Climate science and facts in the Trump Administration -protecting the public right to know

For those who rely on U.S. climate change research and science, two recent  incidents in the Trump transition are noteworthy. First, the U.S. Department of Energy released a Directive for Scientific Integrity,  approved January 4, 2017,  which states:  “The cornerstone of the scientific integrity policy at DOE is that all scientists, engineers or others supported by DOE are free and encouraged to share their scientific findings and views. ” Department of Energy personnel “will not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings or intimidate or coerce any covered personnel, contractors or others to alter or censor scientific or technological findings or conclusions.” It also directs the DOE to appoint a “Scientific Integrity Official within the Office of the Deputy Secretary of Energy to serve as an ombudsperson for matters related to scientific integrity.”  Canadians, who recall the muzzled scientists of the Harper era , will applaud the policy, even as we  continue to fight for scientific rigour  in environmental assessments .  A recent DeSmog blog explains.

Every day brings new developments in Washington:  President Trump has effectively gagged staff at the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture.  In response, a Scientists March on Washington is being organized, according to Scientists.jpgClimate Central (Jan. 25).    The preliminary website states: ” There are certain things that we accept as facts with no alternatives. The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action. The diversity of life arose by evolution. Politicians who devalue expertise risk making decisions that do not reflect reality and must be held accountable. An American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.”

A  reassuring development for researchers, in light of the Trump order to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency website:  Volunteer scientists, computer programmers, librarians and citizens  have been hard at work since December,  gathering and archiving environmental and climate change data produced by the U.S. government, in advance of the Trump inauguration. “Guerilla archiving” events, beginning at  the University of Toronto , have also taken place at  University of Pennsylvania,  San Francisco, and Los Angeles (on Inauguration Day!)  in the coordinated task of identifying and gathering the URL’s of important sources of information which will likely become vulnerable to removal in the Trump government.   Read “Climate Data Preservation Efforts Mount as Trump Takes Office”  in MIT Technology Review (Jan. 20) for an up to date summary and links to some of the many players in this complex effort.  A December blog by The Project Archivists Responding to Climate Change (ProjectARCC) group explains the major players and indicates the scale of the effort.

Briefly, many of the collected web sites are being stored in the servers of the End of Term Web Archive,   a collaborative effort  of established actors such as the Internet Archive , (which already stores 279 billion web pages!), Library of Congress, the U.S. Government Publishing Office, University of California Digital Library, and others. Over 10,000 URL’s of federal climate data websites have already been nominated for archiving, according to the public list available here , though none of the “in process”  web pages are available to view yet . For those concerned by the scrubbing of the White House website of all mentions of “climate change”,  a separate White House archive , housing the Obama version, is available here .

The University of Pennsylvania’s Program in Environmental Humanities is housing a separate DataRefuge project, in part to back up environmental data sets that standard Web crawling tools can’t collect.  The  Climate Mirror is a distributed effort conducted by volunteers to mirror and back up  data in locations outside the U.S. – an effort also underway at the Internet Archive.   Quartz has published  “Hackers downloaded US government climate data and stored it on European servers as Trump was being inaugurated”    (Jan. 21) .

Most of the work is being done by volunteers, who are eager for help and donations.  The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative   has a clear set of requests for help, including a list of upcoming archiving events in Ann Arbor and New York City. There is a well-developed process to nominate vulnerable sites, which requires the help of knowledgeable researchers, as well as a need for programmers and IT nerds to work on scripts to help harvest data sets and web pages not easily accessed.  The Free Government Information  website (another volunteer group )  has also published “2016 End of Term (EOT) crawl and how you can help” .   Success will ensure that environmental data and facts survive in the public realm.

 

California reaffirms commitment to Cap-and-Trade policies, based on economic evidence

California’s climate leadership position in the U.S.  was solidified on January 20, 2017 – coincidentally Inauguration Day in Washington-  when the California Air Resources Board released its 2017 Scoping Plan Update: The Proposed Plan for Achieving California’s 2030 Greenhouse Gas Target . Proposals include a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 – the most ambitious target in North America, according to a Reuters report  .  The plan also extends the cap-and-trade program to 2030, based on economic modelling  which concludes that cap-and-trade is the lowest cost, most efficient policy approach and provides certainty that the state will meet the 2030 emissions goals even if other measures fall short.  The Scoping Plan also call for an 18 percent reduction in the carbon intensity of transportation fuels burned in the state, and for 4.2 million zero-emission vehicles on the road.  The proposals, a hearings schedule, and technical appendices are all available at the ARB website .

