U.K. Citizens Climate Assembly report reveals a window on public opinion

On September 10, after meetings which spanned 5 months and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Citizens’ Climate Assembly issued its final, 556-page report, The Path to Net-Zero, with over 50 recommendations on how the U.K. should reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The 108 member group, ages 16 to 79, was selected to be representative of the country in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, education, rural versus urban, geography and level of concern about climate change.  Their recommendations, summarized by The Guardian here and by Carbon Brief here, were built on agreed-upon principles that included urgency and fairness – “Fair to people with jobs in different sectors. Fair to people with different incomes, travel preferences and housing arrangements. Fair to people who live in different parts of the UK”.  In general, participants preferred protecting and restoring nature over technological solutions, and stressed the value of ‘co-benefits’ of improved health and local community and economic benefits.  Specific recommendations included measures to decarbonize transport  (including a ban on SUV’s and a frequent flyer tax for air travelers) and a reduction in  meat and dairy consumption by between 20% and 40%.

The recommendations will be tabled and debated in the U.K. House of Commons, and the six select committee chairs that commissioned the report will provide responses.  A press release by the Assembly describes the process further.

Scientists actually DO know how climate change contributes to California’s wildfires

Despite Donald Trump’s off-hand dismissal of climate scientists on his visit to California’s apocalyptic wildfires, there are plenty of scientists who ACTUALLY DO know how climate change contributes to these disasters. Below are some recent examples of this well-established relationship and impacts.  

Climate change is increasing the likelihood of extreme autumn wildfire conditions across California”  appeared in Environmental Research Letters in August. One of the co-authors, Daniel Swain, writes an ongoing blog, Weather West, which chronicles and explains “California weather and climate perspectives” from his perch at the University of California at L.A. Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. The Union of Concerned Scientists have also posted an Infographic: Wildfires and Climate Change, which summarizes trends, impacts and costs, including health costs.

Some mainstream media is giving voice to climate scientists :

 “How Can We Plan for the Future in California?” by transplanted Canadian climate scientist Leah Stokes, appeared in The Atlantic (Aug. 23). She is also interviewed by Democracy Now in “This is climate change : West Coast Fires Scorch Millions of Acres & Blot Out the Sun” (Sept. 10).

 “The Burning  West” special feature compilation of articles from Inside Climate News, which includes “California and Colorado Fires May Be Part of a Climate-Driven Transformation of Wildfires Around the Globe” (Aug. 22) and “10 Days of Climate Extremes: From Record Heat to Wildfires to the One-Two Punch of Hurricane Laura” (Aug. 29 ), and “A Siege of 80 Large, Uncontained Wildfires Sweeps the Hot, Dry West”  (Sept. 9), which catalogues the fire events to date.

“A Climate Reckoning in Fire-Stricken California” in the New York Times (Sept. 10,updated Sept. 14)  

These Are Climate Fires”: Oregon Firefighter Ecologist Says Devastating Blazes Are a Wake-Up Call” in Democracy Now (Sept. 14)

Climate change is worsening California’s hellish wildfires” in Yale Climate Connections (Aug. 24).

California wildfires getting bigger, moving faster than ever” in the Toronto Star (Sept. 10)

Climate grief is burning across the American West” in Wired (Sept. 14)

Wildfire Impact on workers

On the Front Lines: Climate Change Threatens the Health of America’s Workers  was released in July by the Natural Resources Defense Council, and documents the “myriad threats” posed by wildfires, explaining “Increases in wildfires will put more emergency responders and recovery workers in dangerous situations and expose more outdoor and indoor workers to unhealthy wildfire smoke.” The report also explains some of the mental health aftermath and provides dozens of links to scientific research.

Pandemic, Wildfires & Heat Wave: Undocumented Farmworkers Face “Triple Threat” as West Coast Burns” in Democracy Now (Sept. 14).

A Human Tragedy”: Wildfires Reveal California’s Reliance on Incarcerated Firefighters” in Democracy Now (August 25).

