Activism is working to move pension funds away from stranded fossil assets

 “Canadian pensions are retiring fossil fuel investments” (Corporate Knights magazine, November 9) strikes a hopeful note about the state of Canada’s pension funds, stating:  “Canadian pension portfolio exposures to fossil fuel stocks are down to a 10th of what they were 10 years ago, notwithstanding some controversial private equity investments.”   The article summarizes analysis from the Canadian Pensions Dashboard for Responsible Investing, a new project of The Natural Step Canada, Smart Prosperity Institute, and Corporate Knights.  That full report is a unique overview of sustainability performance, and employs measures such carbon footprint of the portfolio, presence of net-zero targets, the pay link to Environmental Standards (ESG), support for shareholder environmental resolutions, and more.

Another related Corporate Knights article describes youth-driven campaigns which have challenged pension plans to acknowledge and adjust to climate risk.  “How young people are using climate litigation to fight for their future” focuses on youth activism targeting pension funds. It describes a years-long challenge to the Retail Employees Superannuation Trust (REST)  in Australia, which ultimately ended in the pension fund settling a lawsuit out of court by acknowledging that “climate change is a material, direct and current financial risk” that could “lead to catastrophic economic and social consequences.”  The fund also agreed to be more proactive and “ensure that investment managers take active steps to consider, measure and manage financial risks posed by climate change and other relevant ESG risks.”  A second example describes the current activist campaign calling for the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) to phase out all current fossil fuel investments by 2025 and completely decarbonize its portfolio by 2030. Retired teachers and high school students have mobilized in Toronto, under the leadership of Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health (Shift), which is organizing similar campaigns at the ten largest Canadian pension funds.  In September 2021, the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan Board announced  “industry-leading targets to reduce portfolio carbon emissions intensity by 45% by 2025 and two-thirds (67%) by 2030, compared to its 2019 baseline. These emission reduction targets cover all the Fund’s real assets, private natural resources, equity and corporate credit holdings across public and private markets, including external managers.”    The WCR has more detail here .

Relevant to all pension management: new research published in Nature Energy   and summarized in The Guardian with this headline:  “Half world’s fossil fuel assets could become worthless by 2036 in net zero transition” .

New website launched to promote greener international trade agreements

GreenNewTrade.org is a new website aimed at climate justice activists and the general public, describing past and current trade challenges to “Green New Deal–type policies”, and calling for changes to trade rules. For Canadians, the most famous such international trade dispute occurred when Japan and the EU challenged the domestic content provisions in Ontario’s Green Energy Act – and in 2013,  the World Trade Organization ruled against Ontario. There have also been numerous challenges under the investor–state dispute settlement (ISDS) rules of NAFTA and the successor United States Canada Mexico Trade Agreement (USMCA) – the website gives the example of US coal mining company Westmoreland, which in 2018 challenged Alberta’s planned phaseout of coal-fired power plants.   

For an introduction to the issues, see Beyond NAFTA 2.0: A Trade Agenda for People and Planet,  a report released in 2019 by some of the same groups behind this new website: the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives,  the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,  Institute for Policy Studies,  and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung–New York.   A blog post at the Business and Human Rights Resources website describes GreenNewTrade.org .

Report on Canada’s low carbon future makes recommendations for community and worker transitions

 A new report from the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices analyzes the trends in the global transition to a low carbon economy, and warns that  800,000  Canadian jobs could be at risk if we fail to support strategic industries.   The report states that Canada is particularly vulnerable to market disruptions because over 70 per cent of our goods exports and over 60 per cent of foreign direct investment in Canada are in vulnerable sectors – not only fossil fuels, but also such as auto parts and vehicles, minerals, and energy intensive industries such as steel and aluminum.

The report, Sink or Swim: : Transforming Canada’s economy for a global low-carbon future is a business analysis with the overall message that transition offers opportunity, and Canada needs to act more quickly to “catch the wave”. Besides examining the benefits and sectors of opportunity in the low carbon transition, the the report includes a recommendation to: “Develop local and people-focused transition plans that drive new areas of job creation, improve the resilience of the workforce and empower Indigenous economic leadership.” More specifically, the report concludes with : “  Federal, provincial, territorial, municipal, and Indigenous governments should work together to develop detailed transition plans to support workers and communities and improve overall well-being. Transition plans should aim to attract new sources of growth and jobs, support worker transition and skill development, improve youth education outcomes and readiness, ensure alignment with Sustainable Development Goals, and empower Indigenous economic leadership.”

