GHG emissions rising as governments fail to “Build back better”

Analysis released by the International Energy Agency on July 20 warns that 2023 is now on track to see the highest levels of carbon dioxide output in human history, equalling or surpassing the record set in 2018. Why? According to analysis based on the new IEA Sustainable Recovery Tracker , more than US$16 trillion has been spent on the COVID-19 recovery, but only 2% is going to clean energy investments. The report calls for first world countries and agencies such as the IMF to provide more sustainable financing so that emerging economies can improve their clean energy investment performance.  The IEA Sustainable Recovery Tracker provides an exhaustive list of the green recovery programs for countries around the world, including Canada.  

Also in July, Vivid Economics also released the sixth and final Report of their Greenness of Stimulus Index (GSI), which analyses the G20 countries plus ten other countries. Covid economic stimulus spending had a negative environmental impact in 20 of the 30 countries surveyed, and of the  $17.2 trillion spent, only 10% had been spent on projects which could be considered green.  Denmark ranked first, Russia ranked last, and Canada outperformed the U.S. in terms of positive environmental impact of the economic stimulus.   The Vivid report is  summarized by The Guardian here .

Others tracking the “greenness” of economic recovery, include Carbon Brief, and the U.K. Trades Union Congress, which published Ranking G7 Green Recovery Plans and Jobs in June 2021. That report includes Canada and the other G7 countries as comparators to U.K. spending, with a focus on the job impacts.

An early study from researchers at Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, was the influential academic paper in May 2020 : “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?”

Canadian, Ontario governments launch youth consultations on climate issues

It’s almost as if Canadian governments have noticed the international Fridays for Future movement, or the Sunrise Movement in the U.S.! On July 21, both the federal and Ontario government announced the formation of youth councils, to engage with young people on climate issues. The federal Environment and Climate Change Youth Council  was announced in this press release, inviting Canadians between the ages of 18 to 25 to apply by August 18, to participate in consultations regarding climate change, biodiversity loss, and how to better protect the natural environment. “In particular, inaugural members will engage on Canada’s top priorities, including achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and zero plastic waste by 2030.” Applicants must be sponsored/nominated by an NGO or charitable organization which relates to the mandate of Environment and Climate Change Canada. Ten people will be chosen to serve a two-year term on a voluntary basis and meet every four months.  The Youth Council website, with application information, is here.  

In Ontario, high school youth are invited to apply by August 4th to be members of a Youth Environment Council, which will meet monthly from September to April 2021 to hear from expert guest speakers, discuss a range of environmental and climate change issues and provide input to ministry officials, including the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.  Details and an application form are here.

Note to governments: the next Global Fridays for Future Climate Strike will be held on September 24, 2021, under the banner #UprootTheSystem. Demands are explained here.

U.K. Green Jobs Taskforce recommendations address green skills, Just Transition

On July 14, the Independent Green Jobs Taskforce delivered its report to the government of the United Kingdom, making fifteen recommendations on how best to deliver the green jobs and skills of the future. A summary of the report and steps taken to date appear in the government’s press release. The full Report is here, with an Annex called Sectoral Transitions to Net Zero, profiling specific sectors and occupations.   

The U.K. Trades Union Congress (TUC), which participated in the Taskforce, reacted with a blog post titled, A greener economy can be positive for workers too, highlighting key recommendations – and pointing out real-world examples of best practice, including the example of collaboration between EDF and Unite, Prospect and GMB in the successful creation of transition pathways for workers at Cottam coal power station before it closed.  The Senior Deputy General Secretary of the Prospect union was also member of the Green Jobs Taskforce, and summarized her thoughts in this blog: “It’s time the government moved from lofty climate change ambitions to action”, saying  “ I am pleased that the Green Jobs Taskforce not only uses the language of Just Transition, but recommends the establishment of a new national body to help shape this change and ensure that no worker or community is left behind in the race for net zero. That recommendation is one of many that we on the task force have made to the government, including establishing a ‘green careers launchpad’, making sure that the curriculum reflects the green skills we will need in the future, and publishing a comprehensive net zero strategy ahead of November’s COP26 summit.”

The government will not endorse any of the Report’s recommendations immediately but they  are promised to feed into the development of the U.K.’s Net Zero Strategy; in the meantime, “ a cross-cutting delivery group” has been established “to oversee the development and delivery of the government’s plans for green jobs and skills. This group will maintain the momentum generated by the Taskforce and drive meaningful action across the green skills agenda.”   

The Green Jobs Taskforce was established in November 2020 , and included labour representatives from the TUC and Prospect union, along with academics, business representatives and the training sector, including Construction Industry Training Board, Engineering Construction Industry Training Board, East London Institute for Technology, Retrofit Works, Edinburgh University and National Grid.   

