Public consultation on climate policy underway in Nova Scotia

A public consultation process is underway until July 26 in Nova Scotia, managed by the Clean Foundation on behalf of Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change. Following the consultations, the government will update its climate policies, as well as emission reduction goals under the Sustainable Development Goals Act, passed in 2019 but sidetracked by Covid-19.  The current Nova Scotia GHG emissions reduction commitment calls for emissions at least 53 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero by 2050, with all coal plants closed  by 2030 and 80 per cent renewable energy for the electricity sector by 2030.  Although this is the toughest emissions reduction target in Canada to date, the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre is advocating for a legislated GHG reduction target of 50% below 1990 levels by the year 2030. This, along with the other EAC priorities, is described in  20 Goals to Advance the Environmental and Economic Wellbeing of Nova Scotia . In 2019, when the legislation was being debated, EAC commissioned and published Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act: Economic Costs and Benefits of Proposed Goals (Sept 2019), which outlined six policy areas estimated to result in 15,000 green jobs per year by 2030. 

The government provides two Discussion Papers to guide input for the consultation:  a Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth Discussion Paper, and the Discussion Paper for the Sustainable Development Goals Act .

For Alberta oil workers facing a future of industry volatility- policy options include Just Transition, green tax reform

In Search of Prosperity: The role of oil in the future of Alberta and Canada  was released on May 26, that cataclysmic day of bad news for the oil and gas industry when the Dutch courts ordered Royal Dutch Shell to reduce its emissions immediately, and shareholders at Exxon and Chevron defied management to press for climate-friendly policies. The future of the oil and gas industry is also grim in Canada, according to In Search of Prosperity, published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Using economic models, it concludes that “the volatility of the industry poses a much greater threat than low prices to the Alberta economy – more than five times worse than the effect of just low prices.” And further: “….. unless there are innovations in the uses of oil for non-combustion, also known as “bitumen beyond combustion,” the oil sector will contribute less and less to Alberta’s prosperity.” According to the modelling, employment in the oil sector will potentially decrease byan average 24,300 full-time jobs per year toward 2050 ( accompanied by a potential 43% drop in royalties to the Alberta government). 

How to cope with those upcoming job losses? Another report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), also released on May 26, suggests the EU Just Transition Mechanism as one of its model strategies for the future. 10 Ways to Win the Global Race to Net-Zero: Global insights to inform Canadian climate competitiveness offers an overview of the global policy literature and describes successful case studies, including the innovation of green steel in Sweden; hydrogen policy in Germany; collaboration in the form of the European Battery Alliance and the European Transition Commission; the Biden “all of government” approach to governance in the U.S.; New Zealand’s consultation with and inclusion of the indigenous Maori; and the EU’s Just Transition Mechanism as part of the European Green New Deal. The report’s conclusion offers five strategies, including that the Canadian government must take action as a “top priority” on its promised Just Transition Act.

The discussion of Just Transition in 10 Ways to Win provides a brief, clear summary of the complexity of the EU Just Transition Mechanism, and states that the EU approach is consistent with the recent report,  Employment Transitions and the Phase-Out of Fossil Fuels by Jim Stanford, published by the Centre for Future Work in January 2021. Stanford argues that a gradual transition from fossil fuels is possible without involuntary layoffs, given a “clear timetable for phase-out, combined with generous supports for retirement, redeployment, and regional diversification”.

The IISD also recently published Achieving a Fossil Free Recovery (May 17), an international policy discussion with a focus on ending subsidies and preferential tax treatments for the fossil fuel industry. The report concludes with a brief section on Just Transition as the predominant framework for the transition to a clean energy economy, and calls for a social dialogue approach. As in previous IISD reports (for example, Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform and the Just Transition in 2017), the authors argue that dollars spent to support and subsidize the fossil fuel industry could be better spent in encouraging clean energy industries.  This argument also relates to an April 2021 IISD report, Nordic Environmental Fiscal Reform, which offers case studies of the success of environmental taxes – for example, in the use of tax revenue to support the Danish wind energy industry which now employs 33,000 workers.

Victory for climate activists in the Dutch Courts and in Exxon and Chevron boardrooms

May 26 will go down in history as a very bad day for the fossil fuel industry for three reasons: in the Netherlands, the courts issued a  landmark decision that requires Royal Dutch Shell to cut its carbon emissions – including Scope 3 emissions – by 45% by 2030. Also on May 26, activist shareholders won separate victories at the corporate annual meetings of ExxonMobil and Chevron. Bill McKibben reflects on all three events in “Big Oil’s Bad Bad Day” in The New Yorker , and Jamie Henn wrote  “A Landmark Day in the fight against fossil fuels” in Fossil Free Media.

The case of Royal Dutch Shell is summarized by Friends of the Earth Canada in their press release , which also links to an English-language version of the Court’s decision.  

“On May 26, as a result of legal action brought by Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie) together with 17,000 co-plaintiffs and six other organisations the court in The Hague ruled that Shell must reduce its CO2 emissions by 45% within 10 years.

