Massachusetts climate legislation almost derailed by opposition to greener building code provisions

An Act creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy was signed into law on March 26, summarized in Governor Charlie Baker’s press release, here . It is a sweeping and ambitious bill which sets emissions reduction targets, including six sectoral goals, culminating in net-zero emissions for the state by 2050; sets appliance efficiency standards; incentivizes electric vehicles; includes environmental justice protections; and orders funding for a clean energy equity workforce and market development program to support employment opportunities for certified minority- and women-owned small business and individuals living in environmental justice communities. 

And as described in “What You Need To Know About The New Mass. Climate Law”  (NPR, WBUR, March 26) ,the Roadmap legislation also authorizes the development of stretch energy codes for net-zero energy buildings. The Department of Energy Resources will announce the final version after public consultations for the next 18 months, after which municipalities can choose to adopt the model codes.  The building code provisions were the major sticking point in the political battle over this legislation, and triggered a Governor’s veto in 2020, thanks to organized opposition from the natural gas industry and real estate industry, both of whom see a potential threat of natural gas bans.  

This Massachusetts example is explained in “Sweeping Mass. climate law revives gas ban battle” (Mar. 29). The broader battle which is forming across the U.S.is described in “Developers clash with  U.S. Cities on vote for greener building codes” in The Energy Mix, and in “A Texas city had a bold new climate plan – until a gas company got involved” in The Guardian (March 1).   The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) describes how this conflict is playing out at the International Code Council (ICC), which sets model building code standards, and which “just threw out the elections process by which state and local government officials recently overcame powerful commercial interests to secure large energy savings.”

Historic court decision in Mathur v. Ontario government – Youth Charter challenge for stronger GHG emissions reductions can proceed

Although the Supreme Court decision about Canada’s carbon pricing system on March 25 was undoubtedly historic, it overshadowed the news of another historic legal decision on that date, when an Ontario Divisional Court dismissed the provincial government’s second attempt to stop the youth-led challenge to its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.  In “Youth climate case forges ahead after court affirms historic decision”,  EcoJustice describes that the case of  Mathur et. al. v. Her Majesty in Right of Ontario,  which has now become the constitutional challenge to climate change that has advanced the furthest in Canada.    

Some background: The case of Mathur et. al. v. Her Majesty in Right of Ontario was first brought by seven youth in November 2019, following the Conservative government’s passage of the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act. The plaintiffs, represented by Ecojustice and Stockwoods LLP, claimed that Ontario’s GHG emissions reduction target is insufficiently ambitious, and that the province’s failure to set a more stringent target infringes the constitutional rights of youth and future generations, under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In November 2020, the Superior Court of Ontario upheld the claims, in the decision which the provincial government sought to overturn. As of March 25, the case can now proceed to a full hearing, though no date has been set.  

Climate Change and the Right to a Healthy Environment in the Canadian Constitution is a legal article which appeared in the Alberta Law Review in 2020. The authors describe and contrast the legal approaches used in the Mathur case and in the LaRose case, which was dismissed by Canada’s Supreme Court in October 2020. Ecojustice has posted frequently on the case, and Alberta’s Environmental Law Centre also featured the Mathur case in a detailed blog in November 2020.

The first and most high-profile youth climate case in the world, is Juliana v. U.S. Government . A timeline is here, reflecting the progress from the initial filing in 2015 till March 9 2021, when Our Children’s Trust filed a motion to amend the complaint and adjust the remedy sought, after repeated roadblocks in the case.

Canada’s Supreme Court affirms federal government’s constitutional right to enact carbon pricing legislation

On March 25, the Supreme Court of Canada released a majority decision stating that the federal government of Canada was within its constitutional rights when it enacted the 2018 Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act — which required the provinces to meet minimum national standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The decision enables the federal government to move on to more ambitious climate action plans, since it ends a two-year battle with the provinces, and affirms the importance of the climate change issue. The majority decision states that national climate action “is critical to our response to an existential threat to human life in Canada and around the world.”   Summaries and reaction to this hugely important decision include an Explainer in The Narwhal , and “Supreme Court rules federal carbon pricing law constitutional” (National Observer) . Mainstream media also covered the decision, including a brief article in the New York Times which relates it to U.S. policy climate.

The Canadian Labour Congress issued a press release “Canada’s unions applaud Supreme Court decision upholding federal carbon pricing” – pointing out that the carbon tax is only one piece of the puzzle in reducing GHG emissions. Unifor emphasized next steps, calling on the provincial premiers of Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and the federal Conservative leader, to “stop complaining” and devise their own climate action plans. Similar sentiments appeared in the reactions of other advocacy groups: for example,  Council of Canadians;  the Pembina InstituteClean Energy Canada, and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) .