The Sink or Swim discussion starts from a fundamental statement that “achieving success is also about more than supporting affected workers in transition-vulnerable companies or sectors. Success will come from generating strong and inclusive economic growth that improves the wellbeing of all Canadians.”  The ensuing discussion recognizes that multinational companies have weak connections and relationships to local communities, making them more likely to relocate than to re-invest. Using census data, it identifies 55 communities of 10,000 people or more that have more than 3% of their workforce employed in transition-vulnerable sectors, highlighting the Wood Buffalo area in the oil sands of Alberta, and Thompson Manitoba, a nickel-mining community. The report offers recommendations for communities, focusing on the critical areas of infrastructure investment, financing, and the need for local capacity to analyze labour markets and financial opportunities– using the examples of the InvestEU advisory hub and the Colorado Office of Just Transition.

Regarding workers, the report documents the increased vulnerability of youth, minorities, and especially Indigenous workers. It sees the solution for all as improved education and training opportunities – describing programs in B.C. , the North, and for  Indigenous workers.  The report also states: “all post-secondary education programs—including trades, engineering, science, economics, and business—can support transition success by incorporating future skills and knowledge needs into their curricula and programming.” 

Green investment brings greater job creation, but job quality not guaranteed

The Green Jobs Advantage: How Climate-friendly Investments Are Better Job Creators  was co-published by the International Trade Union Confederation, the World Resources Institute and the New Climate Economy, and released in mid-October.  The paper reviews a dozen studies from 2009 to 2020 and compares the job creation projections in Brazil, China, Indonesia, Germany, South Africa, South Korea, the United States and globally.  The analysis of these studies compares near-term job effects from clean energy versus fossil fuels, public transportation versus roads, electric vehicles versus internal combustion engine vehicles, and nature-based solutions versus fossil fuels – with the conclusion that greener investments create more jobs, dollar for dollar. The report also addresses the issue of job quality, and notes that in developing countries, many jobs are informal and temporary, with limited  access to work security, safety, or social protections. In developed countries, “new green jobs may have wages and benefits that aren’t as high as those in traditional sectors where, in many cases, workers have been able to fight for job quality through decades of collective action.”  One conclusion: “ Government investment should come with conditions that ensure fair wages and benefits, work security, safe working conditions, opportunities for training and advancement, the right to organize, and accessibility to all.”

Labour and climate activists make recommendations for fossil fuel workers in new joint report

At a press conference on October 13, representatives of Climate Action Network Canada , Blue Green Canada, United Steelworkers, and Unifor launched a new report,  Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers in Canada’s Energy and Labour Transitions.  The report considers the challenges to the fossil fuel industry, including automation, and projects that 56,000 alternative jobs will need to be created for current Canadian oil and gas workers in the next decade. The report offers seven recommendations for a Just Transition, building on policy proposals from Canada’s Just Transition Task Force for Coal Workers and Communities, the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, and Unifor (whose most recent statement is their submission to the Just Transition consultation process here. ) Key recommendations include: “Recognizing the expertise of workers, through consultation with workers and communities, Canada must create Just Transition policy / legislation that holds the government accountable to developing transition strategies. Similar policy / legislation should be adopted by all provinces with an emphasis on the oil and gas producing provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador.” Funding is seen to come from Covid recovery funds and the Infrastructure Bank, with another recommendation: “Tie public investments to employers meeting conditions on job quality, including pay, access to training, job security, union access and representation through mandatory joint committees.”

Summaries of Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future appear in the press release from Climate Action Network, and in “With Canadian fossil fuel jobs about to be cut in half, it’s time to talk about a just transition” (National Observer, Oct. 15).  The latter article highlights the enhanced impact of the bringing labour unions and climate activists together, and also emphasizes that workers must be included in all transition plans, using the cautionary tale of Algoma Steel. As explained in “Why Mike Da Prat boycotted the prime minister’s Algoma Steel announcement” (Soo Today, July 6 2021) the union was not adequately consulted on transition planning when the government awarded $420 million in July 2021 to help Algoma Steel transition from coal to greener, electric-arc furnace production.

Postal banking services begin in Nova Scotia, Alberta and the U.S.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) announced that Canada Post will launch postal banking, with pilot sites opening in Nova Scotia in September and in Alberta in October. The goal is to offer the new financial services in over 249 Canada Post locations before the end of 2021. (Financial Services Update #4, July 2021).  This brings to fruition an initiative which began with the 2012-2016 collective agreement  between CUPW and Canada Post, and its Appendix T: Service Expansion and Innovation and Change Committee. That Appendix  secured the right “to establish and monitor pilot projects which will test the viability of the proposals” to expand services, as envisaged in the Delivering Community Power campaign.  That larger campaign, which still continues, is meant to green Canada Post, and includes postal banking, conversion of the postal fleet to electric vehicles, provision of electric vehicle charging stations at Canada Post outlets, and more.  The test program offers unsecured loans, and will run in collaboration with TD Bank. CUPW continues to work to establish a postal banking service independent of the big banks, as stated in Financial Services Update #5 (Sept. 2021). The arguments for postal banking appear on the CUPW website, and in Why Canada Needs Postal Banking,  a research paper published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2013.

