel jobs are declining.  Job creation would be directed at such initiatives as renewable energy, HVAC conversion, decommissioning fossil fuel facilities, and economic diversification.  The paper also discusses possible ways to pay for the CWP Fund, including: levying a “modest” carbon fee or tax, or eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks.

Also, from the Labor Center at the University of California, Berkeley , comes Advancing Equity in California Climate Policy: A New Social Contract for Low-Carbon Transition .  (Executive Summary here  ). This paper, directed at advocacy groups, lawmakers and regulators,   proposes  a  “Climate Policy Equity Framework”  and uses it to evaluate California’s climate policies to date,  using  three principles:  Environmental Justice; Economic Equity; and Public Accountability.  It also applies the Framework  to two cases of statewide GHG reduction strategies, one in the area of energy efficiency and the other in renewable energy. Finally, the report recommends strategies to build a social contract as part of the effort to restructure to a greener economy, “to move beyond   a “lowest common denominator” approach towards a proactive equity agenda” with greater public accountability.

First Nations provide a model for activism and for sustainable development

Headlines most often go towards legal efforts or protests  of First Nations to block pipelines and  development  – most recently,  against the Site C dam in B.C.  and the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in the U.S.  But until the September  visit by British royalty prompted  articles in the  Globe and Mail  and Macleans magazine ,  few people knew about  the sustainable economic development efforts of the  First Nations of Haida Gwaii  on the B.C. coast.  Significant projects have been funded by  Coast Funds ,  a partnership of private foundations and  the B.C. and Canadian governments.  Founded in 2007 with a  mandate to invest to strengthen the well-being of First Nations and the ecological integrity of the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii regions,  Coast Funds has approved over $70 million towards 297 conservation and sustainable development projects in the region.  Their website   provides statistics – for example, that  First Nations have created 501 permanent new jobs held by First Nation community members through projects supported by Coast Funds  ( equivalent to 9% of the working age population of First Nations ). Perhaps more importantly, the case studies provide models of sustainable community economies based on  ecotourism , a  sustainable fishery ,  and sustainable forestry .

Similar benefits are described by the T’Sou-ke Nation at their website, describing their solar and ecotourism initiatives since 2008.  And  Greenpeace also recently profiled a First Nations solar project in Alberta, in  “Louis Bull First Nation is Making a Solar Transition” .

 

Standing Rock Sioux Nation protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline: A turning point for Indigenous solidarity

Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline have been underway since August; the Standing Rock Sioux Nation through whose land the pipeline would pass say that it would damage the Missouri River,  their water supply, as well as sacred sites. Environmentalists object to its capacity of 570,000-barrels-per-day of oil from  North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation, representing GHG emissions equivalent to 29.5 coal plants. For a chronology and  in-depth coverage of the issue, go to Democracy Now   , whose reporter Amy Goodman brought the world’s attention to the protests with her video report on September 6 ,  showing security personnel  attacking protestors with mace and dogs. The Indigenous Environment Network  also offers frequent updates.  On September 9, a U.S. court denied the Sioux Nation’s request for an emergency restraining order against the project; hours later, the White House intervened to order a halt on the disputed section, and the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior issued a Joint Statement   withdrawing the Army’s authorization for construction until it can determine whether it needs to revisit  any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site .  Furthermore,  from the Joint Statement:  “ this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.  Therefore, this fall, we will invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations on two questions:  (1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals. ”  Even before the White House intervention, the Washington Post acknowledged the importance of this dispute in  “Showdown over oil pipeline becomes a national movement for Native Americans”   (Sept. 7); for a more up-to-date appraisal see an article at Think Progress  which acknowledges the long legal road ahead, but calls the DAPL a turning point.

On September 22,  in ceremonies in Vancouver and Montreal , at least 50 First Nations from Canada and the U.S. (including the Standing Rock Sioux) signed on to the Treaty Alliance against Oils Sands Expansion, which pledges coordinated opposition to projects that will expand the production of the Alberta Tar Sands, including the transport of oil sands products by pipeline, rail or tanker. That includes “all five current tar sands pipeline and tanker project proposals – Kinder Morgan, Energy East, Line 3, Northern Gateway and Keystone XL.  The Treaty, as well as the background to it, is available here  .