Another  economic analysis evaluating cap-and-trade was published in January by Next10.    The Economic Impacts of California’s Major Climate Programs On The San Joaquin Valley ,  analyses the  costs and benefits, including job gain and loss, of three pro­grams: Cap- and- trade, the Renewables Portfolio Stan­dard,  and energy efficiency programs, specific to the to the San Joaquin Valley economy. The authors chose to examine the San Joaquin  as a “a bellwether of the state’s transition to a low-carbon economy” since its geography and dependence on agriculture  make it vulnerable to climate change effects , and vulnerable also  to climate policies because “it faces more socioeconomic chal­lenges than the state as a whole”.    After examining the data and using advanced modeling software, they found that the three programs brought over $13 billion in economic benefits to the Valley, mostly in renewable energy, and created over 31,000 jobs just in the renewable energy sector alone.  Research and analysis was done by academics at  the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment (CLEE) at UC Berkeley Law and UC Berkeley’s Donald Vial Center on Employment in the Green Economy .

Kinder Morgan, Keystone pipelines move closer to reality as Canada is warned about its carbon budget

Prime Minister Trudeau set off an outcry in Alberta with these comments at the start of his cross-country tour in Peterborough, Ontario : “You can’t make a choice between what’s good for the environment and what’s good for the economy. We can’t shut down the oilsands tomorrow. We need to phase them out. We need to manage the transition off of our dependence on fossil fuels.”  In Calgary on January 24,  Trudeau defended his remarks in a town hall meeting in Calgary, summarized in “Calgary crowd cheers and boos Trudeau in showdown with oilsands supporters”   in the National Observer (Jan. 25) .

On January 11, British Columbia’s Premier Clark waived B.C.’s original five objections and approved the Kinder Morgan pipeline project (albeit with 37 provincial conditions) . Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley responded with:  “Working families shouldn’t have to choose between good jobs and the environment. World-class environmental standards and a strong economy that benefits working people must go hand-in-hand. The Kinder Morgan pipeline offers us an historic opportunity to demonstrate that these values can – and must – go hand in hand.”   Reaction to B.C.’s decision from West Coast Environmental Law is here ; or read “Did Christy Clark just betray British Columbia?” from Stand.earth, which continues to organize resistance to Kinder Morgan.

As anticipated, President Donald Trump wasted no time in approving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, signing  Executive Orders on January 24.  Negotiations and further state-level approvals are still ahead, but Canada’s Trudeau government welcomed the news, according to a CBC report which quotes Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr : “it would be very positive for Canada — 4,500 construction jobs and a deepening of the relationship across the border on the energy file.”   In a joint response by Greenpeace USA and Greenpeace Canada, Mike Hudema of Canada stated:   “The question for Canadians is: will the Prime Minister continue to align himself with a climate denying Trump administration, or will he stand with the people and with science and start living up to his own commitments to the climate and Indigenous rights?”

According to a January report by Oil Change International (OCI), “Ultimately, the carbon mathematics is such that the Canadian government simply cannot have it both ways . There is no scenario in which tar sands production increases and the world achieves the Paris goals.”  Climate on the Line: Why new tar sands pipelines are incompatible with the Paris goals  continues with: “Cumulative emissions from producing and burning Canadian oil would use up 16% of the world’s carbon budget to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees, or 7% of the budget for 2 degrees. Canada has less than 0.5% of the world’s population.” ” There is no future in expanding tar sands production. Instead, the government should begin serious efforts now to diversify the economy, supporting a just transition for workers and communities.”  Andrew Nikoforuk summarized the report in The Tyee (Jan. 10); CBC Calgary interviewed experts in its analysis, “Could the oilsands really be phased out? Here are the possibilities” (January 21).

Finally, the National Energy Board Modernization process is underway

The Review process for the Modernization of the National Energy Board has begun.  The Terms of Reference  are here, summarized on the website as focussing on “ governance and structure; mandate and future opportunities; decision-making roles, including on major projects; compliance, enforcement, and ongoing monitoring; engagement with Indigenous peoples; and, public participation.” Twelve Discussion Papers are available   to guide input.  Comments can be submitted online here , with a deadline of  March 31, 2017;   cross-country “engagement sessions” for the public will begin in Saskatoon on January 25, and end in Montreal on March 29.  The Expert Panel will deliver its report to the Minister of Natural Resources, with a  May 15 deadline.     See an article in the  National Observer (Jan. 16) , which notes that the process launch comes amidst legal challenges: Two First Nations of Northern Ontario have named the National Energy Board and the government of Canada as defendants in their suit against TransCanada pipeline, for failing to consult with them before  allowing work on a 30-kilometre stretch of the pipeline that runs through their traditional territories  (details here) .  A second  court challenge was filed on January 10 by community group Transition Initiative Kenora, asking that the entire Energy East consultation process be voided and re-started, because of the conflict of interest allegations of the Charest Affair  in  Fall 2016.     (more details about the court challenge from Energy Mix here or from Ecojustice here  )