The U.S. Postal Service also launched a pilot project to offer banking services in four cities in September, allowing customers to cash payroll or business checks of up to $500 and have the money put onto a single-use gift card, which the postal service already sold. The back story is described  in “USPS begins postal banking pilot” (American Prospect, October 11), and in “Postal Banking Could Become a Reality Even Without Congress. Here’s How” (In these Times, May 2018).  As in Canada, the American Postal Workers Union negotiated a Memorandum of Agreement as part of its 2016 collective bargaining agreement, which called for a joint labor/​management task force to consider pilot programs for opportunities to increase revenue – including  two specific ideas: ​“modernization of money orders” and “expansion of international money transfers.” The APWU is an important member of the coalition, Campaign for Postal Banking ,  whose website chronicles the U.S. campaign.

New 5-year Electrification Plan for B.C. not even close to meeting demands of the Climate Emergency Campaign

An Open Letter sent to the B.C. government in September is yet another manifestation of the frustration and impatience of activists amidst ongoing protests in B.C. – notably the Fairy Creek blockade, the Coastal GasLink pipeline and the Trans Mountain pipeline protests . The Open Letter was signed by approximately 200 organizations – mainly environmental and social justice activists, and including the Climate Emergency Unit, which has been instrumental in the formation of the BC Climate Emergency Campaign . Signatories also include five labour unions, the biggest being  the Public Service Alliance of Canada (BC Region). The Open Letter is described more fully in a National Observer article, but can be summarized by its ten demands:  1. Set binding climate targets based on science and justice; 2. Invest in a thriving, regenerative, zero emissions economy 3. Rapidly wind down all fossil fuel production 4.  End fossil fuel subsidies and make polluters pay (by 2022) 5. Leave no-one behind – workers and communities  6. Protect and restore nature 7. Invest in local, organic, regenerative agriculture and food systems  8. Accelerate the transition to zero emission transportation  9. Accelerate the transition to zero emission buildings  (including ban new natural gas connections in new buildings as of 2022)  10. Track and report progress on these actions every year.

 Meanwhile, from the Office of Premier of British Columbia on September 28, came the announcement  a new 5-year Electrification Plan by BC Hydro.  The Plan proposes new programs and increased incentives to switch from fossil fuels to clean electricity in homes, buildings, vehicles, businesses and industry (in addition to the CleanBC Industrial Electrification Rates—Fuel Switching program, already introduced earlier in 2021).  According to the government backgrounder, the latest plan will ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions, keep customer rates lower than by about 1.6% than they would otherwise be in 2026, and will provide “good sustainable jobs by attracting investment from new energy-intensive companies (e.g., data centres, hydrogen production and clean technology) and by making B.C. a destination for new industry technologies. By reducing rate increases, the plan will also help new and existing industries remain cost competitive.”   The Electrification Plan – a clean future powered by water, provides details but no specifics to back up its employment statement.  “BC’s Latest Climate Effort on Electrification Falls Short, Says Ecotrust” (The Tyee, Oct. 1) says that the plan, even if it succeeds, will reduce only 1.3 per cent of B.C.’s total emissions, and that what is needed is a complete overhaul of the B.C. Utilities Commission.   

“Every job can be a climate job”: Employee guide to climate action by Project Drawdown

Climate Solutions at Work is a newly published guide by Drawdown Labs, focussed on the potential for all employees to take climate action through their workplace. The Guide acknowledges that “Inside most companies, only a handful of people with “sustainability” roles consider climate issues part of their workday. But in this most all-encompassing challenge in human history, every job must be a climate job.” 

According to the Drawdown website, “This employee-focused guide has two main objectives: 1. To democratize climate action, so that all employees can contribute – preferably through creating or joining collaborative group efforts;  and 2. To use a  “new drawdown-aligned business framework” to help companies look beyond their existing “net-zero” goals –  (which Greta Thunberg famously told us on September 28, often are just “blah blah blah” ) . The Guide offers a detailed action plan for individuals in the workplace.

 Drawdown Labs is an initiative of Project Drawdown , founded in 2014 as  a nonprofit organization that seeks to help the world reach “drawdown”—the point in the future when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. Their flagship publication, the Drawdown  Review was first published in 2017 and offers an holistic, long-term approach to climate actions.   They also offer learning materials – for example,  Climate Solutions 101 ,  a online video series produced with such partner organizations as the National Council for Science and the Environment in the U.S. (now the Global Council for Science and the Environment ).   