…..“This is a turning point in history. This case is unique because it is the first time a judge has ordered a large polluting company to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement. This ruling may also have major consequences for other big polluters,” says Roger Cox, lawyer for Friends of the Earth Netherlands.

The verdict requires Royal Dutch Shell to reduce its emissions by 45% by the end of 2030. Shell is also responsible for emission from customers and suppliers. There is a threat of human rights violations to the “right to life” and “undisturbed family life”.

German news organization Deutsche Welle offers an excellent, more thorough discussion in “Shell ordered to reduce CO2 emissions in watershed ruling”, which points out that the case was argued on human rights grounds – much like the precedent-setting Urgenda case and the recent German constitutional case. In those cases however, governments were called upon to defend the human right to a future safe from the dangers of climate change. The Shell case is the first time such an argument has been tried against a corporation – and is seen as a harbinger of future legal action. The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) in Amsterdam also provides a succinct summary in  “The Shell climate verdict: a major win for mandatory due diligence and corporate accountability: “Shell must reduce its CO2 emissions by net 45% by 2030 (compared with 2019) regardless of the actions or policies of the Dutch government. But the ruling is historic for other reasons as well: the court based its verdict to a large extent on two soft law standards – the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines). In addition, it asserts that companies have an individual responsibility to combat climate change throughout their value chains, and it very clearly links climate change to human rights. This means the judgment is likely to play an important role in the realisation of mandatory due diligence legislation”.

An even more thorough review of the decision comes from the Columbia University Sabin Center Law Blog :  Guest Commentary: An Assessment of The Hague District Court’s Decision In Milieudefensie et al. v. Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .

Shareholder Activism at ExxonMobil and Chevron Oil Majors:    “The Showdown over Exxon’s climate future is here”   appeared in Axios on May 24,  anticipating “ the highest-profile effort by climate activist investors to force any of the oil majors to diversify away from fossil fuels more quickly – targeting the highest-profile company.”  The Washington Post also described the conflict in “The fight for the soul – and the future – of ExxonMobil” on May 22.  As events unfolded at the annual shareholders meeting of ExxonMobil on May 26, the small activist investor group Engine No. 1 won a victory when two of the four Board members it nominated to the Exxon board were confirmed, against the company’s slate. (A third Board member was also subsequently confirmed).  The victory was all the more impactful because Engine No. 1 was supported by the three biggest U.S. pension funds — the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and the New York State Common Retirement Fund, as well as the giant BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager.   According to “Exxon activist wins board seats in historic climate victory” in The Financial Post (May 26) “The result is an embarrassment for Exxon, unprecedented in the rarefied world of Big Oil, and a sign that institutional investors are increasingly willing to force corporate America to tackle climate change.” The article concludes: “the message from shareholders is clear: The status quo cannot continue.” “After Big Oil’s very bad week, the message for Alberta is clear” by Mitchell Beer appeared in Policy Options (June 2), linking the May 26 events and the International Energy Association report, Net Zero in 2050: A roadmap for the global energy system.

While the Exxon battle grabbed most headlines because of the high-profile participants, a similar story played out at the Chevron Oil annual meeting, where 61% of  shareholders rebelled against the company’s board by voting in favour of an activist proposal from Dutch campaign group Follow This to force the group to cut its carbon emissions. The press release from Follow This is here. The website of  Follow This  is titled: “Green Shareholders Change the World”.  It states that “Follow This compels oil majors to commit to the Paris agreement.” and invites readers to “ Buy a green share and become a co-owner of an oil company. Together we file green resolutions and get a vote in the future of the oil industry.”

Much more will be written about these landmark events. For now, The Guardian offers :  “Climate activist shareholders to target US oil giant Chevron” (May 20)   and “ExxonMobil and Chevron suffer shareholder rebellions over climate”.

How Canada can compete in the growing international battery supply chain

A  new report, Turning Talk into Action: Building Canada’s Battery Supply Chain, summarizes a forum of experts convened in March 2021 by Clean Energy Canada.  The resulting report discusses the existing state of electric vehicle and battery manufacturing in Canada, and makes a series of recommendations for action. Expert participants included the union Unifor, along with industry/employer groups: the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, The Battery Metals Association of Canada, the Delphi Group, Electric Mobility Canada, The Lion Electric Co., Dunsky Energy Consulting, Lithion Recycling, the Mining Association of Canada,  Li-Cycle, E3 Metals, the Transition Accelerator, General Motors Canada, E-One Moli Energy (Canada), Magna International, Propulsion Québec, Blue Solutions Canada, and Polaris Strategy + Insight.

