Canadian government climate priorities detailed in Mandate Letters to Ministers

The government’s priorities for all Ministries are set out in a series of Mandate Letters, released to the public on December 16, and available here.  Each letter is introduced with a general statement of priorities, which includes: “Building a cleaner, greener future will require a sustained and collaborative effort from all of us. As Minister, I expect you to seek opportunities within your portfolio to support our whole-of-government effort to reduce emissions, create clean jobs and address the climate-related challenges communities are already facing.”

Most specifically related to the tasks of climate change adaptation and mitigation are the Mandate Letters to the Ministers of Environment and Climate Change; Natural Resources; and  Labour – the latter two charged with advancing legislation for the promised Just Transition for workers and communities.  

To the Minister of Environment and Climate Change: (Steven Guilbeault) a long, detailed and challenging list of initiatives, highlighted as: “You will also set out by the end of March 2022, how we will meet our legislated 2030 climate goals. This will include new measures related to capping and cutting oil and gas sector emissions, further reducing methane emissions across the economy, mandating the sale of zero-emissions vehicles and setting us on a path to achieve an electricity grid with net-zero emissions by 2035. You will also work with your colleagues and crown corporations to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2023.”  Some specifics from the letter:

  • With the support of the Minister of Natural Resources, introduce a Clean Electricity Standard to achieve a net-zero clean electricity grid by 2035 and achieve a 100 per cent net-zero emitting electricity future.
  • Enact a strengthened Canadian Environmental Protection Act to protect everyone, including people most vulnerable to harm from toxic substances and those living in communities where exposure is high.
  • Identify, and prioritize the clean-up of, contaminated sites in areas where Indigenous Peoples, racialized and low- income Canadians live.
  • Recognize the “right to a healthy environment” in federal law and introduce legislation to require the development of an environmental justice strategy and the examination of the link between race, socio-economic status and exposure to environmental risk.
  • Work with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, and with the support of the Minister of Natural Resources, to accelerate our G20 commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies from 2025 to 2023, and develop a plan to phase out public financing of the fossil fuel sector, including by federal Crown corporations.
  • With the support of the Minister of Natural Resources, cap oil and gas sector emissions at current levels and ensure that the sector makes an ambitious and achievable contribution to meeting the country’s 2030 climate goals. This effort will take into account the advice of the Net-Zero Advisory Body and others, including provinces and territories, Indigenous Peoples, industry and civil society, and require the oil and gas sector to reduce emissions at a pace and on a scale needed to align with the achievement of net-zero emissions by 2050, with five-year targets to stay on track.
  • Make progress on methane emission reductions by developing a plan to reduce emissions across the broader Canadian economy consistent with the Global Methane Pledge and require through regulations the reduction of oil and gas methane emissions in Canada by at least 75 per cent below 2012 levels by 2030.
  • In collaboration with the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and the Minister of Indigenous Services, continue to work in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation to address climate change and its impacts, and chart collaborative strategies.
  • Work with the Minister of Natural Resources to help protect old growth forests, notably in British Columbia, by reaching a nature agreement with B.C., establishing a $50 million B.C. Old Growth Nature Fund, and ensuring First Nations, local communities and workers are partners in shaping the path forward for nature protection.

The Minister of the Environment and Climate Change had already issued a press release announcing that discussion papers on many of these issues would be issued before the end of 2021, to enable consultations in 2022. On December 16, the first of these was released, regarding zero emission vehicles. The Ministry also tabled its Reports to Parliament on December 13.

The Mandate Letter to the Minister of Natural Resources, (John Wilkinson) includes this  summary statement: “As Minister of Natural Resources, you will prioritize moving forward with legislation and comprehensive action to achieve a Just Transition, ensuring support for communities to create more economic opportunities for workers and families into the future and in all regions of the country. You will work with partners to develop and implement strategies to decarbonize regional electricity systems, grow the market for clean fuels and transform Canada’s building stock for the climate era. You will likewise move early to launch a Critical Minerals Strategy, ensuring that Canada’s natural resources are developed sustainably, competitively and inclusively.”  

