A review of Just Transition academic research, and the contribution of think tanks, advocacy groups and unions – corrected

Correction: The research paper listed below, Who is included in a Just Transition? Considering social equity in Canada’s shift to a zero-carbon economy. by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood and Zaee Deshpande , was co-published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change Project (ACW) in August 2019. It is one of several co-publications by these two organizations on the theme of Just Transition.


The Smart Prosperity Institute published a Working Paper in April as the latest in its Clean Economy Series.  A systematic review of the key elements of a just transition for fossil fuel workers  is written by three academics from the University of British Columbia, and sets out to answer the question: “What elements of a just transition for fossil fuel workers and their communities do scholars in different academic fields identify?”  The research is intended  to “provide policymakers, environmental and trade union organizations who are already invested in creating just transition strategies insight on the kinds of issues they can target in their efforts.”

The paper is the result of a systematic literature review of academic articles, along with “government commissions and international organizations”, published between 2000 and 2019, and focused on a just transition for fossil fuel workers and their communities. The authors found a total of 520 documents and selected 33 for analysis, representing varied locations— most from the United States, some international, six from  Australia , and the remainder from other countries. From Canada, only the federal Task force on Just Transition in 2018 was included in the analysis.  The authors note that most articles concern OECD countries and coal workers; they were unable to find articles focused solely on Saudi Arabia, Brazil, India, or oil and gas workers.  They conclude: “Collectively, the articles we reviewed identify 17 key elements (or strategies) of just transition ranging from requirements of long-term planning to importance of retraining. Moreover, these 17 elements vary in terms of the type of justice they further (distributional, procedural, recognition & restorative justices), spatial scales, and timeframe.”

A systematic review of the key elements of a just transition for fossil fuel workers  is a solid academic treatment of a huge and ever-growing literature. However, it does not recognize the considerable contributions of advocacy organizations, think tanks, nor labour unions – all of which have been active globally and in Canada.

Below  are a few of those documents which add important viewpoints to the  Just Transition policy debate  in Canada: (in reverse chronological order)

 

Canada’s report to the UNFCC shows an increase in GHG emissions

ghg emissions_NIR 2018As required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), Canada submitted its National Inventory Report on April 14, available from the U.N. website.   The Executive Summary   at the Canadian government website  announces that the Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were 729 million tons of CO2 and equivalent in 2018, (the latest figures available).  This is an increase of 15 million tons from 2017, and a reduction of only 1 million tons from 2005 – making Canada’s Paris Agreement target of a 30% reduction from 2005 levels a very challenging goal. The Executive Summary attributes the 2018 performance  to “higher fuel consumption for transportation, winter heating and oil and gas extraction.” The Toronto Star summarizes the official report in  “Canada’s emissions count jumped 15 million tonnes in 2018 from previous year, report shows” (April 15) ; a summary also appeared in The National Observer, focused on British Columbia.  The federal Green Party press release points out that Canada has missed the February deadline to submit its new target for Nationally Determined Contributions, and calls for Canada  to reduce our GHG’s to 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.  (In comparison, the latest EU target under debate is a 55% reduction by 2030  ).

The full National Inventory Report presents statistics since 1990, and analyses trends by region and according to industries – including energy, industrial processes, agriculture, land use (forestry) and waste management. It also measures emissions in 2018 by important gases, including carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. Carbon dioxide (CO2) accounted for 80% of Canada’s total emissions. Nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions (76% of which come from agriculture) accounted for 5%  in 2018, a 2.4% decrease from 1990 levels. Synthetic gases (HFC’s, PFC’s, SF6 and NF3) constituted slightly less than 2% of national emissions.

Canada’s other big polluter: methane

According to Canada’s National Inventory Report, methane accounted for 13% of Canada’s total emissions in 2018, an increase of  1% since 1990.  43% of those emissions are attributed to fugitive sources in oil and natural gas systems and another 31% from agriculture.  The  International Energy Agency  also tracks methane emissions from the oil and gas industry here , and in February 2020 summarized and critiqued Canada’s new policies to reduce methane emissions attributable to the oil and gas industry.   Methane (CH4) is a growing concern for global GHG emissions – as reported in an article in  Scientific AmericanMethane levels reach an all-time high” (April 12) , which summarizes recent reports by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) .

Blue skies from locked-down economies are fleeting – we still need strong policies to reduce carbon emissions

A statement from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on Earth Day estimates that the pandemic will result in a six per cent drop in carbon emissions in 2020 , but warned “COVID-19 may result in a temporary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but it is not a substitute for sustained climate action”.  The full WMO Statement on Global Climate Change continues …. “We need to show the same determination and unity against climate change as against COVID-19. We need to act together in the interests of the health and welfare of humanity not just for the coming weeks and months, but for many generations ahead.”

Scientists are speaking out against the “good news” approach of highlighting clear skies as a silver lining in the Covid crisis. Kate Marvel, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University, writes “I am a mad scientist” , calling for bolder climate change action, and stating  :

“I’m angry at the very idea that there might be a silver lining in all this. There is not. Carbon dioxide is so long-lived in the atmosphere that a small decrease in emissions will not register against the overwhelming increase since the start of the Industrial Revolution. All this suffering will not make the planet any cooler. If the air quality is better now, if fewer people die from breathing in pollution, this is not a welcome development so much as an indictment of the way things were before. “

U.K. financial consultants MSCI express similar thoughts from an economic viewpoint in “Will coronavirus reduce emissions long term? .  “This modeled decline in 2020 emissions does not necessarily indicate a structural change to our current world economy. The estimated emission levels are still comparable to those observed over the past five years, and the economy could readily rebound, returning emissions to prior levels. China already increased its industrial output when their quarantine began to slowly lift. Once Europe and the U.S. lift lockdowns and reopen borders, travel, commuting and economic output could return to “normal” levels. Thus, the projected decrease in global emissions could be short-lived. If so, the risk climate change poses to countries, companies and investors has not dissipated. A much more visible and immediate crisis has simply overshadowed it.”

Researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute are interviewed in “COVID-19 pandemic raises new questions about the health impacts of air pollution”  and explain how  encouraging pictures of blue skies do not reflect the complexities of air pollution. The article, importantly, also seeks to counter the mis-impression that reduced economic activity is necessary to reduce air pollution, by pointing to the more important policy measures in many countries, including Canada, which have been improved air quality and human health without compromising economic growth.

Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission issues final annual report

ecofiscal final 2019 reportIn November 2019, Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission announced that their five-year mandate was coming to an end with the release of their final research report,  Bridging the Gap: Real Options for Meeting Canada’s 2030 GHG Target , which recommended quadrupling of Canada’s carbon tax by 2030.   On April 22, the Commission released their  2019 Annual Report , with research summaries of their work,  and metrics which attest to their strong influence on Canada’s policy debate over their five years of operation.  With a mission to: “identify and promote practical fiscal solutions for Canada that spark the innovation required for increased economic and environmental prosperity”, the Commission’s major focus was on carbon pricing –  expressed in research, publications, educational events, and in 2019, in supporting the constitutionality of carbon pricing in the court cases brought by Saskatchewan and Ontario.   Although not stated explicitly, the final Letter from Director Chris Ragan implies that the resources of the Commission will be archived – the Ecofiscal Commission website is here.  Many of the principal authors at the Ecofiscal Commission are finding a new home as part of the new government Institute for Climate Choices , announced in April 2019 – for example, Don Drummond, Stewart Elgie, Richard Lipsey, Mike Moffatt and Nancy Olewiler.  Chris Ragan (formerly Executive Director of the Ecofiscal Commission) and Mel Cappe  are both members of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Climate Choices.

Renewable energy as a vehicle for sustainable economic recovery – creating up to 30 million jobs globally by 2030

Renewable energyThe first-ever Global Renewables Outlook report  by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) was released in April, following up on their 2019 report, Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050 .  At 292 pages, the full report  provides detailed statistics on the sectors within the renewable energy industry, demand forecasts, economy-wide impacts of energy transformation – including job impacts –  and regional analysis for ten broad global regions (Canada is lumped in with the U.S. and Mexico as “North America”). It addresses the pathways of electrification, system flexibility, renewable energy, green hydrogen, and innovation relating to energy and industry decarbonization.  The official  Summary Report (54 pages) is here . Summaries and commentary appear in “Renewables Agency urges $110-Trillion Green Infrastructure Investment to Supercharge Recovery, Boost Resilience” in The Energy Mix and in “Green energy could drive Covid-19 recovery with $100tn boost” (April 20) in The Guardian. A compilation of the regional fact sheets and infographics is here .

Although headlines will focus on the price tag of $1 Trillion for investment, the  “Jobs and Skills” section is also notable.  It considers two scenarios: “Planned Energy (PE)” and “Transforming Energy” (TE) and forecasts job numbers by subsector, as well as broad occupational demands.  Some examples:  in the TE scenario, the report forecasts close to 30 million renewable energy jobs by 2030 and 42 million by 2050. Regional-level forecasts are also provided:  for example, renewable energy jobs in North America are forecast to represent 23.0% of total energy jobs under the TE scenario by 2030 and 35.3% by 2050.

Coming as it does during the Covid-19 crisis, Global Renewables Outlook  joins the chorus advocating investment in renewables as the vehicle for a sustainable economic recovery:

“With the need for energy decarbonisation unchanged, such investments can safeguard against short-sighted decisions and greater accumulation of stranded assets. COVID-19 does not change the existential path required to decarbonise our societies and meet sustainability goals.  …. Economic recovery packages must serve to accelerate a just transition. … The time has come to invest trillions, not into fossil fuels, but into sustainable energy infrastructure.”

 

 

Criticism of oil and gas stimulus funds in Canada’s Covid Economic Response Plan

Canadians were generally relieved and positive when Prime Minister Trudeau announced the energy-related provisions of the federal Covid-19 Economic Response Plan  on April 17,  with this statement: “Just because we’re in a health crisis, doesn’t mean we can neglect the environmental crisis.”  The economic stimulus included $1.72 billion to clean up orphan or inactive wells in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, which the government claims “ will help maintain approximately 5,200 jobs in Alberta alone.” The second initiative is $750 million to create an “Emissions Reduction Fund” to help oil and gas companies meet federal methane-reduction standards.  The announcement is summarized in a CBC report  and an article in the National Observer , which also summarizes some of the generally positive reactions from environmental groups. Press releases by  Stand.earth and Clean Energy Canada reflect that generally-held relief that the government had resisted the extensive lobbying from Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) – as outlined in a memo leaked by  Environmental Defence Canada –  and appeared to have listened to the voices of Canada’s clean energy advocates.

An April 17 press release from Climate Action Network Canada embodies a more cautious reaction:

“While we acknowledge and appreciate what this cash infusion achieves – stimulating the economy through well-paying work, while repairing ecosystems damaged by oil and gas operations – we expect to see the federal government hold companies accountable by making enforcement of existing regulations meant to require those companies to clean up orphaned materials and restore land and waterways a condition of its support to the government of Alberta. We will be watching how fiscal measures available through Export Development Canada (EDC) and Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) will further support the government’s stated commitment to using COVID-relief public money  to move Canada further along its path to a more sustainable and resilient net-zero economic future.”