In the US West Scorched by Wildfires, We Can Barely Breathe. It’s Going to Get Worse” from the Union of Concerned Scientists (Sept. 14) – an overview which briefly discusses outdoor workers and relies on a 2016 article from Climate Change to conclude: “All told, there are roughly 4.8 million outdoor workers across the western US who are exposed to wildfire smoke in an average year.” 

California Bill Clears Path For Ex-Inmates To Become Firefighters” at NPR (Sept. 11) , describing AB2147 , a Bill which lets prisoners who had worked in California’s prisoner-firefighting program petition the courts to dismiss their convictions after completing their sentences.

Green skills training for recovery

Many green recovery proposals have recognized the importance of energy efficiency and retrofitting. Below, some examples from voices within the Canadian building sector itself, focusing on green skills training:

Workforce 2030 is a practical initiative launched in Toronto on July 23 –  a cross-sectoral coalition of employers, educators, and workers in Ontario’s  building sector, coordinated by by The Atmospheric Fund (TAF) and Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC).  John Cartwright, President of Toronto and York Region Labour Council, and a member of the 14-person Advisory Council states:  “Workforce 2030 is a collaboration that will increase the capacity of the skilled trades to meet the low-carbon standards required in the built form of tomorrow. We need to continuously improve low-carbon skills for the entire sector, deepen our commitment to high-quality training, and grow our workforce through equity and inclusion.”  The Statement of Principles outlines values of collaboration, accountability, and equity.  More details are here.  

Canada’s Green Building Council published Ready, Set, Grow: How the green building industry can re-ignite Canada’s economy in May 2020.  Some of its proposals are endorsed in Efficiency Canada’s Pre-budget submission to the Government of Canada (August 5)  – specifically, a call to allocate $500 million ($1000 per employee) to access existing training programs, and a further investment of $1 billion to attract and train new people to create energy efficient and green building careers. The pre-Budget submission states:  “The multiple benefits of energy efficiency can help Canada manage both demand and supply shocks from COVID-19 while improving the operation of our buildings to reduce virus transmission.”   Its recommendations also include $1.5 billion in government funding to expand green building workforce training.  

In September, Efficiency Canada released Tiered Energy Codes: Best Practices for Code Compliance , which “explores the evolution of energy codes, reviews compliance regimes, and provides high-level recommendations to assist in the compliant expansion of advanced tiered energy codes nationwide.” As the paper explains, codes and practices vary widely across jurisdictions in Canada. The report points to the British Columbia Step Code, B.C. Hydro projects, and Toronto Ontario as best practice models. Regarding training, it focuses on  the training needs of builders and  building inspectors, rather than on the skilled trades.

The Pembina Institute published recommendations for British Columbia, in Accelerating B.C.’s economic recovery through building retrofits Submission to the Government of British Columbia (July 28). One of its Guiding Principles is : “Build the workforce: Partner with public and private organizations to deliver subsidized training programs, develop design guides, conduct integrated design sessions (charrettes), create data tools (e.g. remote energy audits), etc. Provide retraining support for impacted economic sectors to join the retrofit economy workforce.”

Much more detail is provided by Pembina in Training up for deep retrofits (July), which enumerates what green skills are needed, how governments can help, and where existing training opportunities are currently available in Canada.  The Pembina Institute is one of the partners in the Reframed Initiative, which works with designers, builders, owners, financiers, and policy-makers to scale up deep retrofits.

The  Toronto Atmospheric Fund, partner in Workforce 2030, submitted a formal Presentation to the federal Pre-Budget Consultations, calling for the federal government to invest at least $50 billion over five years in climate-focused clean stimulus measures, including at least $27 billion in climate resilient and energy efficient buildings, with at least $2 billion over 5 years to support deep retrofits that maximize carbon reduction and community benefits.

