Survey of oil and gas workers shows little knowledge of energy transition

A report commissioned by international union coalition Industriall examines the geopolitics of fossil fuel producing countries (mainly, the United States, China, Europe and Russia) and the investments and performance of the Oil Majors (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Total, as well as nationally-owned PetroChina, Gazprom and Equinor).  Energy transition, national strategies, and oil companies: what are the impacts for workers? was published in November 2020, with the research updated to reflect the impacts of Covid-19. 

In addition to a thorough examination of state and corporate actions, the report asked union representatives from four oil companies about how workers understand the energy transformation and its impact on their own jobs, and whether the concept of Just Transition has become part of their union’s agenda.     

Some highlights of the responses:

  • “the union members interviewed showed little knowledge about either the risks that the current transition process can generate for the industrial employee, or about the union discussion that seeks to equate the concern with the decarbonisation of the economy with the notions of equity and social justice. In some cases, even the term “Just Transition” was not known to respondents.”
  • Their lack of knowledge regarding the Just Transition can be justified by the fact that they do not believe that there will be any significant change in the energy mix of these companies.
  • Regarding information about energy transitions within the companies, “Managers are included, but the bottom of the work chain is not”
  • Lacking corporate policies or support, some  employees feel compelled to take responsibility for their own re-training

Echoing results of a similar survey of North Sea oil workers in the summer of 2020, published in Offshore: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition, one European respondent is quoted saying: “In the end, everyone is looking for job security, good wages and healthy conditions. It doesn’t matter so much if the job is in another area, as long as it is in good working conditions”.

The researchers conclude that: “Far from being just a statement of how disconnected workers are from environmental issues, these researches reveal a window of opportunity for union movements to act in a better communication strategy with their union members, drawing their attention to the climate issue and transforming their hopes for job stability and better working conditions into an ecologically sustainable political agenda.”

The report was commissioned by Industriall and conducted by the Institute of Strategic Studies of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (Ineep), a research organization created by Brazil’s United Federation of Oil and Gas Workers (FUP). 

A Manual of Arguments to be used to promote a fair and ecological society

A Manual of Arguments for a Fair and Ecological Society  is a new communication tool aimed at a European and Eastern European audience, and at “social democrats working in the context of social-ecological transformation”. According to the manual, it “scrutinizes the seven most important topic areas in which social and environmental concerns are—mistakenly—often played out against each other”  – including Decarbonization of the Economy and the Future of Jobs; Socially Just Energy Transformation;  and Socially Just Mobility Transformation. It then provides summaries of these issues to be used in discussion.

 Although the exact examples used in A Manual of Arguments are specific to Europe, the language and the framing follows well-established principles in the psychology of climate communication, making it a model which could be adapted in other countries. “We know that it will take more to combat climate crises than just stating the facts. We need to think strategically about our messaging if we want to reach our audience and avoid potential resistance or reactance, which may end up defeating our original purpose.”  A Manual of Arguments for a Fair and Ecological Society was published by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Berlin Germany, and offers brief summaries of each topic here, with a version of the complete Manual here.

How “clean” are clean energy and electric vehicles?

Several articles and reports published recently have re-visited the question: how “clean” is “clean energy”?  Here is a selection, beginning in October 2020 with a multi-part series titled Recycling Clean Energy Technologies , from the Union of Concerned Scientists. It includes: “Wind Turbine blades don’t have to end up in landfill”; “Cracking the code on recycling energy storage batteries“; and “Solar Panel Recycling: Let’s Make It Happen” .

The glaring problem with Canada’s solar sector and how to fix it” (National Observer, Nov. 2020) states that “While solar is heralded as a clean, green source of renewable energy, this is only true if the panels are manufactured sustainably and can be recycled and kept out of landfills.” Yet right now, Canada has no capacity to recycle the 350 tonnes of solar pv waste produced in 2016 alone, let alone the 650,000 tonnes Canada is expected to produce by 2050. The author points the finger of responsibility at Canadian provinces and territories, which are responsible for waste management and extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations. A description of solar recycling and waste management systems in Europe and the U.S. points to better practices.  

No ‘green halo’ for renewables: First Solar, Veolia, others tackle wind and solar environmental impacts” appeared in Utility Drive (Dec. 14)  as a “long read” discussion of progress to uphold environmental and health and safety standards in both the  production and disposal of solar panels and wind turbine blades. The article points to examples of industry standards and third-party certification of consumer goods, such as The Green Electronics Council (GEC) and NSF International. The article also quotes experts such as University of California professor Dustin Mulvaney, author of Solar Power: Innovation, Sustainability, and Environmental Justice (2019) and numerous other articles which have tracked the environmental impact, and labour standards, of the solar energy industry.

Regarding the recycling of wind turbine blades:  A press release on December 8 2020 describes a new agreement between  GE Renewable Energy and Veolia, whereby Veolia will recycle blades removed from its U.S.-based onshore wind turbines by shredding them at a processing facility in Missouri, so that they can be used as a replacement for coal, sand and clay in cement manufacturing.  A broader article appeared in Grist, “Today’s wind turbine blades could become tomorrow’s bridges” (Jan. 8 2021) which notes the GE- Veoli initiative and describes other emerging and creative ways to deal with blade waste, such as the Re-Wind project. Re-Wind is a partnership involving universities in the U.S., Ireland, and Northern Ireland who are engineering ways to repurpose the blades for electrical transmission towers, bridges, and more.  The article also quotes a senior wind technology engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the U.S. who is experimenting with production materials to find more recyclable materials from which to build wind turbine blades in the first place. He states: “Today, recyclability is something that is near the top of the list of concerns” for wind energy companies and blade manufacturers alike …. All of these companies are saying, ‘We need to change what we’re doing, number one because it’s the right thing to do, number two because regulations might be coming down the road. Number three, because we’re a green industry and we want to remain a green industry.’”