Related reports: Unionlearn (part of the TUC) published a labour education document, Cutting Carbon, Growing Skills: Green Skills for a Just Transition in March 2020, providing discussion and case studies.

Nova Scotia launches public consultation for Coastal Protection regulations

Recognizing the dangers of rising sea levels to their 13,000 km coastline, the government of Nova Scotia passed a Coastal Protection Act in 2019.  On July 15 2021, two days before dissolving the Legislature and calling a general election, the provincial government launched a new public consultation on the Regulations, which, once passed, will enable the Act to come into force. Without duplicating the federal and municipal regulations which also exist to protect the coast, the proposed provincial regulations will define the “Coastal Protection Zone” where the act will apply; ensure that any construction on submerged Crown land (such as wharfs, infilling and shoreline protections ) are designed, constructed, and/or situated where disruption of valuable coastal ecosystems is minimized. The Regulations will also apply to construction on private or public land (homes, cottages, commercial or industrial buildings), to minimize risk from sea level rise, coastal flooding and erosion.  The consultation will run from July 15,  and will continue until Sept. 17. Documentation is available at  https://novascotia.ca/coast/.

This follows another public consultation process regarding the province’s GHG emissions reduction targets, which closed on July 26. Voting in the Nova Scotia election is scheduled for August 17, 2021.

California unions endorse a plan for Green Recovery and fossil fuel phase-out

A Program for Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition in California, released in June, is the ninth in a series of reports titled Green Economy Transition Programs for U.S. States, published by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), and written by researchers led by Robert Pollin. In this latest report, the authors address the challenge of economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and contend that it is possible to achieve California’s  official CO2 emissions reduction targets—a 50 percent emissions cut by 2030 and zero emissions by 2045— and at the same time create over 1 million jobs.  The investment programs they propose are based on the proposed national THRIVE Agenda, (introduced into the U.S. Congress in February 2021), and rely on private and public investment to energy efficiency, clean renewable energy, public infrastructure, land restoration and agriculture. The report discusses these sectors, as well as the manufacturing sector, and also includes a detailed just transition program for workers and communities in the fossil fuel industry.

In Chapter 6, “Contraction of California’s Fossil Fuel Industries and Just Transition for Fossil Fuel Workers”, the authors note that only 0.6% of California’s workforce was employed in fossil fuel-based industries in 2019 – approx.112,000 workers. They model two patterns for the industry contraction between 2021-2030:  steady contraction, in which employment losses proceed evenly, by about 5,800 jobs per year; and episodic contraction, in which 12,500 job losses occur in just three separate years, 2021, 2026, and 2030.  After developing transition programs for both scenarios, they estimate that the average annual costs of episodic contraction would be 80% higher ($830 million per year) than the costs of steady contraction  ($470 million per year). As with previous PERI reports, the authors emphasize the importance of the quality of jobs to which workers relocate:  “It is critical that all of these workers receive pension guarantees, health care coverage, re-employment guarantees along with wage subsidies to insure they will not experience income losses, along with retraining and relocation support, as needed. Enacting a generous just transition program for the displaced fossil fuel-based industry workers is especially important. At present, average compensation for these workers is around $130,000. This pay level is well above the roughly $85,000 received by workers in California’s current clean energy sectors.”  Relief Programs for Displaced Oil & Gas Workers Elements of an Equitable Transition for California’s Fossil Fuel Workers  is a 2-page Fact Sheet summarizing the chapter.

The report was commissioned by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, the California Federation of Teachers, and the United Steelworkers Local 675, which represents workers in the oil and chemical industry.  The report has been endorsed by nineteen labour unions – not only those who commissioned it, but also the Alameda Labor Council, Communication Workers of America District 9 ;  International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21 ; various locals of the  Service Employees International Union ; two locals of the  United Auto Workers; UNITE HERE Local 30 ; United Steelworkers Local 5 ; and the  University Professional and Technical Employees—Communications Workers of America 9119.  

Lead author Robert Pollin is interviewed about the report in two articles: “Labor Unions Rally Behind California’s Zero-Emissions Climate Plan“ (Truthout, June 10) and  “A Green Transition for California”  (American Prospect, June 11), which includes a video of the interview.

Canada launches consultation for Just Transition legislation – updated

On July 20, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources announced the launch of a public consultation on its long-promised Just Transition legislation.  The accompanying Discussion Paper states: “ we are committed to developing legislation that could: · Include people-centred just transition principles that put workers and communities at the centre of the government’s policy and decision-making processes on climate change action. · Establish an external Just Transition Advisory Body to provide the government with advice on regional and sectoral just transition strategies that support workers and communities.”  

