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.

Illinois sets U.S. standard for equity and labour standards in new Climate and Equitable Jobs Act

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act  (SB2408) is a 900-page bill signed into law by the Governor of  Illinois in September 2021.  It is summarized by Natural Resources Defence in a blog titled “Illinois Passes Nation-Leading, Equitable Climate Bill”, by David Roberts in  his new blog, Volts, and by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition press release

Why does David Roberts call it  “ one of the most environmentally ambitious, worker-friendly, justice-focused energy bills of any state in the country”?   Some highlights:  the CEJA requires Illinois to achieve a 100% zero-emissions power sector by 2045 (including their coal power plant), while encouraging electrification of transportation and buildings, and reforms to the utility rate structure. It increases the existing Solar for All funding (by 5 times) to help low-income families to switch to solar energy, creates a Green Bank to finance clean energy projects. For workers, the Act requires that all utility-scale renewable energy projects must use project-labor agreements, and all non-residential clean-energy projects must pay prevailing wages. Diversity hiring reports will be required to prove that projects have recruited qualified BIPOC candidates and apprentices. The Act also provides funds for 13 Clean Jobs Workforce Network Hubs across the state, to deliver workforce-development programs to low-income and underserved populations.  According to David Roberts, “The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Illinois Department of Employment Security will work together to develop a “displaced worker bill of rights,” with $40 million a year to go toward transition assistance for areas dependent on fossil fuel production or generation.”    

The CEJA is a model not only for what it contains, but also how it was achieved.  Roberts calls it “a model for how diverse stakeholders can reach consensus” and describes the years-long process in detail: “The state’s labor community was sensitive to the fact that it had largely been left out of the 2016 bill; the legislation contained no labor standards, and recent years have seen Illinois renewable energy projects importing cheaper out-of-state workforces. Labor didn’t want to get left behind in the state’s energy transition, so it organized a coalition of groups under the banner Climate Jobs Illinois and set about playing an active role in negotiations.   Environmental and climate-justice groups organized as the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition. All the groups introduced energy bills of their own. And then they spent years banging their heads together.  A special shout-out goes to the environmental-justice community in Illinois, which used three years of relentless grassroots organizing to build an incredible political force, without which the bill couldn’t have passed and wouldn’t have been as equity-focused.”   The result, according to Roberts,  “As far as I know, this gives Illinois the most stringent labor and equity requirements of any state clean energy program. Similar policies tying renewable energy projects to labor standards have passed in Connecticut, New York, and Washington, but no other state’s energy policy has as comprehensive a package of labor, diversity, and equity standards.”

Plan to reduce Ontario emissions calls for incentives for energy efficiency, natural gas phase-out

A Plan for Green Buildings, Jobs and Prosperity for Ontario  was released on September 15 by Environmental Defence and the Ontario Clean Air Alliance. It is a plain-language guide to why and how to reduce carbon emissions from “fossil gas” (aka natural gas) and a summary of the co-benefits of doing so: create good green jobs, lower energy bills, and economic growth. The report states that Ontario’s carbon emissions from power generation are on track to increase by more than 300% by 2030, and offers specific actions which would instead reduce emissions from fossil gas by 30 – 40%.

The Plan proposes: heavy government investment in programs for building energy efficiency, including grants and low-interest financial schemes to encourage consumer buy-in (for example, allowing  repayment on energy or property tax bills);  Phase out of fossil fuel power generation by 2030;  Net-zero building standards in construction;  Redirecting funds which currently subsidize natural gas pipelines (estimated at $234 million) to subsidize lower-cost zero-carbon heating alternatives; and reserving hydrogen and renewable fuels for the hardest-to decarbonize sectors like aviation and heavy industry.   

The report cites modelling done by Dunsky Energy Consulting in The Economic Impact of Improved Energy Efficiency in Canada  (2018) to claim that  the energy efficiency programs alone would create over 18,500 good jobs, and states that even more would be created locally by green energy and zero-carbon heating programs.

U.S. begins process to set new national heat standard to protect outdoor and indoor workers, communities

Extreme heat is the leading weather-related killer in the U.S..  In recognition of the likelihood of increasing dangers from climate change, U.S. President Biden announced a coordinated, interagency effort on September 20, described in a White House Fact Sheet titled Biden Administration Mobilizes to Protect Workers and Communities from Extreme Heat.  Regarding workers,  the Department of Labor, through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA),  will launch a rulemaking process to develop a national workplace heat standard for both outdoor and indoor workers, including agricultural, construction, and delivery workers, as well as indoor workers in warehouses, factories, and kitchens.  This process, which is expected to take years,  will allow for a “comment period” on topics including heat stress thresholds, heat acclimatization planning, and exposure monitoring.  Along with setting the Heat Standard, OSHA will begin a new enforcement initiative which will prioritize heat-related interventions and workplace inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80°F.  OSHA will also work to formalize a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat hazard cases, which will target high-risk industries, hopefully before Summer 2022. Finally, OSHA will form a Heat Illness Prevention Work Group within its  National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), which will include a public representative, a  labour representative, and a management representative, along with others.

The initiative is summarized in  “As climate change warms workplaces, Biden directs safety agency to draft heat rules for workers” (Washington Post, Sept. 20)  and in “Extreme Heat Is Killing Workers, So the White House Is Adding Protections” (Vice Motherboard, Sept 23), which describes the regulation in Washington, California and Minnesota, as well as legislation currently under debate in Texas, which would eliminate requirements for 10-minute water breaks every four hours. A new national standard would set minimum levels under which state regulations could not descend.

Future job growth in the U.S. auto industry depends on supportive industrial and labour policies

As the inevitable transformation of the U.S. auto industry unfolds, supportive industrial and labour policy can help the industry reclaim its role as a source of well-paying, stable jobs, according to a report released on September 22 by the Economic Policy Institute.  “The stakes for workers in how policymakers manage the coming shift to all-electric vehicles” was written in collaboration with the BlueGreen Alliance, AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council, United Auto Workers, United Steelworkers, and The Greenlining Institute.   

Authors Jim Barrett and Josh Bivens report on the likely employment and job-quality implications of a large-scale shift to Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) under various scenarios. Their key findings: employment in the U.S. auto sector could rise by over 150,000 jobs in 2030 under two conditions: 1. Battery electric vehicles rise to 50% of domestic sales of autos in 2030 and 2. U.S. production of electric vehicle powertrain components increases. Supportive policies are seen to make the difference between job losses and job gains. 

The report further states: “For the auto sector to continue providing good jobs for U.S. workers, strong labor standards—including affirmative efforts to encourage unionization—will be needed. … The jobs embedded in the U.S. automobile supply chain once provided a key foundation for middle-class growth and prosperity. A cascade of poor policy decisions has eroded employment and job quality in this sector and this has helped to degrade labor standards across U.S. manufacturing and throughout the overall economy …. The industry transformation coming due to the widespread adoption of BEVs provides an opportunity to reverse these trends. The transformations necessary to ensure that this shift to BEVs supports U.S. employment and job quality—investment in advanced technology production and strengthening supply chains—will redound widely throughout manufacturing and aid growth in other sectors as well.”  

The report is summarized in “What Will It Take for Electric Vehicles to Create Jobs, Not Cut Them?” (New York Times , Sept. 22) .

Leading up to COP26: U.S. and China make important pledges; activists demand fossil-free future

As the IPCC Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow approaches on Oct. 31 to Nov. 12, international leaders are grabbing microphones, activists are lobbying, and important new reports are being released .  A chronology of some important highlights:  

On September 13, an Open Letter was delivered to the UN General Assembly, calling for a Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty. Signed by over 2000 academics and scientists from 81 countries, the Letter calls  for international cooperation on climate change and an end to new expansion of fossil fuel production in line with the best available science, and a phase-out of existing fossil fuel production of fossil fuels “in a manner that is fair and equitable”. 

On September 16, World Resources Institute and Climate Analytics released  Closing the gap: The impact of G20 climate commitments on limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C, which offers hope. The report argues that if G20 countries set ambitious, 1.5°C-aligned emission reduction targets for 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050, then global temperature rise at the end of the century could be limited to 1.7°C.  This hinges on the fact that G20 countries account for 75% of global GHG emissions.

A new, related report from the UNFCC is far less hopeful – in fact, Greta Thunberg , as quoted in Common Dreams, states that “this is what betrayal looks like”. The Synthesis Report of Nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement compiled the emissions reduction pledges of 191 countries as of July 31 2021, and evaluated and analyzed their targets and plans .  The bottom line: “The total global GHG emission level in 2030, taking into account implementation of all the latest NDCs, is expected to be 16.3 per cent above the 2010 level.”  Such a course would lead to a “catastrophic” increase in average temperatures by 2.7 degrees C. by the end of the century. While Argentina, Canada, the European Union, United Kingdom and United States strengthened their 2030 emission reduction targets (compared to the NDCs they submitted five years ago),  China, India, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have yet to submit their updated NDCs. The latter countries are responsible for 33% of global greenhouse gases.

On September 18, the EU and U.S. launched a Global Methane Pledge, promising to reduce methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030 – which is a step in the right direction, but fails to meet the target of 45% reduction in this decade , as called for by the UNEP in its Global Methane Assessment Report released in May 2021.  However, according to Inside Climate News, “Global Methane Pledge Offers Hope on Climate in Lead Up to Glasgow “, and The Conversation U.S. describes “Biden urges countries to slash methane emissions 30% – here’s why it’s crucial for protecting climate and health, and how it can pay for itself”  ( Sept. 17). It remains to be seen if Canada will join the eight countries already signed on to the new Methane Pledge; in Canada, the existing regulations for methane emissions from the oil and gas industry  target a reduction by 40% to 45% below 2012 levels by 2025. The Liberal election platform pledged to “Require oil and gas companies to reduce methane emissions by at least 75% below 2012 levels by 2030 and work to reduce methane emissions across the broader economy.”  (More Canadian context appears in The Energy Mix,  and from the WCR here, which explains the federal-provincial equivalency agreement re methane regulations.

The opening of UN General Assembly on September 20, began with a fiery speech by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres about global inequality, saying that the world is “sleepwalking”  to climate change disaster and pleading yet again for urgent action and  international cooperation.  Discussions around Covid-19, racism, and climate change are creating the “sombre mood” of the meetings . Yet speeches by U.S. president Biden and China’s Xi Jinping offer hope for climate change actions:

On September 21, US president Biden’s address to the General Assembly included a pledge that the US will become the world’s leading provider of climate finance, promising to double U.S. aid to $11bn by 2024.  Some reaction to the pledge was sceptical, given that the $100 billion in aid already pledged by developed countries has not been achieved. Canada is one of the worst offenders, with an average contribution only 17% of its fair share in 2017 and 2018, according to  “Climate Finance Faces $75-Billion Gap as COP 26 Looms 1,000 Hours Away” (The Energy Mix, Sept. 21).

Also on September 21, China’s leader Xi Jinping announced to the United Nations General Assembly that China “will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad.”  The impact, as explained here by the New York Times, can be huge, given that  “China built more than three times more new coal power capacity than all other countries in the world combined” last year. “‘Betting on a low-carbon future’: why China is ending foreign coal investment” (The Guardian, Sept. 22) highlights two important points: 1. the announcement signals that China is serious about climate action even though it hasn’t confirmed attendance at COP26, and 2. Real climate progress lies in reduction of China’s domestic coal production, which is 10 times higher than foreign production according to the report in Germany’s DW . So far, China has not specified plans re domestic production, nor re the timing of its commitment to end coal financing.

On September 22, a statement by over 200 civil society organizations from around the world called on progressive governments and public finance institutions to launch a joint commitment to end public finance for fossil fuels at COP26.  According to the spokesperson for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said: “While a growing number of governments are turning away from coal and oil, international financial institutions are still providing four times as much funding for gas projects as for wind or solar.”  The full statement and list of signatories is here and includes 28 Canadian organizations – including the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and the Syndicat de la fonction publique et parapublique du Québec (SFPQ).

#Wemaketomorrow is an activist campaign coordinated by the Trade Union Caucus of the COP26 Coalition. Planning and actions for COP26 are already underway at https://www.wemaketomorrow.org/ . The main COP26 Coalition website organizes The People’s Summit, “a global convergence space for movements, campaigns and civil society”, which this year, because of Covid-19, will feature in-person and virtual events.

More to come!

60% of Canadians voted for climate action platforms – and they are already mobilizing to hold the new minority government to account

Voting in Canada’s Election 44 took place on September 20, returning the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau with an almost identical minority in the House of Commons.  Green Party Leader Annamie Paul failed to win her own seat and her party received only 2.3% of the popular vote – with Paul Manly losing his seat in Nanaimo, to be balanced by a Green gain by Mike Morrice in Kitchener Ontario. Candidates endorsed as “climate champions” by 350 Canada had mixed success, with defeats for Avi Lewis in B.C., Lenore Zann in Nova Scotia, and Angella MacEwen, CUPE senior economist, in Ottawa Centre . Yet  at least seven were re-elected (some still too close to call), including: Peter Julian (NDP , New Westminster—Burnaby), Laurel Collins (NDP , Victoria), Elizabeth May (Green, Saanich–Gulf Islands), Matthew Green (NDP, Hamilton Centre), and Blake Desjarlais (NDP, Edmonton Greisbach).  

Media commentators are keen to paint the election exercise as a waste of time and money. But environmental advocates are not deterred – as described by Jesse Firempong in “What this election means for women, racialized and climate-vulnerable communities”  (National Observer, Sept.21). He states, “This election was a signal to the Prime Minister to step up or step aside. With their series of “first 100 days” promises, the Liberals have given us an easy litmus test to evaluate their sincerity on a few issues, such as legislation to ban conversion therapy, combat online hate, and institute paid sick leave. On keeping fossil fuels in the ground, reconciliation and defunding the police, movement voices will remain critical levers for mobilizing public accountability.”  

And those movement voices are already speaking up. On September 21, Climate Action Network Canada issued a press release, “Environmental organizations representing millions of Canadians urges Prime Minister Trudeau to listen to the majority – climate-concerned voters – and swiftly fulfil climate promises” – which states that nearly 60 per cent of Canadians voted for parties with strong climate commitments, and  announces a new coalition called No more Delays, supported by Greenpeace Canada, Environmental Defence, SumofUs, Stand.earth, Climate Emergency Unit, Équiterre, Citizens Climate Lobby Canada, Climate Reality Project Canada, Grandmothers Advocacy Network and Climate Action Network Canada – Réseau action climat Canada (CAN-Rac Canada). 

No More Delays calls on the newly-elected government to:

  • “Work with MPs across party lines to make good on your promises to protect our communities and our planet. Within100 days, put forward a plan to end fossil fuel subsidies & stop all new fossil fuel expansion 
  • Deliver a clear timeline and strategy to implement the TRC calls to action and UNDRIP 
  • Restart the Just Transition consultation and urgently work to develop and pass this important legislation
  • Commit to at least 60 per cent reduction of domestic emissions from 2005 levels by 2030” .

Member organization Greenpeace goes further, calling for all of the above plus:

  • Implement a just transition for workers including income support and funding for green jobs.
  • End fossil fuel subsidies and cancel the Trans Mountain Pipeline immediately.
  • Increase targets and develop a plan to hit 60% domestic emissions reductions by 2030 (versus 2005).
  • Implement fair taxation of the wealthy to help pay for the transition.

350Canada maintains an online petition to the Minister of Natural Resources and all Party Leaders to act on the Just Transition legislation – consultations. The process was suspended during the campaign, and submissions are set to close on September 30. The Discussion Paper to guide submissions is here .

Leadnow.ca is maintaining an online petition  calling on the parties to work together for climate action, and Seth Klein of the Climate Emergency Unit specifically suggests : “how about we stabilize our political lives with a formal Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA), like we had in British Columbia from 2017-2020, like the Yukon has now, and similar to what the Ontario Liberals and NDP had in the 1980s or at the federal level from 1972-74. … Numerous parties tabled good ideas in this election — let’s see them each put their best ones forward.

And as a refresher – the detailed Liberal platform is here; here are just a few of the climate-related promises to watch for:

  • “Require oil and gas companies to reduce methane emissions by at least 75% below 2012 levels by 2030 and work to reduce methane emissions across the broader economy”;
  • “Set 2025 and 2030 milestones based on the advice of the Net-Zero Advisory Body to ensure reduction levels are ambitious and achievable and that the oil and gas sector makes a meaningful contribution to meeting the nation’s 2030 climate goals.”;
  • “Ban thermal coal exports from and through Canada no later than 2030.”;
  • “Accelerate our G20 commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies from 2025 to 2023.
  • Develop a plan to phase-out public financing of the fossil fuel sector, including from Crown corporations, consistent with our commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.”
  • “Introduce a Clean Electricity Standard that will set Canada on a path to cut more emissions by 2030 and to achieve a 100% net-zero emitting electricity system by 2035.”
  • “Launch a National Net-zero Emissions Building Strategy, which will chart a path to net-zero emissions from buildings by 2050 with ambitious milestones along the way.”
  • ” Accelerate the development of the national net-zero emissions model building code for 2025 adoption.”
  • “Accelerate the transition from fossil fuel-based heating systems to electrification through incentives and standards, including investing $250 million to help low-income Canadians get off home-heating oil.”
  • ” Establish a $2 billion Futures Fund for Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador that will be designed in collaboration with local workers, unions, educational institutions, environmental groups, investors, and Indigenous peoples who know their communities best. We will support local and regional economic diversification and specific placebased strategies.”
  • ” Move forward with Just Transition Legislation, guided by the feedback we receive from workers, unions, Indigenous peoples, communities, and provinces and territories”
  • “Create more opportunities for women, LGBTQ2 and other underrepresented people in the energy sector.”
  • “Launch a Clean Jobs Training Centre to help industrial, skill and trade workers across sectors to upgrade or gain new skills to be on the leading edge of zero carbon industry.”
  •  ” Table legislation to require the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to examine the link between race, socio-economic status, and exposure to environmental risk, and develop a strategy to address environmental justice.”

Ontario Teachers Pension Plan sets target to reduce 45% carbon emission intensity in their portfolio by 2025

The Ontario Teachers Pension Plan Board announced on September 16  “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 press release continues: “By significantly growing our portfolio of green investments and working collaboratively with our portfolio companies to transform their businesses, we can make a positive impact by encouraging an inclusive transition that benefits our people, communities and portfolio companies.”    Reaction by  pension advocacy group Shift Action acknowledges that this is  “the strongest climate commitment we’ve seen yet from a Canadian pension plan”, but called for OTPP to explain how it will eliminate its fossil fuel investments. The ShiftAction Backgrounder which accompanies the press release challenges the OTPP’s own estimate that approximately 3% of their assets ($6.6billion) are held in oil and gas assets, and compiles a list of company names and the extent of OTPP investments, including recent investments in 2020 and 2021.

If all of this sounds familiar, it may be because the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan released a Net Zero Emissions Commitment  in January 2021, which was criticized as greenwashing in  Breaking down Ontario Teachers’ 2050 net-zero emissions promise (The National Observer , Feb. 4). The article  stated: “…If OTPP is serious about adopting a globally significant climate-safe investment strategy, it needs a plan to exclude all new oil, gas and coal investments; a timeline for phasing out existing fossil fuel holdings; a commitment to decarbonize its portfolio by 2030; ambitious new targets for increasing investments in profitable climate solutions; and a requirement for owned companies to refrain from lobbying activities that undermine ambitious climate policy, set corporate timelines for reducing emissions, and link executive compensation to measurable climate goals.”  It seems OTPP is moving in the right direction, but ever so slowly – similar to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), as explained in  An Insecure Future: Canada’s biggest public pensions are still banking on fossil fuels   released by the Corporate Mapping Project in mid-August .

Canada’s federal election: how do the parties compare on climate issues?

The federal election in Canada takes place on September 20, and according to an Abacus poll conducted on September 4, climate change remains one of the top concerns of voters.  The Liberal Party Platform document   was officially released on September 1, preceded by a  climate plan announced on Aug. 29 (summarized by a 2-page Fact Sheet ). The Conservative platform  was accompanied by a separate climate plan, Secure the Environment . The New Democratic Party platform also is accompanied with specific climate action commitments here. And just before the Leaders’ debates on Sept. 8 and 9, the  Green Party released their full platform on Labour Day weekend. 

The overall Platform statements are compared by the CBC and by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives: the “Platform Crunch” for the Liberals (Sept. 3) ; Conservatives   (Aug. 18); and for the NDP (Aug. 13).   

How do the parties’ Platforms compare on climate change?  

It is easy to summarize the differing GHG emissions reductions targets of the parties, with the Green Party committed to a target of 60 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels and net negative emissions in 2050. The Liberal Party commits to reducing emissions by 40-45 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, which is the target they have committed to as a government in the Net-Zero Accountability Act. The NDP target is to cut its emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, and commit to establishing multi-year national and sectoral carbon budgets. The Conservative Party promising to retreat to the Harper-era target of 30% reduction by 2030 – which would violate Canada’s obligation under the Paris Agreement.

Environmental Defence has produced a 2-page voter’s guide identifying the other key issues, along with sample questions voters may want to ask their candidates. Here is a selection of comparisons and summaries on a variety of issues:    

Election 2021: How the four main federal parties plan to fight climate crisis” (National Observer, Aug. 18) 

Election 2021 A Comparison of Climate Policy in Federal Party Platforms  (Smart Prosperity, Aug. 30)

Where they stand. The parties on Climate Change” (The Tyee, Aug. 31)  

How do the federal parties stack up on climate change?” (Clean Energy Canada, Sept. 7)

“What the parties are promising so far”  (Ecojustice, Sept. 7), which uniquely includes the Bloc Quebecois in its comparison.  Ecojustice emphasizes promises related to environmental justice – the strongest of which are from the Green Party (to establish an Office of Environmental Justice at Environment and Climate Change Canada, and to support Bill C-230, the National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice Act); and the NDP, ( to enshrine the right to a healthy environment in a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights and to create an Office of Environmental Justice) .

What’s in the Liberals’ $78B platform? Plenty of Green (National Observer, September 2)

“Liberals move to outflank NDP on green issues”  (Dogwood Institute, Aug. 31)  which observes that the federal NDP is hampered by the provincial NDP government of British Columbia , which supports  LNG development and has overseen the huge civil disobedience protests at the Fairy Creek Old Growth forest.

Federal leaders promise action to protect B.C. old growth” (Stand.earth press release , Aug. 25)

Liberals pledge $2 Billion to aid just transition” (National Observer, Aug. 31), quoting the new head of Iron and Earth judgement that it’s a good start, but inadequate.

Assessing climate sincerity in the Canadian 2021 election”  by Mark Jaccard, (Policy Options, Sept.3) wherein the prominent energy economist argues that “the key policy indicators of sincerity are the carbon price level and regulatory stringency”, and assesses Liberal policies as “effective and affordable”, and the NDP as “Largely ineffective, unnecessarily costly”.

Liberals are promising net-zero buildings by 2050. Can they make it happen?”  (National Observer, Sept. 7)

“How Conservatives came around to supporting a carbon tax — and whether it’s here to stay”  (CBC, Aug. 31)

“Conservative climate plan better than before, but still full of inconsistencies” (CBC, Aug. 30). Opinion piece by Jennifer Winter, associate professor and Scientific Director of Energy and Environmental Policy at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, focussing on  the Conservatives’ proposals for industrial emissions carbon pricing and calling it  “a spectacularly bad idea” and “ the worst of both worlds. “

“O’Toole defends climate plan while promising to revive oil pipeline projects” (CBC, Aug. 30), reporting that the Conservative leader has promised to revive the Northern Gateway pipeline and push forward with Trans Mountain pipeline.

O’Toole Pledges to Break the Paris Agreement” (Energy Mix, Aug. 29). Conservatives are “pledged to move boldly backwards on Canada’s emissions reduction target”, reviving the Harper-era GHG reduction target of 30% by 2030.

 “Erin O’Toole vows to increase criminal punishment for people who disrupt pipelines and railways”   (The Narwhal, Aug. 19) O’Toole promises to enact the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act.

Jagmeet Singh promises to kill fossil fuel subsidies”  (National Observer, Aug. 23) A core demand of environmentalists, which Trudeau is still vague on.

“A vote against fossil fuel subsidies is a vote for our health ” (National Observer, Sept. 3)   

 “Green platform promises big, largely uncosted social programs, end to fossil fuel industry” (CBC, Sept. 7)

Analysis of electric vehicles platform promises in Electric Autonomy, Aug. 30.

Electrification of vehicles in Canadian mines

Trade magazine Electric Autonomy has published a series titled BEV’s in Mining, and while clearly from an industry point of view, the articles provide a useful overview of the transformation being wrought by electrification of the mining industry in Canada.  “Deep secrets: How Canada’s mining sector grabbed the global lead in mining electrification “  (Nov. 2020) introduces the topic of Battery Electric Vehicles and highlights the specific activities of mining majors GlencoreVale and Newmont, as well as Maclean Engineering, a Collingwood, Ontario-based equipment manufacturer.  A related, brief article highlighted the use of Rokion-manufactured trucks at Vale Canada mining sites in Manitoba and Ontario.  “Human capital: How BEVs in underground mining change the working environment for the better” was published in February 2021 – discussing the benefits for operators from less noise and vibration, cleaner air, and less fire risk underground. This healthier environment is linked to greater worker satisfaction and a competitive edge for employers to attract scarce talent.  The article also states that “the ventilation system for an all-electric mine will operate at roughly 50 per cent of the cost of a diesel mine and cut greenhouse emissions per mine by 70 per cent, according to government data. The Canadian government estimates transitioning to electric could save 500 tonnes of CO2 emissions per vehicle, every year.”  