Political reactions

The reaction and explanation of the case from the federal government is here. The CBC provides a survey of political reaction here. Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta were the three provinces who lost their Supreme Court case: in a press release,  Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney pledged that his government will continue to “fight on”, and will now begin to consult with Albertans on how to respond to the court’s decision – as reported in the National Observer, “Alberta has no carbon tax Plan B, was hoping to win in court: Kenney” (March 26) . Kenney further stated,  “We will continue to press our case challenging Bill C-69, the federal ‘No More Pipelines Law,’ which is currently before the Alberta Court of Appeal.”  [Note Bill C-69 is actually titled An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act… and was enacted in June 2019]. Ontario’s “disappointment” is described in this article in the Toronto Star and Saskatchewan’s government reaction is described here by the CBC .   A sum-up Opinion piece appears in The Tyee: “Sorry Cranky Conservatives! Carbon Pricing Wins the Day” (March 29).

A vision and action plan to make Canada’s heavy industries our low-carbon “Next Frontier”

Clean Energy Canada’s new report, The Next Frontier, sees Canada’s heavy industries—including steel, mining, cement, and wood—as the “Next Frontier” – already employing more Canadians than the oil and gas industry (300,000 in heavy industry compared to 237,000 in oil and gas), and poised to increase exports to the rest of the world. The report contends that Canadian heavy industries have a competitive advantage over their global peers, largely because our electricity sector is now 83% emissions-free. And according to the introduction, the time is now: “The production of certain metals and minerals could increase by up to nearly 500% over the next three decades to meet growing demand for clean technologies, according to the World Bank Group. Global steel demand, meanwhile, is projected to increase by up to 55%; Canadian steel and aluminum are among the world’s cleanest and could be even cleaner. Mining companies such as Vancouver based Teck are also global leaders in copper production, while Canada is the world’s fifth-largest nickel producer—both key metals for electrifying transportation. And Albertan companies like E3 Metals and Summit Nanotech are finding ways to recover lithium from oilsands wastewater.”

The Next Frontier , released on March 24, calls for an action plan to allow Canada to capitalize on the convergence of global market trends and climate imperatives.  The report Canadian strengths and provides more examples of existing companies. It concludes with an action plan to move towards this lower-carbon economy, including recommendations: to expand domestic markets through clean procurement policies for government infrastructure materials; to identify strategic directions such as “establishing a self-sufficient battery and critical minerals supply chain to build and grow domestic battery and clean technology manufacturing”;  investment and research and development in well-positioned industries; and establishing standards which will support a “Clean Canada” brand to the world.  

And regarding our largest and most important trading partner, the U.S., the bottom line message is: “If we want Biden’s “Buy American” approach to include an asterisk beside Canada, we must adapt to what this new administration wants more of (clean energy and low-carbon goods) and what it wants less of (fossil fuels and emissions-intensive products).”

Updated: Supreme Court upholds legislation underpinning Canada’s carbon pricing system

On March 25, majority of Canada’s Supreme Court ruled in what  EcoJustice calls a “monumental” decision, that the federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act does not violate the Canadian constitution. The Summary decision is available at the Supreme Court website as of March 25, here. The Justices noted that global warming causes harm beyond provincial boundaries and that it is a matter of national concern under the “peace, order and good government” clause of the Constitution. The Justices further noted that the term “carbon tax” is a misnomer, and the fuel and excess emission charges imposed by the Act were constitutionally valid regulatory charges and not taxes.

The federal government’s constitutional right to set the framework for pollution pricing lies at the heart of our national policies to fight climate change – originally, through the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (2016) and now, through the Healthy Environment Healthy Economy Plan released in December 2020, which proposes to raise the existing carbon tax to $170 per tonne by 2050.

The Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act allows the federal government to impose a carbon price, a “backstop”, in any province or territory which fails to design their own policies to meet the federal emission reduction targets. The provinces of Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Alberta all filed separate challenges to the federal jurisdiction – with the provincial appeals courts in Saskatchewan and Ontario both upholding the federal government’s constitutional right to enact the law. In February 2020, the  Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the provincial challenge, and appeals to the Supreme Court from all three provinces were heard in Fall 2020. A more complete chronology of the legal cases is here .

The Supreme Court decision is summarized here – with a link to the full Decision (the Court notes that the Full Decision is so lengthly that it may cause an error message when trying to download it).

Protests continue over old growth forests in British Columbia

British Columbia has no shortage of environmental flashpoints: the Trans Mountain and Coastal Gas Link pipelines, the Site C dam,  LNG terminals – and protection of old growth forests. Before the 2020 provincial election, The Tyee published a substantive overview of the political policies and issues, now updated with “BC Promised to Protect Old Growth. How Is It Doing?” (March 11) .  

B.C. environmentalists have actively called for protections, based on the recommendations of A New Future for Old Forests: A Strategic Review of How British Columbia Manages for Old Forests Within its Ancient Ecosystems , an independent report submitted to the government in fall 2020 and summarized here. The Sierra Club B.C. published a report card on the government’s progress in implementing the Strategy Report recommendations, here , and conducted its own research, published as Intact Forests, Safe Communities: Reducing community climate risks through forest protection and a paradigm shift in forest management, written by Dr. Peter Wood and released in February. The Intact Forests report documents the relationship of forestry practices and  climate related disasters like flooding, droughts, fires and heatwaves, and makes a series of recommendations to reform B.C.’s forestry practices , and apply Indigenous knowledge before the climate crisis worsens.  

