New report recommends mandatory financial disclosure of climate-related risks for Canadian companies

iisdleveraging-sustainable-financeThough written mainly for a financial audience, a new report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is relevant to the livelihoods and pensions of all Canadians.  Leveraging Sustainable Finance Leadership in Canada: Opportunities to align financial policies to support clean growth and a sustainable Canadian economy was released on January 16,  examining and making  recommendations for Canadian companies to disclose climate change risks to their shareholders and to the public. A press release summarizes the report.  Why is it so important?  It concludes with an analysis of financial disclosure in the oil and gas industry, (found in Annex E), and this warning about the dangers to us all of stranded assets: “When these emissions are counted via proved and probable reserves, as disclosed by Canadian oil and gas companies, a picture emerges of significant, undisclosed—and therefore unaddressed—risks to Canadian companies, financial institutions, pension beneficiaries and savers…. Once the implications of the Paris Agreement are fully priced into the market, oil and gas asset valuations will shift. If this change is sufficiently large, debt covenants may be triggered in companies. This will in turn impact financial institutions, including banks, insurance companies and pension funds. Debt downgrading could ensue, and bank capitalization thresholds could be impacted.” (And a related risk for oil and gas companies:  in December 2018, the Canadian Shareholders Association for Research and Education (SHARE) joined an international campaign for improved disclosure by oil and gas companies of the water-related risks of their operations ).

What is to be done?  Canada’s transition to a lower carbon economy requires private investment capital, and Canada’s financial markets cannot operate in isolation.  Canada has a lot of regulatory “catching up” to do regarding climate risk, (outlined in “Data Gap” in Corporate Knights magazine in May 2018) , and  evidenced by the examples given throughout the report of current practice amongst  European Union , G7 and G20 countries. The report shows the state of  Canadian regulation, with  frequent reference to the two major Canadian studies to date on the issue:  the Interim Report of the government-appointed Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance (Oct. 2018), and the Canadian Securities Association Staff Notice 51-354 (April 2018).  In Leveraging Sustainable Finance Leadership in Canada, author Celine Bak, sets out a three-year policy roadmap for Canada, calling for Canadian laws and statutes to be updated to require mandatory disclosure of climate risk by 2021. The report also calls for the Toronto Stock Exchange to  join the UN Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative, and that the the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board  be required to report on the climate change risks which might affect its fully-funded status.  Detailed and concise summaries are provided in the Annexes, titled:  “An Overview of the Key Reports on Corporate and Financial Sector Climate- and Environment-Related Disclosure”; “G20 and G7 Precedents for Implementation of TCFD Recommendations in Canada”; and  “Analysis of EU Sustainable Finance Proposed Actions, EU Laws and Canadian Equivalents”.

Expect more discussion and publications about sustainable finance issues, as Canada’s Expert Panel  concludes its public consultations at the end of January 2019, and releases its final report later in the year.  The European Union Technical Expert group on Sustainable Finance (TEG) is also expected to report in June 2019,  and the international  Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures Task Force will publish a Status Report in June 2019,  updating its first report,  published in September 2018, with analysis of disclosures made in 2018 financial reports .

Growth and diversity in the U.S.clean energy industry

Two new reports foresee employment growth in the U.S. renewable energy industry – despite the chilling effect of the tariffs on solar equipment imposed  by the Trump administration, as described in a Solar Energy Industry Association press release in December.   The first study, Clean Energy sweeps across rural America  (November 2018) by the Natural Resources Defence Council examines job growth in wind, solar, and energy efficiency in rural regions throughout the Midwest U.S., and finds that the number of clean energy jobs grew by 6 percent from 2015 to 2016 (a higher rate than the economic in general), to a total of  nearly 160,000 in 2017.  In 2017, in the rural parts of every midwestern state except North Dakota and Kansas, more people worked in clean energy than in the entire fossil fuel industry.  The report emphasizes the outsized impact of job opportunities in rural areas in which job growth is normally negligible or even negative. The report also profiles examples of  community solar programs operated by co-ops and investor-owned utilities.

A second report  models the impact of  replacing Colorado’s coal plants with a mix of wind and solar backed by battery storage and natural gas.  This report was prepared by consultants Vibrant Clean Energy and commissioned by energy developer Community Energy Inc., with a main focus on cost savings and carbon emissions.  However, it also forecasts job impacts under three scenarios (keeping coal plants to 2040, gradually retiring coal plants, and retiring all coal plants in 2025), and overall,  it forecasts a 52% increase in employment in the electricity industry.

