Canadian government climate priorities detailed in Mandate Letters to Ministers

The government’s priorities for all Ministries are set out in a series of Mandate Letters, released to the public on December 16, and available here.  Each letter is introduced with a general statement of priorities, which includes: “Building a cleaner, greener future will require a sustained and collaborative effort from all of us. As Minister, I expect you to seek opportunities within your portfolio to support our whole-of-government effort to reduce emissions, create clean jobs and address the climate-related challenges communities are already facing.”

Most specifically related to the tasks of climate change adaptation and mitigation are the Mandate Letters to the Ministers of Environment and Climate Change; Natural Resources; and  Labour – the latter two charged with advancing legislation for the promised Just Transition for workers and communities.  

To the Minister of Environment and Climate Change: (Steven Guilbeault) a long, detailed and challenging list of initiatives, highlighted as: “You will also set out by the end of March 2022, how we will meet our legislated 2030 climate goals. This will include new measures related to capping and cutting oil and gas sector emissions, further reducing methane emissions across the economy, mandating the sale of zero-emissions vehicles and setting us on a path to achieve an electricity grid with net-zero emissions by 2035. You will also work with your colleagues and crown corporations to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2023.”  Some specifics from the letter:

  • With the support of the Minister of Natural Resources, introduce a Clean Electricity Standard to achieve a net-zero clean electricity grid by 2035 and achieve a 100 per cent net-zero emitting electricity future.
  • Enact a strengthened Canadian Environmental Protection Act to protect everyone, including people most vulnerable to harm from toxic substances and those living in communities where exposure is high.
  • Identify, and prioritize the clean-up of, contaminated sites in areas where Indigenous Peoples, racialized and low- income Canadians live.
  • Recognize the “right to a healthy environment” in federal law and introduce legislation to require the development of an environmental justice strategy and the examination of the link between race, socio-economic status and exposure to environmental risk.
  • Work with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, and with the support of the Minister of Natural Resources, to accelerate our G20 commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies from 2025 to 2023, and develop a plan to phase out public financing of the fossil fuel sector, including by federal Crown corporations.
  • With the support of the Minister of Natural Resources, cap oil and gas sector emissions at current levels and ensure that the sector makes an ambitious and achievable contribution to meeting the country’s 2030 climate goals. This effort will take into account the advice of the Net-Zero Advisory Body and others, including provinces and territories, Indigenous Peoples, industry and civil society, and require the oil and gas sector to reduce emissions at a pace and on a scale needed to align with the achievement of net-zero emissions by 2050, with five-year targets to stay on track.
  • Make progress on methane emission reductions by developing a plan to reduce emissions across the broader Canadian economy consistent with the Global Methane Pledge and require through regulations the reduction of oil and gas methane emissions in Canada by at least 75 per cent below 2012 levels by 2030.
  • In collaboration with the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and the Minister of Indigenous Services, continue to work in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation to address climate change and its impacts, and chart collaborative strategies.
  • Work with the Minister of Natural Resources to help protect old growth forests, notably in British Columbia, by reaching a nature agreement with B.C., establishing a $50 million B.C. Old Growth Nature Fund, and ensuring First Nations, local communities and workers are partners in shaping the path forward for nature protection.

The Minister of the Environment and Climate Change had already issued a press release announcing that discussion papers on many of these issues would be issued before the end of 2021, to enable consultations in 2022. On December 16, the first of these was released, regarding zero emission vehicles. The Ministry also tabled its Reports to Parliament on December 13.

The Mandate Letter to the Minister of Natural Resources, (John Wilkinson) includes this  summary statement: “As Minister of Natural Resources, you will prioritize moving forward with legislation and comprehensive action to achieve a Just Transition, ensuring support for communities to create more economic opportunities for workers and families into the future and in all regions of the country. You will work with partners to develop and implement strategies to decarbonize regional electricity systems, grow the market for clean fuels and transform Canada’s building stock for the climate era. You will likewise move early to launch a Critical Minerals Strategy, ensuring that Canada’s natural resources are developed sustainably, competitively and inclusively.”  

Specifically, the Minister is given the lead on the Just Transition file with this statement:   

To support the future and livelihood of workers and their communities in the transition to a low carbon economy:

Work with the Minister of Labour in moving forward with legislation and comprehensive action to achieve a Just Transition. This work will be guided by consultations with workers, unions, Indigenous Peoples, employers, communities and provinces and territories. You will be supported by the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion and Ministers responsible for Regional Development Agencies;

Continue to deliver on investments to train workers and create opportunities for green jobs; and

Natural Resources is also charged with:

  • Increase inclusion in the clean energy workforce by creating more opportunities for women, LGBTQ2 and other under-represented people in the energy sector.
  • Work with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry to develop a sustainable battery innovation and industrial ecosystem in Canada, including to establish Canada as a global leader in battery manufacturing, recycling and reuse. In support of these efforts, you will work with stakeholders to identify new strategic priorities, including future battery types, ways to optimize batteries for cold weather performance and long-duration storage, and applications in heavy-duty transportation, and launch a Canada-U.S. Battery Alliance for stakeholders in both countries to identify shared priorities and create environmental requirements.
  • Reduce pollution from transportation by adding 50,000 new electric vehicle chargers and hydrogen stations to Canada’s network and supporting the installation of charging stations in existing buildings, and by making investments to retrofit large trucks currently on the road, and supporting the production, distribution and use of clean fuels, including low or zero carbon hydrogen.
  • Work with provinces and territories, communities and Indigenous Peoples to develop and implement a National Net-Zero Emissions Building Strategy to achieve net-zero emissions from buildings by 2050, with interim milestones, that include accelerating net-zero emissions new builds and deep retrofits of existing buildings through codes and incentives, requiring EnerGuide labeling of homes at the time of sale, transitioning away from fossil-fuel home heating systems, and launching a community level net-zero emissions homes initiative.
  • Work with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry on the development of model building codes, including publishing a net-zero emissions building code and model retrofit code by the end of 2024 that align with national climate objectives and provide a standard for climate-resilient buildings. You will also work to amend the National Building Code of Canada to specify firefighter and first responder safety as a core objective. To ensure effective implementation of these performance standards, work with partners to develop strategies around incentives, training programs and pilot initiatives.
  • Help Canadians improve the energy efficiency and resiliency of their homes by providing grants of up to $5,000 for home retrofits through the Canada Greener Homes Grants Program and creating a Climate Adaptation Home Rating Program as a companion to the EnerGuide home energy audits to protect homeowners from the impacts of climate change.
  • Work with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to help protect old growth forests, notably in British Columbia, by advancing a nature agreement with B.C., establishing a $50 million B.C. Old Growth Nature Fund, and ensuring First Nations and Métis, local communities and workers are partners in shaping the path forward on nature protection.

