U.K. Rolls out Green Policies, including Fighting Plastics, Phasing Out Coal, and Encouraging Divestment

Theresa May 2018 Facing criticism for recent  policy reversals which have resulted, for example, in falling investment in clean energy in the U.K. in 2016 and 2017 , the government has recently attempted a re-set with its policy document:  A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment , released on January 11.    “Conservatives’ 25-year green plan: main points at a glance” (Jan. 11) in The Guardian summarizes the initiatives, which focused on reducing use of plastics (in line with a recent EU decision), encouraging wildlife habitat, and establishment of an environmental oversight body.  Specifics are promised soon; the Green Alliance provides some proposals in “Here’s what Theresa May should now do to end plastic pollution” (Jan. 11). George Monbiot is one of many critics of the government policy, in his Opinion Piece.

In the lead-up to the long-term Green Future policy statement, other recent developments have  included: 1.  Changes to investment regulations to encourage divestment.    “Boost for fossil fuel divestment as UK eases pension rules”  appeared in The Guardian on December 18 , stating:  “in what has been hailed as a major victory for campaigners against fossil fuels, the government is to introduce new investment regulations that will allow pension schemes to ‘mirror members’ ethical concerns’ and ‘address environmental problems.’    The rules are expected to come into force next year after a consultation period and will bring into effect recommendations made in 2014 and earlier this year by the Law Commission. ”

2. Coal Phase-out:  Also, on January 4, the British government responded to a consultation report by announcing CO2 limits to coal-fired power generation.  By imposing emissions limits, the government seeks to phase out coal-fired power by 2025, but still to allow flexibility for possible carbon capture operations, and for emergency back-up energy supply. The consultation report, Implementing the end of unabated coal: The government’s response to unabated coal closure consultation  , capped a consultation period which began in 2015.    The government’s policy response is  summarized in the UNEP Climate Action newsletter here  (Jan. 5).

 

California’s progressive policies yield better job growth and wage growth than Republican comparators

UC Berkeley logo_laborcenterA November 2017 report from the Labor Center at University of California Berkeley  examined the “California Policy Model” –  defined as a collection of 51 pieces of legislation and policy implementations enacted in California between 2011 and 2016 – and found that with progressive policies such as minimum wage increases, increased access to health insurance, reduction of carbon emissions and higher taxes on the wealthy, the state showed  superior economic  performance  in comparison to Republican-controlled states and to a simulated version of California without such policies.  According to  “California is Working: The Effects of California’s Public Policy on Jobs and the Economy since 2011,  the suite of progressive policies resulted in superior total employment growth , superior private sector employment growth, and higher wage growth for low-wage workers from 2014 to 2016. All the while, keeping the state on track to meet its 2020 GHG emissions targets.  The  environmental policies included in the analysis were: starting in 2006, AB 32, which committed the state to lowering its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020;  regulations under AB 32 in 2012 and 2013, which introduced the state cap and trade program;  SB 350 in 2015 and 2016,  committing the state to greater use of renewable energy and further improvements in energy efficiency ; and SB 32, which raised the emissions reduction goal to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.  The report warns that  enforcement of labour standards and a lack of affordable housing remain as challenges facing the state, and also admits to possible weakness  regarding the second of its two methods of analysis, the synthetic control statistical method.

 

Federal government releases detailed proposals for Canada’s carbon pricing system, including output-based pricing for industrial emitters

On January 15, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Minister of Finance issued a press release  announcing the full draft legislative proposals relating to the carbon pricing system. Public comment will be accepted until February 12, 2018.   The full text of  Legislative and Regulatory Proposals Relating to the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act and Explanatory Notes are in English  and French versions . Comment on the legislative proposals will be accepted until April 9, 2018, with “structured engagement” and consultation with provinces and territories, Indigenous Peoples, environmental non-governmental organizations, industry, and business promised over the Winter/Spring of 2018.