The experts argue that Canada has many advantages which allow it to seize this moment of opportunity and establish itself as a major player in the global battery sector – where the global market for lithium-ion batteries is growing rapidly and expected to exceed $100 billion by 2030. Although 80 per cent of the world’s batteries are currently produced in Japan, South Korea and China, the report sets forth ideas for an industrial strategy  for an integrated North American industry, starting with an Interprovincial Battery Secretariat to bring together various provincial agencies within Canada, and an industry-led, government-supported task force to work with the Secretariat and  deliver advice by the end of 2021. With a unified battery plan in place, Canada would then be able to enter a North American Battery Alliance with the U.S., modelled on the European Battery Alliance, to leverage the existing, highly integrated automotive market and emphasizing a “clean” advantage over Asian suppliers.  Recommendations regarding the materials supply chain also emphasize sustainability and transparency in mining. Although there is already government funding available through an $8-billion NetZero Accelerator Fund, the report states that “the federal government must create a $15 billion battery supply chain fund dedicated to addressing challenges and investing in strategic projects along the Canadian value chain. The fund must be carved out specifically for the batteries versus being another stream within the Strategic Innovation Fund.”  Finally, noting that Canada already has technological and R&D expertise in batteries, the report calls for “ a government-funded, industry-led Centre of Excellence focused on commercializing advanced battery technology and manufacturing R&D. The centre would cluster university researchers, mining companies, battery manufacturers, and auto OEMs into one hub to support testing, demonstration, and the commercialization of new technologies.” Recycling would also be one of the areas included.

 The report is summarized in this Clean Energy Canada press release .  

Future skills for the energy efficient building workforce

A recent report from ECO Canada,  Assessment of Occupational and Skills Needs and Gaps for the Energy Efficient Buildings Workforce, focuses on the occupations and skills needed for designing, constructing, managing, and retrofitting energy efficient commercial and institutional buildings and multi-unit residential buildings.  The report states that much of the technology, materials, and processes are in place, but workforce skills still need to be developed – for example, under a “building-as-a-system” approach,  workers are increasingly called upon to function within multi-disciplinary teams, requiring soft skills such as collaboration and facilitation. Such a system also requires a workforce culture shift. A section called “ Future-Proofing the Energy Efficient Building Sector”  provides a summary of core and growing occupations and skills related to design, construction, operation, and retrofitting of energy efficient buildings. The report assesses specific occupation skills and gaps, and recommends ways to connect with workers– and includes unions amongst the stakeholder groups which can support skills acquisition. The 73-page report is available for free download from this link (registration required).

Canada’s banks continue to finance oil and gas

A report released at the end of April examines the performance and the links between Canada’s oil companies and the big banks which form Canada’s “comfortable oligopoly”: Royal Bank (RBC), Toronto-Dominion Bank ,Bank of Nova Scotia, Bank of Montreal, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and the National Bank of Canada. Fossilized Finance: How Canada’s banks enable oil and gas production  is written by Donald Gutstein and published by by the B.C. Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives as part of its Corporate Mapping Project. The report outlines the bank presence in the Canadian energy sector since the collapse of oil prices in 2014 – lending, underwriting, advising and investing. It also examines interlocking directorates, executive transfer, industry conference sponsorships and industry association memberships.This reveals different details than the international report, Banking on Climate Chaos, published by BankTrack in late March.

While acknowledging that the banks have begun to invest in some renewable energy projects, Fossilized Finance shows that this leopard has not changed its spots:

“In contrast to the need to reduce financing of fossil fuels, banks actually increased their lending and commitments to the industry by more than 50 per cent—to $137 billion—between 2014 and 2020. Toronto-Dominion, in particular, upped its lending by 160 per cent over the seven-year period, to nearly $33 billion in 2020. As well, banks have invested tens of billions of dollars in fossil fuel and pipeline company shares. Here, Royal Bank leads the pack with nearly $21 billion invested in the top 15 fossil fuel and pipeline companies as of November 2019. Banks continue to underwrite fossil fuel company stock and bond issues, and they continue to provide key advice on mergers, acquisitions and other corporate moves.”  

Many of the researchers involved in the CCPA/Corporate Mapping Project have written chapters in Regime of Obstruction: How Corporate Power blocks Energy Democracy, a book edited by William Carroll and published by Athabasca University Press. Readers of the WCR may be particularly interested in Chapter 15, “From Clean Growth to Climate Justice” by Marc Lee, but all the excellent chapters are available for free download here.  The publisher’s summary states: “Anchored in sociological and political theory, this comprehensive volume provides hard data and empirical research that traces the power and influence of the fossil fuel industry through economics, politics, media, and higher education. Contributors demonstrate how corporations secure popular consent, and coopt, disorganize, or marginalize dissenting perspectives to position the fossil fuel industry as a national public good. They also investigate the difficult position of Indigenous communities who, while suffering the worst environmental and health impacts from carbon extraction, must fight for their land or participate in fossil capitalism to secure income and jobs. The volume concludes with a look at emergent forms of activism and resistance, spurred by the fact that a just energy transition is still feasible. This book provides essential context to the climate crisis and will transform discussions of energy democracy.”    

If you are outraged by what these researchers reveal, a personal option to switch banks is now made easier through the Bank Green website, launched in April in association with BankTrack. So far, Bank.Green covers more than 300 banks globally, including only two “ethical banks” in Canada:  Vancity, and Duca Credit Union. The website provides information for customers and encourages them to switch banks and divest from fossil fuels.