Canada’s second largest pension fund joins Harvard, the MacArthur Foundation in divestment away from fossil fuels

The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ),  the second largest pension fund in Canada, announced on September 28 that it will exit oil production investments at the end of 2022. The new, complete Climate Strategy document is here, and is built on four “vital and complementary pillars, as summarized in a press release

  • Hold $54 billion in green assets by 2025 to actively contribute to a more sustainable economy. 
  • Achieve a 60% reduction in the carbon intensity of the total portfolio by 2030.
  • Create a $10-billion transition envelope to decarbonize the main industrial carbon-emitting sectors. 
  • Complete our exit from oil production by the end of 2022.

Reaction from pension  activist group ShiftAction states that the : “move to exclude investments in oil producers from its portfolio by the end of 2022 is a welcome and significant move that improves the CDPQ’s position as a climate leader among Canada’s major financial institutions. It is amazing that it took until 2021 for a Canadian pension fund to finally recognize that protecting our retirement savings from the worsening climate crisis inevitably requires abandoning market exposure to high-risk fossil fuels…. To achieve climate safety, investment in fossil gas production and infrastructure must also be urgently phased out…… The CDPQ’s progress stands in stark contrast to the Canada Pension Plan, whose CEO said earlier this year that the Canada Pension Plan has no plans to institute a blanket screen on oil and gas during his tenure.”   (Neither does the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, as quoted in the Toronto Star article,  “Canada’s oil industry dealt a financial blow as pension giant divests itself of investment in fossil fuel”) .

New Canadian campaign demands information from pension fund managers

On September 29, letters were delivered to the boards and executive of Canada’s 10 largest pension fund managers, asking for specific and detailed answers by December, about how the funds are meeting their legal fiduciary obligations in the face of the global climate crisis. According to a Greenpeace press release , the letters were coordinated with ShiftAction and Ecojustice. The letters were signed by members of the respective pensions funds, along with some of their union representatives , and were accompanied by appendices of analysis and a legal brief. The 9-page letter to the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, co-signed by Fred Hahn, President of CUPE-Ontario serves as an example.

Global divestment momentum

All of this is part of the growing momentum of the divestment movement in the lead-up to COP26.  On September 10, after years of resisting activist campaigns, Harvard University announced that its $42 billion endowment will bar any future investments in coal, oil and gas.  Stand.earth states: “this landmark announcement marks a tipping point that will cascade throughout mainstream endowments and financial institutions globally.”   On September 22, Reuters reported “MacArthur Foundation joins investment shift away fossil fuels”, stating that the $8.2 billion fund “is the largest foundation in the world to commit publicly to fossil-fuel divestment to date.” Bill McKibben, one of the architects of the global divestment movement, sums it all up, including the new Caisse de dépôt climate policy, in his article “Starving the Beast” (Crucial Years, Sept. 29).

Iron and Earth releases its Prosperous Transition Plan for Canada’s fossil fuel workers

In its recently released Prosperous Transition Plan, Iron and Earth calls for a $61-billion federal investment in Canada’s just transition process, including $10 billion over 10 years to upskill over one million workers, at $10,000 per worker on average.  New I&E Director Luisa Da Silva and Board Director Bruce Wilson wrote “Most oil patch workers believe Canada needs to pivot to a net-zero economy” (Corporate Knights, Aug. 31), summarizing the plan.  In addition to the retraining programs, the Prosperous Transition strategy calls for: 1. rapid refocusing and repositioning of 10,000 Canadian enterprises to meet the emerging demand in net-zero industries. (costed at $20 billion over 10 years); 2. retrofitting and repurposing initiatives for long-term infrastructure, including abandoned oil wells and remediation of well sites. This is costed at the equivalent of  $10-billion, “in the form of incentives and tax offsets, with green strings to carbon-intensive industries investing in net-zero technologies.”  And finally, 3. use of nature-based solutions to prioritize green infrastructure development, expand carbon sinks and revitalize ecosystems and biodiversity (costed at $22 billion over 10 years).   

Iron & Earth describes itself as “a worker-led not-for-profit with a mission to empower fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to build and implement climate solutions.” Since she replaced the founding Executive Director, Liam Hildebrand, in the summer of 2021, Luisa da Silva has taken a higher-profile, and was recently quoted in “Liberals pledge $2 Billion to aid just transition” (National Observer, Aug. 31),  in which she called the Liberal Just Transition election proposals “a good start”. In the same article, she revealed that Iron and Earth, as part of the Just Transition consultation stakeholders, had received an email on Aug. 16 saying that, due to the election call, “consultation sessions on proposed just transition legislation are postponed until further notice, and any invitations sent for upcoming sessions are cancelled.”