The Women’s March was a huge success. Next up – Sustained Resistance

toronto women's march jan 2017.jpgUnionists were among the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who joined in the Sister Marches for the Women’s March in Washington on January 21, 2017 .  The Canadian Labour Congress statement of “Why we March” is here  .  Unifor’s President Jerry Dias  endorsed the March and called for a “united mobilization effort” against the Trump agenda.  The March was an undeniable success,  and the Washington organizers, quoted in a Globe and Mail report,  recognized:   “This is more than a single day of action, this is the beginning of a movement – to protect, defend and advance human rights, even in the face of adversity. ”

Jeremy Brecher of Labor Network for Sustainability tackles this issue for U.S.  labour unions in “How Labor and Climate united can trump Trump” . After cataloguing some of the worst threats under a Trump administration , he calls  for “an alliance of unions and allies willing to fight the whole Trump agenda”  and states: “Such a “big tent” needs to include unions that are not part of the AFL-CIO, such as SEIU, Teamsters, and National Education Association. Some unions may choose not to join because they are unwilling to take a forthright stand against the Trump agenda; it would be both absurd and catastrophic for that to prevent the rest of the labor movement and its allies from taking on a fight that is about the very right of unions to exist.”

The United Resistance, led by the  NAACP, Greenpeace USA, and the Service Employees International Union, is chief among these new alliances, pledging to “stand together”  on the issues of civil rights, immigrants, women’s reproductive rights, social equality, action on climate change, public health and safety, public dissent, and access to information. Their inspirational video is here , as well as a list of the alliance members. The AFL-CIO is not listed as a member of the United Resistance, though their recent blogs oppose Trump’s nominees, and they promoted the Women’s March.   For more about the United Resistance, see  “More than 50 Organizations Launch United Resistance Campaign as Trump’s Cabinet Hearings Begin”  in Common Dreams (Jan.10).

In a second article , SOCIAL SELF-DEFENSE: Protecting People and Planet against Trump and Trumpism ,  Jeremy Brecher borrows a term from the Solidarity movement in Poland 40 years ago, and takes a larger, more global focus.  He writes that “Social Self Defense includes the protection of the human rights of all people; protection of the conditions of our earth and its climate that make our life possible; the constitutional principle that government must be accountable to law; and global cooperation to provide a secure future for people.”  “Social Self-Defense is not an organization – it is a set of practices to be engaged in by myriad organizations, hopefully in close coordination with each other.”  Although the article highlights a number of examples, such as the growing Sanctuary movement in the U.S.,  and case studies of alliances, including  Vermont Labor Council Initiates Social Self-Defense ,  the overriding impact is to emphasize the scale of the task: “These actions appear to be on the way to being the greatest outpouring of civil resistance in American history.”

Recommendations to change the U.S. Social Cost of Carbon, and possible impact for Canada

The U.S. National Academies of Science Press released an important report in January 2017, suggesting changes to the methodology of the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC), an economic metric used to measure the net costs and benefits associated with the effects of climate change- including changes in agricultural productivity, risks to human health, and damage from extreme weather events.  U.S. government  agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency  are required by law  to estimate SCC when  proposing regulations such for vehicle emission standards or energy efficiency standards for appliances.  One of the most recent, thorough, and important applications of the U.S. Social Cost of Carbon appears in the 2015  Regulatory Impact Analysis Report for the Clean Power Plan Final Rule.    The U.S. updated the SCC to $37 U.S. per tonne of carbon dioxide in September 2015, a value often criticized as too  low, and economists continue to differ about the methodology.  A study by researchers at Stanford University, published in Nature Climate Change  (2015) estimated a more accurate  SCC of $220 per tonne – six times higher.

The January  report from the National Academy of Science, Valuing Climate Damages: Updating Estimation of the Social Cost of Carbon Dioxide  , suggests restructuring the Integrated Assessment Models framework used to ensure greater transparency, and  recognizes new research  which should be incorporated into the  models (e.g. the effect of heat waves on mortality) . It also recommends a regular 5-year updating schedule,  “to ensure that the SC- CO2 estimates reflect the best available science.”  For a summary of proposed changes and the political context, see “Scientists have a new way to calculate what global warming costs. Trump’s team isn’t going to like it” in the Washington Post  . Noting that the new report has no legal force, The Post article quotes expert reviewer Richard Revesz, Dean emeritus of the New York University School of Law: “If the metric is revised, then the incoming administration would have an obligation to explain why it’s departing from the current approach… Any changes made without adequate scientific justification would likely be struck down in court.”   But see also “How Climate Rules might Fade away”     in Bloomberg Business Week.

