Budget 2019 provides modest funding for climate change improvements – Just Transition, electric vehicles, energy efficiency

budget2019No clean economy vision is evident in the  pre-election budget , Investing in the Middle Class, delivered by Canada’s Finance Minister on March 19.  The National Observer has a Special Report on Budget 2019 , composed of  twelve focused articles covering the range of notable provisions. Mitchell Beer provides a good summary of the Budget’s climate-related provisions, in “Morneau’s Pre-Election Budget Boosts ZEVs and Energy Retrofits, Extends New Fossil Subsidy”  in the Energy Mix (March 20).  Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party is quoted in that article, and says that the climate provisions are “pathetic” – a similar reaction to that of Environmental Defence,which states more diplomatically that “funding for climate change in this budget does not match the scale of the challenge”. Similarly, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reaction judges the climate provisions as “modest efforts to move forward on greening the economy”, although calls the just transition plan “an important precedent.”  The Canadian Labour Congress reaction is a lengthly commentary on many worker-related initiatives  – including the issue of Just Transition.

On the issue of Just Transition:  The Budget plan text on Just Transition reiterates the previous Budget’s pledge of $35 million over five years for Just Transition of coal workers.  In its reaction, the Canadian Labour Congress  acknowledges the new pledge of  $150 million in infrastructure funding to directly assist resource-based municipalities, but quotes Hassan Yussuff, Co-Chair of Canada’s Task Force on Just Transition: “… Canada’s unions are looking forward to working with the Minister of Natural Resources as the newly named lead minister, but are disappointed to see that the government has not addressed key Task Force recommendations to support workers, in terms of income, training and reemployment needs. Without this, workers will be left behind.”

More details appear in  “Coal workers get cash in budget but lack of details risks ‘major blowback”  in the National Observer (March 19), including that the  $150 million infrastructure funding will not flow until the 2020-2021 fiscal year.  Funds  will be delivered by Western Economic Diversification Canada at a rate of $21 million a year over 4 years,  and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency , at a rate of $9 million a year for 4 year.

Watch for a promised analysis by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood of the CCPA, whose March 12  blog assessing the Just Transition  Task Force Report  promised  to keep “a close eye” on Budget 2019 provisions.

On the issue of fossil fuel subsidies:  The government  reaffirmed its long-standing (and unfulfilled) commitments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies , and pledged to establish an expert committee to examine the issue. Here is the reaction from the Stop Funding Fossils Initiative: “This year marks the tenth anniversary of Canada’s G20 commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. Yet, despite moderate progress in the 2017 budget, Canada remains the largest provider of fiscal support to oil and gas production in the G7 relative to the size of its economy…. the Government of Canada has doubled down on fossil fuels by introducing billions of dollars in new subsidies in the past year. Budget 2019 allocates a further $100 million over four years to the Strategic Innovation Fund, aiming to help the oil and gas industry reduce emissions. ”

(Coincidentally, the 2019 Annual Fossil Fuel Report Card  was released on March 20, revealing  that global banks have invested nearly US$2 trillion in fossil projects since the Paris Agreement was signed, and Canada’s Bank of Montreal, RBC, ScotiaBank and CIBC  are amongst the worst offenders. )

On the issue of electric vehicles: Budget 2019 included a number of policies  aimed at speeding  up EV adoption, including a  2040 deadline to phase out new internal combustion vehicle sales, and consumer rebates for purchases of electric and hybrid vehicles ($5000 for purchases under $45K).  Despite recent reports that EV supply is restricting purchases, the government did not institute a mandatory sales mandate for car manufacturers. Businesses will be allowed to deduct the full value of a new ZEVehicle  worth up to $55,000 in the year they purchase it.  The government also pledged $130 million over the next five years  to build electric vehicle charging stations – specifically including workplaces in the named locations.  The National Observer summarizes these proposals in “Canada proposes rebates for electric cars, voluntary sales mandate”. 

On the issue of infrastructure and the built environment:  The text of the government’s announcement relating to energy efficiency is here , and a Backgrounder: Strong Communities, Affordable Electricity and a Clean Economy  is also relevant.     Initiatives include $1.01 billion in funding, immediately, to increase energy efficiency in residential, commercial and multi-unit buildings – in the form of financing and grants to retrofit community buildings, financing for municipal initiatives to support home retrofits, and financing to improve energy efficiency and support on-site energy generation in affordable housing developments .  Funds will be administered through the Green Municipal Fund of  the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.   Macleans magazine summarizes this, as well as infrastructure funding, in “Cities are billion-dollar winners in Budget 2019”   which states that “the biggest single new spending item in the budget is a $2.2 billion “one-time transfer” through the federal Gas Tax Fund. That money doubles the usual federal-municipal transfer through that mechanism. The windfall is intended to address “serious infrastructure deficits” in municipalities and First Nations communities.”