 The Discussion Paper asks for feedback on these proposed Just Transition Principles, to be incorporated into legislation:

“1. Adequate, informed and ongoing dialogue on a people-centred, just transition should engage all relevant stakeholders to build strong social consensus on the goal and pathways to net zero.

2. Policies and programs in support of a people-centred, just transition must create decent, fair and high-value work designed in line with regional circumstances and recognizing the differing needs, strengths and potential of communities and workers.

3. The just transition must be inclusive by design, addressing barriers and creating opportunities for groups including gender, persons with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, Black and other racialized individuals, LGBTQ2S+ and other marginalized people.

4. International cooperation should be fostered to ensure people-centred approaches to the net-zero future are advancing for all people. ”

The Discussion Paper poses a number of other questions, to which Canadians are invited to respond via email to nrcan.justtransition-transitionequitable.rncan@canada.ca, or at www.just-transition.ca.  Invitation-only stakeholder sessions will be held over the summer, and a “What we Heard” report is promised for Fall 2021, with updates at #JustTransition from https://twitter.com/NRCan  .

Early reactions to the announcement are summarized in “Now’s your chance to weigh in on Canada’s just transition” (National Observer, July 21), which compiles reactions from politicians and the Director of Iron and Earth. Iron and Earth issued a separate email statement, citing their recent poll which shows that 69% of surveyed fossil fuel workers are willing to switch to clean energy careers . The emailed statement continues: “Fossil fuel industry workers have the knowledge and expertise to build Canada’s net-zero future that will support our families and communities – if they get the training they need. We’re pleased to hear Minister O’Regan say that fossil fuel industry workers will have a central role in the consultations for Just Transition legislation. Now it’s time to put those words into action. We’ll be watching to ensure fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers have a seat at the table to ensure the legislation meets their needs and leaves no one behind.”

The government already has a useful discussion available to it, in Roadmap to a Canadian Just Transition Act , co-published on April 1 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) and summarized in “Canada needs an ambitious, inclusive Just Transition Act” (National Observer, April 1) by the report’s author Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood.

Teaching climate change in Canada

Education International, which represents 32.5 million educators in 178 countries, launched a “Teach for the Planet” campaign in April 2021, with a Manifesto for Quality Climate Change Education for All .  The Canadian Teachers Federation has endorsed the campaign, raising the profile of climate change amongst Canadian educators.  Earlier, in January 2020, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) held its first Climate Action Summit in response to youth global climate strikes, which resulted in the launch of  OISE’s Sustainability and Climate Action Plan  in February 2021.  Although much of that Plan relates to the operation or governance of OISE as a teaching faculty within the University of Toronto, it also sets out goals and strategies to conduct an inventory of sustainability and environmental content in courses, expand sustainability and environmental content in curriculum, encourage research by faculty, and “consider sustainability expertise as an asset in the hiring of new staff and faculty.”

 “Are Canadian schools raising climate-literate citizens?” (Corporate Knights magazine, Summer 2021), states that at best, K–12 sustainability and climate change content in schools is “uneven,”, and provides an overview of grassroots initiatives amongst educators aiming to improve that situation. Ellen Field, an assistant professor in Lakehead University, is quoted:  “We have a responsibility, especially for those who are educators, to be honest with young people about the reality of the urgency we are facing”. Field  authored an important survey: Canada, Climate Change and Education: Opportunities for Public and Formal Education (2019),  which among many findings, reports that teachers identified the three main barriers to more climate education:  lack of time to include during class; lack of classroom resources; lack of professional knowledge.

Other examples of grassroots activism regarding climate education: Learning for a Sustainable Future (LSF), housed at York University in Toronto is a national non-profit that promotes environmental awareness and social responsibility for students and teachers,  and hosts Resources for Rethinking, an online collection of  lesson plans, books, videos related to environmental, social and economic issues.  (The B.C. Teachers Federation also offers a collection of lesson plans ).

Climate Education Reform BC is  a student-led coalition which published an Open Letter to the provincial education minister in April 2021, recommending 6 points, including revisions to climate change for K-12  curriculum, and support for teacher training.  

The Alberta Council for Environmental Education (ACEE) has operated since 2005, and recently adopted the  K-12 Environmental Education Guidelines for Excellence, published by the North American Association for Environmental Education. ACEE also maintains an online resource centre of teaching materials related to climate change, including professional development materials such as the quarterly Green Teacher magazine .

