Almost $40 trillion divested from fossil fuels by 2021, with University of Toronto joining the long list of institutions in October

Time to coincide with COP26, Divest Invest 2021: A Decade of Progress towards a Just Climate Future was released by Stand.earth on October 26. It reports that “there are now 1,485 institutions publicly committed to at least some form of fossil fuel divestment, representing an enormous $39.2 trillion of assets under management.”  The report provides a timeline and summary of the major institutions which have divested, and includes brief case studies of South Africa and Harvard University.  It argues that divestment is more impactful than shareholder engagement, and summarizes the impact of the shift of capital on the fossil fuel industry. Finally, the report discusses how that capital can be directed to renewables and to Just Transition, highlighting the cases of the Navajo Power in the U.S. and Frontier Markets in India.   Accompanying the report is a database with much more information about individual institutions.     

The report states: “Major new divestment commitments from iconic institutions have arrived in a rush over just a few months in late 2021, including Harvard University, Dutch and Canadian pension fund giants PME and CDPQ, French public bank La Banque Postale, the U.S. city of Baltimore, and the Ford and MacArthur Foundations.”  Add to that list, Canada’s largest university, the University of Toronto, which  announced  on October 27  that the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM) – which manages $4.0-billion – “will divest from all direct investments in fossil fuel companies within the next 12 months, and divest from indirect investments, typically held through pooled and commingled investment vehicles, by no later than 2030, and sooner if possible. UTAM will also allocate 10 per cent of its endowment portfolio to sustainable and low-carbon investments by 2025, representing an initial commitment of $400 million, and is committing to achieve net zero carbon emissions associated with U of T’s endowment by no later than 2050.”  Many of the same details were provided in the U of T President’s Letter to “the University of Toronto Community”, here, which also describes the newly-announced goal of a “climate-positive” St. George campus by 2050 , and defends why it has taken the U of T so long to act after the 2015 report of the  President’s Advisory Committee on Divestment from Fossil Fuels  .     

Canada heads to COP26 with a new, activist Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Prime Minister Trudeau announced his appointments to Cabinet on October 26, and one of the strongest symbolic appointments was that of Steven Guilbeault as the new Minister of Environment and Climate Change. It appears that Trudeau did not (yet)  follow the demands in Unifor’s October 22 letter to the Prime Minister , which included “Establish a Just Transition Ministry and Just Transition Fund, partially financed through levies on large industrial emitters, with the mandate to support workers affected by climate-related job displacements through enhanced income insurance, pension bridging, severance pay, retraining and relocation support, and local just transition centres.”  However, the new appointments sent an unmistakable signal, as described in the National Observer article “Cabinet shuffle signals support for climate, not oil and gas”.  The previous ECC Minister, Johnathan Wilkinson, was shifted to the ministry of Natural Resources – replacing Seamus O’Regan, who had been accused of a too-cozy relationship with the fossil fuel industry which falls under the Natural Resources portfolio.  The National Observer article highlights the continued importance of Wilkinson on the climate change file.

Mitchell Beer provides the background to Steven Guilbeault in  “Guilbeault to Environment, Wilkinson to Natural Resources as ‘PM in a Hurry’ Names New Cabinet”Energy Mix, Oct. 26). The article includes reaction from environmental activists – many of whom have worked alongside Guilbeault in his earlier life as a Greenpeace campaigner (when he was arrested for scaling the CN Tower in Toronto) , co-founder of  non-profit Équiterre in Quebec, and as a member of the government’s 2018 advisory panel on climate change, before he was elected to Parliament in 2019.  An exemplary quote, from Stand.earth Climate Finance Director Richard Brooks, “Hoping my old friend @s_guilbeault will remain true to his roots—and lead Canada in upping its climate ambition and more importantly its actions…”  Yet as Keith Stewart of Greenpeace points out in their press reaction, a whole of government approach will be needed. Stewart hopes it will lead to “greater cooperation on climate action across departments, as the minister of Natural Resources has in the past acted as the chief advocate for the oil industry at the Cabinet table.”  As indicated in the reaction from Macleans magazine,  “Trudeau sends a signal to Alberta. Cue the squirming” (Oct. 26), Wilkinson and NRCan are expected to smooth over the sharper edges of a potentially rocky relationship with Alberta:  “ A major test, past Glasgow, will be how Wilkinson and Guilbeault handle their government’s buzzy term: “just transition.”… It will fall in large part to Steven Guilbeault to maintain a steady and reassuring tone that this isn’t the case. His past doesn’t suggest he’s perfectly suited for this task…”  