These are concerns also top of mind regarding the electric vehicle industry, where both production and recycling of batteries can be detrimental to the planet.  The Battery Paradox: How the electric vehicle boom is draining communities and the planet is a December 2020 report by the Dutch Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO). It reviews the social and environmental impacts of the whole battery value chain, (mining, production, and recycling) and the mining of key minerals used in Lithium-ion batteries (lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite and manganese).  The report concludes that standardization of battery cells, modules and packs would increase recycling rates and efficiency, but ultimately,  “To relieve the pressure on the planet, …. any energy transition strategy should prioritize reducing demand for batteries and cars… Strategies proposed include ride-sharing, car-sharing and smaller vehicles.”

GM and Unifor agreement brings production of electric commercial vans to Ingersoll Ontario

The 1,900 workers at the CAMI auto plant in Ingersoll Ontario had been facing an uncertain future, as production of the Chevrolet Equinox was due to be phased out in 2023. Yet on January 18, 91% of Unifor Local 88 members  voted to ratify a new agreement with General Motors , and as a result, GM will  invest in the large scale production of EV600’s, a zero-emissions, battery-powered commercial van said to be the cornerstone of a new GM business unit called BrightDrop, itself only just unveiled in January at the Computer and Electronics (CES) Trade Show.  

The official Unifor CAMI Agreement Summary provides details of the terms of the three-year CAMI agreement , and includes a GM Product and Investment Commitment Letter. It states:  “the investments described below underscore GM’s commitment to our customers and employees; and are conditional on stable demand, business and market conditions; the ability to continue producing profitably; and the full execution of GMS. Subject to ratification of a tentative 2021 labour agreement reached with Unifor and confirmation of government support, General Motors plans to bring production of its recently announced BrightDrop electric light commercial vehicle (EV600) to CAMI Assembly. In addition, there are other variants of the electric light commercial vehicle program which are currently under study. This investment at CAMI Assembly will enable General Motors to start work immediately and begin production at the plant in 2021, making this the first large scale production of electric vehicles by a major automotive company in Canada. This will support jobs and transform work at the plant over the life of this agreement from the current two shifts of Chevrolet Equinox production to a new focus on the production of the all new EV600 to serve the growing North American market for electric delivery solutions.” GM pledges a total of C$1.0 Billion capital investments for facilities, tools, M&E and supplier tooling. It also states: “…….This investment is contingent upon full acceptance of all elements contained within this Settlement Agreement and the Competitive Operating Agreement.” (which has not been made public).

The GM Canada press release summarizes the recent progress at other GM locations:  “C$1.3 billion Oshawa Assembly Pickup investments; a C$109 million product and C$28 million Renewable Energy Cogeneration project at St. Catharines; a C$170 million investment in an after-market parts operation in Oshawa; expansion of GM’s Canadian Technology Centre including investments in the new 55-acre CTC McLaughlin Advanced Technology Track” in Oshawa. As previously reported in the WCR , Unifor has also negotiated historic agreements to produce electric vehicles in the 2020 Big Three Round of Bargaining. As Heather Scoffield wrote in an Opinion piece in the Toronto Star on January 18, “Never mind pipelines: Ontario automakers are showing us a greener way to create jobs now”.

Principles and best practices for a Just Transition for Canada’s fossil fuel workers

Economist Jim Stanford has written a timely new report which should be required reading for politicians setting their hair on fire about Joe Biden’s stated intention to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project on Day one of his presidency.  Employment Transitions and the Phase-Out of Fossil Fuels, released on January 18, argues that “the actual number of fossil fuel jobs and the number of communities reliant on the industry is small enough that a just and equitable transition plan for workers is very feasible” – and the key is timing.

Stanford’s report begins by setting out the statistics regarding fossil fuel employment in Canada: “under 1% of total payroll employment in Canada (or about 160,000 jobs) is located in seven industrial sectors which together comprise most of the composite fossil fuel industry. “ Using 2016 Census data, the report discusses the distribution of fossil fuel jobs by province and community, showing that Alberta  accounts for 75% of fossil-related jobs in 2016, but even there, only it accounts for  7% of all provincial employment. 18 fossil fuel-dependent communities are named, where fossil fuel jobs account for 9.5% of employment – including two well-known examples, Wood Buffalo/Fort McMurray in Alberta and Estevan in Saskatchewan.  The report continues to compare employment in the fossil fuel industry and in the health care sector, Canada’s largest employer. The aim is not to diminish the importance of fossil fuel employment, but to illustrate that employment possibilities exist in other sectors, even within fossil fuel-reliant communities.

Stanford looks ahead and states: “given weakening global demand for fossil fuels, depressed prices, continued infrastructure constraints, and aggressive cost-cutting by fossil fuel employers (shedding labour to protect profits despite lower energy prices), fossil fuel industries will see continued downsizing of their employment footprint.”   He summarizes the employment transitions of other sectors in Canada’s history, notably fisheries, auto manufacturing, manufacturing – as well as other sectors currently transitioning, including retail, transportation, and newspapers and media, and documents the overall dynamics which are always churning labour markets. All these arguments build to the report’s final section, which is to outline the principles and best practices for planning effective employment and community transitions for the inevitable decline of fossil fuels. 

