Unions well-represented on Canada’s new Task Force on Just Transition – including Co-Chair Hassan Yussuff, President of the CLC

Hassan Yussuff head shot

Hassan Yussuff, President, Canadian Labour Congress 

On April 25, Canada’s  Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced the members of the the Just Transition Task Force for Canadian Coal-Power Workers and Communities, to be co-chaired by Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and Lois Corbett, Executive Director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.  Biographies are here , revealing that six of the eleven members of the Task Force are unionists: two from the CLC, the Alberta Federation of Labour,  United Steelworkers, Unifor, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.  The press release by the Canadian Labour Congress states: ““The world is watching. By launching this task force, Canada has the opportunity to set an international example on how to implement progressive policy to reduce emissions while keeping people and communities at the centre”.

The full Terms of Reference for the Just Transition Task Force were originally published in February 2018, and include a mandate to make recommendations to the Minister via an interim report and a final report due at the end of 2018. Members of the Task Force will meet with government officials at the local and provincial level, workers, stakeholders, academics, and also make site visits to coal plants and communities that will be affected by the accelerated phase-out of coal power in Canada.  The Task Force will no doubt benefit from the work of  Alberta’s  Advisory Panel on Coal Communities , which also examined the impacts on communities and workers of an end to coal-fired electricity by 2030, and proposed strategies to support workers through the transition. The Alberta Panel issued its recommendations  in a brief report, titled Supporting Workers and Communities in November 2017, resulting in a number of provincial  programs, described here .

At the international level, Canada has been active since joining with the United Kingdom to launch the Powering Past Coal Alliance in November 2017 at the Conference of the Parties (COP23), in Bonn in 2017.  Updates on that initiative are available from this link.  As of April 2018, there are over 60 countries and private businesses in the alliance. An April 2018 release  reports that Canada and the U.K. will collaborate with Bloomberg Philanthropies on the goals of the Alliance, including to produce research and case studies on the issue.   Also, at the One Planet Summit in December 2017,  Canada announced its partnership with the World Bank Group and the International Trade Union Confederation, to accelerate the transition from coal-fired electricity to clean sources in developing countries.

Quebec unveils its Vision 2030 for sustainable mobility and transportation

Quebec electric busOn April 17, Quebec’s Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard announced the  government’s  Vision 2030, a 12-year strategy to increase sustainable mobility. The official government information is available only in French,  here .  Information in the English language is available from the Liberal Party of Quebec press release , and a Montreal Gazette report.  The government will invest $9.7 billion ($2.9 billion of which is new funding) to provide Quebecers with a 20% reduction in average commuting time, 20% reduction in commuting costs, and  access to at least four types of sustainable mobility by 2030 for 70 % of the population. Investments will be made in a light-rail electric train line for Montreal and an extension of the métro’s Blue Line; as well as transit services to Montreal’s suburbs. (The government had already called for tenders for 300 additional hybrid buses for Montreal in January 2018).   Future projects also include a tramway system for Quebec City, and transit alternatives for the regions, outside the two main cities. As environmental benefits, the province aims to achieve a 40% reduction in the amount of fuel consumed for transportation, with a 37.5% reduction in transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions over 1990 levels.

Although the majority of the plan addresses personal transportation, it also sets a goal to increase the goods shipped at ports and intermodal rail terminals by 25%, and promises an increase in the province’s  annual sales of transportation equipment from $10 billion to $15 billion.

Premier Couillard is calling the initiative “the James Bay of our era” – referring to the transformative hydro development of the 1970’s.

New evidence supports benefits of cap and trade policies – an important issue for Ontario voters

With a June 2018 election approaching in Ontario,  climate change policies and the cap and trade program are already emerging as  key issues.  Several relevant reports have been published since the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario addressed these issues in her audit report,  Ontario’s Climate Act: From Plan to Progress  in January 2018.