Specifically, the Minister is given the lead on the Just Transition file with this statement:   

To support the future and livelihood of workers and their communities in the transition to a low carbon economy:

Work with the Minister of Labour in moving forward with legislation and comprehensive action to achieve a Just Transition. This work will be guided by consultations with workers, unions, Indigenous Peoples, employers, communities and provinces and territories. You will be supported by the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion and Ministers responsible for Regional Development Agencies;

Continue to deliver on investments to train workers and create opportunities for green jobs; and

Natural Resources is also charged with:

  • Increase inclusion in the clean energy workforce by creating more opportunities for women, LGBTQ2 and other under-represented people in the energy sector.
  • Work with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry to develop a sustainable battery innovation and industrial ecosystem in Canada, including to establish Canada as a global leader in battery manufacturing, recycling and reuse. In support of these efforts, you will work with stakeholders to identify new strategic priorities, including future battery types, ways to optimize batteries for cold weather performance and long-duration storage, and applications in heavy-duty transportation, and launch a Canada-U.S. Battery Alliance for stakeholders in both countries to identify shared priorities and create environmental requirements.
  • Reduce pollution from transportation by adding 50,000 new electric vehicle chargers and hydrogen stations to Canada’s network and supporting the installation of charging stations in existing buildings, and by making investments to retrofit large trucks currently on the road, and supporting the production, distribution and use of clean fuels, including low or zero carbon hydrogen.
  • Work with provinces and territories, communities and Indigenous Peoples to develop and implement a National Net-Zero Emissions Building Strategy to achieve net-zero emissions from buildings by 2050, with interim milestones, that include accelerating net-zero emissions new builds and deep retrofits of existing buildings through codes and incentives, requiring EnerGuide labeling of homes at the time of sale, transitioning away from fossil-fuel home heating systems, and launching a community level net-zero emissions homes initiative.
  • Work with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry on the development of model building codes, including publishing a net-zero emissions building code and model retrofit code by the end of 2024 that align with national climate objectives and provide a standard for climate-resilient buildings. You will also work to amend the National Building Code of Canada to specify firefighter and first responder safety as a core objective. To ensure effective implementation of these performance standards, work with partners to develop strategies around incentives, training programs and pilot initiatives.
  • Help Canadians improve the energy efficiency and resiliency of their homes by providing grants of up to $5,000 for home retrofits through the Canada Greener Homes Grants Program and creating a Climate Adaptation Home Rating Program as a companion to the EnerGuide home energy audits to protect homeowners from the impacts of climate change.
  • Work with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to help protect old growth forests, notably in British Columbia, by advancing a nature agreement with B.C., establishing a $50 million B.C. Old Growth Nature Fund, and ensuring First Nations and Métis, local communities and workers are partners in shaping the path forward on nature protection.

To the Minister of Labour   (Seamus O’Regan):

“Work with the Minister of Natural Resources in moving forward with legislation and comprehensive action to achieve a Just Transition. This work will be guided by consultations with workers, unions, Indigenous Peoples, employers, communities, and provinces and territories to support the future and livelihood of workers and their communities in the transition to a low carbon economy. You will be supported by the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion and Ministers responsible for Regional Development Agencies.”

U.S. fishers’ union sues the Oil Majors for damages to the oceans

As reported in the Labor Network for Sustainability newsletter, “the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a union representing 900 family-owned fishing boats on the Pacific coast, is suing Chevron, Exxon, BP, Shell, and other oil and gas companies for covering up research that warned about the dangers of burning fossil fuels. The union wants compensation for damage caused by global warming and to meet the cost of new infrastructure to cope with the climate crisis. They also demand changes in fossil fuel industry behavior.”  The suit is summarized by The Guardian in  “Toxic waters devastated Pacific Coast fisheries. But who’s to blame?” (Nov. 20) . The PCFFA has published a report , “Combatting Global Warming and Acidic Seas” , which documents the impacts on the livelihoods of the fishers.

Newfoundland and Labrador approves $35 million to support offshore oil and gas, then strikes a new Net-Zero Advisory Council

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced the formation of a new Net-Zero Advisory Council in a press release on December 13.  The Council will focus on how to achieve the 2030 and net-zero targets through “ near term and foundational actions the government and others can take”.   The goal is “to grow the green economy, while considering a just transition and affordability. The Council will also advise on global trends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the importance and use of carbon sinks.”   The eight members of the Advisory Council are mainly from business and academic backgrounds, including  Newfoundland-born Angela V. Carter,  Associate Professor at University of Waterloo and author of Fossilized: Environmental Policy in Canada’s Petro-Provinces (UBC, 2020).  

