UK researchers call for absolute zero reduction policy, greening of the steel industry

absolute zeroAbsolute Zero , released by the University of Cambridge in November 2019,  warns that the U.K. will not reach zero emissions by 2050 without significant changes to policies, industrial processes and individual lifestyle choices – including closing all airports in the UK by mid-century.  (Perhaps the impact of this report can be seen in  the U.K. court ruling on February 27 that Heathrow airport’s third runway is a legal violation of the country’s climate change commitment under the Paris Agreement.)  Although Absolute Zero  was released in November 2019,  it was debated in the British House of Lords on February 6 , and was the subject of a Research Briefing by the House of Lords Library in support of that debate.

The prestige of the authors also may have contributed to the impact of its ideas. They are members of UK Fires (UK Future Industrial Resource Efficiency Strategy), a research  collaboration between the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath and Imperial College London, and funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.  They contend that the UK should aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to absolute zero, rather than the “net zero” target specified in the Climate Change Act 2008 , and by the U.K. Committee on Climate Change in its report, Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming (May 2019) and its 2019 Report to Parliament of the  U.K. Committee on Climate Change (July 2019) .

Absolute Zero  also parts company with the Committee on Climate Change in its view that emerging technologies will not be scalable in time to meet emissions targets by 2050.  It builds its analysis on “today’s technologies”,  striking an optimistic tone while calling for fundamental changes in individual behaviour, government policy, and industrial processes. Some excerpts ….

“We need to switch to using electricity as our only form of energy and if we continue today’s impressive rates of growth in non-emitting generation, we’ll only have to cut our use of energy to 60% of today’s levels….

“The two big challenges we face with an all electric future are flying and shipping. Although there are lots of new ideas about electric planes, they won’t be operating at commercial scales within 30 years, so zero emissions means that for some period, we’ll all stop using aeroplanes. Shipping is more challenging: although there are a few military ships run by nuclear reactors, we currently don’t have any large electric merchant ships, but we depend strongly on shipping for imported food and goods….

“Absolute Zero creates a driver for tremendous growth in industries related to electrification, from material supply, through generation and storage to end-use. The fossil fuel, cement, shipping and aviation industries face rapid contraction, while construction and many manufacturing sectors can continue at today’s scales, with appropriate transformations……

“Committing to zero emissions creates tremendous opportunities: there will be huge growth in the use and conversion of electricity for travel, warmth and in industry; growth in new zero emissions diets; growth in materials production, manufacturing and construction compatible with zero emissions; growth in leisure and domestic travel; growth in businesses that help us to use energy efficiently and to conserve the value in materials…..

“Protest is no longer enough – we must together discuss the way we want the solution to develop; the government needs to treat this as a delivery challenge – just like we did with the London Olympics, ontime and on-budget; the emitting businesses that must close cannot be allowed to delay action, but meanwhile the authors of this report are funded by the government to work across industry to support the transition to growth compatible with zero emissions.”

steel-arising-cover-01_1-1The UK Fires collaboration officially launched in October 2019. It is building on previous  related research,  including the April 2019 report  Steel Arising  which it highlights on the UK Fires website.  Steel Arising   envisions greening of the UK steelmaking industry  by “moving away from primary production towards recycled steel made with sustainable power.”  It states: “Not only will this create long-term green jobs, it will lead to world-leading exportable skills and technologies and allow us to transform the highly valuable scrap that we currently export at low value, but should be nurturing as a strategic asset. With today’s grid we can do this with less than half the emissions of making steel with iron ore and with more renewable power in future this could drop much further.”

Harvard scholars propose labour law reforms including the right to bargain over our shared environment

clean slate coverClean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Economy and Democracy  is a far-reaching analysis and set of recommendations for labour law reform, released in January 2020 by the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program.  Its purpose is to offer “an intervention that promises to help stop the vicious, self-reinforcing cycle of economic and political inequality. By proposing a fundamental redesign of labor law, we aspire to enable working people to create the collective economic and political power necessary to build an equitable economy and politics.” The report – the result of discussions with 70  academics, union leaders, workers, activists and others over a period of two years – offers detailed and specific recommendations for changes to labour laws in the U.S., starting with the fundamental premise that “Labor law reform must start with inclusion to ensure that all workers can build power and to address systemic racial and gender oppression.” In its long list of recommendations comes basic freedoms such as the right to organize and protection from strikebreaking, as well as more innovative proposals for sectoral bargaining, worker representation on company boards, support for digital organizing and cyber-picketing – and of most interest to those working for environmental  progress –  this recommendation:

“Workers deserve a voice in the issues that are important to them and their communities….To ensure that workers can bargain over the corporate decisions that impact their lives, Clean Slate recommends that the new labor law: • Expand the range of collective bargaining subjects to include any subjects that are important to workers and over which employers have control, including decisions about the basic direction of the firm and employers’ impact on communities and our shared environment.” 