To the Minister of Labour   (Seamus O’Regan):

“Work with the Minister of Natural Resources in moving forward with legislation and comprehensive action to achieve a Just Transition. This work will be guided by consultations with workers, unions, Indigenous Peoples, employers, communities, and provinces and territories to support the future and livelihood of workers and their communities in the transition to a low carbon economy. You will be supported by the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion and Ministers responsible for Regional Development Agencies.”

Newfoundland and Labrador approves $35 million to support offshore oil and gas, then strikes a new Net-Zero Advisory Council

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced the formation of a new Net-Zero Advisory Council in a press release on December 13.  The Council will focus on how to achieve the 2030 and net-zero targets through “ near term and foundational actions the government and others can take”.   The goal is “to grow the green economy, while considering a just transition and affordability. The Council will also advise on global trends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the importance and use of carbon sinks.”   The eight members of the Advisory Council are mainly from business and academic backgrounds, including  Newfoundland-born Angela V. Carter,  Associate Professor at University of Waterloo and author of Fossilized: Environmental Policy in Canada’s Petro-Provinces (UBC, 2020).  

This may prove to be a heavy lift for the Advisory Council, given the November announcement by the Newfoundland Premier that $35-million from the Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Oil and Gas Industry Recovery Assistance Fund has been directed toward 26 projects connected to the offshore oil and gas industry. The investment is forecast to create or maintain a total of 230 jobs . A CBC article reports on the NDP criticism of the announcement, emphasizing the timing, just 10 days after the end of COP26. The article also quotes the  Newfoundland Premier’s sales pitch for Newfoundland offshore oil:  “We have an incredible product that is incredibly valued because of its low carbon footprint. It’s not landlocked and…we can deliver that to the world right now during this transition over time.” 

Some labour union reflections on COP26

In “After Glasgow : Canadian Labour Unions Confront The Most Exclusionary COP Conference In History” (Our Times, Dec. 16), Sune Sandbeck and Sari Sairanen of Unifor describe their experiences as union delegates to the events – where unionists and even some countries were vastly outnumbered by the 503 delegates from the fossil fuel industry . The article asserts that, despite much disappointment in the COP26 results,

“Trade unions were instrumental in securing the Just Transition Declaration, whose signatories included Canada, France, Germany, the UK, the European Union and the U.S. And although just transition was omitted from early draft texts being negotiated, it would eventually make its way into vital passages of the final agreement. In fact, the Canadian labour delegation played a key role by drafting last-minute text proposals that would see just transition included in a crucial paragraph in the final COP26 decision.”    

The article names the following unions who sent representatives as the Canadian labour delegation at COP26 :  the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC ), the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), Unifor, the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU), the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE), the United Steelworkers (USW), and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada.  

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) wrote a brief reaction to events in “COP26 – workers must focus on solutions, not empty promises”, calling for a focus on concrete steps for job creation in a green economy.  CUPE cites the agenda of the international Trade Union Program for a Public Low-Carbon Energy Future, launched on November 4 at COP26. It states: “Focusing mainly on the power sector, the Program is an attempt to rally the international trade union movement behind an ambitious political effort to bring about a fundamental shift in climate and energy policy. This shift is needed both to correct the failures of the market model and to ensure that the energy transition is socially just, economically viable, and effective in terms of reaching climate goals.”  

The Canadian Teachers Federation reflected on COP26 and climate education with: “Turning of the oil taps begins in the classroom”, advocating for the important role of teachers. Much of the same thinking appears in the Education International reaction “COP 26 key outcomes: Why is this important for education unionists?” . That response notes that progress was made in the form of a pledges by government ministers regarding teacher training, student participation and climate resilience in education systems, and noted that youth activists stressed the importance of teacher support and student collaboration in reforming curricula across the world. However, the language of the formal negotiations for climate education ( part of the mandate of the Action for Climate Empowerment ) fell short, calling only for climate education to be “encouraged”.

From the international federation IndustriALL: “Trade unions at COP26: what we did, what we achieved, and what we need to focus on now” chronicled union events at COP26, and on December 14, the union published a more analytical piece “What happened at COP26 and what it means for workers” . Speaking about fossil fuel jobs, an IndustriALL delegate states: “… Rather than making our members believe that we can defend these jobs indefinitely, we must be honest with them and help them to prepare for the future. Our urgent task is to develop concrete frameworks for Just Transition that we can implement through social dialogue.” 

And to those who are suspicious that the claims of Just Transition are just “more of the same”,  the article has this: “Why should we believe it will be different this time?

“It won’t be different if we leave it to our politicians. But it can be different if we are engaged in driving the transition. We are facing an unprecedented shift in the global economy – the end of the age of fossil fuel, and the beginning of a new age that is yet to be defined. Unlike previous changes, this is a managed process, with space for unions to influence policy. The world’s governments will spend unprecedented amounts of money. It is up to us to ensure that this spend delivers good jobs to our members – and that we build a better world in the process.”

Urgent Recommendations for Deep Carbon Retrofitting include mandatory building performance benchmarking, more investment in workforce training

Decarbonizing Canada’s Large Buildings  is a new report commissioned by the Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC ) and executed by two consultancies:  RDH Building Science and  Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors.  Those researchers used “whole-building energy modelling” to evaluate deep carbon retrofit opportunities across 50 different building archetypes, reflecting a range of building types (office, multi-unit residential, and primary school), sizes (low-rise and midrise), ages (1970s and 1990s) and regions (Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver). The researchers developed baselines and assessed business-as-usual upgrades, and also identified and assessed the performance outcomes of deep carbon retrofits. Some highlights from the report: full decarbonization by 2050 is technically viable for all the building archetypes, though some are more financially appealing than others – and office buildings are the “low-hanging fruit.”   The key technical solutions identified are to  1. Reduce/replace fossil fuel use for space heating, mainly through electrification, 2. Implement energy demand-reduction measures and, 3. Incorporate and/or install on-site renewable energy systems. The report emphasizes the urgency of action, calling for governments to introduce mandatory building performance requirements, mandatory energy performance benchmarking and disclosure programs,  and improved incentive programs, such as innovative loan programs, such as property-assessed clean energy (PACE) and on-bill financing (OBF), among programs.  