This may prove to be a heavy lift for the Advisory Council, given the November announcement by the Newfoundland Premier that $35-million from the Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Oil and Gas Industry Recovery Assistance Fund has been directed toward 26 projects connected to the offshore oil and gas industry. The investment is forecast to create or maintain a total of 230 jobs . A CBC article reports on the NDP criticism of the announcement, emphasizing the timing, just 10 days after the end of COP26. The article also quotes the  Newfoundland Premier’s sales pitch for Newfoundland offshore oil:  “We have an incredible product that is incredibly valued because of its low carbon footprint. It’s not landlocked and…we can deliver that to the world right now during this transition over time.” 

Some labour union reflections on COP26

In “After Glasgow : Canadian Labour Unions Confront The Most Exclusionary COP Conference In History” (Our Times, Dec. 16), Sune Sandbeck and Sari Sairanen of Unifor describe their experiences as union delegates to the events – where unionists and even some countries were vastly outnumbered by the 503 delegates from the fossil fuel industry . The article asserts that, despite much disappointment in the COP26 results,

“Trade unions were instrumental in securing the Just Transition Declaration, whose signatories included Canada, France, Germany, the UK, the European Union and the U.S. And although just transition was omitted from early draft texts being negotiated, it would eventually make its way into vital passages of the final agreement. In fact, the Canadian labour delegation played a key role by drafting last-minute text proposals that would see just transition included in a crucial paragraph in the final COP26 decision.”    

The article names the following unions who sent representatives as the Canadian labour delegation at COP26 :  the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC ), the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), Unifor, the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU), the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE), the United Steelworkers (USW), and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada.  

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) wrote a brief reaction to events in “COP26 – workers must focus on solutions, not empty promises”, calling for a focus on concrete steps for job creation in a green economy.  CUPE cites the agenda of the international Trade Union Program for a Public Low-Carbon Energy Future, launched on November 4 at COP26. It states: “Focusing mainly on the power sector, the Program is an attempt to rally the international trade union movement behind an ambitious political effort to bring about a fundamental shift in climate and energy policy. This shift is needed both to correct the failures of the market model and to ensure that the energy transition is socially just, economically viable, and effective in terms of reaching climate goals.”  

The Canadian Teachers Federation reflected on COP26 and climate education with: “Turning of the oil taps begins in the classroom”, advocating for the important role of teachers. Much of the same thinking appears in the Education International reaction “COP 26 key outcomes: Why is this important for education unionists?” . That response notes that progress was made in the form of a pledges by government ministers regarding teacher training, student participation and climate resilience in education systems, and noted that youth activists stressed the importance of teacher support and student collaboration in reforming curricula across the world. However, the language of the formal negotiations for climate education ( part of the mandate of the Action for Climate Empowerment ) fell short, calling only for climate education to be “encouraged”.

From the international federation IndustriALL: “Trade unions at COP26: what we did, what we achieved, and what we need to focus on now” chronicled union events at COP26, and on December 14, the union published a more analytical piece “What happened at COP26 and what it means for workers” . Speaking about fossil fuel jobs, an IndustriALL delegate states: “… Rather than making our members believe that we can defend these jobs indefinitely, we must be honest with them and help them to prepare for the future. Our urgent task is to develop concrete frameworks for Just Transition that we can implement through social dialogue.” 

And to those who are suspicious that the claims of Just Transition are just “more of the same”,  the article has this: “Why should we believe it will be different this time?

“It won’t be different if we leave it to our politicians. But it can be different if we are engaged in driving the transition. We are facing an unprecedented shift in the global economy – the end of the age of fossil fuel, and the beginning of a new age that is yet to be defined. Unlike previous changes, this is a managed process, with space for unions to influence policy. The world’s governments will spend unprecedented amounts of money. It is up to us to ensure that this spend delivers good jobs to our members – and that we build a better world in the process.”

Labour unions, pension funds and divestment: resolutions from Alberta, Ontario conventions and a U.S. report from Stand.earth

Labour Confronts the Climate Crisis” appeared in the November issue of Our Times magazine, written by James Hutt of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). He highlights the notable speakers from the November convention of the Ontario Federation of Labour, but states that the main discussion at the convention focused on if and how unions can fight climate change through divestment, ethical investing, and active involvement in their pension fund management.

From the article :  

“  Many speakers underlined that divestment may have limited financial impact but can be very effective as a political tool. Democratic institutions, in particular unions, can use it to make a powerful statement and undermine the social legitimacy of the fossil fuel industry…

…. speakers concluded that there are a number of important actions unions should take regarding their pension funds, including demanding transparency and input into how funds are being invested. Unions can also advocate for investing in community-led renewable initiatives, and they can help these initiatives scale up.