Protests over the government’s inaction continue, with a high-profile hunger strike and blockade at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island, summarized here . The third annual Forest March B.C.   was held on March 19, organized by a grassroots coalition of community groups, and described in   “In B.C., communities march to protect old growth forests” in The National Observer (March 19 ) .   

Canada’s youth return to the streets to support global climate protests on March 19

Fridays for Future, the youth-led climate movement inspired by Greta Thunberg, has survived and adapted to Covid with creative online activism.  On March 19, 2021, with the theme ” #NoMoreEmptyPromises”, some youth returned to the streets in modest, socially-distanced demonstrations – 48 strikes across Canada, according to the official FFF statistics. Media coverage included: The National Observer, “Youth activists shut down Bay Street, demanding climate promises be kept” (March 19) , which summarizes actions in Toronto, focused on banking;  “Youth Climate Activists Aim to Rally Support for Indigenous Land Defenders” in The Tyee described the Sustainabiliteens protest in Vancouver, focused on the Trans Mountain Pipeline; and “Fridays for Future Sudbury to take part in Global Climate Strike” in the Sudbury Star.  

Follow Canada’s FFF movement on Twitter here, on Facebook here . A Fridays for Future Newsletter  (subscribe here ) is a new addition to the ongoing global social media presence.

“#Fridaysforfuture: When youth push the environmental movement towards climate justice” appeared in The Conversation Canada in September 2019, describing Canada’s movement before Covid hit. Since then, some notable articles have appeared, including:

The Future Is in Our Hands— Not Theirs” on pages 22-23 in the CCPA Monitor, (February 2020), describing the youth-led Our Time movement.

The Starfish list of the Top 25 Environmentalists under 25, which profiles young climate leaders across Canada. The youth-led Starfish organization also publishes its own online journal, which provides an insight into the issues which are top of mind for youth.

The National Observer maintains a series titled Youth Climate Voices.  It includes a profile of the Indigenous-led project Let’s Sprout in “How to grow a young climate leader  (March 8). “A simple life will make you happy, says young Albertan who traded oil for solar” (March 1) profiles the career transition of a 31-year old former oil and gas worker, and highlights his solar training at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton.

 The IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development) maintains a research theme called Youth voices, which published “What the Next Generation Needs From a Green Recovery”  (Feb. 25),  an interview with Aliénor Rougeot , leader of Fridays for Future Toronto.  She states that “youth would like to be a part of a constant feedback process—instead of us needing to give unsolicited feedback in the streets.”  Her thoughts on Canada’s current climate change policies: “….I’m a little bit afraid of the government seeing youth councils as junior partner councils. They shouldn’t treat it as a separate consultation, but more as “these are the main people we need to get to.” ……. “If you do want a Youth Advisory Board or something similar, simplify the process by making sure to give us a time commitment that is clear …. Try to compensate when you can—it makes a big difference for students or people that do a lot of this work unpaid.”

Another IISD interview appears in “Solving the Injustices Caused by Climate Change” (Feb. 25), in which Jhannel C. Tomlinson focuses on the concerns of rural Jamaicans, particularly women. Ms. Tomlinson is an active participant in at least four youth-led activist groups in Jamaica while she pursues her PhD. 

And a report commissioned by the Alberta Council for Environmental Education was released by Climate Outreach in February, reporting on the climate literacy and attitudes of 170 Alberta students in grades 4 – 12 (ages approx. 8 to 16).  The report, titled Youth Narrative and Voice offers 10 principles and suggested climate narratives to address the eco-anxiety of students which was identified in workshops across the province. The recommendations have been forwarded to the provincial Minister of Education, in the hopes they will be considered in the curriculum review  currently underway.

Nordic and German unions collaborate, aim to be Just Transition “frontrunners”

The Council of Nordic Trade Unions, the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung and the German Trade Union Confederation have collaborated to publish six country reports under the project banner, The Road to a Carbon-Free Europe. Each country report, about 25 pages, summarizes the national climate goals and policies, especially as related to Just Transition, for Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland , Norway, and Sweden.  A Synthesis Report brings together the main findings, and presents the resulting policy recommendations, jointly adopted by the Council of Nordic Trade Unions (NFS) and the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) in November and December 2020.

The Synthesis Report calls for holistic climate change policies to navigate the broad-based transformation of society that will result from climate change, incorporating Just Transition principles as outlined by the ILO Decent Work Agenda and its four pillars: social dialogue, social protection, rights at work and job creation. Because Germany and the Nordic countries are export-oriented economies dependent on trade, and facing similar challenges in the emissions-heavy sectors of their economies, the report sees many common opportunities for zero-emission innovations and technology.

“This report suggests that a collaboration between the Nordic countries and Germany on Just Transition can help the countries to reach the climate targets, and that they should aim to become Just Transition frontrunners. Because of their social models, their technological expertise and their ambition to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, they have the right conditions to do so.”