More detail comes on page 69, where the report states:

“Accordingly, and taking inspiration from the Bargaining for the Common Good movement, Clean Slate recommends that when an employer has influence beyond the workplace over subject matters that have major impacts on workers’ communities, such as pollution and housing, the bargaining obligation ought to extend beyond the terms and conditions of employment and encompass these “community impact” subjects. Moreover, when bargaining over community impact subjects, the workers’ organization involved in collective bargaining should have the right to bring community organizations—those with members and expertise in the relevant area—to the bargaining table. … for example, the worker organization would be entitled to bring community environmental justice groups to bargain over pollution controls and abatement and to bring housing groups and tenants unions to bargain over affordable housing development.”

Clean Slate for Worker Power is a project of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, led by Professor Benjamin Sachs and  Sharon Block, Executive Director, Labor and Worklife Program.  The 15-page Executive Summary is here ; the 132-page full report is here  .  The report is summarized by noted labour journalist and author Steven Greenhouse in  “Overhaul US labor laws to boost workers’ power, new report urges”  in The Guardian (Jan. 23), and also in “‘Clean slate for worker power’ promotes a fair and inclusive U.S. economy” from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth  (Jan. 29), which includes links to a range of academic articles related to the Clean Slate proposals. The authors are interviewed about the Clean Slate framework in a Harvard press release here.

U.K. energy workforce will need 400,000 workers to reach net-zero emissions by 2050

building the net zero workforceThe U.K. has a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. A new report,  Building the Net Zero Workforce , forecasts the likely employment and skills impacts of that goal for the energy industry, assuming that it will require a 50% increase in low carbon electricity generation; installation of low carbon heating systems in approximately 2.8 million homes; installation of  60,000 charging points to power 11 million electric vehicles (EVs); and development of  carbon capture usage and storage technology as well as hydrogen networks  – all by 2030. 

To accomplish all this, the report projects that the energy industry will need to recruit for 400,000 jobs between 2020 and 2050 – 260,000 in new roles, and 140,000 to replace those who will be leaving in what is an anticipated retirement crunch. The report forecasts both time dimensions and regional needs, concluding that jobs will be available in all regions of  the U.K. and for a diverse range of skills, “from scientists and engineers, to communications professionals and data specialists.”  More specifically,  “The roles included in this analysis are those involved in the operation, generation, transmission, distribution and retail of energy in the UK, as well as those in the supply chain related to building, upgrading, maintaining or operating infrastructure required to reach net zero.”

The report emphasizes the role of young people and a need to encourage women in STEM professions.  In general, there is a need for training and re-training for the emerging technologies such as AI. The report notes, without details, that : “ By investing in retention and retraining, and working collaboratively with government and unions, the sector can help ensure a fair energy transition, one in which workers of all ages and backgrounds and from every community in the UK can play their part.”

The report was written by an independent research company, Development Economics, under a commission by National Grid, a U.K. organization which owns and operates electricity transmission in parts of the U.K., and invests £7.5 million per year in training.

Sciences received 770% more funding than the social sciences for climate change research

A new and innovative study measures the problem of underfunded social science research into climate change.  “Misallocation of climate research funding“addresses an important issue, since the social sciences seek to understand human and societal attitudes, norms, incentives, and policies – without which understanding, scientific facts seem insufficient to motivate change.  The authors analyzed a new dataset of research grants awarded in 37 countries, including Canada, from 1950 to 2021- a database which represents a cumulative budget of $1.3 trillion U.S.  Included in the category of social sciences research grants were those relevant to the world of work: economics, sociology, business and management, psychology, and law.

The researchers report that:

“Between 1990 and 2018, the natural and technical sciences received 770% more funding than the social sciences for research on issues related to climate change. Only 0.12% of all research funding was spent on the social science of climate mitigation.”  Even the countries identified as spending the most on social science climate research in absolute terms—the UK, the USA, and Germany—spent between 500% and 1200% more on climate research in the natural and technical sciences than on social sciences.