Reaction from the fossil fuel industry and Premier Jason Kenney is predictably negative, as reported in CBC’s story,   “Kenney says longtime activist’s appointment as environment minister sends ‘very problematic’ message”.  The CBC report quotes an Alberta academic who calls  Guilbeault’s appointment  “a finger in the eye to everything that Kenney has done.” A brief article from Reuters sums up the hostile reaction of the fossil fuel industry in the language of its headline “Trudeau roils Canada’s oil patch naming Greenpeace activist as climate chief (Reuters, Oct. 26).

B.C.’s new Roadmap to 2030 disappoints critics despite new measures announced

CleanBC Roadmap to 2030 is the new climate strategy document released by the B.C. government on October 25.  The press release summarizes the framework of eight pathways to action: Low Carbon Energy; Transportation; Buildings ; Communities; Industry, including Oil and Gas ; Forest Bioeconomy; Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries; and Negative Emissions Technologies. Some of the flagship proposals include an increase to the carbon price; stronger regulations for methane emissions (by 2035); new requirements to make all new buildings zero-carbon by 2030; 100% adoption of zero-emission vehicles by 2030 and new ZEV targets for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. What’s missing?  Glaringly, no reduction of fossil fuel subsidies, no end to fracking of Liquefied Natural Gas.

A reaction from Sierra Club B.C. states: “While the Roadmap outlines strong steps to tackle emissions from transportation and buildings, key issues that remain unaddressed include fossil fuel subsidies, uncounted forest emissions, and fracked LNG….. Of significant concern to us is that the Roadmap focuses mainly on 2030 targets, nine years away, and does not include binding targets and pathways to set or achieve milestones in the intervening years. B.C.’s emissions have increased every year from 2015 to 2019; this calls for immediate action to curb emissions in the short, medium and long term.”  A more outraged reaction comes from Seth Klein in a  Climate Emergency Unit blog titled, “From leader to follower: B.C.’s updated climate plan – its “CleanBC Roadmap to 2030” – is not an emergency plan”, which bemoans the lack of urgency and detail in the new Roadmap. Other criticisms are summarized in “Critics aren’t buying B.C.’s new climate plan” (The Tyee, Oct. 26) highlighting that it will be impossible to meet GHG emissions reduction targets while supporting  the LNG industry in the province. 

Renewable energy jobs continue steady growth to 12 million jobs worldwide, but more government intervention is recommended

In its first annual review published in 2013, the International Renewable Energy Association (IRENA) estimated 7.3 million people were directly and indirectly employed in the industry in 2012. According to the latest newly-released edition Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review 2021, that number has grown to 12 million people employed in 2020. Solar PV, both large and small-scale, is the largest sector, providing 4 million jobs. Wind energy now employs 1.25 million people, with an increasing number of people in operations and maintenance and in offshore wind energy sector.  Only a fifth of wind energy workers are women, compared to 32% women in the whole renewable energy sector. In addition to detailed information about jobs, skills, and demographics, the report discusses policy needs, particularly for a just energy transition, and highlights IRENA’s modeling of the employment implications of energy transition scenarios to 2050. 

The report concludes with the policy discussion of what kinds of jobs and skills will be required, the need for decent jobs, and for urgency: “A speedy and co-ordinated approach requires governments to take on a much more proactive role, acting in the public interest and safeguarding broad social imperatives. This may occur through regulations and incentives, public investment strategies, and public ownership of transition-related assets and infrastructure (both at national and community levels).”