In calling on policy-makers to ramp up education, low-carbon skills training, and industry capacity, the CaGBC report recommends 1. collaborative training programs,  leveraging the existing training opportunities offered by industry associations; 2.  Incorporating deep carbon retrofit training into continuing education requirements for architects and engineers.  3. Increased government investment in building-related retrofit training programs offered by many unions and community colleges;  4. Improving industry buy-in by collaborating with manufacturers.  The  Summary Report is here; register here to receive the full technical study when available.

Related reading:  “Colleges get set to train Canada’s green workforce” (National Observer, Dec. 14) , which highlights Toronto’s Centennial College for resurrecting an architectural technology course with a focus on green building design and technology.

Toronto region emissions increased 2% despite the pandemic; net-zero target accelerated to 2040

A new publication was released by The Atmospheric Fund (TAF) on December 13, reporting emissions data for 2019 and 2020 in the Region of Durham, Halton Region, City of Hamilton, Region of Peel, and City of Toronto – home to 7.7 million people and representing 44% of Ontario’s emissions.  2019-2020 Carbon Emissions Inventory in the GTHA provides data on the major sources of emissions across the region: buildings, transportation, industry, waste, and agriculture, with the greatest amounts coming from buildings (45%) and transportation (35%).  Comparison over the five years since 2015 shows emissions moving in the wrong direction – up by about 2.0%, despite decreases in emissions due to the pandemic in 2020. The report concludes that the GTHA is not on track to reduce emissions in line with local or international 2030 climate commitments, makes policy recommendations for municipalities. The TAF report gives examples of the technological changes required, and states that only leadership is missing.

In November,  the City of Toronto announced that it would accelerate its net-zero target from 2050 to 2040, with interim goals of a 45 per cent reduction in GHG levels by 2025, and 65 per cent reduction by 2030.  The plan will be debated on December 15, and the Council will also be considering  four other potentially high-impact policies: TransformTO Net Zero Strategy, Toronto Hydro’s Climate Plan, and two transportation by-laws that can significantly reduce carbon and air pollution.

More ambition required to reduce emissions from “last-mile” deliveries by Amazon, FedEx, UPS and more

Parcel delivery on a warming planet: The efforts and ambitions of six companies,    examines practices at  Amazon, Deutsche Post DHL Group, FedEx, Flipkart, UPS, and Walmart, focussing on the cost- and energy-intensive “last mile ” of the delivery process. The report also looks at company-wide emissions targets, target dates for full electrification of the delivery vehicle fleets, and presents three case studies, from Delhi, London and Los Angeles), showing how these cities encourage, facilitate, and regulate sustainable last-mile delivery systems. Part of the discussion:  the relentless drive to reduce costs and the complexity of subcontracting relations in the last-mile delivery sector which reduces subcontractor abilities to mitigate environmental impacts, for example, by investing in electric vehicles. The report concludes that all six companies demonstrate awareness of their environmental impacts and have set targets to reduce their emissions, but their goals are not sufficiently ambitious or timely. Parcel Delivery on a Warming Planet is published by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) in Amsterdam.

A call for 100% clean energy by 2035: Electrification is necessary to keep up with global decarbonization

Underneath it All is a new report from Clean Energy Canada, released on December 1.  It calls for Canada “to go big on clean electricity: to ensure Canada can effectively combat climate change, to diversify and strengthen Canada’s economy, to further expand Indigenous clean energy ownership, and to improve energy security and affordability.”   The report discusses each of the four objectives, and regarding economic diversification, has this to say: “Canada can set a course to carbon neutrality while driving job creation and economic competitiveness  ….: Currently, Canada’s heavy industries—including cement, chemicals, fertilizers, forest products, mining, and steel—employ more workers than the oil and gas sector. These industries, along with agriculture, manufacturing, and others, must further decarbonize for emissions reasons, but getting ahead of the curve  will also create opportunities to access markets looking for low-carbon products today” – giving the examples of Apple, BMW, and FedEx.  According to the discussion of our current electricity situation, the report states that: “Electrification—that is, hooking up our vehicles, heating systems, and industry to a clean electricity grid—will require Canada to produce roughly twice as much non-emitting electricity as it does today in just under three decades.” Recommendations on how to reach 100% clean electricity by 2035 focus on the federal implementation of the recently-announced Clean Electricity Standard  by 2023 and using the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to prevent new fossil plant construction in the meantime. Further,  “federal and provincial governments “must support the development, scale-up, and installation of new generation, storage, transmission, and efficiency technologies,” with Ottawa providing infrastructure support and investment tax credits.”

A related technical report was published by the David Suzuki Foundation in August 2021. A Zero-Emission Canadian Electricity System by 2035, written by Marc Jaccard and Bradford Griffin, models two different policy scenarios which  “would enable Canada to achieve a net-zero GHG emissions electricity system by 2035 and sustain it at net-zero while the total system doubles in size by 2050 as fossil fuels are switched out for clean electricity.”

On December 3, an Environment and Climate Change Canada press release announced new consultations will begin in 2022 – and one of the topics to be covered is “Transitioning to a net-zero emitting electricity grid by 2035.”

Flooding in British Columbia is an unfolding, man-made climate disaster

After the disastrous summer heat wave which killed 595 people in British Columbia in June 2021, along comes the worst natural weather disaster in Canada’s history so far : torrential rains and flooding which began on November 15 in southern British Columbia, centred on Abbotsford and the agricultural Fraser River Valley, including First Nations lands. One person so far has been pronounced dead; mudslides, rockslides and water have destroyed roads, bridges and rail lines;  motorists have been stranded, and supply chains from the port of Vancouver to the rest of Canada are disrupted.  Thousands of people and animals have been evacuated and rescued from homes under water.  The culprit?  As reported by the National Observer, “Lethal mix of cascading climate impacts hammers B.C.” (Nov. 17).   But human fingerprints are all over this climate catastrophe, as explained in  “‘A tipping point’: how poor forestry fuels floods and fires in western Canada”  (The Guardian, Nov. 16).  The Guardian article cites a February 2021 report, Intact Forests: Safe Communities, in which author Peter Wood warned of the potential catastrophe around the corner unless the province’s forest management practices were changed.