The authors discuss the challenges and potential solutions to promote and improve social science research, including:

  • Funding for climate mitigation needs to match the magnitude of the threat and the narrow window of opportunity for dealing with it.
  • There is a need for better global coordination and oversight of funding for climate research….most obviously, this could reduce redundancy and serve as a mechanism for research teams to identify synergies and possible collaborators.
  • More rigorous social science research is needed…the authors state “Brandt et al. noted that methods were often chosen based on familiarity or specialization of the researchers involved, rather than their suitability for a given research question.”
  • Better alignment with emissions sources and trends… “Some of the funding for climate change-related social science research follows the thematic logic of natural science funding, which does not necessarily fit the social sciences.”
  • Climate change is a global challenge, and therefore, the authors advocate the  use of  “the problem, challenge, or mission-based approach”. They use the example of one such project,  the Global Challenges Research Fund in the United Kingdom, which asked “How can sustainable development be achieved for all while addressing global climate change?”. They urge putting research into the context of challenging, “big picture”questions,  to promote “focused but interdisciplinary social science work.”

Misallocation of climate research funding” is available online now as an Open Access article, and  will appear in print in the April 2020 issue of Energy Research and Social Science. It describes the details of the database analysis  and lists the funding agencies from 37 countries, which included all major member states of the OECD,  as well as Brazil, China, India, and Russia. The relatively few agencies listed from Canada are overwhelmingly science and health –related, with the notable exceptions of the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC), the Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research (ACCFCR), and by far the largest, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), acw-logo-transparent-copy which funds the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW ) research project.

Clean Energy B.C. : reports reflect little progress in jobs and training; new Climate Solutions Council appointed

cleanbc logoAt the showcase Global 2020 conference in Vancouver on February 10, the government of British Columbia released the  2019 CleanBC Climate Change Accountability Report, titled Building a Cleaner, Stronger  B.C.. The report  is a comprehensive summary of the policies under the Clean BC plan, especially focused on energy efficiency in the built environment, waste management,  and electrification of transportation. Amongst the statistical indicators reported: The carbon intensity of B.C’s economy has gone down 19% over the last 10 years while jobs  in the environmental and clean tech sectors have doubled. The report provides detailed emission forecasts and breakdowns by sector. Ironically, given the current Canada-wide protests in solidarity with the Coastal GasLink dispute with the Wet’suwet’en people,  Section 7 highlights co-operative relations with Indigenous People.  Section 4 reports on the oil and gas industry.

Jobs and job training under Clean BC: 

The 2019 Accountability Report  briefly mentions the “CleanBC Job Readiness Plan”, for which consultations were held for one month, in November 2019 (discussions archived here) . It states: “Our job readiness plan will respond to feedback from stakeholders, assessments of labour market conditions and economic trends in a low-carbon economy—providing a framework for sector-specific actions and guiding investments in skills training. Consultations will continue into 2020.” The named sectors of interest are: clean buildings and construction, energy efficiency, transportation, waste management, sustainable tourism, sustainability education, and urban planning.

Indicators to measure “affordability, rural development, the clean economy and clean jobs, reconciliation and gender equality ” are promised for future reports.  Until then, there there are no statistical measures of the impact of the CleanBC policies on jobs, incomes, or workers.  In Appendix A, which summarizes current initiatives and their GHG emissions reduction impact, the category of “Economic Transition” does not measure jobs or income. Another sector- specific chart in Appendix A includes the category:  “Helping people get the skills they need”, but it does not quantify how that would impact GHG emissions reduction, and  consists of two entries: • “Develop programs like Energy Step Code training and certification, and Certified Retrofit Professional accreditation • Expand job training for electric and other zero-emission vehicles.”  Elsewhere in the text, two programs are briefly highlighted:  the new EV Maintenance Training Program at B.C. Institute of Technology, and the Sustainable energy engineering program at Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus.  On page 64, the report highlights skills training programs for small business, citing the BC Tech Co-op Grant, ( up to $10,800 for hiring new coop students in clean tech).

Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council releases a final report and recommendations to end its mandate; New Climate Solutions Council appointed

The February 10 government press release also announced the appointment of a new Climate Solutions Council to act as an independent advisor, and to track progress on Clean BC Phase 2.  The new Council replaces the Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council, which completed its 2-year mandate at the end of 2019 with the publication of a final report and recommendations, here . While attention now shifts to the new Council, the detailed recommendations of the original Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council merit consideration – although they reflect a primary concern with business, and particularly natural resources (worth noting here: the Council was co-chaired by the Senior VP, Sustainability & External Affairs of Teck Resources – the same company whose controversial Frontier oil sands mine project in Alberta is awaiting a  federal cabinet decision in February 2020.)   The voice of labour comes through most clearly in the Recommendations regarding the proposed Implementation Plan (p. 7), which calls  for “ Stronger focus on just transition planning, including the Labour Readiness Plan: Government needs a stronger plan for labour readiness and adjustment. This would take the form of more funding and details regarding the assessment, timeline, output and desired outcomes, and the Ministry or Ministries responsible.” The Council also notes that “enduring support will necessitate ongoing engagement with Indigenous and nonIndigenous communities, industry, civil society, youth and young adults, organized labour, and utilities.”

The new Climate Solutions Council  is Co-chaired by Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, and Colleen Giroux-Schmidt, vice-president of Corporate Relations, Innergex Renewable Energy Inc.  Along with environmentalists, First Nations, and academics such as Marc Jaccard and Nancy Olewiler, the new Climate Solutions Council includes Labour representation by David Black, (President of MoveUP), and  Danielle (DJ) Pohl , (President of the Fraser Valley Labour Council).  Industry representatives include Tom Syer, (Head of Government Affairs , Teck Resources),  Skye McConnell, (Manager of Policy and Advocacy, Shell Canada), and Kurt Niquidet, (Vice-President of the Council of Forest Industries).  All members are listed and profiled here  .

Toronto Labour Council’s new Plan of Engagement for Unions shares sample climate change resolutions

The Toronto and York Region Labour Council approved its 2020-2022 Strategic Plan in November of 2019, as announced in a press release in January, and in full here.  Continuing  the Labour Council’s longstanding leadership on climate justice,  Plan item #3 is “Tackle climate change”, which states that the Labour Council will:

  • Work to counter the efforts to sabotage climate action by polluters and conservative politicians, including their “carbon tax revolt” which is promoted by Conservative premiers and climate change deniers
  •  Establish a climate justice labour network
  •  Provide educational material to highlight the real cost of inaction by governments and businesses, and get young members engaged by using new, creative approaches
  •  Continue to work in coalition with key environmental organizations including youth and student-led groups
  •  Work with affiliates, local governments and school boards to adopt serious climate action policies
  •  Continue promoting the creation of Joint Labour-Management Environment Committees and ask affiliates to bargain for their establishment
  •  Help to popularize the key elements of a Green New Deal for All.

Our_Unions_and_Climate_Justice_iconPutting these goals into action, the Labour Council hosted its 2nd Climate Justice Network Roundtable on February 12.  It  also released a 3-page Plan of Engagement for Unions  which includes the a sample climate change resolution for affiliate unions, and a sample resolution to take to convention. The sample resolution for affiliates is also published ( page 17) in the Winter 2020 issue of the Labour Council’s magazine, Labour Action .

The sample resolution asks affiliate unions to join the fight for climate justice through the following actions:

  • Ask the employer to detail their plans to climate-proof the workplace;
  • Bargain contract language on climate, and a union role in sustainability;
  • Seek the establishment of Joint Workplace Environment Committees;
  • Establish training programs for members to be actively involved in greening the workplace;
  • Utilize an equity lens to ensure new job opportunities benefit all of our communities;
  • Engage in campaigns for climate justice – including Just Transition legislation for workers and communities impacted by changes to a low-carbon economy;
  • Support public services that deliver quality programs and good jobs while ensuring public control and operation.

Also in the Winter issue of Labour Action : a profile on page 16 of the many activities of the Labour Council’s  Labour Education Centre , which include a strong component of training programs for  climate change literacy.  In addition, the LEC has researched Just Transition experiences after closing of coal-fired electricity plants in Alberta, Australia and Ontario, and is publishing those results. Finally, LEC continues to support a Joint Labour Management Committee at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) that has made a number of recommendations to dramatically decrease the GHG emissions in the Board.

The Toronto and York Region Labour Council  shares climate justice resources at a dedicated website, including social media shareables, links to articles and documents such as the pioneering 2016 Greenprint , and all the documents mentioned above.

Is the Just Transition fund in Europe’s Green New Deal funded adequately?

Europe’s landmark Green New Deal was unveiled on December 11 2019, but eu flag heldcriticisms abound over the structure, ambition, and particularly the funding.   “Question marks raised over scale of EU’s new climate fund” in Euractiv (Jan. 14) discusses the Just Transition Mechanism funding, and “Commission warns of Green Deal failure if Transition Fund not well financed” ( February 12) states that the European president warned Members of the European Parliament that “she would ‘not accept’ any result that does not guarantee at least 25% of the budget devoted to the fight against global warming and to proper funding of a just transition for regions and workers.”