Most recently,  “There’s a skills shortage maintaining electric mining vehicles. One training program is trying to fix that” ( Aug. 25), which describes the new “ Industrial Battery Electric Vehicle Maintenance Course”, associated with Cambrian College’s research-oriented Centre for Smart Mining in Sudbury, and with Maclean Engineering. What the series does not discuss are the other labour market implications – including layoffs – from the automation of vehicles and other operations.

Renewable Energy companies seen as barriers to a successful public energy transition

Recent issues of New Labor Forum include articles promoting the concept of energy democracy, and bringing an international perspective.  In “Sustaining the Unsustainable: Why Renewable Energy Companies Are Not Climate Warriors” (New Labor Forum, August),  author Sean Sweeney argues that renewable energy companies “are party to a “race to the bottom” capitalist dynamic that exploits workers – citing the example of alleged forced Uyghur labour in China-based solar companies, and the offshoring of manufacturing for the Scottish wind industry. He also argues that “large wind and solar interests’ “me first” behavior is propping up a policy architecture that is sucking in large amounts of public money to make their private operations profitable. They are sustaining a model of energy transition that has already shown itself to be incapable of meeting climate targets. In so doing, these companies have not just gone over to the political dark side, they helped design it.”   

The theme of the Spring New Labor Forum was  A Public Energy Response to the Climate Emergency , and includes these three articles: “Beyond Coal: Why South Africa Should Reform and Rebuild Its Public Utility”; “Ireland’s Energy System: The Historical Case for Hope in Climate Action”; and Mexico’s Wall of Resistance:  Why AMLO’s Fight for Energy Sovereignty Needs Our Support .

The author of Sustaining the Unsustainable is Sean Sweeney, who is Director of the International Program on Labor, Climate & Environment at the School of Labor and Urban Studies, City University of New York, and is also the coordinator of  Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED).  In August, TUED convened a Global Forum, “COP26: What Do Unions Want?”   – with participation  from 69 unions, including the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC), the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA), the UK’s Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and Public Services International (PSI). Presentations are  summarized in TUED Bulletin 111, (Aug. 18), and are available on YouTube here .  

Benefits of wind energy exceed its cost

The Land-based Wind Energy Report 2021 released by the U.S. Department of Energy states that wind power represented the largest source of U.S. electric-generating capacity additions in 2020 – constituting 42% of all new capacity additions, with the state of Texas maintaining its status as having the most wind energy capacity.  A forecasted decrease in land-based wind installation for 2022 and 2023 is attributed to the scheduled expiration of federal tax credits and anticipated growth of offshore wind.

Health and climate benefits of Wind

In addition to providing statistics and analyzing trends, the Land-based Wind Energy Report 2021 states that “The health and climate benefits of wind are larger than its grid-system value, and the combination of all three far exceeds the levelized cost of wind. Wind reduces emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide, providing public health and climate benefits. Nationally, these benefits averaged $76/MWh. …… almost three times the average LCOE ” (which has fallen to around $33/MWh  nationally).

A second new report from the U.S. Department of Energy is Offshore Wind Market Report: 2021 Edition , which provides detailed information about technology and market trends in the U.S. and globally. The report describes the status of over 200 global operating offshore wind energy projects through December 31, 2020, with an update about the most significant domestic developments and events from January 1, 2020, through May 31, 2021. It also describes projects in various stages of development – stating that global offshore wind energy deployment is expected to accelerate in the future, and citing a forecast by Bloomberg New Energy Finance of a seven-fold increase in global cumulative offshore wind capacity by 2030. In the U.S., the expansion and growth of the offshore wind energy market is  primarily attributed to  increasing state-level procurement targets in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, and growing infrastructure investments needed to keep pace with development. The Biden Administration’s national target goal of 30-GW-by-2030 goal is also noted (and is described in this White House Fact Sheet from March 2021).  The report estimates that  the average levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of fixed-bottom offshore wind energy installations is now below $95/megawatt-hour (MWh) globally –a decrease ranging from 28-51% between 2014 and 2020. The experts surveyed for the report predict LCOE levels of approximately $56/MWh by 2030, and a range of $44/MWh to $72/MWh by 2050. 

On 9 September, the Global Wind Energy Council will provide more statistics, when it releases its third annual Global Offshore Wind Report 2021.  In the September 3 press release announcing the GWEC 2nd Quarter Report, the Council observed “Overly complex and bureaucratic permitting procedures remain a critical market barrier, which creates high attrition rates for project applications and are slowing down wind power deployment in countries around the world, from Germany to India. To achieve our international climate targets, a sensible and positive regulatory environment needs to be in place to ensure successful procurement and smooth project timelines for both onshore and offshore wind.”  In July, the Council and 25 wind energy company CEO’s sent an Open Letter to G20 Ministers, calling on them to “get serious” about wind energy, and citing the International Energy Agency (IEA) assessment that annual wind deployment must quadruple from 93 GW in 2020 to 390 GW in 2030 to meet a net zero by 2050 scenario. 

Canada can achieve net-zero electricity by 2035: Jaccard and Griffin

A new report by energy economists Mark Jaccard and Brad Griffin asserts that it is possible for Canada to achieve net-zero electricity by 2035, and describes and models how this can be achieved within the challenging jurisdictional structure.   A Zero-Emissions Canadian Electricity System by 2035 focuses on zero-emission policies that the federal government has the authority to implement, chiefly through the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, which has allowed the federal government to establish an industrial output-based pricing system. However, the report recognizes that the electricity sector is primarily a matter of provincial jurisdiction, resulting in wide variations which are described in a summary of the status and key features for each province.  The report models two different future scenarios, both of which assume substantial growth of solar, wind, and other renewables; the  growth of energy storage capacity; and continued resistance to interprovincial grid development. However, one scenario assumes continued use of fossil-fuel electricity generation with carbon capture and storage in Alberta and Saskatchewan, along with the development of large hydro in Atlantic Canada.  In terms of cost, the authors state that the scenario allowing for fossil fuel generation will be cheaper in the short-term, and more expensive in the long-term. The authors recommend that the government continue with the existing structure of federal-provincial equivalency-based carbon pricing systems, but that those agreements be monitored by Canada’s Net-Zero Advisory Body, “using the assessment expertise of the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices”. (It should be noted that author Mark Jaccard is a member of the Institute’s Expert Panel on Mitigation).

The report was commissioned by the David Suzuki Foundation, in collaboration with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, the Ecology Action Centre and the Pembina Institute.  A summary by Mark Jaccard appears in his blog .

Recommendations for increased climate action by federal and provincial governments

Pembina Institute and the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University published All Hands on Deck: An assessment of provincial, territorial and federal readiness to deliver a safe climate on July 24.  Although completed before the election call, the report is a timely and helpful assessment of where we stand, what our ambitions should be,  and reminds us that GHG emissions reduction is not up to the federal government alone. The report examines each province, territory and the federal government on 24 indicators across 11 categories, and concludes, in summary:

“The approach to climate action in Canada is piecemeal. It also lacks accountability for governments who promise climate action but don’t have timelines or policies to match the urgency of the situation. Despite the fast-approaching 2030 target, 95% of emissions generated in Canada are not covered by either a provincial or territorial 2030 target or climate plans independently verified to deliver on the 2030 target. No jurisdiction has developed pathways to describe how net-zero can be achieved.”  

The report states that Canada’s overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have dropped by only 1% between 2005 and 2019, and forecasts a national emissions reduction of 36% below 2005 levels by 2030, even accounting for the measures announced in A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy plan, released in Dec. 2020.  Despite the major impact of economy-wide carbon pricing and the phase-out of coal-fired electricity, emissions from other sources,  particularly from  transportation and oil and gas production, have increased since 2005.  

Taken in an international context, Canada has the third highest per capita emissions among the 36 OECD countries (approximately 1.6 times the OECD average), and was the second highest per capita emitter amongst the G7 countries in 2018. Perhaps most troubling, Canada is not moving fast enough to change – it has one of the lowest percentage reductions in GHG emissions per capita between 2005 and 2018.  The All Hands on Deck report offers specific recommendations for improvement for each province, as well as the following sixteen objectives that all jurisdictions should act on, listed below:   

1. Set higher emissions reduction targets and shrinking carbon budgets. Governments prepared to deliver on climate promises will: 

  • Commit to net-zero emissions by 2050 and model a pathway to achieve that goal
  • Commit to a 2030 target aligned with Canada’s historic contribution and ability to mitigate climate change
  • Translate targets into carbon budgets.

2. Make governments accountable. Accountability requires that federal, provincial and territorial governments:

  • Create an independent accountability body, and mandate independent evaluation and advice to the legislature, not the government of the day
  • Legislate targets and carbon budgets for regular, short-term milestones between 2021 and 2050
  • Mandate a requirement that climate mitigation plans, including actions to achieve legislated milestones, adaptation plans and evaluations, are tabled in their respective legislatures.

3. Prioritize reconciliation and equity. To begin the process of building reconciliation and equity into climate policy, governments need to:

  • Pass legislation committing to full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Commit to monitoring, publicly reporting on, and mitigating the impacts of climate change and climate change policy on Indigenous Peoples and their rights
  • Commit to monitoring, publicly reporting on, and mitigating the gendered, socio-economic and racial impacts of climate change and climate change policy.

4. Set economy-wide sectoral budgets and map net-zero pathways. In nearly every province and territory, either oil and gas or transportation (or both) are the largest source of emissions. As such, governments need to:

  • Set economy-wide sectoral budgets and strategies at national, provincial, and territorial levels
  • Prioritize emissions reductions in the highest-emitting sectors
  • Decarbonize electricity by 2035.

5. Plan for a decline in oil and gas. The federal government, and governments in fossil fuel-producing provinces and territories, need to:

  • Create transition plans for the oil and gas sector that are based on net-zero pathways and include comprehensive strategies to ensure a just and inclusive transition.

6. Accelerate the push to decarbonize transportation. Governments need to:

  • Mandate 100% zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) sales by 2035 and provide incentives for purchase and infrastructure
  • Develop decarbonization strategies for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles and goods movement
  • Develop and fund public transit and active transportation strategies.

Canada’s Strategy for Greening Government needs improvement, and Canada Post sets unambitious targets

Although the federal government is directly responsible for only  0.3% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions (mostly through its buildings and fleet operations), it also has the potential to act as a model for emissions reductions by other governments and corporations. Yet surprisingly, federal government emissions have risen by 11% since 2015 (after falling between 2005 and 2015), according to Leading the Way? A critical assessment of the federal Greening Government Strategy, released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in early August.

The report describes and critiques how the Green Government Strategy works. It identifies three main problem areas: 1. The Strategy doesn’t include the biggest public emitters, such as the Department of National Defence, nor federal Crown corporations like Canada Post, Via Rail and Canada Development Investment Corporation; 2. there is a lack of urgency and specificity in the Strategy itself; and 3. there is  inadequate support for the public service to administer the Strategy, and to manage its own workplace operations.  The report states: “Public service unions have a role to play in pushing for these sorts of changes to reduce workplace emissions, including through the appointment of workplace green stewards and the inclusion of green clauses in collective bargaining.”

Canada Post, one of the Crown Corporations mentioned in the Leading the Way report, released its Net Zero 2050 Roadmap on August 6, setting goals to:

  • “reduce scope 1 (direct) and scope 2 GHG emissions (from the generation of purchased electricity) by 30 per cent by 2030, measured against 2019 levels;
  • use 100 per cent renewable electricity in its facilities by 2030; and
  • engage with top suppliers and Canada Post’s subsidiaries so that 67% of suppliers (by spend) and all subsidiaries adopt a science-based target by 2025.”

In reaction to the Net Zero Roadmap, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers issued a press release, “Canada Post’s Unambitious Emissions Targets Disappoint CUPW” , which highlights that the newly-released Roadmap calls only for 220 electric vehicles in a fleet of over 14,000. CUPW offers more details about its goals for electrifying the fleet in its Brief to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development on Bill C-12 in May, and sets out its broader climate change proposals in its updated Delivering Community Power plan.

Regarding the Canada Post delivery fleet: The Canada Post Sustainability Report of 2020 reports statistics which reveal that Canada Post has favoured hybrid vehicles, with  more than 353 new hybrid electric vehicles added in 2020, bringing  the total number of “alternative propulsion vehicles” in the fleet to 854, or 6.5%.   Canada Post pledges to use other means to reduce delivery emissions, for example by using telematics to optimize routing, to use electric trikes for last-mile delivery (see a CBC story re the Montreal pilot here), and by piloting electric vehicle charging stations for employees at mail processing plants in Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver, and at the Ottawa head office.  Canada Post is also a member of the Pembina Institute’s Urban Delivery Solutions Initiative (USDI), a network which also includes environmental agencies and courier companies, to research emissions reduction in freight delivery.

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 ….”.  

Climate crisis a key issue in Canada’s election campaign

Apparently prompted by a desire to strengthen his political power, Prime Minister Trudeau called a federal election, to be held on  September 20.  Following this summer of heat, drought and wildfires, the climate emergency is top of mind for voters –  for example, 46% of Canadians ranked climate change as one of their top three issues of concern in the election, in an Abacus Data poll commissioned by the Professional Institute of the Public Service and The Broadbent Institute, summarized here. Two leadership debates are planned, on September 8 (French language) and September 9 (English language).   But as reported by The Tyee, four elders of Canada’s climate community sent an open letter to the head of the Leaders Debate Commission, calling for a special Climate Emergency Leadership Debate as well – described in  “Suzuki, Atwood, Ondaatje, Lewis Call for Emergency Leaders Debate on Climate”  (Aug. 18, The Tyee) . 

The full platform statements of the major parties, as of August 25, are here: Liberal;  Conservative, (with the climate plan, Secure the Environment ,in a separate document);  New Democratic Party , (with specific climate action commitments here, plus on Aug. 23 Leader Jagmeet Singh pledged to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies “once and for all”);  and the Green Party , whose proposals are not gathered in one document, but who have made a clear statement on Just Transition  .

The National Observer offers an Explainer summarizing the climate platform proposals of each of the main federal parties, here , and Shawn McCarthy contrasts the Liberal and Conservative platforms in “Climate crisis remains wedge issue on campaign trail ” ( Corporate Knights, Aug. 23). More analysis will no doubt follow – watch the National Observer Special section of the election here; sign up here for The Tyee election newsletter, The Run; follow the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Election coverage and commentary at https://www.policyalternatives.ca/Election44 ; or the Council of Canadians coverage here. New indie newsletter The Breach  also offers election coverage, including “Wielding the balance of power” , analysing the historical record of minority governments in Canada.

What are the demands and proposals from climate and labour groups? 

The Canadian Labour Congress hasn’t so far released specific statements regarding climate policies, but has spoken out against Conservative proposals which might lead to privatization of pensions and restriction to  EI (also criticized by the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE),  and against O’Toole’s outreach to workers – summarized in  “O’Toole’s rhetoric cannot hide his record of hurting workers” by the CBC.

Unifor’s 2021 Election campaign is sponsoring TV and social media ads, targeting O’Toole’s Conservatives as taking Canada in the wrong direction.   

United Steelworkers have a clear statement of support for the New Democratic Party at their election website. Their support statement doesn’t mention any climate-related policies.

Public Service Alliance of Canada surveyed their membership in June, and found approximately half ranked climate change as a top concern, with a focus on what the federal government and military can do to reduce their impact. PSAC calls for a commitment “ to a diversified, green economy that supports workers and communities, serves the wellbeing of society, and drastically cuts our greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) released a statement of  approval  of the  NDP transit and transportation policies.

Let’s Build Canada is a coalition of building and construction trade unions, advocating for candidates and political parties “to commit to supporting Canadian workers and well-paying, middle-class jobs.” This includes: supporting labour mobility in the construction industry; building good green jobs and a just transition for energy workers; and government programs and initiatives to support the workforce. (Coaliton members include:  International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied WorkersInternational Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT); Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART); International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron WorkersUnited Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA); and Canada’s Building Trades Unions ).

Canadian, Ontario governments launch youth consultations on climate issues

It’s almost as if Canadian governments have noticed the international Fridays for Future movement, or the Sunrise Movement in the U.S.! On July 21, both the federal and Ontario government announced the formation of youth councils, to engage with young people on climate issues. The federal Environment and Climate Change Youth Council  was announced in this press release, inviting Canadians between the ages of 18 to 25 to apply by August 18, to participate in consultations regarding climate change, biodiversity loss, and how to better protect the natural environment. “In particular, inaugural members will engage on Canada’s top priorities, including achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and zero plastic waste by 2030.” Applicants must be sponsored/nominated by an NGO or charitable organization which relates to the mandate of Environment and Climate Change Canada. Ten people will be chosen to serve a two-year term on a voluntary basis and meet every four months.  The Youth Council website, with application information, is here.  

In Ontario, high school youth are invited to apply by August 4th to be members of a Youth Environment Council, which will meet monthly from September to April 2021 to hear from expert guest speakers, discuss a range of environmental and climate change issues and provide input to ministry officials, including the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.  Details and an application form are here.

Note to governments: the next Global Fridays for Future Climate Strike will be held on September 24, 2021, under the banner #UprootTheSystem. Demands are explained here.

U.K. Green Jobs Taskforce recommendations address green skills, Just Transition

On July 14, the Independent Green Jobs Taskforce delivered its report to the government of the United Kingdom, making fifteen recommendations on how best to deliver the green jobs and skills of the future. A summary of the report and steps taken to date appear in the government’s press release. The full Report is here, with an Annex called Sectoral Transitions to Net Zero, profiling specific sectors and occupations.   

The U.K. Trades Union Congress (TUC), which participated in the Taskforce, reacted with a blog post titled, A greener economy can be positive for workers too, highlighting key recommendations – and pointing out real-world examples of best practice, including the example of collaboration between EDF and Unite, Prospect and GMB in the successful creation of transition pathways for workers at Cottam coal power station before it closed.  The Senior Deputy General Secretary of the Prospect union was also member of the Green Jobs Taskforce, and summarized her thoughts in this blog: “It’s time the government moved from lofty climate change ambitions to action”, saying  “ I am pleased that the Green Jobs Taskforce not only uses the language of Just Transition, but recommends the establishment of a new national body to help shape this change and ensure that no worker or community is left behind in the race for net zero. That recommendation is one of many that we on the task force have made to the government, including establishing a ‘green careers launchpad’, making sure that the curriculum reflects the green skills we will need in the future, and publishing a comprehensive net zero strategy ahead of November’s COP26 summit.”

The government will not endorse any of the Report’s recommendations immediately but they  are promised to feed into the development of the U.K.’s Net Zero Strategy; in the meantime, “ a cross-cutting delivery group” has been established “to oversee the development and delivery of the government’s plans for green jobs and skills. This group will maintain the momentum generated by the Taskforce and drive meaningful action across the green skills agenda.”   

The Green Jobs Taskforce was established in November 2020 , and included labour representatives from the TUC and Prospect union, along with academics, business representatives and the training sector, including Construction Industry Training Board, Engineering Construction Industry Training Board, East London Institute for Technology, Retrofit Works, Edinburgh University and National Grid.   

Related reports: Unionlearn (part of the TUC) published a labour education document, Cutting Carbon, Growing Skills: Green Skills for a Just Transition in March 2020, providing discussion and case studies.

Nova Scotia launches public consultation for Coastal Protection regulations

Recognizing the dangers of rising sea levels to their 13,000 km coastline, the government of Nova Scotia passed a Coastal Protection Act in 2019.  On July 15 2021, two days before dissolving the Legislature and calling a general election, the provincial government launched a new public consultation on the Regulations, which, once passed, will enable the Act to come into force. Without duplicating the federal and municipal regulations which also exist to protect the coast, the proposed provincial regulations will define the “Coastal Protection Zone” where the act will apply; ensure that any construction on submerged Crown land (such as wharfs, infilling and shoreline protections ) are designed, constructed, and/or situated where disruption of valuable coastal ecosystems is minimized. The Regulations will also apply to construction on private or public land (homes, cottages, commercial or industrial buildings), to minimize risk from sea level rise, coastal flooding and erosion.  The consultation will run from July 15,  and will continue until Sept. 17. Documentation is available at  https://novascotia.ca/coast/.

This follows another public consultation process regarding the province’s GHG emissions reduction targets, which closed on July 26. Voting in the Nova Scotia election is scheduled for August 17, 2021.

Canada launches consultation for Just Transition legislation – updated

On July 20, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources announced the launch of a public consultation on its long-promised Just Transition legislation.  The accompanying Discussion Paper states: “ we are committed to developing legislation that could: · Include people-centred just transition principles that put workers and communities at the centre of the government’s policy and decision-making processes on climate change action. · Establish an external Just Transition Advisory Body to provide the government with advice on regional and sectoral just transition strategies that support workers and communities.”  

 The Discussion Paper asks for feedback on these proposed Just Transition Principles, to be incorporated into legislation:

“1. Adequate, informed and ongoing dialogue on a people-centred, just transition should engage all relevant stakeholders to build strong social consensus on the goal and pathways to net zero.

2. Policies and programs in support of a people-centred, just transition must create decent, fair and high-value work designed in line with regional circumstances and recognizing the differing needs, strengths and potential of communities and workers.

3. The just transition must be inclusive by design, addressing barriers and creating opportunities for groups including gender, persons with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, Black and other racialized individuals, LGBTQ2S+ and other marginalized people.

4. International cooperation should be fostered to ensure people-centred approaches to the net-zero future are advancing for all people. ”

The Discussion Paper poses a number of other questions, to which Canadians are invited to respond via email to nrcan.justtransition-transitionequitable.rncan@canada.ca, or at www.just-transition.ca.  Invitation-only stakeholder sessions will be held over the summer, and a “What we Heard” report is promised for Fall 2021, with updates at #JustTransition from https://twitter.com/NRCan  .

Early reactions to the announcement are summarized in “Now’s your chance to weigh in on Canada’s just transition” (National Observer, July 21), which compiles reactions from politicians and the Director of Iron and Earth. Iron and Earth issued a separate email statement, citing their recent poll which shows that 69% of surveyed fossil fuel workers are willing to switch to clean energy careers . The emailed statement continues: “Fossil fuel industry workers have the knowledge and expertise to build Canada’s net-zero future that will support our families and communities – if they get the training they need. We’re pleased to hear Minister O’Regan say that fossil fuel industry workers will have a central role in the consultations for Just Transition legislation. Now it’s time to put those words into action. We’ll be watching to ensure fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers have a seat at the table to ensure the legislation meets their needs and leaves no one behind.”

The government already has a useful discussion available to it, in Roadmap to a Canadian Just Transition Act , co-published on April 1 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) and summarized in “Canada needs an ambitious, inclusive Just Transition Act” (National Observer, April 1) by the report’s author Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood.

B.C. burns while the government partners with Shell to research carbon capture technology

As British Columbia mourns over 800 lives lost in the June heat wave,  firefighters from Mexico and Quebec arrived to help fight the province’s raging forest fires , more than 400 people have been arrested protesting logging of Old Growth forests, and scientists have confirmed that oil and gas facilities in B.C. are producing 1.6 to 2.2 times more methane pollution than current estimates, it doesn’t take long to find strong and serious criticism of the B.C. government’s climate policies.  A few recent examples:

BC’s Climate Adaptation Plan won’t protect you from heat waves, or much else” by Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law  (July 9)

Subsidizing Climate Change 2021: How the Horgan government continues to sabotage BC’s climate plan with fossil fuel subsidies , a report by Stand.earth

B.C. is in a state of climate emergency with no emergency plan” by Seth Klein in (National Observer, July 19)

“Seven Big Warnings from the Killer Heat Wave” (The Tyee, July 19)

“Lytton Burned, People Died. Who Should Pay?” (The Tyee, July 13)

And on July 16,  to add insult to injury, the Premier announced the formation of a new B.C. Centre for Innovation and Clean Energy  to “help B.C.-based companies develop, scale up and launch new low-carbon energy technologies and will help establish B.C. as a global exporter of climate solutions.”  The province will partner with the federal government and Shell Canada to fund a new centre  whose first priorities include carbon capture, hydrogen production,  biofuels and battery technology.  Stand.earth reacted with:  “Partnership with Shell Canada sets country and province on the wrong path to address climate change”. 

Net-Zero Advisory Board debuts with a call for urgent action and real GHG reductions

Canada’s new Net-Zero Advisory Board has published its first report on a newly-launched website on July 5. The report,  Net-Zero Pathways: Initial Observations, outlines the ten values and principles that will guide the Board in its consideration of  “transition pathways”, and in turn, determine the advice it will provide to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

This Initial Observations report is written in careful and diplomatic language, but provides an insight into the thinking and approach that this advisory body will take. The five foundational values include: “Put people first”  (which calls for a just transition and  states: “ A just transition will lead to more equitable outcomes on gender, racial justice and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”).   Value #4  is “ Collaborate every step of the way”  (“Pathways must be multidisciplinary, taking into account the contributions of workers, economists, investors, engineers, entrepreneurs, social scientists, and Indigenous knowledge holders, among others. They must be grounded in the reality facing everyday, hardworking Canadians.”) and Value #5, recognizing political realities, is:  “Recognize and respect regional differences and circumstances”…. (“In many parts of the country, jobs, communities, and the economy are closely connected to GHG-intensive activities. Canada’s net-zero transition will take place in a context with tensions and tradeoffs, as well as benefits.”).