Many of these same concerns appear in an Opinion piece by Dianne Saxe, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, “Canada’s murky bail-out deal for oil and gas will cost us all”  (in the National Observer, April 21) . Saxe begins with: “it is shameful that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using your tax dollars to bail out the oil and gas exploration and production industry, perhaps the wealthiest and most polluting industry in human history.”  She credits the “one good program” to be the $200 million loan to Alberta’s Orphan Well Association because it is structured as a loan, to be repaid under the oversight of a special committee which will include local and Indigenous representatives. As for the $750 million Emissions Reduction  funding, Saxe criticizes the terms as unclear, and objects to the roles of the Alberta government, the Export Development Corporation and the Business Development Bank of Canada whose previous oil-friendly financial record she documents.

Finally, Saxe objects to the lost opportunity – suggesting other, more impactful ways to spend the economic funds, and stating:

“These multi-billion dollar bailouts …. are one of the most expensive and polluting ways of protecting jobs. As well as their mountain of debt, the oil and gas extraction industry creates a puny 2.7 jobs per million dollars of output, while pumping out 704 tonnes of greenhouse gases for each full-time job.”

This job creation estimate is based on research by Eric Miller, in an unpublished presentation: The Pandemic from an Ecological Economics perspective: Assessing consequences and appraising policy options (March 31 2020). More related resources are here  .

342,000 jobs by 2040 in zero electric vehicle production in Canada

electric school busA report published by the International Council on Clean Transportation in March,  “Simulating zero emission vehicle adoption and economic impacts in Canada”, was researched by Navius Research of Vancouver. Using economic modelling, Navius forecasts that, even with current policies in place, the ZEV economy in Canada will grow to $43 billion of GDP and 342,000 workers by 2040. With stronger policies, that job creation potential could approach 1.1 million people by 2040.

The employment forecast accompanies a White Paper by the International Council on Clean Transportation which analyzes sales and production trends for conventional and electric vehicles in Canada. It  finds that Canada is the 12th largest vehicle producer in the world, but it’s production of electric vehicles is 80% lower than the global average, at only 0.4% of the total.  The report, Canada’s role in the electric vehicle transition  states that the most important action Canada can take to encourage production is grow its domestic electric vehicle sales market. It also recommends: ….. “Supply-side policies such as research and development funding, loan guarantees, and tax breaks for manufacturing plants are warranted” and “domestic manufacturing requirements for the procurement of public transit vehicles can serve to increase production of electric buses in Canada.” In addition, “Canada can build on its early leadership in developing and producing hydrogen fuel cell technology—especially for heavy-duty vehicles. … hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are likely to play a critical role in Canada’s on-road freight sector…”

In February 2020, the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC) announced  the creation of North America’s first-ever cluster of post-secondary institutions dedicated specifically to researching battery electric and fuel cell electric buses.  Canadian manufacturers already producing electric buses include New Flyer Industries, Nova Bus, GreenPower Motor Company, and The Lion Electric Company, as well as U.S. -owned Proterra.

Environmental benefits of electric vehicles and heat pumps

A technical  study led by researchers from the Exeter University, University of Nijmegen, and Cambridge University used life cycle analysis to show that in 53 out of the 59 regions studied, electric-powered  vehicles and heat pumps generated less carbon dioxide than cars and boilers powered by fossil fuels. The only exceptions came in the heavily coal-dependent regions of Poland.  “Net emission reductions from electric cars and heat pumps in 59 world regions over time”  appeared in Nature Sustainability in late March,  and is summarized in The Guardian as “Electric cars produce less CO2 than petrol vehicles, study confirms” (Mar. 23). The Guardian article emphasizes that this study is proof against a campaign of disinformation which has slowed the acceptance of these two technologies – and which they address in an accompanying primer, “How Green are Electric Cars?” 

Canada’s Green Building Council updates Zero Carbon Building Standards; government review continues

A public review of Canada’s Building Codes (building, energy, and fire) was open from January 13 to March 13, 2020, under the National Research Council of Canada . The Canadian Green Building Council and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada sent a joint letter with three recommendations :  First, that  “the code requirements should address not only energy efficiency, but also the carbon emissions associated with construction and operations.”  2. Add operational GHG intensity metrics :  “The National Model Energy Code for Buildings (NECB) and the National Building Code (NBC) should include the addition of operational GHG intensity metrics in order to better align code outcomes with the objectives of the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.”  3. Develop embodied carbon metrics:  “The next update to the code should include embodied carbon reduction targets using a comparative approach where proposed buildings are compared to a baseline version of the same building.”

The Pembina Institute also made a Submission,  summarized in a press release on March 13 , and available in full, here.   Like the CGBC, the Pembina submission calls for GHG intensity metrics in addition to energy efficiency metrics, and goes further  in calling for  a cap, rather than targets, for the embodied carbon associated with buildings.  In a separate OpEd on April 15,  the Pembina Institute calls for government to “ramp up”  all green-building funding models over the next five years, with the goal of retrofitting half of Canada’s building stock by 2030.