Principles and Best Practices for Transition

Repeating a point he made in a similar report about Australia, Stanford speaks out for younger workers: “Fossil fuels will disappear as a major source of energy within the foreseeable future. Given that reality, it is unhelpful, and indeed cruel, to encourage more workers – including some just entering the workforce – to try to build their livelihoods in an industry that will soon disappear.”

And further

 “ …in an effective, orderly labour market transition….. Most fossil fuel workers will not end up producing solar panels or windmills; in fact, if we manage this transition effectively, most fossil fuel workers will not need to find new jobs at all. As with the climate itself, the sooner we start this transition, the lower its ultimate costs will be, and the greater its net benefits. Delaying these necessary actions only makes matters worse – including for fossil fuel workers. In this context, statements of supposed “solidarity” with fossil fuel workers expressed by some business leaders and political representatives are entirely dubious. Pretending that fossil fuel industries can carry on as “normal” for decades to come (or worse could actually be expanded) is a cruel hoax.”

Employment Transitions and the Phase-Out of Fossil Fuels  was published by the Centre for Future Work, which is a project of the Australia Institute – which also operates in Canada in collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, housed in the CCPA’s Vancouver office.   The report was commissioned by Environmental Defence Canada, which released its own graphically-enhanced summary version, Steady Path: How a transition to a fossil-free Canada is in reach for workers and their communities . 

Newfoundland government primes the pump with funding for offshore oil ahead of February election

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey has called a  provincial election for February  13 –and according to a CBC report, one reason for the quick timing is to get ahead of the forthcoming Interim Report of the provincially-appointed Provincial Economic Recovery Team (PERT), scheduled for late February. The PERT is also called the Greene team for its chair, Dame Moya Greene, who brings a business background, having previously been head of Britain’s Royal Mail and Canada Post, as well as positions at TD Securities, CIBC and Bombardier. Another CBC article highlights that the economic report is going to be a controversial election issue, and discusses the January withdrawal from the team by Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. Shorthall called the exercise “window dressing” , and stated: “I can say that the lack of transparency, top-down approach, rushed timeline, lack of real collaboration and an overall feeling that not all perspectives were being considered, or appreciated, are the overarching themes for my decision”.  Shortall’s departure is also discussed in an article in The Independent .

Another key election issue is likely to be the role of the oil and gas industry in the Newfoundland economy. The election announcement was preceded by a series of provincial funding announcements: on January 14, a government pledge of  $175 million funding as well as royalty incentives to Suncor to prop up the Terra Nova Offshore oil field; $38 million  for the Hibernia offshore project in December 2020; and $41.5 million for Husky Energy’s  White Rose project – all of which are funded by $320 million of federal funds, announced in September 2020. (Note that Husky Energy laid off workers at one of the worksites just days after the funding was announced) .

On January 12, the  Environment and Climate Change Minister issued his decisions under the Impact Assessment Act, allowing Chevron Canada, Equinor Canada, and BHP Petroleum to drill exploratory wells offshore from St. John’s – although further permits will be required, as explained in this new “Toolkit” regarding the process from the East Coast Environmental Law .  Provincial approval is likely to be forthcoming, given the pro-industry views expressed by the provincial Oil and Gas Recovery Task Force appointed in October 2020 to distribute the federal funding. Reflecting this favourable environment, Equinor announced that it is consolidating its Canadian offices and moving staff from Calgary to St. John’s, according to a Financial Post report (Jan. 12) .

What’s ahead for Canadian climate and energy policy in 2021?

The Canadian government has a full climate change agenda ahead when it reconvenes Parliament on January 25, not the least of which will be the debate and passage of Bill C-12, the Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act , analyzed by the Climate Action Network here.  After its introduction in November, C-12 was criticized for lacking urgency and specific plans – for example, in an article by Warren Mabee in The Conversation which calls for three per cent to four per cent GHG reductions “every year, starting now.”

On December 11, the government  released its latest climate plan,  A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, previously discussed in the WCR and noted primarily for its proposed carbon tax hike to $170 per tonne by 2050. According to  “The good, the bad and the ugly in Canada’s 2030 climate plan” (The National Observer, Jan. 18):  “The good news is that …The government’s recently announced A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy plan contains enough new climate policy proposals that, if implemented, will allow Canada to reach its 2030 target. The bad news is….Climate laws enacted by Canadian politicians to date don’t come anywhere close to meeting our 2030 target. With time running out and a gigantic emissions gap to close, Canada needs to enact climate laws now.”

Clean Fuel Standard, Hydrogen, and Small Nuclear Energy Policies released

On December 19, the government released the long-awaited draft regulations for a Clean Fuel Standard, triggering a 75-day consultation period, with final regulations expected in 2021, to take effect in 2022.   According to the government Q&A  website, the new regulations differ from previous drafts in that they apply only to liquid fossil fuels : gasoline, diesel and oil.  Producers and importers of fossil fuels will be required to reduce their carbon content by 2.6% by 2022 and by 13% by 2030 over 2016 levels.  Clean Energy Canada compiled the reactions of several environmental groups here .  The Pembina Institute called the regulations “both fair and cost-effective” in a press release reaction.  Their report , The Clean Fuel Standard: Setting the Record Straight (Nov. 2020) stated: “ The Clean Fuel Standard is expected to create as many as 30,000 jobs as new clean fuel facilities are built, supplied and operated. While some job losses could result from choices made under the CFS, robust modelling shows a net gain for Canadian workers: Energy-economic modelling suggests the CFS will yield a net employment gain resulting in between 17,000 and 24,000 additional jobs.” These projections are taken from on a technical analysis, conducted by Navius and EnviroEconomics consultants before the switch in scope to liquid fossil fuels only.  