A more general criticism comes in “The EU’s green deal is a colossal exercise in greenwashing”, an Opinion piece in The Guardian on February 7.  Authors Yanis Varoufakis and David Adler  compare the €1tn (over 10 years) allocated for the GND with an estimated €4.2tn spent to support the European financial sector after the 2008 recession.  Furthermore, they state that the  €1tn GND money “is mostly smoke and mirrors”…”composed of reshuffled money from existing EU funds and reheated promises to mobilise private-sector capital down the road.”  As for the Just Transition mechanism itself, they state: “the deployment of just transition funding in the green deal is a pork-barrel payoff to rightwing governments that supported Von der Leyen’s election and who she fears might throw a spanner into her signature proposal.”  (Euractiv helps to explain this in “Poland, Germany get largest slices of Just Transition Fund” ).

Yanis Varoufakis and David Adler are part of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025,  a coalition of European scientists, activists and trade unionists. Their Blueprint for Europe’s Just Transition  outlines a strategy for a radical, activist  pan-European movement for a Green New Deal: “The climate movement today — whether it takes the form of student strikes, Extinction Rebellion, or the Gilet Jaunes — has articulated a shared enemy: climate and environmental breakdown. But it has yet to come together to articulate a set of shared demands…. It advocates “ channeling the energies of activists across the continent to clash with the institutions that sit at the Belgian capital — through strikes and sit-ins, occupations and demonstrations: the full arsenal of direct action and civil disobedience.”

The Blueprint is built around three major actions: 1. Green Public Works: (“an investment programme to kickstart Europe’s equitable green transition”);  2. an EU Environmental Union: (“a regulatory and legal framework to ensure that the European economy transitions quickly and fairly, without transferring carbon costs onto front-line communities”); and 3). an Environmental Justice Commission: (“an independent body to research and investigate new standards of ‘environmental justice’ across Europe and among the multinationals operating outside its borders”).

Further, with emphasis on the democratic, grass-roots activism demanded:

  …. This Blueprint provides a general framework for Europe’s just transition, but it must be complemented by deliberation at the ground level to decide where the resources raised by the Green Public Works programme will be directed. No campaign, movement, union, NGO, or political party can devise a climate plan on its own; the People’s Assemblies for Environmental Justice offer a common process by which to develop it.

How to engage your union in the fight for a Green New Deal

The January 2020 issue of  the Labor Network for Sustainability newsletter refers to a recent article, “A Green New Deal can win even among Building Trades Unions”, which appeared in The Jacobin (Jan 30 2019). It is written by an IBEW tradesman who led a successful effort to pass a Green New Deal resolution at the 60th Annual Texas AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention.  The author describes how he was inspired by a resolution from the Alameda California Central Labor Council, and how he moved his own resolution from that model to the one which passed in Texas. He outlines a process of internal discussion and education which created a broader resolution, and one which had to compromise by replacing the highly emotive term “Green New Deal” with “Federal Environmental Policy”.

The article concludes:

“What does the labor-focused segment of the climate justice movement need to do next? First, we must repeatedly engage labor, from the local level on up to the national/international level, in as many places as we can — both through defined democratic processes like the one I experienced, as well in the rank-and-file space of our locals. The goal is not to simply push resolutions through, but to educate and build a base of support in the process….In order for the Green New Deal to move forward, it must become a standard demand from organized labor. The task for us now is to replicate this kind of effort at each and every one of our locals .”

The article is one of the latest written by unionists to instruct and inspire direct action. To cite a few: “Calling All Union Members” , in The Trouble  (May 2019), which begins: “Teachers, construction workers, nurses, miners, frycooks—you have an indispensable role to play in the passage of the Green New Deal. Here are five concrete steps to take.”  An earlier U.S. article by Nato Green “Why Unions Must Bargain Over Climate Change” appeared in In these Times (March 2019).

Labor Network for Sustainability maintains an ongoing compilation of GND resolutions by U.S. unions, and has written numerous articles.  The WCR has written  previously about union actions for a Green New Deal in both the U.S. and Canada,  here. 