Zero Carbon Building Standard v.2  released by Canadian Green Building Council

zero carbon building stnadardIn the meantime, while government deliberates over the changes to the country’s building codes, the Canadian Green Building Council released  Version 2 of its Zero Carbon Building Standard on March 10, updating the previous version from 2017. The ZCB Standard version 2 itself has two components: ZCB-Design, for  new buildings as well as the retrofit of existing structures, and ZCB-Performance, which provides a framework for annual verification that buildings have achieved zero carbon. The Zero Carbon Building Standard 2 technical documents are here    .  Updates from version 1 are highlighted in the  press release , and relate to: 1.  Embodied Carbon: (Projects must now reduce and offset carbon emissions for the building’s life-cycle including those associated with the manufacture and use of construction materials.); 2. Refrigerants: (v.2 “ encourages” best practices to minimize potential leaks of refrigerants ); 3. Energy Efficiency: ( more stringent energy efficiency and airtightness requirements), and 4. Innovation: (requires projects demonstrate two innovative strategies to reduce carbon emissions) .

The Canadian Green Building Council published its landmark study in February 2019, Making the Case for Building to Zero Carbon . It demonstrates that that zero carbon buildings can provide a positive financial return over a 25-year life-cycle, inclusive of carbon pollution pricing, and requiring only a modest capital cost premium.

Banks, fossil fuels, and a collapsing oil and gas industry

Rainforest Action Network is one of the advocacy groups which monitor fossil fuel investment on an ongoing basis: their Fossil Fuel Report Card for 2020: Banking on Climate Change  was released on March 18.  As it does every year, the report calculates how much money  has been invested in fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 – in 2020, that has reached $2.7 Trillion.  The report also names and ranks the  banks behind the fossil fuel financing, which continue to be dominated by the big U.S. banks: JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi, and Bank of America.  Canada’s RBC ranks 5th in the world, having invested $141 billion since the Paris Agreement, wit  TD ranking 8th,  ScotiaBank 10th and Bank of Montreal ranked 16th.

Against this entrenched position in support of fossil fuels comes the plummeting price of oil and an industry in crisis.  An April 1 blog by the International Energy Agency explains the five key dimensions – including the Covid-19 crisis –  which explain that “The global oil industry is experiencing a shock like no other in its history”.  The panic setting in to the industry is captured in the Wall Street Journal article on April 14, “Thirst for Oil Vanishes, Leaving Industry in Chaos”.  The Carbon Tracker Initiative published “COVID-19 and the energy transition: crisis as midwife to the new” which states: “Fossil fuel demand has collapsed and may never surpass the peaks of 2019.  By the time the global economy recovers, all the growth may be met by renewable energy sources….. And once the peak is passed, the fossil fuel sector as a whole will face an eternal scrappy battle for survival, struggling with overcapacity and stranded assets, with low returns and high risks.”

Forbes is even more blunt in  “After COVID-19, The Oil Industry Will Not Return To “Normal” (April 5), which states:  “Canada and the United States are in a bind. There is a temptation to bail out oil, if only to keep people employed and ensure that these over leveraged companies don’t drag banks underwater…. Financial support for oil workers is an imperative, but support for the oil sector is a waste of money, whether the Saudis and Russians stay their course or not. Investments in shale and the Canadian oil sands are bound to become stranded assets, even if we return to “normal.” Oil’s days were numbered before coronavirus, and they will be numbered after it.”

The Canadian picture

Andrew Nikoforuk provides a Canadian view in “The other emergency is crashing oil and gas prices” in The Tyee (Mar. 18).  A Globe and Mail article on March 19 (updated Mar. 20)  outlines political calculations and lobbying, and predicts that the federal government will offer a multi-billion dollar post-Covid-19 rescue package to the oil and gas industry (although determined lobbying is also pushing for investment in clean energy instead.  Jim Stanford addresses the issue in We’re going to need a Marshall Plan to rebuild after Covid-19 ” (in Policy Options, April 2), and  writes: “ With the price of Western Canada Select oil falling to close to zero (and no reason to expect any sustained rebound to levels that would justify new investment), it is clear that fossil fuel developments will never lead Canadian growth again. ….. However, the other side of this gloomy coin is the enormous investment and employment opportunity associated with building out renewable energy systems and networks (which are now the cheapest energy option anyway). This effort must be led by forceful, consistent government policy, including direct regulation and public investment (in addition to carbon pricing). Another big job creator, already identified by Ottawa and Alberta, will be investment in remediation of former petroleum and mining sites.”  By April 9,  the Globe and Mail published “Climate, clean tech could take centre stage in federal economic recovery plans” .  The Narwhal argues  “Doubling down on Alberta’s oil and gas sector is a risk Canadians can’t afford to take”  (April 14).

Despite this, in what Common Dreams calls “a shameful new low”, the Alberta government announced a $1.5 Billion cash infusion to “kickstart” the Keystone XL Pipeline on March 31. Ian Hussey of the Parkland Institute reacted with “Alberta’s Keystone XL investment benefits oil companies more than Albertans” (April 2).  Bill McKibben reacted with outrage in “In the Midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Construction Is Set to Resume on the Keystone Pipeline” in The New Yorker .  Other reactions, circling back to the role of Canadian banks: “Reckless Keystone XL Decision by TC Energy Endorsed by JPMorgan Chase, Citi and Canadian Peers”  (Rainforest Alliance Network);  and “Bank of Montreal, RBC, Blackrock Among the Backers for Alberta’s ‘Reckless’ Keystone XL Subsidy” (The Energy Mix , April 5)  .