The January 9 press release  quotes a representative from Community Energy Inc:  “The key to unlocking these benefits is to create a legal framework that enables utilities to voluntarily retire the coal plants. Otherwise, it could take years to negotiate or litigate utility cost recovery, replacement power costs and impact on local communities.” The full Coal Plant Retirement study is here .

Finally, the Solar Energy Industries Association issued a press release in early December, highlighting its 2018 initiatives to improve gender equity and diversity – including the creation of the Women’s Empowerment Initiative, which includes summits to increase women’s leadership and various industry opportunities.  In September 2018,  the SEIA signed a Memorandum of Understanding  to help the solar industry recruit and employ more students from the 101 Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  This will include hosting a national jobs fair, individual jobs fairs at the HBCU schools and bringing solar companies to campuses for recruitment.   A webinar series on diversity and inclusion is scheduled for SEIA member companies in 2019.

Canadian youth continue their climate strikes in frigid January weather

climate strike kitchenerChildren in Canada and around the world  continue to demand climate action from their nations’ policy leaders, following the example of the  now-famous Greta Thunberg.  In the first week of January 2019, according  Greta’s Twitter feed, climate strikes were held in “South Africa, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Czech Rep, Uganda, Nigeria, Faroe Islands, Italy and many more”.    As you would expect, social media plays a huge part in the campaigns, centred on the #Fridays for Future Facebook page  and @fridaysforfuture Twitter account.

In Canada, Twitter accounts to watch are from  @Sophia Mathur , (the 11-year old  Sudbury girl who was the first to join the international campaign – profiled here ); @Student Climate Activist , and Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition , both from Winnipeg, Manitoba; Toronto Climate Future from Toronto and the GTHA , also with a Facebook page here .  The Citizens Climate Lobby is hosting an interactive map  to track climate strikes around the world, and The Climate Pledge Collective offers free resources to  help others organize FridaysforFuture events.

climate strike ottawaTraditional media have provided fairly limited coverage of the stoic students who  protested in Canadian cities on January 11: from the  Waterloo Record, “On a bitterly cold day in Waterloo, a new type of protest begins”   (Jan. 12) and “Children and youth strike against climate change in Waterloo Region” at KitchenerToday.com (Jan. 11); “Students, climate activists protest provincial climate plan at Queen’s Park” (Jan. 13) from The Varsity, the student newspaper of University of Toronto; and “I want to know the earth will be ok” from the Winnipeg Sun (Jan. 11).  CBC Vancouver reported the previous student climate strike on December 7 ; others are listed in the Work and Climate Change Report summary from December .

And another Canadian youth group to watch:  PowerShift: Young and Rising, who are gathering in Ottawa on February 14 – 18 .  From their announcement: “We will dig deep into discussions on topics including fracking, pipeline politics, Indigenous sovereignty, divestment, and green jobs. We will learn how to make lasting change through community organizing, direct action, art, storytelling, and using traditional and digital media. … PowerShift aims to ensure that once the convergence is over, the youth climate movement continues to grow through our networks, continued capacity building, and strategic action.”

 

 

Economists debate decarbonization: optimistic and pessimistic scenarios

debate forum , Is Green Growth Possible? was hosted by the Institute for New Economic Thinking in December, consisting of papers by  economists debating whether catastrophic global warming can be stopped while maintaining current levels of economic growth. The arguments are summarized  for the non-economist in “The Case for ‘conditional optimism’ on climate change” by David Roberts in Vox (Dec. 31) .  Economists may be interested in the full papers, which  include “The Road to ‘Hothouse Earth’ is Paved with Good Intentions” and “Why Green Growth is an Illusion”, both by Enno Schröder and Servaas Storm.  The authors conclude that  “..  The world’s current economies are not capable of the emission reductions required to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees. If world leaders insist on maintaining historical rates of economic growth, and there are no step-change advances in technology, hitting that target requires a rate of reduction in carbon intensity for which there is simply no precedent. Despite all the recent hype about decoupling, there’s no historical evidence that current economies are decoupling at anything close to the rate required…. Without a concerted (global) policy shift to deep decarbonization, a rapid transition to renewable energy sources, structural change in production, consumption, and transportation, and a transformation of finance, … the decoupling will not even come close to what is needed.”