On July 22,  the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery released  its Interim Report ,  costing out five key policy directions for the next five years, with a total price tag of just under $50 billion.  The Task Force lists key actions and actors to achieve five broad goals:  “Invest in climate resilient and energy efficient buildings; Jumpstart Canada’s production and adoption of zero-emission vehicles; Go big on growing Canada’s clean energy sectors; Invest in the nature that protects and sustains us; Grow clean competitiveness and jobs across the Canadian economy .  As part of #1, investment in climate resilient and energy efficient buildings, the Task Force calls for “investing $1.25 billion in workforce development for energy efficiency and climate resiliency, including for enhancing access to training programs and for developing new approaches.”  The Task Force Final Report is scheduled for release on September 16 at their website .

Seven renewable energy co-ops send a 9-page Letter to federal ministers on June 24 , titled  “Federal Post COVID 19 Recovery Stimulus to Unlock Community Investment in Clean Energy”.  While their suggestions focused on clean community power , they also called for incentive grants of $100 million over 5 years for community- financed mass, deep retrofits of community, institutional, and multi-residential buildings.  Participating co-ops include the Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-op (OREC)/CoEnergy, SES Solar Co-operative Ltd. in Saskatoon, Bow Valley Green Energy Cooperative in Calgary area, Colchester-Cumberland Wind Field Inc. in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, the Solar Power Investment Co-operative of Edmonton, Wascana Solar Co-op in Regina, and SolarShare in Toronto. 

Labour union proposals for Green Recovery

Canadian Labour Congress

To coincide with Labour Day and in advance of the federal government plan, expected to be released in the Throne Speech on September 23, the Canadian Labour Congress unveiled its new social media campaign, “Forward Together: A Canadian Plan” with a press release which says: “We need the government to reject calls for austerity and make real investments in our future. The only way to fix what’s broken is to invest,” …. “Workers are key to the recovery. The federal government can help alleviate a lot of anxiety by investing in jobs, making long-term care part of public health care, supporting a child care strategy, and implementing national pharmacare.”

Media coverage related to this launch focussed on the employment impacts and the CLC recommendations to expand employment insurance: for example, in the Opinion piece by CLC President Hassan Yussuff in the Toronto Globe and Mail and in  “Canada’s Top Labour Leader on Building a Better Life for Workers after the Pandemic”, published by The Tyee. Yet this focus doesn’t match up with the CLC pre-Budget Submission to the federal government in August,  Forward Together: A Good Jobs and Climate Budget.

That formal document states : “Budget 2021 must be a Climate Action budget” and makes the first of its five recommendations: “Budget 2021 should set out a plan, with clear targets, benchmarks and timetables, for achieving Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions targets, committing $81 billion over 5 years to expand renewable energy, home and building retrofits, public transit, and Just Transition measures supporting workers and their families.”   

Under the heading “Climate Action and Just Transition”, the CLC states: “Budget 2021 must be a Climate Action budget. The CLC recommends that the federal government adopt a five-year plan setting out a bold plan with clear targets, benchmarks and timetables for accomplishing a systematic shift in Canada’s energy system, its transportation networks, and housing and building stock. Expanded public investments in renewable energy production, green building construction, and public transportation offer major opportunities for skills training and the large-scale creation of good jobs. Along with its partner organizations in the Green Economy Network, the CLC calls for investments of $81 billion over 5 years in order to develop renewable energy, home and building retrofits, and low-emissions public transportation in urban centres.

The CLC recommends that the federal government establish a Crown corporation mandated to overhaul and transform Canada’s energy industry in collaboration with provinces and territories. It would identify renewable energy projects and ensure that existing and new manufacturing sources increase capacity to supply parts, equipment and new technology to meet Canada’s renewable energy needs. Through direct investment and procurement policy, the federal government should support continued conversion of idle plant for the manufacture of medically-necessary and green economy products and equipment. Consistent with this, it should invest in the conversion of the General Motors Oshawa facility to produce zero-emission vehicles to electrify the Canada Post fleet.

Budget 2021 must significantly expand investments in Just Transition measures to assist workers, their families and their communities affected by climate change policy to access training and employment services, relocation, childcare and housing assistance to adjust to new jobs, and support for older workers to transition to retirement.