 

Canadian kids out in force for the global Fridays for Future climate strike on March 15

March 15 montreal

Montreal climate strike

The global movement that is the #Fridays for Future climate strike, inspired by Greta Thunberg, exceeded all expectations for the number of demonstrators and the number of locations on March 15.  In Canada, students marched in 55 cities, with the greatest showing in Montreal –   150,000 strikers  – a greater turnout than Paris, London, Sydney , or almost any of the hundreds of cities and towns which participated.  The Energy Mix highlights the global successes in   “1.4 million students in 128 countries make March 15 #schoolstrike a global phenomenon” (March 15) .

 

Here are some accounts of the strike in Canada:  From the National Observer: “Canadian children school adults about climate crisis” (March 15), which reports particularly on Montreal and Vancouver; “Quebec students join global marches to demand climate change action” (March 17) which reported that 150,000 students were on strike, representing 120 student associations.  This amazing number is widely confirmed – including  by an article in La Presse  (in French). Also,  “CCL Youth join March 15 youth strike for climate”  from the Citizens Climate Lobby;  “We know we are at a crossroads” in The Tyee (unique photos of the Vancouver strike); “Students in Canada prepare to strike for the climate” (March 14) in Rabble.ca  .

march 15 vancouver2CBC coverage consisted mainly of photos and brief interviews from across Canada, including: “Tens of thousands rally in Montreal”, and “Montreal students block schools ahead of climate protest”    (which prompted the school board to cancel classes). From  Halifax ;  New Brunswick ; Ottawa  ;Regina St. John’s Newfoundland ; Toronto; and Vancouver here   and here .  

 

Who are these young Canadian strikers?  Of the many youth organizers across Canada, two  have received special attention. Sophie Mathur of Sudbury, aged 11, was the first Canadian to take up the call of Greta Thunberg and has been profiled several times, even before the March 15 global strike. Early articles:  “Strike For Climate: Fridays For a Future” appeared in Below 2C on  October 31 2018  and “Young climate activist to strike Friday in Sudbury” in the Sudbury Star  on November  2, 2018 . Most recently, on March 8,  Sophie was one of five climate strikers interviewed by  Sierra Club International, for International Women’s Day.

Rebecca Hamilton of Vancouver, aged 16,  is a founding member of Sustainabiliteens  , which organized the school strike in Vancouver. She is profiled in a new Greenpeace Canada series “12 Questions with #YouthClimateStrike organizer Rebecca Hamilton”. Both Sophie Mathur and Rebecca Hamilton were interviewed by CBC Radio in “Ignoring climate change is like ‘putting off homework,’ says teen in School Strike for Climate” on The Current on March 15   (transcript and audio), and also on CBC radio Day 6 on February 2, along with Dominique Deveaux of  Fredericton, here  .

march 15 trudeau tweetPoliticians Reactions and support for student strikers:  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to the strikers on Twitter, as did Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna on her personal  Facebook account,  but there was no official reaction from the Canadian government. George Heyman, British Columbia’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change also used  his Twitter account to express that he is “inspired by the concern and commitment of the students”. Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party, issued a statement of support  which lists Green Party candidates who are supporting strikes in their local ridings.

Reactions from Unions:  In Canada,  the B.C. Teachers Federation tweeted a thanks to the students from their  Annual Meeting , and at that AGM,  activist Seth Klein addressed March 15 seth kleinthe meeting  about the role of teachers in fighting climate change.  The international confederation of teachers’ unions, Education International, has also supported the student climate strikers, with this Statement of Support (Feb. 28, 2019) and this blog post of February 22.  A CBC report of March 1 also states that staff and faculty of Laurentian University in Sudbury have signed a letter of support for the strikers.

The International Trade Union Confederation issued a statement of support  which states that “Unions in Australia, Belgium, France, Italy, the UK and elsewhere are taking part and many others are active in mobilising their members” and “Taking inspiration from young people, union representatives in workplaces will, in the last week of June, invite employers to sit down with the workers in workplaces to discuss plans to reduce emissions and climate proof workplaces.”

canada may 3 climate strikeCanada’s next big student protest has been set for  May 3.  Updates will be posted on the Facebook Events page hereIn the meantime, 350.org has posted “5 ways you can support the school climate strikes”.

greta thunberg yellow

And last word goes to Nobel-nominee Greta Thunberg, from her Facebook post following the March 15 strikes:

Once you have done your homework, you realize that we need new politics. We need a new economics, where everything is based on our rapidly declining and extremely limited carbon budget.