How to decarbonize global industry and achieve Paris targets

Technologies and Policies to Decarbonize Global Industry: Review and Assessment of Mitigation Drivers through 2070”  is an important research paper written by an international collaboration of 30 experts, including Chris Bataille of Simon Fraser University, British Columbia.  Just published in the academic journal Applied Energy, the paper argues that “Fully decarbonizing the global industry sector is a central part of achieving climate stabilization, and reaching net zero emissions by 2050–2070 is necessary to remain on-track with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting warming to well below 2 °C.”

decarbonization infographic

The importance of industry is apparent from this infographic from  Energy Innovation

Technologies and Policies to Decarbonize Global Industry”   is a detailed and technical article which identifies and evaluates supply-side technologies such as energy efficiency, carbon capture, electrification, and zero-carbon hydrogen as well as  promising technologies specific to each of the three top-emitting industries: cement, iron & steel, and chemicals & plastics. The paper also considers demand-side approaches including material-efficient design, waste reduction, substituting low-carbon for high-carbon materials, and circular economy interventions.

The discussion related to policy focuses on those which encourage innovative technology, as well as carbon pricing with border adjustments, and energy efficiency or emissions standards. It highlights the policies of China and India as well as low and middle-income countries, and concludes with a brief discussion of the need for a just transition, which closely resembles the ideas in  Low and zero emissions in the steel and cement industries: Barriers, technologies and policies  an Issue Paper written by Chris Bataille for the OECD Green Growth and Sustainable Development Forum in November 2019.

Regarding Just Transition, the article states:

“These principles will require policymakers to shape decarbonization policies to provide adequate timeframes for industrial transition and include workers and community representatives at all stages of the policy development and implementation process. A just transition will also require a better understanding of how social safety nets, such as unemployment insurance and government-supported training programs, should be utilized, where they fall short, and how they can be improved. The transition to green industry will be an iterative process, but it must be accelerated to address our growing list of social, economic, and environmental challenges.”

 

Communicating climate change in the world of Covid-19 – strategies from social scientists, and the role of journalism

As stated in an editorial, “The Guardian view on the climate and coronavirus: global warnings” ( April 12) ,  “Could the renewed shock of human vulnerability in the face of Covid-19 make way for an increased willingness to face other perils, climate chaos among them?  Impossible to say at this stage, perhaps. …. But with the postponement of crucial UN biodiversity and climate conferences, it has never been more important to keep up the pressure. There is no exit strategy from our planet.”

What do the social scientists recommend?

Much attention has been focused on the pivot which climate activists must make to replace protests with virtual organizing – for example, in “How To Be A Climate Activist During The Coronavirus Pandemic” (HuffPost Mar. 20).  But does the messaging also need to change?   “Communicating climate change during the coronavirus crisis – what the evidence says” ( April 14) offers advice in a blog  based on extensive social science research into climate change communication, conducted by Climate Outreach,

“A few things are clear: a key starting point must be emphasising communal values of compassion and mutual support. It’s also critically important to challenge assumptions about what we think we know, and to ensure climate advocates don’t open themselves up to ‘ambulance chasing’ accusations.”

Although moments of life-changing shift (such as the “shock of human vulnerability” cited in The Guardian editorial) have proven make people more open to changing behaviours, Climate Outreach notes that after traumatic events, people also have a need to get back to normal. With a clear possibility that human society may be entering a period of months and years of disruption on many fronts – health, economy, and even food supply – the blog argues that two futures are possible: an increased emphasis on communal values and the public good, or  a society accepting of authoritarian values which erect barriers against perceived threats.  The conclusion:  “This points ever more strongly to the importance that climate campaigners emphasise the communal values of compassion and mutual support in a time of crisis.”

Climate Outreach plans to publish a practical, evidence-based guide on how to communicate about climate change during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis by the end of May, using the model of their previous guides, such as their #Talking Climate Handbook  (Dec. 2019).

A recent review of the research on behavioural adaptation to climate change also identifies the importance of collective behaviours over individual action – the original article,  “From incremental to transformative adaptation in individual responses to climate-exacerbated hazards” , appears in  Nature Climate Change (Feb. 2020); a brief summary appears here.  The authors, from Ohio State University, found that that most academic studies have examined coping strategies of individuals or households in the face of isolated hazards such as floods or fires.  Lead author Robyn Wilson is quoted here, saying “If we want to really adapt to climate change, we’re talking about transformational change that will truly allow society to be resilient in the face of these increasing hazards. We’re focused on the wrong things and solving the wrong problems.”

 

Climate change media amid the Covid-19 crisis

covering climate now2As he does regularly as part of the Covering Climate Now  global initiative, author Mark Hertsgaard, executive director of CCN,  compiles major climate change stories. On March 25, he wrote “COVID-19 and the media’s climate coverage capabilities” , which states: “the media’s snapping to attention on coronavirus throws its coverage of the climate crisis into sharp relief. The press has never treated the climate story with anywhere near this level of attention or urgency.”   On April 8, he continued his critique in  “Silence of the climate watchdogs” which states :

“The solution is not for newsrooms to stop covering the coronavirus story. It is to expand their definition of what qualifies as a coronavirus story to include profiteering from the pandemic, whether financially or politically. That’s exactly the kind of impropriety the press’s watchdog function is supposed to expose and inhibit, and there are plenty of dogs capable of fulfilling that function. It’s high time more of them start barking.”

The Columbia Journalism Review hosts the Covering Climate Now global initiative. Its  Spring issue  is titled The Story of Our Time , written principally by and for journalists. It provides insights into the state of climate journalism, and also reflects their personal and professional experiences– for example, “Good Grief” by Emily Atkin, who recounts how  her own frustrations in the mainstream media led her to start her own independent news outlet, Heated  in 2019, with the byline ”for those who are pissed off about climate change” .