What are the implications for Canada?  Canada, like the U.K., Germany, France, and other countries, already uses its own Social Cost of Carbon, pegged at a $28 per tonne in 2012, according to  Canada’s  Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement issued with the vehicle emissions regulations for passenger cars and light trucks.  The Leaders Statement from the North American Leadership Summit in Summer 2016 ,  ties Canada more closely to U.S. and Mexico, when it pledges to “ … align analytical methods for assessing and communicating the impact of direct and indirect greenhouse gas emission of major projects. Building on existing efforts, align approaches, reflecting the best available science for accounting for the broad costs to society of greenhouse gas emissions, including using similar methodologies to estimate the social cost of carbon and other greenhouse gases for assessing the benefits of policy measures that reduce those emissions.”

Energy Efficiency: measures of job creation and carbon reduction

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a long-time advocate and researcher about the value of energy efficiency , published a blog  on January 10, 2017, arguing that energy efficiency creates at least 1.9 million full- and part-time jobs across the United States, almost 10 times as many as oil and gas extraction. The blog is largely spent in summarizing a December 2016 report, Energy Efficiency Jobs in America: A comprehensive analysis of energy efficiency employment across all 50 states  , which sees an optimistic future in 2017.  Based on surveys of employers from approximately 165,000 U.S. companies, the report states that energy efficiency employers are expecting employment growth of approximately 245,000 jobs (a 13% growth rate) in 2017.   Energy Efficiency Jobs in America also calls for state and federal policies to support or enhance this growth, including:   Advancing energy efficiency standards set by the U.S. Department of Energy for appliances and equipment. • Strengthening building codes at the state and local levels to capture all cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities at the time of design and construction • Accelerating energy efficiency improvements in devices and buildings that use electricity or natural gas through utility programs, state policies such as energy efficiency resource standards, or by investing in all cost-effective energy efficiency resources, and  • prioritizing the role of energy efficiency in developing and/or strengthening clean energy standards at the state level.  Energy Efficiency Jobs in America was released by two U.S. advocacy associations: Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), and E4TheFuture.

The ACEEE, perhaps best known for its annual Energy Efficiency Scorecards , released a   White Paper in December, advocating energy efficiency initiatives to  reduce carbon emissions. In  Pathway to Cutting Energy Use and Carbon Emissions in Half , the ACEEE analyzed 13 “packages” of energy efficiency measures which, when combined, could reduce energy use by 34% and carbon emissions by 35% by 2040.  Improvement in industrial energy efficiency –  factories, commercial buildings, transmission and distribution systems, and power plants – was seen to have the largest potential impact at 20.8%.

What can Europe learn from Canadian experience with Just Transition?

A January 12th article by Béla Galgóczi, Senior Researcher at the European Trade Union Institute, argues that Europe is falling behind in ambition and results for its green economy, and identifies new leaders as Canada, and certain States in the United States.  In The Just green Transition: Canada’s proactive approach , the author compares Canada’s carbon tax policies with the European  Emissions Trading Scheme, but focusses mainly on the discussion about  Just Transition.  He observes:  “The rhetoric about green jobs seems to be of a more honest and realistic nature in Canada than in Europe” and “even if trade unions are in a generally weaker position in that country [i.e. Canada]  or in the US than in Europe, their engagement in climate policy is more pronounced. Unions in North America are very active in mobilising for low carbon economy objectives with campaigns and workplace greening policies, and they even have collective bargaining clauses on greening.”  As evidence of union engagement, the article notes the ongoing work of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) project , including the database of green collective bargaining clauses.

A recent example of  union initiative appears in  Green Jobs for Tomorrow: Submission by the  Canadian Labour Congress to the Working Group on Clean Technology,  Innovation and Jobs,  one of four Federal-Provincial working groups mandated by the Vancouver Declaration in 2015 to investigate national climate change policy issues. In its submission, the CLC makes 10 recommendations for climate change policy, and states: : “We believe the lynchpin of meaningful sustained climate action is retraining, re-employment and relocation for affected workers.”  The CLC  lays out the elements of a Just Transition policy, including:  increased investment to create green jobs, improved access to Employment Insurance training programs, and increased Employment Insurance benefits for displaced workers, as well as  improved labour market information systems. To support these goals, the CLC calls for the government to create a National Workplace Training Fund, and, using the model of the industry  Sector Councils abolished by the Harper government in 2012, a national Labour Market Partners Council to facilitate ongoing dialogue and collaboration between key stakeholders: governments, unions, employers, and educators.