But that is not enough. We need a whole new way of thinking. The political system that you have created is all about competition. You cheat when you can because all that matters is to win. To get power. That must come to an end. We must stop competing with each other. We need to start cooperating and sharing the remaining resources of this planet in a fair way. We need to start living within the planetary boundaries, focus on equity and take a few steps back for the sake of all living species.
We are just passing on the words of the science. Our only demand is that you start listening to it. And then start acting.

So please stop asking your children for the answers to your own mess.

United Nations reports warn of health impacts of climate change, thawing Arctic

geo6 final 2019The Fourth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) convened from March 11 – 15 in Nairobi, Kenya, under the sombre cloud of the crash of Ethiopian Airlines which killed many, including Canadians, on their way to attend the meetings.

The flagship report, produced by 250 global scientists and experts, is the Sixth Global Environmental Outlook, which the UN press release calls “the most comprehensive and rigorous assessment on the state of the environment completed by the UN in the last five years .. warning that damage to the planet is so dire that people’s health will be increasingly threatened unless urgent action is taken.”  It warns that, without such urgent action,  cities and regions in Asia, the Middle East and Africa could see millions of premature deaths by 2050, with pollutants in freshwater systems leading to deaths through increased  anti-microbial resistance, as well as impacts on  male and female fertility and impaired neurodevelopment of children, from endocrine disruptors.  A 28-page  Summary for Policymakers   is available in multiple languages besides English, including French .  GEO6-NA_cover_large

The official documents from the UNEA meetings are compiled here , including the closing press release summary, “World pledges to protect polluted, degraded planet as it adopts blueprint for more sustainable future” .

Other reports relevant to Canada:

1.The Assessment and Data Report for North America is one of the regional reports, all of which are compiled here .

2.  Global Resources Outlook 2019: Natural Resources for the Future We Want    examines the economic benefits and environmental costs of resource use, and finds that all resource sectors combined (including agriculture, mining, forestry ) account for 53% of the world’s carbon emissions. Extraction and primary processing of metals and other minerals  is responsible for 20% of health impacts from air pollution and 26% of global carbon emissions. The report warns that without change,  resource demand would more than double to 190bn tonnes a year, greenhouse gases would rise by 40% and demand for land would increase by 20%.   A summary of the report appeared in The Guardian.

3.   With a forecast even more dire than the 2018  IPCC report, Global linkages: A graphic look at the changing Arctic  warns that even if global emissions were to halt overnight, winter temperatures in the Arctic would still increase 4 to 5°C by 2100 because  of  greenhouse gases already emitted and ocean heat storage. The UNEA report warns of the dangers of thawing permafrost, predicting that by  2050, four million people, and around 70% of today’s Arctic infrastructure, will be threatened.  However, a critique by  the Carbon Brief    disputes this particular conclusion within the UNEA report, and states that  if humanity can mobilize to hit a -2 degrees C target, “future Arctic winter warming will be around 0.5 to 5.0°C by the 2080s compared to 1986-2005 levels, much lower than the 5.0 to 9.0°C values stated in the report.” … “This means that much of the future warming in the Arctic will depend on our emissions over the 21st century, rather than being ‘locked in’, as the report claims.” The Carbon Brief analysis is summarized in The  Energy Mix .

 

Alberta Federation of Labour’s 12-point Plan, and the art of communicating Just Transition

AFL-Final-logoThe Alberta Federation of Labour has launched a campaign “by and for Alberta’s workers” in advance of the provincial election in Spring 2019. The  Next Alberta Campaign website compares the party platforms of the NDP and the United Conservative Party (UCP) , characterized as  “pragmatists” and “dinosaurs” – with a clear preference for the pragmatist NDP platform.  In a March 13 press release, the AFL also released their own 12 Point Plan with this introduction by Gil McGowan, AFL President : “The old policy prescriptions of corporate tax cuts and deregulation .. are particularly ill-suited to the challenges we face today. And simply waiting for the next boom, as Alberta governments have done for decades, is not an option because it probably won’t happen. Like it or not, our future is going to be defined by change. So, the priority needs to be getting our people and our economy ready for that change, instead of sticking our heads in the sand.”

What exactly does the AFL propose?  Their 12 Point Plan includes initiatives around five themes: Support Alberta’s oil & gas industry; Diversify the economy; Invest in Infrastructure; Invest in people (by investing in public services, including expanding medicare, child care and free tuition, and expanding pension plans); and Protect Workers’ Rights.  With a very pragmatic orientation, the document has no mention of “Just Transition” or coal phase-out, and emissions reduction is proposed in these terms:  “Reduce carbon emissions, as much as possible, from each barrel of oil produced in Alberta so, we can continue to access markets with increasingly stringent emission standards.” 

On the issue of the oil and gas industry, the Plan states:

We need to build new pipelines to access markets other than the U.S.