The government’s own progress report on the 5-year Climate Change Action Plan was released on March 14  , and includes an evaluation of the policies and projects funded through Ontario’s cap and trade program. One such program is the “Low Carbon Building Skills” initiative announced in August 2017 under the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, which  aims to improve training for low carbon building projects –  including retrofits, green construction and building operations.  Other highlighted initiatives relate to hospital energy efficiency; building and school retrofits; social housing; research into climate change impacts on  building codes.

clean economy alliance progress report ontario year 1A more independent view comes in   A Progress Report on Ontario’s Cap-and-Trade Program and Climate Change Action Plan: Year One ,  published by the Clean Economy Alliance – an alliance of Ontario’s  businesses, clean technology firms, industry associations, labour unions, farmers, health advocates and environmental organizations.   In answering its key question, “Is there any evidence that cap-and-trade has hurt Ontario’s economy or cost jobs?” the report concludes that “Rather than shedding jobs, Ontario added 155,000 jobs between January 2017 and December 2017 – the first year of cap-and-trade. Gains were driven by employment growth in wholesale and retail trade, professional services and manufacturing. Cap-and-trade doesn’t appear to have hurt economic growth either. 2017 marked a 7-year high in Ontario’s GDP growth. Forecasters including RBC, TD Bank and the Conference Board of Canada agree that in 2018, economic growth will slow slightly, but will remain strong.” The report card evaluates impact on emissions reduction, as well as implementation rates by policy area (transportation, buildings and homes, land use planning, and “others”) . It concludes with a brief case study of the incentives for electric vehicles – noting that 2017 was the first year that  more electric vehicles (EVs) were sold in Ontario than in any other province.

On  April 10, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario released another relevant report: the 2018 Energy Conservation Progress report, Making Connections: Straight Talk about Electricity in Ontario.  In this statistically-dense report, she acknowledges that the province’s electricity  system was 96 per cent emission-free in 2017, but warns that the province will fall short of its 2030 carbon reduction target unless consumer behaviour changes:  “Looking ahead, much more conservation and low-carbon electricity will be needed to displace fossil fuels as the climate crisis continues to worsen. Ontario is not yet preparing seriously for this future.”

With the explicit purpose of informing the policy discussion before and after the Ontario election in June 2018, Ontario 360  has been established at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance, as an “ independent, non-partisan, and fact-based” resource.  On April 18, their first briefing on Climate Policy was published, written by Trevor Tombe, associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary. The briefing reviews the cap-and-trade system and the various initiatives which have been funded by its proceeds, and provides a top-level explanation of the merits of carbon pricing in general, with a comparison of cap and trade and carbon taxes. His conclusion: “while the evidence finds that pricing should be the backbone of any credible climate policy in Ontario, it is not a magic wand. There are areas where it may not be administratively feasible, and therefore narrow complementary policies should also be on the table. And even where pricing is appropriate, reasonable people will disagree over the appropriate price level and coverage. But whatever path forward future governments choose, they should strive for transparency in costs and benefits, clarity in the goals a policy is trying to achieve, and flexibility as new evidence emerges.”

Finally, a related report from the United States was released on April 17, evaluating the economic and environmental impacts of the cap and trade markets of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative ( RGGI) in the U.S. from 2015-2017 .  The Economic Impacts of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative on Nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States   found that the nine states which form the network  gained $1.4 billion in economic benefits over the past three years because of the way they invested proceeds, with the biggest payoffs (including in new jobs) coming from investments in energy efficiency programs.  In the same period, there has been no damage to the reliability of the electricity grid, nor a net increase in electricity bills.    The Economic Impacts of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative on Nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States  was produced by The Analysis Group , who also were responsible for two previous evaluations since the RGGI launched in 2009, available here .

Infrastructure Canada invests in public transit and requires Community Employment Benefits agreements

An April 11 article in the National Observer, “After massive investments , Trudeau government puts public transit on track” attempts to explain the political and bureaucratic tangle of the Canada Infrastructure Plan in the wake of a series of press releases by the federal government.  Those press releases have announced  $33 billion in funding for infrastructure projects through bilateral agreements with the provinces and territories, with the lion’s share – $20.1 billion –  going to public transit.  The National Observer article also profiles some public transit projects already announced or in progress: the 12.5-kilometre, 13 stations Ottawa light rail project; a  $365 million plan to extend the Montreal’s  Blue Line for five stops; Calgary’s Green Line LRT; Victoria B.C.’s plan to improve resilience against seismic activity; and new electric and hybrid buses for Gatineau and Laval, Quebec, and London Ontario. Another excellent update of Canada’s public transit appeared in Corporate Knights magazine in January 2018, “The e-bus revolution has arrived”. And in March, Winnipeg Transit released its report on electrification of its bus fleet- summarized by the CBC here ; Winnipeg is home to the New Flyer Industries, which manufactures the battery-electric buses in use.