Fossil fuel and LNG subsidies in B.C., and an alternate viewpoint on the issue

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) maintains an ongoing initiative, the Global Subsidies Initiative , to research fossil fuel subsidies worldwide.  Their most recent publication relating to Canada is  Locked In and Losing Out: British Columbia’s fossil fuel subsidies. The authors calculate that BC’s fossil fuel subsidies reached  $830 million Cdn.  in 2017–2018, with no end in sight. Despite B.C.’s clean energy image, the report documents the significant new support granted by the current B.C. government to encourage the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry.  Locked In and Losing Out calls for the provincial government to create a plan to phase-out its own subsidies, and coordinate with the federal government in its current  G20 Peer Review of fossil fuel subsidies, launched in 2019 and administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada.   In August 2019, the IISD also released its Submission to Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Consultation on Non-Tax Fossil Fuel Subsidies calling for Canada to re-affirm its long-standing  G7 commitment to reform fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 and provide a detailed action plan to achieve the goal.  

new labor forumAn alternate view

Sean Sweeney of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy takes an alternate view on fossil fuel subsidies in “Weaponizing the numbers: The Hidden Agenda Behind Fossil-Fuel Subsidy Reform” appearing in the January 2020 issue of  New Labor Forum. As might be expected, Sweeney challenges the findings and assumptions of the International Monetary Fund (for example, in a 2019 working paper by David Coady ). He also takes issue with some progressive analysis – notably, he cites  Fossil Fuel to Clean Energy Subsidy Swaps: How to Pay for an Energy Revolution (2019) and Zombie Energy: Climate benefits of ending subsidies to fossil fuel production (2017)  – both published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).  After a brief discussion of the main concepts, Sweeney concludes:

“For activists in the North, making fossil-fuel subsidies a key political target is a mistake. It buys into the IMF’s obsession with “getting energy prices right” which targets state ownership and regulation of prices. Such an approach may lead to a more judicious use of energy, but it would not address the mammoth challenges involved in transitioning away from fossil fuels, controlling and reducing unnecessary economic activity, or reducing emissions is expeditiously as possible.

The problem is fossil fuel dependency, not underpriced energy. Raising the price without alternative forms of low-carbon energy available for all will not produce the kind of emissions reductions the world needs. This does not mean that progressive unions and the left should support subsidies for fossil fuels—especially when the beneficiaries are large for-profit industrial users or billionaire Lamborghini owners cruising the strips in Riyadh or Shanghai. But there is a need to be aware of what the IMF and the subsidy reform organizations are proposing, and what these proposals might mean for workers and ordinary people, especially in the Global South.”

 

 

 

Transit Equity and Free Transit: addressing social justice, climate justice and workplace justice

transit equity day people of colourTransit Equity Day in the United States was held on February 4 – a date chosen to honour Rosa Parks, whose refusal to yield her seat on a bus in 1955 was the catalyst in the U.S. struggle against the segregation of public transit.  Now in 2020, Transit Equity Day’s main goal is “to promote environmentally-sustainable and affordable transit accessible to all, regardless of income, national origin, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion, or ability,” and in all communities, rural or urban.  In addition to social justice goals, it also promotes climate justice and workplace justice, calling for good, union jobs for transit workers and those who manufacture transit equipment, as well as a  just transition for workers and communities in the  transition to an electrified, non-polluting transit system.  Transit Equity Day is organized by the Labor Network for Sustainability, in cooperation with environmental and labour groups already working to promote public transit – including the Amalgamated Transit Union , Transport Workers of America, Connecticut Roundtable for Climate and Jobs , Metropolitan Washington District AFL-CIO, and Jobs to Move America .

Transit Equity Day also supports the growing free public transit movement – described, with global case studies, in Free Public Transit: And Why We Don’t Pay to Ride Elevators, a book published in Canada by Black Rose books in 2017.  Since then, advocates have focused mainly on the social justice arguments: for example in  “Free and Accessible Transit Now: Toward A Red-Green Vision for Toronto” (Canadian Dimension, May 10 2018) . This continues to be the focus in the July 2019 call for free transit by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 2, representing Toronto Transit Commission workers,  and endorsed by CUPE Ontario. Also in a January 2020 blog by the Amalgamated Transit Union in Canada , which stated:

“….successful examples of fare free transit around the world demonstrate that this model of public transit service may not be radical or utopian. However, there are real concerns implementation of fare free transit.

ATU Canada advocates for fares to be affordable for all, and advocates for progress toward creating a fare-free transit. Incremental pricing actions (such as fare-freezes and reductions) are realistic in lieu of immediate fare-free transit subsidized by government. In our advocacy, we prioritize efforts to eliminate cost barriers to accessing jobs, education, health care, and other services, through the implementation of low-income passes. A gradual approach to fare reduction is sorely needed in many municipalities across Canada, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that transit is safe, reliable, and affordable for all.”