Fossil fuel unions in Texas sign on to a climate jobs plan

A July report from the Workers’ Institute at Cornell University Industrial Relations School examines the state of play in Texas and  makes a series of recommendations  “that can help Texas simultaneously combat climate change, create high-quality jobs, and build more equitable and resilient communities.”  Combatting Climate Change, Reversing Inequality: A Climate Jobs Program for Texas identifies the current challenges : a COVID-19 public health pandemic and ensuing economic crisis; a growing crisis of inequality of income, wealth, race and power; and the worsening climate crisis, which has brought weather disasters to the state.   

Texas is an interesting case study: it is the state with the most  greenhouse gas emissions and pollution in the U.S., with 42.4% of emissions from its well-established oil and gas industry.  Oil and gas (including extraction, refining, petrochemical production)  employs over 450,000 Texans, with a state-wide unionization rate of 4.8%.  But Texas also leads the states in wind power installations and has wind power manufacturing facilities. Into this mix, the researchers crafted a series of  concrete recommendations for jobs-driven strategies to achieve a low-carbon, more equitable economy.  These include targets for the installation of wind, solar and geothermal energy, along  with an upgraded electricity grid to handle renewables;  a target of 2040 to electrify school buses and  State and Local government vehicle fleets ; construction of a High-Speed Rail Network between the five largest cities in Texas; a target to reduce energy use in existing buildings by 30% by 2035, and a mandate for Net-Zero Emissions for new construction by 2050; and the creation of a multi-stakeholder Just Transition Commission. The report also applies many of these recommendations for the cities of Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.  

Each of these state-wide recommendations is described in detail, with  costing, GHG emissions reductions estimates, and job creation estimates by sector.  Total direct jobs created over a range from 10 to 25 years is estimated at 1,140,186, with another 1,125,434 indirect and 913,981 induced jobs.

The report was written by Professors  Lara Skinner and  J. Mijin Cha, with research assistance from Hunter Moskowitz and  Matt Phillips, in consultation with 27 Texas labour unions. It accompanies the launch of the Texas Climate Jobs Project , an offshoot of the Texas AFL-CIO.  Lara Skinner describes the report and the Climate Jobs Project in “Why Texas Fossil Fuel unions  signed onto a climate plan” (Grist, July 30). A press release from Texas AFL-CIO includes a summary of recommendations and endorsements from various unions.

Industrial policy in Europe and new “Fit for 55” proposals

For a fair and effective industrial climate transition is a working paper newly published by the European Trade Union Institute, evaluating the support mechanisms for heavy industry (such as steel, cement and chemicals) over the past twenty years. Looking specifically at Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, the paper describes and evaluates policies related to the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), energy tariffs, and other taxes and subsidies at the national level. The authors conclude that the policies have largely been defensive and insufficiently ambitious, and have had negative distributional effects. They call for a more cooperative approach across EU national jurisdictions, and highlight some “best case” current practices, particularly from the Netherlands. Finally, the paper makes specific suggestions for future transition roadmaps which incorporate a “polluter pays” approach, and which incorporate an environmental and social evaluation of all subsidies, tax breaks and other support mechanisms.

The ETUI working paper was completed before the European Commission announced its  ‘Fit for 55’ package on July 14 –   proposals for legislative reforms to reduce emissions by at least 55% from 1990 levels by 2030 . Fit for 55 includes comprehensive and controversial proposals which must survive negotiation and debate before becoming law, but offer  reforms to the Renewable Energy Directive, the Energy Taxation Directive, the Energy Efficiency Directive, and the European ETS, including a carbon border adjustment mechanism.  Also included: a circular economy action plan, an EU biodiversity strategy, and agricultural reform.  The Guardian offers an Explainer here; the Washington Post calls the scope of the proposals “unparalleled”, and highlights for example the transportation proposals, which  mandate reducing new vehicles’ average emissions by 55 percent in 2030 and 100 percent in 2035, which “amounts to an outright ban of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035 ….”.  

California unions endorse a plan for Green Recovery and fossil fuel phase-out

A Program for Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition in California, released in June, is the ninth in a series of reports titled Green Economy Transition Programs for U.S. States, published by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), and written by researchers led by Robert Pollin. In this latest report, the authors address the challenge of economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and contend that it is possible to achieve California’s  official CO2 emissions reduction targets—a 50 percent emissions cut by 2030 and zero emissions by 2045— and at the same time create over 1 million jobs.  The investment programs they propose are based on the proposed national THRIVE Agenda, (introduced into the U.S. Congress in February 2021), and rely on private and public investment to energy efficiency, clean renewable energy, public infrastructure, land restoration and agriculture. The report discusses these sectors, as well as the manufacturing sector, and also includes a detailed just transition program for workers and communities in the fossil fuel industry.