IEA calls for a future without fossil fuel investment

Net Zero in 2050: A roadmap for the global energy system was released by the International Energy Agency on May 18, and has been described as a “bombshell”, and a “landmark”.  Why? The normally conservative IEA describes the global energy future bluntly and urgently, calling for    “…. from today, no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects, and no further final investment decisions for new unabated coal plants. By 2035, there are no sales of new internal combustion engine passenger cars, and by 2040, the global electricity sector has already reached net-zero emissions.”

This special report claims to be “ the world’s first comprehensive study of how to transition to a net zero energy system by 2050 while ensuring stable and affordable energy supplies, providing universal energy access, and enabling robust economic growth.”  It sets out 400 indicators for “an economically productive pathway to 2050”, where energy production will be dominated by renewables instead of fossil fuels. The report also flags and discusses bioenergy, carbon capture, and behavioural changes as “key uncertainties” for the future.

Highlights from the discussion of employment in Chapter 4:  

  • In 2021, approx. roughly  40 million  people work  directly  in  the  oil,  gas,  coal,  renewables,  bioenergy  and  energy  network industries . 
  • By 2030 in the Net Zero scenario, 30 million more people will be working in clean energy, efficiency  and  low‐emissions  technologies. 
  • By 2030, employment  in  oil, gas and  coal fuel supply and power  plants will decline  by  around 5 million jobs.  
  • Nearly two‐thirds of workers in the emerging clean energy sectors will be highly skilled by 2030, and the majority will require substantial training. 
  • The  new  jobs  created  in  the  net zero economy  will  have  more  geographic  flexibility.   Around 40% are jobs located close to where the work is  being  done,  e.g.  building  efficiency  improvements  or  wind  turbine  installation,  and  the  remaining  are  jobs  tied  to  manufacturing  sites. 

Summaries and reaction to the IEA report:

Planet’s pathway to net-zero means no new oil and gas spending, IEA says” in the Globe and Mail  

Nations Must Drop Fossil Fuels, Fast, World Energy Body Warns” in the New York Times

No new investment in fossil fuels demands top energy economist” in The Guardian  

IEA: Tripling the Speed of Efficiency Progress a Must for a Net-Zero Carbon World from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) outlines the report’s findings regarding energy efficiency

Reaction by Oil Change International describes the importance of the adjustment to the IEA modelling – it  follows years of campaigning by climate advocates through the FixTheWEO campaign, calling for the IEA to align its annual World Energy Outlook (WEO) report with the 1.5 degree C Paris Agreement goals.

Canada’s Climate Emergency Unit seeks to light a spark across Canada

The Climate Emergency Unit is a newly-launched initiative of the David Suzuki Institute, with the Sierra Club B.C. and the Rapid Decarbonization Group of Quebec as Strategic Partners.  The Unit is led by Seth Klein and inspired by his 2020 book, A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency, which argues that climate mobilization requires an effort similar to what previous generations expended against the existential threat of fascism during the Second World War. (This is an approach shared with the U.S. group The Climate Mobilization, and others). The stated goal of the CEU is “to work with all levels of government and civil society organizations – federal, provincial, local and Indigenous governments, businesses, trade unions, public institutions and agencies, and industrial/sectoral associations” – to network, educate and advocate for the mobilization ideas in A Good War, to decarbonize and electrify Canadian society and the economy,  while enhancing social justice and equity. 

In an article in Policy Options in November 2020, Klein summarizes the four hallmarks of a government committed to an urgent, emergency response:

  • It spends what it takes to win;
  • It creates new economic institutions to get the job done;
  • It shifts from voluntary and incentive-based policies to mandatory measures;
  • It tells the truth about the severity of the crisis and communicates a sense of urgency about the measures necessary to combat it.

Seth Klein was the founding Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in British Columbia, and continues to publish in the CCPA Policy Note , as well as in the Climate Emergency Unit blog, and as a columnist for The National Observer – for example, with “Feds need to treat climate crisis like a national emergency” on April  30.

Growth of ZEV’s impacts trucks, buses – and their drivers too

The International Energy Agency released its annual Global Electric Vehicle Outlook report for 2021 in April, providing data, historical trends and future projections. Despite the pandemic, there was a 41% increase in electric vehicle registrations in 2020 – compared to a 16% contraction of the overall global automobile market. There are now more than 10 million electric cars on the world’s roads, and for the first time, Europe overtook China as the centre of the global electric car market.  In addition, there are roughly 1 million electric vans, heavy trucks and buses globally.  A separate forecast by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, as summarized by The Guardian, projects that electric vehicles will reach price parity with internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by 2027.  Another April report from Boston Consulting Group  forecasts that zero-emission vehicles will replace ICE vehicles as the dominant powertrain for new light-vehicle sales globally just after 2035.

Most policy discussions of the electrification of transportation focus on the potential for GHG emissions reductions, consumer preferences, and the economic impacts for the automotive industry. There has been a lack of attention on operational workers – with a few exceptions. A 2020 report from the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Jobs in green and healthy transport: Making the green shift , offers modelling of employment impacts in a broad definition of transportation, including personal vehicles, trucks and public transport. It focuses on Europe, and discusses the employment impacts in both manufacturing and operation.