Carbon pricing in Canada: Recent research, and implementation in Alberta and Ontario

Research about carbon pricing continues in the effort to implement the Pan-Canadian Framework.   In November,  Carbon Pricing and Intergovernmental Relations in Canada was released by the Institute for Research on Public Policy,  evaluating  the federal government’s national carbon pricing plan to that point (i.e. before the announcement of the Pan-Canadian Framework ), with an emphasis on the flexibility required for provincial differences. It then discusses the intergovernmental coordination in other policy fields in Canada ( income taxes, goods and services taxes, and environmental standards) as a possible model for carbon pricing.

As part of the Pan-Canadian Framework in December , the comprehensive  Final Report of the Working Group on Carbon Pricing Mechanisms  was released, providing an overview of Canadian and international practice, as well as a discussion of principles for design and implementation.

Finally, a report about British Columbia, the home of Canada’s first carbon tax. A  December report modelled the impact of the 2016 provincial Climate Leadership Plan and a federal carbon price on GHG emissions. It concludes that even  if all provincial policies were implemented,  B.C.’s emissions will exceed the targets for 2020 and for 2050. The report provides a breakdown of emissions by sector and forecasts that the largest single source of emissions in 2050 will be from shale gas operations and liquefied natural gas projects.  Modelling the Impact of the Climate Leadership Plan and Federal Carbon Price on British Columbia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions  was commissioned by Clean Energy Canada,  the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions and the Pembina Institute, with analysis by Navius Research.

In the meantime, two provinces have moved ahead with previously announced policies. Alberta’s carbon levy came into effect on January 1, 2017, cushioned by the government press release of  December 31  titled  “Carbon levy supports diverse, green economy and jobs”  which summarized the details. The levy will be charged on transportation and heating fuels  – diesel, gasoline, natural gas and propane – at a rate of $20 per tonne, increasing to  $30 per tonne in 2018.  As further explained on a government website  , farmers and First Nations are generally exempt; a 33 per cent small business tax rate cut will help offset costs for small businesses, and the direct and indirect costs to consumers  are estimated. Rebates started flowing for a majority of Alberta households on January 5, with a payment  of $200 per year for a single adult earning up to $47,500 per year , and $300 for a couple earning up to $95,000 per year.   In addition to the government explanation, see “What you need to know about Alberta’s Carbon Levy”   from the Pembina Institute ,  or a CBC  interview with Andrew Leach , generally considered the architect of Alberta’s climate plan . “The Cost of Carbon Pricing in Alberta and Ontario”, by professors Trevor Tombe and Nic Rivers, appeared in Maclean’s magazine (Jan. 4). It explains the differences in the two approaches and explains the methodology for their estimate that  “Overall, for the average Alberta and Ontario household in 2017, direct costs will likely be on the order of $150 to $200 annually and indirect costs will add an additional $80 to $100 or so.”  The conclusion:  “heated political rhetoric that suggests carbon pricing will lead to skyrocketing price increases throughout the economy is misplaced at best and misleading at worst.”

Media rhetoric seems to have been directed at Alberta, rather than Ontario, where the cap and trade system, a cornerstone of the Climate Action Plan , also took effect on January 1, 2017.  The government’s Explainer is here , and estimates that “it will cost the average Ontario household about $13 more per month to fuel a car and heat a home in 2017”.  The government also estimates  proceeds of $1.9 billion per year , which must be re-invested to reduce GHG emissions, such as social housing retrofits, public  transit, and electric vehicle incentives.  See details of the related Green Investment Fund here.  The 2016 Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report  (November 2016) of Ontario’s Commissioner of the Environment  offers an explanation of how the system works, and discusses pitfalls, solutions, the need for transparency, and the likelihood that the system will deliver the scale of GHG reductions promised.

 

Clean Energy is unstoppable – and China is in the lead

January 2017 began with an attention-getting report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance: “Solar Could Beat Coal to Become the Cheapest Power on Earth” .  Similarly, the Renewable Infrastructure Investment Handbook published  by the World Economic Forum states:   “ renewable energy technology, especially solar and wind, has made exponential gains in efficiency in recent years, enough to achieve economic competitiveness and, in an increasing number of cases, grid parity.”   A January 5 post by Clean Energy Canada,  “Clean Energy is too good a deal for Trump to Pass up ” , documents the economic and political  forces driving clean energy in the U.S., and offers this chart comparing the number of jobs in solar to the fossil fuel industries.

jobs-in-solar-vs-oil-and-gas-jan-2017

from Clean Energy blog post, “Clean Energy is too good a deal for Trump to pass up” (January 5, 2017)

And in an unprecedented move for a sitting President of the United States, Barack Obama has written “The Irreversible Momentum of Clean Energy”  in Science (Jan. 9), with an overview of his energy policy legacy, and making the case that market forces in the U.S. will carry it on.