Next, on December 16, the Minister of Natural Resources Canada released A Hydrogen Strategy for Canada: Seizing the Opportunities A Call to Action, another long-awaited strategy document which is the result of three years of study, analysis, and consultations, along with collaboration with industry associations: the Transition Accelerator, the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (CHFCA), the Canadian Gas Association, and others . The report states that the government will now establish a Strategic Steering Committee, with several targeted task teams, to implement recommendations.  Key highlights of the Hydrogen Strategy are here; the government’s Hydrogen website is here . 

From page 86, a glimpse into the thinking behind the report:

“The energy transition will fundamentally shift the Canadian economy and alter value chains in many related sectors. One shift of particular importance is the transition away from the direct burning of fossil fuels without carbon abatement. Canada’s energy sector accounted for 900,000 direct and indirect jobs as of 2017, with assets valued at $596 billion . This industry’s significant energy expertise and infrastructure can be leveraged to support the development of the future hydrogen economy in Canada. Hydrogen will be critical to achieving a net-zero transformation for oil and natural gas industries. It provides an opportunity to leverage our valuable energy and infrastructure assets, including fossil fuel reserves and natural gas pipelines, providing a pathway to avoid underutilizing or stranding these assets in a 2050 carbon neutral future. Leveraging these valuable assets will not only be instrumental in achieving the projected economic growth for the domestic market, but also presents the opportunity for Canada to position to become a leading global clean fuels exporter.”

Regarding regulatory changes, the report states: “Policies and regulations that encourage the use of hydrogen technologies include low carbon fuel regulations, carbon pollution pricing, vehicle emissions regulations, zero emission vehicle mandates, creation of emission-free zones, and renewable gas mandates in natural gas networks. Mechanisms to help de-risk investments for endusers to adapt to regulations are also needed.”  There is no mention of training or transition policies, although the report  forecasts a  job creation potential for hydrogen which might reach more than 350,000 jobs in 2050 at the upper end  – “a combination of new job growth and retrained and reskilled labour”. (pages 85 and 86).  

 An article in The National Observer discusses the strategy, the state of hydrogen initiatives in Alberta , and reaction of environmental groups, including a quote from  Environmental Defence, saying: “…. “a focus on fossil hydrogen only serves the interests of the oil and gas sector as they seek to create new markets for their products.” Similarly, Clean Energy Canada released a statement saying, “Canada’s long-awaited federal hydrogen strategy … falls short of what some other nations have put forward in terms of investment and ambition.”   A New Hope, published in October 2020, fleshes out Clean Energy Canada’s recommendations about hydrogen in Canada.

Finally, on December 18, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources released a national Small Nuclear Reactor Action Plan (SMR) , which responds to the 53 recommendations identified in Canada’s SMR Roadmap from November 2018. The list of organizations endorsing the SMR Agenda reflects the entrenched “who’s who” of Canada’s “ 75-year nuclear energy heritage.”  Each of these organizations – governments, public utilities, Indigenous groups, and unions, contributed a chapter to the Plan – available here. Individual endorsements include: the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; The International Union of Operating Engineers ; Power Workers Union – which highlights the pending closure of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station in 2025 and the need to transition that workforce; and the National Electrical Trade Council (NETCO) a workforce development organization for Red Seal electrical trades in Canada, jointly led by  the Canadian Electrical Contractors Association (CECA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) .

Over 400,000 Clean Energy jobs lost in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic

U.S. government employment figures for December 2020 show that the U.S. clean energy sector added 16,900 jobs in December. However, analysis released on January 13 reveals that the recovery is slow, and the industry now has its lowest number of  workers since 2015, having suffered a loss of over 400,000 jobs (12%) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Clean Energy Employment Initial Impacts from the COVID-19 Economic Crisis, December 2020  was prepared by BW Research Partnership, commissioned by industry groups E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), E4TheFuture, and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) . The 17-page report provides data by state and by technology, with energy efficiency leading the losses with 302,164 total jobs lost nationally between February and December 2020. California was the hardest hit state. 

This is the latest in a monthly series of reports tracking the impact of Covid-19 on clean energy jobs – the series is available at the E2 website here. These reports document the dramatic shift in clean energy employment in the U.S; the E2 Clean Jobs America 2020 annual report  outlines the industry’s policy recommendations for recovery as of April 2020.     

  

81% of carbon captured to date used in Enhanced Oil Recovery according to new report

Canada’s newly-released climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy   (Dec. 2020)  states that one of the government’s objectives is to: “Develop a comprehensive carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) strategy and explore other opportunities to help keep Canada globally competitive in this growing industry.” As a  clue to where that is going, the government also states: “The broad range of compliance strategies allowed under the proposed Clean Fuel Standard will give fossil fuel suppliers the flexibility to choose the lowest cost compliance actions available. The same compliance strategies that will support the Clean Fuel Standard will also ensure Canada becomes a leader in carbon capture, utilization and storage, hydrogen production, and other technologies that will allow Canada to extract energy from its resources while significantly reducing and eventually eliminating carbon pollution.”  The government is no doubt influenced by such views as those in the energy-industry Public Policy Forum, which calls for a favourable regulatory environment in Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage – The Time is Now (July 2020). (this report is mainly focused on energy industry applications but also discusses decarbonization of industrial processes briefly).