Retrofitting Canadian buildings could bring 200,000 jobs, along with healthier spaces

Canada’s Renovation Wave: A plan for jobs and climate was released by the Pembina Institute on July 14. Borrowing a term originated in a 2020 European Commission report, the authors present a simplified scenario outlining how we could convert the 63% of Canadian buildings currently heated with natural gas or oil to electricity.  This, combined with the rapid decarbonization of the electricity grid, would result in significantly lower carbon emissions while generating more than $48 billion in economic development and creating up to 200,000 jobs .  Drawing on a 2018 report from Clean Energy Canada, Canada’s Renovation Wave asserts that energy efficiency jobs are inherently labour intensive and create a higher number of jobs than other industries – for example, whole building retrofits are estimated to create an average of 9.5 gross direct and indirect jobs for every $1 million invested.

The authors estimate that “priming the pump for this transformation” will require public investments of about $10 to $15 billion per year, from now until 2040 (or until appropriate regulatory drivers are in place). Much of this sum is directed to subsidies and incentive programs, but it also includes a recommendation for $300 million per year to be spent on skill development, capacity building and recruitment to grow and diversify the energy efficiency and green building workforce.

Related reading: “If heat waves become the new normal, how will our buildings have to change?” (The National Observer, July 2) quotes Pembina author Tom-Pierre Frappé-Sénéclauze who  relates the need for retrofitting to the health impacts of  the recent B.C. heatwave.

Aalso, Canada’s Climate Retrofit Mission emphasizes the urgency of the task and outlines market and policy innovations to speed up the process and achieve economies of scale to reduce costs.  Authors Brendan Haley and Ralph Torrie state that, at the current pace,  it will take 142 years to retrofit all low-rise residential buildings and 71 years to retrofit all commercial floor area  in Canada. The report was published by  Efficiency Canada in June 2021.  

B.C. burns while the government partners with Shell to research carbon capture technology

As British Columbia mourns over 800 lives lost in the June heat wave,  firefighters from Mexico and Quebec arrived to help fight the province’s raging forest fires , more than 400 people have been arrested protesting logging of Old Growth forests, and scientists have confirmed that oil and gas facilities in B.C. are producing 1.6 to 2.2 times more methane pollution than current estimates, it doesn’t take long to find strong and serious criticism of the B.C. government’s climate policies.  A few recent examples:

BC’s Climate Adaptation Plan won’t protect you from heat waves, or much else” by Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law  (July 9)

Subsidizing Climate Change 2021: How the Horgan government continues to sabotage BC’s climate plan with fossil fuel subsidies , a report by Stand.earth

B.C. is in a state of climate emergency with no emergency plan” by Seth Klein in (National Observer, July 19)

“Seven Big Warnings from the Killer Heat Wave” (The Tyee, July 19)

“Lytton Burned, People Died. Who Should Pay?” (The Tyee, July 13)

And on July 16,  to add insult to injury, the Premier announced the formation of a new B.C. Centre for Innovation and Clean Energy  to “help B.C.-based companies develop, scale up and launch new low-carbon energy technologies and will help establish B.C. as a global exporter of climate solutions.”  The province will partner with the federal government and Shell Canada to fund a new centre  whose first priorities include carbon capture, hydrogen production,  biofuels and battery technology.  Stand.earth reacted with:  “Partnership with Shell Canada sets country and province on the wrong path to address climate change”. 

Scottish Trades Union Congress calls for a national energy company, and “Climate Skills Scotland”

Green Jobs in Scotland is a recent report commissioned by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), written by economists at Transition Economics.  In a highly-readable format, it sets  out how Scotland can maximise green job creation, along with  fair work with effective worker voice.  It takes a sectoral approach, examining the changes needed, the labour market implications and job creation opportunities of those changes, and makes recommendations specific to the sector, for each of 1.  Energy 2.  Buildings 3. Transport 4. Manufacturing/Heavy Industry 5. Waste 6. Agriculture And Land-Use.  As an example, the chapter on Energy is extensive and detailed, and includes  recommendations to  invest £2.5 billion – £4.5 billion (to 2035) in ports and manufacturing to supply large scale offshore renewables and decommissioning,  2. to  establish a Scottish National Energy Company to build 35GW of renewables by 2050, as well as run energy networks and coordinate upgrades; and 3. Encourage local content hiring, with a target to phase in 90% lifetime local content for the National Energy Company.   (Note that an auction is currently underway for rights to North Sea offshore development, as described by the BBC here).

Overall, the report concludes that smart policies and large-scale public investment will be required, and recommends “the creation of a new public body – Climate Skills Scotland – to play a co-ordinating and pro-active role to work with existing providers ….. As many of the occupations in the energy, construction, and manufacturing industries are disproportionately male-dominated, Climate Skills Scotland and other public bodies should also work with training providers and employers to make sure climate jobs and training programmes follow recruitment best practice, and prioritise promotion and incentives to historically marginalised groups, including women, BAME people, and disabled people.”