Minister McKenna also released for comment the proposed regulatory framework for carbon pricing for large industrial facilities – an Output-based Pricing System (OBPS), with the aim “to minimize competitiveness risks for emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industrial facilities, while retaining the carbon price signal and incentive to reduce GHG emissions.   Emission sources covered by OBPS will include fuel combustion, industrial process, flaring, and some venting and fugitive sources – but notably, “Methane venting and methane fugitive emissions from oil and gas facilities will not be subject to pricing under the OBPS.”  The system will include emissions of all seven of the UNFCCC-designated greenhouse gases, “to the extent practicable” – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride and nitrogen trifluoride. Details are  in Carbon pricing: regulatory framework for the output-based pricing system  (French version here) , and  build on the Technical Paper : Federal Carbon Pricing Backstop (French version here) , released in May 2017.

Leading up to the January release, the federal government had released clarification about the timing of  the planned backstop carbon pricing mechanism on December 20, 2017 – it  will come into effect by January 2019, bringing the carbon price to $20 per tonne in any jurisdiction that doesn’t meet the federal benchmark.  Full details are set out in:  Supplemental Benchmark GuidanceTimelines , and the Letter to Ministers . Generally positive reaction followed, from the Pembina Institute  and  Clean Energy Canada.

Initial reaction/summary of the proposed legislation released on January 15:  “Ottawa’s new carbon pricing plan will reward clean companies” from CBC,  and from the Globe and Mail, “Ottawa prepares to relax carbon-pricing measures to aid industry competitiveness” .  More substantive comment comes from the National Observer, in  “Trudeau government explains how it will make polluters pay” (Jan. 15).  Reaction from Environmental Defence came from Keith Brooks , who calls the proposed plan “an effective and fair pan-Canadian carbon pricing system.”  Reaction from  Clean Energy Canada is similar.

Meanwhile, in Alberta: Note also that the province of Alberta released their new Carbon Competitiveness Incentive Regulation (CCIR) for large industrial emitters in December 2017, also based on an output-based allocation system.  Carbon Competitiveness Incentive regulations replaced the current Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER) on Jan 1, 2018, and will be phased in over 3 years.  It’s expected to cut emissions by 20 million tonnes by 2020, and 50 million tonnes by 2030.  Favourable testimonials from the oil and gas, wind energy, and cement industry are quoted in the government press release on December 6.

To explain output-based carbon pricing, the Ecofiscal Commission published Output-Based Pricing: Theory and Practice in the Canadian context , by Dave Sawyer and Seton Stiebert of EnviroEconomics in early December.  The highlights of the paper are summarized here, with a discussion of the pros and cons and challenges of implementation, with special attention to Alberta’s provisions.

New Zero Emissions Standard takes effect in Quebec January 11, 2018

Electric car London 2013On December 27, Quebec enacted  a new Zero Emissions Vehicle Standard  in the form of Final Regulations to Bill 104, An Act to increase the number of zero-emission motor vehicles in Quebec, (which passed in October 2016).  The new Standard  comes into effect January 11, 2018, and is meant to increase the supply so  that  10% of new-vehicle sales or rentals in the province will consist of zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) or low-emission vehicles (LEV) by 2025.  Earlier in December, the government had announced a committee to monitor implementation of the regulations, with  representatives from the Corporation des concessionnaires automobile du Québec (CCAQ), the provincial Department of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change (MDDELCC) and the Coalition zéro émission Québec (CZÉQ), as well as environmental group Équiterre.  Équiterre’s reaction to the new Standard  is favourable ; the Global Automakers of Canada press release states it “needs more work”, reflecting the  industry opposition reported in the Montreal Gazette  when the regulations were first unveiled in July 2017. Full details and documentation are available from the Quebec government website in English and in French .