The five “design principles” begin with “Act early, and urgently”, and emphasize the need to “be bold and proactive” – pointing to the example of the recent  IEA Net-Zero by 2050 report, and stating: “the public and private sectors need to be prepared to take appropriate risks and back potential “game changers” now—both in terms of new technologies and infrastructure.”  At the same time, the report states that we should begin with known technologies – such as electrification and energy efficiency, and warns “Don’t get caught in the “net”” – stating that we must achieve actual emissions reductions, and warning “the “net” in “netzero” cannot become an excuse to allow continued emitting, growth of emissions, or slow action.”  Finally, “Beware of dead-ends” states, “While there may be interim actions that serve as bridges on the path to net-zero, some projects or activities may obscure or misdirect us from the ultimate goal or lead to inaction.”

The analysis was the result of fourteen briefing sessions with Canadian and international net-zero experts, who were identified by a scan of the net-zero literature.  Two appendices at the end of the report identify the experts and the reading list – which includes a cross-section of Canadian reports as well as international ones. The Net-Zero Advisory Board, consisting of fourteen members, was appointed by Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change on February 25, 2021, to serve as an ongoing, permanent body. One of the members is Hassan Yussuff, formerly President of the Canadian Labour Congress and now a Senator. The full terms of reference for the Board are here , and include an annual report to the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Groundbreaking moment as Canada passes climate accountability law

Down to the wire on June 29, before adjourning for summer recess, the Senate of Canada passed Bill C-12, An Act respecting transparency and accountability in Canada’s efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.   C-12 had been approved in the House of Commons on June 22, following a determined campaign by environmental advocacy groups, described by Climate Action Network-Canada here . And Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law wrote, urging passage in  “To amend or not to amend – Why Bill C-12 should be passed even though it could be better” (June 16) .

The reactions of many of those groups are compiled in “Senate Vote on Climate Accountability Act Counters ‘Decades of Broken Promises’”  (The Energy Mix, June 30)   – including Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment,  Climate Action Network-Canada, Ecojustice,  Leadnow, and West Coast Environmental Law. Their general consensus was that the bill is far from perfect, but as Catherine Abreu of CAN_RAC states, it is : “a groundbreaking moment and ushers Canada into a new era of accountability to its climate commitments.”   EcoJustice provides an excellent summary and reaction here , pointing out the positives, such as clearer, more detailed GHG reduction targets, improved timelines, and a requirement for 5-year reviews. However, many remain concerned about “the independence of its advisory body, transparency around the role of provinces and territories in achieving Canada’s climate targets, and how we define the term “net-zero.” ”

The full Legislative history of C-12 is here, including links to the meetings of and briefs to the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, and the Senate Pre-Study of the Bill. For an excellent summary, see “How Bill C-12 aims to guide Canada to net-zero” (National Observer, June 30).

UFAW-Unifor proposals to save the Pacific salmon fishery not included in government announcement of closures

On June 29, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) announced the closure of 79 salmon fisheries on the Pacific coast. Along with the closures, the press release also announced a new Pacific Salmon Commercial Transition Program – described so far only as a voluntary program which offers harvesters the option to retire their licenses for fair market value, with the goal of permanently reducing the number of fishers and reducing the size of the industry. The government press release states: “Over the coming months DFO will be engaging with commercial salmon licence holders to work collaboratively on developing the program, assess the fair market value or their licences and confirm the design of the program.  All commercial salmon licence holders will have an opportunity to participate in this initiative.” This is part of the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI)  announced on June 8, and falls under the “Harvest transformation pillar” of the strategy.

UFAWU-Unifor is the union representing commercial fishers. Their response to the closures is here (June 29), and reflects surprise and concern for the future. Further, it states: “While it’s widely agreed that a license retirement program is needed, it is only one part of what should be a multi-pronged approach to solving the issues in salmon fisheries… Pinniped reduction has to be part of the equation. We need habitat restoration and investments in hatcheries.”

The union, along with other commercial salmon harvesters, had proposed their own specific recommendations, addressing all of these aspects as well as the relationship with First Nations fishers in May 2021 in: The Report on the Future of B.C. Commercial Salmon Fishing .  As with the growing consensus amongst coal and fossil fuel workers, the UFAWU-Unifor report acknowledges the crisis and the need for change, stating: “The regular commercial salmon fishery is clearly in a state of crisis. This is a result of DFO policies and recent low salmon productivity, in part driven by higher predation and climate change, that have reduced harvests in regular commercial fisheries to the point where no one can survive.” (The report has strong criticism for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans on many fronts). Regarding the kind of licence retirement program that the government has announced, the report states: “This program must offer commercial salmon harvesters the ability to exit the industry with dignity and grace. For the future, it recommends all commercial salmon licences be held by harvesters or First Nations for active participation. A commercial salmon licence bank where licences from a buyout can be held will also allow for future re-entry into the industry. Licences must not be allowed to become investment paper or security for production for processors.”  Unlike the federal DFO, the union is not seeking to shrink the industry, and argues that their proposals will allow for a viable and profitable future. The subtitle of their report reflects this optimism:  An Active Fishermen’s Guide to a Viable, Vibrant, and Sustainable Commercial Fishery.   To date, the government has not responded to the union’s proposals.

Avoiding Dangerous Distractions such as Net-zero emissions goals

Dangerous Distractions: Canada’s carbon emissions and the pathway to net zero  is a newly published report by Marc Lee, of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – B.C.  The report argues that “Net zero has the potential to be a dangerous distraction that reduces the political pressure to achieve actual emission reductions in favour of wishful thinking about future technologies and “nature-based solutions…. This permits business-as-usual to continue for longer than it should, perpetuating the era of fossil fuels including other adverse health and environmental impacts.”  Instead, the Canadian government should invest in  proven climate change solutions such as renewal energy.

A working definition of “net zero” might be similar to that offered by the  Institute for Climate Choices: “Achieving net zero emissions requires shifting to technologies and energy systems that do not produce greenhouse gas emissions, while removing any remaining emissions from the atmosphere and storing them permanently.”  “Net zero” targets have been increasingly adopted by governments – including Canada – and by businesses – whose use has been challenged by many – notably by Friends of the Earth International in Chasing Carbon Unicorns: The Deception of Carbon Markets and Net Zero (Feb. 2021).

 Dangerous Distractions  concerns the Canadian government policy approach to a net zero goal, particularly focusing on  carbon removal technologies such as carbon capture and storage, forestry management, and the use of carbon offsets, especially the international trade in carbon offsets (such as proposed by the international Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets , founded by Mark Carney).  Lee concludes: “It’s impossible to know what carbon removal technologies of the future could achieve. For now, they are a dangerous distraction that diverts resources away from bona fide solutions. Scaling these ideas is very expensive and impractical, while perpetuating the era of fossil fuels prolongs other costly adverse impacts on human health, such as those due to air pollution.”

What follows are several recommendations, the first of which  is: “ Plan to reduce domestic emissions to “real zero” and to phase out the extraction and production of fossil fuels for export.”  He continues, “Don’t subsidize carbon capture and storage (CCS) with public funds. Require CCS for any proposed fossil fuel projects and phase in requirements for CCS in current projects”, and “Fund conservation of intact forests and nature-based solutions recognizing their important carbon, biodiversity and other co-benefits but treat this as a global public service. They should not be counted towards the 2050 target”; “Reject international carbon markets and do not plan on meeting domestic GHG targets by buying credits from outside Canada.”

The government of Canada legislated its net-zero emissions goal in Bill C-12, The  Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, introduced in November 2020 and currently before Committee.  In February 2021, Canada’s federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change established a permanent  Net-Zero Advisory Body, consisting of fourteen experts, and also in February, the Institute for Climate Choices published a lengthly report, Canada’s Net Zero Future: Finding our way in the global transition. That report contrasts to  Dangerous Distractions by advocating for two pathways forward: “safe bets” in the short term, and in the long term, “wild cards” which include negative emission technologies that are not yet commercially available.

State of carbon pricing in Canada, with recommendations for improvement

The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices was commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada to undertake an assessment of carbon pricing in Canada. The resulting report, The State of Carbon Pricing in Canada was released in June along with an accompanying detailed technical report, 2020 Expert Assessment of Carbon Pricing Systems. Focusing on the design of carbon pricing systems across all jurisdictions (and not measuring performance), the authors identify five key challenges: Not all policies apply to the same emissions; Not all policies have the same price; Not all policies impose the same costs on industry; Almost all policies lack transparency about key design choices and outcomes; and Long-term and transparent price signals are typically absent from programs.  

Their  recommendations for improvement are:

  • Develop a common standard of emissions coverage for carbon pricing across all jurisdictions.
  • Remove point-of-sale rebates that are tied to fuel consumption: such rebates should be replaced with other approaches such as direct rebates, income tax reductions, or abatement technology subsidies.
  • Define a “glide-path” to better align and increase average costs to large emitters
  • Engage Indigenous people in carbon pricing – at present, some communities are exempt and some are subject to full carbon costs
  • Ensure continuous improvement through more transparency and more independent evaluation.

A related blog, “3 Maps That Show Why Carbon Pricing in Canada Needs a Tune-Up”  summarizes the differences in carbon pricing design choices across the country, in a less formal style. 

Clean energy jobs as a transition destination

Released on June 3, Responding to Automation: Building a Cleaner Future  is a new analysis by the Conference Board of Canada, in partnership with the Future Skills Centre. It investigates the potential for clean energy jobs as a career transition destination for workers at high risk of losing their jobs because of automation. The clean energy occupations were identified from three areas: clean energy production, energy efficiency , and environmental management and the “rapid growth” jobs identified range from wind turbine technicians and power-line installers to industrial engineers, sheet metal workers, and  geospatial information scientists. Based on interviews with clean economy experts, as well as the interview responses from over five hundred workers across Canada, the analysis identifies  the structural barriers holding employers and workers back from transition:  Lack of consistent financial support for workers to reskill • Employer hesitancy to hire inexperienced workers • Current demand for relevant occupations which makes change less attractive • Lack of awareness around potential transition opportunities • Personal relocation barriers, such as high living costs in new cities, and family commitments. None of the recommended actions to overcome the barriers include a role for unions, with the burden for action falling largely on the individual employee. Only summary information is presented as a web document, but this research is part of a larger focus on automation, so it can be hoped that a fuller report will be published – if so, the partner group, Future Skills, maintains a Research website where it will likely be available.  

Other news about renewable energy jobs:

“Renewable Energy Boom Unleashes a War Over Talent for Green Jobs” appeared in Bloomberg Green News (June 8), describing shortages of skilled workers in renewable energy, mainly in the U.S.. It also summarizes a U.K. report which forecasts a large need for workers in the U.K. offshore industry, which is expected to be met by people transferring from the oil and gas sector.  

A report by the Global Wind Energy Council forecasts a growth of 3.3 million wind jobs worldwide by 2025, and suggests that offshore wind energy jobs could offer a natural transition for workers dislocated from offshore oil and gas and marine engineering workers. According to the analysis, in 2020, there were approximately 550,000 wind energy workers in China, 260,00 in Brazil, 115,000 in the US and 63,000 in India.  A related report, The Global Wind Workforce Outlook 2021-2025 forecasts a large training gap: the global wind industry will need to train over 480,000 people in the next five years to construct, install, operate and maintain the world’s growing onshore and offshore wind fleet. That report is available for download here (registration required), and is summarized in this press release.

And forthcoming:   Clean Energy Canada will release its research on the clean energy labour market in Canada on June 17.  Their last jobs report, The Fast Lane: Tracking the Energy Revolution, was released in 2019.

Government policy: Thermal coal mining not consistent with Canadian climate commitments

A press release by Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change on June 11 spells the end of thermal coal mining in Canada, stating that the Government considers that new thermal coal mining or expansion projects “are likely to cause unacceptable environmental effects and are not aligned with Canada’s domestic and international climate change commitments.”  The specific details of the new policy are here , and are summarized in “Feds toughen permit requirements for thermal coal mining projects” (National Observer, June 11) .  At the same time as the Minister released the thermal coal policy, he officially notified  Coalspur Mines Ltd. that the policy applies to its proposed, controversial thermal coal mine expansion at the Vista Coal Mine near Hinton, Alberta. (the company challenges the federal jurisdiction over its development).  Alberta launched its own review of coal-mining policies in March, with a report promised for November.   

The new federal policy is a welcome improvement, but it applies to thermal coal only, not metallurgical coal which is used for steel-making.  The Grassy Mountain metallurgical coal mining project is currently under federal-provincial review, with a decision due in June.  Andrew Nikoforuk describes the issues of the Grassy Mountain project in The Tyee, in “The Fate of the Canadian Rockies May Rest on This Decision” (May 31). The Narwhal has archived several in-depth article focused on coal in Canada, here.

Talk, but no firm climate plans from G7 meetings in U.K.

The issue of global climate finance was seen as crucial to the success of the meetings of G7 leaders in the U.K. on June 11-13, as outlined in “As leaders gather for G-7, a key question: Will rich countries help poor ones grapple with climate change?” in The Washington Post (June 7). In the meeting aftermath, reaction is muted and disappointed: according to The Guardian headline, “G7 reaffirmed goals but failed to provide funds needed to reach them, experts say”. Guardian reporter Fiona Harvey quotes the executive director of Greenpeace, who says: “The G7 have failed to set us up for a successful Cop26, as trust is sorely lacking between rich and developing countries.”  Common Dreams assembles the harshest reactions of all, in  “On Climate and Covid-19 Emergencies, G7 Judged a ‘Colossal Failure’ for All the World to See” – which quotes the representative from Oxfam, who states that the leaders of the richest nations “have completely failed to meet the challenges of our times. Never in the history of the G7 has there been a bigger gap between their actions and the needs of the world. In the face of these challenges the G7 have chosen to cook the books on vaccines and continue to cook the planet.”  

What did the G7 actually say? The G7 Leaders Communique covered a wide range of topics, with statements about health, economic recovery and jobs, free and fair trade, future frontiers, gender equality, global responsibility and international action – and Climate and the Environment.  As well as the Communique, the G7 leaders approved the Build Back Better World (B3W)  partnership, designed to mobilize private sector capital in four areas—climate, health and health security, digital technology, and gender equity and equality . The B3W statement explicitly states: “The investments will be made in a manner consistent with achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.” And in recognition of the importance of biodiversity and conservation in the climate fight, the 2030 G7 Nature Compact pledges new global targets to conserve or protect at least 30% of global land and ocean.

  “Canada Boosts Finance Commitment As G7 Falls Short On Climate, Vaccines” in The Energy Mix  summarizes reaction, including from Oxfam Canada and Climate Action Network Canada – whose full statement is here .  It highlights the “good news” of Canada’s largest-ever climate finance pledge, which doubles our climate finance to $5.36 billion over the next five years for vulnerable nations.  

While the CBC report displays their typical lack of interest in climate issues, the press release from Prime Minister Trudeau’s office placed most emphasis on the climate change issue, describing the leaders’ “bold action”, and continuing:  

“…. the G7 leaders have each committed to increased 2030 targets, which will cut the G7’s collective emissions by around half compared to 2010. .. That’s why Prime Minister Trudeau announced a doubling of Canada’s climate finance, from $2.65 billion in 2015 to $5.3 billion over five years, including increased support for adaptation, as well as nature and nature-based solutions that are in line with the G7 Nature Compact. The Prime Minister also announced Canada will increase its provision of grants to 40 per cent, up from 30 per cent previously, for improved access by impacted communities. This funding will help developing countries build domestic capacity to take climate action, build resiliency, and reduce pollution, including by finding nature-based solutions to climate change like protecting biodiversity and planting trees, and supporting the transition to clean energy and the phasing-out of coal.

….. As G7 Leaders met to discuss climate change, Canada took further action at home to curb harmful coal emissions, announcing a new policy statement on new thermal coal mining and expansion projects that explains that these projects are likely to cause unacceptable environmental effects and are not aligned with Canada’s domestic and international climate change commitments.  …..

G7 leaders also adopted the 2030 G7 Nature Compact, committing to conserve and protect at least 30 per cent of global and domestic land and ocean by 2030, which matches Canada’s ambitious domestic target. …”

B.C. consultation on climate adaptation open from June to August

On June 9, British Columbia released a new draft Climate Preparedness and Adaptation Strategy,  to launch a consultation process which will run until August 12 on the government’s public engagement website . The Draft Strategy Paper highlights current actions for 2021-2022, and proposes actions for 2022-25 to address increasing wildfires, more frequent flooding, longer summer droughts and heatwaves, as well as adaptation to slower issues such as changes in growing seasons, ecosystem shifts and sea level rise.   This Strategy document is itself the result of a consultation process, documented here, all of which have been based on the substantive 2019 report, Preliminary Strategic Climate Risk Assessment for British Columbia.

Keystone is dead!

On June 9, TC Energy issued a press release announcing that the company, in consultation with the Alberta Government, has terminated the Keystone XL Pipeline project, although it will continue “to co-ordinate with regulators, stakeholders and Indigenous groups to meet its environmental and regulatory commitments and ensure a safe termination of and exit from the project.” The Alberta government had invested over $1 billion in the project as recently as March 2020 , and continued to defend it even after U.S. President Biden rescinded the permit in January 2021. The WCR compiled sources and reactions in January in “President Biden’s Executive Orders and Keystone XL cancellation – what impact on Canada?”    A new compilation of Alberta Government statements is here .  CBC Calgary describes Keystone XL is dead, and Albertans are on the hook for $1.3B.

Climate activists in Canada and the U.S. rejoiced at the latest news: “‘Keystone XL Is Dead!’: After 10-Year Battle, Climate Movement Victory Is Complete” , and activist Bill McKibben (and others) are hammering home a message of “never give up, activism works!”. The article from Common Dreams quotes Clayton Thomas Muller, longtime KXL opponent and currently a senior campaigns specialist at 350.org in Canada: “This victory is thanks to Indigenous land defenders who fought the Keystone XL pipeline for over a decade. Indigenous-led resistance is critical in the fight against the climate crisis and we need to follow the lead of Indigenous peoples, particularly Indigenous women, who are leading this fight across the continent and around the world. With Keystone XL cancelled, it’s time to turn our attention to the Indigenous-led resistance to the Line 3 and the Trans Mountain tar sands pipelines.”     The National Observer expands on this with “Keystone XL is dead, but the fight over Canadian oil rages on” (June 10).  The Indigenous Environmental Network news chronicles the ongoing resistance to pipeline development, as well as the reaction to the Keystone announcement.

Here is a closer look at the TC Energy press release which stated, in part:

“after a comprehensive review of its options, and in consultation with its partner, the Government of Alberta, it has terminated the Keystone XL Pipeline Project. …. We remain grateful to the many organizations that supported the Project and would have shared in its benefits, including our partners, the Government of Alberta and Natural Law Energy, our customers, pipeline building trade unions, local communities, Indigenous groups, elected officials, landowners, the Government of Canada, contractors and suppliers, industry associations and our employees.   

Through the process, we developed meaningful Indigenous equity opportunities and a first-of-its-kind, industry leading plan to operate the pipeline with net-zero emissions throughout its lifecycle. We will continue to identify opportunities to apply this level of ingenuity across our business going forward, including our current evaluation of the potential to power existing U.S. assets with renewable energy. 
  
….Looking forward, there is tremendous opportunity for TC Energy in the energy transition with its irreplaceable asset footprint, financial strength and organizational capabilities positioning it to capture further significant and compelling growth. The Company will continue to build on its 70-year history of success and leverage its diverse businesses in natural gas and liquids transportation along with storage and power generation to continue to meet the growing and evolving demand for energy across the continent.”  

Global vaccine justice seen as a test of climate justice at G7 meetings in June 2021

G7 finance ministers and the global financial elite issued an important Communique  on June 5, and while the mainstream media (and Finance Canada’s own press release ) focused mainly on a 15% minimum global tax rate for corporations, the Communique made ambitious statements regarding international climate finance too, with calls which seem to acknowledge the importance and inequity of climate risk to the global financial order. “G7 Ministers Recommit to Climate Finance, Leave Details for Later” in The Energy Mix summarizes the general reaction that the Communique is too vague and “unambitious”. The article states that the scale of global climate investment (both public and private) is estimated at $100 billion per year, and that Canada’s fair share would be US$4 billion per year.

The issue of global climate finance is seen as crucial to the success of the upcoming G7 meetings of world leaders in the U.K. on June 11-13. “As leaders gather for G-7, a key question: Will rich countries help poor ones grapple with climate change?” in The Washington Post (June 7) describes how global climate finance and the issue of global vaccine disparity are being conflated, for example in a quote from a senior advisor to Climate Action Network International:  “The G-7 meeting will be a test for international solidarity. This implies solidarity on both ensuring equitable and rapid access to vaccines globally, as well as on finance and support for the climate crisis”.  “World Climate Deal Could Fail unless G7 Solves Vaccine Disparities” (June 8, The Energy Mix)  quotes the head of the international Chamber of Commerce: “We can’t have global solidarity and trust around tackling climate change if we do not show solidarity around vaccines.”   The Guardian writes: “Share vaccines or the climate deal will fail rich countries are told” (June 5) – which points out that “Canada has the highest number of procured doses per head, with a total of 381 million procured vaccine doses for a population of just over 37 million.”  – and contrasts Canada with the low vaccine availability in such countries as Columbia, Indonesia, South Africa, and Pakistan.

Climate Change is one of the priorities of the G7 meetings. Reports released in anticipation of the G7 meeting include:

Ranking G7 Green Recovery Plans and Jobs  published by the U.K.’s Trades Union Congress, which shows that the U.S. had the highest level of green jobs and recovery investment per person, followed by Italy and then Canada. The U.K. ranks sixth, with Japan 7th.  The report critiques specific U.K. policies and makes recommendations for improvements.

Oxfam International posted analysis on June 7 which estimates that the economies of G7 nations contracted by about 4.2 per cent on average in the pandemic, and compares that to the greater economic impacts which will result from extreme weather, the effects on agricultural productivity, and heat stress and health.  The report includes estimates of GDP losses by 2050, assuming 2.6°C of warming, using the modelling of the Swiss Re Insurance Economics of Climate Change Index , and predicts the worst affected countries will be  India, Australia, South Africa, South Korea, The Phillipines (with a 35% loss of GDP), and Columbia. Canada’s GDP loss is estimated at 6.9%.  The report is summarized in  “Covid shrunk the economy but climate change will be much worse” (The Guardian, reposted in The National Observer, June 8) and also in  “Climate inaction will cost G7 countries ‘billions’” in  Deutsche Welle .

The official G7 Ministers meeting website is here and will post official documents/news.  The Resist G7 Coalition will present different information, and aims to coordinate protests on their Facebook page and their website.  A Reuters article states that police will number 6,500, and Extinction Rebellion alone estimates 1,000 protestors will be present. 

New B.C. forest policy fails to defuse protests and journalists fight RCMP for access to Fairy Creek site

On June 1, the government of British Columbia released  Modernizing Forest Policy in British Columbia, an “Intentions Paper” which  attempts to address the intense protests in the province over logging of old growth forests.  The government press release includes several backgrounders, including highlights of how the policy addresses the Old Growth issue,  but environmentalists are not satisfied.  “Five ways B.C.’s new forestry plan sets the stage for more old-growth conflict” in The Narwhal explains. Stand.earth reacted with an immediate call for deferral of logging for all at-risk old growth forests, and on June 4, after company bulldozers breached protest blockades, Stand.earth repeated their call, in order to “to reduce tensions and the threat of violence or injury in Fairy Creek and keep old growth forests standing — while the province undertakes a paradigm shift for forestry rooted in Indigenous rights and consent, ecological values, and community stability.”

Protests and unions

Protests began in Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island in August 2020, explained in “The Fairy Creek blockaders: inside the complicated fight for B.C.’s last ancient forests”  (The Narwhal, March 2020) . Since then, protests have grown in size and intensity, with five people arrested on May 17, and 137 arrested by June 1.  “Three days in the theatre of Fairy Creek” in The Tyee offers a lengthly personal front line account, as does “Three weeks on the front line: The battle for Old Growth in B.C.” in Ricochet , filled with photos. The forestry workers tell their side of the bitter story, as reported by CBC, “Forestry workers and supporters from across Vancouver Island rally to denounce Fairy Creek blockades” on May 30.

 “BC’s Cynical Attack on Old-Growth Forests” in The Tyee (May 19) blames NDP Premier John Horgan for the prolonged dispute, and states that “John Horgan’s alliance with corporate and union logging interests is stalling protection for remaining ancient trees.”  The criticism stems from “A Strategy for B.C. Forests That Benefits All British Columbians”,  an article written jointly in April by Jeff Bromley, Chair of the  United Steelworkers’ Wood Council, and Susan Yurkovich, president and CEO of the BC Council of Forest Industries, defending the government’s  position. In contrast, in March 2021, co-authors Andrea Inness (a campaigner at the Ancient Forest Alliance) and Gary Fiege ( president of the Public and Private Workers of Canada, formerly the Pulp and Paper Workers of Canada) wrote a Vancouver Sun Opinion piece , calling on the government to live up to their promise to implement the recommendations of their own Strategic Review , and stating “We can protect old growth forests and forestry jobs at the same time”. 