Responding to over a year of intense pressure, the government of B.C. DID announce new plans in November, to defer logging on 2.6 million hectares of at-risk old growth forests for two years or so,  pending the approval of First Nations – a compromise policy which satisfied no one.   “BC Paused a Lot of Old-Growth Logging. Now What?”   (The Tyee, Nov. 8 ) explains background to the decision and the opposition from the United Steelworkers, whose members work in the forestry sector . The USW press release  accuses the government of selling out the workers.   “Protecting some old growth isn’t enough. B.C. needs a Forest Revolution”  and “Counting the Job Costs of halting old growth logging” expand on the economic arguments for the clearcutting of B.C.’s forests. (The Tyee, Nov. 10). B.C. now needs new research, to count the dollars required to re-build lives and infrastructure after this disaster.   

Wind and solar companies perform poorly re labour and human rights

On November 1, the Centre for Business and Human Rights Resource Centre released the 2nd edition of its report: the Renewable Energy & Human Rights Benchmark 2021 Report. Although the report notes some improvements from the inaugural 2020 edition, the Centre states that the “ overall results remain profoundly concerning, with companies scoring an average of just 28%.”  In the past 10 years, the Centre has recorded over 200 allegations linked to renewable energy projects, including land and water grabs, violation of the rights of Indigenous nations, and the denial of workers’ rights to decent work and a living wage. Only 2 companies in the survey guaranteed the right to a living wage.  

The wind and solar sectors accounted for 44% of the total allegations of abuse. The Key Findings for the Wind and Solar sectors report includes analysis, and makes recommendations for corporations and investors. For corporations, the key recommendation is: “Set a clear and urgent goal to implement human rights and environmental due diligence in operations and supply chains, alongside access to remedy, with special emphasis on land and Indigenous rights risks.”

COP26 takeaways for Canada and the labour movement

At the conclusion of COP26 on November 13, the world has been left with the Glasgow Climate Pact and numerous side deals that were made throughout the two weeks of presentations and negotiations. Carbon Brief notes that the final Glasgow Pact is actually set out in three documents –with most attention falling on this paragraph in the 11-page “cover document” (aka 1/CMA.3), which:

“Calls upon Parties to accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures, including accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, while providing  targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards a just transition;”

Fortunately, Carbon Brief analyzed all three documents, as well as side events and pledges in its summary of Key Outcomes .The International Institute for Sustainable Development has also compiled a detailed, day by day summary through its Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

Reactions range widely, but the November 13 tweet from @Greta Thunberg captures the essence:  “The #COP26 is over. Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah. But the real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever.”  Veteran climate reporter Fiona Harvey writes “What are the key points of the Glasgow Climate Pact?” in The Guardian, representing the more positive consensus about the success of diplomacy, and The New York Times provides overviews from a U.S. perspective inNegotiators Strike a Climate Deal, but World Remains Far From Limiting Warming” (Nov. 13)  and  “Climate Promises Made in Glasgow Now Rest With a Handful of Powerful Leaders” (Nov 14). In contrast, George Monbiot argues that the Fridays for Future movement and civil society have demonstrated the power of a committed minority in “After the failure of Cop26, there’s only one last hope for our survival” and states: “Our survival depends on raising the scale of civil disobedience until we build the greatest mass movement in history, mobilising the 25% who can flip the system. 

More details, with  COP26 highlights most relevant to Canadians and workers:   

The National Observer has compiled their coverage in a series of articles titled Uniting the World to Tackle Climate Change – which includes a summary “Glasgow didn’t deliver on 1.5 C, but not all is lost” . A quick summary appears in The Toronto Star “What’s in the Glasgow Climate Deal and what does it mean for Canada”  (Nov. 15). Climate Action Network Canada (CAN-Rac) compiles a range of reactions in “Canadian civil society reacts to COP26: incremental inadequate progress; a reason to mobilize“.

Key Issues:

On Just Transition:

In what could be considered progress, for the first time the language of Just Transition is included in the main text of The Glasgow Pact, as section 85 states that the Parties: “… recognizes the need to ensure just transitions that promote sustainable development and eradication of poverty, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs, including through making financial flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emission and climate-resilient development, including through deployment and transfer of technology, and provision of support to developing country Parties”

In addition, a  Just Transition Declaration  was agreed upon by 15 governments, including Canada, UK, USA, much of the EU, and New Zealand.  The ILO played a key role in drafting the Declaration and  released its own press release here . The Declaration itself cites the preamble from the Paris Agreement and the 2015 ILO Guidelines for Just Transition, and states:

“signatories recognize their role to ensure a transition that is “ fully inclusive and benefits the most vulnerable through the more equitable distribution of resources, enhanced economic and political empowerment, improved health and wellbeing, resilience to shocks and disasters and access to skills development and employment opportunities. This should also display: a commitment to gender equality, racial equality and social cohesion; protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples; disability inclusion; intergenerational equity and young people; the promotion of women and girls; marginalised persons’ leadership and involvement in decision-making; and recognition of the value of their knowledge and leadership; and support for the collective climate action of diverse social groups. Social dialogue as well as rights at work are indispensable building blocks of sustainable development and must be at the centre of policies for strong, sustainable, and inclusive growth and development.”    

On November 10, the closing statement of the Trade Union Delegation to the COP26 Plenary session was delivered by Richard Hardy, National Secretary for Prospect union  in Scotland, a member of the General Council of the Scottish Trade Union Congress, and a member of the Scottish Governments Just Transition Commission.  From that statement:

“ I will speak on behalf of the 210 million workers in 165 countries represented by the global trade union movement …….. the global trade union movement is happy that “Just Transition” has finally found its way in the language used by many parties and observers. We saw and appreciate the adoption by donor countries of the declaration on “Supporting the Conditions for a Just Transition Internationally” and applaud the strong commitments made by signatories. We urge the parties to continue to work towards a Just Transition one that is about jobs, plans and investment. Once again, we call on parties to step up their NDCs and create the millions of good quality jobs and decent work with your climate policies and measures, good quality jobs and decent work which the world desperately requires…. Unions need a voice at the table in social dialogue processes that deliver on jobs, just transition plans and investments.”   

Reaction from other unions: A  joint statement by the UK Trade Union delegation to the COP President on November 10 calls for increased engagement on just transition, climate action, labour and human rights. Further, it states:   “We applaud the UK COP Presidency’s role in preparing the Declaration on “Supporting the Conditions for a Just transition Internationally”, which was launched last week. But this is a parallel initiative, and not part of the binding UNFCCC agreements. Similar efforts need to be made to incorporate just transition and labour rights into the official COP26 negotiations.”  The International Trades Union Congress (ITUC) reaction is here and here (Nov. 11), and from IndustriALL, here.