Oil well clean-up can create jobs – but not the way Alberta spent Green Recovery funding

The Big Cleanup: How enforcing the Polluter Pay principle can unlock Alberta’s next great jobs boom was released in June by the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project . It makes thirteen recommendations, including the creation of an independent, non-profit Reclamation Trust to wind down end-of-life companies and use their remaining revenue to fund the cleanup of their wells. The report states that implementing all its recommendations will create 10,400 jobs and generate $750 million in wages, and contribute nearly $2 billion  Alberta’s Gross Domestic Product annually for the next 25 years.  The report also includes new calculations and analysis on the growing crisis of Alberta’s oil and gas well liabilities, stating that the average projected cost of cleaning up Alberta’s over 300,000 unreclaimed oil and gas wells is $55 billion dollars, with the top 20 Alberta municipalities alone facing $34 billion in cleanup liabilities in their boundaries.  

In April 2020, the government of Canada announced its Covid-19 Economic Response Plan, including  $1.72 billion  directed toward the cleanup of inactive and abandoned oil and gas infrastructure across the western provinces. $1 billion of this funding was directed to Alberta. Dianne Saxe, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, had been one of the early critics of this program, for example in “Canada’s murky bail-out deal for oil and gas will cost us all”  ( National Observer, April 21).   In early July, a further evaluation was published by Oxfam Canada, the Parkland Institute, and the Corporate Mapping Project : Not Well Spent: A review of $1-billion federal funding to clean up Alberta’s inactive oil and gas wells .  The report finds some alarming failures on many fronts – including that the program is not tracking methane emissions, so it is impossible to determine the emissions reduction impact.  Author Megan Egler also cautiously argues that the public funds were used to accomplish what industry should have been responsible for, according to a polluter pays principle.   

One of the stated goals of Alberta’s $1 Billion Site Rehabilitation Program (SRP) was to create 5,300 jobs. However, Not Well Spent states: “ If this is met, funding of $1billion will create 5,300 jobs at $188,680 per job. This is $41,800 more per job than money injected into the industry through the Orphaned Well Association to do similar work in 2018. There has been no clear explanation from the Government of Alberta why the public dollars to create one job are higher in the SRP program.” The report also notes that 23% of the total amount of funds disbursed went to only five companies out of the 363; only 10% was allocated to clean-ups on Indigenous lands.  The author makes recommendations for improvement in future funding, to ensure better accountability and transparency, which would be more consistent with a “polluter pays” objective.

69% of Canada’s fossil fuel workers willing to move to clean energy jobs, says new poll

On July 14, Iron and Earth Canada released the results of online poll done on their behalf by Abacus Data , surveying 300 Canadians who currently work in the oil, gas, or coal sectors. The survey showed that  61% agreed with the statement:  “Canada should pivot towards a net-zero emissions economy by 2050 to remain a competitive global economy”, and 69% answered “yes” to “Would you consider making a career switch to, or expanding your work involvement in, a job in the net-zero economy?”.  The survey also measured workers’ interest in skills training and development for jobs in the net-zero economy, with 88% interested for themselves, and 80% supporting a National Upskilling Initiative . 

Although workers reported a high degree of optimism for the future (58% agreed that “ I will likely thrive in a Canadian economy that transitions to net-zero emissions by 2050”), workers also expressed their concerns – with 79% of workers under age 45 worried about reduced wages, and 77% of workers under 45 worried about losing their job.  44% of all workers would not consider taking a clean economy job if it resulted in a wage cut.

The full survey results are here , with breakdowns by age, sex, province, occupation, and Indigenous vs. Non-Indigenous.   Articles summarizing the survey appeared in The National Observer, The Narwhal , and The Energy Mix.

On a related note: many younger people are not attracted to a future in the fossil fuel industry, as described in the recent CBC News article “University of Calgary hits pause on bachelor’s program in oil and gas engineering” (July 8), and “U of C sees ‘remarkable’ drop in undergrads focusing on oilpatch engineering and geology “ (Oct. 6 2020).

Toronto passes new standards for new buildings, retrofits

55% of GHG emissions in the city of Toronto are attributed to homes and buildings ( 60% of that from residential buildings and 40% from commercial and institutional buildings).  On July 14, Toronto City Council took one more step to address those emissions, by approving new building policies. As described in the City’s press release, the policies include a “Net Zero Existing Buildings Strategy to decarbonize all existing residential, commercial and institutional buildings within the next 30 years; a Net Zero Carbon Plan to reduce emissions in City-owned buildings; and an update to the Toronto Green Standard to achieve net zero emissions in new development by 2030.”  