Protests and freedom

Amidst the heated protests, RCMP have been criticized for blocking journalists from covering the protests.  In a May 26  press release, the Canadian Association of Journalists and a coalition of news organizations released a statement, demanding  that the RCMP immediately stop applying “exclusion zones” to journalists,  so that the media can freely access protest sites, and get  close enough to record video and sound, conduct interviews and take photographs. The statement continues: “Journalists must be allowed to move freely on site, as long as they do not interfere with the execution of RCMP activities. This means that journalists should not be corralled or forced to move as a group or with a police escort;  The equipment of journalists must not be seized or otherwise interfered with, and journalists should not be arrested or detained while trying to document protest events.”

Members of the journalists’ coalition are: the Canadian Association of Journalists, Ricochet Media, The Narwhal, Capital Daily, Canada’s National Observer, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, The Discourse and IndigiNews. The Narwhal explanation appears in  “Enough is enough: Canadian news organizations file legal action for press freedom at Fairy Creek” ; “The Other Fight at Fairy Creek: Press Freedom” appeared in The Tyee (May 27); and “We’re taking the RCMP to Court” appeared in Ricochet.

Canada’s oil and gas industry provides Canada with declining royalty revenues, jobs

Earth scientist David Hughes argues that Canada cannot possibly meet its national GHG emissions targets while expanding exports in the oil and gas industry, building pipelines, and developing liquified natural gas in a new report, Canada’s Energy Sector: Status, evolution, revenue, employment, production forecasts, emissions and implications for emissions reduction, released on June 1.   Hughes documents the declining health and importance of the sector with economic statistics: “The energy sector’s contribution to Canada’s GDP, currently at 9 per cent, has declined over the past two decades, and government revenues from royalties and taxes have dropped precipitously. Despite record production levels, royalty revenue is down 45 per cent since 2000, and tax revenues from the oil and gas sector, which totalled over 14 per cent of all industry taxes as recently as 2009, declined to less than 4 per cent in 2018. Direct employment, which peaked at over 226,000 workers in 2014, was down by 53,000 in 2019 although production was at an all-time high due to efficiencies adopted by the industry.”

Combining statistics from the Petroleum Labour Market Information office with industry projections from the federal Canada Energy Regulator, Hughes concludes that energy jobs have peaked and previous levels of employment are unlikely to return.

“Jobs are often cited by industry proponents as a reason to support expansion of oil and gas production. Yet despite record production levels, jobs in the oil and gas sector are down from their peak in 2014 by 23 per cent …..Thanks to technological advances, the sector has become more efficient and is able to increase production using fewer workers….This jobs scenario is particularly true in the oil sands, where much of the production growth is expected. Oil sands production per employee is 70 per cent higher than it was in 2011 (production per employee has increased by 37 per cent in conventional oil and gas and by 50 per cent in the sector overall since 2011). In Canada’s overall employment picture, the oil and gas sector accounted for only 1 per cent of direct employment in 2019 (5.5 per cent in Alberta).”

At the same time, oil and gas production accounts for the largest portion of GHG emissions in Canada, at 26 per cent of the total – and Canada‘s GHG emissions have actually increased by 3.3 per cent since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016 – the highest increase of any G7 country.  With such limited benefits and such serious negative consequences, Hughes argues against expansion of oil and gas exports – especially LNG in British Columbia and the TransMountain pipeline expansion, and Line 3.

Canada’s Energy Sector: Status, evolution, revenue, employment, production forecasts, emissions and implications for emissions reduction is summarized by the National Observer, here. Author David Hughes has written substantive reports previously, for example: A Clear Look at B.C. LNG (2015); Can Canada increase oil and gas production, build pipelines and meet its climate commitments? ( 2016); B.C’s Carbon Conundrum: Why LNG exports doom emissions-reduction targets and compromise Canada’s long-term energy security (2020); and Reassessment of Need for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion: Project Production forecasts, economics and environmental considerations (2020).

The full report was published by the Corporate Mapping Project, a project of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in British Columbia and the Parkland Institute in Alberta. The report was co-published with Stand.earth, West Coast Environmental Law, and 350.org.

Public consultation on climate policy underway in Nova Scotia

A public consultation process is underway until July 26 in Nova Scotia, managed by the Clean Foundation on behalf of Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change. Following the consultations, the government will update its climate policies, as well as emission reduction goals under the Sustainable Development Goals Act, passed in 2019 but sidetracked by Covid-19.  The current Nova Scotia GHG emissions reduction commitment calls for emissions at least 53 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero by 2050, with all coal plants closed  by 2030 and 80 per cent renewable energy for the electricity sector by 2030.  Although this is the toughest emissions reduction target in Canada to date, the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre is advocating for a legislated GHG reduction target of 50% below 1990 levels by the year 2030. This, along with the other EAC priorities, is described in  20 Goals to Advance the Environmental and Economic Wellbeing of Nova Scotia . In 2019, when the legislation was being debated, EAC commissioned and published Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act: Economic Costs and Benefits of Proposed Goals (Sept 2019), which outlined six policy areas estimated to result in 15,000 green jobs per year by 2030. 

The government provides two Discussion Papers to guide input for the consultation:  a Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth Discussion Paper, and the Discussion Paper for the Sustainable Development Goals Act .

Victory for climate activists in the Dutch Courts and in Exxon and Chevron boardrooms

May 26 will go down in history as a very bad day for the fossil fuel industry for three reasons: in the Netherlands, the courts issued a  landmark decision that requires Royal Dutch Shell to cut its carbon emissions – including Scope 3 emissions – by 45% by 2030. Also on May 26, activist shareholders won separate victories at the corporate annual meetings of ExxonMobil and Chevron. Bill McKibben reflects on all three events in “Big Oil’s Bad Bad Day” in The New Yorker , and Jamie Henn wrote  “A Landmark Day in the fight against fossil fuels” in Fossil Free Media.

The case of Royal Dutch Shell is summarized by Friends of the Earth Canada in their press release , which also links to an English-language version of the Court’s decision.  

“On May 26, as a result of legal action brought by Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie) together with 17,000 co-plaintiffs and six other organisations the court in The Hague ruled that Shell must reduce its CO2 emissions by 45% within 10 years.

…..“This is a turning point in history. This case is unique because it is the first time a judge has ordered a large polluting company to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement. This ruling may also have major consequences for other big polluters,” says Roger Cox, lawyer for Friends of the Earth Netherlands.

The verdict requires Royal Dutch Shell to reduce its emissions by 45% by the end of 2030. Shell is also responsible for emission from customers and suppliers. There is a threat of human rights violations to the “right to life” and “undisturbed family life”.

German news organization Deutsche Welle offers an excellent, more thorough discussion in “Shell ordered to reduce CO2 emissions in watershed ruling”, which points out that the case was argued on human rights grounds – much like the precedent-setting Urgenda case and the recent German constitutional case. In those cases however, governments were called upon to defend the human right to a future safe from the dangers of climate change. The Shell case is the first time such an argument has been tried against a corporation – and is seen as a harbinger of future legal action. The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) in Amsterdam also provides a succinct summary in  “The Shell climate verdict: a major win for mandatory due diligence and corporate accountability: “Shell must reduce its CO2 emissions by net 45% by 2030 (compared with 2019) regardless of the actions or policies of the Dutch government. But the ruling is historic for other reasons as well: the court based its verdict to a large extent on two soft law standards – the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines). In addition, it asserts that companies have an individual responsibility to combat climate change throughout their value chains, and it very clearly links climate change to human rights. This means the judgment is likely to play an important role in the realisation of mandatory due diligence legislation”.

An even more thorough review of the decision comes from the Columbia University Sabin Center Law Blog :  Guest Commentary: An Assessment of The Hague District Court’s Decision In Milieudefensie et al. v. Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .

Shareholder Activism at ExxonMobil and Chevron Oil Majors:    “The Showdown over Exxon’s climate future is here”   appeared in Axios on May 24,  anticipating “ the highest-profile effort by climate activist investors to force any of the oil majors to diversify away from fossil fuels more quickly – targeting the highest-profile company.”  The Washington Post also described the conflict in “The fight for the soul – and the future – of ExxonMobil” on May 22.  As events unfolded at the annual shareholders meeting of ExxonMobil on May 26, the small activist investor group Engine No. 1 won a victory when two of the four Board members it nominated to the Exxon board were confirmed, against the company’s slate. (A third Board member was also subsequently confirmed).  The victory was all the more impactful because Engine No. 1 was supported by the three biggest U.S. pension funds — the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and the New York State Common Retirement Fund, as well as the giant BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager.   According to “Exxon activist wins board seats in historic climate victory” in The Financial Post (May 26) “The result is an embarrassment for Exxon, unprecedented in the rarefied world of Big Oil, and a sign that institutional investors are increasingly willing to force corporate America to tackle climate change.” The article concludes: “the message from shareholders is clear: The status quo cannot continue.” “After Big Oil’s very bad week, the message for Alberta is clear” by Mitchell Beer appeared in Policy Options (June 2), linking the May 26 events and the International Energy Association report, Net Zero in 2050: A roadmap for the global energy system.

While the Exxon battle grabbed most headlines because of the high-profile participants, a similar story played out at the Chevron Oil annual meeting, where 61% of  shareholders rebelled against the company’s board by voting in favour of an activist proposal from Dutch campaign group Follow This to force the group to cut its carbon emissions. The press release from Follow This is here. The website of  Follow This  is titled: “Green Shareholders Change the World”.  It states that “Follow This compels oil majors to commit to the Paris agreement.” and invites readers to “ Buy a green share and become a co-owner of an oil company. Together we file green resolutions and get a vote in the future of the oil industry.”

Much more will be written about these landmark events. For now, The Guardian offers :  “Climate activist shareholders to target US oil giant Chevron” (May 20)   and “ExxonMobil and Chevron suffer shareholder rebellions over climate”.

Canada’s Climate Emergency Unit seeks to light a spark across Canada

The Climate Emergency Unit is a newly-launched initiative of the David Suzuki Institute, with the Sierra Club B.C. and the Rapid Decarbonization Group of Quebec as Strategic Partners.  The Unit is led by Seth Klein and inspired by his 2020 book, A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency, which argues that climate mobilization requires an effort similar to what previous generations expended against the existential threat of fascism during the Second World War. (This is an approach shared with the U.S. group The Climate Mobilization, and others). The stated goal of the CEU is “to work with all levels of government and civil society organizations – federal, provincial, local and Indigenous governments, businesses, trade unions, public institutions and agencies, and industrial/sectoral associations” – to network, educate and advocate for the mobilization ideas in A Good War, to decarbonize and electrify Canadian society and the economy,  while enhancing social justice and equity. 

In an article in Policy Options in November 2020, Klein summarizes the four hallmarks of a government committed to an urgent, emergency response:

  • It spends what it takes to win;
  • It creates new economic institutions to get the job done;
  • It shifts from voluntary and incentive-based policies to mandatory measures;
  • It tells the truth about the severity of the crisis and communicates a sense of urgency about the measures necessary to combat it.

Seth Klein was the founding Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in British Columbia, and continues to publish in the CCPA Policy Note , as well as in the Climate Emergency Unit blog, and as a columnist for The National Observer – for example, with “Feds need to treat climate crisis like a national emergency” on April  30.

UNEP report: Reduce methane emissions to meet climate goals and save lives

An urgent message about the dangers of methane comes in The Global Methane Assessment – a new report from the United Nations Environment Program and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. Methane as ground-level ozone (smog) is a key culprit in air pollution, and is also 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a climate-changing greenhouse gas. In Canada, methane constituted 13% of GHG emissions in 2019, mainly from the oil and gas sector. The Global Methane Assessment documents the extent of the problem, but offers the prospect and a path for human-caused methane emissions to be reduced by up to 45 per cent this decade with known technologies. The result of the sectoral strategies recommended would be to avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming by 2045,making it possible to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Those reductions would also prevent 260,000 premature deaths, 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits, 25 million tonnes of crop losses annually, and 73 billion hours of lost labour from extreme heat. For the oil and gas, the top strategies are: 1. Upstream and downstream leak detection and repair 2.Recovery and utilization of vented gas 3. Improved control of unintended fugitive emissions (including regular inspections and repair of sites); replacement of gas-powered devices or diesel engines with electric motors); capping unused wells. For coal, the report highlights: pre-mining degasification and recovery and oxidation of ventilation air methane; flooding abandoned coal mines.

The message is not new to Canadians. In 2017, Environmental Defence published Canada’s Methane Gas Problem: Why strong regulations can reduce pollution, protect health and save money. On January 1, 2020, new Canadian regulations came into force “in order to fulfill Canada’s commitment to reduce emissions of methane from the oil and gas sector by 40% to 45% below 2012 levels by 2025”. The December 2020 climate plan, Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy states that Canada is a member of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, and “Together with the International Energy Agency, the Coalition is targeting a 45% reduction in methane emissions by 2025 and 60-75% by 2030.” and promises “The Government will publicly report on the efficacy of the suite of federal actions to achieve the 2025 methane target in late 2021.” (page 38). In October 2020, the Minister of Natural Resources announced a $750-million Emissions Reduction Fund, providing loans to the oil and gas industry to promote investment in greener technologies to reduce methane and other GHG emissions.  But how to measure progress?  The problem of under-reported methane emissions is widely recognized, and was documented in 2020 in Canada by two reports summarized by the CBC here .

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) presents the industry side of the story on its webpages relating to innovation and technology. It states: “Industry is serious about meeting Canada’s commitment to reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations by 45% from 2012 levels by 2025. An array of technologies and approaches are being developed and implemented, such as using solar panels to power pumps …. installing systems to capture vented gases, including methane, which can then be used as fuel, providing a supplemental power source for the facility. Within the industry, the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada (PTAC)  is “a neutral non-profit facilitator of collaborative research and development and technology development”, with current projects including the Advanced Methane DetectionAnalytics and Mitigation Project and the C-DER Centre for the Demonstration of Emissions Reductions.

Related reading: Bill McKibben’s column, “It’s Time to kick Gas”, comments on the UNEP report and reminds us that natural gas was once seen as a “bridge” fuel, but: “Now we understand that natural gas—which is primarily made of methane—leaks unburned at every stage from fracking to combustion, whether in a power plant or on top of your stove, in sufficient quantities to make it an enormous climate danger.”  He also cites the new Australian report, Kicking the Gas Habit: How Gas is Harming Our Health, which estimates that children living in houses with gas stoves is were 32 per cent more likely to develop asthma than those who didn’t – comparable to living with a smoker.  

Environmental groups and Unifor agree: 60% emissions reduction goal is Canada’s Fair Share

Towards Canada’s Fair Share  is a new report endorsed by seven of Canada’s leading environmental advocacy groups. It was released just before Prime Minister Trudeau’s announcement at the international Climate Summit on April 22-23 that Canada will increase its emissions reduction target to 40 – 45% of 2005 levels by 2030. Although this is an improvement on the target mentioned in Canada’s  April 19th federal budget  (36% below 2005 levels, it fails to match U.S. President Biden’s announcement of a 50% target, and is far below the more ambitious target proposed  in Towards Canada’s Fair Share – a 60% emissions reduction by 2030.  The report was based on modelling by EnviroEconomics and Navius, and endorsed by Climate Action Network Canada, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Ecology Action Centre, Environmental Defence, Equiterre, Stand, and West Coast Environmental Law.   

A recent CBC report, “Union representing energy workers backs stronger emissions cuts — as long as there’s a transition plan” ( April 27), states that Unifor agrees with the Fair Share target of 60% by 2030 – “provided the right framework is in place to help its 12,000 members move out of the oil and gas sector.”   The CBC quotes Unifor representative Joie Warnock:  “Our members in the energy sector have a lot to say about the path to decarbonization. The pathway to a lower carbon economy goes directly through their livelihoods, through their lives, through their communities,…..We’re very concerned that the government hasn’t done the work to plan for a just transition.”  The union accepts that an energy transition is underway, and is working to “get in front of it” – and not only for its members in the oil fields, but also for members in the auto industry, facing the transformation to electric vehicles.

Trudeau pledges 40 to 45% GHG emissions reductions at Climate Summit

Expectations are high for the U.S.-led Climate Summit on April 22-23, which President Joe Biden opened by announcing a new U.S. target for GHG emissions reductions – 50% to 52% by 2030, based on 2005 levels.   The Summit is described by the U.S. State Department as “a key milestone on the road to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) this November in Glasgow and is designed to increase the chances for meaningful outcomes on global climate action at COP26.”  The world’s leaders (and major emitters)  are present at the virtual meeting –– including Chinese President Xi Jinping – and even in advance of the Summit, other nations announced new Nationally Determined Contributions : for example, the U.K., which has pledged to cut carbon emissions by 78% from 1990 levels by 2035.  

Prime Minister Trudeau took his turn at announcing an even higher goal at the Summit  to a 40% to 45% reduction in emissions by 2030, based on 2005 levels.  “Trudeau pledges to slash greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030”  from the CBC summarizes the statement and includes a video of Trudeau’s announcement; the PMO press release is here .  CBC also offers a lengthly analysis in Canada’s past climate promises have been a flop. Could that change at this summit? .

Canada’s new target of 40 to 45% – although an improvement from the 36% below 2005 levels mentioned in the April 19th federal budget – will disappoint many, and still falls short of the 60% emissions reduction called for in Towards Canada’s Fair Share,  a new report endorsed by seven of Canada’s leading environmental advocacy groups.  The report forecasts the path forward, based on modelling by EnviroEconomics and Navius, and  was endorsed by Climate Action Network Canada, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Ecology Action Centre, Environmental Defence, Equiterre, Stand,and West Coast Environmental Law.    

The Summit continues for two days. The U.S. State Department offers live coverage of the event here, and there will be plenty of global media attention to this high-profile event. The Guardian is reporting closely – for example, with an overview in “US 2030 goals will take world closer to holding global heating below 2C” . In Canada, in addition to the CBC coverage, Canada’s National Observer is a member of the global Climate Desk collaborative and will no doubt be reporting and analysing Canadian developments.

Status quo B.C. Budget 2021 neglects old growth forests

The government of British Columbia tabled its 2021 Budget on April 20, including topical Backgrounders such as Preparing B.C. for a Greener Recovery, which states that “Budget 2021 investments brings the total funding for CleanBC to nearly $2.2 billion over five years.”  Also highly relevant, “Investing in B.C. Now for a Stronger  Economic Recovery”, which summarizes skills training, infrastructure, and youth employment investments. Reaction to the Budget from climate advocates could be described as general disappointment- for example, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. Office reacting with “BC Budget 2021: Stay-the-course budget misses the mark on key areas of urgency outside health”; The Pembina Institute with “B.C. budget takes small steps toward clean economy goals”, and Clean Energy Canada with “B.C. budget builds on its climate and economic plan, but could do more to seize net-zero opportunity” . The Tyee provides a good summary and compiles reactions from environmental groups and labour unions here.

The greatest disappointment of all in the B.C. Budget relates to lack of action to protect Old Growth Forests, summarized by The Tyee in  “No New Money for Old Growth Protection in BC’s Budget”. The spokesperson from the Wilderness Committee is quoted as saying that the Budget “absolutely shatters” any  hopes that province is taking changes to forest industry seriously. (Budget allocation to the Ministry of Forests is actually cut). This, despite the active blockade on at Fairy Creek, Vancouver Island, recent expert reports, and a Vancouver Sun Opinion piece by co-authors Andrea Inness (a campaigner at the Ancient Forest Alliance) and Gary Fiege ( president of the Public and Private Workers of Canada, formerly the Pulp and Paper Workers of Canada) who wrote, “We can protect old growth forests and forestry jobs at the same time”.  They call for the government to live up to their promise to implement the recommendations of their own Strategic Review

Forest management has a long history of conflict in British Columbia – with the CCPA’s Ben Parfitt a long-standing expert voice who continues to document the issues – most recently in “Burning our Way to a new Climate”. Another good overview appears in a 2018 article in The Narwhal, “25 Years after the War in the Woods: Why B.C.’s forests are still in crisis“. The WCR summarized the recent situation in March. For more on the current Old Growth protests:  An Explainer by Capital Daily in Victoria details the Fairy Creek Blockade, underway since the Summer of 2020 and continuing despite an injunction against the protestors upheld by the B.C. Supreme Court on April 1. The Tyee also produced a special report, The Blockaders on March 25, which compares the current Fairy Creek Blockade to the 1993 protests in the Clayoquot Sound, where 900 people were arrested in one of Canada’s largest acts of civil disobedience- known as the “War in the Woods”.  (This updates an September 2020 3-part series about that history, Part 1 ; Part 2;  and Part 3) .

$17.6 Billion announced for Green Recovery in Canada’s new Budget- but still not enough to meet the Climate Emergency – updated

On April 19, the federal government tabled its much-anticipated 2021 Budget, titled A Recovery Plan for Jobs, Growth, and Resilience, announcing $30 billion over five years and $8.3 billion a year afterward to create and maintain early learning and child-care programs – stating:  “It is the care work that is the backbone of our economy. Just as roads and transit support our economic growth, so too does child care”. COVID-19 wage subsidy, rent subsidy and lockdown support programs will be extended until September, depending on how long the crisis continues, the maximum sickness benefit period for Employment Insurance will be extended from 12 to 26 weeks, and a new Canada Recovery Hiring Program will provide employers with funding to hire new workers between June 6, 2021 and November 20, 2021.  A new $15 federal minimum wage will apply in federally regulated private businesses.

Green Recovery and the Climate Emergency: The Budget still falls short

In an article in Policy Options in March, Mitchell Beer laid out the challenge: Chrystia Freeland must pick a lane with next budget – climate change or oil and gas? Climate activists laid out what they were looking for in Investing for Tomorrow, Today: How Canada’s Budget 2021 can enable critical climate action and a green recovery , published on March 29 and endorsed by nine of Canada’s leading environmental organizations: Pembina Institute, Nature Canada, Climate Action Network Canada, Environmental Defence, Équiterre, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Ecology Action Centre, Leadnow, and Wilderness Committee. 

Yet it appears that the federal Budget is still trying to maintain one foot on the oil and gas pedal, while talking about GHG emissions and clean technologies. The reactions below indicate such concerning elements – incentives on the unproven technologies of carbon capture and storage and hydrogen, no signs of an end to fossil fuel subsidies, no mention of a Just Transition Act, and, despite hopes that the Prime Minister would announce an ambitious target at the U.S. Climate Summit convened by President Biden, a weak new GHG reduction target increasing to only 36 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The Budget summary announces “$17.6 billion in a green recovery that will help Canada to reach its target to conserve 25 per cent of Canada’s lands and oceans by 2025, exceed its Paris climate targets and reduce emissions by 36 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and move forward on a path to reach net-zero emission by 2050.” This  Backgrounder summarizes some of the Green Recovery highlights, which include :

  • $4.4 billion to support retrofitting through interest-free loans to homeowners, up to $40,000
  • $14.9 billion over eight years for a new, permanent public transit fund
  • $5 billion over seven years, to support business ventures through the Net Zero Accelerator program – which aims to decarbonize large emitters in key sectors, including steel, aluminum, cement—and to accelerate the adoption of clean technology. Examples given are aerospace and automobile manufacture industry.
  • $319 million over seven years “to support research and development that would improve the commercial viability of carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies.” This would be in the form of an investment tax credit, with the goal of reducing emissions by at least 15 megatonnes of CO2 annually.
  • a temporary reduction by half in corporate income tax rates for qualifying zero-emission technology manufacturers, such as solar and wind energy equipment, electric vehicle charging systems, hydrogen refuelling stations for vehicles, manufacturing of equipment used for the production of hydrogen by electrolysis of water, production of hydrogen by electrolysis of water and others
  • $63.8 million over three years, starting in 2021-22, to Natural Resources Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Public Safety Canada to work with provinces and territories to complete flood maps for higher-risk areas.
  • $2.3 billion over five years to conserve up to 1 million square kilometers more land and inland waters, and an additional $200 million to build natural infrastructure like parks, green spaces, ravines, waterfronts, and wetlands.

Reactions

Watershed moment for child care, long-term care: Budget 2021: But pharmacare, tax reform and climate change remain in limbo”, from CCPA states: “Budget 2021 delivers on a number of previously-announced emission reduction initiatives and green infrastructure projects, including $14.9 billion over eight years for a new, permanent public transit fund…….Unfortunately, while the budget makes big strides toward a greener economy, it fails once again to tackle Canada’s dependence on fossil fuel production. Without a clear plan and timeline for winding down oil and gas extraction we simply cannot meet our net zero emission target.”

“Federal Budget React: Canadian Civil Society Responds” compiles reactions from Canada’s major climate advocacy groups, including Climate Action Network’s own statement: “…. Some investments made by budget 2021 are extremely helpful – particularly investments in clean transportation, energy efficient homes, resilient agriculture, and Canada’s first green bonds. Some investments made by budget 2021 are extremely worrisome – investments in carbon capture and storage risk perpetuating our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels, and some of the forestry investments perpetuate a transactional relationship with nature that treats it like a commodity we can trade. Yet the big take away is this: we are in a time of changing norms, and Budget 2021 does not present a vision for climate-safe transformational change” 

Budget 2021 is a healthy dose for the clean economy, but climate measures lack potency” from the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, which points out “There is no way to reach our near-term or net zero targets without retrofitting practically all of Canada’s homes and buildings.  That’s why the lack of mention of energy efficiency and deep retrofits for buildings beyond single-family homes is surprising … There is no mention in the budget of strategic incentives or financing for municipalities or developers to ensure new construction is near-zero construction.”