In the U.S., the “jobs vs. the environment”  controversy has surfaced again over the DAPL. See the August press release from the Laborers’ International Union which states:  “Today, the General Presidents of four skilled craft unions, Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), and United Association (UA), sent a letter to the North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple encouraging him to use the power of his office to protect the jobs of thousands of American workers who are lawfully constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline.”   On September 15,  the AFL-CIO issued a statement   calling on the Obama administration to allow construction to continue, saying “it is fundamentally unfair to hold union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay. The Dakota Access Pipeline is providing over 4,500 high-quality, family supporting jobs.”    Other U.S. unions, including the National Nurses Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, and United Electrical Workers,  are supporting the DAPL protests:  see Portside coverage here (Sept 17), here   (Sept. 19), and see analysis at “As Tribes Fight Pipeline, Internal AFL-CIO Letter Exposes ‘Very Real Split’”  in  Common Dreams (Sept. 22).

In Case you missed it: Some policy landmarks over the summer

Ontario, Quebec and Mexico agree to promote carbon markets in North America: On August 31, at the 2016 Climate Summit of the Americas , the three jurisdictions announced   a joint declaration  which states: “The Partners are determined to jointly promote the expansion of carbon market instruments for greenhouse gas emissions reduction in North America.”   See the Globe and Mail summary here .

Alberta appoints an Oil Sands Advisory Group:  On July 14, Alberta appointed a 15-member Oil Sands Advisory Group   to provide expert advice on how to implement its 100 megatonne per year carbon emissions limit for the oil sands industry, and on “a pathway to 2050, including responding to federal and other initiatives that may affect the oil sands after 2030.”  Co-chairs appointed are: Climate and energy advocate Tzeporah Berman,   Melody Lepine of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, and Dave Collyer, former president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

New Brunswick Climate Action Committee: The government’s Select Committee on Climate Change   held public hearings and accepted submissions over the summer.  In July, New Brunswick’s  Conservation Council produced its  “Climate Action Plan for New Brunswick”. It  proposes to reduce GHG  emissions through investments in retrofitting, starting with social and low-income housing; expand renewable energy ; provide incentives for electric and energy efficient vehicles; modernize industry and manufacturing to reduce waste and pollution, and accelerate installation of the Energy Internet (Smart Grid telecommunications) to manage a more distributed electricity load. These investments would help NB Power phase coal out of electricity production over the next 15 years.

U.S. and China formally join the Paris Agreement: On September 3, the eve of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou China, the two countries responsible for almost  40% of the world’s GHG emissions announced that they will formally ratify the Paris Accord.  See coverage in The Guardian ;  “U.S. and China formally join historic Paris climate agreement; Canada not yet ready”  in the Globe and Mail;  “Landmark China-U.S. climate breakthrough elicits tepid response” from Weekly Climate Review.  Check the Climate Analytics website  for their “ratification tracker”, which on September 9 states “ it is estimated that at least 58 countries are likely to have ratified the Paris Agreement by the end of 2016, accounting for 59.88% of global emissions. Under this scenario, the Paris Agreement will entry into force by the end of the year.”  The website has details country-by-country.

New U.S.  fuel standards for heavy-duty vehicles after model year 2018:  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency   and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration jointly finalized standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, to improve fuel efficiency and cut carbon pollution.  Heavy duty vehicles include:combination tractors (semi trucks), heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, and vocational vehicles (including buses and garbage or utility trucks). The new rule and an archive of related documents is available at the EPA website . The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy   applauds the new rules; as does the trucking industry, according to the New York Times coverage .  Canada is expected to follow suit, based on the  the Joint Leaders’ statement from the Three Amigos Summit, June 29,  :  “Canada, the U.S., and Mexico commit to reduce GHG emissions from light- and heavy-duty vehicles by aligning fuel efficiency and/or GHG emission standards by 2025 and 2027, respectively. We also commit to reduce air pollutant emissions by aligning air pollutant emission standards for light- and heavy-duty vehicles and corresponding low-sulphur fuel standards beginning in 2018. In addition, we will encourage greener freight transportation throughout North America by expanding the SmartWay program to Mexico.” Canada last updated its emission standards for heavy-duty trucks in 2013, covering up to model year 2018.

California continues to lead with landmark legislation:  California legislation (SB32) was passed in late August, and signed by Governor Jerry Brown on September 8,  requiring the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 .   An economic analysis by consulting firm Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2)  was released during the public debate  around SB32, claiming that thousands of jobs had been created in every District of the state by the predecesor Global Warming Solutions Act. See the press release here.  And the 8th annual edition of California’s Green Innovation Index  by Next10 quantifies a booming clean energy economy, with solar generation increased by 1,378 percent in the past 5 years.  “California’s Historic Climate Legislation becomes Law” from Think Progress is typical of the superlatives throughout the news coverage.