U.K. guide to pension fund divestment includes a role for unions

Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet:  An analysis of local government investments in coal, oil and gas was released in February by Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Friends of the Earth England Wales and Northern Ireland.

The report details the extent of fossil fuel investment by local governments in the U.K., and their progress in divestment. However, of broader interest, it summarizes the financial status of the declining fossil fuel industry, explains the process which lead to stranded assets, and describes the financial dangers for all pension funds in quite understandable terms:  “pension funds exposed to the fossil fuel system in the coming decade will face a rollercoaster ride of disruption, write-downs, financial instability and share price deratings as markets adjust.”  In an explanation very relevant to Canadians, whose own Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board still clings to the “staying invested and ‘engaging’” approach –    the report uses the example of investing in Blockbuster videos vs. Netflix, to debunk the “engagement” approach: “The argument for ‘engagement’ tends to be one made by asset owners who employ investment managers who won’t or can’t accept that there is a technology-driven transition occurring. …. this approach of ‘we’ll decarbonise when markets decide to decarbonise’ is clearly not a risk management strategy. It is a ‘do nothing, and hope a few meetings will help’ strategy.”   

Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet offers practical steps for local councillors, community members, and labour unionists.  For unions, it points to the leadership of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which passed a climate action motion in 2017 which included support for divestment, based on a motion by their constituent unions representing food workers, communication workers, fire brigades, train drivers, and other transport workers.  Unison, the primary union representing U.K.  government workers, also passed a strong divestment motion in 2017 – meaningful because in the U.K., union members in government workplaces are usually entitled to some form of representation on their pension fund committee and board. The report urges union members to become knowledgeable about financial issues and to speak up in committee meetings – advocating for divestment and re-investment in lower-carbon, socially just funds which benefit their local communities and economies, especially after Covid.  The report cites inspiring examples, such as investment in wind farms by Manchester and London Councils, the U.K.’s first community-owned solar power cooperative by Lancashire County Council, and social housing in the Forth Valley and in London Councils.

An earlier guide for unions was Our Pensions, Our Communities, Our Planet: How to reinvest our pensions for our good? published by the Trade Union Group within Campaign against Climate Change.  The 6-page, action-oriented fact sheet lacks all the up-to-date statistical detail in Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet but makes many of the same arguments for divestment, and includes links to U.K. resources, as well as a model motion for local unions.

Wales TUC releases a Just Transition toolkit

Greener workplaces for a Just Transition  is a toolkit published in March by the Wales Trades Union Congress, aiming to provide information, tools and ideas for union representatives working towards climate solutions.  Intended as a training resource, the 202-page manual includes case studies, bargaining checklists, action plans, and sample documents which workplace reps can adapt to use for their own workplaces.  Workplace issues addressed include homeworking, procurement and ethical supply chains, waste and conservation measures, financial disclosure and pension management, among others.  The sample documents include a workplace survey, and a joint environment and climate change agreement, which includes language for workplace Joint Environment Committees and Green Workplace Representatives.   The toolkit is quite specific to Wales, although the topics are relevant to any jurisdiction.  It follows the 2020 policy publication by the Wales TUC , A Green Recovery and a Just Transition.

Lessons learned from unjust transitions – and a call for cooperation amongst unions and climate activists

On March 17, Labor Network for Sustainability released an important new report: Workers and Communities in Transition, which summarizes the results of their Just Transition Listening Project across the U.S. in 2020 .  The Listening Project comprised over 100 in-depth  interviews with workers and Indigenous and community leaders – 65% of whom were union members, 12% of whom were environmental justice and climate justice activists, and 23% of whom were members of other community groups. Their demographic characteristics were diverse, but all had first-hand experience  of economic transition, not only from the current transition in the fossil fuel industry, but also from automation, globalization, and other causes, as well as a variety of industries. Their thoughts and experiences are summarized, along with seven case studies, to describe the problems of unjust transitions and to arrive at the lessons learned. The report concludes with specific recommendations for action by policy-makers, recommendations for future research, and uniquely, recommendations for labour and movement organizations.  

In general, the recommendations are summarized as: “Go Big, Go Wide, Go Far.”  Under the category of “Go Big”, the authors state: “We will need a comprehensive approach that addresses the impacts on workers and communities across geographies, demographics and industries. The federal government will need to play a lead role. There are promising state and local just transition models, but none have access to the resources to fully fund their efforts. Strengthening the social safety net, workers’ rights, and labor standards will also be critical to supporting workers and communities equitably.” About “Go Wide”:  “…A common theme throughout the interviews … was the trauma individuals and families experienced as their economies were devastated. Several people referenced suicides, drug addiction, and depression among friends and co-workers who struggled with a loss of identity and relationships ….”.  And about “Go Far”: “Just transitions require a longer-term commitment of support and investment in workers and communities. Just transitions also require attention to generational differences: a younger, more diverse workforce has been growing into energy industries that will likely not offer long-term careers. It is essential to create good career alternatives for this generation.”

