Canadian government is falling short of GHG emissions targets, needs a plan to phase out fossil fuel subsidies

On October 3, Canada’s  Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development tabled highly critical audit reports in the House of Commons.  From the  Commissioner’s press release  : “the government’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have fallen short of its target and that overall, it is not preparing to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Only five of 19 government organizations had fully assessed their climate change risks and acted to address them.” … “Many departments have an incomplete picture of their own risks, and the federal government as a whole does not have a full picture of its climate change risks. If Canada is to adapt to a changing climate, stronger leadership is needed from Environment and Climate Change Canada, along with increased initiative from individual departments.”   The Commissioner also criticized the Department of Finance and Environment and Climate Change Canada for a “disconcerting lack of real results” towards meeting  Canada’s G20 commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

The CBC reports on reaction and press conference remarks; the National Observer ran two articles, “Watchdog finds Canada ‘nowhere near’ ready for climate risks” and  “Parliamentary watchdogs conducting nationwide climate audits“, which reports that, for the first time, Auditors General are conducting climate change audits of all federal, provincial and territorial governments, working together to develop reports for their respective jurisdictions and a summary report of national performance on mitigation and adaptation.

The October 2017 federal  audit reports are all available in English and in French. The relevant reports are: Progress on Reducing Greenhouse Gases—Environment and Climate Change Canada ; Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change; Funding Clean Energy Technologies; and  Departmental Progress in Implementing Sustainable Development Strategies. The archive of previous reports is here .

Victoria B.C. joins the movement for climate accountability, demanding compensation from Big Oil companies for climate change impacts

On October 12, the Council of Victoria B.C. voted unanimously to send a Climate Accountability Letter to twenty companies, including Exxon, Chevron and Shell, asking them to cover the costs the community is likely to  incur to plan for or recover from the impacts of climate change.  The motion also included an agreement to call upon fellow local governments across Vancouver Island, British Columbia and Canada to write similar letters. Such letters are part of  the Climate Law in our Hands campaign launched by West Coast Environmental Law and almost 50 other groups  in January 2017.

Accountability Letters may be seen as largely symbolic, but are a first step in the movement for legal action against these “Carbon Majors”, which is the goal of the Climate Law in our Hands campaign.  The campaign and the movement is based on the work of Richard Heede, whose 2013 research identified 90 entities (producers of oil, natural gas, coal, and cement) that are collectively responsible for almost two thirds of human-caused greenhouse gases historically. Heede updated his research in July 2017 –  naming the 10 oil and gas companies who are responsible for 26% of all fossil fuel emissions since 1988.  See the Climate Accountability Institute , where Heede is Director, or see  West Coast Environmental Law for a spreadsheet with details about each company, as well as model letters for municipalities who want to join the campaign. Andrew Gage of WCEL compiled an excellent overview of new research and legal developments about Climate Accountability in September .

In September, San Francisco and Oakland, California became the latest and largest cities to sue the Carbon Majors: see “California leads the way: San Francisco and Oakland the latest to sue fossil fuel companies” . (They  join the California counties of Marin, San Mateo and San Diego and the city of Imperial Beach).  The press release from the City Attorney’s Office outlines their case against Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell  : “The lawsuits ask the courts to hold the defendants jointly and severally liable for creating, contributing to and/or maintaining a public nuisance, and to create an abatement fund for each city to be paid for by defendants to fund infrastructure projects necessary for San Francisco and Oakland to adapt to global warming and sea level rise. The total amount needed for the abatement funds is not known at this time but is expected to be in the billions of dollars.”

Unifor, Government visions for Sustainable Forestry

The Future of Forestry: A Workers Perspective for Successful, Sustainable and Just Forestry was released on October 16 by Unifor’s Forestry Industry Council, representing the union’s 24,000 members in the forestry sector.  The report provides an overview of the size and health of the forestry industry, and after the past several years of declining employment, asks, “What could lie ahead?” The answer given:  “Technologies that put forestry resources to uses never previously imagined; transformative innovations in building materials and green construction, and a sustained transition toward higher-value growth products and markets. There is also a coming wave of retirements that means the industry could need upward of 60,000 new workers within the decade.”