The final panel recognized that while pensions do have a role to play, ultimately our true power lies elsewhere. As workers and unions engaged in the climate fight, it’s clear that we must go beyond pension-board tables and the confines of capital markets.”

At its annual convention held in early December, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE)  passed three environmental resolutions, announced and summarized in a press release (Dec. 4).  These included calls for 1.  just transition for workers,  2. a green new deal that includes providing union jobs through an expanded public sector,  modernizes public infrastructure , recognizes Indigenous rights and treaties; and builds a just society, and 3. a  call for the  Alberta Investment Management Corp.  (AIMCo) to “quantify the climate risks of its investments and adopt a path to net zero” in the pension funds it manages.  Response from AIMCo is presented in an article in Benefits Canada , which notes that AUPE members have a seat on the AIMCo sponsors’ Board through their membership in the Local Authorities Pension Plan.   

AUPE members are right to be concerned with the performance of AIMCo – as described in the report published on December 15 by the Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta. Can AIMCo be Fixed?  traces the controversial moves by the UCP government to take control of public sector pensions, as well as AIMCo’s risky volatility trading strategy (VOLTS), which led to a $2 billion loss in 2020.  The authors at Parkland conclude that “A thorough rethink of AIMCo’s board of directors and ownership structure is required in light of the troubling actions by the UCP government, AIMCo’s poor performance as an investment manager in recent years, and the serious structural weaknesses of AIMCo”.  The report makes five policy recommendations for change, none of which relate to its management of climate risks, but focus on the ownership and governance structure, including: Eliminate the Crown’s sole ownership of AIMCo and “Implement a new ownership structure with the government holding a minority position to prevent governments using AIMCo funds for their own political purposes”.

The Parkland report is the latest of several which have condemned the Alberta pension manager for its bias to oil and gas investments, described in a previous WCR article when it invested in the Coastal GasLink pipeline in 2020, and in the 2019 report from Progress Alberta, Alberta’s Failed Oil and Gas Bailout .

From the U.S., a new report released by Stand.earth and the Climate Safe Pensions Network argues for the importance of divestment.  The Quiet Culprit: Pension Funds Bankrolling the Climate Crisis  details the fossil fuel exposure of 14 public pension funds, revealing that  $81.6 billion is invested in coal, oil, and gas. The report notes, for example, that nine of the fourteen funds  have invested over $281 million in TC Energy, the company behind the controversial Coastal GasLink pipeline violating Indigenous rights in Wet’suwet’en land. The pension funds also have over $3.24 billion invested in big tar sands miners Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus, ConocoPhillips, Exxon and Suncor.  The conclusion?  “With over $46 trillion in assets worldwide, pension funds are among the largest institutional investors in fossil fuels. These investments have dangerously underperformed the rest of the market, making public pensions’ fossil fuels investments inherently risky….The fastest way for pensions to address climate change is to divest fossil fuel holdings and invest in just and equitable climate solutions.”

Urgent Recommendations for Deep Carbon Retrofitting include mandatory building performance benchmarking, more investment in workforce training

Decarbonizing Canada’s Large Buildings  is a new report commissioned by the Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC ) and executed by two consultancies:  RDH Building Science and  Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors.  Those researchers used “whole-building energy modelling” to evaluate deep carbon retrofit opportunities across 50 different building archetypes, reflecting a range of building types (office, multi-unit residential, and primary school), sizes (low-rise and midrise), ages (1970s and 1990s) and regions (Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver). The researchers developed baselines and assessed business-as-usual upgrades, and also identified and assessed the performance outcomes of deep carbon retrofits. Some highlights from the report: full decarbonization by 2050 is technically viable for all the building archetypes, though some are more financially appealing than others – and office buildings are the “low-hanging fruit.”   The key technical solutions identified are to  1. Reduce/replace fossil fuel use for space heating, mainly through electrification, 2. Implement energy demand-reduction measures and, 3. Incorporate and/or install on-site renewable energy systems. The report emphasizes the urgency of action, calling for governments to introduce mandatory building performance requirements, mandatory energy performance benchmarking and disclosure programs,  and improved incentive programs, such as innovative loan programs, such as property-assessed clean energy (PACE) and on-bill financing (OBF), among programs.  