The Canadian Labour Congress press release, Canada’s unions welcome ‘crucial’ funding for child care, skills training and $15 federal minimum wage doesn’t mention any of the green recovery elements. The CLC later released a Summary and Analysis of the Budget, here.

From NUPGE: Federal Budget 2021: Lofty ambitions need details , which follows NUPGE President Larry Brown’s letter to Environment and Climate Change Minister Wilkinson, titled No more delays on climate action, justice.  

Federal Budget Leaves Out Transit Workers and Riders as Operational Transit Funding Completely Left Out, Says ATU Canada” from the Amalgamated Transit Union  

If not now, when?” Liberals waste another shot at equitable recovery with Budget 2021 from Canadian Union of Public Employees

And from the National Observer: “Critics throw shade at federal budget cash for home retrofits”  and  “Will Trudeau’s wager on carbon capture help or hurt the environment? “.

Two new reports call for end to subsidies and phase-out of Canada’s oil and gas industry

Two new reports expose Canada’s continuing financial support of the fossil fuel industry and call for a phase-out. These appeared in the same week as the federal government reported Canada’s latest National Inventory of Emissions to the United Nations’ UNFCC, showing that the oil and gas industry is the top source of carbon emissions in Canada.

The first report, by Environmental Defence, is Paying Polluters: Federal Financial Support to Oil and Gas in 2020 , released on April 15. It estimates that the government has provided or promised at least $18 billion to the oil and gas sector in 2020 alone, including  $3.28 billion in direct subsidy programs and $13.47 billion in public financing. Paying Polluters decries the lack of transparency – especially for funding through Export Development Canada  – but nevertheless attempts to list the tax subsidies and direct spending programs, in an Appendix at the end of the report. In addition to obvious subsidies, the tally includes loans for pipeline construction, research into new technologies for cleaner processes, job subsidies for reclamation of oil wells, and even policing costs for pipeline construction – think $13 million taxpayer dollars paid to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to protect the construction site of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Environmental Defence concludes with five recommendations, including a call for greater transparency, and for “a roadmap to achieve Canada’s commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies before 2025, and shift these investments and public finance towards supporting a path to resilient, equitable zero-carbon societies.” It should be noted that the government first pledged to phase out these subsidies in 2009. The report is summarized, with reactions, by Sarah Cox in The Narwhal, on April 16.  

A second report, Correcting Canada’s “One-eye shut” Climate Policy, was released on April 16 by the Cascade Institute. It summarizes Canada’s history of fossil fuel production, and refutes those who argue that we are a small country whose emissions don’t compare to those of China or the U.S. Calling on Canada to accept its global responsibility, the authors state that “Canada’s 2021-2050 oil and gas production would exhaust about 16 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget. Canada is indeed a “carbon bomb” of global significance.”  This is the first of many hard-hitting, frank statements in the report, including a highly critical discussion of the “fool’s gambit” of hydrogen production, and an assessment that “A highly resourced and well-organized “regime of obstruction” has developed in Canada to block effective climate action and ensure increased fossil fuel extraction.”

Correcting Canada’s “One-eye shut” Climate Policy references the Environmental Defence  Paying Polluters report, agreeing with the call for a phase-out of government support and subsidies. It also offers more information about subsidies – for example, an estimate that the provincial supports, including royalty credits, constitute an additional estimated $4.2 billion a year. Other less-than-obvious examples of support for oil and gas:  subsidies that encourage fossil fuel consumption, like aviation or mobility investments,  and over $250 million  directed to four oil sands major companies under Canada’s Emergency Wage Subsidy during Covid-19.  The report states that Imperial Oil alone received $120 million in wage support while concurrently issuing $320 million in dividends. Yet on the issue of oil and gas jobs, the authors state that in 2019, the oil and gas sector represented just 1 percent of direct employment in Canada, and 5.5 percent in Alberta. “To save costs, the industry has aggressively cut jobs, by 23 percent over the 2014 to 2019 period, even as oil and gas production increased by 24 percent, reaching record highs, over that same period.”

The One-Eye Shut report goes further, offering specific policy options within the federal jurisdiction to phase out the industry, including: “prohibiting the leasing of federal lands and waters for fossil fuel production and infrastructure; implementing a “climate test” on all new fossil fuel projects and removing federal impact review exemptions; canceling the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline; divesting federal public investment funds from fossil fuel production; and removing federal subsidies and public financing that supports fossil fuel exploration, production, or transportation, including federal funding for technologies that delay a transition away from oil and gas.”

Correcting Canada’s “One-eye shut” Climate Policy: Meeting Canada’s climate commitments requires ending supports for, and beginning a gradual phase out of, oil and gas production  is a Technical Paper written by University of Waterloo professor Angela Carter and PhD. Student Truzaar Dordi, and published by the Cascade Institute.   Participating Institutions include the Corporate Mapping Project, University of Waterloo, Royal Roads University, and the McConnell Foundation.

Government committee recommends further study for support for workers amid transition to electric vehicle production

The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development presented their report, The Road Ahead: Encouraging the Production and Purchase Of Zero-Emission Vehicles In Canada to the House of Commons on April 13.  The Committee had received eighteen briefs and heard from twenty-one witnesses since the Fall of 2020 – available here.  The importance of reducing transportation emissions was accepted, and the topics of discussion included purchase incentives, expanding ev charging infrastructure and the impact on the electricity sector, the potential of hydrogen-powered vehicles, and more. The resulting report makes thirteen recommendations, to which the government is requested to respond. Amongst the recommendations: the existing federal incentive program for EV purchase be continued and expanded to include used EV’s, that the price cap be eliminated, with eligibility geared to income; that the Government of Canada build on existing initiatives, like the Green Mining Innovation program, to improve the environmental performance of Canadian minerals used in battery and hydrogen fuel cell production; and that the federal government  work with provincial and territorial governments to develop recycling and end of life management strategies for ZEV batteries.

Recommendation #6 addresses the concerns of workers: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada study opportunities to support automotive sector workers while facilities are transitioning to produce ZEVs, and consider dedicated funding to retrain automotive sector workers for ZEV production.”

Most of the input to the Standing Committee was from industry representatives, but the report attributes Recommendation #6  largely to the testimony of Angelo DiCaro, Research Director of Unifor on November 23, 2020.  From the report: “Witnesses cautioned that it will be challenging to reorient Canada’s automotive sector to produce ZEVs. It takes time for producers to bring vehicles to market, and to retool facilities and retrain workers to produce ZEVs.  Angelo DiCaro suggested that the Government of Canada should ensure that the employment insurance system will support workers during plant retooling. He also noted that the transition to ZEVs could threaten jobs in Canada’s automotive parts sector, especially among businesses that produce parts for the powertrains that propel ICEVs. To compensate, Mr. DiCaro said that Canadian governments should set rules about the afterlife of vehicles that could create jobs in vehicle disassembly and recycling.”    

Specifically, when asked later by NDP MP Laurel Collins, “what kind of retraining and income supports do Canadian auto workers need to support a just transition to a zero-emissions future?” DiCaro identified the powertrain segment of the auto parts industry as the most vulnerable, and continued…. “as plants transition, as will happen with Oakville, we have to see how long these transition times will take in our next round of bargaining. I can assure you that, if this is going to be a two-year or a 16-month transition to get that plant retooled, there are going to be questions about income supports for those workers as they retrain and wait for these cars to come online….. This is front and centre. I think the act of collective bargaining gives us an opportunity to explore that. Certainly our employment insurance system and our training systems are going to have to be looked at more carefully.”

Right to a healthy environment recognized in new amendments to Canadian Environmental Protection Act

On April 13 the Government of Canada announced proposed amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA), the cornerstone of federal environmental laws. Bill C-28 Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act promises to fast-track the regulatory process for particularly harmful chemicals; encourage companies to avoid toxic chemicals entirely and to phase-in mandatory product labelling , beginning with cosmetics, household cleaning products and flame retardants in upholstery. The Act also recognizes and protects the right of Canadians to a healthy environment. 

The government press release is here; and a  Backgrounder and Plain language summary of key amendments is provided. In addition, the government’s talking points about the CEPA amendments are highlighted in an Opinion piece by John Wilkinson, Canada’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, in The National Observer.  The amendments are the culmination of a long process, including hearings by the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, which received 66 submissions. The Standing Committee report, Healthy Environment, Healthy Canadians, Healthy Economy: Strengthening the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 made 89 recommendations when it was released in 2017. A summary appeared in the WCR here.  

Right to Healthy Environment proposals

Is a healthy environment a right? New CEPA bill says so”, in The National Observer (April 14, re-posted in The Toronto Star) quotes Joe Castrilli, legal counsel for the Canadian Environmental Law Association.  He states: “This bill does not create a right to a healthy environment” …. “There’s a preamble provision which says the government recognizes that … it has the duty to protect the right to a healthy environment. But it doesn’t actually create a remedy for any individual seeking to protect the environment.”

A Joint statement released by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) Breast Cancer Action Quebec , EcoJustice, the David Suzuki Foundation, and Environmental Defence acknowledges the importance of Bill C-28, points out some weaknesses, and alludes to the debates which clearly lies ahead. From the Joint Statement :  

“Bill C-28 includes amendments to CEPA recognizing – for the first time in federal law – the right to a healthy environment . 156 UN member states already recognize this right in law, treaties and constitutions. The recognition of a right to a healthy environment in CEPA is an important step forward. However, the bill should ensure that this right has a positive impact on the lives of everyone in Canada, especially vulnerable populations who have long been denied environmental justice and disproportionately experience cumulative impacts of multiple interacting hazards. ….Bill C-28 is important as we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic. A strengthened CEPA will be the backbone of a green and just recovery. ….All political parties must now make Bill C-28 a political priority.”

The Right to a Healthy Environment: even more is required to address environmental racism

The environmental rights and protections in Bill C-28 on April 13 come on the heels of private member’s Bill C-230, A National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism (Bill C-230) , which was debated and passed 2nd Reading on March 24. C-230 will now come before the House Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, with the first meeting scheduled for April 14. C-230 goes further than the CEPA amendments regarding on environmental justice, and calls for the the government to

  • Examine the link between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk
  • Collect information and statistics relating to the location of environmental hazards
  • Collect information and statistics relating to negative health outcomes in communities that have been affected by environmental racism
  • Assess the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in each province

In addition, it calls for possible amendments to federal laws, policies, and programs, with the involvement of community groups, and with compensation for individuals or communities. A new article (published before the House of Commons vote) appears in Our Times in “Here for all Seasons: A Coalition to Confront Environmental Racism ”  (Feb. 21 2021). It describes some of those community and advocacy groups fighting on this issue, including the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU). The Labour Day 2020 issue of Our Times, summarized here, describes the role of labour unions in the struggle against environmental racism – in which CBTU has been prominent.

Can Biden unite Labour and climate activists with his American Jobs Plan ?

On March 31, U.S. President Biden announced his “American Jobs Plan,” which outlines over $2 trillion in spending proposals, including $213 billion to build, modernize and weatherize affordable housing,  $174 billion for incentives and infrastructure for electric vehicles; $100 billion for power grid modernization and resilience; $85 billion investment in modernizing public transit and bringing it to underserved areas; $35 billion investment in clean technology research and development, including incubators and demonstration projects; $16 billion employing union oil and gas workers to cap abandoned oil and gas wells and clean up mines, and $10 billion to launch a  Civilian Climate Corps to work on conservation and environmental justice projects.  All of these are proposals, to be subject to the political winds of Washington, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggesting a date of July 4 for a vote on legislation.

The White House Fact Sheet outlines the specifics . Robert Reich calls the plan “smart politics” in  “Joe Biden as Mr. Fix-it” in Commons Dreams, and according to “Nine Ways Biden’s $2 Trillion Plan Will Tackle Climate Change” in Inside Climate News, “President Joe Biden aims to achieve unprecedented investment in action to address climate change by wrapping it in the kind of federal spending package that has allure for members of Congress of both parties.”   David Roberts offers a summary and smart, informed commentary in his Volt blog, stating: “Within this expansive infrastructure package is a mini-Green New Deal, with large-scale spending targeted at just the areas energy wonks say could accelerate the transition to clean energy — all with a focus on equity and justice for vulnerable communities on the front lines of that transition. If it passes in anything like its current form, it will be the most significant climate and energy legislation of my lifetime, by a wide margin.”

Julian Brave NoiseCat writes in the National Observer on April 6, summing up the dilemma:   …” Each policy has the potential to unite or divide the Democrat’s coalition of labour unions, people of colour, environmentalists and youth activists. Some policies, like the creation of a new Civilian Climate Corps …. are directly adopted from demands pushed by activists like the youth-led Sunrise Movement. Others, like investments in existing nuclear power plants and carbon capture retrofits for gas-fired power plants, will pit labour unions against environmental justice activists from the communities those industries often imperil. Uniting the environmental activists who oppose the development of fossil fuel pipelines with the workers who build them will be among the Democrats’ greatest challenges.”

Some Specific U.S. statements:

Generally favourable reaction comes in a brief statement from the AFL-CIO. The  BlueGreen Alliance states: “This is a historic first step, and yet we know this and more will be needed to deliver the scale of investment needed, particularly in disadvantaged communities and for workers and communities impacted by energy transition.”  Similarly, Kate Aronoff writes “Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Needs More Climate Spending” in The New Republic; and the Climate Justice Alliance response is titled  “Grassroots, Environmental Justice Communities call on Biden To Go Bigger, Bolder And Faster For A Climate, Care And Infrastructure Recovery Package That Meets The Moment”.

The Sunrise Movement press release commends Biden for calling for passage of the PRO Act, for clean energy initiatives, and environmental justice aspects, and has a mixed reaction to Biden’s version of the Civilian Climate Corps: “This gives our movement a starting place, and with a foot in the door we can fight to expand and strengthen the CCC over the coming years.” ….. “The plan Biden rolled out today would create about 10,000-20,00 jobs in a Civilian Climate Corps, which would train and employ young people to build clean energy and decarbonize the economy. When FDR rolled out a similar Civilian Conservation Corps, it employed around 300,000 people per year, and that was back when the US population was ~40% of its current size .”   

Will Biden’s Plan push Canada’s climate ambitions?

The CBC published “Here are four ways Biden’s big climate bill touches Canada” .  Mitchell Beer compiles reactions in “Biden Jobs, Infrastructure Plan Aims to ‘Turbocharge the transition’ off Fossil Fuels”  in The Energy Mix, including Adam Radwanski’s response in the Globe and Mail, “Joe Biden’s new climate plans should jolt Ottawa” (restricted access).   And the Canadian United Steelworkers alludes to the “Buy American” elephant in the room for Canadians, in its press release titled, Build Back Better Through Infrastructure Spending on Both Sides of the Border (April 1)  “the United Steelworkers union (USW) sees U.S. President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan as an opportunity to maintain and create jobs, bolster manufacturing and make our communities safer. ….A decade ago, the USW worked with the Obama administration and the Canadian government to create a North American strategy that benefited workers in the United States and Canada…. Canada is not the problem facing U.S. manufacturing and workers. Co-operation between Canada and U.S. will build on our longstanding and productive trading relationship.”

Trans Mountain pipeline protests continue as a new report estimates costs up to $13 billion for Canadian taxpayers

As construction of the Trans Mountain expansion continues and the British Columbia government weighs the risks of potential oil spills, protests against the project continue. “Tiny House Warriors And Braided Warriors Accomplices Lock Down On Trans Mountain Site” (Sparrow Project, April 3) describes the protest by those supporting the resistance of the Secwepemc First Nations – also as described in “ ‘We Will Not Stop’: First Nations Land Defenders Take Direct Action Against Trans Mountain Pipeline” in Common Dreams (April 3) . In what they call a “deep dive”, The Tyee and Investigate West co-published  “For BC’s Two Pipeline Fights, It’s Spring Forward”, which delves into the many actors in the continuing opposition to Trans Mountain and the Coastal Gas Link pipelines.  Also in The Tyee, “Youth Climate Activists Aim to Rally Support for Indigenous Land Defenders” describes the March 19 Global Climate March protest by Sustainabiliteens in Vancouver. The National Observer maintains an archive of articles documenting Trans Mountain developments, here. Amidst it all, the provincial government weighs granting an environmental certificate re protections for oil spills, as explained in “B.C. relying on the federal shoreline protections for Trans Mountain pipeline it previously called inadequate” in The Narwhal .

An academic report, released on March 31, supports the protests with financial and cost benefit analysis, as summarized by the CBC here.  Evaluation of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is written by lead author Thomas Gunton, Director of Simon Fraser University’s  School of Resource and Environmental Management. The report concludes that continuing the construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion project will bring a net cost to Canada of $6.8 billion under base case assumptions – with the possibility of costs running as high as $13.3 billion  “….because the TMEP capacity is not required and therefore does not generate a benefit. Oil transported on TMEP could have been transported on other pipelines without expending funds building TMEP. Therefore, continuing to build TMEP as currently proposed is not in Canada’s public interest and the project should not proceed further.”

Much has changed since Professor Gunton’s previous evaluation in 2017 of the Trans Mountain expansion project, including the federal government’s purchase of Trans Mountain in 2018. The 2021 report, Evaluation of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is highly critical of the previous assessments by the National Energy Board, used to justify the purchase – and makes specific note of how the NEB distorted job projections provided by the Conference Board of Canada to overestimate the job benefits. The December 2020 report of the Parliamentary Budget Office found that the Trans Mountain Expansion profitability was dependent on climate change policies – so the Gunton report updates the PBO analysis by taking into account the climate change policies announced in the December 2020 Healthy Environment Healthy Economy climate plan. Finally, it provides detailed cost benefit analysis both for completion and for termination of the TMX project – incorporating environmental costs, including the risks of pipeline spills. Regarding employment benefits, the analysis finds modest positive benefits, given the existing recession in the oil and gas sector.    

“A potential benefit of TMEP is providing employment to workers. As discussed in Section 3.2.6 of this report, the measure of employment benefits is not the gross number of jobs generated by TMEP but is instead the net employment and income gain of employees of TMEP relative to what they would have made if TMEP did not proceed. Historically, the economy of Western Canada has been characterized by tight labour markets in which most employees are employed. Under full employment, projects like TMEP would simply draw employees from other jobs with little to no net employment benefit. However, given the current recession and recent slowdowns in the energy sector and the potential of TM training and hiring employees through impact benefit agreements, there will likely be an employment benefit, with some hiring of persons who would otherwise be unemployed or employed at a lower wage.” (p.45).

Massachusetts climate legislation almost derailed by opposition to greener building code provisions

An Act creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy was signed into law on March 26, summarized in Governor Charlie Baker’s press release, here . It is a sweeping and ambitious bill which sets emissions reduction targets, including six sectoral goals, culminating in net-zero emissions for the state by 2050; sets appliance efficiency standards; incentivizes electric vehicles; includes environmental justice protections; and orders funding for a clean energy equity workforce and market development program to support employment opportunities for certified minority- and women-owned small business and individuals living in environmental justice communities. 

And as described in “What You Need To Know About The New Mass. Climate Law”  (NPR, WBUR, March 26) ,the Roadmap legislation also authorizes the development of stretch energy codes for net-zero energy buildings. The Department of Energy Resources will announce the final version after public consultations for the next 18 months, after which municipalities can choose to adopt the model codes.  The building code provisions were the major sticking point in the political battle over this legislation, and triggered a Governor’s veto in 2020, thanks to organized opposition from the natural gas industry and real estate industry, both of whom see a potential threat of natural gas bans.  

This Massachusetts example is explained in “Sweeping Mass. climate law revives gas ban battle” (Mar. 29). The broader battle which is forming across the U.S.is described in “Developers clash with  U.S. Cities on vote for greener building codes” in The Energy Mix, and in “A Texas city had a bold new climate plan – until a gas company got involved” in The Guardian (March 1).   The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) describes how this conflict is playing out at the International Code Council (ICC), which sets model building code standards, and which “just threw out the elections process by which state and local government officials recently overcame powerful commercial interests to secure large energy savings.”

Canada’s Supreme Court affirms federal government’s constitutional right to enact carbon pricing legislation

On March 25, the Supreme Court of Canada released a majority decision stating that the federal government of Canada was within its constitutional rights when it enacted the 2018 Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act — which required the provinces to meet minimum national standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The decision enables the federal government to move on to more ambitious climate action plans, since it ends a two-year battle with the provinces, and affirms the importance of the climate change issue. The majority decision states that national climate action “is critical to our response to an existential threat to human life in Canada and around the world.”   Summaries and reaction to this hugely important decision include an Explainer in The Narwhal , and “Supreme Court rules federal carbon pricing law constitutional” (National Observer) . Mainstream media also covered the decision, including a brief article in the New York Times which relates it to U.S. policy climate.

The Canadian Labour Congress issued a press release “Canada’s unions applaud Supreme Court decision upholding federal carbon pricing” – pointing out that the carbon tax is only one piece of the puzzle in reducing GHG emissions. Unifor emphasized next steps, calling on the provincial premiers of Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and the federal Conservative leader, to “stop complaining” and devise their own climate action plans. Similar sentiments appeared in the reactions of other advocacy groups: for example,  Council of Canadians;  the Pembina InstituteClean Energy Canada, and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) .

Political reactions

The reaction and explanation of the case from the federal government is here. The CBC provides a survey of political reaction here. Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta were the three provinces who lost their Supreme Court case: in a press release,  Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney pledged that his government will continue to “fight on”, and will now begin to consult with Albertans on how to respond to the court’s decision – as reported in the National Observer, “Alberta has no carbon tax Plan B, was hoping to win in court: Kenney” (March 26) . Kenney further stated,  “We will continue to press our case challenging Bill C-69, the federal ‘No More Pipelines Law,’ which is currently before the Alberta Court of Appeal.”  [Note Bill C-69 is actually titled An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act… and was enacted in June 2019]. Ontario’s “disappointment” is described in this article in the Toronto Star and Saskatchewan’s government reaction is described here by the CBC .   A sum-up Opinion piece appears in The Tyee: “Sorry Cranky Conservatives! Carbon Pricing Wins the Day” (March 29).

Updated: Supreme Court upholds legislation underpinning Canada’s carbon pricing system

On March 25, majority of Canada’s Supreme Court ruled in what  EcoJustice calls a “monumental” decision, that the federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act does not violate the Canadian constitution. The Summary decision is available at the Supreme Court website as of March 25, here. The Justices noted that global warming causes harm beyond provincial boundaries and that it is a matter of national concern under the “peace, order and good government” clause of the Constitution. The Justices further noted that the term “carbon tax” is a misnomer, and the fuel and excess emission charges imposed by the Act were constitutionally valid regulatory charges and not taxes.

The federal government’s constitutional right to set the framework for pollution pricing lies at the heart of our national policies to fight climate change – originally, through the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (2016) and now, through the Healthy Environment Healthy Economy Plan released in December 2020, which proposes to raise the existing carbon tax to $170 per tonne by 2050.

The Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act allows the federal government to impose a carbon price, a “backstop”, in any province or territory which fails to design their own policies to meet the federal emission reduction targets. The provinces of Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Alberta all filed separate challenges to the federal jurisdiction – with the provincial appeals courts in Saskatchewan and Ontario both upholding the federal government’s constitutional right to enact the law. In February 2020, the  Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the provincial challenge, and appeals to the Supreme Court from all three provinces were heard in Fall 2020. A more complete chronology of the legal cases is here .

The Supreme Court decision is summarized here – with a link to the full Decision (the Court notes that the Full Decision is so lengthly that it may cause an error message when trying to download it).

Corporate net zero goals: solution or deception?

Climate change superstar Mark Carney set off a media flurry in a video interview with Bloomberg Live on February 10, in which he claimed that Brookfield Asset Management is a “net zero” company because its renewables investments offset emissions from its other holdings. Carney reflects a new trend of corporate aspirational statements, for example: Jeff Bezos’ corporate network The Climate Pledge claimed in February that 53 companies across 18 industries have committed to working toward net-zero carbon in their worldwide businesses, most by 2050.  Recent  high profile examples include Royal Dutch Shell , Canada’s TD Bank  and Bank of Montreal, and  FedEx , which on March 5 announced its goal to be carbon-neutral by 2040 as well as an initial investment of $2 billion to start electrifying its delivery fleet and $100 million to fund a new research centre for carbon capture at  Yale University.

Will these corporate goals help to reach the Paris Agreement target?  Many recent articles are skeptical,  labelling them “sham”, “greenwash”, and “deception” which seeks to protect the status quo.  Some examples:

The climate crisis can’t be solved by carbon accounting tricks” (The Guardian, March 3) which offers a concise explanation of why “Disaster looms if big finance is allowed to game the carbon offsetting markets to achieve ‘net zero’ emissions.”

Global oil companies have committed to ‘net zero’ emissions. It’s a sham” by Tzeporah Berman and Nathan Taft (The Guardian, March 3) – which instead advocates for an international Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Call the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Net-Zero Bluff” by Kate Aronoff  in New Republic. She writes: “This isn’t the old denialism oil companies funded decades ago. … Instead of casting doubt on whether the climate is changing, this new messaging strategy casts doubt on the obvious answer to what should be done about it: i.e., rapidly scaling down production….. For now, it’s one part creative accounting and many parts a P.R. strategy of waving around shiny objects like biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage.”

Can the market save the planet?  FedEx is the latest brand-name firm to say it’s trying” in the Washington Post , which quotes Yale Professor Paul Sabin, warning that “carbon capture research also should not become an excuse for doubling down on fossil fuel consumption, or delaying urgently needed policies to move away from fossil fuel consumption, including the electrification of transportation.”