A second notable report: The Impacts of Zero Emission Buses on the Transportation Workforce – is a Policy Statement regarding public transit, was released on April 21 by the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and the Transport Workers Union in the U.S.. Their statement  warns that major job losses could occur and workers could be left without adequate training, and calls for the federal government in the U.S. to mandate worker protections, including:  the Federal Transit Administration should require “advance notification of procurements and workforce impact assessments including potential job displacements or significant changes in responsibilities due to the introduction of new technologies to employee representatives”; a right of first refusal for existing employees to newly created jobs; and requirements for employers and employees to bargain in good faith over the terms of implementing the project. The Statement also call for a national workforce training center to be established to train current employees on the new systems, and a guarantee that workers will be represented on task forces and committees around climate change and technology.

These are policies which might be relevant to the response of the Amalgamated Transit Union in Toronto, where the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), announced  a “green fleet expansion”, in  partnership with Toronto Hydro and Ontario Power Generation. Their April 9 press release states: “The TTC is currently operating 60 battery-electric buses, the largest zero-emissions fleet in North America, made by three different manufacturers: BYD Canada Co. Ltd., New Flyer Industries Inc. and Proterra Inc. All three have been part of TTC’s innovative ongoing head-to-head evaluation …. The Board is expected to discuss the results of the evaluation and subsequently greenlight the procurement of approximately 300 long-range battery-electric buses that will be delivered between Q1 2023 and Q1 2025.”   

Other EV News from Canada  

British Columbia’s new report, Zero-Emission Vehicle Update 2020 , states that B.C. has the highest electric vehicle uptake in North America – with 54,469 light-duty ZEVs registered and over 2,500 public charging stations in the province at the end of 2020.  On May 14, the province announced increased weight allowances for trucks, “to offset the loss of payload capacity that commercial operators experience with greener vehicles. Low-carbon options weigh more than standard diesel trucks due to the size of their battery packs and hydrogen tanks.” In Vancouver, a draft Climate 2050 Transportation Roadmap was presented to City Council on April 21 – the second in a series of ten Roadmaps that will guide the region’s climate actions to 2050. The Roadmap describes and recommends strategies to increase EV uptake –including an outreach program to large employers to encourage the installation of EV charging stations at workplaces, and facilitate fleet replacement.  

In Ontario, two new reports from the Pembina Institute discuss fleet replacement: Making the Case for Electric Urban Delivery Fleets in the GTHA and Making the Switch to Electric Urban Delivery Fleets in the GTHA. Both are directed at fleet managers, but act as useful overviews of the complex issues in such a conversion.  Making the Switch acknowledges (though only briefly) the need for training for both drivers and maintenance workers. Information about the impact of driver attitudes and habits appears in Long-haul trucking fleets take emission reductions into their own hands – an April report with case studies of three companies with heavy-duty trucks. These reports are the latest in a series of reports from Pembina, reflecting their sustained interest in the transportation sector.

UNEP report: Reduce methane emissions to meet climate goals and save lives

An urgent message about the dangers of methane comes in The Global Methane Assessment – a new report from the United Nations Environment Program and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. Methane as ground-level ozone (smog) is a key culprit in air pollution, and is also 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a climate-changing greenhouse gas. In Canada, methane constituted 13% of GHG emissions in 2019, mainly from the oil and gas sector. The Global Methane Assessment documents the extent of the problem, but offers the prospect and a path for human-caused methane emissions to be reduced by up to 45 per cent this decade with known technologies. The result of the sectoral strategies recommended would be to avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming by 2045,making it possible to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Those reductions would also prevent 260,000 premature deaths, 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits, 25 million tonnes of crop losses annually, and 73 billion hours of lost labour from extreme heat. For the oil and gas, the top strategies are: 1. Upstream and downstream leak detection and repair 2.Recovery and utilization of vented gas 3. Improved control of unintended fugitive emissions (including regular inspections and repair of sites); replacement of gas-powered devices or diesel engines with electric motors); capping unused wells. For coal, the report highlights: pre-mining degasification and recovery and oxidation of ventilation air methane; flooding abandoned coal mines.

The message is not new to Canadians. In 2017, Environmental Defence published Canada’s Methane Gas Problem: Why strong regulations can reduce pollution, protect health and save money. On January 1, 2020, new Canadian regulations came into force “in order to fulfill Canada’s commitment to reduce emissions of methane from the oil and gas sector by 40% to 45% below 2012 levels by 2025”. The December 2020 climate plan, Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy states that Canada is a member of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, and “Together with the International Energy Agency, the Coalition is targeting a 45% reduction in methane emissions by 2025 and 60-75% by 2030.” and promises “The Government will publicly report on the efficacy of the suite of federal actions to achieve the 2025 methane target in late 2021.” (page 38). In October 2020, the Minister of Natural Resources announced a $750-million Emissions Reduction Fund, providing loans to the oil and gas industry to promote investment in greener technologies to reduce methane and other GHG emissions.  But how to measure progress?  The problem of under-reported methane emissions is widely recognized, and was documented in 2020 in Canada by two reports summarized by the CBC here .