On Ending new fossil fuel production and subsidies

In his opening address to COP26 on November 1, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Canada “will cap oil and gas sector emissions today and ensure they decrease tomorrow at a pace and scale needed to reach net-zero by 2050”. (a statement reviewed in “Amid urgent calls for action at COP26, Trudeau repeats pledge to cap oil and gas emissions” (National Observer, Nov. 1) .  Before leaving COP, the Prime Minister also committed up to $1 billion in international funding for the transition away from coal. But when the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance  was officially launched on November 10, it was the government of Quebec which joined (having pre-empted the launch with their announcement on November 4 ).  

On November 4, a  federal press release states that Canada has signed the Statement on International Public Support for the Clean Energy Transition, stating that …”Canada and other signatories will further prioritize support for clean technology and end new direct public support for the international unabated fossil fuel sector by the end of 2022, except in limited and clearly defined circumstances that are consistent with the 1.5 degree Celsius warming limit and the goals of the Paris Agreement.” [emphasis by the editor].  Climate Action Network Canada (CAN-Rac) sums up that commitment and  hopeful reactions by many  in “Canada joins historic commitment to end international fossil fuel finance by end of 2022” . However, for context, the CAN-Rac press release also notes Canada’s Big Oil Reality Check, a report  released on November 3  by Oil Change International and Environmental Defence Canada. It assesses the climate plans of eight Canadian oil and gas producers (including Cenovus, Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd , ExxonMobil and Imperial Oil ,and  Shell Canada), and concludes that their current business plans to 2030 put them  on track to expand annual oil and gas production in Canada by nearly 30% above 2020 levels.  Also, at a COP side event on November 12,  The Fossil Fueled 5 report called out the governments of Canada, the U.K., the United States, Norway, and Australia for the huge gap between their net zero targets and climate pledges and their public support for fossil fuel production. In the case of Canada, the report states that the government has provided approximately $17 billion in public finance to three fossil fuel pipelines between 2018 and 2020. The Fossil Fueled 5 was produced  by the University of Sussex in cooperation with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative and their regional partners in each of the 5 countries – Uplift (UK), Oil Change International (USA), Greenpeace (Norway), The Australia Institute (Australia) and Stand.earth (Canada). 

On Deforestation:  The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use seems especially important to Canadians, given the current flooding and devastation in British Columbia which is part of a “Lethal Mix of cascading climate impacts” . The Declaration, endorsed by Canada, Russia, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is explained by The Narwhal in  “COP26 deforestation deal could be a win for climate, but Canada needs to address true impacts of forest loss” (Nov. 10) and in Leaders promise to halt ‘chainsaw massacre’ of world’s forests” (National Observer, Nov. 2). However, the New York Times exposes “The billions set aside in Glasgow to save forests represent a fraction of spending to support fossil fuels”  ( Nov.2)  and Energy Mix writes  “Glasgow Forest Pact Runs Short on Funding while Canada ‘Gives Industrial Logging a Free Pass’” (Energy Mix, Nov. 3). The Energy Mix also notes the failure of previous such Declarations to make an impact on emissions – especially in Canada and Brazil – as explained in Missing the forest: How carbon loopholes for logging hinder Canada’s climate leadership, a report released pre-COP by Environmental Defence Canada, Nature Canada, Nature Québec, and Natural Resources Defense Council.

Zero Emissions Cars Declaration  launched a coalition which includes six major automakers ( Ford, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors ,Volvo, BYD, and Jaguar Land Rover), and 30 national governments  – including Britain, Canada, India (the world’s 4th largest market) , Mexico,  the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Turkey, Croatia, Ghana and Rwanda, and others. Sub-national signatories included British Columbia and Quebec in Canada, and California and Washington State.  The federal U.S. government, China and Japan did not sign, nor did Toyota, Volkswagen, and the Nissan-Renault alliance. Signatories pledged to work toward phasing out sales of new gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040 worldwide, and by 2035 in “leading markets.”  The New York Times has more here

Union participation at COP26: 

A webinar in October, co-hosted by IndustriALL Global Union and IndustriAll Europe was titled  ‘On the Way to COP26 – Industry, Energy and Mine Workers Demand Just Transition’, and saw the launch of a Joint Declaration  on Just Transition by the two internationals. (IndustriALL also released its own Just Transition for Workers guide).  From the  International Trade Union Confederation,  an overview of trade union demands going in to the COP26 meetings was released as The Frontlines Briefing document ;  the ITUC also provides  a schedule of the activities of the official Trade Union Delegation  – at 25 pages, an impressive record of union participation in events and negotiations.  

The Canadian Labour Congress sponsored  a panel: Powering Past Coal with Just Transition: The Trade Union Perspective, with CLC Vice-President Larry Rousseau  and Tara Peel joined by Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault, as well as Sharan Burrow,  International Trade Union Confederation general secretary as moderator. Speakers included union leaders and government/ministerial representatives from Canada, South Africa and the US.

Another panel, Just Transition in the Steel and Energy Industry took place on November 8 and is available on YouTube .  It launched Preparing for a Just Transition: Meeting green skill needs for a sustainable steel industry, a report written by Community Union and researchers from the Cardiff University School of Sciences.  It reports on the views of 100 steelworkers in the U.K.,  revealing that 92% feel a green transition is necessary, 78% feel it will bring a radical transformation to their industry, and 55% feel they already possess the skills necessary to make the transition.  79% had not been consulted by their employers, leading to a recommendation for more worker voice.  The survey also delved into what skills would be needed.   

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) mounted a focused campaign, including a new report co- released on November 10  with C40 Cities . Their original research modelled the impacts of doubling public transportation in five major cities – Houston, Jakarta, Johannesburg, London and Milan and demonstrated that it  create tens of millions of jobs worldwide (summarized by an ITF press release and available as the full report,  Making COP26 Count: How investing in public transport this decade can protect our jobs, our climate, our future .  

Also on November 10,  the ITF announced that a tripartite Just Transition Maritime Task Force will be formed, to  drive decarbonization and support seafarers through shipping’s green transition.  Official partners include the UN Global Compact and the International Labour Organization, as well as the ITF representing workers and International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), representing ship owners.  The ITF Sustainable Shipping Position Paper, titled The Green Horizon We See Beyond the Big Blue,  is available from this link .