A December report commissioned and released by Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness focuses only on energy industry applications, and comes to a different conclusion. A Review of the Role of Fossil Fuel Based Carbon Capture and Storage in the Energy System concludes that carbon capture and storage systems will not be as effective in reducing GHG emissions as would  ramped up renewable energy generation and  energy efficiency measures. Further, the authors state that “2030 emissions reduction targets are being set up to fail due to the huge emphasis placed on CCS.”  The authors, from the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, highlight three main barriers to success: prohibitive costs;  time to reach commercial scale;  and the residual emissions from CCS, especially methane. Canada’s Boundary Dam coal-fired power plant in Saskatchewan is discussed, and cited as an example of prohibitive costs, with capital costs of approximately US$455 million and a capture cost of US$100 per tonne of CO2.  The report notes that there are just 26 operational CCS plants in the world, and significant scale is not forecast until at least 2030.  And the authors state that 81% of carbon captured to date has been used for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) – a process which pumps captured carbon underground to push previously unreachable fossil fuels up for extraction, extending the life of oil fields.  This contributes to the problem of CCS-linked emissions of carbon dioxide and methane .

A Review of the Role of Fossil Fuel Based Carbon Capture and Storage in the Energy System is summarized in an Executive Summary and by the Climate News Network . The International Energy Agency has released a number of reports related to CCUS , most recently Special Report on Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage; CCUS in clean energy transitions.  Another source of information is the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute which maintains a database of information and advocates for CCUS adoption in its publications.  

Global Just Transition case studies from a trade union viewpoint

Just Transition: Putting planet, people and jobs first” is the theme of a special issue of Equal Times, published in December 2020. The compilation of articles provides a trade union point of view  to describe the just transition experiences in Bangladesh, Tunisia, Argentina, and Senegal, as well as the more frequently cited experiences in Spain and Scotland.  The complete Special Issue is here , and was supported financially by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

Although Spain’s 2018 agreement regarding coal transition is well known, this article is a welcome English-language text, translated from the original Spanish version written by Spanish journalist María José Carmona. Another useful English text on the topic is The Just Transition Strategy within the Strategic Energy and Climate Framework, translated and published by the Spanish government in 2019.  And an earlier report from the Central Confederation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) provides brief summaries of Spanish and other Just Transition frameworks, in A Fair Climate Policy for Workers: Implementing a just transition in various European countries and Canada (2019). It covers Germany, Spain, France, The Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, and Canada in a brief 32 pages.

New centre for Vancouver to spur urban climate action, especially building retrofits

Retrofitting is a priority for the newly-announced  Metro Vancouver Zero Emission Innovation Centre, to be administered through the Renewable Cities program at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. According to the SFU press release of January 12, the Metro Vancouver Zero Emission Innovation Centre “will be seeded by a generous $21.7 million endowment from the federal government to identify, finance and scale up local climate solutions, such as building retrofits and electrification of transportation.”  The top priorities stated include “ “Identifying and initiating programmatic priorities, and integrating the Zero Emission Building Exchange to support building sector capacity building”.  For now, though, “the new centre’s work will start modestly. It is expected to grow steadily through partnership, programming investment, leveraging and innovative financing”.  The launch of the Centre is scheduled for  September 2021, after input is gathered “from a range of stakeholders, including local and provincial government, industry, non-profit organizations and the finance sector.”

The Vancouver Centre will be modelled on The Atmospheric Fund – originally known as the Toronto Atmospheric Fund when it was established in 1991 through the advocacy of then-Toronto City Councillors Jack Layton and Dan Leckie.  The Atmospheric Fund now serves Canada’s largest urban area, the Greater Toronto/Hamilton region of approximately 7 million people, and is part of  the  Low Carbon Cities Canada (LC3), a  partnership which also includes Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax, as well as  the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

In What does Canada’s new $15 billion plan mean for urban climate action?” (Dec. 15), The Atmospheric Fund reviews the federal government’s latest climate plan and discusses the two sectors most relevant to municipalities: buildings and transportation. The Atmospheric Fund states that its own priorities for 2021, include: “Partnering with housing providers to initiate deep retrofits in 3,000 housing units this year; Mobilizing $150 million in investment to leverage public funding and attract more capital into low-carbon activity;  Supporting municipalities to adopt green development standards for new buildings and performance standards for existing ones; Providing grants and investment capital to enable even more low-carbon activity like workforce development (clean jobs!) and EV charger installations; and Publishing new research on growing challenges like fugitive methane emissions and embodied carbon in new construction.” 

The governance of climate action in Toronto and Vancouver is summarized in a new article by three academics from the Universities of Waterloo and Toronto, “Strategies and Governance for Implementing Deep Decarbonization Plans at the Local Level, published in the latest issue of the journal Sustainability. It offers case studies of the best practices in climate action governance in Toronto and Vancouver, along with Bridgewater, Nova Scotia; Guelph, Ontario; Park City and New York City in the U.S., Lahti in Finland and Oslo in Norway. These cities range in size from 8,400 people to 9.6 million, but were chosen as “leading and ambitious” cities. The authors identify the importance of transnational networks in city decarbonization planning, and highlight their efforts “to expand their green economies and the capacity of their workforces to meet the future demand for skilled workers, especially in the buildings and construction sectors.”

And briefly:  A recent article in the New York Times also noted the importance of retrofitting: “New York’s real climate challenge: Fixing its aging buildings” (Dec. 29, New York Times). Stating that  “Nearly 70 percent of the city’s total carbon emissions come from buildings. A project to retrofit nine buildings with green technology is pioneering a new solution”.   The article describes the Casa Pasiva retrofitting project , one of a number of  RetrofitNY projects funded by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority.