Free transit and climate change

The Richochet published two articles which marry concern for social justice with the well-established environmental benefits of transit over cars:  “Advocates say decommodified housing and free transit needed to fight climate emergency” (Oct.9)  describes activism in  Montreal, and “Free public transit is key to any Green New Deal worthy of the name” (Oct. 19)  which is an overview of the growing activism Canada-wide. “The case for free public transit in Toronto” in Now Magazine (Dec. 2019) only begins to discuss the fraught transit politics in Toronto. In December 2019, members of the Free Transit Edmonton movement published an Opinion piece: “Make transit free for the sake of our climate and community” in the Edmonton Journal.  For a recent U.S. summary, see “Should Public Transit Be Free? More Cities Say, Why Not?” in the New York Times (Jan. 14).

Green Jobs Oshawa still fighting for GM plant conversion; EV investment goes to Detroit-Hamtramck plant

green jobs oshawa logoAn article by former CAW Research Director Sam Gindin appeared in The Socialist Project newsletter The Bullet on Feb. 3.  “Realizing ‘Just Transitions’: The Struggle for Plant Conversion at GM Oshawa” describes the ongoing work of Green Jobs Oshawa to fight back against the closure of the GM Oshawa plant with a proposal to convert the plant to  electric vehicle manufacture. Green Jobs Oshawa commissioned an economic study in 2019, The Triple Bottom Line Feasibility Study  which estimated that the plant conversion could create 13,000 jobs with modest government investment and a worker ownership model. Gindin’s new article seeks to explain why the Green Jobs Oshawa campaign hasn’t succeeded yet, and suggests new thinking and new roles for workers, Unifor at the local and national level, the Candian Labour Congress, and the government. (A related, good-news article, “The man of wind, water and sun” in Corporate Knights  (Jan. 16) profiles Toronto lawyer Brian Iler and describes his efforts, along with the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation  to retool GM Oshawa. Iler is described as “the creative legal mind behind a host of cutting-edge renewable energy projects, social ventures and co-ops that have challenged received wisdom.” )

General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck AssemblyIn the meantime, on January 27, General Motors announced “Detroit-Hamtramck to be GM’s First Assembly Plant 100 Percent Devoted to Electric Vehicles” , promising creation of 2,200 jobs.  Production of an all-electric pick-up truck will start as soon as late 2021, to be followed by an all-electric Cruise Origin self-driving shuttle, and an electric Hummer.  Like Oshawa GM, the Detroit Hamtramck plant had been slated for closure, but the corporate press release states that GM will invest $2.2 billion in the U.S. plant and an additional $800 million in supplier tooling and other projects. Encouraged by favourable tax treatment by the state, GM has committed more than $2.5 billion toward electric vehicle manufacturing in Michigan since Fall 2018 –  recent news of GM’s corporate push to electric vehicles appears in The Detroit Free Press in  “GM bids to buy land for a new battery factory in Lordstown” (Jan. 15) ; “GM commits to $2.2 billion investment and 2,200 jobs at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly ” (Jan. 27) and in the New York Times, “G.M. Making Detroit Plant a Hub of Electric and A.V. Efforts” (Jan. 27).

Canadians are trying to find a silver lining, as reported by the Windsor Star newspaper in  “GM’s first all-electric vehicle plant in Detroit will have Canadian spillover benefits” . The article quotes the president of Canada’s Automobile Parts Manufacturing Association: “if GM meets the volume expectations of the vehicles in the Hamtramck re-launch, Southwestern Ontario suppliers may pull in up to 30 per cent of the content opportunities that will arise.”

Which Canadian companies rank as  Sustainable or as Clean Tech innovators?

Corporate knights cover 2020Canadian magazine Corporate Knights recently published the 2020 edition of its annual Global 100 , which ranks the 100 most sustainable corporations in the world.  This overview article describes the environmental and social responsibility indicators which are considered in the rankings, including average CEO pay ratio, the number of women on their boards and female executives, linking executive compensation to targets related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and “the carbon-productivity measure” of revenue per tonne of CO2 emitted.  The ranked list is topped by Orsted of Denmark (formerly DONG (Danish Oil and Natural Gas) – profiled here . The top-ranked Canadian corporation, at 10th position, is Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp. , which describes itself as: “a growing renewable energy and regulated utility company with assets across North America. The Corporation  acquires and operates green and clean energy assets including hydroelectric, wind, thermal, and solar power facilities, as well as sustainable utility distribution businesses (water, electricity and natural gas) through its two operating subsidiaries: Liberty Power and Liberty Utilities.”   The Global 100 issue also include general articles which focus on Canadian sectors: “Hydro-Quebec plugs into China’s EV push”;  “The EV Revolution will take batteries, but are they ethical”  ;  “Financing our future with a green building bonanza”, and “The ultimate guide to responsible investing“.