The introduction to The Story of Our Time  sums up the recurring themes throughout all the articles and reflects the militancy of a growing number of climate journalists:

“We have reached a turning point for journalism and the planet. Old ideas that had dampened our attention to climate change—that the subject was too polarizing or too complicated or a money-loser—have been proven wrong. Old forms of storytelling—fast, without helping readers draw crucial connections—are not what’s needed to confront the crisis we face. We owe it to our audience, and our conscience, to be more thoughtful. Climate change is the story of our time. Journalism will be judged by how it chronicles the devastating reality.”

The toll of Australia’s Black Summer of bushfires

Australia’s Summer of Crisis  was published by the Climate Council of Australia in March, describing the economic and climate change impacts of the bushfires of 2019/20. Although the bushfires were widespread, the report focuses on the two most severely affected areas of the country:  New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. It estimates that there was a 10-20 percent drop in international visitors, so that the tourism sector alone will lose at least $4.5 billion.  Bushfire-related insurance claims in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria totalled an estimated value of $1.9 billion.  The report also estimates the unprecedented climate impacts – between 650 million and 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere ( Australia’s annual emissions are around 531 million tonnes). The report states that the hot dry conditions which fuelled the fires will only worsen, and calls urgently for an end to fossil fuel production and export, and a plan to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions to net zero.

Health impacts

Unprecedented smoke‐related health burden associated with the 2019–20 bushfires in eastern Australia”, published in the Medical Journal of Australia (March 12) estimated that bushfire smoke was responsible for more deaths than the fires, and extraordinary health impacts. The researchers estimate there were  417 excess deaths, 1124 hospitalisations for cardiovascular problems and 2027 for respiratory problems, and 1305 presentations to emergency departments with asthma.  The article is summarized by The Guardian here  , which also reports that the authors have obtained funding for follow-up studies through the Centre for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Research (CAR), funded by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council .  The CAR website offers fact sheets and research summaries about bushfire impacts.

 

New European and global alliances launch, calling for Just Recovery economic plans after Covid-19

In an Open Letter  signed in the first week of April,  the environment and climate change Ministers of eleven European Union countries call for the European Green New Deal to be central to the post-pandemic economic recovery plans of the EU.  By April 14, that initiative was boosted by the launch of a larger Green Recovery Alliance, including over 70 Members of the European Parliament and civil society groups, including  CEO’s, business associations, NGO’s, think tanks, and the European Trade Union Confederation.  In its 4-page Green Recovery Call to Action, the Alliance acknowledges the urgency of the Covid-19 health crisis,  and states:

 “After the crisis, the time will come to rebuild. This moment of recovery will be an opportunity to rethink our society and develop a new model of prosperity. This new model will have to answer to our needs and priorities.These massive investments must trigger a new European economic model: more resilient, more protective,more sovereign and more inclusive. All these requirements lie in an economy built around Green principles. Indeed, the transition to a climate-neutral economy, the protection of biodiversity and the transformation of agri-food systems have the potential to rapidly deliver jobs, growth and improve the way of life of all citizens worldwide, and to contribute to building more resilient societies…… “Projects such as the European Green Deal, and other national zero carbon development plans have a huge potential to build back our economy and contribute to creating a new prosperity model. We therefore consider that we need to prepare Europe for the future, and design recovery plans, both at the local, national and at the EU level, enshrining the fight against climate change as the core of the economic strategy. The time has come to turn these plans into actions and investments that will change the life of citizens and contribute to the quick recovery of our economies and our societies.”  [emphasis by the WCR editor].

This European initiative is consistent with a worldwide movement for a Just Recovery from Covid-19, co-ordinated by 350.org.  In the U.S., this is allied with the People’s Bailout movementdescribed in a previous WCR post  , and sharing the same five principles.   The #Just Recovery Open Letter states:

“ We, the undersigned organisations, call for a global response to COVID-19 to contribute to a just recovery. Responses at every level must uphold these five principles:

  1. Put people’s health first, no exceptions.
  2. Provide economic relief directly to the people.
  3. Help our workers and communities, not corporate executives.
  4. Create resilience for future crises.
  5. Build solidarity and community across borders – do not empower authoritarians.”

Both the European and Global movements are described in “Pairing ‘Green Deal’ With ‘Just Recovery’ in EU, Groups Embrace Tackling COVID-19 and Climate Emergency in Tandem”  in Common Dreams (April 10).  The newsletter Euractiv describes the European initiative in ‘Green recovery alliance’ launched in European Parliament (April 14) .

Clean energy can drive Canada’s economic recovery

The oil and gas industry is in an unprecedented crisis, as explained in an April 1 blog by the International Energy Agency: “The global oil industry is experiencing a shock like no other in its history” .  Yet on March 31, in what Common Dreams calls “a shameful new  low”,  the Alberta government announced a $1.5 Billion cash infusion to “kickstart” the Keystone XL Pipeline. Ian Hussey of the Parkland Institute reacted with “Alberta’s Keystone XL investment benefits oil companies more than Albertans” (April 2).  Bill McKibben reacted with outrage in “In the Midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Construction Is Set to Resume on the Keystone Pipeline”  in The New Yorker .  McKibben subsequently surveys the situation in Canada and the U.S. in “Will the Coronavirus Kill the Oil Industry?” in the New Yorker .

As the Canadian federal government continues to formulate its economic recovery plan Covid-19, loud calls are coming to invest in clean energy, not oil and gas

The International Energy Agency provides factual rationale for the push for a cleaner recovery,  in “Put clean energy at the heart of stimulus plans to counter the coronavirus crisis”.  On April 3,  an Open Letter from Canada’s clean energy sector associations was sent to the federal government, calling for a “Resilient Recovery”, and emphasizing the job creation potential of the clean economy sector – (estimated pre-Pandemic as employing  559,400 Canadians by 2030) . 