In Chapter 6, “Contraction of California’s Fossil Fuel Industries and Just Transition for Fossil Fuel Workers”, the authors note that only 0.6% of California’s workforce was employed in fossil fuel-based industries in 2019 – approx.112,000 workers. They model two patterns for the industry contraction between 2021-2030:  steady contraction, in which employment losses proceed evenly, by about 5,800 jobs per year; and episodic contraction, in which 12,500 job losses occur in just three separate years, 2021, 2026, and 2030.  After developing transition programs for both scenarios, they estimate that the average annual costs of episodic contraction would be 80% higher ($830 million per year) than the costs of steady contraction  ($470 million per year). As with previous PERI reports, the authors emphasize the importance of the quality of jobs to which workers relocate:  “It is critical that all of these workers receive pension guarantees, health care coverage, re-employment guarantees along with wage subsidies to insure they will not experience income losses, along with retraining and relocation support, as needed. Enacting a generous just transition program for the displaced fossil fuel-based industry workers is especially important. At present, average compensation for these workers is around $130,000. This pay level is well above the roughly $85,000 received by workers in California’s current clean energy sectors.”  Relief Programs for Displaced Oil & Gas Workers Elements of an Equitable Transition for California’s Fossil Fuel Workers  is a 2-page Fact Sheet summarizing the chapter.

The report was commissioned by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, the California Federation of Teachers, and the United Steelworkers Local 675, which represents workers in the oil and chemical industry.  The report has been endorsed by nineteen labour unions – not only those who commissioned it, but also the Alameda Labor Council, Communication Workers of America District 9 ;  International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21 ; various locals of the  Service Employees International Union ; two locals of the  United Auto Workers; UNITE HERE Local 30 ; United Steelworkers Local 5 ; and the  University Professional and Technical Employees—Communications Workers of America 9119.  

Lead author Robert Pollin is interviewed about the report in two articles: “Labor Unions Rally Behind California’s Zero-Emissions Climate Plan“ (Truthout, June 10) and  “A Green Transition for California”  (American Prospect, June 11), which includes a video of the interview.

Scottish Trades Union Congress calls for a national energy company, and “Climate Skills Scotland”

Green Jobs in Scotland is a recent report commissioned by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), written by economists at Transition Economics.  In a highly-readable format, it sets  out how Scotland can maximise green job creation, along with  fair work with effective worker voice.  It takes a sectoral approach, examining the changes needed, the labour market implications and job creation opportunities of those changes, and makes recommendations specific to the sector, for each of 1.  Energy 2.  Buildings 3. Transport 4. Manufacturing/Heavy Industry 5. Waste 6. Agriculture And Land-Use.  As an example, the chapter on Energy is extensive and detailed, and includes  recommendations to  invest £2.5 billion – £4.5 billion (to 2035) in ports and manufacturing to supply large scale offshore renewables and decommissioning,  2. to  establish a Scottish National Energy Company to build 35GW of renewables by 2050, as well as run energy networks and coordinate upgrades; and 3. Encourage local content hiring, with a target to phase in 90% lifetime local content for the National Energy Company.   (Note that an auction is currently underway for rights to North Sea offshore development, as described by the BBC here).

Overall, the report concludes that smart policies and large-scale public investment will be required, and recommends “the creation of a new public body – Climate Skills Scotland – to play a co-ordinating and pro-active role to work with existing providers ….. As many of the occupations in the energy, construction, and manufacturing industries are disproportionately male-dominated, Climate Skills Scotland and other public bodies should also work with training providers and employers to make sure climate jobs and training programmes follow recruitment best practice, and prioritise promotion and incentives to historically marginalised groups, including women, BAME people, and disabled people.”

69% of Canada’s fossil fuel workers willing to move to clean energy jobs, says new poll

On July 14, Iron and Earth Canada released the results of online poll done on their behalf by Abacus Data , surveying 300 Canadians who currently work in the oil, gas, or coal sectors. The survey showed that  61% agreed with the statement:  “Canada should pivot towards a net-zero emissions economy by 2050 to remain a competitive global economy”, and 69% answered “yes” to “Would you consider making a career switch to, or expanding your work involvement in, a job in the net-zero economy?”.  The survey also measured workers’ interest in skills training and development for jobs in the net-zero economy, with 88% interested for themselves, and 80% supporting a National Upskilling Initiative . 

Although workers reported a high degree of optimism for the future (58% agreed that “ I will likely thrive in a Canadian economy that transitions to net-zero emissions by 2050”), workers also expressed their concerns – with 79% of workers under age 45 worried about reduced wages, and 77% of workers under 45 worried about losing their job.  44% of all workers would not consider taking a clean economy job if it resulted in a wage cut.

The full survey results are here , with breakdowns by age, sex, province, occupation, and Indigenous vs. Non-Indigenous.   Articles summarizing the survey appeared in The National Observer, The Narwhal , and The Energy Mix.

