Circular economy contributes to clean growth – but what are the implications for jobs?

Circular economy coverGetting to a Circular Economy: A primer for Canadian policymakers was released by Smart Prosperity (formerly Sustainable Prosperity) on January 24, the first in a planned series of policy briefs and blogs on the topic. This introductory Primer starts from the widely-held premise that current global production and consumption models are unsustainable,  and states that “Canadian discussion on the circular economy has been overshadowed by the national emphasis on climate change and clean growth. In fact, the two approaches have significant goals in common: a focus on a low-carbon economy and on economic growth, innovation and new technologies.”

The Primer uses  a broad  definition developed by Canada’s Circular Economy Lab (CEL):  circular economy is “an approach to maximize value and eliminate waste by improving (and in some cases transforming) how goods and services are designed, manufactured and used. It touches on everything from material to business strategy to the configuration of regulatory frameworks, incentives and markets.” The Policy Brief provides a catalogue and description of the major circular economy policies and initiatives from around the world, especially Europe; from Canada, these include the National Zero Waste Council,  the Circular Economy Lab , L’Institut d’environnement, du développement durable et de l’économie circulaire (EDDEC)  in Quebec, and BioFuelNet , through which Warren Mabee of the ACW conducts research on advanced biofuels.   The Brief concludes by proposing  “Top 6 Tools for Accelerating the Circular Economy in Canada” , including  extended producer responsibility programs and policies; green procurement;  and public investments in circular economy related research, development, innovation and pilots.”  The Brief identifies one of the research gaps as the need to understand the social and employment impacts of the circular economy, and how to manage them.

In related news, on January 22 at the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) was launched , with an agreement between the United Nations Environment Program and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the prominent U.K. charity whose mission is to accelerate the shift to a circular economy. To kick off the project,  eleven global corporations pledged that all their packaging will be reused, recycled or composted by the year 2025.

Canada needs a mix of reactive and proactive Just Transition policies across the country

Hadrian Decarbonization coverMaking Decarbonization Work for Workers: Policies for a just transition to a zero-carbon economy”  was released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on January 25th.  In light of  the federal government’s pledge to launch a Task Force on Just Transition in 2018, this report makes a unique contribution by using census data to identify the regions in each province with the greatest reliance on fossil fuel jobs. While fossil fuel dependence is overwhelmingly concentrated in Alberta, with a few “hot spots” in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, the report identifies communities from other provinces where fossil fuel jobs represent a significant part of the local economy – for example, Bay Roberts, Newfoundland; Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; Saint John, New Brunswick; Sarnia, Ontario.  The report also makes the useful distinction between “reactive”  just transition policies, which are intended to minimize the harm to workers of decarbonization, and “pro-active” just transition policies, which are intended to maximize the benefits.   The author argues that, if the broad goal of a just transition is to ensure an equitable, productive outcome for all workers in the zero-carbon economy, a mix of reactive and proactive elements is necessary. Thus,  a national just transition strategy is required for fossil fuel-dependent communities, but workers in any industry facing job loss and retraining costs will also need support from enhanced social security programs.  In addition, governments must invest in workforce development programs to ensure there are enough skilled workers to fill the new jobs which will be created by the zero-carbon economy.

Making Decarbonization Work for Workers is  a co-publication by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change research program . The author is  CCPA researcher Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood.

Clean Technology Employment in Canada – new data from two Statistics Canada releases

Aerial view of the National Wind Technology Center; wind turbines

A December 15 article in Energy Mix reported   “More Canadians working in green jobs than in oil patch”; the National Observer wrote   “ There are nearly 300,000 high-paying clean tech jobs in Canada”.      Both articles  were based on data released by Statistics Canada on December 13 from its new  Environmental and Clean Technology Products Economic Account survey.  Statistics Canada estimates that  274,000 jobs were attributable to environmental and clean technology activity in 2016, accounting for 1.5% of jobs in the Canadian economy.   This represents a growth of 4.5% since 2007 – but at a time when employment in the economy as a whole grew 8.4%.  The good news of the data shows higher than average annual labour compensation per job (including benefits) for environmental and clean technology jobs –  $92,000, compared with an economy-wide average of $59,900.  This is largely because of the inclusion of electricity and waste management – without those two sectors, the average compensation per job was $82,000.

Environmental and Clean Technology Products Economic Account, 2007 to 2016   is a 3-page summary report; full, interactive data is provided in  CANSIM tables , including a separate table for employment .

Smaller employment numbers are reported by the  Survey of Environmental Goods and Services (SEGS), most recently published on December 12, 2017, and providing data from 2015.  Amongst the findings: “Ontario ($600 million) and Quebec ($247 million) businesses exported almost $850 million worth of environmental and clean technology goods and services in 2015. This accounted for 71.7% of all Canadian exports in this sector…..  In 2015, about 11,000 people held environmental and clean technology positions in Ontario, while almost 4,000 people were employed in this sector in Quebec. Waste management services provided jobs for another 15,000 people in Ontario and 7,000 people in Quebec.”  CANSIM Tables for the SEGS are here , including a table showing employment by region of Canada.

How to explain the differences? The Environmental and Clean Technology Products Economic Account includes clean energy, waste management, environmental and clean technology manufacturing industries, and technical services, which gives it  a broader scope than the Survey of Environmental Goods and Services (SEGS), as explained here .