Chasing Carbon Unicorns: The Deception of Carbon Markets and Net Zero  – a hard-hitting report by Friends of the Earth International which argues that net zero pledges are “a new addition to the strategy basket of these actors who are fighting hard to maintain the status quo.”   The report names these actors, led by the  financial community’s new Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets (TSVCM) – established by Mark Carney and the led by the CEO of the Standard Chartered Bank, with a goal to develop standards for “credible offsets” . FOE International also names a
group of Oxford academics which is supporting the TSVCM work by developing the Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting , and  conservation agencies which have endorsed the work: Conservation International (CI), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Chasing Carbon Unicorns concludes:

“Net zero” is a smokescreen, a conveniently invented concept that is both dangerous and problematic because of how effectively it hides inaction. We have to unpack “net zero” strategies and pledges to see which are real and which are fake. Fake zero strategies rely on offsets, rather than real emission reductions. Real zero strategies require emissions to really go to zero, or as close to zero as possible.”

Federal Advisory Committee on Net Zero policies appointed to augment existing research and recommendations

In late February, the federal government appointed a Net Zero Advisory Committee   with fifteen expert members, including Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuf and  Climate Action Network-Canada (CAN-Rac) Executive Director Catherine Abreu, as well as  Linda Coady,  Executive Director of the Pembina Institute,  climate scientist Simon Donner from University of British Columbia,  Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Kluane Adamek, and others from government and  industry.  As explained in  “Canada’s new Net Zero Advisory Body and Bill C-12” (March 4) by the Climate Action Network Canada, this Advisory Committee was a platform promise made by the Liberals during the 2019 election, and is intended to provide ongoing expert advice until 2050 to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Its mandate, here, is to provide advice on the next framework for Canada’s climate change policies, as currently before the House of Commons in Bill C-12,  the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act.

An article in The Energy Mix emphasizes the independent nature of the advisory body, and the fact that there are no current oil and gas industry representatives included.   However, in “Accountability Bill Lacks ‘Clear Path’ To Net-Zero Targets, Climate Scientist Warns Ottawa”, Catherine Abreu is quoted as saying that despite the Advisory Committee, Canada still lacks clear accountability in climate policy, and that Bill C-12 is  “not the robust piece of legislation we need to make sure Canada never misses another climate target. To make sure it’s set up to drive up ambition, especially in the near term, we need the 2025 goal and a stronger 2030 goal enshrined in law.”

Other policy voices on the Net Zero ambition are found in Canada’s Net Zero Future: Finding our way in the global transition, released on February 8  by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices , and described by the Institute as “the first in-depth scenario report to explore how Canada can reach net zero emissions by 2050”. It  advocates for two pathways: “safe bets” in the short term, and in the long term, “wild cards” which include negative emission technologies that are not yet commercially available.

On March 11,  the Pembina Institute released  How to Get Net-Zero Right,  which recommends top priority for “early, deep, sustained, and technologically feasible direct emissions reductions in every sector. …..Canada’s pathways must define an appropriate role for carbon removal and offsets. Achieving net-zero will require the use of carbon removal to address hard-to-decarbonize sectors or essential end uses that cannot yet be decarbonized. Carbon removal and offsets, however, cannot be approached as an alternative to mitigation, but rather in addition.”

How to Get Net-Zero Right  is the first of a promised series of reports on the issue by Pembina, and will consider social justice and equity concerns.

Green Recovery includes proposals for Green Apprenticeships, Opportunity Guarantees for youth

In the midst of rampant youth unemployment in the U.K., An Emergency Plan on Green Jobs for Young People was released on March 1, commissioned by Friends of the Earth U.K. and prepared by Transition Economics consultants. The report puts flesh on the bones of a youth jobs guarantee – discussing the many issues, identifying green jobs and skills related to infrastructure, and estimating the level of funding required. That level of funding is compared to the cost of youth unemployment – the “wage scarring”.  Individual scarring is estimated at a loss of £42,000 – £133,000 in future wages over the next 20 years for an 18-20 year old who experiences one year of unemployment. The economic loss to the U.K. as a whole, if all currently unemployed youth stayed unemployed for 1 year, is estimated at £32 – £39 billion.

The solution proposed in the  Emergency Plan is the creation of 250,000 green apprenticeships in infrastructure-related jobs, rapidly rolled-out in England and Wales at an estimated cost of £6.2 – £10.6 billion over 5 years – a “tiny” cost compared to the burden of wage scarring. The report calls for “a green opportunity guarantee” that commits to ensure that all young people are offered a job, an apprenticeship, or training, and estimates that  “A government funded £40 billion-a-year green infrastructure programme would create over 1 million jobs, and deliver significant co-benefits.”   The report further calls for apprentice pay rates above the minimum wage, negotiated nationally with U.K. trade unions.

The idea of a green opportunity guarantee has also been advanced in Canada – notably in July 2020 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in its  Alternative Federal Budget Green Recovery Plan . The CCPA proposed a  National Decarbonization Strategy with public investments in electricity generation, public transit, forestry and building and home retrofitting; part of the Strategy included “a Green Jobs Corps at a cost of $10 billion per year to create good green jobs that advance Canada’s decarbonization agenda. Among the corps’ priorities will be climate adaptation and environmental reclamation projects identified under the National Decarbonization Strategy. All youth under the age of 25 in Canada will be guaranteed either a job in the corps or access to subsidized training through the Strategic Training Fund.”

Similarly, a Submission by the Canadian Labour Congress in August stated:  “Following the experience of the European Union, the federal, provincial and territorial governments should establish a guarantee that all young people under the age of 25 will receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. This could include a focus on providing decent jobs in land remediation and restoration, climate adaptation, and energy efficiency. It should also include green skills training and learning opportunities through partnerships with public education and training providers, with an emphasis on women, marginalized, low-income and at-risk youth.”  A similar proposal was made by the Smart Prosperity Institute, calling for the creation of  a Conservation and Adaptation corps as part of its Green Recovery proposals.  Smart Prosperity stated that the federal government funded 900 green internships in 2020 through the Science Horizons Youth Internship Program for STEM students, and calls on the government to go further with a youth  Conservation and Adaptation corps which “would offer the workforce needed to meet a number of environmental targets, including planting 2 billion trees, and could build the infrastructure needed to improve community resilience to climate impacts from flooding, fires and sea level rise.”

Natural gas drives GHG emissions increase for Toronto region and Ontario

The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) is home to 7.4 million people in six municipalities: the City of Toronto, City of Hamilton, Halton, Peel, York and Durham regions. According to a new report released by The Atmospheric Fund (TAF),  the region produces  44 per cent of  total carbon emissions in the province of Ontario.   Top level findings from the report, Reality Check: Carbon Emissions Inventory for the GTHA: “Total carbon emissions in the GTHA increased 5.2% in 2018, reaching 55.5 Mt. . …. showing that since the completion of the coal phase out, emissions are slowly increasing across all regions and nearly all sources.” The report zeroes in on each municipality, and also on sectors, showing that buildings (42.8%), transportation (34.3%), and industry (18.9%) are the most significant sources of emissions in the region.

The key take-away from the report:  “Natural gas is a fossil fuel (methane) and it is the most significant source of emissions in the GTHA and Ontario. In 2018 natural gas increased about 10.6%, or 2Mt CO2 eq. Achieving net zero by 2050 will require phasing out virtually all natural gas from both heating and power production.”  An associated blog , “Toronto has an embarrassing gas problem”  (Feb.18) states: “the City’s latest emissions inventory showed an increase of 68% from natural gas from 2017 to 2018, and plans are afoot to increase gas-fired electricity which will make emissions skyrocket by over 300%. …. Toronto cannot meet its 2030 climate goals or the council-approved TransformTO plan if Ontario’s electricity is increasingly generated with fossil gas.”

Based on this analysis, TAF makes policy recommendations for all three levels of government, calling for near zero emissions standards for new building, acceleration of deeper retrofits for existing buildings, and electrification of heating and transportation while decarbonizing electricity production.  Detailed recommendations regarding retrofitting measures are provided in TAF’s submission to the Federal Budget 2021, and summarized in “Four ways the government should boost the retrofit market” (Feb. 23).  At the municipal level,  TAF is supporting one City of Toronto Councillor’s motion which calls for the provincial government to phaseout all gas-fired electricity generation as soon as possible.  The City of Toronto deferred a vote on that motion, and voted in February on a budget which appears to downgrade the priority for climate initiatives.  “’We can’t afford to lose a year’: Worries abound over Toronto’s plan to reduce climate funding” (CBC, Feb. 18)  provides details.

Clean200 list of global companies released

Corporate Knights released the 2021 edition of its annual Clean200 list of publicly traded companies on February 18  –  a list of global companies with total revenues over $1 Billion annually, ranked by green energy revenues.  According to the press release:  “The Clean200 utilizes Corporate Knights Clean Revenue database which tracks the percent of revenue companies earn from clean economy themes including energy efficiency; green energy; electric vehicles; banks financing low-carbon solutions; real estate companies focused on low-carbon buildings; forestry companies protecting carbon sinks; responsible miners of critical materials for the low-carbon economy; food and apparel companies with products primarily made of raw materials with a significantly lower carbon footprint; and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) companies that are leading the way on renewable energy while also being best-in-sector according to currently accepted privacy benchmarks.”   Certain companies are automatically excluded from consideration: weapons and  military arms manufacturers, palm oil, paper/pulp, rubber, timber, beef and soy producers (as identified by As You Sow’s Deforestation Free Funds), as well as companies using child or forced labour, and companies that engage in negative climate lobbying.

According to the introductory article : “On average, 39% of revenues earned by Clean200 companies are classified as clean, which the majority of other revenues classified as neutral, compared to just 8% clean revenue for their peers.” Notably, the Clean200 companies also outperform others financially.  Forty-six of the 200 Clean companies are headquartered in the United States; followed by Japan (26), China (17), France (15), and Canada and Germany (8 each). The top performing company is Alphabet Inc., parent company of Google,  with 83.33% percent green revenue for 2019.  For Canada, the list includes the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways as well as Bombardier, Cascades Inc., Canadian Solar, Telus, Hydro One, and Brookfield Renewable Partners.

Fracking boom brings job and income loss to Appalachian communities: study

A February study examined the economic changes in 22 counties the authors call “Frackalachia” –  home to the Utica and Marcellus shale gas industry.  The report, Appalachia’s Natural Gas Counties: Contributing more to the U.S. economy and Getting less in return  examines the period from 2008 to 2019, a time when  the area went from producing a negligible portion of U.S. natural gas to producing 40%. The report summarizes the job forecasts provided by oil and gas industry economic impact studies, (over 450,000 new jobs for Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia), and shows the actual economic data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis –  a 1.6% increase in jobs  – at a time when the number of jobs across the U.S. grew by 9.9%.  Detailed statistics demonstrate the differences amongst counties and states – with Ohio faring the worst and Pennsylvania faring the best. The report’s analysis shows that in the entire area represented by the 22 counties, the share of the national personal income fell by 6.3 percent, the share of jobs fell by 7.5 percent, and the share of the national population fell by 9.7 percent , while  90% of the wealth generated from fracking left the local communities.

The report was produced and published on February 10  by the Ohio River Valley Institute, a non-profit think tank based in Pennsylvania, founded in 2020 with the vision of “moving beyond an extractive economy toward shared prosperity, lasting job growth, clean energy, and civic engagement.”  This report has been widely reported, including in “Appalachia’s fracking boom has done little for local economies: Study”(Environmental Health News , Feb. 12),  which summarizes the report and adds context concerning the health effects of fracking, and the failed attempts to expand production to  petrochemicals and plastics using ethane, a by-product of the fracked natural gas.

Alberta government backtracks, promising public consultations on coal mining policy

The province of Alberta cancelled its own long-standing regulations regarding coal mining exploration, leases and development in May 2020,  but the government was forced to reverse course – as stated in a press release in February 8, Alberta’s 1976 coal policy reinstated .  The policy was not only reinstated, but the government promises “we will implement further protections and consult with Albertans on a new, modern coal policy.” The Narwhal provides an overview of events and the political miscalculations in  “How a public uprising forced a province built on fossil fuels to reverse course on coal mining”   – quoting a political science professor at the University of Alberta who calls the public pressure “unprecedented” –  “The government simply did not imagine that this kind of mobilization could happen” .  The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society website has monitored the issue in a series of news releases and hosts an online campaign against coal development, still expressing concern about the government’s intentions.  The article in The Narwhal implies that the current Kenny government is out of touch with the diversity of opinion in Alberta – a diversity reflected in a poll released by Pembina Institute in February, showing  Albertan attitudes to the oil and gas industry and to the goal of net-zero emissions.

In the interim before the consultation is launched, the National Observer published “There is no such thing as a contamination-free coal mine, top scientist warns Albertans” (Feb. 16)  –  summarizing a 2019 evaluation of the Benga Mining proposal for an open-pit coal mine at Grassy Mountain near the Crowsnest Pass in the Rockies, which concluded: “The Grassy Mountain Coal Project will create a ticking environmental time-bomb resulting from selenium pollution of high quality, high value aquatic habitats and culminate in poisoning of provincially and federally protected fish.”

Federal government provides operational funding for public transit – as of 2026

In a press release on February 10,  Prime Minister Trudeau announced $14.9 billion in new funding for public transit, framed as “part of our plan to create one million jobs, fight climate change, and rebuild a more sustainable and resilient economy.”   A Backgrounder states that $5.9 billion will be distributed on a project-by-project basis starting in 2021 to encourage active transportation projects (e.g. bike paths, walkways), rural transit, and zero-emissions transit vehicles and infrastructure. The bulk of funding – $9 Billion – is dedicated to creating a permanent public transit fund of $3 billion per year, but not until 2026. The Backgrounder states: “Over the coming months, Infrastructure Canada will work with provinces, territories, municipalities, local governments, Indigenous communities, transit agencies, policy experts and other stakeholders to develop programming for the $3 billion in permanent public transit funding in a manner that offers the greatest benefits to Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Consultations on the design of the new permanent transit funding will begin in the near future to address how all orders of government can work in partnership to get the most out of investments in public transit.” 

This doesn’t answer the demands of the #Keep Transit Moving coalition, led by  the Council of Canadians and the David Suzuki Foundation. The Council of Canadians’ response was “Trudeau’s Transit Announcement throws Just Recovery under the Bus”.  It states: “Transit infrastructure spending is important and necessary, but the urgent need is for sustained operating funding. …The federal government’s focus on infrastructure at the expense of operational funding is a classic case of trying to appease social movements without making the needed changes.”  The COC also repeats its warnings against the use of public-private investment to fund transit, if money is directed through the Canada Infrastructure Bank . The Amalgamated Transit Union, facing historic ridership loss because of the pandemic, also expresses disappointment in their press release, which states: “What’s needed now is $400 million per month into emergency operational funding to cover losses at the farebox.”  The ATU acknowledges that the government has provided emergency operating funds through the Safe Restart Agreement , but those will soon expire, and other transit-related funding has been for capital projects and to support the EV bus manufacturers. 

The government’s transit funding was more favourably received by others: “Big City Mayors Cheer as Trudeau Offers Permanent Federal Transit Funding” (The Energy Mix, Feb.12); “Support for public transit is key to decarbonizing  transportation” (Pembina Institute, Feb. 11); and “Expanding and electrifying public transit exemplifies the recovery Canada needs” (Clean Energy Canada, Feb. 11).

Roadmap for U.S. Decarbonization emphasizes job creation, equity in Transition

A Committee of Experts in the United States collaborated to produce a sweeping policy blueprint for how the U.S. can reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  Accelerating Decarbonization of the United States Energy System was published by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in February 2021, and discusses how to decarbonize the transportation, electricity, buildings, and industrial sectors.  The Overview emphasizes goals of job creation and equity, with a need to build social license.  This aspect of the report is drawn out in “We risk a yellow vest movement”: Why the US clean energy transition must be equitable”  a summary which appeared in Vox.

From the report overview

“The transition represents an opportunity to build a more competitive U.S. economy, increase the availability of high-quality jobs, build an energy system without the social injustices that permeate our current system, and allow those individuals, communities, and businesses that are marginalized today to share equitably in future benefits. Maintaining public support through a three decade transition to net zero simply cannot be achieved without the development and maintenance of a strong social contract. This is true for all policy proposals described here, including a carbon tax, clean energy standards, and the push to electrify and increase efficiencies in end uses such as vehicle and building energy use. “

The report recommendations are summarized in this  Policy Table, and in a 4-page Highlights document.  These include:   Setting an emissions budget for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases • Setting an economy-wide price on carbon (though a low price is set “because of concerns about equity, fairness, and competitiveness”) • Establish a 2-year federal National Transition Task Force “to evaluate the long-term implications of the transition for communities, workers, and families,  and identify strategies for ensuring a just transition”.• Establish a new Office of Equitable Energy Transitions within the White House to act on the recommendations of the task force, establish just transition targets and  track progress • A  new independent National Transition Corporation. • A new Green Bank, initially capitalized at $30 billion, to ensure the required capital is available for the net-zero transition and to mobilize greater private investment • A comprehensive education and training initiative “to develop the workforce required for the net-zero transition, to fuel future innovation, and to provide new high-quality jobs” • Triple federal investment in clean energy RD&D at the Department of Energy over the next ten years,  as well as the support for social science research on the socio-economic aspects of advancing the transition.

The full report, 210 pages, is available free for download from this link  (registration required).

Canada’s net zero future should include policies to support technology “wild cards”: report

Canada’s Net Zero Future: Finding our way in the global transition is a policy document released on February 8  by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, the national research network created by Environment and Climate Change Canada in 2020. The report provides a simple definition of net zero: “shifting toward technologies and energy systems that do not produce emissions, and offsetting any remaining emissions by removing GHGs from the atmosphere and storing them permanently.” Based on technical analysis by Navius Research which examined more than 60 modelling scenarios, the report is announced as “the first in-depth scenario report to explore how Canada can reach net zero emissions by 2050”. It concludes that the goal is doable, using two pathways: “safe bets” and “wild cards”.

Most impact will be made by “Safe bets—commercially available, cost-effective, existing technologies like electric vehicles, heat pumps, and smart grids” which they estimate can generate at least two-thirds of the emission reductions required. In the longer-term, to reach the 2050 target, the authors rely on results from unproven “wild cards”— “high-risk, high reward technologies like advanced biofuels, zero-emissions hydrogen, and some types of engineered negative emission technologies that are not yet commercially available”.   The conclusion: “To scale up safe bets, governments should continue to steadily increase the stringency of policies such as carbon pricing and flexible regulations. To advance wild cards, governments should spread their bets—supporting a portfolio of emerging technologies, without delaying progress on existing smart bet solutions over the next crucial decade.”

Of the four formal Recommendations, #4 is “Governments should work to ensure that the transition to net zero is fair and inclusive”.  ….. “It is vital that governments understand the full range of implications the transition will have on all of Canada’s regions, sectors, workers, communities, and income groups. This is necessary to ensure that policies successfully address adverse impacts and work to lift up groups who have historically been left behind, instead of exacerbating those inequalities. This will require direct engagement with all of those groups.”

The lead author of the report is Jason Dion, Mitigation Research Director at the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, but the report is a “consensus document” involving many advisors who compose its Mitigation Expert Panel Working Group, as well as expert external reviewers.  Two accompanying blogs condense the message in “What puts the “net” in net zero?” (regarding three means of negative emissions) and “Net zero is compatible with economic growth if we do it right” (emphasizing the importance of likelihood of GDP growth through the recommended policies.) 

Related Recent reports:

The Carbontech Innovation System in Canada released in December 2020 by the Pembina Institute, along with CMC Research Institutes and the Alberta Clean Technology Industry Alliance. It reviews and evaluates Canada’s position in the global carbon capture and utilization marketplace.

Accelerating Decarbonization of the United States Energy System published by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in February 2021. Written by a committee of experts, this is a policy blueprint for the U.S. to decarbonize its transportation, electricity, buildings, and industrial sectors, in order to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. See a summary here.

Can Technology solve Climate Change? two brief essays debating the pro and con arguments, by Adam Dorr and Richard Heinberg.

Benchmarking corporate Just Transition policies gives auto manufacturers like Tesla a low score

The World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) announced in February that will combine its existing Corporate Human Rights Benchmarking  with its Climate and Energy Benchmarking of global corporations, to produce a Just Transition Benchmark Assessment .  The WBA has a practical objective:

“Trade unions and civil society organisations can use the transparency provided by these assessments to hold companies accountable, and governments can use them as evidence to inform policy making for a just transition. Additionally, investors and the companies themselves will be able to use the assessments as a roadmap to move towards practices to ensure no one is left behind in the decarbonisation and energy transformation.”

Assessing a just transition: measuring the decarbonisation and energy transformation that leaves no one behind  outlines the methodology of this new assessment exercise and invites stakeholders to contribute in an ongoing process till 2023. The proposed outcome is to publish Just Transition Benchmark assessments of approximately 450 companies in high-emitting sectors – in publicly available rankings,  as are the many other reports of the World Benchmarking Alliance. Assessing a just transition also includes results from a pilot project of the automotive sector to illustrate how the Just Transition assessments will be done. It synthesizes the findings from the WBA Automotive Benchmarking for 2020  with its Corporate Human Rights Benchmarking .

Global auto manufacturers are racing to produce electric vehicles, but are they respecting workers’ rights?

In combining the findings of the two existing benchmarking initiatives, Assessing a just transition states: “…. Some companies that demonstrated action on climate issues, such as low-carbon transition plans, emissions reduction targets and climate change oversight, disclosed very little, if any, information on how they manage human rights, and vice versa. This lack of correlation suggests that many automotive manufacturers still consider climate and human rights issues separately, to be addressed independently of each other, despite the fact that they are increasingly recognised as interconnected.”

A brief case study highlight of Tesla states:  “….. when observing the company’s approach to managing human rights, Tesla scores in the bottom third of companies assessed in the CHRB with an overall score of 6.3/100. This approach has come under recent scrutiny, with a 2020 shareholder resolution demanding Tesla improve its disclosures on human rights governance, due diligence and remedy. While the resolution did not pass (24.8% voted in favour), it highlights that even when a company contributes to decarbonisation, a lack of essential human rights policies and processes to prevent abuse of communities and workers cannot be overlooked.”

Related reports:

The WBA  Corporate Human Rights Benchmarking Report for 2020 Key Findings  includes five sectors: Agricultural products, Apparel, Extractives & ICT manufacturing – and for the first time ever, 30 companies in the Automotive manufacturing sector.   The report states: “The average score for automotive companies is 12%, the lowest score ever for a CHRB-benchmarked sector. Two thirds of the companies scored 0 across all human rights due diligence indicators. These poor results suggest implementation of the UNGPs is weak across the sector.”

Twenty-five “keystone” companies in the automotive industry have been benchmarked for their progress towards Paris goals since 2019. Results of the 2020 report are here , and a blog in December 2020 summarizes the results in  “A tale of two automotive companies: sluggish incumbents and opaque disruptors in the race to zero-emissions vehicles”.

 

Just Transition for Pennsylvania estimated to cost $115,000 per worker in latest report from PERI

In the latest of a series of reports titled Green Growth Programs for U.S. States, researchers provide analysis and proposals for economic recovery for Pennsylvania, considering both the impacts of Covid-19 and a necessary transition to a cleaner economy.  In Impacts of the Reimagine Appalachia & Clean Energy Transition Programs for Pennsylvania:  Job Creation, Economic Recovery, and Long-Term Sustainability, Robert Pollin and co-authors estimate that clean energy investments scaled at about $23 billion per year from 2021 to 2030 will generate roughly 162,000 jobs per year in Pennsylvania. They detail those investment programs for sectors including public infrastructure, manufacturing, land restoration and agriculture, and including plugging orphaned oil and gas wells.

The report estimates that 64,000 people are currently employed in Pennsylvania in fossil fuel-based industries – including in fracking for natural gas from the Marcellus Shale regions, as well as other oil and gas projects, coal mining, and fossil fuel-based power generation. As the state transitions away from fossil-fuel industries, the authors estimate that about 1,800 workers will be displaced each year between 2021 – 2030, and another 1,000 will voluntarily retire each year.  The authors estimate that the average costs of supporting these workers will amount to about $115,000 per worker, with an overall cost of about $210 million per year over the duration of the just transition program. The report emphasizes: “It is critical that all of these workers receive pension guarantees, health care coverage, re-employment guarantees, wage insurance, and retraining support, as needed”.

The full series of reports, Green Growth Programs for U.S. States, includes similar analysis and proposals for Ohio, Maine, Colorado, New York, and the state of Washington.  They  are co-written by experts including Robert Pollin,  Shouvik Chakraborty, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, Tyler Hansen, Gregor Semieniuk, and Jeannette Wicks-Lim.  The series is published by the  Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) University of Massachusetts-Amherst.        

President Biden’s Executive Orders and Keystone XL cancellation – what impact on Canada?