On a related note: many younger people are not attracted to a future in the fossil fuel industry, as described in the recent CBC News article “University of Calgary hits pause on bachelor’s program in oil and gas engineering” (July 8), and “U of C sees ‘remarkable’ drop in undergrads focusing on oilpatch engineering and geology “ (Oct. 6 2020).

Build back Better begins with funding to green Algoma Steel

On July 5, the federal government announced that $420 million in federal funding will go to Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario, to enable the company to retrofit their operations and transform their coal-fired steelmaking processes to Electric-Arc Furnace production. The press release from the Prime Minister’s Office explains that Electric-Arc Furnace production is  an electricity-based process,  expected to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by more than 3 million metric tonnes per year by 2030, making Algoma the “greenest” steelmaker in Canada. At the same time, the transformation will create an estimated 500 construction and subcontracting jobs, as well as over 600 new co-op placements for students, and approximately 75 high-tech STEM jobs.

The total cost of Algoma’s transformation is estimated at $703 million over four years – $220 million will come from the federal Infrastructure Bank, and up to $200 million from the Net Zero Accelerator  program, under the Strategic Innovation Fund. A major expenditure, but small compared to the $23 billion worth of support the government has provided since 2018 to the Coastal GasLink, Trans Mountain, and Keystone XL pipelines, according to a new report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development .

Algoma’s press release  and its Environmental policies offer information about the company. A CBC summary of the funding announcement is here, and the Toronto Star offers an Opinion piece, “Justin Trudeau just gave one of Canada’s biggest polluters hundreds of millions of dollars – why won’t he show us the deal?” (July 5) .  In that essay, author Heather Scofield states: “Algoma was first in line to get the federal funding because it was meant to set the tone for building back better. Let’s make sure it sets more than a tone, and actually sets standards of transparency, accountability and weaning our economy off fossil fuels too. ”  

Workers at Algoma are represented by United Steelworkers Local 2251. From the national office, an article, “Canada’s Steel Industry Has A Secret Weapon That Could Soon Beat China’s Cheaper Bid” discusses the union’s hope that government green procurement policies will favour Canadian-made, low-carbon steel in future infrastructure projects. A February 2021 report from BlueGreen Canada made the same point about steel, aluminum and lumber products in  Buy Clean: How Public Construction Dollars can create jobs and cut pollution .  The Work and Climate Change Report previously reviewed some of the Canadian and international reports about greening steel in 2020, here .  In summer 2021, European developments have been profiled “Green steel is picking up steam in Europefrom Canary Media, and  “From Sweden, a Potential Breakthrough for Clean Steel” in Inside Climate News (June 24).

Telecommuting holds promise for decarbonizing Canada’s economy

Connecting Canada on the Road to 2030  is a report released by the Pembina Institute on June 16, with the subtitle: Exploring the climate benefits and impacts of teleworking. The report states that in 2020, the pandemic resulted in a global GHG emissions drop of 3.9% – and in Canada, GHG emissions dropped by 7% compared to 2019.  By August 31, 2020, 27% of Canadians were teleworking full-time (up from 18% in March 2020). The report attributes the greatest proportion of emissions reduction to reduced transportation, but given that the research was commissioned by TELUS Canada, the main focus of the report is to examine the GHG impacts of greater use of the internet.

Using U.S. data when Canadian data is not available, the report states that the increase in residential emissions by employees was outweighed by the decrease in emissions from transportation and commercial buildings, indicating that there is the potential for decarbonization through telework. Residential emissions from internet use are primarily attributed to the energy demand of access devices, such as phones, laptops, and TVs, and the emissions intensity of the electricity grid that powers them – and the report discusses the differences and complexities of renewable energy by Canada’s ICT sector. The attention to the differences in rural and urban Canada is key aspect of this report – both in terms of commuting distances and installed broadband internet capacity.  The report concludes that: “governments must recognize the environmental value of connecting homes in rural and underserved areas to broadband, coupled with investments from government and industry in clean energy to ensure all possible emissions reductions are achieved.”  It makes clear that Canada requires further research into the GHG emissions of internet use.

Job growth in clean energy will more than offset fossil fuel losses

Clean Energy Canada released a new report on June 17,  projecting that Canada’s clean energy sector will grow by almost 50% (over 200,000 jobs) by 2030, to reach 639,200 jobs. The report states that this will far exceed the 125,800 jobs expected to be lost in fossil fuels.  Surprisingly, the province with the greatest increase in clean energy jobs will be Alberta – forecast  to increase by 164% by 2030.  As the introduction concludes: “Oil and gas may have dominated Canada’s energy past, but it’s Canada’s clean energy sector that will define its new reality.”