Union conference focus: fighting climate change with innovative campaigns

LNS convergence meetingLabour and climate activists gathered to exchange experiences and plan for future action at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate event, held on September 23-24, under the banner “Building Worker Power to Confront Climate Change.”  The meeting was hosted by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), which  recently released a report on the meetings  summarizing the impressive initiatives and projects,  including:  the Canadian Postal Workers Union proposal Delivering Community Power,  which envisions expansion and re-purposing of the postal station network to provide electric vehicle charging stations, farm-to-table food delivery, and  community banking ; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters described the San Francisco Zero Waste program that now diverts 80% of municipal waste from landfills into recycling and composting and provides union jobs; Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199  described their environmental and climate justice programs, resulting from the impact of disasters  like Superstorm Sandy;  worker training programs at the Net-Zero Energy training facility built by the  International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 595 in partnership with the Northern California National Electrical Contractors Association; the United Food and Commercial Workers described their experience with the  Good Food Purchasing Policy as a tool for protecting and enhancing labor standards for workers in the food industry and advancing climate justice; and the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen profiled their successful Green Diesel campaign to win cleaner fuel engines and a visionary strategy called  “Solutionary Rail” ,  profiled in “How we can turn railroads into a climate solution”  in Grist (March 2017) and in “ Electric Trains everywhere – A Solution to crumbling roads and climate crisis”  in  YES Magazine (May 2017).

Participants at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate included over 130 people –  labour union leaders, organizers, and rank and file activists from 17 unions, 3 state federations/central labor councils and 6 labor support organizations,  as well as environmental and economic justice activists.

Quebec Pension fund leads the way in low-carbon investing in Canada

The  Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) is Canada’s second largest pension fund, with $286.5 billion under management for the  public and parapublic pension plans of  Quebec workers. On October 18, the Caisse burnished its existing reputation as a responsible investor by releasing  “Our Investment Strategy to address Climate Change”,    a detailed strategy document which pledges to factor climate change into every investment decision.   The CDPQ will increase its low-carbon investments by 50% by 2020, and reduce the carbon intensity of its portfolio by 25% by 2025 across all asset classes.   According to an article in the Montreal Gazette , “the Caisse is the first fund in North America, and only the second in the world — after the New Zealand Superannuation Fund — to adopt this type of approach.” That article also notes that investment managers’ compensation will be tied to the emissions performance of their investments:  investment teams will be given fixed carbon budgets, “and their performance will be evaluated and remuneration linked to how well they stick to these budgets.” The announcement was also covered by the Globe and Mail  .

In contrast, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board , entrusted with the funds to support the public pensions of 20 million Canadians (the CPP), continues to invest in oil and gas ventures – and according to Bloomberg Research , is currently involved in a bidding process for an Australian coal operation owned by Rio Tinto .  Friends of the Earth Canada is advocating against the bid as part of its ongoing campaign, Time to Climate-Risk-Proof the CPP  .  The CPPIB describes its investment strategy regarding climate change here  .

It is worth noting that the Labor Convergence on Climate event  organized by the Labor Network for Sustainability in September included a discussion of how union leaders and rank and file members can work through their pension funds to join the movement to divest from fossil fuels and make green investments .

The role of the banking and investment community is important in policy development also; the case is most recently made in  “Three suggestions for for B.C.’s Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council” in the National Observer (Oct. 26). The article concludes:  “If the Advisory Council wants to see money move to support its policy aspirations they will have to find genuinely committed allies in the asset management and banking community. Action on climate change is great economic opportunity for British Columbia and Canada, and the financial sector must be brought into the discussion in order to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon energy system.”

How receptive is the Canadian investment community to considering and disclosing climate change risks and stranded assets? Two reports  by the UN-affiliated Principles for Responsible Investment ( PRI )   are relevant to this question. Fiduciary duty in the 21st century: Canada roadmap (Jan. 2017) makes recommendations for how Canadian pension fund and investment managers can catch up with the international community and implement the recommendations of the Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) . The PRI Canada country review (June 2017) describes the current regulatory framework for environmental and social governance disclosure .  The Responsible Investment Association has  also published the 2016 Canadian Responsible Investment Trends Report .

Actors within Canada include the Canadian Securities Administrators , which began their own  review on climate-related financial disclosure practices in March 2017 , but have not yet reported.   A group of Canadian Chief Financial Officers launched  the CFO Leadership Network in March 2017, to focus on the role CFO’s play in integrating environmental and social issues into financial decision making. The Canadian CFO Leadership Network is the Canadian Chapter of The Prince of Wales’s Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) CFO Leadership Network; in Canada, it operates in partnership with Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada , with support from The Prince’s Charities Canada.

Finally, SHARE (Shareholder Association for Research & Education), is a Vancouver-based organization which actively promotes sustainable and responsible investing. On October 12, it announced  that it is participating in an investor-led initiative which has written to the CEO’s of sixty of the world’s largest banks, including six Canadian banks, calling on them to adopt the landmark recommendations of the Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), released by the Financial Stability Board in December 2016 .  Specifically, they call for disclosure in four key areas: climate-relevant strategy and implementation, climate-related risk assessments and management, low-carbon banking products and services, and banks’ public policy engagements and collaboration.