The Net Zero Existing Buildings Strategy: is expected to increase local building retrofit economic activity by 87 per cent over the next 30 years, and nearly double annual investment in existing buildings. It is also expected to create an additional 7,000 direct, full-time jobs in local construction, energy services and supportive work over 30 years. Further,

  • it will begin with voluntary emissions performance measures and targets, transitioning to mandatory requirements in 2025, at which time it will require annual emissions performance reporting and public disclosure;
  • Expand and enhance retrofit financing;
  • Support workforce development and training;
  • City Council will lead by example with a plan to retrofit all City-owned buildings to net zero emissions by 2040.   

The Green Standard for New Buildings: Emissions reductions in new buildings will be regulated by the newly approved the Toronto Green Standard Version 4.  The original Toronto Green Standard was introduced in 2010 and has been updated approximately every 4 years.  The latest Version 4 addresses requirements for “building energy and GHG reduction and electric vehicle parking, and introduces tracking of embodied emissions in building materials used in construction. It addresses resilience through enhanced green infrastructure to manage stormwater runoff, reduce urban heat island impacts and promote biodiversity, including extensive and higher performance green roofs, bioswales, rain gardens, native pollinator species plantings and a new requirement for ”green streets” (roads or streets that incorporate green infrastructure).”

Version 4 will apply to new development applications beginning on May 1, 2022.

According to Mayor John Tory: “Implementing this strategy will also be essential to public health and resilience in the face of a changing climate. Extreme heat is already causing an average of 120 premature deaths annually, and this number is expected to double by 2050 without strong action. Retrofit measures such as improving building envelopes and installing heat pumps greatly reduce exposure to extreme heat and will ensure Torontonians are safe during increasingly frequent and severe heat waves.”  

 Related reading:

“TAF congratulates the City of Toronto on passing two landmark low-carbon building policies”  reaction by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund to Council’s new policies.

“‘No Vaccine for Climate Change’, Departing Toronto Energy Director Warns, in Critique of City’s Climate Performance” (The Energy Mix, April 2021) offers an overview of Toronto’s recent climate initiatives

Canada’s Climate Retrofit Mission, published by Efficiency Canada in June 2021. Authors Brendan Haley and Ralph Torrie state that, at the current pace, it will take 142 years to retrofit all low-rise residential buildings and 71 years to retrofit all commercial floor area in Canada. The report emphasizes the urgency of the task and outlines market and policy innovations to speed up the process and achieve economies of scale to reduce costs.

Efficiency Canada also recently released Codes4Climate: A Building Code Advocacy Toolkit,  to encourage net-zero energy performance through improvements to building codes across Canada.

Workforce 2030 website offers reports and information about the labour market aspects of green building skills for Ontario.

Heat, fire, death in British Columbia show us the reality of climate change

The town of Lytton British Columbia became a real-world symbol of climate change for Canada, setting temperature records for three days, reaching 49.6 C (121.1 F) on June 29th — the highest ever recorded in Canada. The next day, the town was virtually destroyed by sudden, irresistible wildfire.  As humans and animals have died in unprecedented numbers across the North American West from the heat, other effects were also recorded – wildfires and their smoke, damage to roads and rail lines,  power outages, destruction of crops, deaths of shellfish, a shortage of emergency responders, and the stress of their work.

Here is a sampling from the cascade of news coverage:   

“For third straight day, B.C. village smashes record for highest Canadian temperature at 49.6 C” (CBC News, June 29)

“Deaths Spike as Heat Wave Broils Canada and the Pacific Northwest” ( New York Times, June 30)

Most homes in Lytton destroyed by catastrophic fire minister says” (CBC, July 1)

“B.C. still a tinderbox as firefighters arrive from other provinces” (National Observer, July 6) – stating that there were 199 active wildfires in B.C. as of July 5 –  13 of which are “wildfires of note”, 5 of which merited evacuation orders.

“Stories of bravery amid ‘unimaginable horror’ of Lytton wildfire” (National Observer, July 8)

“Canadian inferno: northern heat exceeds worst-case climate models” (The Guardian, July 2)

B.C.’s heat wave likely contributed to 719 sudden deaths in a week, coroner says — triple the usual number” (CBC News, July 2) – quoting the Chief Coroner that the province had previously experienced three heat-related deaths in the past three to five years before the heat wave. )

“More than a billion seashore animals may have cooked to death in B.C. heat wave, says UBC researcher” (CBC News, July 5,6)

“B.C. heat wave ‘cooks’ fruit crops on the branch in sweltering Okanagan and Fraser valleys” (CBC News, July 6)

“B.C. Wildfires damaged  key rail lines, backlogging Canada’s freight supply chain”(CBC News, July 8)

“North America has its hottest June on record” (NYTimes, July 7) – “average temperature was more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average from 1991-2020″  across North America”

Some Context and discussion:

“Just How Historic Was Western Canada’s Heat Wave? ‘Nothing Can Compare’” (The Tyee, July 3, reposted from Yale Climate Connections) 

“Hundreds died during B.C.’s heat dome. Who is responsible for deaths caused by extreme heat?” (CBC News, July 7) . The article cites a 9-page memorandum by the Vancouver City Planning Commission (VCPC) which makes recommendations to address heat and air quality concerns, with an emphasis on equity and housing concerns for the unhoused and poorly housed.  