A Just and fair transition from fossil fuels in Australia

In a new report published in December by the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute, author Jim Stanford argues that Australia’s labour market could transition away from fossil fuel jobs without involuntary layoffs or severe disruption to communities—if governments plan a fair transition which includes: a clear, long-term timeline, measures to facilitate inter-industry mobility and voluntary severance as fossil fuels are phased-out, and generous retraining and diversification policies. Fossil fuel jobs, though only 1% of jobs in Australia, have higher than average compensation, so in order to be attractive, alternative jobs must have decent compensation, stable hours and tenure, and collective representation.  Employment aspects of the transition from fossil fuels in Australia echoes a recent New York Times article about the career disappointment of young oil and gas workers, with this: 

“Far from being ‘supportive’ of fossil fuel workers by attempting to disrupt and delay appropriate climate transitions, in fact is does them a great disservice to pretend that these industries have a long-term viable future. It seems a cruel hoax to encourage young workers to begin their careers in industries with an inevitably short time horizon. It would be more compassionate and honest to give fossil fuel workers (both current and prospective) fair notice of the changes coming, and support them in building careers in occupations and industries that are ultimately more promising.”    

 Author Jim Stanford, formerly with Canada’s Unifor union, now splits his time between Canada and Sydney, where he is director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work. He and the Centre are profiled in “The People’s Economist” in the Australian magazine In the Black. This research was commissioned by Australian health care industry super fund HESTA.

How the U.S. Capitol mob threatens climate change activism everywhere

The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 has relevance for all climate change activists, including Canadians.  The overlapping universe of climate change denial and the political extreme of white nationalism is outlined by Eric Holthaus in The Phoenix on January 8 in his essay White nationalism gave us the climate emergency. Now, it’s our biggest obstacle. Holthaus argues: If we don’t acknowledge the racist roots of opposition to climate action, the world is going to keep spiraling towards chaos. It’s bad now. But it will get much, much worse…..Trumpism and the rise of “Big Lie” politics – climate denial, anti-masking, embracing conspiracy theory – is rooted in white supremacy. It’s rooted in the lie that “this world belongs to me, and not you”. …. white nationalism is not a case of rural, backwards hillbillies. It’s in boardrooms. It’s in the white exodus of public schools. It’s in the privatization of health care. It’s in the fossil fuel industry. It’s in the White House.”

One might also argue it’s in some police forces too, to explain the obvious differences in police tactics meted out to the Capitol mob vs. climate protestors. “Capitol Rioters Walked Away. Climate Protesters Saw a Double Standard” in the New York Times (Jan. 7) sketches out the issue and states, for example, that more than 600 arrests were made over the course of the non-violent Fire Drill Fridays protests led by Jane Fonda in 2020 – which in itself was treated very differently than the 2016 Native American protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, (never mind the extremes of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests!).  In Canada, we have our own recent examples: the RCMP violence against and arrest of 14 members of the  Wet’suwet’en First Nations for their protest against the Coastal Gas Link pipeline in 2019 . Media accounts of that struggle include  “No Surrender” (Feb. 20) in The Intercept .

Brian Kahn wrote “The Climate Crisis Will Be Steroids for Fascism” (in Earther, Jan. 7)   explaining: “It’s never been clearer that a large chunk of the nation’s top Republican leaders will embrace and even fuel this extremism and hate. The Venn diagram of people who push election denial and climate denial has near-perfect overlap, but even if these figures deny the climate crisis, they’ll still look to exploit it. At the end of the day, their goal is to use easy-to-disprove lies to build and consolidate power.”  This agrees with Melissa Ryan, who writes about the alt-right and white nationalism as editor of  the Ctrl Alt-Right Delete weekly newsletter and is quoted by Desmog Blog saying: “The goal isn’t necessarily to convince anyone of anything…. The goal is to sow so much confusion that it’s actually hard for people to tell the truth from fiction…..I feel like it’s a very clear end of the Trump administration, …but what’s terrifying is what it is the birth of.”   “Climate Deniers Moved Rapidly to Spread Misinformation During and After Attack on US Capitol” (Jan. 8) provides examples by  reproducing some shocking post-riot tweets and messages from prominent climate deniers such as the Heartland Institute and Marc Marano. (check out such individuals and organizations in DeSmog Blog’s Climate Disinformation Database).     

Meanwhile in Canada

And for Canadians in general who might feel we are in less danger from right-wing extremism, we are reminded that Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys, was born in Canada, in “Canadian government weighs listing Proud Boys as a terror group”. McGinnis led the first Canadian Proud Boys demonstration in Nova Scotia in 2017 . In 2018, the CBC warned us that “Three Percenters are Canada’s ‘most dangerous’ extremist group, say some experts”.  A very complete description and analysis of this Canadian scene appears in  “Meanwhile in Canada’: The Groups Inciting a Fascist Insurrection in Washington Are Here in Canada Too” in Press Progress on January 7.

Climate Change Accountability Report shows rising emissions – B.C. government announces new GHG reduction targets

The government of British Columbia issued a press release on December 15 2020,   announcing new carbon reduction targets and the release of the first-ever Climate Change Accountability Report , highlighting progress on the CleanBC action plan.  From the press release: “The new emission target requires greenhouse gases in B.C. to be 16% below 2007 levels by 2025. It provides a benchmark on the road to B.C.’s legislated emission targets for 2030, 2040 and 2050 of 40%, 60% and 80% below 2007 levels, respectively. The Province will also set sectoral targets, which will be established before March 31, 2021, and will develop legislation to ensure B.C. reaches net-zero emissions by 2050.”