Policy recommendations re Green jobs and Green skills in U.K. and the EU

An October publication by researchers at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change in the U.K.  revisits the issue of green jobs: how to define them, where they are, and the labour market policy challenges of educating and training the workforce to prepare for them.  Are ‘green’ jobs good jobs? How lessons from the experience to-date can inform labour market transitions of the future  focuses on U.K. data, but also compares it to EU data and discusses the different labour market methodologies for measuring and tracking green jobs.  The authors conclude that more information and  deeper analysis is needed , especially regarding the educational needs of specific regions and occupations.  An 8-page Policy Brief  distills the policy applications of the analysis, concluding that green jobs provide good quality employment in Europe and in the UK, where they pay higher wages and are at lower risk of automation than non-green jobs, especially for middle- and low-skilled workers. The Brief notes that some groups, especially women and young people, are underrepresented. It concludes that policymakers need to focus on building the skills needed in the net-zero transition, and target transition policies to address regional and demographic imbalances.

This research comes as the government has a stated goal to reach 2 million green jobs by 2030, and to do so, has initiated a Green Jobs Task Force, and a multitude of studies, plans and consultations. Some sense and summary of all these comes in the Green Jobs Report released by the U.K. Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee on October 25. It is the result of a consultation process which received 65 submissions. Amongst the recommendations: based on the recent failure of the government’s Green Homes Grant voucher scheme, it is clear that the Government urgently needs to set out a retrofit skills strategy.

CCPA’s Alternative Federal Budget 2022 calls for a fossil fuel moratorium and maps out a generous Transition plan for Canadian workers

As it has for 26 years, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released its Alternative Federal Budget, offering progressive, costed policy choices for Canada, along with a plan to pay for them. This year’s AFB, released on November 9, is titled: Mission Critical: A Just and Equitable Recovery, which focuses on key issues which include: strengthening and expanding the existing health care system,  implementing universal public child care, reforming Canada’s income security system, addressing the housing crisis, and moving forward on reconciliation with First Nations peoples.  Climate action is addressed in Chapter 7, “Physical Infrastructure for People, Biodiversity and Planet”, and relates to Chapter 6, “A Vision for Job Creation and Decent Work”.

Regarding climate action policies, the CCPA states “Building on the government’s own commitments to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, this AFB ramps up the stringency of environmental regulations. It also takes a more hands-on approach to transitioning the economy away from the production and consumption of fossil fuels.” Specifically, the document calls for an immediate moratorium on new fossil fuel extraction projects, and a phase- out of coal, oil and natural gas production for fuel by 2040. The ensuing disruption would require a permanent, independent Just Transition Commission, to oversee and co-ordinate the federal government’s just transition agenda for all sectors (not just fossil fuels), and to develop regional transition road maps.  For workers affected by fossil fuel closures (and the disruption to ancillary businesses in those communities), the AFB calls for “generous and predictable benefits”, financed by a budget allocation of $100 million per year over 20 years (the estimated lifetime of Canada’s fossil fuel phaseout).  This translates into  a $2,000 monthly Just Transition Benefit to offset their income loss for as long as it takes  them to find re-training and/or re-employment. For workers who are near retirement and cannot reasonably retrain for a new career, this benefit bridges their income till their pensions begin. The Commission would be supported by a $5 million per year budget, and would include the a wide variety of stakeholders, including labour unions, civil society groups, Indigenous peoples,  people with disabilities, business associations, independent experts, and public servants from governments of all levels.

Other notable climate-related proposals: 1.  Adjust the existing revenue-recycling formula for the national carbon pricing system by reallocating the majority of federal revenue away from middle-to-high-income households and toward emission reduction initiatives in the provinces where revenue is generated.  2. Establish a new federal economic diversification crown corporation which would prioritize direct public ownership of new infrastructure, funded by $15 billion per year over five years to allow it to invest at the required scale.  3.  Reconstitute the Canada Infrastructure Bank to become a fully publicly financed bank with a mandate to invest in publicly owned and publicly operated infrastructure (and to require Community Benefits Agreements in those projects). The new CIB would also provide low-cost loans to municipalities, Indigenous governments, and other public bodies to scale up important infrastructure projects that are in the public interest, and would include the new Economic Diversification Crown Corporation.

New Nova Scotia legislation enshrines climate goals, with principles of equity and Mi’kmaq concept of Netukulimk

Nova Scotia’s Minister of Environment  introduced the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act to the Legislature on October 27 –  the press release is here. It builds on a previous Bill which was never enacted, with the important distinction that the EGCCRAct enshrines climate action goals and timelines into law.  The  new legislation follows a public consultation in 2021, and is built on four principles: equity, sustainable development, a circular economy,  and “Netukulimk” (a  Mi’kmaq word defined as “the use of the natural bounty provided by the Creator for the self-support and well-being of the individual and the community by achieving adequate standards of community nutrition and economic well-being without jeopardizing the integrity, diversity or productivity of the environment”).

The specific goals include: reducing total GHG emissions to at least 53% below 2005 levels by 2030;  ensuring at least 30% of new passenger vehicles are zero-emissions by 2030;a requirement that any new build or major retrofit in government buildings, including schools and hospitals, that enters the planning stage after 2022, be net-zero energy performance and climate resilient; decrease greenhouse gas emissions across Government-owned buildings by 75% by the year 2035; phase out of coal-fired electricity generation by 2030, with 80% of electricity supplied by renewable energy by 2030. The problematic issue of forestry policy is  finally addressed with a deadline of   2023 to implement the ecological forestry approach for Crown lands, as recommended in the 2018  Lahey report,  “An Independent Review of Forest Practices in Nova Scotia”.

Regarding equity, the government will “ initiate in 2022 ongoing work with racialized and marginalized communities to create a sustained funding opportunity for climate change action and support for community-based solutions and policy engagement.” The legislation mandates a Sustainable Communities Challenge Fund  to be established.  

The Act mandates a a Strategic Plan titled “Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth” to be tabled by December 31, 2022, with annual progress reports and a complete review in 5 years.

Reaction to the legislation, with a goal-by-goal analysis is available from Nova Scotia’s Ecology Action Centre, is here . One of the sector- specific pieces is a call for an end to oil and gas production and a Just Transition for workers . Despite the fact that there is currently no oil and gas production in Nova Scotia, the EAC highlights the danger that the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) issued a call for bids in May 2021.

Almost $40 trillion divested from fossil fuels by 2021, with University of Toronto joining the long list of institutions in October

Time to coincide with COP26, Divest Invest 2021: A Decade of Progress towards a Just Climate Future was released by Stand.earth on October 26. It reports that “there are now 1,485 institutions publicly committed to at least some form of fossil fuel divestment, representing an enormous $39.2 trillion of assets under management.”  The report provides a timeline and summary of the major institutions which have divested, and includes brief case studies of South Africa and Harvard University.  It argues that divestment is more impactful than shareholder engagement, and summarizes the impact of the shift of capital on the fossil fuel industry. Finally, the report discusses how that capital can be directed to renewables and to Just Transition, highlighting the cases of the Navajo Power in the U.S. and Frontier Markets in India.   Accompanying the report is a database with much more information about individual institutions.     