The Global Cleantech 100 report, published in San Francisco,  is an industry-based annual ranking of private companies judged “most likely to make significant market impact globally over the next five to ten years.” An Expert Panel of cleantech investors reviewed over a thousand possible private companies and selected 100, of which 12 are Canadian.  Although U.S. companies dominate the list,  the twelve  Canadians which were judged to be global leaders are : Axine industrial waste-water technologies ; Carbicrete  in Montreal (cement-free, carbon free concrete); Carbon Engineering in Calgary (Developer of technologies for the capture of carbon dioxide at industrial scale); Carbon Cure of Dartmouth N.S.,   (manufactures a technology for concrete producers that introduces recycled CO2 into fresh concrete); Ecobee ,developer of Wifi smart thermostats for home and commercial applications; Enbala  (provider of demand side energy management systems); GaN Systems of Ottawa (Developer of gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors); LiCycle of Mississauga (developer of lithium ion battery recycling technology); Minesense of Vancouver (developer of sensor technology for mine operation) ; OpusOne of Richmond Hill Ontario (developer of optimization solutions for distributed electricity grid systems) ; Semios of Vancouver (Developer of precision crop management systems); and Svante of Burnaby B.C.  (commercial scale carbon capture).

More innovative Canadian companies are profiled at the website of  Sustainable Development  Technology Canada,  an arms-length agency overseen by the Minister of  Innovation, Science and Industry . On January 15, the Minister announced government investment of $46.3 million in 14 start-up cleantech companies.  The list of companies is provided in the press release. 

Climate change and health: U.K. National Health Service launches new campaign for greener health care; more medical associations divest from fossil fuels

England’s National Health Service (NHS) is the country’s largest employer with 1.3 million staff, and its operations are responsible for approximately 4-5% of England’s carbon footprint. On January 25, the Chief executive officer of the NHS announced a new campaign to tackle the global climate change health emergency through a greener health care system.  A website for the new campaign, “For a Greener NHS”, focuses on a goal of a net zero national health service, with an Expert Panel to compile experiences and make recommendations in an interim report due in summer 2020, and a final report scheduled for Fall 2020.  In the meantime, the Greener NHS campaign will encourage such initiatives as switching from coal or oil-fired boilers to renewable heat sources for buildings; switching to less polluting anaesthetic gases and better asthma inhalers in treatment; and introducing technological solutions to reduce the number of patient visits and travel miles.

Another part of the initiative is a grassroots campaign for front-line workers, supported by the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change – which includes representative bodies covering over 650,000 NHS staff, including the union UNISON . The NHS press release quotes UNISON:  “Involving staff is crucial if the NHS is to help the UK meet its emissions targets in good time. They know more than anyone how the health service ticks and so are best placed to make practical green suggestions to get the NHS to where it needs to be.”  Examples of existing staff-oriented programs are described in case studies :  reducing the use of disposable plastic gloves;  an electric bike courier system for delivery of medical and laboratory samples; and a sustainable travel initiative  to encourage staff use of transit, shuttle buses, bicycles and walking for journeys to work.

British medical associations and organizations are also acting at the societal level. In January, the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ) published an editorial: “Investing in humanity: The BMJ’s divestment campaign” , which calls on individuals and organizations to act immediately, stating: “Divestment offers health professionals and medical organisations, for the duty is both individual and collective, an opportunity to influence politicians and industry towards behaviours that are better for the planet and people’s health.”  While urging divestment, the BMJ states: ” we will not accept advertising or research funded by companies that produce fossil fuels. We will also explore how else our business might be dependent on fossil fuel companies and take steps to end any such reliance. The BMA has no direct holdings in tobacco or fossil fuel companies.”  (Note that The Guardian newspaper in the U.K. also announced in February 2020 that  it will ban any fossil fuel advertising. ) According to a press release from the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, six constituent groups of the Alliance have announced an intention, or are already divesting, from fossil fuels:  the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Faculty of Public Health, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health,  and in January 2020, the Royal College of Physicians .   The Canadian Medical Association has also divested from fossil fuels.