In calling on policy-makers to ramp up education, low-carbon skills training, and industry capacity, the CaGBC report recommends 1. collaborative training programs,  leveraging the existing training opportunities offered by industry associations; 2.  Incorporating deep carbon retrofit training into continuing education requirements for architects and engineers.  3. Increased government investment in building-related retrofit training programs offered by many unions and community colleges;  4. Improving industry buy-in by collaborating with manufacturers.  The  Summary Report is here; register here to receive the full technical study when available.

Related reading:  “Colleges get set to train Canada’s green workforce” (National Observer, Dec. 14) , which highlights Toronto’s Centennial College for resurrecting an architectural technology course with a focus on green building design and technology.

Nature-based solutions as a means to environmental justice in New York City; the importance of nature-based solutions to protect Canadian coastal communities

Opportunities for Growth: Nature-Based Jobs in NYC is a new report released on December 1, from Just Nature NYC, a partnership between the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and The Nature Conservancy in New York .  The report argues that nature-based solutions “ are vital to improving environmental health and building climate resilience – particularly in environmental justice communities. Climate scientists project that the frequency of annual heat waves in NYC will increase three to-five-fold by 2050, and heat waves are expected to last longer than those of the recent past.”

The report breaks new ground with a discussion and definition of a nature-based job:

“Nature-based jobs (NBJs) are defined as jobs that directly contribute to natural infrastructure and nature-based ecosystems with the goal of enhancing human health and well-being and promoting biodiversity.”  

Using that definition, the report determined that were 45,560 nature-based jobs in the New York City in 2020, in such positions as landscape architects, construction managers and tree trimmers and pruners. It notes projected growth for each role between 2020 and 2025, with the most expected growth to be in the professions of soil and plant scientists (expected to grow by 41 percent) and conservation scientists (with a growth of 27 percent). With a focus on the environmental justice benefits,  the authors call for near-term growth of nature-based jobs; increasing job equity, accessibility, and quality; and the need to promote deeper public appreciation of nature-based solutions.  Summaries are available in  “To Combat Climate Change, NYC Needs More Nature-Based Jobs: Report”  (City Limits, Dec. 6)  and  a December 1 summary in The Medium.

Another report arguing for the importance of nature-based solutions was published by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo in December.  Rising Tides and Shifting Sands: Combining Natural and Grey Infrastructure to Protect Canada’s Coastal Communities  assesses the urgent dangers of flood and storm damages on Canada’s East and West Coasts, and discusses the current status of coastal protection measures. It differentiates between grey infrastructure (the hard, engineered measures such as seawalls) and nature-based solutions (which depend on, or mimic, natural systems to manage flood and erosion risk).   The report argues that nature-based solutions are underutilized, and in addition to offering protection, deliver multiple benefits, including improved biodiversity, carbon sequestration and storage, enhanced wellbeing and opportunities for recreational activities.

Rising Tides and Shifting Sands recommends scale-up of nature-based solutions through: 1. Developing national standards to support consistent evaluation of the benefits of nature-based solutions;  2. Developing national monitoring standards for coastal protection measures, focused on nature-based solutions; and 3.  Building  capacity to finance and deliver nature-based solutions by engaging the private sector. (“ Public-private partnerships can potentially assist in financing, delivering, monitoring, and maintaining nature-based solutions. The insurance industry can also assist in managing construction risks and offering innovative insurance products that provide funds to restore natural features protecting the coastline, should they be damaged during extreme events.”)

Encouraging electric vehicles: U.S. Buy American policies threaten Canadian auto worker jobs

U.S. President Biden’s Build Back Better Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives in November, including  incentives to encourage adoption of electric vehicles: a consumer tax credit of $7,500 for electric vehicles made in the U.S., and an additional $4,500 tax credit if the vehicle was made with union labour.  The news was welcomed by U.S. auto workers’ union UAW, but in Canada, workers and the government are alarmed. A press release from Unifor, the Canadian auto workers’ union, is titled “President Biden needs to realize he is shooting U.S. auto sector in the foot” , stating: “The fact is U.S. assembly plants couldn’t survive without the engines and other components we make here. ….. For that matter, he can’t build a sustainable BEV industry without the nickel, cobalt, manganese and other minerals coming out of Canada, either.” The business-oriented Financial Post published “Why America’s rush to EVs might kill the entire Canadian auto parts business”. As reported by CBC News, federal government officials have threatened retaliatory trade measures, arguing that the Buy American provisions amount to a 34 per cent tariff on electric vehicles assembled in Canada and violate the terms of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) .  An alternate solution is described in  “Canada willing to ‘align’ EV incentives with U.S. to avert tax-credit crisis: Trudeau” (Toronto Star, Dec.13).  CTV  News offers an Explainer which also summarizes reactions from government, industry, and labour. 