“Climate Change Accountability Report discloses that B.C. carbon emissions rose three percent in 2018” in The Straight  (Dec. 16) highlights some findings which the government downplayed – for example,  in 2018, “Gross emissions reached 67.9 million tonnes. That’s up a whopping 7.3 million tonnes from 2010, which went unremarked in the report.” The article also quotes from an interview with Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman, pointing out that “Heyman also admitted that the government has never done any modelling of carbon emissions that goes beyond LNG Canada’s phase one portion of its plant in Kitimat.”

The response by the Sierra Club B.C. summarized the reactions of environmental advocacy groups, which commended the government for the transparency of the Climate Accountability Report, while criticizing the fossil-friendly policies which have led to missed GHG reduction targets.   Reiterating the long-standing criticisms over LNG, notably, by David Hughes of the CCPA-B.C in a July 2020 report,   the Sierra Club B.C. states: “It is clear that if we continue to allow the growth of oil and gas extraction in this province we won’t ever be able to get climate pollution under control” …. “The sooner we begin a serious conversation about the transition away from fracking and all other forms of fossil fuels, the less disruptive and painful the transition will be for workers, our communities, and the most vulnerable among us.”

The Pembina Institute calls the report  “sobering” and “a much-needed wake-up call”, while calling for improvements.  “The report is inconsistent in its provision of details, which makes it difficult to assess whether or not climate programs should be continued, enhanced, redesigned, or replaced to effectively and efficiently make progress to targets. For a fulsome picture of climate progress, we expect future accountability reports to provide more clarity. We need to see the emissions reductions achieved to date by specific programs; annual budget allocations for programs and the corresponding (anticipated) emissions reductions; how the government has acted on the advice of the Climate Solutions Council; and what course corrections will be made to meet our climate targets. Once interim and sector-specific targets are established, the report should evaluate progress against these goals as well.”

British Columbia as part of the myth of eco-friendly Cascadia

Getting to Zero: Decarbonizing Cascadia  is a new investigative series launched on January 11 with an article published in The Tyee under the title “Cascadia Was Poised to Lead on Climate. Can It Still?”.  (At the InvestigateWest website, the same article appeared as “A Lost Decade: How climate action fizzled in Cascadia”) . It documents the rise of GHG emissions in the jurisdictions which compose Cascadia: British Columbia and the states of Washington and Oregon. The article summarizes political developments, summarizes the development of carbon taxes, and argues that weak decarbonization policies  – especially in the transportation sector- are behind the failure to reduce emissions. “Between full economic recovery in 2012 and 2018, the most recent reporting year, California and Cascadia both booked a robust 26 percent increase in GDP. Over that period California drove its annual emissions down by more than 5 percent. Washington’s emissions —and Cascadia’s as a whole — ballooned by over 7 percent.”   According to the article, for the period 2012 to 2018, “vehicle emissions had ballooned by over 10% in Washington and Oregon and more than 29% in BC (in contrast California’s grew only 5% during that period.)”

From the article:

“So why is environmentally-conscious Cascadia stuck in first gear? The consensus answer from experts and activists interviewed by InvestigateWest: a shortage of political will. The region has been beset by partisan wrangling, fear of job losses, disagreements over how to ensure equity for already polluted and marginalized communities, and misinformation obscuring the full potential of well-documented solutions. “The constraining factor has always been political feasibility, not economic feasibility,” says political economist and energy modeling expert Mark Jaccard, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC, and a former chair of the British Columbia Utilities Commission.”

The series Getting to Zero: Decarbonizing Cascadia  is the result of a  year-long reporting initiative led by InvestigateWest, in partnership with Grist, Crosscut, The Tyee, the South Seattle Emerald, The Evergrey, and Jefferson Public Radio.  It will run throughout 2021, aiming to document and analyse the political and economic forces and barriers to climate action in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, generally perceived as one of the most eco-friendly regions in the world.

What we all need: Reasons for climate optimism in 2021

As always at the New Year, we head into 2021 with many reviews of the year gone by – notably The New York Times interactive “Climate Change Year in Review”“The Climate Emergency: 2020 in Review” in Scientific American , “The Best Environmental Journalism of 2020”  from Unearthed by Greenpeace International . From a Canadian perspective, “20 Ideas from 2020”  from British Columbia-focused The Tyee includes Climate Change and Green Recovery;  Indigenous Rights, decolonization and racism; and social and income inequality in its review .

Offering some much-needed hope for the future:  “6 reasons why 2020 wasn’t as bad for climate change as you think” from Grist in the U.S.; “Climate Action Is Embedding Into How the World Works” from Bloomberg Green, and a December 2020 report by Climate Action Tracker – not normally a hopeful source –  which states that global warming by 2100 could be as low as 2.1°C,which they judge as “within striking distance” of the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C goal. This assessment is based on the net zero pledges announced as of November 2020 (most importantly China, but including South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Canada, with the assumption of the USA under Biden).

From The Conversation Canada, “2020 was a terrible year for climate disasters but there’s reason for hope in 2021” , written by Matthew Hoffmann of the University of Toronto. Hoffman cites an October article in The Atlantic when he states that  “climate despair is the new climate denial, dulling the sense of urgency and blunting the momentum for action”.  He, like others, seems to be urging us forward with hope.

New forum for human rights views on Just Recovery

Launched in December 2020, Just Recovery from Covid-19  is a new blog forum for the international human rights community. One of the first posts is  “A New Social Contract” by Sharan Barrow, Secretary-General of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Barrow reviews the impacts of Covid-19 and calls for a new global social contract, based on principles outlined in the 2019 ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work  – labour protections for all workers, universal social protections for all, a transformative agenda for women, and just transitions for climate and technology shifts.  Barrow reviews the current Just Recovery policy debate in Europe, and states: “At the heart of these measures sits the requirement for social dialogue to ensure trust in design and implementation.”