Also on April 3, a virtual rally of  56,000 people was organized by Stand.earth as part of a Bail out People not Polluters campaignsummarized by the Energy Mix.  Quotes published by Stand.earth sum up the arguments:

“… Canadians will not accept a sweetheart deal for oil company execs and shareholders to protect Big Oil’s bottom line, and prop up a sunset industry. We need every single public dollar available to save lives, support communities and rebuild a cleaner, more resilient future….Because that other crisis—climate change—hasn’t gone anywhere. In this moment, when the global economy has been shuttered in humanity’s collective battle against COVID-19, governments must seize the opportunity to change course when it starts back up again. To put people back to work building massive solar and wind farms, not pipelines. To invest in the jobs of the future, not the jobs of the past.”

Earlier Canadian “No Bailout” voices are summarized in a previous WCR article , which highlights the Open Letters sent to the federal government by civil society groups and academics.   A selection of more recent calls include:  “Morneau, provinces must apply climate lens to COVID-19 recovery efforts” in iPolitics (April 9); “Pandemic response should mobilize around low carbon solutions” by Mitchell Beer in Policy Options (Mar. 26)  ;  “Let’s come out of COVID-19 with a new economy” an Opinion piece by Merran Smith and  Dan Woynillowicz in The National Observer (April 8) ; “Green stimulus offers Canada a way forward for escaping the next recession” (March 26) and “Ottawa’s bail-outs need to help airline and oil and gas sectors grow greener” (April 8),  both by Sustainable Prosperity.

Last word to Jim Stanford, in  “We’re going to need a Marshall Plan to rebuild after Covid-19 ”  in Policy Options (April 2):

“…. With the price of Western Canada Select oil falling to close to zero … it is clear that fossil fuel developments will never lead Canadian growth again. Politicians and their “war rooms” can rage at this state of affairs, but they can’t change it: they might as well pray for a revival in prices for beaver pelts or other bygone Canadian staple exports. However, the other side of this gloomy coin is the enormous investment and employment opportunity associated with building out renewable energy systems and networks (which are now the cheapest energy option anyway). This effort must be led by forceful, consistent government policy, including direct regulation and public investment (in addition to carbon pricing). Another big job creator, already identified by Ottawa and Alberta, will be investment in remediation of former petroleum and mining sites.”

New climate change research network launches, saying climate won’t wait for the pandemic to end

A new network of university researchers launched on April 2: the International Universities Climate Alliance (IUCA) .  The  network will  showcase climate change research from 40 universities in 18 countries , with a wide range of disciplinary expertise, including engineering, economics, law, social science and planning, as well as climate science.

With a website tag line, “Collaborating for Climate Impact”, the IUCA states in its  official press release :

“Alliance members are to work together to identify the most effective ways to communicate research-based facts related to climate change to the public. Members will engage in work across climate change science, impact, mitigation strategies and adaptation.”

The network is spearheaded by the University of New South Wales,Sydney, and also includes the California Institute of Technology, Cornell University, the University of Edinburgh, King’s College London, the Sorbonne, and from Australia, University of Melbourne and Monash University as well as the UNSW. From Canada, only McGill University in Montreal is included so far in the full list of member universities, here .  A deliberate strategy was to include universities from emerging economies in the group.

The decision to launch now, amidst the “information saturation” of Covid-19 was explained in a press release from the University of New South Wales:

“This new platform is needed now more than ever as the world grapples with providing a coordinated approach to tackling climate change. …Notwithstanding current urgencies around the COVID-19 pandemic, the alliance members decided not to delay the formation of the alliance due to the pressing and ongoing need to accelerate climate change mitigation and improve decision making.”

That theme is expanded in  a related  press release on April 1, titled simply: Climate change mitigation can’t wait for Covid-19 to play out.

An expanding role for experts

The experts in the new International Universities Climate Alliance (IUCA) may benefit from the important and highly visible role of scientific experts in the fight against the pandemic.  Lesson #1 in Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood’s blog,  6 lessons for climate action from Canada’s COVID-19 response is “Listen to scientists.”  He argues: “At every stage of this pandemic, the public narrative and the associated policy response has largely been guided by epidemiologists and public health officials. ….Yet climate scientists are still sidelined in the public discourse and climate policy is still guided more by short-term political considerations than physical evidence. The climate crisis demands a more central role for climate science.”

Another  recent comment  in After the Coronavirus, Two Sharply Divergent Paths on Climate”  from Yale350 (April 7)  states: “Some policy experts are optimistic that victory over the coronavirus will instill greater appreciation for what government, science, and business can do to tackle climate change. But others believe the economic damage caused by the virus will set back climate efforts for years to come.” The article outlines the two approaches, with a general view that the politics of the U.S. may continue to conspire against informed fight against climate change, while the EU will continue to follow a more evidence-driven path. 

Labour’s role in pandemic response – now and in the future 

As the world reacts to the urgent and terrible demands of the global pandemic, the labour movement is also on crisis footing as it fights for health and income protection for workers in the short term.   An earlier WCR post describes the Covid-19 Resource Centre maintained by the Canadian Labour Congress, which compiles links and documents by Canadian unions – much of it focused on the immediate information needed by individual workers. Unions are also advocating at the national and provincial levels for improved income supports, employment insurance, guaranteed sick leave for the short term crisis, as well as for sustainable long term economic solutions. The Covid19HELP_Demands_ftWorkers’ Action Centre and the Fight for $15 and Fairness in Ontario issued a press  release on March 26,  in response to the federal benefits announcement . The complete statement of demands appears in Covid-19: Health Emergency Labour Protections: Urgent comprehensive action is needed to protect workers, communities . Such lobbying and organizing has resulted in a number of emergency-related changes to legislated employment standards across Canada, as described by  Michael Fitzgibbon in  “The Right to Refuse in a COVID-19 World” in the Canadian Law of Work Forum (March 27) .