Green investment brings greater job creation, but job quality not guaranteed

The Green Jobs Advantage: How Climate-friendly Investments Are Better Job Creators  was co-published by the International Trade Union Confederation, the World Resources Institute and the New Climate Economy, and released in mid-October.  The paper reviews a dozen studies from 2009 to 2020 and compares the job creation projections in Brazil, China, Indonesia, Germany, South Africa, South Korea, the United States and globally.  The analysis of these studies compares near-term job effects from clean energy versus fossil fuels, public transportation versus roads, electric vehicles versus internal combustion engine vehicles, and nature-based solutions versus fossil fuels – with the conclusion that greener investments create more jobs, dollar for dollar. The report also addresses the issue of job quality, and notes that in developing countries, many jobs are informal and temporary, with limited  access to work security, safety, or social protections. In developed countries, “new green jobs may have wages and benefits that aren’t as high as those in traditional sectors where, in many cases, workers have been able to fight for job quality through decades of collective action.”  One conclusion: “ Government investment should come with conditions that ensure fair wages and benefits, work security, safe working conditions, opportunities for training and advancement, the right to organize, and accessibility to all.”

Worker’s events at COP26: virtual and in-person

The UN Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow begins on October 31 and runs until November 12, with the world’s media in attendance to chronicle if the high expectations are being met.  A good source of news from a Canadian perspective is Canada’s National Observer, which will send reporters to Glasgow, and whose coverage has already begun, here .  

Some news from a worker’s point of view:   

Climate Jobs: Building a workforce for the climate emergency  will be released  to coincide with COP26, by the Campaign against Climate Change, a coalition of U.K. unions .  As of October 26, two chapters of the new report are available for free download:  Warm homes, healthy workplaces: climate jobs in buildings  and Creating a green, affordable and accessible network for all: climate jobs in transport.  The new report updates their 2014 report, One Million Climate Jobs.

Another U.K. organization, the COP26 Coalition, is a broader, civil society coalition which includes environment and development NGOs, labour  unions, grassroots community campaigns, faith groups, youth groups, migrant and racial justice networks. Their statement of demands is here .  The Coalition is organizing a Global Day of Climate Justice on November 6 – with events in Canada happening in Toronto and in Quebec City , along with a related event in Sherbrooke Quebec on Nov. 5th .  

In addition, COP26 Coalition has organized a People’s Climate Justice Summit  in Glasgow, composed of 150 sessions which will focus on indigenous struggles, racial justice, youth issues, and worker and labour union perspectives.   Many, but not all, worker-related sessions will be held on November 8 as a “Just Transition Hub” –  a full day of sessions hosted by the Friends of the Earth Scotland, Just Transition Partnership, Platform, STUC, TUC and War on Want.   The full program, with the ability to register is here :   those unable to travel to Glasgow can register as  “Online-  only” to receive a Zoom link for a livestream of some of the sessions.  The online program includes the opening panel for the Just Transition Hub:  “Here and Everywhere: Building our Power”, to be led by Asad Rehman, (War on Want), Sean Sweeney,(TUED), Roz Foyer, (STUC), and Denise Christie, (FBU). Other sessions available online include  “UK climate jobs rooted in global solidarity and climate justice”  and “Just Transition in Latin America, from Decarbonization to Transformation”.  

In-person only sessions, which tend to have a U.K. focus,  include: “Lessons from the Frontline: Climate crisis resistance from around the world”; “Are green jobs great jobs, or are green jobs rubbish jobs?”; “The Lucas Plan for Climate? How workers are fighting to future-proof industry”; “Geared Up: Campaigns for Greener Transport”;  “Air tight: Campaigns for home retrofits”;  “Organising the unorganised: tactics and strategies for power in new industries”; and  “Changing workplaces, changing jobs: organising for power in unionised workplaces” – a training session led by Prospect union.  Other sessions, outside of the Just Transition Hub, ( in-person only), include “Trade Unions and Climate Action”, a training session led by the Ella Baker School of Organizing and “International Trade Union Forum on Social and Ecological Transitions: what’s next?”,  reporting on the International Trade Union Forum on Ecological and Social Transitions which took place for 6 days during June 2021, with more than 140 organizations from about 60 countries.