The report sets out Unifor’s aims for each of five focal points in an integrated forestry policy, involving the federal and provincial governments and prioritizing the role of First Nations.  The report calls for “ sustainable rules for wood harvesting that secure investments and jobs while meeting the highest environmental standards. There must be stable and appropriately priced hydro-electricity; as well, transportation infrastructure, pricing and access need to be modernized. Trade policies need to support high-value forestry exports, maintain stable access to key markets, while ensuring we are not the target of unfair trade measures. And we need to control the export of unprocessed raw logs.”  A key message is the need to involve workers in a sustained dialogue for  policy-making process: “forestry ministers must lead efforts to bring together business, government, labour, Indigenous leaders, environmental organizations and community leaders in a reinstated National Forestry Council.”

Related reading: In mid-September, Natural Resources Canada released the 2017 edition of The State of Canada’s Forests Annual Report and L’État des forêts au Canada.

At the September annual meeting of the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM), their Innovation Committee released A Forest Bioeconomy Framework for Canada , with the vision to make Canada “a global leader in the use of forest bio-mass for advanced bioproducts and innovative solutions” including as a source of renewable energy.   Note the first of the 4 pillars of the framework: “Communities and Relationships. This section in the Framework advances policies towards  “creating green jobs, offering opportunities for rural communities through education and skills training, improving overall quality of life, and enhancing partnerships with Indigenous peoples.”

Also at the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers annual meeting, the Minister of Natural Resources announced a call for proposals   for the next wave of projects through the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation (IFIT) program, a federal grant program to encourage :

  • new or increased production of bioenergy, biomaterials, biochemicals and next-generation building products by the forest sector;
  • increased deployment and encouraging broader adoption of first-in-kind innovative technologies, particularly Canadian, across the industry; and
  • the creation of innovative partnerships with non-traditional forest sector partners as a way to develop new business models for the sector.

Long-awaited Clean Growth Strategy of the U.K.-missing the workplace viewpoint

The British Government released its Clean Growth Strategy on October 12, outlining  how  it intends to reduce the country’s carbon emissions  by 57 percent between 2020 and 2032. The Guardian summarizes the main provisions in “Draughty homes targeted in UK climate change masterplan” – describing it as “about 50 policies supporting everything from low-carbon power and energy savings to electric vehicles and keeping food waste out of landfill.”  Highlights of the plan are £3.6 billion in funds to support energy efficiency upgrades for about a million homes, and subsidies for offshore wind development.  Also included: £1 billion is promised to encourage use of  electric cars,  £100m to fund research on carbon capture and storage (CCS) and £900 million for energy research and development, almost half of which will go to nuclear power.  The controversial issue of fracking is omitted completely.  For reaction and context, read   “UK climate change masterplan – the grownups have finally won” in The Guardian, or the Campaign against Climate Change response, which  notes that the policies will be insufficient to reduce emissions enough to stay within the UK’s carbon budgets after 2023.

The Secretary General of the Trades Union Congress reacted with this statement: “It has a bunch of targets, but lacks the level of public investment in low carbon infrastructure needed to achieve them. And there is a major blind spot towards working people who will create the clean economy.

“It doesn’t say how workers will get support to retrain if their job is under threat from the move to a low carbon economy. And it doesn’t set out how the government will work in social partnership with trade unions and business – this will be vital to a successful industrial strategy, building carbon capture and storage, and generating green growth.”

 

Trade unions in the U.K. actively engaged in climate change policy, advocating for environmental representatives

Trade Unions in the UK: Engagement with climate change is a new report, based on research conducted between September 2016 and January 2017 by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group . The report asks:  what are the driving forces behind trade union engagement in climate change issues, and what are some of the barriers and difficulties for trade unions?  It summarizes the results of interviews with policy officers and environmental activists from the largest 15 unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), as well as two smaller but active unions: Transport and Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU). The report is also based on the results of systematic searches of the unions’ websites and relevant policy documents (with links to key documents).  It reveals an overview of the diversity and context of trade union climate policy, focusing on issues such as environmental representatives, energy supply, airport expansion, fracking and divestment from fossil fuels. The report summarizes the positions on these issues, union by union, but for those who want even more detail, there is a supplementary inventory .

This first-ever report was released in August 2017, and since then, Unison has voted to campaign for pension fund divestment and the TUC adopted an historic motion for public ownership of energy at its September Congress.  Also at the Fringe Meeting of the September Congress, the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group presented its discussion paper  ‘Another world is possible: jobs and a safe climate‘. And most recently, the U.K. government at long last released its Clean Growth Strategy, to limited union approval.