The report states: “Major new divestment commitments from iconic institutions have arrived in a rush over just a few months in late 2021, including Harvard University, Dutch and Canadian pension fund giants PME and CDPQ, French public bank La Banque Postale, the U.S. city of Baltimore, and the Ford and MacArthur Foundations.”  Add to that list, Canada’s largest university, the University of Toronto, which  announced  on October 27  that the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM) – which manages $4.0-billion – “will divest from all direct investments in fossil fuel companies within the next 12 months, and divest from indirect investments, typically held through pooled and commingled investment vehicles, by no later than 2030, and sooner if possible. UTAM will also allocate 10 per cent of its endowment portfolio to sustainable and low-carbon investments by 2025, representing an initial commitment of $400 million, and is committing to achieve net zero carbon emissions associated with U of T’s endowment by no later than 2050.”  Many of the same details were provided in the U of T President’s Letter to “the University of Toronto Community”, here, which also describes the newly-announced goal of a “climate-positive” St. George campus by 2050 , and defends why it has taken the U of T so long to act after the 2015 report of the  President’s Advisory Committee on Divestment from Fossil Fuels  .     

Canada heads to COP26 with a new, activist Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Prime Minister Trudeau announced his appointments to Cabinet on October 26, and one of the strongest symbolic appointments was that of Steven Guilbeault as the new Minister of Environment and Climate Change. It appears that Trudeau did not (yet)  follow the demands in Unifor’s October 22 letter to the Prime Minister , which included “Establish a Just Transition Ministry and Just Transition Fund, partially financed through levies on large industrial emitters, with the mandate to support workers affected by climate-related job displacements through enhanced income insurance, pension bridging, severance pay, retraining and relocation support, and local just transition centres.”  However, the new appointments sent an unmistakable signal, as described in the National Observer article “Cabinet shuffle signals support for climate, not oil and gas”.  The previous ECC Minister, Johnathan Wilkinson, was shifted to the ministry of Natural Resources – replacing Seamus O’Regan, who had been accused of a too-cozy relationship with the fossil fuel industry which falls under the Natural Resources portfolio.  The National Observer article highlights the continued importance of Wilkinson on the climate change file.

Mitchell Beer provides the background to Steven Guilbeault in  “Guilbeault to Environment, Wilkinson to Natural Resources as ‘PM in a Hurry’ Names New Cabinet”Energy Mix, Oct. 26). The article includes reaction from environmental activists – many of whom have worked alongside Guilbeault in his earlier life as a Greenpeace campaigner (when he was arrested for scaling the CN Tower in Toronto) , co-founder of  non-profit Équiterre in Quebec, and as a member of the government’s 2018 advisory panel on climate change, before he was elected to Parliament in 2019.  An exemplary quote, from Stand.earth Climate Finance Director Richard Brooks, “Hoping my old friend @s_guilbeault will remain true to his roots—and lead Canada in upping its climate ambition and more importantly its actions…”  Yet as Keith Stewart of Greenpeace points out in their press reaction, a whole of government approach will be needed. Stewart hopes it will lead to “greater cooperation on climate action across departments, as the minister of Natural Resources has in the past acted as the chief advocate for the oil industry at the Cabinet table.”  As indicated in the reaction from Macleans magazine,  “Trudeau sends a signal to Alberta. Cue the squirming” (Oct. 26), Wilkinson and NRCan are expected to smooth over the sharper edges of a potentially rocky relationship with Alberta:  “ A major test, past Glasgow, will be how Wilkinson and Guilbeault handle their government’s buzzy term: “just transition.”… It will fall in large part to Steven Guilbeault to maintain a steady and reassuring tone that this isn’t the case. His past doesn’t suggest he’s perfectly suited for this task…”  

Reaction from the fossil fuel industry and Premier Jason Kenney is predictably negative, as reported in CBC’s story,   “Kenney says longtime activist’s appointment as environment minister sends ‘very problematic’ message”.  The CBC report quotes an Alberta academic who calls  Guilbeault’s appointment  “a finger in the eye to everything that Kenney has done.” A brief article from Reuters sums up the hostile reaction of the fossil fuel industry in the language of its headline “Trudeau roils Canada’s oil patch naming Greenpeace activist as climate chief (Reuters, Oct. 26).

B.C.’s new Roadmap to 2030 disappoints critics despite new measures announced

CleanBC Roadmap to 2030 is the new climate strategy document released by the B.C. government on October 25.  The press release summarizes the framework of eight pathways to action: Low Carbon Energy; Transportation; Buildings ; Communities; Industry, including Oil and Gas ; Forest Bioeconomy; Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries; and Negative Emissions Technologies. Some of the flagship proposals include an increase to the carbon price; stronger regulations for methane emissions (by 2035); new requirements to make all new buildings zero-carbon by 2030; 100% adoption of zero-emission vehicles by 2030 and new ZEV targets for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. What’s missing?  Glaringly, no reduction of fossil fuel subsidies, no end to fracking of Liquefied Natural Gas.

A reaction from Sierra Club B.C. states: “While the Roadmap outlines strong steps to tackle emissions from transportation and buildings, key issues that remain unaddressed include fossil fuel subsidies, uncounted forest emissions, and fracked LNG….. Of significant concern to us is that the Roadmap focuses mainly on 2030 targets, nine years away, and does not include binding targets and pathways to set or achieve milestones in the intervening years. B.C.’s emissions have increased every year from 2015 to 2019; this calls for immediate action to curb emissions in the short, medium and long term.”  A more outraged reaction comes from Seth Klein in a  Climate Emergency Unit blog titled, “From leader to follower: B.C.’s updated climate plan – its “CleanBC Roadmap to 2030” – is not an emergency plan”, which bemoans the lack of urgency and detail in the new Roadmap. Other criticisms are summarized in “Critics aren’t buying B.C.’s new climate plan” (The Tyee, Oct. 26) highlighting that it will be impossible to meet GHG emissions reduction targets while supporting  the LNG industry in the province. 