Canadian Pension fund managers pledge climate action; Unions can push for more

In the run-up to COP26, and on the same day that Canada’s Big Six Banks joined the United Nations Net-Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA), Canadian institutional investors and some of its pension fund managers also hit the news, by releasing a new Canadian Investor Statement on Climate Change. Coordinated by the Responsible Investment Association (RIA), the statement signed on October 25 states: “We recognize that a transition to a net-zero economy will involve a major transformation of sectors and industries. We encourage all companies and stakeholders to facilitate a just transition that does not leave workers or communities behind. We also recognize that the financing required for transition activities and climate solutions presents an investment opportunity….. We further recognize that Indigenous Peoples have managed collective wealth for millennia – including lands, waters, and …..We support a transition to a net-zero economy informed by Indigenous perspectives, that supports Indigenous economic opportunities, and encourages business practices that align with the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).”

The Statement sets out specific expectations for investees which include just transition, and pledges five actions for the investment community, such as integrating climate-related risks and opportunities into the investment processes and developing a climate action plan to achieve net-zero by 2050.  Further, the 36 signatories pledge to “ Ensure that any climate-related policy advocacy we undertake supports a just transition and the ambition of achieving global net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner, and engage with our industry associations to encourage climate advocacy efforts that are consistent with these goals.”  

Pension funds which have signed on to the Statement  (so far) include:  British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, British Columbia Municipal Pension Board of Trustees, British Columbia Public Service Pension Board of Trustees, Canada Post Corporation Pension Plan, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Ontario Pension Board, Pension Plan of The United Church of Canada, University of Toronto Asset Management (UTAM), and the University Pension Plan.   

 “Only Labor Can Force Canadian Pension Funds to Divest From Oil “ (Jacobin, October 19)  puts this lofty new institutional Statement in perspective, as it takes a more critical look at one of the leading pension fund managers, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, and its September announcement that it would quit all oil production investments at the end of 2022.  After also highlighting examples of the fossil and mineral exploration investments of some of Canada’s major pension funds, the article concludes: “ ‘Financial sustainability’ — despite the Caisse’s announcement — will continue to take precedence over climate justice.” 

Thus, the main point of the Jacobin article is to urge unions to take action:

 “….the unions who represent the beneficiaries of these pension funds can fight to make sure that the deferred wages of workers are used for the common good. In many cases, unions appoint trustees to boards of investment funds. If the labor movement chose to organize around these issues, it would be a game changer. …. Public sector funds are subject to legislation and can be reformed through political action. Although they’ve been carefully designed to be free of democratic accountability, they are not immune to external pressure. Sustained organizing by unions and their members can lead to greater amounts of worker control over the use to which these large sums of money are put.”

Quebec bans fossil fuel exploration

In a speech to the Quebec National Assembly on October 19, Premier François Legault announced: “the Government of Quebec has decided to definitively renounce the extraction of hydrocarbons on its territory. We must therefore … capitalize on our strengths by fundamentally transforming our economy.”  The move was not unexpected: an article in the Montreal Gazette in September forecast announcement, and linked it to the legal action brought by Utica Resources against the province when it refused an application for exploration in the Gaspé region.  Although Quebec does not have a large fossil fuel extraction industry, it is the second largest Canadian oil and gas processor outside of Alberta.

Greenpeace Canada provides a compilation in of reactions from many of the grassroots groups in Quebec who have worked and lobbied for years for this result. Greenpeace also released a statement on October 20, titled “Many environmental groups and citizens call for no compensation for oil and gas”, which references a May 2021 report  from the Center québécois du droit de l’environnement, which concluded that the government has the legal authority to legislate this ban without compensating fossil fuel companies. A Greenpeace spokesperson states further : “Rather, it is Quebec society that should demand compensation from oil and gas companies for the floods, heat waves and forest fires that we are suffering from as a result of climate change.”