The New Reality report is the latest in the “Tracking the Energy Transition” series, updating the 2019 report.  It is based on modelling by Navius Research – presented in a technical report here. Employment and GDP numbers are considered under two policy scenarios: the Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Growth and Climate Change (the Liberal government’s previous policy) , and the Healthy Environment, Healthy Economy policy, unveiled in December 2020.  The definition of “clean energy jobs” is broad, and forecasting breaks down into industry sectors – for example, stating that  jobs in electric vehicle technology are on track to grow 39% per year, with 184,000 people set to be employed in the industry in 2030—a 26-fold increase over 2020. The report also highlights specific examples of the pioneering clean energy companies in Canada.

A framework of six essential policies for the U.S. to THRIVE

A new report by Jeremy Brecher of the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) was released in May. Making “Build Back Better” Better: Aligning Climate, Jobs, and Justice is a cast as a “living document” to provide a framework for discussion by the labour and environmental movements.  Common Dreams summarizes it here.  Brecher begins by identifying the range of climate-related policy proposals in the U.S.:   “There are many valuable plans that have been proposed in addition to Build Back Better. The original Green New Deal resolution sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; the THRIVE (Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy) Agenda   ; the Evergreen Action Plan; the Sierra Club’s “How to Build Back Better” economic renewal plan; the AFL-CIO’s “Energy Transitions”proposals; the BlueGreen Alliance’s “Solidarity for Climate Action,” and a variety of others. All offer contributions for overall vision and for policy details.” 

The contribution of this report from LNS is to frame these policy proposals around “six essential elements” : • Managed decline of fossil fuel burning • Full-spectrum job creation • Fair access to good jobs • Labor rights and standards • Urgent and effective climate protection • No worker or community left behind.  The new report links to many of the previous LNS reports which have discussed these elements in more detail.  

Labor Network for Sustainability has endorsed the THRIVE Agenda, with its strong emphasis on climate justice.  At the end of April, The THRIVE Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress, spearheaded by Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, and supported by progressive Democrats, environmentalists, and unions.  The Rolling Stone summarized the provisions  here , stating:  “Bold” may be an understatement. While President Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan calls for spending $2 trillion over the next 10 years, the THRIVE Act green-lights the investment of $1 trillion annually. The money would go toward creating an estimated 15 million “family-sustaining” union jobs, rebuilding the nation’s physical and social infrastructure, and cutting carbon emissions in half by 2030.”

The Green New Deal Network has compiled extensive documentation of the economic studies behind the THRIVE Agenda here , based heavily on the work of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), led by Robert Pollin.  

How Canada can compete in the growing international battery supply chain

A  new report, Turning Talk into Action: Building Canada’s Battery Supply Chain, summarizes a forum of experts convened in March 2021 by Clean Energy Canada.  The resulting report discusses the existing state of electric vehicle and battery manufacturing in Canada, and makes a series of recommendations for action. Expert participants included the union Unifor, along with industry/employer groups: the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, The Battery Metals Association of Canada, the Delphi Group, Electric Mobility Canada, The Lion Electric Co., Dunsky Energy Consulting, Lithion Recycling, the Mining Association of Canada,  Li-Cycle, E3 Metals, the Transition Accelerator, General Motors Canada, E-One Moli Energy (Canada), Magna International, Propulsion Québec, Blue Solutions Canada, and Polaris Strategy + Insight.

The experts argue that Canada has many advantages which allow it to seize this moment of opportunity and establish itself as a major player in the global battery sector – where the global market for lithium-ion batteries is growing rapidly and expected to exceed $100 billion by 2030. Although 80 per cent of the world’s batteries are currently produced in Japan, South Korea and China, the report sets forth ideas for an industrial strategy  for an integrated North American industry, starting with an Interprovincial Battery Secretariat to bring together various provincial agencies within Canada, and an industry-led, government-supported task force to work with the Secretariat and  deliver advice by the end of 2021. With a unified battery plan in place, Canada would then be able to enter a North American Battery Alliance with the U.S., modelled on the European Battery Alliance, to leverage the existing, highly integrated automotive market and emphasizing a “clean” advantage over Asian suppliers.  Recommendations regarding the materials supply chain also emphasize sustainability and transparency in mining. Although there is already government funding available through an $8-billion NetZero Accelerator Fund, the report states that “the federal government must create a $15 billion battery supply chain fund dedicated to addressing challenges and investing in strategic projects along the Canadian value chain. The fund must be carved out specifically for the batteries versus being another stream within the Strategic Innovation Fund.”  Finally, noting that Canada already has technological and R&D expertise in batteries, the report calls for “ a government-funded, industry-led Centre of Excellence focused on commercializing advanced battery technology and manufacturing R&D. The centre would cluster university researchers, mining companies, battery manufacturers, and auto OEMs into one hub to support testing, demonstration, and the commercialization of new technologies.” Recycling would also be one of the areas included.

 The report is summarized in this Clean Energy Canada press release .