We need to incentivize and support oil and gas companies in their efforts to reduce emissions so we can continue to access markets with increasingly stringent environmental standards.

Our goal should be to make sure that Alberta is last heavy oil producer standing in an increasingly carbon constrained world.

On the issue of Infrastructure, the 12-Point Plan calls for:

procurement policies need to be revamped, for example, to use Community Benefit Agreements which emphasize the public interest by awarding contracts to companies that hire local, buy local and achieve thresholds related to environmental, social, and economic factors.

companies and contractors working on public infrastructure projects need to comply with labour standards, provide fair pay, and provide training for Albertans.

Research into communicating energy policies:   The Alberta Narrative Project  released a report,  Communicating Climate Change and Energy in Alberta  in February,  documenting Albertan’s voices on issues of climate change, oil sands, politics, and more.  Some highlights are cited in  “Lessons in talking climate with Albertan Oil Workers” (Feb. 21), including:

“In Alberta, recognising the role that oil and gas has played in securing local livelihoods proved crucial. Most environmentalists would balk at a narrative of ‘gratitude’ towards oil, but co-producing an equitable path out of fossil fuel dependency means making oil sands workers feel valued, not attacked. Empathic language that acknowledges oil’s place in local history could therefore be the key to cultivating support for decarbonisation.

…..This project was also one of the first to test language specifically on energy transitions. While participants were generally receptive to the concept, the word ‘just’, with its social justice connotations, proved to be anything but politically neutral. In an environment where attitudes towards climate are bound to political identities, many interviewees showed a reluctance to the idea of government handouts, even where an unjust transition would likely put them out of a job. Rather, the report recommends a narrative of ‘diversification’ rather than ‘transition’, stressing positive future opportunities instead of moving away from a negative past.”

The Alberta Narratives Project is part of the global Climate Outreach Initiative,  whose goal is to understand and train communicators to deliver effective communications which lead to cooperative approaches.  The Alberta Narratives Project, with lead partners The Pembina Institute and Alberta Ecotrust,  coordinated  75 community  organizations to host 55  facilitated “Narrative Workshops” around the province, engaging an unusually  broad spectrum of people: farmers, oil sands workers, energy leaders, business leaders, youth, environmentalists, New Canadians and others.

pembina energy alberta 2019Pembina Institute communications seem to reflect the goal of an inclusive, constructive tone. For example, their pre-election report,  Energy Policy Leadership in Alberta , released on March 8, makes recommendations regarding renewable energy, energy efficiency,  coal phase-out, methane regulation, and “legislating an emissions reduction target for Alberta that is consistent with ensuring Canada meets its international obligations under the Paris climate agreement.”  Also, Pricing Carbon Pollution in Alberta (March 8), which places carbon pricing in the history of the province since 2007, stresses the benefits, and makes recommendations relevant to the current political debate.

 

AFL-CIO Energy Committee releases letter opposing the Green New Deal

A  letter, dated March 8, was addressed to Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, and signed by  Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America , and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, on behalf of the  AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee.  The letter  states :   “..the Green New Deal resolution is far too short on specific solutions that speak to the jobs of our members and the critical sectors of our economy. It is not rooted in an engineering-based approach and makes promises that are not achievable or realistic.”  “…We want to engage on climate issues in a manner that does not impinge on enacting other labor priorities, especially much-needed infrastructure legislation…”

IBEW congress logoHow they would engage and what they would propose is contained in a position paper posted on the IBEW website, and drafted by the IBEW, UMWA, and five other unions in the electric utility, construction, and rail transport sectors.  The position paper,  Preliminary  Labor Positions on Climate Legislation , states their opposition to carbon tax legislation and grave concerns about the Green New Deal . It calls for comprehensive, economy wide climate legislation which would include an national emissions trading scheme, to be introduced no earlier than 10 years after enacting legislation, to allow for development of Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS)  technologies.  It also calls for worker transition protections, including compensation and retraining.  The policy document was submitted to the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee for the record of their  February 6th meeting:  “Time for Action: Addressing the Economic and Environmental Effects of Climate Change“.

Reaction:  The Washington Post reported:  “AFL-CIO criticizes Green New Deal, calling it ‘not achievable or realistic’” (March 12)  and  in a follow-up piece , “Labor opposition to Green New Deal could be a big obstacle” ( March 14).  The United Mine Workers re-posted the Washington Post article .  Friends of the Earth, in its reaction to the March 8 letter, states “one-fifth of the unions that make up the AFL-CIO energy committee commented on the Green New Deal”,  and,  “With the energy committee’s position, the AFL joins climate deniers like the Koch brothers, the Republican Party and Big Oil. We encourage the AFL and other unions within it to rethink this position.”