A general consensus is that the clean energy train  has left the station, and China is driving that train.  A January 2017  report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) is the latest to document the growing dominance of China in the renewable energy industry in   China’s Global Renewable Energy Expansion: How the World’s Second-Biggest Economy Is Positioned to Lead the World in Clean-Power Investment.  The report  states:   “The change in leadership in the U.S. is likely to widen China’s global leadership in industries of the future, building China’s dominance in these sectors in terms of technology, investment, manufacturing and employment. ” According to the IEEFA,   Chinese global investment in clean energy exceeds $100 billion annually, (more than twice that of the U.S.), and is expanding beyond Asia to Africa, Europe, the Middle East, North America and South America. It cites the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2016 report ( Nov. 2016) to state that China holds 3.5 million of the 8.1 million renewable energy jobs globally. Small wonder when five of the world’s six largest solar-module manufacturing firms, and five of the ten top wind-turbine manufacturing firms are owned by  Chinese companies.  Between 2015 – 2021,  “China will install 36% of all global hydro electricity generation capacity … 40% of all worldwide wind energy and 36% of all solar.”See a summary of the details of the IEEFA report in “China cementing Global Dominance of Renewable Energy and Technology”   in The Guardian ;  the Globe and Mail  summary   “U.S. and Canada falling behind China in race for renewable energy” (Jan. 6) rather badly understates the case .

The trend  seems set to continue.  On January 5, the Chinese National Energy Agency announced its plans for the next phase of energy investment: see “China Aims to Spend at Least $360 Billion on Renewable Energy by 2020 ” in the New York Times.

In Canada, the latest major report tracking clean energy investment was published by Clean Energy Canada in June 2016.   Tracking the Energy Revolution    reported reduced investment in 2015 (from $12 billion to  $10 billion), although renewable generation capacity grew by 4% in that time.  Even before the announcement of the Pan-Canadian Framework, Clean Energy Canada called this a “pivotal time” for renewables, and sets an optimistic tone.  That boosterism is also apparent in   “Challenge 2017: Rays of hope shine on solar industry despite ‘Trump digs coal’ mantra” in the Financial Post (Jan. 3) – a mostly anecdotal story of Canadian solar manufacturers, and  “Canada can cash in on a cleantech boom“, in the Toronto Star (Jan. 5). The Star article  applauds  a recent clean energy-focused trade mission to China by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the clean-tech incentives announced in the December 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on  Clean Growth and Climate Change, and recent federal and provincial policies that set aggressive targets for renewable energy use in government buildings and operations.

Environmental Rights in Alberta and in Canada: do we have the rights we need? A legal discussion and some practical examples

In December 2016, the Environmental Law Centre in  Alberta  published a series of reports to review the current state of environmental rights in the province, drawing on examples and information from other jurisdictions.  These reports are intended as educational materials;  the website  is open for comments and input.  The first report,    Do we have the rights we need? , identifies deficiencies:   “Narrow standing tests for legal reviews and hearings; gaps and insufficiency in cost awards to support participation and informed decision making; failures to adequately recognize and manage cumulative environmental effects;  insufficient review or hearing options for policies, regulation and administration of environmental decision making; and insufficient tools for engaging public participation in enforcement.”

While most Environmental Rights discussions are about procedures for establishing and enforcing rights, the report Substantive Environmental Rights relates to the right to a specific environmental condition, such as a “healthy”, “healthful” or “clean” environment.  This report discusses definitions, which can be set in statutes or regulations.  The report includes a helpful comparative table of language from other Canadian jurisdictions.

Third Party Oversight and Environmental Rights reviews and analyzes the use of administrative third party oversight bodies in various frameworks and other jurisdictions. The report makes recommendations for the design of a third party environmental oversight system for Alberta, where currently the provincial Auditor General does not have a specific environmental mandate, but conducts financial audits or process/system audits of various environmental matters.

The latest report, published on December 19,  Citizen Enforcement considers the question of who can enforce environmental laws and what types of enforcement mechanisms are available to them – in Alberta, but also Ontario, Quebec, Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and the U.S.    The  report concludes that citizen enforcement  in Alberta relies primarily on the use of private prosecutions and the ability to request an investigation of an alleged violation, and  recommends additional citizen-based enforcement tools to bolster  enforcement capacity and to ensure accountability.