In Ontario, where most Canadian auto jobs are located,  the provincial government announced on December 9 the creation of the Premier’s Council on U.S. Trade and Industry Competitiveness, to be chaired by Unifor National President Jerry Dias, working with the Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade. From the press release: “This new Council, with the full support of our government, will continue to advocate for Ontario against unfair Buy American policies by highlighting the cost of protectionism to businesses on both sides of the border and promoting a Buy North American approach to our auto sector.” 

On October 17, Ontario had announced Phase 2 of its Driving Prosperity – The Future of Ontario’s Auto Sector  policies “to secure production mandates for hybrid and electric vehicles, create a domestic battery ecosystem, and strengthen Ontario’s position as a North American automotive and electric vehicle (EV) innovation hub.”   To date, the Ontario government strategy has been to incentivize manufacturers but resist the kinds of consumer incentives Biden has proposed, as described in “Doug Ford talks big on EVs but won’t reintroduce rebates”  (National Observer, Dec. 13).

Toronto region emissions increased 2% despite the pandemic; net-zero target accelerated to 2040

A new publication was released by The Atmospheric Fund (TAF) on December 13, reporting emissions data for 2019 and 2020 in the Region of Durham, Halton Region, City of Hamilton, Region of Peel, and City of Toronto – home to 7.7 million people and representing 44% of Ontario’s emissions.  2019-2020 Carbon Emissions Inventory in the GTHA provides data on the major sources of emissions across the region: buildings, transportation, industry, waste, and agriculture, with the greatest amounts coming from buildings (45%) and transportation (35%).  Comparison over the five years since 2015 shows emissions moving in the wrong direction – up by about 2.0%, despite decreases in emissions due to the pandemic in 2020. The report concludes that the GTHA is not on track to reduce emissions in line with local or international 2030 climate commitments, makes policy recommendations for municipalities. The TAF report gives examples of the technological changes required, and states that only leadership is missing.

In November,  the City of Toronto announced that it would accelerate its net-zero target from 2050 to 2040, with interim goals of a 45 per cent reduction in GHG levels by 2025, and 65 per cent reduction by 2030.  The plan will be debated on December 15, and the Council will also be considering  four other potentially high-impact policies: TransformTO Net Zero Strategy, Toronto Hydro’s Climate Plan, and two transportation by-laws that can significantly reduce carbon and air pollution.

Increasing Heat stress as an occupational health issue

A new report from the European Trade Union Institute is a call to action for preventive management of extreme heat conditions as part of occupational health and safety policies for government and workplaces.  Heatwaves as an occupational hazard: The impact of heat and heatwaves on workers’ health, safety and wellbeing and on social inequalities was released on December 2, and argues that heat impacts go far beyond heat illnesses such as heat stroke, since workers are exposed to other factors of heat stress and also because heat exacerbates other underlying conditions and other occupational hazards. The report includes appendices, for example:  the “Resolution on the need for EU action to protect workers from high temperatures”, adopted at the Executive Committee Meeting of the European Trade Union Confederation in December 2018, (pages 60-61) and “An agreement for a company action plan” (page 62-65), a detailed guide for developing workplace action plans, to be developed in cooperation with companies, workers, and workplace representatives.   

Although the ETUI report includes summary statistics about occupational heat stress, the latest facts and statistics about all the health impacts of climate change appear in the 2021 edition of The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, released in October just before COP26.  Amongst the highlighted findings: Indicator 1.1.3: the past four decades saw an increase in the number of hours in which temperatures were too high for safe outdoor exercise; Indicator 1.1.4: “In a rising trend since at least 1990, 295 billion hours of potential work were lost across the globe in 2020 due to heat exposure—ie, the equivalent to 88 work hours per employed person.” (Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India had the greatest losses – with the equivalent to 216–261 hours lost per employed person in 2020).  Indicator 4.1.3 discusses  loss of earnings from heat-related labour capacity reduction, finding that that the impact on workers’ earnings is significant, both for the worker and for the GDP of countries.