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) presents the industry side of the story on its webpages relating to innovation and technology. It states: “Industry is serious about meeting Canada’s commitment to reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations by 45% from 2012 levels by 2025. An array of technologies and approaches are being developed and implemented, such as using solar panels to power pumps …. installing systems to capture vented gases, including methane, which can then be used as fuel, providing a supplemental power source for the facility. Within the industry, the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada (PTAC)  is “a neutral non-profit facilitator of collaborative research and development and technology development”, with current projects including the Advanced Methane DetectionAnalytics and Mitigation Project and the C-DER Centre for the Demonstration of Emissions Reductions.

Related reading: Bill McKibben’s column, “It’s Time to kick Gas”, comments on the UNEP report and reminds us that natural gas was once seen as a “bridge” fuel, but: “Now we understand that natural gas—which is primarily made of methane—leaks unburned at every stage from fracking to combustion, whether in a power plant or on top of your stove, in sufficient quantities to make it an enormous climate danger.”  He also cites the new Australian report, Kicking the Gas Habit: How Gas is Harming Our Health, which estimates that children living in houses with gas stoves is were 32 per cent more likely to develop asthma than those who didn’t – comparable to living with a smoker.  

Utility Workers Union and UCS estimate costs to transition U.S. coal miners and power plant workers in joint report

Hard on the heels of the April statement by the United Mine Workers Union, Preserving Coal Country: Keeping America’s coal miners, families and communities whole in an era of global energy transition, the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) jointly released a report with the Union of Concerned Scientists on May 4: Supporting the Nation’s Coal Workers and Communities in a Changing Energy Landscape. This report is  described as “a call to action for thoughtful and intentional planning and comprehensive support for coal-dependent workers and communities across the nation.” The report estimates that in 2019, there were 52,804 workers in coal mining  and 37,071 people employed at coal-fired power plants – and that eventually all will lose their jobs as coal gives way to cleaner energy sources. Like the United Mine Workers, the report acknowledges that the energy shift is already underway, and “rather than offer false hope for reinvigorated coal markets, we must acknowledge that thoughtful and intentional planning and comprehensive support are critical to honoring the workers and communities that have sacrificed so much to build this country.”

Specifically, the report calls for a minimum level of support for workers of five years of wage replacement, health coverage, continued employer contributions to retirement funds or pension plans, and tuition and job placement assistance. The cost estimates of such supports are pegged at $33 billion over 25 years and $83 billion over 15 years —and do not factor in additional costs such as health benefits for workers suffering black lung disease, or mine clean-up costs. The report states: “we must ensure that coal companies and utilities are held liable for the costs to the greatest extent possible before saddling taxpayers with the bill.”  Neither do the cost estimates include the recognized needs for community supports such as programs to diversify the economies, or support to ensure that essential services such as fire, police and education are supported, despite the diminished tax base. 

The report points to the precedents set by Canada’s Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities ( 2018), the German Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment (2019), as well as the New Mexico Energy Transition Act 2019  and the Colorado  Just Transition Action Plan in 2020.  The 12-page report, Supporting the Nation’s Coal Workers and Communities in a Changing Energy Landscape was accompanied by a Technical Report, and summarized in a UCS Blog  which highlights the situation in Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. A 2018 report from UCS Soot to Solar   also examined Illinois.

Job creation potential of nature-based solutions to climate change

U.K. think tank Green Alliance commissioned research to measure the economic impact of nature-based investments for a green recovery,  and released the results on May 4.  The full report, Green Renewal – The Economics of Enhancing the Natural Environment, was written by WPI Economics, and states:  “Looking at just three types of enhancement (woodland creation, peatland restoration and urban green infrastructure) we find that an expanded programme of nature restoration could create at least 16,050 jobs in the 20% of constituencies likely to face the most significant employment challenges. We present place-based analysis of the labour market and nature based solutions, which can also be found on an interactive webpage here.”  The report emphasizes that nature-based interventions can create jobs in areas that need them the most – stating that two thirds of the most suitable land for planting trees is in constituencies with worse than average labour market challenges.

Jobs for a Green Recovery is a summary report written by Green Alliance, based on the economic WPI report.  It emphasizes the impact of Covid on youth employment, stating that 63% of those newly unemployed in 2020-21 are under 25, argues that nature-based jobs are long-term, skilled and productive, and makes specific recommendations for the British government so that such jobs can become part of the U.K. green recovery. Green Alliance estimates that  investments in nature-related jobs have a high cost-benefit ratio, with £4.60 back for every £1 invested in peatland, £2.80 back in woodland, and £1.30 back for salt marsh creation.  

Jobs for a Green Recovery includes brief U.K. case studies.  An interesting a related Canadian example can be found in the new Seed the North initiative, described in The Tyee here . Seed the North is a small start-up company in Northern B.C., with big ambition to scale up. Currently, the project collects wild seed from Canadian trees, uses innovative technology to encase the seed in bio-char, and then uses drone technology to plant seeds in remote forest areas.  The result:  increased regeneration of disturbed land, restored soil health,  a statistically significant contribution to carbon sequestration, and economic benefits flowing through co-ownership to the local First Nations communities who participate.  