The specific recommendations for Labour and Movement Organizations are:

  • “Labor unions, workers’ rights organizations, and advocacy organizations should build cross-movement relationships by forming labor-climate-community roundtables, networks and/or committees at the state and/or local levels to build and sustain genuine personal and political relationships over time.
  • Labor unions should establish or expand any pre-existing environmental and climate committees, task forces, or other entities that can develop and deploy educational programs for members on issues of climate change; social, economic, and environmental justice; and just transition.
  • Environmental and other advocacy organizations should create labor committees to develop and deploy educational programs on issues of labor, job quality standards, and just transition.
  • Labor unions should adopt environmental and climate policy concerns as part of their advocacy agendas, and community organizations should adopt the right to organize and the promotion of strong labor standards as part of their advocacy agendas.
  • All organizations should create more mentorship and leadership development opportunities, especially for women, people of color, Indigenous people, and immigrants.”

Corporate net zero goals: solution or deception?

Climate change superstar Mark Carney set off a media flurry in a video interview with Bloomberg Live on February 10, in which he claimed that Brookfield Asset Management is a “net zero” company because its renewables investments offset emissions from its other holdings. Carney reflects a new trend of corporate aspirational statements, for example: Jeff Bezos’ corporate network The Climate Pledge claimed in February that 53 companies across 18 industries have committed to working toward net-zero carbon in their worldwide businesses, most by 2050.  Recent  high profile examples include Royal Dutch Shell , Canada’s TD Bank  and Bank of Montreal, and  FedEx , which on March 5 announced its goal to be carbon-neutral by 2040 as well as an initial investment of $2 billion to start electrifying its delivery fleet and $100 million to fund a new research centre for carbon capture at  Yale University.

Will these corporate goals help to reach the Paris Agreement target?  Many recent articles are skeptical,  labelling them “sham”, “greenwash”, and “deception” which seeks to protect the status quo.  Some examples:

The climate crisis can’t be solved by carbon accounting tricks” (The Guardian, March 3) which offers a concise explanation of why “Disaster looms if big finance is allowed to game the carbon offsetting markets to achieve ‘net zero’ emissions.”

Global oil companies have committed to ‘net zero’ emissions. It’s a sham” by Tzeporah Berman and Nathan Taft (The Guardian, March 3) – which instead advocates for an international Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Call the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Net-Zero Bluff” by Kate Aronoff  in New Republic. She writes: “This isn’t the old denialism oil companies funded decades ago. … Instead of casting doubt on whether the climate is changing, this new messaging strategy casts doubt on the obvious answer to what should be done about it: i.e., rapidly scaling down production….. For now, it’s one part creative accounting and many parts a P.R. strategy of waving around shiny objects like biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage.”

Can the market save the planet?  FedEx is the latest brand-name firm to say it’s trying” in the Washington Post , which quotes Yale Professor Paul Sabin, warning that “carbon capture research also should not become an excuse for doubling down on fossil fuel consumption, or delaying urgently needed policies to move away from fossil fuel consumption, including the electrification of transportation.”

Chasing Carbon Unicorns: The Deception of Carbon Markets and Net Zero  – a hard-hitting report by Friends of the Earth International which argues that net zero pledges are “a new addition to the strategy basket of these actors who are fighting hard to maintain the status quo.”   The report names these actors, led by the  financial community’s new Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets (TSVCM) – established by Mark Carney and the led by the CEO of the Standard Chartered Bank, with a goal to develop standards for “credible offsets” . FOE International also names a
group of Oxford academics which is supporting the TSVCM work by developing the Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting , and  conservation agencies which have endorsed the work: Conservation International (CI), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Chasing Carbon Unicorns concludes:

“Net zero” is a smokescreen, a conveniently invented concept that is both dangerous and problematic because of how effectively it hides inaction. We have to unpack “net zero” strategies and pledges to see which are real and which are fake. Fake zero strategies rely on offsets, rather than real emission reductions. Real zero strategies require emissions to really go to zero, or as close to zero as possible.”

International roadmap to guide the auto industry through disruptive times

The International Labour Organization (ILO)  hosted government, employer, and union representatives at a Technical Meeting on the Future of Work in the Automotive Industry, from February 15th to 19th. Canada’s auto industry union, Unifor, participated in the meeting. As reported in a  press release from the union confederation IndustriALL,  the virtual meetings were at times “confrontational”, but the resulting final document  is called a roadmap for the industry to guide it through its current disruptive transformation.  

The final document, which will proceed to the Governing Body of the ILO in November 2021, sketches out the challenge:

“The industry is at a turning point: technological advances, climate change, demographic shifts, new consumer preferences and mobility concepts, and a transformative era of globalization are rapidly changing the organization of production and work in the industry. The transition to a carbon neutral economy, new mobility patterns and changing consumer preferences are driving investments in new mobility solutions, electric and autonomous vehicles, cleaner production with alternative materials, and greater circularity.”