The Lancet Countdown report analyses all health impacts, including extreme weather events, forest fires, vector-borne diseases etc. and overall, concludes that  “As with COVID-19, the health impacts of climate change are inequitable, with disproportionate effects on the most susceptible populations in every society, including people with low incomes, members of minority groups, women, children, older adults, people with chronic diseases and disabilities, and outdoor workers.”  It provides sophisticated data analysis on  44 indicators, organised in five “domains”: climate change impacts, exposures, and vulnerabilities; adaptation, planning, and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; economics and finance; and public and political engagement.

Surveys of oil and gas workers show their willingness to retrain and move to clean energy jobs

International recruitment firm Brunel International and Oilandgasjobsearch.com released the latest version of their annual survey on November 30, showing key employment trends such as recruitment challenges, compensation, energy transition, job engagement, and retention in the global energy sector.  Energy Outlook Report 2021-2022  is summarized with key highlights here , including that more than half of the oil and gas workers surveyed want to work in the renewable energy sector – a sentiment stronger amongst workers ages 25 – 29 years old.   The survey also highlights a high degree of “job volatility” in the wider energy and extraction sector, with 44% of workers in oil and gas, 42% each in mining, power, and renewables, and 39% in nuclear saying they were looking for a career change in the next five years.   The full survey is available for download here.

Although not as widely reported, a Canadian survey in the summer of 2021 showed a similar appetite for career change. Iron and Earth, the Canadian organization of fossil fuel workers whose mission is “to empower fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to build and implement climate solutions” , commissioned Abacus Data to conduct a survey of 300 Canadians working in the oil, gas or coal industry. The survey report probed general attitudes to a net zero economy, but more particularly asked about attitudes and motivations to skills training and retraining, with breakdowns by age, gender, Indigenous/minority status, and region.  The  top level finding:  69% of all the workers surveyed were very interested or somewhat interested in  “making a career switch to, or expanding your work involvement in, a job in the net-zero economy”.   These findings are consistent with an anecdotal report “Workers Pick Job Stability Over Higher Wages as Oil Rig Operator Scrambles for Crews” (The Energy Mix, Sept. 14), which reports on the recruitment difficulties of the oil and gas industry. The article quotes the head of the Canadian Association of Energy Contractors, who speaks of shift in the industry, “citing the premium many younger workers place on work-life balance, along with the federal government’s talk about just transition legislation.”

That same Canadian Association of Energy Contractors released their industry forecast for 2022 in November.  It reports that  drilling activity for oil and gas wells has “bounced back” from an all-time low in June 2020, and “total jobs in 2021 were up 54 per cent year-over-year from 2020, with an increase of 9,734 jobs. In 2022, CAOEC expects another increase of approximately 7,280 total jobs to 34,925, a 26 per cent increase year-over-year.” However, clearly oil and gas workers are right to be concerned about job stability, as the CAOEC continues: “In comparison to 2014, we anticipate total jobs will still be a loss of 56 per cent from the peak of 78,793 total jobs in 2014.”

More ambition required to reduce emissions from “last-mile” deliveries by Amazon, FedEx, UPS and more

Parcel delivery on a warming planet: The efforts and ambitions of six companies,    examines practices at  Amazon, Deutsche Post DHL Group, FedEx, Flipkart, UPS, and Walmart, focussing on the cost- and energy-intensive “last mile ” of the delivery process. The report also looks at company-wide emissions targets, target dates for full electrification of the delivery vehicle fleets, and presents three case studies, from Delhi, London and Los Angeles), showing how these cities encourage, facilitate, and regulate sustainable last-mile delivery systems. Part of the discussion:  the relentless drive to reduce costs and the complexity of subcontracting relations in the last-mile delivery sector which reduces subcontractor abilities to mitigate environmental impacts, for example, by investing in electric vehicles. The report concludes that all six companies demonstrate awareness of their environmental impacts and have set targets to reduce their emissions, but their goals are not sufficiently ambitious or timely. Parcel Delivery on a Warming Planet is published by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) in Amsterdam.