Covid-19 causes decline in solar, clean energy jobs in the U.S.

The 11th annual National Solar Jobs Census was released by the U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association on May 6, reporting that 231,474 people worked across all sectors of the  industry in 2020 – a 6.7% decrease from 2019.  The decrease in jobs is attributed to the impacts of Covid-19, as well as an increase in labour productivity – up 19% in the residential sector, 2% in the non-residential sector and 32% in the utility-scale sector.  Thus, despite employing fewer workers, the solar industry installed record levels of solar capacity in 2020, with 73% of installations in “ Utility-scale installations”.   

According to the 2020 Solar Jobs Census, 10.3% of solar workers in the U.S. are unionized, above the national average and compared to 12.7% of all construction trades. The report offers details about demographic, geographic, and labour market data – for example, showing an improvement in diversity in the workforce. Since 2015, it reports a 39% increase for women, 92% increase for Hispanic or Latino workers, 18% increase for Asian American and Pacific Islander workers, and a 73% increase for Black or African American workers.   Wages for benchmark solar occupations are provided, showing levels similar to, and often higher than, wages for similar occupations in other industries.  

The 2020 Solar Jobs Census defines a solar worker as anyone who spends more than 50% of their working time in solar-related activities. It is a joint publication of the Solar Energy Industries Association, the Solar Foundation, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and BW Research Partnership. It uses publicly available data from the 2021 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER), produced by BW Research Partnership, the Energy Futures Initiative (EFI), and the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO).  Solar is included in their reports, which cover the  broader energy industry (The U.S. 2020 Energy & Employment Report  and the supplementary report, Wages Benefits and Change) .

The reported decrease in solar jobs is also consistent with the message in Clean Jobs America 2021 , published  by E2 Consultants in April. That report found a decrease in total clean energy jobs from 3.36 million in 2019 to 3 million at the end of 2020, although despite the decline, the report states: “clean energy remains the biggest job creator across America’s energy sector, employing nearly three times as many workers as work in fossil fuel extraction and generation.”   The report includes renewable energy, energy efficiency, and electric vehicle manufacturing in their coverage.    

Calls for sustainable and responsible mining for the clean energy transition

An important Special Report by the International Energy Association was released in May: The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions. Reflecting a mainstream view of the importance of the raw materials for clean technologies such as electric vehicles and energy storage, the IEA provides “ a wealth of detail on mineral demand prospects under different technology and policy assumptions” , and discusses the various countries which offer supply – including Canada. The main discussion is of policies regarding supply chains, especially concerning responsible and sustainable mining, concluding with six key recommendations, including co-ordination of the many international frameworks and initiatives in the area. The report briefly recognizes the Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) protocols as internationally significant, and as one of the first to require on-site verification of its standards. The Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative was established in 2004, requiring member companies to “demonstrate leadership by reporting and independently verifying their performance in key environmental and social areas such as aboriginal and community engagement, biodiversity conservation, climate change, tailings management.”    

On May 5, the Mining Association of Canada updated one of its TSM protocols with the release a new Climate Change Protocol,  a major update to its 2013  Energy Use and GHG Emissions Management Protocol.  It is designed “to minimize the mining sector’s carbon footprint, while enhancing climate change disclosure and strengthening the sector’s ability to adapt to climate change.”  The Protocol is accompanied by a new Guide on Climate Change Adaptation for the Mining Sector,  intended for mine owners in Canada, but with global application. The Guide includes case studies of such mines as the Glencore Nickel mine in Sudbury, the notorious Giant Mine in the Northwest Territories, and the Suncor Millennium tailings pond remediation at its oil sands mine in Alberta.  The membership of MAC is a who’s who of Canadian mining and oil sands companies /  – including well-known companies such as ArcelorMittal, Barrick Gold, Glencore, Kinross,  Rio Tinto, Suncor, and Syncrude.  Other documentation, including other Frameworks and progress reports, are compiled at a dedicated Climate Change Initiatives and Innovations in the Mining Industry website.  

The demand for lithium, cobalt, nickel, and the other rare earth minerals needed for technological innovation has been embraced, not only by the mining industry, but in policy discussions –  recently, by Clean Energy Canada in its March 2021 report, The Next Frontier. The federal  ministry of Natural Resources Canada is also supportive, maintaining a Green Mining Innovation Initiative through CanmetMINING , and the government joined the U.S.-led Energy Resource Governance Initiative (ERGI) in 2019 to promote “secure and resilient supply chains for critical energy minerals.”