As for practical examples of the need for citizen involvement in environmental assessments and decision-making, Canadians need look no further than the federal government’s  current review of the Environmental Assessment Processes .  “EA Review – Report back from a public workshop” at Evidence for Democracy describes one person’s experience at the Environmental Assessment public consultations and summarizes the main concerns of attendees – including the need for transparency, community and traditional knowledge, and open and independent science.  In two recent articles in DeSmog Blog,  scientists describe how their input has been ignored in past environmental assessments and decisions, including the TransMountain pipeline expansion decision.  Read  “Canadian Scientists Say They’re Unsure What Trudeau Means When He Says ‘Science’ ”  (Dec. 15)  and “Open Science: Can Canada Turn the Tide on Transparency in Decision-Making?”  (Dec. 20) .  Yet there is an eagerness amongst young Canadian scientists to become involved;  an Open Letter  to the Prime Minister in November, signed by 1,800 young scientists and researchers, calls on the government to return scientific integrity to the environmental assessment process, and outlines five ways to do that, including the use of best available evidence, making information and data available to the public, evaluating cumulative impacts of projects and eliminating conflicts of interest. See “Five Ways to Fix Environmental Reviews: Young Scientists to Trudeau” in DeSmog Blog (Nov. 15 2016) .

2017: what lies ahead?

canada 150.jpgBecause 2017 is Canada’s 150th anniversary, dozens of progressive organizations, including unions,  have proposed an agenda for “ Canada’s Clean Growth Century” , under the slogan “Out with the old and In with the new”.  Read their proposals for a green economy, including Just Transition,  here  .  Clean Growth Century Facebook page is here.

For Canadians watching the environmental performance of the Trudeau government, one of the most important markers will be the outcomes of the Review of Environmental and Regulatory Processes, which is reviewing the National Energy Board, the Fisheries Act and the Navigation Protection Act, and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 . The report of the Expert Panel is scheduled for March 31, 2017.  Discussions and implementation of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change will roll along, debating carbon pricing policies – with the first  “deliverable” said to be an assessment of best practices to address the competitiveness of emissions-intensive, trade-exposed sectors.

Other articles that look ahead to the coming year’s events around the world – acknowledging but not dwelling on the Trump-effect, include: 2017 Climate Calendar: Key dates  at Climate Change News  ;  “In 2017, disruptive forces will shape climate action”  for an international overview with a European perspective ; and  “Where is environmental movement going in 2017?”    from Environmental Health News, which  looks at the Flint water crisis and Standing Rock pipeline protests and predicts “expect the push for environmental justice to center more around the issue’s intersections with racial, economic and environmental equality.”

Four Critical Energy Issues to watch in 2017”   highlights U.S. policies, including  the end of the U.S. coal leasing moratorium; repeal of the Clean Power Plan;   continued support for renewables, especially wind power;  and continued  massive transformation  in the U.S. electricity sector, led by state initiatives. And given President-elect Trump’s previous statements, one might add the approval of the Keystone Pipeline as a fifth likely development.

Small steps for the miners behind electric vehicles and smart phones

Cobalt is a key ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones, laptops and electric cars. 60% of the world’s supply is mined in  Congo, according to “The Cobalt Pipeline” (September 2016),  a Washington Post special report which documented the appalling working conditions of the “artisanal miners”.  Occupational health and safety concerns for  miners was also  expressed in  “The Battery Revolution is exciting, but Remember they Pollute too”, by Carla Lipsig Mumme and Caleb Goods in The Conversation (June 2015).

In a December 20 article,  the Washington Post reports on two new initiatives to curb “the worst forms of child labor” and other abusive workplace practices in the supply chain for cobalt. The first, the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, is being  led by  the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Metals, Minerals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters, and supported by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with members pledging to follow OECD guidelines  which call for companies to trace how cobalt is being extracted, transported, manufactured and sold. Apple, HP, Samsung SDI and Sony have signed on.