“The Future of Fire in Canada” (The Tyee, July 5) by Ed Struzik, a fellow at the Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen’s University, author of Firestorm, How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future.     

BC’s Municipalities Are Not Economically Ready to Weather Disaster” ( The Tyee, July  7)  

“A Deadly Summer in the Pacific Northwest Augurs More Heat Waves, and More Deaths to Come” (Inside Climate News, July 1)

“The link between extreme weather and climate change” a media brief (June 28) in which Clean Energy Canada compiles links to studies on the topic.

The Limits of Livability (Climate and Health Alliance in Australia, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and the WONCA Working Party for the Environment, June 2021) – a report on the smoke impacts on health from forest fires and climate change, with case studies of major recent fires in Australia, Canada and Brazil .

From a workers’ perspective:

“The case for a Youth Climate Corps in Canada” (National Observer, June 1) – Seth Klein includes disaster response as one of the tasks for his proposed Youth Climate Corps, to treat the climate disaster as an emergency.

“Heat wave shows that climate change is a workers rights issue” ( Portside,July 2)

“Heat wave, wildfires underline need for climate action” (NUPGE, July 8) – statement by the National Union for Public and General Employees, whose members are firefighters and disaster workers.

“Orange skies: Biden raising federal pay to fight wildfires”  (AP news, June 30) summarizes the White House press release, “Biden-Harris administration acts to address the growing wildfire threat” (June 30) – addresses a broad range of strategies including increasing firefighter pay (which currently has a start rate of $13US/hour), and converting many seasonal positions to permanent status, acknowledging that wildfires are now an ongoing threat.

 “Constant, compounding disasters are exhausting emergency response” (Circle of Blue, July 6)   referring to the international scene and a call from the United Nations secretary general

“Let the Birds Eat Them’: Crops Shrivel as Heat Wave Hits Washington” (New York Times, July 3) – anecdotal reports of heat experiences, including for farm workers

And from the recent past:

“Hundreds Of Firefighters. 20 Bulldozers. Intentional Burns: Inside Washington’s $328M Push To Break Cycle Of Disastrous Fires” (InvestigateWest, April 16, 2021)

A People’s Framework for Disaster Response: Rewriting the Rules of Recovery after Climate Disasters , a report written by Saket Soni and Andrea Cristina Mercado,  published by Resilience Force in January 2020, takes an environmental justice perspective on the Florida response to hurricanes, with recommendations for victims and exploited disaster recovery workers.

Net-Zero Advisory Board debuts with a call for urgent action and real GHG reductions

Canada’s new Net-Zero Advisory Board has published its first report on a newly-launched website on July 5. The report,  Net-Zero Pathways: Initial Observations, outlines the ten values and principles that will guide the Board in its consideration of  “transition pathways”, and in turn, determine the advice it will provide to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

This Initial Observations report is written in careful and diplomatic language, but provides an insight into the thinking and approach that this advisory body will take. The five foundational values include: “Put people first”  (which calls for a just transition and  states: “ A just transition will lead to more equitable outcomes on gender, racial justice and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”).   Value #4  is “ Collaborate every step of the way”  (“Pathways must be multidisciplinary, taking into account the contributions of workers, economists, investors, engineers, entrepreneurs, social scientists, and Indigenous knowledge holders, among others. They must be grounded in the reality facing everyday, hardworking Canadians.”) and Value #5, recognizing political realities, is:  “Recognize and respect regional differences and circumstances”…. (“In many parts of the country, jobs, communities, and the economy are closely connected to GHG-intensive activities. Canada’s net-zero transition will take place in a context with tensions and tradeoffs, as well as benefits.”).

The five “design principles” begin with “Act early, and urgently”, and emphasize the need to “be bold and proactive” – pointing to the example of the recent  IEA Net-Zero by 2050 report, and stating: “the public and private sectors need to be prepared to take appropriate risks and back potential “game changers” now—both in terms of new technologies and infrastructure.”  At the same time, the report states that we should begin with known technologies – such as electrification and energy efficiency, and warns “Don’t get caught in the “net”” – stating that we must achieve actual emissions reductions, and warning “the “net” in “netzero” cannot become an excuse to allow continued emitting, growth of emissions, or slow action.”  Finally, “Beware of dead-ends” states, “While there may be interim actions that serve as bridges on the path to net-zero, some projects or activities may obscure or misdirect us from the ultimate goal or lead to inaction.”