Alternative points of view have been pointing out the dangers inherent in the new “gold rush” mentality, since at least 2016 when Amnesty International released its 2016 expose of the use of child labour in the cobalt mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most recently, in February 2021, Amnesty released Powering Change: Principles for Businesses and Governments in the Battery Value Chain, which sets out specific principles that governments and businesses should follow to avoid human rights abuses and environmental harm.  Other examples: MiningWatch Canada has posted their April 2021 webinar Green Energy, Green Mining, Green New Deal?,   which states: “The mining sector is working hard to take advantage of the climate crisis, painting mining as “green” because it supplies materials needed to support the “green” energy transition. But unless demand for both energy and materials are curtailed, environmental destruction and social conflicts will also continue to grow.”  MiningWatch Canada published  Turning Down the Heat: Can We Mine Our Way Out of the Climate Crisis? in 2020, reporting on a 2019 international conference which focused on the experience of frontline communities. Internationally, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre maintains a Transition Minerals tracker, with ongoing data and reports concerning human and labour rights in the mining of  “transition minerals”, and also compiles links to recent reports and articles. Two recent reports in 2021:  Recharge Responsibly: The Environmental and Social Footprint of Mining Cobalt, Lithium, and Nickel for Electric Vehicle Batteries (March 2021, Earthworks) and  A Material Transition: Exploring supply and demand solutions for renewable energy minerals  from the U.K. organization War on Want.  

Jim Stanford lauds Canadian unions for their climate activism

Well-known Canadian unionist Jim Stanford gave a shout-out to Canadian labour unions in Canada’s Secret Weapon in Fighting Climate Change: Great Trade Unions” , posted in the Progressive Economics Forum on May 3. Stanford is well-placed to make the observations and analysis, after a long career and wealth of experience at Unifor – for example, he correctly recalls the genesis of “Just Transition” here : “For example, it is significant that one of the first uses of the phrase ‘just transition’ was by a Canadian union activist, Brian Kohler: a member of the former CEP who coined the phrase in 1998 to refer to the needed combination of planned energy transition, alternative job-creation, and income supports and transition assistance.”

In this brief Great Trade Unions article, he specifically cites the work of Unifor, the Canadian Labour Congress, and the Alberta Federation of Labour, and supports his assessment of “greatness”  partly by citing the work of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change research project – specifically, the Green Agreements database.  He states:  

“….Many other unions in Canada have used their voices, their bargaining clout, and their political influence to advance progressive climate and jobs policies in their workplaces and industries. This database, compiled by the York University-based ACW research project, catalogues many innovative contract provisions negotiated by Canadian unions to improve environmental practices at workplaces, educate union members and employers about climate policy, and implement concrete provisions and supports (like job security and notice, retraining, and adjustment assistance) as energy transitions occur. It confirms that Canadian unions are very much ahead of the curve on these issues: playing a vital role in both winning the broader political debate over climate change, but then demanding and winning concrete measures (not token statements) to ensure that the energy transition is fair and inclusive.”  

Stanford concludes with high praise for Canada’s unions  

“Of course, the approach of Canadian unions to climate issues has not been perfect or uniform: there have been tensions and debates, and at times some unions have supported further fossil fuel developments on the faint hope that the insecurity facing their members could be solved by approval of just one more mega-project. But in general the Canadian union movement has been a consistent and progressive force in climate debates. The idea of a Canadian union endorsing a pro-jobs climate plan (like Biden’s) wouldn’t be news at all here. And that has undoubtedly helped us move the policy needle forward in Canada.

I have worked with unions in several countries around climate, employment and transition planning issues. In my experience, Canada’s trade union movement sets a very high standard with its positive and pro-active approach to these issues. Our campaigns for both sustainability and workers’ rights are stronger, thanks to our union movement’s activism, vision, and courage.”

Stanford now focuses on both the Canadian and Australian scenes, and posts his thoughts at the Centre for Future Work, where he is Director.

Environmental groups and Unifor agree: 60% emissions reduction goal is Canada’s Fair Share

Towards Canada’s Fair Share  is a new report endorsed by seven of Canada’s leading environmental advocacy groups. It was released just before Prime Minister Trudeau’s announcement at the international Climate Summit on April 22-23 that Canada will increase its emissions reduction target to 40 – 45% of 2005 levels by 2030. Although this is an improvement on the target mentioned in Canada’s  April 19th federal budget  (36% below 2005 levels, it fails to match U.S. President Biden’s announcement of a 50% target, and is far below the more ambitious target proposed  in Towards Canada’s Fair Share – a 60% emissions reduction by 2030.  The report was based on modelling by EnviroEconomics and Navius, and endorsed by Climate Action Network Canada, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Ecology Action Centre, Environmental Defence, Equiterre, Stand, and West Coast Environmental Law.   

A recent CBC report, “Union representing energy workers backs stronger emissions cuts — as long as there’s a transition plan” ( April 27), states that Unifor agrees with the Fair Share target of 60% by 2030 – “provided the right framework is in place to help its 12,000 members move out of the oil and gas sector.”   The CBC quotes Unifor representative Joie Warnock:  “Our members in the energy sector have a lot to say about the path to decarbonization. The pathway to a lower carbon economy goes directly through their livelihoods, through their lives, through their communities,…..We’re very concerned that the government hasn’t done the work to plan for a just transition.”  The union accepts that an energy transition is underway, and is working to “get in front of it” – and not only for its members in the oil fields, but also for members in the auto industry, facing the transformation to electric vehicles.