Following the experience of the European Union, the federal, provincial and territorial governments should establish a guarantee that all young people under the age of 25 will receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. This could include a focus on providing decent jobs in land remediation and restoration, climate adaptation, and energy efficiency. It should also include green skills training and learning opportunities through partnerships with public education and training providers, with an emphasis on women, marginalized, low-income and at-risk youth.”

Green Recovery proposals have been made by other Canadian unions and union-affiliated groups are described in a previous WCR post, Update: Summer Proposals for Canada’s Green Recovery focus on public infrastructure, retrofitting .

United States unions endorsing a THRIVE Agenda:

Although the U.S. labour unions are famously independent-minded and following different paths, but on September 10, a new initiative launched. The THRIVE Agenda is an economic renewal plan created by the Green New Deal Network and endorsed by more than 100 climate justice, civil rights and labour organizations –  including the American Federation of Teachers, American Postal Workers Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, Communication Workers of America, Railroad Workers United, Service Employees International, United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) as well as the  Labor Network for Sustainability. Notably, it is also endorsed by prominent Congressional leaders including Senators Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren, Chuck Schumer, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among many others.

The THRIVE Agenda proposes “ to revive our economy while addressing these interlocking crises of climate change, racial injustice, public health, and economic inequity with a plan to create dignified jobs for millions of unemployed workers and support a better life for the millions more who remain vulnerable in this pivotal moment.”   A 6-page Resolution document offers details of the goals, condensed into “8 Pillars” which include:   Pillar 5:  “Combating environmental injustice and ensuring healthy lives for all; Pillar 6 “Averting climate and environmental catastrophe”; Pillar 7 “Ensuring fairness for workers and communities affected by economic transitions” and Pillar 8 “Reinvesting in public institutions that enable workers and communities to thrive”.  

The THRIVE Agenda claims that their proposals would create nearly 16 million new jobs and sustain them over the next critical decade, based on modelling by Robert Pollin and Shouvik Chakraborty, published by the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) in  September 2020.  Their report, Job Creation Estimates Through Proposed Economic Stimulus Measures models the costs and job creation benefits of economic recovery proposals made by various groups in the U.S.

For recent context on the political stance of U.S. unions:  “Unions fracture over climate” is a long-read from Politico’s newsletter, The Long Game , published on Sept 1  and re-posted to Portside  on Sept. 6.   It argues that “Environmental protection and union jobs are a fault line among Democrats, which will only be magnified nationwide if Joe Biden defeats President Donald Trump in November. The article includes  quotes from union members from building trades in California, SEIU in New Jersey, United Mine Workers, and Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. Also, “The Green New Deal Just Won a Major Union Endorsement. What’s Stopping the AFL-CIO?” (Aug. 20) and “Why Every Job in the Renewable Energy Industry Must Be a Union Job” (Sept. 3) both appeared in In these Times.

United Kingdom Trades Union Congress

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) released a series of reports over the Spring and Summer with recommendations for economic recovery.  Most recently, on September 13, A plan for public service jobs to help prevent mass unemployment  calls for direct government investment to create 600,000 jobs in health care, social services, local government, education, and public administration.   In June, they released  Rebuilding after recession: A Plan for Jobs , which calls for government action, including sectoral recovery panels composed of unions, employers and government, and a new government -funded jobs guarantee, with increased training rights for workers who lose their jobs. The Rebuilding after Recession report was based on economic research conducted by Transition Economics , titled  Can an infrastructure stimulus replace UK jobs wiped out by COVID19 crisis? That study concluded that “1.24 million jobs across the UK can be created in the coming two years through a two year emergency clean infrastructure stimulus, reabsorbing workers who have lost employment due to the COVID19 crisis. Our analysis recommends 19 infrastructure projects totalling £85 billion public investment.”  An earlier report from TUC, A Better Recovery had been released in May, and in June, the TUC in Wales released  A Green Recovery and a  Just Transition  

International Trade Union Confederation

The International Trade Union Confederation announced a new campaign , “A New Social Contract for Recovery and Resilience” , to be focused on the  World Day for Decent Work on October 7. The Social Contract statement, released in July, is a broad statement of principles which address “the convergent challenges of the pandemic, climate change and inequality”. 