The analysis was the result of fourteen briefing sessions with Canadian and international net-zero experts, who were identified by a scan of the net-zero literature.  Two appendices at the end of the report identify the experts and the reading list – which includes a cross-section of Canadian reports as well as international ones. The Net-Zero Advisory Board, consisting of fourteen members, was appointed by Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change on February 25, 2021, to serve as an ongoing, permanent body. One of the members is Hassan Yussuff, formerly President of the Canadian Labour Congress and now a Senator. The full terms of reference for the Board are here , and include an annual report to the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Build back Better begins with funding to green Algoma Steel

On July 5, the federal government announced that $420 million in federal funding will go to Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario, to enable the company to retrofit their operations and transform their coal-fired steelmaking processes to Electric-Arc Furnace production. The press release from the Prime Minister’s Office explains that Electric-Arc Furnace production is  an electricity-based process,  expected to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by more than 3 million metric tonnes per year by 2030, making Algoma the “greenest” steelmaker in Canada. At the same time, the transformation will create an estimated 500 construction and subcontracting jobs, as well as over 600 new co-op placements for students, and approximately 75 high-tech STEM jobs.

The total cost of Algoma’s transformation is estimated at $703 million over four years – $220 million will come from the federal Infrastructure Bank, and up to $200 million from the Net Zero Accelerator  program, under the Strategic Innovation Fund. A major expenditure, but small compared to the $23 billion worth of support the government has provided since 2018 to the Coastal GasLink, Trans Mountain, and Keystone XL pipelines, according to a new report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development .

Algoma’s press release  and its Environmental policies offer information about the company. A CBC summary of the funding announcement is here, and the Toronto Star offers an Opinion piece, “Justin Trudeau just gave one of Canada’s biggest polluters hundreds of millions of dollars – why won’t he show us the deal?” (July 5) .  In that essay, author Heather Scofield states: “Algoma was first in line to get the federal funding because it was meant to set the tone for building back better. Let’s make sure it sets more than a tone, and actually sets standards of transparency, accountability and weaning our economy off fossil fuels too. ”  

Workers at Algoma are represented by United Steelworkers Local 2251. From the national office, an article, “Canada’s Steel Industry Has A Secret Weapon That Could Soon Beat China’s Cheaper Bid” discusses the union’s hope that government green procurement policies will favour Canadian-made, low-carbon steel in future infrastructure projects. A February 2021 report from BlueGreen Canada made the same point about steel, aluminum and lumber products in  Buy Clean: How Public Construction Dollars can create jobs and cut pollution .  The Work and Climate Change Report previously reviewed some of the Canadian and international reports about greening steel in 2020, here .  In summer 2021, European developments have been profiled “Green steel is picking up steam in Europefrom Canary Media, and  “From Sweden, a Potential Breakthrough for Clean Steel” in Inside Climate News (June 24).

Groundbreaking moment as Canada passes climate accountability law

Down to the wire on June 29, before adjourning for summer recess, the Senate of Canada passed Bill C-12, An Act respecting transparency and accountability in Canada’s efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.   C-12 had been approved in the House of Commons on June 22, following a determined campaign by environmental advocacy groups, described by Climate Action Network-Canada here . And Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law wrote, urging passage in  “To amend or not to amend – Why Bill C-12 should be passed even though it could be better” (June 16) .

The reactions of many of those groups are compiled in “Senate Vote on Climate Accountability Act Counters ‘Decades of Broken Promises’”  (The Energy Mix, June 30)   – including Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment,  Climate Action Network-Canada, Ecojustice,  Leadnow, and West Coast Environmental Law. Their general consensus was that the bill is far from perfect, but as Catherine Abreu of CAN_RAC states, it is : “a groundbreaking moment and ushers Canada into a new era of accountability to its climate commitments.”   EcoJustice provides an excellent summary and reaction here , pointing out the positives, such as clearer, more detailed GHG reduction targets, improved timelines, and a requirement for 5-year reviews. However, many remain concerned about “the independence of its advisory body, transparency around the role of provinces and territories in achieving Canada’s climate targets, and how we define the term “net-zero.” ”

The full Legislative history of C-12 is here, including links to the meetings of and briefs to the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, and the Senate Pre-Study of the Bill. For an excellent summary, see “How Bill C-12 aims to guide Canada to net-zero” (National Observer, June 30).