In the United States, the Labor Network for Sustainability provides information on rank and file reactions to Covid-19. On April 2,   Jeremy Brecher’s Strike column, ” Strike for your Life”  summarizes how U.S. and Italian workers are protesting and walking out due to lack of workplace protections.  Brecher’s column cites many U.S. examples, expanding on Steven Greenhouse’s article in the New York Times: “Is Your Grocery Delivery Worth a Worker’s Life? ” (Mar. 30). Brecher also summarizes and  cites “The Italian workers fighting like hell to shut down their workplaces” (Mar. 24) .  Other overviews of U.S. union actions are:  “Walkouts Spread as Workers Seek Coronavirus Protections” in Labor Notes (Mar. 26);  “The Strike Wave Is in Full Swing: Amazon, Whole Foods Workers Walk Off Job to Protest Unjust and Unsafe Labor Practices” in Common Dreams (Mar. 30); and “The New Labor Movement” (Axios, April 1). 

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)  has compiled Pandemic News from Unions around the world, including their own documents and those of international affiliates.  The ITUC  also  published 12 governments show the world how to protect lives,  jobs and incomes  (updated March 30), which ranks the policies of  Argentina, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and the UK on their pandemic policies related to paid sick leave, income support, wage support, mortgage, rent or loan relief, and free health care .

After the pandemic subsides

Larry Savage and Simon Black, professors at Brock University, are pessimistic that short term gains will survive a return to “business as usual” in Canada. In  “Coronavirus crisis poses risks and opportunities for unions” in The Conversation, they reference Naomi Klein’s theory in The Shock Doctrine to argue: “Moving forward, unions are likely to find it incredibly difficult to negotiate gains for their members who will be expected to “share the pain” of an economic recession not of their making” – even public sector workers such as health care workers.  To avoid being branded as selfish, Savage and Black urge unions to: “become champions of converting new temporary income supports, social protections and employment standards into permanent measures designed to rebuild Canada’s tattered social safety net…. oppose bailouts of big corporations that don’t also bail out workers and give employees more say over how industries deemed “too big to fail” are run…. continue to lead the resistance to service cuts and demands to privatize health-care services..”

Other recent articles also emphasize the importance of protecting the voice of workers in the post-pandemic world.  Thomas Kochan  , Professor and Co-Director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research  has written that  “By working together in these ways in this time of crisis, business and labor might just lay the groundwork for building a new social contract that fills the holes in the social safety net and forges relationships that will serve society well in the future.” His article,  “Workers left out of government and business response to the coronavirus” appeared in The Conversation (U.S. edition) (March 20).

The National Labor Leadership Initiative at the Cornell University ILR School convened an online forum titled  “Labor’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic “(Mar 31)  . The purpose of the forum, and a continuing initiative, is to facilitate the long-term vision of the labour movement.  The April   press release quotes participant Erica Smiley, Executive Director of Jobs with Justice  who states: “This is a moment for us to think about what the new normal is, because I frankly don’t want to get back to the old normal. It wasn’t working for most of us.”  The press release also reflects the immediate impacts of the current crisis on a range of workers in the U.S.: “Seven TWU members who work in the NYC public transit system have died from the virus, while their co-workers still go to work every day to keep the system running, without adequate assurances that they will be kept healthy and safe. The IATSE members whose work powers the entertainment and festival scene including Austin’s South by Southwest, one of the first major cancellations of the pandemic, are now out of work indefinitely. Teachers and paraprofessionals have rushed to transition their curricula to online formats, even while coping with the emotional impact of missing their students and the school environment. Nurses are on the frontlines and tending to patients without adequate PPE.”

The Global Stage

The ILO’s Bureau for Workers’Activities (ACTRAV) published “COVID-19: what role for workers’ organizations?  arguing that  ILO Recommendation 205 on Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience (R205) is an effective instrument for governments, employers and workers organizations to address the COVID-19 pandemic.  “This recommendation was adopted with an overwhelming majority of all – governments, employers and workers. It is an international law instrument and Governments are expected to respect its guidance: Workers Organisations can request that it is taken into account.”  The ILO maintains an ongoing collection of documents monitoring  Covid-19 and the World of Work .

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation takes up the theme of a social contract: “As many governments scramble to pay for sick leave, provide income support or other measures, they have found themselves putting in place the building blocks of a social contract. Let’s keep these in place.” (in “New Social Contract can rebuild our workplaces and economies after COVID-19 in The Medium, (March 18)) . To flesh out that objective, the ITUC will convene virtual and in-person meetings on 24 June, on the theme, “Climate and Employment Proof our Future — a vision for a post-pandemic world”.

In the meantime, the ITUC and the International Organisation of Employers have issued a  Joint Statement on COVID-19 which issues an urgent call for coordinated policies, including :

Business continuity, income security and solidarity are key to prevent the spread and protect lives and livelihoods and build resilient economies and societies.

We stress in the strongest terms the important role that social dialogue and social partners play in the control of the virus at the workplace and beyond, but also to avoid massive job losses in the short and medium term. Joint responsibility is needed for dialogue to foster stability.