Incoming U.S. President Biden exceeded expectations with the climate change initiatives announced in week 1 of his term, and many have important repercussions for Canada.  The most obvious came on Day 1, January 20, with an Executive Order cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline and taking the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement.  Also of potential impact for the Canadian clean tech and auto industries – the Buy American policies outlined in Executive Order on Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers (Jan. 25). On January 27 ( “Climate Day ”), the Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at home and abroad (explained in this Fact Sheet ) announced a further series of initiatives, including a pause on oil and gas leases on federal lands, a goal to convert the federal government’s vehicle fleet to electric vehicles, and initiatives towards environmental justice and science-based policies. Essential to the “whole of government” approach, the Executive Order establishes the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy to coordinate policies, and a National Climate Task Force composed of leaders from across 21 federal agencies and departments. It also establishes the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, “to be co-chaired by the National Climate Advisor and the Director of the National Economic Council, and directs federal agencies to coordinate investments and other efforts to assist coal, oil and natural gas, and power plant communities.”    

The New York Times summarized the Jan. 27 Orders as “a  sweeping series of executive actions …. while casting the moves as much about job creation as the climate crisis.” A sampling of resulting summaries and reactions: ‘We Need to Be Bold,’ Biden Says, Taking the First Steps in a Major Shift in Climate Policy” in Inside Climate News (Jan. 28); “Fossils ‘stunned’, ‘aghast’ after Biden pauses new oil and gas leases” in The Energy Mix (Feb. 1); “Biden’s “all of government” plan for climate, explained” in Vox (updated Jan. 27) ;  “Biden’s Pause of New Federal Oil and Gas Leases May Not Reduce Production, but It Signals a Reckoning With Fossil Fuels”  (Jan. 27) ; “Biden is canceling fossil fuel subsidies. But he can’t end them all” (Grist, Jan. 28);  “Activists See Biden’s Day One Focus on Environmental Justice as a Critical Campaign Promise Kept”  and  “Climate Groups Begin Vying for Power in the Biden Era as Pressure for Unity Fades” (Jan 21) in The Intercept , which outlines the key policy differences between the BlueGreen Alliance (which includes the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and the United Steelworkers in the U.S.) and  the Climate Justice Alliance, a national coalition of environmental justice groups.

The Narwhal provides an excellent overview of the important issues for Canada in “Biden has hit the ground running on climate and environmental justice. How will Canada respond?

Focus: Cancelling the Keystone XL Pipeline

The January 20 Executive Order halting the Keystone XL pipeline construction was meant to be a highly symbolic break with the previous administration’s policies, as described by Bill McKibben in the New Yorker as “Joe Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline is a landmark in the climate fight” . Inside Climate News wrote “Biden Cancels Keystone XL, Halts Drilling in Arctic Refuge on Day One, Signaling a Larger Shift Away From Fossil Fuels” (Jan. 21).       

In Canada, the Keystone XL cancellation set off a torrent of reactions – with  Alberta’s Premier immediately calling for trade retaliation  – summarized in “‘Gut punch’: Alberta premier blasts Biden on revoked Keystone XL permit” (National Observer, Jan. 20) . The federal government held an Emergency Debate on Keystone on January 25, the first day the House of Commons re-convened after Christmas break. Environmental groups, along with social justice groups, First Nations, and the B.C. Government Employees Union, sent an Open Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and all cabinet ministers on January 26, approving of the Keystone cancellation and stating: “Canada must follow Biden’s lead on Keystone XL and cancel TMX because it directly conflicts with the federal government recently announced climate plan and it does not have permission or consent from affected Indigenous Nations.”  An opposite viewpoint was reported in  “Keystone XL denial will hurt communities, Indigenous business coalition leader says” (National Observer, Jan. 22). Consistent with the past policies of the construction unions in the U.S. and Canada, Canada’s Building Trades Unions issued a press release expressing deep disappointment in lost jobs as a result of the decision – as did their U.S. counterpart the North American Building Trades Union (NABTU) . (The discord amongst unions over pipeline construction has been long-standing and well documented – for example, in Contested Futures: Labor after Keystone XL by Sean Sweeney ( New Labor Forum, 2016.)  

What next for Canada, now that Keystone XL has been cancelled?

CBC reports  “Trudeau government looks to continental energy strategy in wake of Keystone cancellation” (Jan. 27), which summarizes the unimpressive history of international energy initiatives but strikes an optimistic note because of the new Biden administration.  Eric Grenier summarizes the political and public opinion landscape and concludes that “For Trudeau, there’s no political reason to fight for Keystone XL” , and Aaron Wherry expands on that theme in “How political symbolism brought down Keystone XL” (Jan 23). In “Cenovus unveils capital spending plan, confirms up to 2,150 layoffs still targeted” (Jan. 29)  the CEO of Cenovus states that while the Keystone XL pipeline cancellation was a  “tragedy” for the industry, it wouldn’t affect his company’s ability to move oil and that Biden’s pause on oil and gas leasing, “is probably good for the Canadian oilpatch” . The Cenovus layoffs announced are not related to Biden’s policies but come as a result of its takeover of Husky Energy- Cenovus had already announced it would cut 20 to 25 per cent of its combined employee and contractor workforce (approx. 1,720 and 2,150 workers) in October 2020. 

Warren Mabee wrote in The Conversation Canada (Jan.21) “Biden’s Keystone XL death sentence requires Canada’s oil sector to innovate” – (republished in The Narwhal here ) arguing that Canada and Alberta “need to decide if more pipeline capacity is really needed” and “The future of Canada’s oil sector may not be in volume, but in value” – for example, high value-added products such as plastics, rubber and chemicals.   But this is Canada, so pipeline battles will continue: “With Keystone XL cancelled, all eyes turn to Trans Mountain expansion battle” (Ricochet , Jan. 27) and “The cancellation of Keystone XL raises the stakes for Trans Mountain (Globe and Mail Opinion piece, Jan. 26) . David Hughes has written, most recently in October 2020, that the Trans Mountain pipeline capacity is not needed, and on December 8 2020, the Parliamentary Budget Office released a report with the same conclusion. An excellent overview on the status of the Trans Mountain issue appears from the West Coast Environmental Law, and the Dogwood Institute maintains an online petition against TMX here.

Decarbonization requires focus on sector-specific policies and investments: new report

Pathways to net zero: A decision support tool  was released on January 25, directed at policy makers and investors. The report provides a broad-stroke analysis of all sectors of the Canadian economy, summarized in Assessment Tables which identify processes within each sector, classified as “credible”  “capable” or  “compelling” as pathways to net-zero. Priority areas are identified and highlighted in the final recommendation that “Canada needs a paradigm shift from trying to do a little bit of everything to reduce emissions to accelerating real change by strategically focusing on building out key regional and sector-specific pathways to net zero. …This means prioritizing decarbonizing electricity, accelerating electric vehicle deployment and performing mass building retrofits, since these sectors are in the more mature ‘diffusion’ phase of their decarbonization transition.”  

The report also acknowledges the cross-cutting issues of carbon taxes, energy efficiency, and technologies such as carbon capture and storage. Future reports are promised to provide deeper assessments of the additional sectors of hydrogen and biofuel energy; plastics; iron and steel; aluminum; mass transit.  

Pathways to net zero: A decision support tool  is written by lead author Professor James Meadowcroft of Carleton University, and published by the Transition Accelerator in Calgary. The Transition Accelerator launched in summer of 2019 with Building Pathways to a Sustainable Future, a report which summarizes the organization’s goals and its “ transition approach”: partly defined as an examination of “opportunities to transform the large-scale societal systems or sectors which give rise to our emissions. This requires understanding how these systems operate, the stage of transition achieved in specific systems (‘emergence’, ‘diffusion’ or ‘system reconfiguration’), and the non-climate-related problems and disruptive currents influencing their evolution.”  

Other reports to date are compiled here and have focused largely on hydrogen energy and transportation issues.

Survey of oil and gas workers shows little knowledge of energy transition

A report commissioned by international union coalition Industriall examines the geopolitics of fossil fuel producing countries (mainly, the United States, China, Europe and Russia) and the investments and performance of the Oil Majors (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Total, as well as nationally-owned PetroChina, Gazprom and Equinor).  Energy transition, national strategies, and oil companies: what are the impacts for workers? was published in November 2020, with the research updated to reflect the impacts of Covid-19. 

In addition to a thorough examination of state and corporate actions, the report asked union representatives from four oil companies about how workers understand the energy transformation and its impact on their own jobs, and whether the concept of Just Transition has become part of their union’s agenda.     

Some highlights of the responses:

  • “the union members interviewed showed little knowledge about either the risks that the current transition process can generate for the industrial employee, or about the union discussion that seeks to equate the concern with the decarbonisation of the economy with the notions of equity and social justice. In some cases, even the term “Just Transition” was not known to respondents.”
  • Their lack of knowledge regarding the Just Transition can be justified by the fact that they do not believe that there will be any significant change in the energy mix of these companies.
  • Regarding information about energy transitions within the companies, “Managers are included, but the bottom of the work chain is not”
  • Lacking corporate policies or support, some  employees feel compelled to take responsibility for their own re-training

Echoing results of a similar survey of North Sea oil workers in the summer of 2020, published in Offshore: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition, one European respondent is quoted saying: “In the end, everyone is looking for job security, good wages and healthy conditions. It doesn’t matter so much if the job is in another area, as long as it is in good working conditions”.

The researchers conclude that: “Far from being just a statement of how disconnected workers are from environmental issues, these researches reveal a window of opportunity for union movements to act in a better communication strategy with their union members, drawing their attention to the climate issue and transforming their hopes for job stability and better working conditions into an ecologically sustainable political agenda.”

The report was commissioned by Industriall and conducted by the Institute of Strategic Studies of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (Ineep), a research organization created by Brazil’s United Federation of Oil and Gas Workers (FUP). 

How “clean” are clean energy and electric vehicles?

Several articles and reports published recently have re-visited the question: how “clean” is “clean energy”?  Here is a selection, beginning in October 2020 with a multi-part series titled Recycling Clean Energy Technologies , from the Union of Concerned Scientists. It includes: “Wind Turbine blades don’t have to end up in landfill”; “Cracking the code on recycling energy storage batteries“; and “Solar Panel Recycling: Let’s Make It Happen” .

The glaring problem with Canada’s solar sector and how to fix it” (National Observer, Nov. 2020) states that “While solar is heralded as a clean, green source of renewable energy, this is only true if the panels are manufactured sustainably and can be recycled and kept out of landfills.” Yet right now, Canada has no capacity to recycle the 350 tonnes of solar pv waste produced in 2016 alone, let alone the 650,000 tonnes Canada is expected to produce by 2050. The author points the finger of responsibility at Canadian provinces and territories, which are responsible for waste management and extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations. A description of solar recycling and waste management systems in Europe and the U.S. points to better practices.  

No ‘green halo’ for renewables: First Solar, Veolia, others tackle wind and solar environmental impacts” appeared in Utility Drive (Dec. 14)  as a “long read” discussion of progress to uphold environmental and health and safety standards in both the  production and disposal of solar panels and wind turbine blades. The article points to examples of industry standards and third-party certification of consumer goods, such as The Green Electronics Council (GEC) and NSF International. The article also quotes experts such as University of California professor Dustin Mulvaney, author of Solar Power: Innovation, Sustainability, and Environmental Justice (2019) and numerous other articles which have tracked the environmental impact, and labour standards, of the solar energy industry.

Regarding the recycling of wind turbine blades:  A press release on December 8 2020 describes a new agreement between  GE Renewable Energy and Veolia, whereby Veolia will recycle blades removed from its U.S.-based onshore wind turbines by shredding them at a processing facility in Missouri, so that they can be used as a replacement for coal, sand and clay in cement manufacturing.  A broader article appeared in Grist, “Today’s wind turbine blades could become tomorrow’s bridges” (Jan. 8 2021) which notes the GE- Veoli initiative and describes other emerging and creative ways to deal with blade waste, such as the Re-Wind project. Re-Wind is a partnership involving universities in the U.S., Ireland, and Northern Ireland who are engineering ways to repurpose the blades for electrical transmission towers, bridges, and more.  The article also quotes a senior wind technology engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the U.S. who is experimenting with production materials to find more recyclable materials from which to build wind turbine blades in the first place. He states: “Today, recyclability is something that is near the top of the list of concerns” for wind energy companies and blade manufacturers alike …. All of these companies are saying, ‘We need to change what we’re doing, number one because it’s the right thing to do, number two because regulations might be coming down the road. Number three, because we’re a green industry and we want to remain a green industry.’”

These are concerns also top of mind regarding the electric vehicle industry, where both production and recycling of batteries can be detrimental to the planet.  The Battery Paradox: How the electric vehicle boom is draining communities and the planet is a December 2020 report by the Dutch Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO). It reviews the social and environmental impacts of the whole battery value chain, (mining, production, and recycling) and the mining of key minerals used in Lithium-ion batteries (lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite and manganese).  The report concludes that standardization of battery cells, modules and packs would increase recycling rates and efficiency, but ultimately,  “To relieve the pressure on the planet, …. any energy transition strategy should prioritize reducing demand for batteries and cars… Strategies proposed include ride-sharing, car-sharing and smaller vehicles.”

GM and Unifor agreement brings production of electric commercial vans to Ingersoll Ontario

The 1,900 workers at the CAMI auto plant in Ingersoll Ontario had been facing an uncertain future, as production of the Chevrolet Equinox was due to be phased out in 2023. Yet on January 18, 91% of Unifor Local 88 members  voted to ratify a new agreement with General Motors , and as a result, GM will  invest in the large scale production of EV600’s, a zero-emissions, battery-powered commercial van said to be the cornerstone of a new GM business unit called BrightDrop, itself only just unveiled in January at the Computer and Electronics (CES) Trade Show.  

The official Unifor CAMI Agreement Summary provides details of the terms of the three-year CAMI agreement , and includes a GM Product and Investment Commitment Letter. It states:  “the investments described below underscore GM’s commitment to our customers and employees; and are conditional on stable demand, business and market conditions; the ability to continue producing profitably; and the full execution of GMS. Subject to ratification of a tentative 2021 labour agreement reached with Unifor and confirmation of government support, General Motors plans to bring production of its recently announced BrightDrop electric light commercial vehicle (EV600) to CAMI Assembly. In addition, there are other variants of the electric light commercial vehicle program which are currently under study. This investment at CAMI Assembly will enable General Motors to start work immediately and begin production at the plant in 2021, making this the first large scale production of electric vehicles by a major automotive company in Canada. This will support jobs and transform work at the plant over the life of this agreement from the current two shifts of Chevrolet Equinox production to a new focus on the production of the all new EV600 to serve the growing North American market for electric delivery solutions.” GM pledges a total of C$1.0 Billion capital investments for facilities, tools, M&E and supplier tooling. It also states: “…….This investment is contingent upon full acceptance of all elements contained within this Settlement Agreement and the Competitive Operating Agreement.” (which has not been made public).

The GM Canada press release summarizes the recent progress at other GM locations:  “C$1.3 billion Oshawa Assembly Pickup investments; a C$109 million product and C$28 million Renewable Energy Cogeneration project at St. Catharines; a C$170 million investment in an after-market parts operation in Oshawa; expansion of GM’s Canadian Technology Centre including investments in the new 55-acre CTC McLaughlin Advanced Technology Track” in Oshawa. As previously reported in the WCR , Unifor has also negotiated historic agreements to produce electric vehicles in the 2020 Big Three Round of Bargaining. As Heather Scoffield wrote in an Opinion piece in the Toronto Star on January 18, “Never mind pipelines: Ontario automakers are showing us a greener way to create jobs now”.

Principles and best practices for a Just Transition for Canada’s fossil fuel workers

Economist Jim Stanford has written a timely new report which should be required reading for politicians setting their hair on fire about Joe Biden’s stated intention to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project on Day one of his presidency.  Employment Transitions and the Phase-Out of Fossil Fuels, released on January 18, argues that “the actual number of fossil fuel jobs and the number of communities reliant on the industry is small enough that a just and equitable transition plan for workers is very feasible” – and the key is timing.

Stanford’s report begins by setting out the statistics regarding fossil fuel employment in Canada: “under 1% of total payroll employment in Canada (or about 160,000 jobs) is located in seven industrial sectors which together comprise most of the composite fossil fuel industry. “ Using 2016 Census data, the report discusses the distribution of fossil fuel jobs by province and community, showing that Alberta  accounts for 75% of fossil-related jobs in 2016, but even there, only it accounts for  7% of all provincial employment. 18 fossil fuel-dependent communities are named, where fossil fuel jobs account for 9.5% of employment – including two well-known examples, Wood Buffalo/Fort McMurray in Alberta and Estevan in Saskatchewan.  The report continues to compare employment in the fossil fuel industry and in the health care sector, Canada’s largest employer. The aim is not to diminish the importance of fossil fuel employment, but to illustrate that employment possibilities exist in other sectors, even within fossil fuel-reliant communities.

Stanford looks ahead and states: “given weakening global demand for fossil fuels, depressed prices, continued infrastructure constraints, and aggressive cost-cutting by fossil fuel employers (shedding labour to protect profits despite lower energy prices), fossil fuel industries will see continued downsizing of their employment footprint.”   He summarizes the employment transitions of other sectors in Canada’s history, notably fisheries, auto manufacturing, manufacturing – as well as other sectors currently transitioning, including retail, transportation, and newspapers and media, and documents the overall dynamics which are always churning labour markets. All these arguments build to the report’s final section, which is to outline the principles and best practices for planning effective employment and community transitions for the inevitable decline of fossil fuels. 

Principles and Best Practices for Transition

Repeating a point he made in a similar report about Australia, Stanford speaks out for younger workers: “Fossil fuels will disappear as a major source of energy within the foreseeable future. Given that reality, it is unhelpful, and indeed cruel, to encourage more workers – including some just entering the workforce – to try to build their livelihoods in an industry that will soon disappear.”

And further

 “ …in an effective, orderly labour market transition….. Most fossil fuel workers will not end up producing solar panels or windmills; in fact, if we manage this transition effectively, most fossil fuel workers will not need to find new jobs at all. As with the climate itself, the sooner we start this transition, the lower its ultimate costs will be, and the greater its net benefits. Delaying these necessary actions only makes matters worse – including for fossil fuel workers. In this context, statements of supposed “solidarity” with fossil fuel workers expressed by some business leaders and political representatives are entirely dubious. Pretending that fossil fuel industries can carry on as “normal” for decades to come (or worse could actually be expanded) is a cruel hoax.”

Employment Transitions and the Phase-Out of Fossil Fuels  was published by the Centre for Future Work, which is a project of the Australia Institute – which also operates in Canada in collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, housed in the CCPA’s Vancouver office.   The report was commissioned by Environmental Defence Canada, which released its own graphically-enhanced summary version, Steady Path: How a transition to a fossil-free Canada is in reach for workers and their communities . 

Newfoundland government primes the pump with funding for offshore oil ahead of February election

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey has called a  provincial election for February  13 –and according to a CBC report, one reason for the quick timing is to get ahead of the forthcoming Interim Report of the provincially-appointed Provincial Economic Recovery Team (PERT), scheduled for late February. The PERT is also called the Greene team for its chair, Dame Moya Greene, who brings a business background, having previously been head of Britain’s Royal Mail and Canada Post, as well as positions at TD Securities, CIBC and Bombardier. Another CBC article highlights that the economic report is going to be a controversial election issue, and discusses the January withdrawal from the team by Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. Shorthall called the exercise “window dressing” , and stated: “I can say that the lack of transparency, top-down approach, rushed timeline, lack of real collaboration and an overall feeling that not all perspectives were being considered, or appreciated, are the overarching themes for my decision”.  Shortall’s departure is also discussed in an article in The Independent .

Another key election issue is likely to be the role of the oil and gas industry in the Newfoundland economy. The election announcement was preceded by a series of provincial funding announcements: on January 14, a government pledge of  $175 million funding as well as royalty incentives to Suncor to prop up the Terra Nova Offshore oil field; $38 million  for the Hibernia offshore project in December 2020; and $41.5 million for Husky Energy’s  White Rose project – all of which are funded by $320 million of federal funds, announced in September 2020. (Note that Husky Energy laid off workers at one of the worksites just days after the funding was announced) .

On January 12, the  Environment and Climate Change Minister issued his decisions under the Impact Assessment Act, allowing Chevron Canada, Equinor Canada, and BHP Petroleum to drill exploratory wells offshore from St. John’s – although further permits will be required, as explained in this new “Toolkit” regarding the process from the East Coast Environmental Law .  Provincial approval is likely to be forthcoming, given the pro-industry views expressed by the provincial Oil and Gas Recovery Task Force appointed in October 2020 to distribute the federal funding. Reflecting this favourable environment, Equinor announced that it is consolidating its Canadian offices and moving staff from Calgary to St. John’s, according to a Financial Post report (Jan. 12) .

What’s ahead for Canadian climate and energy policy in 2021?

The Canadian government has a full climate change agenda ahead when it reconvenes Parliament on January 25, not the least of which will be the debate and passage of Bill C-12, the Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act , analyzed by the Climate Action Network here.  After its introduction in November, C-12 was criticized for lacking urgency and specific plans – for example, in an article by Warren Mabee in The Conversation which calls for three per cent to four per cent GHG reductions “every year, starting now.”

On December 11, the government  released its latest climate plan,  A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, previously discussed in the WCR and noted primarily for its proposed carbon tax hike to $170 per tonne by 2050. According to  “The good, the bad and the ugly in Canada’s 2030 climate plan” (The National Observer, Jan. 18):  “The good news is that …The government’s recently announced A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy plan contains enough new climate policy proposals that, if implemented, will allow Canada to reach its 2030 target. The bad news is….Climate laws enacted by Canadian politicians to date don’t come anywhere close to meeting our 2030 target. With time running out and a gigantic emissions gap to close, Canada needs to enact climate laws now.”

Clean Fuel Standard, Hydrogen, and Small Nuclear Energy Policies released

On December 19, the government released the long-awaited draft regulations for a Clean Fuel Standard, triggering a 75-day consultation period, with final regulations expected in 2021, to take effect in 2022.   According to the government Q&A  website, the new regulations differ from previous drafts in that they apply only to liquid fossil fuels : gasoline, diesel and oil.  Producers and importers of fossil fuels will be required to reduce their carbon content by 2.6% by 2022 and by 13% by 2030 over 2016 levels.  Clean Energy Canada compiled the reactions of several environmental groups here .  The Pembina Institute called the regulations “both fair and cost-effective” in a press release reaction.  Their report , The Clean Fuel Standard: Setting the Record Straight (Nov. 2020) stated: “ The Clean Fuel Standard is expected to create as many as 30,000 jobs as new clean fuel facilities are built, supplied and operated. While some job losses could result from choices made under the CFS, robust modelling shows a net gain for Canadian workers: Energy-economic modelling suggests the CFS will yield a net employment gain resulting in between 17,000 and 24,000 additional jobs.” These projections are taken from on a technical analysis, conducted by Navius and EnviroEconomics consultants before the switch in scope to liquid fossil fuels only.  

Next, on December 16, the Minister of Natural Resources Canada released A Hydrogen Strategy for Canada: Seizing the Opportunities A Call to Action, another long-awaited strategy document which is the result of three years of study, analysis, and consultations, along with collaboration with industry associations: the Transition Accelerator, the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (CHFCA), the Canadian Gas Association, and others . The report states that the government will now establish a Strategic Steering Committee, with several targeted task teams, to implement recommendations.  Key highlights of the Hydrogen Strategy are here; the government’s Hydrogen website is here . 

From page 86, a glimpse into the thinking behind the report:

“The energy transition will fundamentally shift the Canadian economy and alter value chains in many related sectors. One shift of particular importance is the transition away from the direct burning of fossil fuels without carbon abatement. Canada’s energy sector accounted for 900,000 direct and indirect jobs as of 2017, with assets valued at $596 billion . This industry’s significant energy expertise and infrastructure can be leveraged to support the development of the future hydrogen economy in Canada. Hydrogen will be critical to achieving a net-zero transformation for oil and natural gas industries. It provides an opportunity to leverage our valuable energy and infrastructure assets, including fossil fuel reserves and natural gas pipelines, providing a pathway to avoid underutilizing or stranding these assets in a 2050 carbon neutral future. Leveraging these valuable assets will not only be instrumental in achieving the projected economic growth for the domestic market, but also presents the opportunity for Canada to position to become a leading global clean fuels exporter.”

Regarding regulatory changes, the report states: “Policies and regulations that encourage the use of hydrogen technologies include low carbon fuel regulations, carbon pollution pricing, vehicle emissions regulations, zero emission vehicle mandates, creation of emission-free zones, and renewable gas mandates in natural gas networks. Mechanisms to help de-risk investments for endusers to adapt to regulations are also needed.”  There is no mention of training or transition policies, although the report  forecasts a  job creation potential for hydrogen which might reach more than 350,000 jobs in 2050 at the upper end  – “a combination of new job growth and retrained and reskilled labour”. (pages 85 and 86).  

 An article in The National Observer discusses the strategy, the state of hydrogen initiatives in Alberta , and reaction of environmental groups, including a quote from  Environmental Defence, saying: “…. “a focus on fossil hydrogen only serves the interests of the oil and gas sector as they seek to create new markets for their products.” Similarly, Clean Energy Canada released a statement saying, “Canada’s long-awaited federal hydrogen strategy … falls short of what some other nations have put forward in terms of investment and ambition.”   A New Hope, published in October 2020, fleshes out Clean Energy Canada’s recommendations about hydrogen in Canada.