As evidence of California’s important leadership role:  on August 1, New York’s Public Service Commission approved the Clean Energy Standard   which mandates that 50 percent of the New York state’s electricity will come from renewable, clean energy sources by 2030 .   California had passed legislation in 2015 to mandate utilities to provide 50 percent of their electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030, and require a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings by 2030.

Minority Report challenges Australia’s Climate Change policies:  Australia’s Cimate Change Authority released a report at the end of August:  Towards a climate policy toolkit: Special Review of Australia’s climate goals and policies  .  Authority experts David Karoly and Clive Hamilton so disagreed with the majority report that they issued their own Minority Report   (see the press release here  ) .  Clive Hamilton stated  “The majority report gives the impression that Australia has plenty of time to implement measures to bring Australia’s emissions sharply down.  This is untrue and dangerous”.

Shift in Climate Change policy in the U.K. government:  The new post-Brexit government of Theresa May has made “ a stupid and deeply worrying” decision according to The Independent ,    by moving the work of the  Department for Environment and Climate Change to a new  “Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.”    Reassurance from the June adoption of  a world-leading GHG emissions reduction target, as reported in The Guardian  here and here , has been challenged. The BBC reported that  “Just days after the United Kingdom committed  to cut greenhouse gas emissions 57% from 1990 levels by 2032, the country’s grid operator reported this morning that the country will miss its existing EU long-term targets for 2020,  unless it adopts more aggressive clean energy policies.”

 

Carbon Pricing: Important, Complicated, but only part of the solution

Prime Minister Trudeau, in an interview with CBC news on July 22 after the Premiers’ meetings in Whitehorse, stated that a price on carbon  is an “essential element” of Canada’s climate change plan and the federal government is “going to make sure there is a strong price on carbon right across the country”. Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan is the most vocal of the Premiers opposed to carbon pricing: see  “Saskatchewan threatens legal clash over nationwide carbon price”. There’s been no shortage of reports on the issue:most recently, The Least Costly Path to  Climate Action  was released by think tank Clean Prosperity on August 25. Dave Sawyer and Chris Bataille were commissioned as co-authors to  model the economic performance, environmental effectiveness,  and scalability of  two carbon pricing alternatives:  a “pure carbon tax” modelled on the B.C. program, and a “hybrid” scenario based on Alberta’s system. Both scenarios assumed the carbon price would rise from $30 per tonne in 2018 to roughly $110 per tonne by 2030.  Among the conclusions: “When applied to key jurisdictions and Canada-wide, the hybrid carbon price policy actually boosts economic performance when compared to current and developing federal and provincial policies. For energy producing provinces, an Alberta-style hybrid carbon price model … improves economic performance by 1.43% in Alberta and 4.23% in Saskatchewan.” The authors conclude: We believe that adopting an Alberta-style hybrid carbon pricing policy, and recycling the revenues by reducing personal and corporate income taxes, represents the best way forward for Canadian governments” to achieve the goals of environmental and  economic performance as well as a perception of regional fairness.

Other notable reports: On July 27, the EcoFiscal Commission released  Comparing Stringency of Carbon Pricing Policies  in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. Although the report provides numbers and rankings, Energy Mix states  that “More important than the ranking of provincial carbon taxes may be the Ecofiscal Commission’s development of a methodology for comparing dissimilar systems across the country.” Also in July, the C.D. Howe Institute published A Blueprint for Going Green: The Best Policy Mix for Promoting Low-Emissions Technology , which concludes that “Supporting technology development means not only investing in new technologies but also creating demand for clean technologies in the broader economy, through carbon pricing.” Internationally, the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition  of the World Bank released Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition: What is the Impact of Carbon Pricing on Competitiveness?  in September.

Though important, carbon tax policy is only one aspect of climate change policy. An August 30 Opinion Piece in the National Observer,  “Carbon tax fetishism: We’re losing the plot on climate change”  reflects on the intense attention to carbon taxes, including in the public reaction to the B.C. Climate Leadership Plan.  It argues that the attention to carbon taxes “sucks politicians, analysts, and journalists into groupthink, and the entire national climate conversation is losing the plot.”  And “5 reasons there’s more to climate policy than a price on carbon”  in Vox  (June 28) defends Ontario’s cap and trade policy from the criticism in a June 10 Globe and Mail editorial.  The Vox article is based on an essay by Brendan Haley, which concludes “The sooner we dispel ourselves from the myth that the market alone will solve the climate change problem, the sooner we can start to ensure more technology and sector specific policy approaches are implemented effectively and democratically.”  It’s complicated.