The Conclusions of the Technical Meeting, agreed-upon by union, management and government, includes the concepts of Just Transition, decent work, gender equality and lifelong learning.  Amongst the conclusions, this recommendation for future actions:

“Governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations should: (a) support the industry navigate through its transformation, accelerated by the COVID19 crisis, and mitigate the impact on enterprises and jobs; (b) advance decent and sustainable work in the automotive industry; (c) promote the acquistion of skills, competences and qualifications and access to quality education for all workers throughout their working lives to address skills mismatches now and in the future and encourage more women to study STEM; (d) jointly engage in formulating and implementing coherent and comprehensive economic, trade, fiscal, education and sustainable industrial policies, incentives and actions, in accordance with national law and practice, to: (i) create an enabling environment for entrepreneurship, increased productivity and for sustainable enterprises of all sizes to grow and generate decent and productive work; (ii) improve working conditions and safety and health at work and extend social protection to all workers in order to promote decent work; and (iii) facilitate a just transition to a future of work that contributes to sustainable development in its economic, social and environmental dimensions.”

Federal Advisory Committee on Net Zero policies appointed to augment existing research and recommendations

In late February, the federal government appointed a Net Zero Advisory Committee   with fifteen expert members, including Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuf and  Climate Action Network-Canada (CAN-Rac) Executive Director Catherine Abreu, as well as  Linda Coady,  Executive Director of the Pembina Institute,  climate scientist Simon Donner from University of British Columbia,  Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Kluane Adamek, and others from government and  industry.  As explained in  “Canada’s new Net Zero Advisory Body and Bill C-12” (March 4) by the Climate Action Network Canada, this Advisory Committee was a platform promise made by the Liberals during the 2019 election, and is intended to provide ongoing expert advice until 2050 to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Its mandate, here, is to provide advice on the next framework for Canada’s climate change policies, as currently before the House of Commons in Bill C-12,  the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act.

An article in The Energy Mix emphasizes the independent nature of the advisory body, and the fact that there are no current oil and gas industry representatives included.   However, in “Accountability Bill Lacks ‘Clear Path’ To Net-Zero Targets, Climate Scientist Warns Ottawa”, Catherine Abreu is quoted as saying that despite the Advisory Committee, Canada still lacks clear accountability in climate policy, and that Bill C-12 is  “not the robust piece of legislation we need to make sure Canada never misses another climate target. To make sure it’s set up to drive up ambition, especially in the near term, we need the 2025 goal and a stronger 2030 goal enshrined in law.”

Other policy voices on the Net Zero ambition are found in Canada’s Net Zero Future: Finding our way in the global transition, released on February 8  by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices , and described by the Institute as “the first in-depth scenario report to explore how Canada can reach net zero emissions by 2050”. It  advocates for two pathways: “safe bets” in the short term, and in the long term, “wild cards” which include negative emission technologies that are not yet commercially available.

On March 11,  the Pembina Institute released  How to Get Net-Zero Right,  which recommends top priority for “early, deep, sustained, and technologically feasible direct emissions reductions in every sector. …..Canada’s pathways must define an appropriate role for carbon removal and offsets. Achieving net-zero will require the use of carbon removal to address hard-to-decarbonize sectors or essential end uses that cannot yet be decarbonized. Carbon removal and offsets, however, cannot be approached as an alternative to mitigation, but rather in addition.”

How to Get Net-Zero Right  is the first of a promised series of reports on the issue by Pembina, and will consider social justice and equity concerns.

Only 18% of global Recovery spending in 2020 was green

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released Are We Building Back Better? Evidence from 2020 and Pathways for Inclusive Green Recovery Spending,    on March 10.  It estimates that in 2020, the world’s fifty largest economies announced USD14.6tn in fiscal measures to address the pandemic economic crisis, and states: …. “Excluding currently uncertain packages from the European Commission, 18.0% of recovery spending, and only 2.5% of total spending, is expected to enhance sustainability. The vast majority of green spending has come from a small set of high-income nations” with France, Germany and South Korea highlighted for their relatively high percentage of green recovery spending.  Canada’s spending is small, with only brief references which state that we have focused on “cleaning dirty energy assets”, and have made fossil fuel investment. (no details or examples given).  It is notable that the report covers 2020, so that U.S. spending is also low, though hope is expressed for the Biden/Harris administration.  Notably, the report looks to the future: “….. the largest window for green spending is only now opening, as nations shift attention from short-term rescue measures to recovery. Using examples from 2020 spending, we highlight five major green investment opportunities to be prioritised in 2021: green energy, green transport, green building upgrades & energy efficiency, natural capital, and green research and development.”    

Each of those topics is analyzed, with some exemplary policies highlighted. Some overarching issues: “Of particular note, despite continuing high global unemployment and widespread damage to human capital, spending on worker retraining in 2020 was small and almost exclusively non-green. Nations transitioning to a low-carbon economy must invest in human capital to enable and match future growth priorities. Structural changes in major sectors, including energy, agriculture, transport, and construction, require shifts in the structure and capabilities of the domestic labour force.”