Labour and climate activists make recommendations for fossil fuel workers in new joint report

At a press conference on October 13, representatives of Climate Action Network Canada , Blue Green Canada, United Steelworkers, and Unifor launched a new report,  Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers in Canada’s Energy and Labour Transitions.  The report considers the challenges to the fossil fuel industry, including automation, and projects that 56,000 alternative jobs will need to be created for current Canadian oil and gas workers in the next decade. The report offers seven recommendations for a Just Transition, building on policy proposals from Canada’s Just Transition Task Force for Coal Workers and Communities, the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, and Unifor (whose most recent statement is their submission to the Just Transition consultation process here. ) Key recommendations include: “Recognizing the expertise of workers, through consultation with workers and communities, Canada must create Just Transition policy / legislation that holds the government accountable to developing transition strategies. Similar policy / legislation should be adopted by all provinces with an emphasis on the oil and gas producing provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador.” Funding is seen to come from Covid recovery funds and the Infrastructure Bank, with another recommendation: “Tie public investments to employers meeting conditions on job quality, including pay, access to training, job security, union access and representation through mandatory joint committees.”

Summaries of Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future appear in the press release from Climate Action Network, and in “With Canadian fossil fuel jobs about to be cut in half, it’s time to talk about a just transition” (National Observer, Oct. 15).  The latter article highlights the enhanced impact of the bringing labour unions and climate activists together, and also emphasizes that workers must be included in all transition plans, using the cautionary tale of Algoma Steel. As explained in “Why Mike Da Prat boycotted the prime minister’s Algoma Steel announcement” (Soo Today, July 6 2021) the union was not adequately consulted on transition planning when the government awarded $420 million in July 2021 to help Algoma Steel transition from coal to greener, electric-arc furnace production.

Canadians and Calgarians support Just Transition, end to fossil fuel subsidies in public opinion polls

Citizens of Calgary voted in municipal elections on October 18 and returned the city’s first female mayor, Jyoti Gondek .  As summarized by CBC, she promised to address “inclusive economic recovery, …. social disparities within communities and take action to address climate change.” In the lead-up to Calgary’s elections,  Alberta Ecotrust FoundationCalgary Climate Hub and Clean Energy Canada commissioned a poll, conducted in August 2021, with results announced on September 8th. The results show that 69% of Calgarians are concerned about climate change impacts. Some specific highlights:

73% agreed with the statement: “ It is important to recognize the future of fossil fuels and invest in transitioning oil and gas workers to other industries.”

 70% agreed that “The transition to renewable energy will ultimately improve the health and well-being of my family and me.”   

67% agreed that “Calgary should focus its economic diversification efforts in becoming a leader in addressing climate change”.

And when asked to choose between a path to more oil and gas investment or a clean energy path, 49% agreed with the statement: “The signal from investors and financial markets is clear as they divest of oil & gas assets, and Calgary should invest in the transition toward clean energy.”  (compared to 38% who favoured the old oil and gas economy). 

Environmental concerns were high, including: 79% who expressed concern about poor air quality from wildfire smoke, 75% concerned with protecting ecological sensitive areas, and 73% concerned with the increasing number of extreme weather events.

Across Canada:

Closely following the federal election on September 20, an Abacus poll was taken in the first week of October 2021, to measure expectations of the newly elected government. Results were released on October 14th, with a press release  from the new activist coalition, No More Delays.  Some highlights:

65% of all respondents want “a swift delivery on the promise of a Just Transition plan to help workers thrive in the net-zero economy” (with almost 50% of Conservative voters in agreement);

64% want the government to establish a cap on oil and gas emissions (even amongst Conservatives, this had 47% support);

62% want the government to establish a plan to stop taxpayer subsidies going to the oil and gas industry

The more detailed poll results are hereNo More Delays is a new initiative for climate action, supported by SumofUs, Stand.earth, Climate Emergency Unit, Équiterre, Greenpeace Canada, Council of Canadians, Citizens Climate Lobby Canada, Climate Reality Project Canada, Leadnow and Climate Action Network Canada – Réseau action climat Canada (CAN-Rac Canada).