The second initiative, the Responsible Raw Materials Initiative (RRMI) has been launched by the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition , a nonprofit group sponsored by more than 110  electronics companies, and  “dedicated to improving the social, environmental and ethical conditions of their global supply chains.” The EICC states that it “engages regularly with dozens of non-member organizations including civil society groups, trade unions and other worker’s groups, academia and research institutions, socially responsible investors, and governmental and multilateral institutions.”  Ford Motor Company is a member of the Responsible Raw Materials Initiative, by virtue of being the first auto manufacturer to join the EICC. ( Press release is here (February 2016). Ford has sought to brand itself as a leader in ethical supply chain management   ; see their report,  Going Further towards Supply Chain Leadership . Tesla, the most high-profile electric vehicle manufacturer, is said to be considering membership in the RRMI. According to a report from Energy Mix (June 24, 2016) “Tesla’s Ambitions Demand ‘Unprecedented Quantities’ of Key Minerals” , including lithium, nickel, cobalt, and aluminum to produce vehicle batteries.  As of January 2017, Energy Mix also reported  that  Tesla started mass production at its lithium-ion battery Gigafactory in Nevada, which will be the world’s largest when it is complete in 2018 .

tesla-gigafactory

Tesla Gigafactory, Nevada.  Photo from the Tesla website .

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board lags international financial community on recognition of climate change risks and stranded assets

In what the WWF has called   “a landmark moment for responsible investment in Europe” , the European Parliament voted in November 2016  to mandate that all workplace pension administrators must consider climate risk and risks “related to the depreciation of assets” -stranded assets-  in investment decisions.  It also requires greater transparency about investment policies. Individual governments of the EU now have two years to pass into national law this updated version of the  existing Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision (IORP) Directive. Currently, the directive would affect occupational pension plans affected covering approximately 20% of the EU workforce, mostly in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany .  A September 2016 Briefing Note from the European Parliament  details the administrative/political evolution of the Directive; a December  article from Corporate Knights  or  Go Fossil Free or Reuters  provide summaries.

In December 14, 2016, the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure, chaired by Michael Bloomberg,  released its report and recommendations  to the Financial Stability Board, a G-20 organization chaired by Mark Carney. An article by the two men appeared in The Guardian, capturing the gist of the work:  “We believe that financial disclosure is essential to a market-based solution to climate change. …. A properly functioning market will price in the risks associated with climate change and reward firms that mitigate them. As its impact becomes more commonplace and public policy responses more active, climate change has become a material risk that isn’t properly disclosed.” The Task Force calls for companies to make voluntary disclosure of climate risks to their business,  to help  investors, lenders and insurance underwriters to manage material climate risks, and ultimately to make the global economic and financial systems more stable.   A 60-day public consultation period began with release of the report; an updated report, incorporating that input,  will be released in June 2017.  The Task Force report was summarized in   “Climate disclosure framework creates a better environment for investors” in the  Globe and Mail Bloomberg News also reported on another recommendation, “Carney Panel Urges CEO Compensation Link With Climate Risk ” , stating that the time has come for organizations to provide detailed reporting of how manager and board member pay is tied to climate risks.  (See a Dec. 1 Reuters article about Royal Dutch Shell’s moves to link CEO bonuses to GHG reduction).

In Canada, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which administers the assets of the national public pension fund, seems to be standing on the sidelines.  A recent article in the Globe and Mail was written by the director of the CPPIB Sustainable Investment department , which is described in  more detail in their 2016 Report on Sustainable Investing . The report states (page 11)   “ CPPIB has established a cross-departmental Climate Change Working Group to consider how physical risks, as well as technological, regulatory and market developments will impact climate change-related risks, and create opportunities, in the future. …. This review, which will take some time, is being done from a long-term perspective in light of how the gradual transition to a lower-carbon global economy might unfold….  On the topic of divestment and climate change, research has shown that investors with longer horizons tend to be more engaged with the companies that they invest in, and CPPIB is a case in point. As responsible owners, we believe that in many cases selling our shares to investors who might be less active in terms of considering material risks, including climate change, would be counterproductive.”   In light of this very slow approach, Friends of the Earth (FOE) has been frustrated in its divestment campaign for the CPPIB in 2016 ;  FOE maintains a petition website, Pensions for a Green Future, which calls for the CPPIB to, among other things,  “report immediately to its 19 million members on the carbon footprint and exposure to climate solutions of our CPP investment portfolio” and “to replace climate polluting investments with those in green energy, technologies and infrastructure that support Canada’s commitment to act to avoid 1.5°C of warming.” The CPPIB discloses the companies it is invested in here  .

In contrast to the CPPIB, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ),  the second largest pension fund manager is Canada,  is highlighted in a new report by the World Economic Forum  as “ one of the most important institutional investors in wind power” for its investment of  close to $2.5 billion (US) in both onshore and offshore wind projects in Europe and North America, starting in 2013 with a tentative investment in the Invenergy , and now including the London Array wind farm in the outer Thames estuary.  The Caisse statements on environmental and social responsibility are here ; it is a signatory to the U.N.  Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), a member of the Carbon Disclosure Project and the Carbon Water Disclosure Project, and endorses the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative , which monitors the oil and gas industry .