Also, regarding “green strings”: “Although some dirty rescue-type expenditure may have been necessary to ensure that lives and livelihoods were saved, many of the largest of these policies could have included positive green attributes. For instance, airline bailouts in nations all over the world, including South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States could have included green conditions. Green conditions tied to liquidity support, like requirements to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or mandates to increase sustainable fuel use, can ensure short term relief while also promoting investment in long-term technological development and acting as a strong guide in national efforts to meet climate targets.”

The report is supported by the United Nations UNEP, the International Monetary Fund and GIZ through the Green Fiscal Policy Network (GFPN). The data was collected by the Oxford University Economic Recovery Project and is now available through the Global Recovery Observatory, a new database which will be updated regularly (most recently at the end of February).

The report cites many other studies and reports, notably: “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?” by Cameron Hepburn, Brian O’Callaghan, Nicholas Stern, Joseph Stiglitz, and Dimitri Zenghelis, which appeared in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy in May 2020.    .

Green Recovery includes proposals for Green Apprenticeships, Opportunity Guarantees for youth

In the midst of rampant youth unemployment in the U.K., An Emergency Plan on Green Jobs for Young People was released on March 1, commissioned by Friends of the Earth U.K. and prepared by Transition Economics consultants. The report puts flesh on the bones of a youth jobs guarantee – discussing the many issues, identifying green jobs and skills related to infrastructure, and estimating the level of funding required. That level of funding is compared to the cost of youth unemployment – the “wage scarring”.  Individual scarring is estimated at a loss of £42,000 – £133,000 in future wages over the next 20 years for an 18-20 year old who experiences one year of unemployment. The economic loss to the U.K. as a whole, if all currently unemployed youth stayed unemployed for 1 year, is estimated at £32 – £39 billion.

The solution proposed in the  Emergency Plan is the creation of 250,000 green apprenticeships in infrastructure-related jobs, rapidly rolled-out in England and Wales at an estimated cost of £6.2 – £10.6 billion over 5 years – a “tiny” cost compared to the burden of wage scarring. The report calls for “a green opportunity guarantee” that commits to ensure that all young people are offered a job, an apprenticeship, or training, and estimates that  “A government funded £40 billion-a-year green infrastructure programme would create over 1 million jobs, and deliver significant co-benefits.”   The report further calls for apprentice pay rates above the minimum wage, negotiated nationally with U.K. trade unions.

The idea of a green opportunity guarantee has also been advanced in Canada – notably in July 2020 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in its  Alternative Federal Budget Green Recovery Plan . The CCPA proposed a  National Decarbonization Strategy with public investments in electricity generation, public transit, forestry and building and home retrofitting; part of the Strategy included “a Green Jobs Corps at a cost of $10 billion per year to create good green jobs that advance Canada’s decarbonization agenda. Among the corps’ priorities will be climate adaptation and environmental reclamation projects identified under the National Decarbonization Strategy. All youth under the age of 25 in Canada will be guaranteed either a job in the corps or access to subsidized training through the Strategic Training Fund.”

Similarly, a Submission by the Canadian Labour Congress in August stated:  “Following the experience of the European Union, the federal, provincial and territorial governments should establish a guarantee that all young people under the age of 25 will receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. This could include a focus on providing decent jobs in land remediation and restoration, climate adaptation, and energy efficiency. It should also include green skills training and learning opportunities through partnerships with public education and training providers, with an emphasis on women, marginalized, low-income and at-risk youth.”  A similar proposal was made by the Smart Prosperity Institute, calling for the creation of  a Conservation and Adaptation corps as part of its Green Recovery proposals.  Smart Prosperity stated that the federal government funded 900 green internships in 2020 through the Science Horizons Youth Internship Program for STEM students, and calls on the government to go further with a youth  Conservation and Adaptation corps which “would offer the workforce needed to meet a number of environmental targets, including planting 2 billion trees, and could build the infrastructure needed to improve community resilience to climate impacts from flooding, fires and sea level rise.”

How phasing out fossil fuel subsidies can contribute to Canada’s green recovery

Recovery Through Reform is a new series by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, assessing Canada’s green recovery spending from COVID-19 with a focus on the issue of fossil fuel subsidy reform, and an eye on the upcoming federal Budget 2021 consultations. The first of three Briefs,  Assessing the climate compatibility of Canada’s COVID-19 response in 2020 evaluates energy-related spending in Canada in 2020 – specifically federal government commitments for electric vehicles, public transit, building retrofits, hydrogen, and fossil fuels. Using data from the global Energy Policy Tracker, the Brief quantifies federal government recovery spending, noting that transparency is a problem – especially in the case of the financing provided by Export Development Canada and the Business Development Bank of Canada. Spending trends in Canada are compared to flagship policies France, Germany, and the United Kingdom – including a discussion of the financial support for fossil fuels. The Brief concludes with recommendations – including a call “to apply the  principles from the IISD report Green Strings: Principles and Conditions for a Green Recovery From COVID-19 (2020), including transparency and inclusion of support for just transition for workers and communities.  Other recommendations are to end fossil fuel subsidies, and to measure recovery ambition against international standards rather than “domestic precedence”.