Job creation is a co-benefit of reducing air pollution

1.5 million jobs in Canada in 2050 by meeting Net-Zero emissions targets

The Healthy Recovery Plan released by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) on July 14 quantifies the potential health benefits related to improved air quality in Canada, makes detailed recommendations for green recovery stimulus, and estimates the  job creation benefits of those recommendations: notably decarbonization of electricity generation and public transit by 2040, and decarbonization of vehicles, residential and commercial buildings, and healthcare by 2050.  

The report presents original research, conducted for CAPE by Navius Research, which simulated the health benefits of climate actions that meet Canada’s emissions reduction targets, using Health Canada’s own Air Quality Benefits Assessment Tool. Navius estimates that by meeting its climate targets, Canada will save 112,000 lives between 2030 and 2050 due to air quality improvements alone. Navius Research also simulated key economic impacts of an emissions scenario in line with Canada’s climate target of net-zero emissions by 2050, and found that clean jobs could increase from 210,000 full-time equivalent positions in 2020 to 1.5 million in 2050.

U.K. Employers group calls for air pollution reduction as part of a green recovery

Polluted air in the U.K.  is responsible for the loss of 3 million working days each year, according to research commissioned by the British Clean Air Fund, and conducted by CBI Economics, part of the British employers’ group, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) . Breathing life into the UK Economy quantifies the economic benefits if the UK were to meet air quality guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). The report estimates that improved health of workers would translate into a £1 billion gain for the economy in the first year, a £600 million gain to businesses from reduced absenteeism, and a £900 million increase in wages each year. The report also includes estimates for individual urban areas (London, Manchester, Bristol, and Birmingham).  Air pollution is a high profile issue in British politics, with U.K. unions campaigning since 2017 for a legal obligation on employers to address air pollution from their activities.  The Clean Air Fund press release which accompanied the release of the report quotes the CBI position: “Not only is there a clear moral responsibility to address air pollution and the impact it has on human health and the environment, there’s also a striking economic rationale. That is why the CBI has been absolutely clear that a focus on green recovery should be central to our COVID-19 response…. From mass energy efficiency programmes to building new sustainable transport infrastructure, the green economy offers incredible opportunities for the UK. Improving air quality should be a key part of the UK’s journey to net zero.” 

Dangers of air pollution for road workers increases in summer

Asphalt roads make city air pollution worse in summer, study finds “ appeared in The Guardian (Sept. 2), summarizing U.S. research that found a 300% increase in emissions of secondary organic aerosols (SOA) when asphalt was exposed to hot summer conditions. The full academic article appeared in Science Advances in September.  Dr Gary Fuller, air quality expert at Imperial College London is quoted in The Guardian: “We have historically thought of traffic pollution as coming from vehicle exhausts. This has been the focus of policy and new vehicles have to be fitted with exhaust clean-up technologies. ..With heavier and heavier vehicles, the combined total of particle pollution from road surface, brake and tyre wear is now greater than the particle emissions from vehicle exhaust but there are no policies to control this.” Also quoted, Drew Gentner of Yale University and one of the study’s co-authors : “Hotter, sunnier conditions will lead to more emissions. Additionally, in many locations, asphalt is predominantly applied during the warmer months of the year.” Bad news and added danger for construction workers.

A more general discussion of the extent and impacts of pollution was published by  the European Environment Agency (EEA) on September 8. Healthy environment, healthy lives: how the environment influences health and well-being in Europe reports that environmental pollution caused more than 400,000 premature deaths in the EU per year, and 13% of deaths in Europe were the result of environmental pollution, with air pollution the leading cause.