A call for 100% clean energy by 2035: Electrification is necessary to keep up with global decarbonization

Underneath it All is a new report from Clean Energy Canada, released on December 1.  It calls for Canada “to go big on clean electricity: to ensure Canada can effectively combat climate change, to diversify and strengthen Canada’s economy, to further expand Indigenous clean energy ownership, and to improve energy security and affordability.”   The report discusses each of the four objectives, and regarding economic diversification, has this to say: “Canada can set a course to carbon neutrality while driving job creation and economic competitiveness  ….: Currently, Canada’s heavy industries—including cement, chemicals, fertilizers, forest products, mining, and steel—employ more workers than the oil and gas sector. These industries, along with agriculture, manufacturing, and others, must further decarbonize for emissions reasons, but getting ahead of the curve  will also create opportunities to access markets looking for low-carbon products today” – giving the examples of Apple, BMW, and FedEx.  According to the discussion of our current electricity situation, the report states that: “Electrification—that is, hooking up our vehicles, heating systems, and industry to a clean electricity grid—will require Canada to produce roughly twice as much non-emitting electricity as it does today in just under three decades.” Recommendations on how to reach 100% clean electricity by 2035 focus on the federal implementation of the recently-announced Clean Electricity Standard  by 2023 and using the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to prevent new fossil plant construction in the meantime. Further,  “federal and provincial governments “must support the development, scale-up, and installation of new generation, storage, transmission, and efficiency technologies,” with Ottawa providing infrastructure support and investment tax credits.”

A related technical report was published by the David Suzuki Foundation in August 2021. A Zero-Emission Canadian Electricity System by 2035, written by Marc Jaccard and Bradford Griffin, models two different policy scenarios which  “would enable Canada to achieve a net-zero GHG emissions electricity system by 2035 and sustain it at net-zero while the total system doubles in size by 2050 as fossil fuels are switched out for clean electricity.”

On December 3, an Environment and Climate Change Canada press release announced new consultations will begin in 2022 – and one of the topics to be covered is “Transitioning to a net-zero emitting electricity grid by 2035.”

Audit of coal workers’ transition promised in 2022; audit of green recovery funds finds job retention not measured

The federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development  tabled several reports in the House of Commons on November 25, including  Report 5—Lessons Learned from Canada’s Record on Climate Change. Well-documented and concise, it summarizes the history of climate policies and international agreements over the last 30 years, and concludes: “Repeated commitments, strategies, and action plans to reduce emissions in Canada have not yielded results…..Despite progress in some areas, such as public electricity and heat generation, Canadian emissions have actually increased by more than 20% since 1990.” The report identifies the central flaw of “policy incoherence”, highlighting the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the Onshore Emissions Reduction Fund as examples.  Eight “lessons” are discussed, with accompanying opportunities for the future, with an overarching lesson which calls  for greater leadership and coordination amongst all levels of government . Lesson 2 states that “Canada’s economy is still dependent on emission‑intensive sectors” and in a section entitled “Shielding workers and communities”,  the report highlights the findings of the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities. Most importantly, the Commissioner promises a performance audit to Parliament in 2022,  “examining Canada’s just transition for coal workers.”  In the discussion about the need for a national energy policy, and report  poses  “Considerations for parliamentarians” which include:  “How much financial support does Canada provide to the oil and gas industry? Could this support be reallocated to workers?” and “How can the federal government identify and assist communities and workers most affected by the transition to a low‑carbon economy?”

Also of interest: The Commissioner’s Report #4:  Emissions Reductions Fund – Natural Resources Canada, which is a scathing rebuke to the department and a catalogue of poor, hasty design and inaccurate measurement of the impacts of the Onshore Emissions Reduction Fund. The Fund, launched in 2020 as part of the federal Covid-19 Economic Response Plan, offered $675 million in the form of interest-free loans and non-repayable grants with the stated goals of helping land-based oil and gas companies attract investment, retain jobs, and reduce emissions. Amongst the failings:  Natural Resources Canada failed to use recognized GHG accounting principles to measure the GHG reductions, and awarded maximum grants to all applicants without assessing value for tax-payers money.  Further,   “Natural Resources Canada indicated that one of the rationales for the Onshore Program was to help maintain jobs in the oil and gas sector. However, we found that the department did not include job retention as a feature in the program’s design. For example, it did not list job retention as an eligibility condition or an assessment criterion for funding decisions. The department also did not include job retention or creation in the oil and gas sector as a performance indicator for the Onshore Program. However, it planned to request this information from funded companies as part of the contribution agreements’ reporting requirements.”  Natural Resources Canada has accepted this criticism and promises to  “provide annual and periodic reporting on greenhouse gas emission reductions and jobs (direct and indirect) from ERF‑funded projects, as new information becomes available.”   The new Minister of Natural Resources , Jonathan Wilkinson, announced a review of the program on November 26