New York City and State announce plans to divest pension funds; Canadian Public Pension fund holds on to coal

I love new yorkNew York City Mayor Bill diBlasio captured headlines on January 10 2018 for his announcement that New York City will divest from fossil fuels and will sue Exxon and other oil companies for the damages of Superstorm Sandy.   Yet  it was actually on December 19 that New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo  first announced separate proposals to freeze current fossil fuel investments, divest New York’s public pension funds from fossil fuels, and reinvest in renewable energy.    Common Dreams summarized the announcements in ” ‘Undeniable Victory’: Cheers Follow Proposals to Divest Massive New York Pensions From Fossil Fuels”Reaction from 350.org (Dec. 19)  emphasized the importance of five years of citizen activism , and quoted Bill McKibben, who emphasized the symbolic importance of New York’s announcement:  “Coming from the capital of world finance, this will resonate loud and clear all over the planet. It’s a crucial sign of how fast the financial pendulum is swinging away from fossil fuels.”   (As further proof, in November, administrators of Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund recommended no further investment in fossil fuels and  divestment from existing oil and gas shares , and in the U.K., legal changes are in the works to ease divestment for pension funds.)

At the state level,   Governor Cuomo’s press release  states:  “Governor Cuomo and Comptroller DiNapoli will work together to create an advisory committee of financial, economic, scientific, business and workforce representatives as a resource for the Common Retirement Fund to develop a de-carbonization roadmap to invest in opportunities to combat climate change and support the clean tech economy while assessing financial risks and protecting the Fund.” The New York Common Fund of the state manages approximately $200 billion in retirement assets for more than one million New Yorkers and is  heavily invested in fossil fuels, with nearly $1 billion invested in ExxonMobil alone.

At the city level, officials have set a goal of divesting the city’s  funds from fossil fuel companies within five years , according to the press release from the Office of the Comptroller,  which also highlights the complex process involved.  In February 2017,  the Office of the Comptroller had issued a  press release  stating,  “the Trustees of the New York City Pension Funds … will conduct the first-ever carbon footprint analysis of their portfolios and determine how to best manage their investments with an eye toward climate change. In the 21st century, companies must transition to a low-carbon economy, and a failure to adapt to the realities of global warming could present potential investment risks.”  The New York City pension fund includes municipal employees, teachers, firefighters and police.

Related reading re New York activism : The Divest NY website;  “How New Yorkers won fossil fuel divestment”  from the Indypendent (Jan. 12); and Noami Klein’s article in The Intercept (Jan. 11).

Contrast the New York divestment announcements with the continued fossil fuel investment of the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), revealed in two new reports.  In early December, Friends of the Earth Canada, as part of its ongoing campaign,  released  Canadian Coal Investment: Powering Past the Coal Alliance, and Urgewald, a German organization, released Investors vs. the Paris Agreement.  The two reports “present a compelling picture of entrenched investors holding onto the old dirty economy and its growing risks at a time when politicians are committing to the phase out of coal.” – specifically, the Powering Past Coal Alliance launched by Canada and Great Britain at COP23 in Bonn in 2017.  The Powering Past Coal Declaration commits governments to phasing out existing traditional coal power and placing a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage, and commits all partners to supporting clean power through their policies and investments, as well as restricting financing for traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage. In an October 2017  press release,  Friends of the Earth representatives asked, “Why is the CPPIB ignoring government policy and undermining Canada’s diplomatic efforts to lead a global phase-out of coal?” . To date, there has been no public statement adjusting  the Sustainable Investing position of the CPPIB to bring it in line with the Powering Past Coal Alliance Declaration.

Canadian Coal Investment: Powering Past the Coal Alliance calculates the CPPIB’s total investment in coal at $12.2 billion Cdn., with $267 million of that in new coal projects . In a global ranking in Investors vs. the Paris Agreement, Urgewald found that Canada is the 8th largest investor in new coal development, and names several Canadian institutions in its Top 100 Investors list, including SunLife  (ranked #31 with $895 million invested); Power Financial Corporation (#53 with $631 million invested); Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec ( #71 with $433 million invested); Royal Bank (#86 with $356 million invested); and Manulife Financial ( #98 with $282 million invested).

Also of interest:  “Failure to Launch” in Corporate Knights  magazine (Jan. 15 2018), which provides a serious discussion of the problems of pension plan regulation as the answer to its tagline question: “Why are Canadian pension funds dragging their feet when it comes to climate change?”