The second Brief in the Recovery through Reform series is Advancing a Hydrogen Economy. This report examines the question of promoting and incentivizing hydrogen, and calls for the government to ensure that any subsidies for hydrogen are in line with the government’s commitments to phase out “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025” and meet net-zero by 2050.  “Based on IISD’s analysis, subsidies for hydrogen based on natural gas without significant levels of carbon capture and storage (CCS) should not be eligible for government assistance. Subsidies for blue hydrogen should only occur if blue hydrogen can meet the same level of environmental performance (including emission intensity) and is at or below the cost of green hydrogen.”  (a more thorough discussion appears in a January 2021  blog from IISD: Should Governments Subsidize Hydrogen? ). 

The third report in the Recovery through Reform series is Export Development Canada’s role in fossil fuel subsidy reform, which argues that despite EDC’s well-known history as a supporter of the oil and gas industry, it could be an important actor in Canada’s green recovery.   The Brief documents the existing situation of poor transparency and dirty investments, stating: the EDC “provides an average of over CAD 13.2 billion in support for oil and gas every year, representing over 12% of finance committed by the institution.”  It also notes: “So far, EDC has provided over CAD 10 billion in loans for the Trans Mountain Pipeline and expansion via the Canada Development Investment Corporation.” Further, “When it comes to fossil fuel support, EDC is one of the worst-performing export credit agencies in the world, as it has provided more oil and gas finance than any other G20 export credit agency.”  Despite this track record, the Brief calls on the EDC to change its ways by matching the performance of other international financial institutions, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, and setting clear targets for climate action-related investments.  

Electric vehicle, retrofitting incentives announced by new Nova Scotia government

Nova Scotia’s new government under Premier Iain Rankin was sworn in on February 23, and immediately sent a message that it was committed to climate change action.  A press release titled Province Invests in Climate Change Action, Supports Jobs and Commits to Renewable Future announced a rebate program for new and used electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and e-bikes, ranging from $3,000 per new vehicle to $500 for electric bikes. An additional $9.5 million will be directed to support energy efficiency improvements through retrofitting for low-income families. Further, the Department of Energy and Mines will release a new Renewable Electricity Standard in March, aiming to achieve 80% renewable energy by 2030. Symbolically, the former Department of the Environment was renamed to the Department of Environment and Climate Change .  Environmental advocacy group Ecology Action expressed optimism in this press release (Feb. 25). The CBC also reported on the new government here .

Natural gas drives GHG emissions increase for Toronto region and Ontario

The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) is home to 7.4 million people in six municipalities: the City of Toronto, City of Hamilton, Halton, Peel, York and Durham regions. According to a new report released by The Atmospheric Fund (TAF),  the region produces  44 per cent of  total carbon emissions in the province of Ontario.   Top level findings from the report, Reality Check: Carbon Emissions Inventory for the GTHA: “Total carbon emissions in the GTHA increased 5.2% in 2018, reaching 55.5 Mt. . …. showing that since the completion of the coal phase out, emissions are slowly increasing across all regions and nearly all sources.” The report zeroes in on each municipality, and also on sectors, showing that buildings (42.8%), transportation (34.3%), and industry (18.9%) are the most significant sources of emissions in the region.

The key take-away from the report:  “Natural gas is a fossil fuel (methane) and it is the most significant source of emissions in the GTHA and Ontario. In 2018 natural gas increased about 10.6%, or 2Mt CO2 eq. Achieving net zero by 2050 will require phasing out virtually all natural gas from both heating and power production.”  An associated blog , “Toronto has an embarrassing gas problem”  (Feb.18) states: “the City’s latest emissions inventory showed an increase of 68% from natural gas from 2017 to 2018, and plans are afoot to increase gas-fired electricity which will make emissions skyrocket by over 300%. …. Toronto cannot meet its 2030 climate goals or the council-approved TransformTO plan if Ontario’s electricity is increasingly generated with fossil gas.”

Based on this analysis, TAF makes policy recommendations for all three levels of government, calling for near zero emissions standards for new building, acceleration of deeper retrofits for existing buildings, and electrification of heating and transportation while decarbonizing electricity production.  Detailed recommendations regarding retrofitting measures are provided in TAF’s submission to the Federal Budget 2021, and summarized in “Four ways the government should boost the retrofit market” (Feb. 23).  At the municipal level,  TAF is supporting one City of Toronto Councillor’s motion which calls for the provincial government to phaseout all gas-fired electricity generation as soon as possible.  The City of Toronto deferred a vote on that motion, and voted in February on a budget which appears to downgrade the priority for climate initiatives.  “’We can’t afford to lose a year’: Worries abound over Toronto’s plan to reduce climate funding” (CBC, Feb. 18)  provides details.