The Just Recovery blog series is hosted by The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR). It aims to open the door on the community of organizations and people seeking to promote human rights issues in business. For example, the CEO of the Institute for Human Rights and Business posted to the blog with “Building forward better: Thoughts on intergenerational justice “. (Other reports at the IHRB website include: Connecting the Climate Change and Business & Human Rights Agendas  (Dec 2020) and Just Transitions for All: Business, Human Rights, and Climate Action  (Nov. 2020). )

Another contributor to the Just Recovery blog is the CEO of Principles for Responsible Investment., with the post “Collaborating for a Just Recovery”  . PRI initiated the pioneering Blueprint for Responsible Investment  in 2017 and continues to work globally for transparency and environmental responsibility in the investment community.

Green and greenable jobs in the global energy sector – trends and recommendations

Employment in the Energy Sector: Status Report 2020  is a Science for Policy report released by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in late 2020. It compiles statistics regarding global employment trends related to the greening and decarbonisation of the economy, with a focus on the energy sector, both from a supply side ( including fossil fuels, nuclear, solar, wind, biofuels, geothermal, and tidal) and a demand side (construction, energy efficiency, energy storage). The report provides a compilation of the best available statistics from established sources (e.g. IRENA, ILO, Eurostat and academic studies) – though the authors warn that data are not necessarily comparable.  Nevertheless, this report offers a wide-ranging review and discussion of the labour market  aspects of a greening economy,  including a discussion of occupational characteristics based on a  framework for “greenable jobs”. It discusses education, skills requirements and skills gaps, gender and generational aspects of new economy jobs, and concludes with policy recommendations.

Some highlights:

According to an IRENA report in 2020, Global employment in the energy sector reached nearly 58 million in 2017; about half of these jobs were in the fossil fuel industries.

Also based on IRENA data, global renewable energy employment has been increasing continuously since 2012, reaching 11 million jobs in 2018.  If ambitious policies are implemented, IRENA forecasts global renewable energy jobs to reach 42 million by 2050.

Based on the task content of occupations, 87.6 million jobs were green(able) in the EU-28 by 2016, amounting to 40 % of employment that year, according to the 2019 annual edition of Employment and Social Developments in Europe .

Colorado Office of Just Transition defers actions for worker protection in new Final Action Plan

In 2019, the State of Colorado established the first state-level Office of Just Transition (OJT)  through House Bill 19-1314 .  As required by that legislation, the OJT  submitted its final Just Transition Action Plan on December 31, 2020, based largely on the Draft Plan submitted by its Just Transition Advisory Committee (JTAC)  in August 2020.  (The structure, mandate, and documentation from the consultation process are  accessible here; an excellent summary is provided by the State press release here .

The December Just Transition Action Plan offers discussion and strategy recommendations organized in three sections: communities; workers; and financing. The estimated cost is $100 million, and the time frame calls for actual closures to finish in 2030. (Perhaps the leisurely schedule will be reviewed in light of events: the Denver Post reported on January 4 that Xcel- Energy announced it will close its Hayden coal plant significantly earlier than planned –  beginning in 2027).  The December Action Plan strategies are dominated by concerns for communities, with six detailed strategies outlined. Recognizing that some communities are more dependent on coal than others, and that average wages are also different across communities, the plan designates four communities as priority Tier One communities, and others as Tier Two communities, as defined in an Appendix. The Hayden plant is located in a Tier One community.

Actions for workers’ benefits, environmental justice are deferred 

Regarding workers, there are 3 action strategies. The Just Transition Advisory Committee made recommendations to provide displaced workers with  temporary benefits related to “wage and health differential” and “wage and health replacement” in  the Draft Plan in August, but the final Plan states: “too much uncertainty remains around cost and scalability for us to feel comfortable advancing this recommendation — especially in the midst of the COVID pandemic and resulting economic downturn.” Instead, the Office for Just Transition:  “will drive a serious process to gain more certainty about costs, scalability, potential sources of funding, and possible alternatives at the state level. And we will engage a broad range of stakeholders in a dialogue about whether the State should implement such a strategy — and how it might do so.” This includes discussions with coal-related employers regarding their willingness to provide severance and retirement benefits.

This Plan also discusses and ultimately deflects and defers responsibility for the environmental justice concerns expressed in the 2019 enabling legislation  , which recognized “a moral commitment” to “the disproportionately impacted communities who have borne the costs of coal power pollution for decades”. This December Plan states: “we agree with the JTAC that these issues are best addressed in that broader context, which is why we are following its suggestion that OJT participate actively in emerging interagency efforts — led largely by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — rather than creating our own independent (and potentially isolated) approach….. OJT will continue to rely on the advice of the Disproportionately Impacted Communities subcommittee of the JTAC, and it will play as active a role as possible in broader interagency efforts. As with our work on behalf of transition communities and workers, this is a long-term challenge to which we make a long-term commitment.”

The final report is summarized in an article in The Colorado Sun , which emphasizes the explicit goal for the Office of Just Transition to “Encourage the federal government to lead with a national strategy for energy transition workers”.  This is perhaps thanks to the leadership of Dennis Dougherty, Chair of the Colorado Just Transition Advisory Committee, Executive Director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, and through them, a representative to the National Economic Transition project – a grassroots organization of representatives from U.S. coal communities.  That ongoing project released a National Economic Transition Platform in the summer of 2020 .