Public transit is obviously good for reducing Canada’s transportation-related GHG emissions, and investments at this scale are obviously important sources of  job creation. The Bilateral Letter of Agreement with Ontario states: “ a Climate Lens will be applied to these federal investments, and a Community Employment Benefits Reporting Framework will be applied for relevant programs under the Investing in Canada Plan. Both the Climate Lens and the Community Employment Benefits Reporting Framework will be developed in consultation with provinces, territories, municipalities and other stakeholders over the next few months and will be embedded in the integrated bilateral agreements once completed.”   Community benefits agreements are already in place in some transit construction projects in Toronto,  and Ontario passed the  Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, 2015 , which states: “Infrastructure planning and investment should promote community benefits …. to improve the well-being of a community affected by the project, such as local job creation and training opportunities”.

For inspiration on another side of the issue, read the recent article, “Connecting green transit and great manufacturing jobs” in Portside on April 14.  It provides a very detailed case study of the fight to bring domestic, union jobs to light rail manufacturing in Los Angeles,  a campaign spearheaded by Jobs to Move America (JMA) .  From their website, JMA “is dedicated to ensuring that the billions of public dollars spent on American infrastructure create better results for our communities: good jobs, cleaner equipment, and more opportunity for historically marginalized people.”  Their website provides research papers and news updates.

electric_bus_banner Winnipeg

New Flyer Electric Bus, Winnipeg Manitoba. Image from http://winnipegtransit.com/en/major-projects/electric-bus-demonstration/ 

 

New forum launched to discuss the equity and justice dimensions of Just Transition

On April 13, the Just Transition Research Collaborative launched a Just Transition(s) Online Forum , whose purpose is enrich discussion of climate change with equity and justice concerns – specifically focused on the growing debate about Just Transition, and from the perspective of  the humanities and social sciences. According to the introduction:  “Through a combination of concrete case studies and more conceptual analyses, the forum acts as a shared space for academics and other interested parties to share their views (and voice their concerns) on the Just Transition, its meanings, its current uses and its potential. We want this space to be as interactive as possible, so please feel free to share your reactions or Just Transition-related stories and analyses.”

Of the four items published to the Forum so far, three of the authors are associated with the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) project:  1. Dmitri Stevis posted  “(Re)claiming Just Transition” , which  notes “the concept’s growing popularity has actually led to an expansion of its meanings.”  Professor Stevis sees this as “a challenge for stakeholders as it makes it more difficult to clearly identify what Just Transition stands for, who is behind it and what is the underlying theory of change. Is Just Transition simply another “buzzword”? Should we take it seriously? Can it play a positive role in the international climate and sustainable development debates?” He concludes, “It is, therefore, important to think about it systematically so that we can, at the very least, differentiate initiatives that co-opt and dilute its promise from initiatives that contribute to a global politics of social and ecological emancipation.”

The second article is by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood, with  “Who Deserves a Just Transition?” , which focuses on Canada and is based on his recent report Making decarbonization work for workers: Policies for a just transition to a zero-carbon economy in Canada.  The third ACW research associate, Roman Felli, argues  “A Just Transition Must Include Climate Change Adaptation”  .  He uses the example of  collective bargaining by UNIA, a Swiss construction union, and argues that unions need to anticipate how  climate change will  impact the work of their members, concluding with, “What are you doing about it in your union?”

The fourth article to date,  “Just Transitions as a process with communities, not for communities” is by Rebecca Shelton, and highlights the transitions made by the coal communities of Kentucky.

The Just Transition Research Collaborative plans to release a State-of-the-art report on Just Transition in December 2018.   The Just Transition(s) Online Forum is hosted jointly by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, the University of London Institute in Paris, the International Social Science Council, and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung — New York Office.