Renewable energy jobs continue steady growth to 12 million jobs worldwide, but more government intervention is recommended

In its first annual review published in 2013, the International Renewable Energy Association (IRENA) estimated 7.3 million people were directly and indirectly employed in the industry in 2012. According to the latest newly-released edition Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review 2021, that number has grown to 12 million people employed in 2020. Solar PV, both large and small-scale, is the largest sector, providing 4 million jobs. Wind energy now employs 1.25 million people, with an increasing number of people in operations and maintenance and in offshore wind energy sector.  Only a fifth of wind energy workers are women, compared to 32% women in the whole renewable energy sector. In addition to detailed information about jobs, skills, and demographics, the report discusses policy needs, particularly for a just energy transition, and highlights IRENA’s modeling of the employment implications of energy transition scenarios to 2050. 

The report concludes with the policy discussion of what kinds of jobs and skills will be required, the need for decent jobs, and for urgency: “A speedy and co-ordinated approach requires governments to take on a much more proactive role, acting in the public interest and safeguarding broad social imperatives. This may occur through regulations and incentives, public investment strategies, and public ownership of transition-related assets and infrastructure (both at national and community levels).”

Canadian Pension fund managers pledge climate action; Unions can push for more

In the run-up to COP26, and on the same day that Canada’s Big Six Banks joined the United Nations Net-Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA), Canadian institutional investors and some of its pension fund managers also hit the news, by releasing a new Canadian Investor Statement on Climate Change. Coordinated by the Responsible Investment Association (RIA), the statement signed on October 25 states: “We recognize that a transition to a net-zero economy will involve a major transformation of sectors and industries. We encourage all companies and stakeholders to facilitate a just transition that does not leave workers or communities behind. We also recognize that the financing required for transition activities and climate solutions presents an investment opportunity….. We further recognize that Indigenous Peoples have managed collective wealth for millennia – including lands, waters, and …..We support a transition to a net-zero economy informed by Indigenous perspectives, that supports Indigenous economic opportunities, and encourages business practices that align with the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).”

The Statement sets out specific expectations for investees which include just transition, and pledges five actions for the investment community, such as integrating climate-related risks and opportunities into the investment processes and developing a climate action plan to achieve net-zero by 2050.  Further, the 36 signatories pledge to “ Ensure that any climate-related policy advocacy we undertake supports a just transition and the ambition of achieving global net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner, and engage with our industry associations to encourage climate advocacy efforts that are consistent with these goals.”  

Pension funds which have signed on to the Statement  (so far) include:  British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, British Columbia Municipal Pension Board of Trustees, British Columbia Public Service Pension Board of Trustees, Canada Post Corporation Pension Plan, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Ontario Pension Board, Pension Plan of The United Church of Canada, University of Toronto Asset Management (UTAM), and the University Pension Plan.   

 “Only Labor Can Force Canadian Pension Funds to Divest From Oil “ (Jacobin, October 19)  puts this lofty new institutional Statement in perspective, as it takes a more critical look at one of the leading pension fund managers, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, and its September announcement that it would quit all oil production investments at the end of 2022.  After also highlighting examples of the fossil and mineral exploration investments of some of Canada’s major pension funds, the article concludes: “ ‘Financial sustainability’ — despite the Caisse’s announcement — will continue to take precedence over climate justice.” 

Thus, the main point of the Jacobin article is to urge unions to take action:

 “….the unions who represent the beneficiaries of these pension funds can fight to make sure that the deferred wages of workers are used for the common good. In many cases, unions appoint trustees to boards of investment funds. If the labor movement chose to organize around these issues, it would be a game changer. …. Public sector funds are subject to legislation and can be reformed through political action. Although they’ve been carefully designed to be free of democratic accountability, they are not immune to external pressure. Sustained organizing by unions and their members can lead to greater amounts of worker control over the use to which these large sums of money are put.”

Quebec bans fossil fuel exploration

In a speech to the Quebec National Assembly on October 19, Premier François Legault announced: “the Government of Quebec has decided to definitively renounce the extraction of hydrocarbons on its territory. We must therefore … capitalize on our strengths by fundamentally transforming our economy.”  The move was not unexpected: an article in the Montreal Gazette in September forecast announcement, and linked it to the legal action brought by Utica Resources against the province when it refused an application for exploration in the Gaspé region.  Although Quebec does not have a large fossil fuel extraction industry, it is the second largest Canadian oil and gas processor outside of Alberta.

Greenpeace Canada provides a compilation in of reactions from many of the grassroots groups in Quebec who have worked and lobbied for years for this result. Greenpeace also released a statement on October 20, titled “Many environmental groups and citizens call for no compensation for oil and gas”, which references a May 2021 report  from the Center québécois du droit de l’environnement, which concluded that the government has the legal authority to legislate this ban without compensating fossil fuel companies. A Greenpeace spokesperson states further : “Rather, it is Quebec society that should demand compensation from oil and gas companies for the floods, heat waves and forest fires that we are suffering from as a result of climate change.”

Canada joins Global Methane Pledge and ups the target for fossil-related reductions

With a government announcement on October 11, Canada joined twenty-three other countries and signed on to the Global Methane Pledge, launched by the U.S. and the U.K. on September 18.  By signing on, Canada pledges to reduce all methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030, and as described by the Washington Post (Oct. 11), Canada’s participation is significant because it is one of the world’s top 20 methane-emitting countries. Nine of the twenty have now signed on to the Global Pledge, but notably, Russia, China, India and Brazil have not.

The existing Canadian target for reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is a reduction of 40–45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. According to the October 11 press release, that will increase, with a commitment  “… to developing a plan to reduce methane emissions across the broader Canadian economy and to reducing oil and gas methane emissions by at least 75 percent below 2012 levels by 2030”. It is noteworthy that the Minister also states: “our approach will include regulations” , since the government has been criticized for relying more on taxpayer-funded incentives than regulation – as in “Canada supports global pledge to slash oil and gas methane”  (Oct. 13). That article quotes Julia Levine of Environmental Defence, who states: ““What we see in Canada is that despite the fact negative or low-cost (methane reductions) could be achieved through regulations, the federal government last year set up a $750-million emission reduction fund (that) is paying companies to reduce their methane emissions” …. “These are technologies that allow companies to have less leakage and, therefore, more product they can sell” …. So we’re subsidizing their ability to generate more profit from their products.”

Canada’s 75% pledge related to the oil and gas industry matches the  target called for by the International Energy Agency in Curtailing Methane Emissions from Fossil Fuel Operations , released on October 7. But as pointed out by another IEA report, Driving down methane leaks from the oil and gas industry   (January 2021), targets can only work if measurement of leaks is accurate. As scientists have proven , Canada’s methane leaks have been under-reported in the past.