Jobs in Renewable Energy: the importance of Community Ownership, and the growth of good union jobs under California’s policies

At the end of June, the Toronto Renewable Energy Co-operative (TREC) released a report outlining the environmental, social, and economic benefits of locally owned and operated renewable power. The Power of Community  calculates the direct and indirect economic impacts of a solar FIT community project and  SolarShare power projects in Ontario since the Green Energy and Green Economy Act, and emphasizes the superior results when projects involve community ownership and participation. The TREC report cites a 2016 report published by the Community Energy Association, QUEST, and Sustainable Prosperity.  Community Energy Planning: The Value Proposition — Environmental, Health and Economic Benefits   reported that, for every $1 million invested in building energy efficiency retrofits, over 9 person-years of permanent employment would be created within the province of Ontario.  The  TREC  report also cites a 2014 study by Institute for Local Self Reliance, Advantage Local: Why Local Energy Ownership Matters,  which states that community owned projects in the U.S. generally generate twice the number of jobs as commercially-run projects.

The Link Between Good Jobs and a Low Carbon Future ,  released in June by the Don Vial Center on the Green Economy at Berkeley’s Labor Center , examines large-scale clean energy construction projects in California.  The key finding of the report is that these projects are creating high-paying, long-lasting blue-collar jobs, the majority of which are unionized.  The report provides data measuring the quantity of job creation, but also pension and health insurance contributions as well as apprenticeship enrollments for the period 2002 – 2015. The situation is credited  to California’s unique Renewables Portfolio Standard, which allows for  Project Labor Agreements ( PLA’s) between employers and building trades unions.  Read the summary here .

Canadian Building organizations call for Zero Emissions by 2030, along with World Green Building Council. Vancouver and Victoria take action

In August, eleven organizations in Canada’s building industry released a public letter to the Ministers of Natural Resources and of Environment and Climate Change, calling on the federal government to develop “strong action and new policy for the buildings sector”. Their letter  calls for  a national plan with goals for 2030:  retrofitting so that 30 per cent of existing building stock achieves energy reductions of 25 to 50 per cent, and “nearly zero” for all new construction.  The letter also calls for a suite of policies relating to benchmarking, standards, building codes, and “support for education and training of professionals and trades involved in retrofit and new construction projects”.  Signatories to the letter are: Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance;Pembina Institute; Toronto Atmospheric Fund; Architecture Canada;  Association Québeécoise pour la Maîtrise de l’Énergie; BOMA Toronto;  Council for Clean Capitalism;  Environmental Defense; Équiterre;  MaRS Advanced Energy Centre; and Passive House Canada.

Canada was one of 8 countries named in a press release by the World Green Building Council on June 28, announcing the Advancing Net Zero Project.  Architecture 2030, a non-profit, is also a partner. The goal of the initiative is to meet the COP21 pledge to  reduce CO2 emissions from the buildings sector by 84 gigatonnes by 2050, through net zero buildings and deep renovation , including all new buildings and major renovations should be net zero starting in 2030 , all buildings should be net zero by 2050, and 75,000 professionals trained on net zero building by 2030, with 300,000 by 2050 .

In July,  the City of Vancouver released a  Zero Emissions Building Plan,   which states:  “this is an action plan to achieve zero emissions in all new residential and office building by 2025; high-rise multi-unit residential buildings will be required to achieve zero emissions by 2030.” (The Plan states that 82% of new development in Vancouver is residential, 1-2% is office space, and the remaining 16% miscellaneous building types). The Plan was developed in “close collaboration” and consultation with  other local governments, professional associations, academic institutions, non-governmental agencies, energy utilities and the development industry – but no unions were included in the process. “The Plan was also shaped and informed by ongoing discussions with the cities of New York and Brussels.”

One of the new tools announced is a Centre of Zero Emission Building Excellence which will be a physical space, and “will partner with professional and industry associations to host training events, courses, panels, and exhibits. In addition, the Centre could administer mission-related programs on behalf of partner organizations, such as energy-efficiency incentive programs.”  It is modelled on the examples of New York’s Building Energy Exchange (BEEx), and Wood Works B.C.  , hosted by the Canadian Wood Council .

Vancouver’s Renewable City Strategy  , adopted in November 2015,  targetted 100% of the city’s energy to come  from renewable sources before 2050. Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, is catching up to Vancouver with an August announcement of  a 100% renewable energy target , and a goal to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050.  Victoria has identified the priority areas of retrofitting buildings, developing new construction guidelines, encouraging renewable district energy systems, and facilitating a  shift towards active transportation. Next steps for Victoria: an action plan, task force,  and community and stakeholder consultation.