The Inconvenient Truth about Climate Change and the Economy”  by  Gregor Semieniuk, Lance Taylor, and Armon Rezai summarizes and analyzes the October 2018 IPCC report, Global Warming of 1.5 °C. ,  finding it overly optimistic about global productivity growth and fossil fuel energy use, and reiterating the argument that politics are holding back climate change solutions. They conclude that “a big mitigation push, perhaps financed by carbon taxes and/or reductions in subsidies, is possible macroeconomically even if the link between energy use and output is not severed. This, however, would require considerable modifications of countries’ macroeconomic arrangements. Needless to say, military establishments and recipients of energy subsidies wield political clout. Fossil fuel producers have at least as much. Whether national preferences will permit big shifts in the use of economic resources is the key question.”

Finally, in “Conditional Optimism: Economic Perspectives on Deep Decarbonization”, author Michael Grubb  takes issue with Schröder and Storm, saying that their papers rely on historical data and rates of change, and thus are characterized by a “pessimism about our ability to change what matters fast enough. ” Grubb states that this “may  be emblematic of a growing trend in energy-climate economics, of what we might term historical futures analysis.”  He lays out a  technical economic critique and suggests four fundamental principles for his own “conditional optimism”, which relies on analysis based on the rate of displacement of carbon intensive energy supply by the growth of alternate sources.

Can unions deliver good green jobs at Tesla?

tesla injury ratesThe “Driving a Fair Future” website has documented the complaints against Tesla for years – including an analysis of  Tesla injury rates between 2014 and 2017 at its Freemont California plant, which showed that injuries were 31% higher than industry standards.  In June 2018, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board  began to hear some of the workers’ complaints of safety violations and anti-union harassment, with the United Auto Workers representing them.  Two themes have emerged in the saga of Tesla’s bad labour relations:  1. how can the apparently “green jobs” become decent, good jobs?  and  2. would unionization at Tesla give a toehold at other precarious Silicon Valley workplaces such as Google, Amazon, and their like.

“Tesla’s Union Battle Is About the Future of Our Planet” (Oct. 9) in Medium describes the union drive at the Freemont California electric vehicle  manufacturing plant, in light of its environmental mission. The article contends : “ This case isn’t just about Tesla. It’s about the future of an industry that sees itself as key to addressing the climate crisis. Clean tech companies peddle a progressive vision of a low-carbon future, but Tesla’s anti-union fervor suggests that some in the industry have lost sight of their work’s bigger point.”

Workers from Tesla’s solar panel factory in Buffalo New York  expressed similar sentiments in interviews with the  local news organization . Taking pride in their green jobs, they are seeking better pay, benefits, and job security through a unionization drive announced in December.  The Tesla Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo received $750 million in taxpayer funding for the state-of-the-art solar production facility, promising new jobs in a high unemployment area; the unionization campaign involves about 300 production and maintenance employees in a partnership between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Steelworkers. The drive is endorsed by the Labor Network for Sustainability , which states: “We are hearing a lot about the need for a Green New Deal that will provide millions of good jobs helping protect the climate. These Tesla workers represent the Green New Deal in action.” Follow developments on the Facebook page of the Coalition for Economic Justice Buffalo.

Implications for High Tech workers: Why Elon Musk’s latest legal bout with the United Auto Workers may have ripple effects across Silicon Valley” is a thorough overview  about the UAW unionization drive at Tesla’s auto  manufacturing plant at Freemont California, from CNBC   in early December.  Similar themes appeared in  “What Tesla’s union-busting trial means for the rest of Silicon Valley” appeared in Verge in September 2018,  chronicling the arguments of the UAW and Tesla management – including Elon Musk and his tweets – during the NLRB hearings  in June 2018.   The article concludes that “Tesla’s case [is] a bellwether — particularly for Amazon. … Tesla might be a car company, but it’s also a tech company — and if its workers can unionize, tech workers elsewhere are bound to start getting ideas.”

What is life like for these high tech workers? A New Kind of Labor Movement in Silicon Valley” in The Atlantic (Sept. 4  )  gives a good overview, and introduces nascent groups as Silicon Valley Rising  and Tech Workers Coalition  .