Finally, on December 18, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources released a national Small Nuclear Reactor Action Plan (SMR) , which responds to the 53 recommendations identified in Canada’s SMR Roadmap from November 2018. The list of organizations endorsing the SMR Agenda reflects the entrenched “who’s who” of Canada’s “ 75-year nuclear energy heritage.”  Each of these organizations – governments, public utilities, Indigenous groups, and unions, contributed a chapter to the Plan – available here. Individual endorsements include: the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; The International Union of Operating Engineers ; Power Workers Union – which highlights the pending closure of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station in 2025 and the need to transition that workforce; and the National Electrical Trade Council (NETCO) a workforce development organization for Red Seal electrical trades in Canada, jointly led by  the Canadian Electrical Contractors Association (CECA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) .

81% of carbon captured to date used in Enhanced Oil Recovery according to new report

Canada’s newly-released climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy   (Dec. 2020)  states that one of the government’s objectives is to: “Develop a comprehensive carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) strategy and explore other opportunities to help keep Canada globally competitive in this growing industry.” As a  clue to where that is going, the government also states: “The broad range of compliance strategies allowed under the proposed Clean Fuel Standard will give fossil fuel suppliers the flexibility to choose the lowest cost compliance actions available. The same compliance strategies that will support the Clean Fuel Standard will also ensure Canada becomes a leader in carbon capture, utilization and storage, hydrogen production, and other technologies that will allow Canada to extract energy from its resources while significantly reducing and eventually eliminating carbon pollution.”  The government is no doubt influenced by such views as those in the energy-industry Public Policy Forum, which calls for a favourable regulatory environment in Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage – The Time is Now (July 2020). (this report is mainly focused on energy industry applications but also discusses decarbonization of industrial processes briefly).

A December report commissioned and released by Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness focuses only on energy industry applications, and comes to a different conclusion. A Review of the Role of Fossil Fuel Based Carbon Capture and Storage in the Energy System concludes that carbon capture and storage systems will not be as effective in reducing GHG emissions as would  ramped up renewable energy generation and  energy efficiency measures. Further, the authors state that “2030 emissions reduction targets are being set up to fail due to the huge emphasis placed on CCS.”  The authors, from the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, highlight three main barriers to success: prohibitive costs;  time to reach commercial scale;  and the residual emissions from CCS, especially methane. Canada’s Boundary Dam coal-fired power plant in Saskatchewan is discussed, and cited as an example of prohibitive costs, with capital costs of approximately US$455 million and a capture cost of US$100 per tonne of CO2.  The report notes that there are just 26 operational CCS plants in the world, and significant scale is not forecast until at least 2030.  And the authors state that 81% of carbon captured to date has been used for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) – a process which pumps captured carbon underground to push previously unreachable fossil fuels up for extraction, extending the life of oil fields.  This contributes to the problem of CCS-linked emissions of carbon dioxide and methane .

A Review of the Role of Fossil Fuel Based Carbon Capture and Storage in the Energy System is summarized in an Executive Summary and by the Climate News Network . The International Energy Agency has released a number of reports related to CCUS , most recently Special Report on Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage; CCUS in clean energy transitions.  Another source of information is the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute which maintains a database of information and advocates for CCUS adoption in its publications.  

Global Just Transition case studies from a trade union viewpoint

Just Transition: Putting planet, people and jobs first” is the theme of a special issue of Equal Times, published in December 2020. The compilation of articles provides a trade union point of view  to describe the just transition experiences in Bangladesh, Tunisia, Argentina, and Senegal, as well as the more frequently cited experiences in Spain and Scotland.  The complete Special Issue is here , and was supported financially by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

Although Spain’s 2018 agreement regarding coal transition is well known, this article is a welcome English-language text, translated from the original Spanish version written by Spanish journalist María José Carmona. Another useful English text on the topic is The Just Transition Strategy within the Strategic Energy and Climate Framework, translated and published by the Spanish government in 2019.  And an earlier report from the Central Confederation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) provides brief summaries of Spanish and other Just Transition frameworks, in A Fair Climate Policy for Workers: Implementing a just transition in various European countries and Canada (2019). It covers Germany, Spain, France, The Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, and Canada in a brief 32 pages.

A Just and fair transition from fossil fuels in Australia

In a new report published in December by the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute, author Jim Stanford argues that Australia’s labour market could transition away from fossil fuel jobs without involuntary layoffs or severe disruption to communities—if governments plan a fair transition which includes: a clear, long-term timeline, measures to facilitate inter-industry mobility and voluntary severance as fossil fuels are phased-out, and generous retraining and diversification policies. Fossil fuel jobs, though only 1% of jobs in Australia, have higher than average compensation, so in order to be attractive, alternative jobs must have decent compensation, stable hours and tenure, and collective representation.  Employment aspects of the transition from fossil fuels in Australia echoes a recent New York Times article about the career disappointment of young oil and gas workers, with this: 

“Far from being ‘supportive’ of fossil fuel workers by attempting to disrupt and delay appropriate climate transitions, in fact is does them a great disservice to pretend that these industries have a long-term viable future. It seems a cruel hoax to encourage young workers to begin their careers in industries with an inevitably short time horizon. It would be more compassionate and honest to give fossil fuel workers (both current and prospective) fair notice of the changes coming, and support them in building careers in occupations and industries that are ultimately more promising.”    

 Author Jim Stanford, formerly with Canada’s Unifor union, now splits his time between Canada and Sydney, where he is director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work. He and the Centre are profiled in “The People’s Economist” in the Australian magazine In the Black. This research was commissioned by Australian health care industry super fund HESTA.

Climate Change Accountability Report shows rising emissions – B.C. government announces new GHG reduction targets

The government of British Columbia issued a press release on December 15 2020,   announcing new carbon reduction targets and the release of the first-ever Climate Change Accountability Report , highlighting progress on the CleanBC action plan.  From the press release: “The new emission target requires greenhouse gases in B.C. to be 16% below 2007 levels by 2025. It provides a benchmark on the road to B.C.’s legislated emission targets for 2030, 2040 and 2050 of 40%, 60% and 80% below 2007 levels, respectively. The Province will also set sectoral targets, which will be established before March 31, 2021, and will develop legislation to ensure B.C. reaches net-zero emissions by 2050.”

“Climate Change Accountability Report discloses that B.C. carbon emissions rose three percent in 2018” in The Straight  (Dec. 16) highlights some findings which the government downplayed – for example,  in 2018, “Gross emissions reached 67.9 million tonnes. That’s up a whopping 7.3 million tonnes from 2010, which went unremarked in the report.” The article also quotes from an interview with Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman, pointing out that “Heyman also admitted that the government has never done any modelling of carbon emissions that goes beyond LNG Canada’s phase one portion of its plant in Kitimat.”

The response by the Sierra Club B.C. summarized the reactions of environmental advocacy groups, which commended the government for the transparency of the Climate Accountability Report, while criticizing the fossil-friendly policies which have led to missed GHG reduction targets.   Reiterating the long-standing criticisms over LNG, notably, by David Hughes of the CCPA-B.C in a July 2020 report,   the Sierra Club B.C. states: “It is clear that if we continue to allow the growth of oil and gas extraction in this province we won’t ever be able to get climate pollution under control” …. “The sooner we begin a serious conversation about the transition away from fracking and all other forms of fossil fuels, the less disruptive and painful the transition will be for workers, our communities, and the most vulnerable among us.”

The Pembina Institute calls the report  “sobering” and “a much-needed wake-up call”, while calling for improvements.  “The report is inconsistent in its provision of details, which makes it difficult to assess whether or not climate programs should be continued, enhanced, redesigned, or replaced to effectively and efficiently make progress to targets. For a fulsome picture of climate progress, we expect future accountability reports to provide more clarity. We need to see the emissions reductions achieved to date by specific programs; annual budget allocations for programs and the corresponding (anticipated) emissions reductions; how the government has acted on the advice of the Climate Solutions Council; and what course corrections will be made to meet our climate targets. Once interim and sector-specific targets are established, the report should evaluate progress against these goals as well.”

British Columbia as part of the myth of eco-friendly Cascadia

Getting to Zero: Decarbonizing Cascadia  is a new investigative series launched on January 11 with an article published in The Tyee under the title “Cascadia Was Poised to Lead on Climate. Can It Still?”.  (At the InvestigateWest website, the same article appeared as “A Lost Decade: How climate action fizzled in Cascadia”) . It documents the rise of GHG emissions in the jurisdictions which compose Cascadia: British Columbia and the states of Washington and Oregon. The article summarizes political developments, summarizes the development of carbon taxes, and argues that weak decarbonization policies  – especially in the transportation sector- are behind the failure to reduce emissions. “Between full economic recovery in 2012 and 2018, the most recent reporting year, California and Cascadia both booked a robust 26 percent increase in GDP. Over that period California drove its annual emissions down by more than 5 percent. Washington’s emissions —and Cascadia’s as a whole — ballooned by over 7 percent.”   According to the article, for the period 2012 to 2018, “vehicle emissions had ballooned by over 10% in Washington and Oregon and more than 29% in BC (in contrast California’s grew only 5% during that period.)”

From the article:

“So why is environmentally-conscious Cascadia stuck in first gear? The consensus answer from experts and activists interviewed by InvestigateWest: a shortage of political will. The region has been beset by partisan wrangling, fear of job losses, disagreements over how to ensure equity for already polluted and marginalized communities, and misinformation obscuring the full potential of well-documented solutions. “The constraining factor has always been political feasibility, not economic feasibility,” says political economist and energy modeling expert Mark Jaccard, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC, and a former chair of the British Columbia Utilities Commission.”

The series Getting to Zero: Decarbonizing Cascadia  is the result of a  year-long reporting initiative led by InvestigateWest, in partnership with Grist, Crosscut, The Tyee, the South Seattle Emerald, The Evergrey, and Jefferson Public Radio.  It will run throughout 2021, aiming to document and analyse the political and economic forces and barriers to climate action in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, generally perceived as one of the most eco-friendly regions in the world.

Colorado Office of Just Transition defers actions for worker protection in new Final Action Plan

In 2019, the State of Colorado established the first state-level Office of Just Transition (OJT)  through House Bill 19-1314 .  As required by that legislation, the OJT  submitted its final Just Transition Action Plan on December 31, 2020, based largely on the Draft Plan submitted by its Just Transition Advisory Committee (JTAC)  in August 2020.  (The structure, mandate, and documentation from the consultation process are  accessible here; an excellent summary is provided by the State press release here .

The December Just Transition Action Plan offers discussion and strategy recommendations organized in three sections: communities; workers; and financing. The estimated cost is $100 million, and the time frame calls for actual closures to finish in 2030. (Perhaps the leisurely schedule will be reviewed in light of events: the Denver Post reported on January 4 that Xcel- Energy announced it will close its Hayden coal plant significantly earlier than planned –  beginning in 2027).  The December Action Plan strategies are dominated by concerns for communities, with six detailed strategies outlined. Recognizing that some communities are more dependent on coal than others, and that average wages are also different across communities, the plan designates four communities as priority Tier One communities, and others as Tier Two communities, as defined in an Appendix. The Hayden plant is located in a Tier One community.

Actions for workers’ benefits, environmental justice are deferred 

Regarding workers, there are 3 action strategies. The Just Transition Advisory Committee made recommendations to provide displaced workers with  temporary benefits related to “wage and health differential” and “wage and health replacement” in  the Draft Plan in August, but the final Plan states: “too much uncertainty remains around cost and scalability for us to feel comfortable advancing this recommendation — especially in the midst of the COVID pandemic and resulting economic downturn.” Instead, the Office for Just Transition:  “will drive a serious process to gain more certainty about costs, scalability, potential sources of funding, and possible alternatives at the state level. And we will engage a broad range of stakeholders in a dialogue about whether the State should implement such a strategy — and how it might do so.” This includes discussions with coal-related employers regarding their willingness to provide severance and retirement benefits.

This Plan also discusses and ultimately deflects and defers responsibility for the environmental justice concerns expressed in the 2019 enabling legislation  , which recognized “a moral commitment” to “the disproportionately impacted communities who have borne the costs of coal power pollution for decades”. This December Plan states: “we agree with the JTAC that these issues are best addressed in that broader context, which is why we are following its suggestion that OJT participate actively in emerging interagency efforts — led largely by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — rather than creating our own independent (and potentially isolated) approach….. OJT will continue to rely on the advice of the Disproportionately Impacted Communities subcommittee of the JTAC, and it will play as active a role as possible in broader interagency efforts. As with our work on behalf of transition communities and workers, this is a long-term challenge to which we make a long-term commitment.”

The final report is summarized in an article in The Colorado Sun , which emphasizes the explicit goal for the Office of Just Transition to “Encourage the federal government to lead with a national strategy for energy transition workers”.  This is perhaps thanks to the leadership of Dennis Dougherty, Chair of the Colorado Just Transition Advisory Committee, Executive Director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, and through them, a representative to the National Economic Transition project – a grassroots organization of representatives from U.S. coal communities.  That ongoing project released a National Economic Transition Platform in the summer of 2020 .

Landmark New York State divestment will begin with Canadian oil sands investments

The New York State Comptroller’s office announced on December 9 that it will begin a systematic review of the holdings of the New York State Common Retirement Fund in early 2021, with the ultimate goal to achieve decarbonization of all investments by 2040. The New York State Common Retirement Fund is the third largest pension fund in the U.S., valued at $226 billion, and provides retirement benefits for 1.1 million state and municipal workers.

The review will examine all investment holdings over a period of four years, beginning with what are judged the riskiest – oil sands investments such as Imperial Oil, Canadian Natural Resources, Husky Energy, Suncor Energy, and Cenovus Energy –  followed by companies in oil and gas, fracking, oil services and pipelines.   Details of the companies to be reviewed are in a Backgrounder by Divest NY; details are also provided in the press release from the Comptroller’s Office.  As described in  “New York State Just Set a New Standard for Fossil Fuel Divestment”  in Gizmodo:  “With the state of New York and New York City now ready to divest, it puts enormous pressure on polluting companies. As the beating heart of capital, the city and state’s pension funds—which together total around $500 billion—no longer going to fossil fuels sends a huge signal to Wall Street and the fossil fuel industry. But it also turns up the heat on other institutional investors, notably California’s pension funds, which are the largest in the nation, to catch up.”

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and divestment leader, wrote an Opinion piece in the New York TimesYou should have listened, New York Tells Big Oil” . McKibben characterizes this divestment decision as a victory in an 8-year battle, and the latest development in the declining economic and political power of Big Oil.

U.K. launches Green Jobs Taskforce aiming for 2 million green jobs by 2030

The Climate Ambition Summit on December 12  marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, to be co-hosted by the U.N. and the United Kingdom and France. In advance of the Summit, the U.K. has made high-profile announcements, including A Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution (Nov. 18),which aims for  the creation of 250,000 green jobs, and on December 3, an announcement that it will  reduce greenhouse gas emissions “by the fastest rate of any major economy” – with an ambitious new target of at least 68% reduction compared to 1990 emissions levels, by 2030.

Green Jobs Taskforce

Receiving less attention was another announcement on November 12: the launch of a Green Jobs Taskforce. The press release  announces that the Taskforce sets “ a clear ambition to support 2 million green jobs by 2030 ….. to set the direction for the job market as we transition to a high-skill, low carbon economy.” The Green Jobs Taskforce met for the first time on November 12 under the leadership of the Minister of Business, Clean Energy and Growth, and the Minister of Skills; it includes representation from workers ( the TUC Deputy General Secretary), as well as representatives from business and the skills sector. Specifically, the Taskforce is meant to “focus on the immediate and longer-term challenges of delivering skilled workers for the UK’s transition to net zero”:

  1. Ensuring we have the immediate skills needed for building back greener, such as in offshore wind and home retrofitting.
  2. Developing a long-term plan that charts out the skills needed to help deliver a net zero economy.
  3. Ensuring good quality green jobs and a diverse workforce.
  4. Supporting workers in high carbon transitioning sectors, like oil and gas, to retrain in new green technologies.”

Reaction from the Greener Jobs Alliance (GJA) points out the discrepancy between the 250,000 jobs target in the Ten Point Plan and the 2 million jobs discussed in the Taskforce announcement.  GJA also calls for:

  • “a skills policy that is properly funded and built on a long-term strategy of quality apprenticeships and upskilling of the current and future workforce
  •  co-ordinated local, regional, national and sector frameworks in the development of jobs for the future
  • full union engagement in policy development and delivery to ensure a just transition at different levels and sectors of the economy
  • introduction of a legal right to appoint trade union green reps in the workplace.
  • restoration of support for the Unionlearn fund
  • comprehensive changes to procurement and supply chain policies to ensure the potential for local employment growth is maximised, and that is based on union recognition and decent terms and conditions of employment
  • a Green New Deal which supports local recovery models as part of an industrial strategy that is clearly aligned with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Closure of Australia’s Hazelwood coal-fired station: a case study 3 years after

After the Hazelwood coal fired power station closure: Latrobe Valley regional transition policies and outcomes 2017-2020  is a Working Paper published in November by the Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, in Australia . Although the paper is a detailed case study, the findings are summarized by the authors thus: “Prior to its sudden closure in March 2017, Hazelwood was the most carbon-intensive electricity generator in Australia. The debate over the future of Hazelwood became an icon in the nation’s ongoing political struggle over climate and energy policy. Employment and economic outcomes in the three years since closure indicate promising initial progress in creating the foundations required to facilitate an equitable transition to a more prosperous and sustainable regional economy. The Hazelwood case study provides support for a number of propositions about successful regional energy transition including that well managed, just transitions to a prosperous zero-carbon economy are likely to be strengthened by proactive, well integrated industry policy and regional renewal strategies; respectful and inclusive engagement with workers and communities; and adequately funded, well-coordinated public investment in economic and community strategies, tailored to regional strengths and informed by local experience.”

Corresponding author John Wiseman, along with co-author Frank Jotzo, previously wrote Coal transition in Australia: an overview of issues ( 2018). Jotzo was also a co-author on Closures of coal-fired power stations in Australia: local unemployment effects (2018).  Their latest 2020 Working paper offers a thorough list of references to Australia’s Just Transition literature.

Parliamentary Budget Office repeats the message: TransMountain pipeline is inconsistent with Canada’s zero emissions target

A Report from the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) released on December 8  examines the financial viability of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, and includes updated employment and economic impact forecasts.  The press release summarizes the findings, including that the Trans Mountain pipeline has increased in value from $4.4 billion when the federal government purchased it in 2018, to $5 billion, using net present value calculations. However, that value is conditional on global demand for oil, on construction delays and costs, and – the crux of the matter –  “the profitability of the Trans Mountain assets is highly contingent on the climate policy stance of the federal government. Consistent with modelling from the Canada Energy Regulator (CER), if policy action on climate change continues to become more stringent, it is possible for the Trans Mountain assets to have a negative net present value.” In other words, as 350.org  says:  “two government agencies have said the exact same thing. The Canada Energy Regulator and the Parliamentary Budget Officer have made it clear that Trudeau has to choose between building Trans Mountain and confronting the climate emergency. It’s past time that Trudeau was honest: does he want to build a pipeline or tackle the climate crisis? He simply can’t do both.”  (The 350.org sign-on online campaign is here ; B.C.’s Dogwood Institute also has an online petition to Chrystia Freedland to Rethink TransMountain)

Discussion of the PBO report appears in the National Observer in “Budget officer provokes fresh round of suspicion over Trans Mountain profitability” (Dec. 9) , and in The Energy Mix  and the CBC .

New coalition urges legislative changes to counter environmental racism

Canada’s Big Chances to Address Environmental Racism” appeared in The Tyee on November 26. The “Big Chances” referred to are three legislative initiatives for Canada, all of which were recommended in the September 2020 Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics, which stated, “Environmental injustice persists in Canada. A significant proportion of the population in Canada experience racial discrimination, with Indigenous, and racialized people, the most widely considered to experience discriminatory treatment.”

The three recommended initiatives :

  1. Recognition of the right to a healthy environment:  as recognized in more than 150 countries, and under consideration as part of the modernization of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.  
  2. Implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:  includes the recognition of Indigenous legal systems and free, prior and informed consent for resource projects on Indigenous land. On December 3, the federal government introduced Bill C-15 An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples .   A dedicated website provides a summary of the provisions, including the fact that the new legislation, if passed, would not impose any retroactive Duty to Consult.
  3. Private member’s  Bill C-230, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy to redress environmental racism, first introduced by Member of Parliament Lenore Zann in the House of Commons on February 26 2020.  Second Reading occurred on December 8, with a substantive debate, transcribed here, but without a vote. A summary of Bill C-230, as well as bilingual resources for a social media and letter-writing campaign, are offered at the ENRICH project website.

The article in The Tyee was co-written by representatives of a new Canadian coalition which seeks to raise awareness and funds which can be used to support existing agencies fighting environmental racism. These groups include the Black Environmental Initiative, Amnesty International Canada , the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, and the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities & Community Health (ENRICH) project at Dalhousie University. Another member of the coalition is Professor Dayna Scott, who submitted this Brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development in 2016 during its review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Read more about the new coalition in “Dalhousie University professor forming coalition to address environmental racism across Canada” in the Halifax Chronicle Herald (Dec. 1)  or in Saltwire .  

Fall Economic Statement paves the way for a Green Recovery: energy efficiency, care economy, electric vehicle infrastructure, and nature-based solutions

On November 30, Canada’s  Finance Minister Chrystia Freedland presented the government’s Fall Economic Statement to the House of Commons, Supporting Canadians and Fighting COVID-19.  At over 200 pages, it is the fullest statement to date of how the government intends to finance a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, but Canadians must still wait for a full  climate change strategy, promised “soon”.

The government press release summarizes the spending for health and economic measures, including, for employers, extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy Canada, the  Emergency Rent Subsidy and Lockdown Support , and new funding for the  tourism and hospitality sectors through the new Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program.  In Chapter 3, Building Back Better,  the Economic Statement addresses the impacts of Covid-19 on the labour market and employment. It includes promises to create one million jobs, invest in skills training, reduce inequality, attack systemic racism, support families through early learning and child care, support youth, and build a competitive green economy.  Most budget allocations will be channeled through existing programs, but new initiatives include “the creation of a task force of diverse experts to help develop “an Action Plan for Women in the Economy”;  launch of “Canada’s first-ever Black Entrepreneurship Program”;  and a task force on modernizing the Employment Equity Act to promote equity in federally-regulated workplaces.  Under the heading, “Better working conditions for the care Economy” comes a pledge: “To support personal support workers, homecare workers and essential workers involved in senior care, the government will work with labour and healthcare unions, among others, to seek solutions to improve retention, recruitment and retirement savings options for low- and modest-income workers, particularly those without existing workplace pension coverage.”

Climate change provisions and a Green Recovery:

Another section in Chapter 3 is entitled A Competitive, Green Economy, which  reiterates the government’s commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and reiterates the importance of the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, currently before Parliament. Funding of  $2.6 billion over 7 years was announced to go towards grants of up to $5000 for homeowners to make energy-efficient improvements to their homes, and to recruit and train EnerGuide energy auditors. A further $150 million over 3 years was announced for charging and refuelling stations for zero-emissions vehicles, and  $25 million for “ predevelopment work for large-scale transmission projects. Building strategic interties will support Canada’s coal phase-out.

Under the heading of Nature-based solutions, proposed investments address the goal of 2 billion trees planted with a pledge of  $3.19 billion over 10 years, starting in 2021-22.  A further $631 million over 10 years is pledged for ecosystem restoration and wildlife protection, and $98.4 million over 10 years, starting in 2021-22, to establish a new “Natural Climate Solutions for Agriculture” Fund.

Reactions from unions, think tanks:

Among those reacting quickly to the Economic Statement, the Canadian Labour Congress  stated generally  “While today’s commitments on key priorities remain modest and reflect past promises, the government has signalled it will make further investments as the recovery begins to take shape.” Unifor issued two press releases, the first stating “This fiscal update shows that Canada’s workers are being heard, and must continue to advocate for the lasting changes required to secure a fair, resilient and inclusive economic recovery”, but a second complains “Canada’s fiscal update fails to support all airline workers .  The Canadian Union of Public Employees similarly issued two statements on December 1:  “Liberals’ economic update offers more delay and disappointment”  and “Canada’s flight attendants union disappointed by the federal economic update” .

Bruce Campbell reacted in The Conversation (Dec. 7)  that “The pace of government action to date does not align with the urgency of the twin climate and inequality crises. Nothing it has done so far is threatening to the corporate plutocracy and its hold on power.”   Several experts from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives contributed to a blog,  A fiscal update for hard times: Is it enough?”, with the answer from Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood re the climate change provisions : “Planting trees, retrofitting buildings and increasing ZEV uptake doesn’t go far enough without a clear timeline for winding down oil and gas production.”  Climate Action Network-Canada agrees with Mertins-Kirkwood when it states: “ today’s update includes a summary of new and existing spending that we hope will provide an important foundation for Canada’s new national climate plan that we expect in the coming weeks.  ….As part of a larger package, along with Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, and the pending new national climate plan, today’s fiscal update provides the backbone to guide Canada through some of the most important global transitions in generations.”

Other reactions:  “Feds’ fall economic statement shortchanges climate” (Corporate Knights, Dec. 2) quotes one observer who calls it  a “meek” effort, and offers a comparison of  the allocations in the Fall statement with earlier proposals from Corporate Knights  and the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery in September . The Energy Mix also cites the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery in its analysis of  the energy efficiency provisions of the Economic Statement , stating, : “the  recommended by C$2.6 billion allocated for a seven-year program raises questions about how seriously the Trudeau government is prepared to confront the climate crisis. In mid-September, the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery called for a $26.9-billion program over five years.”

Costs of climate change in Canada go beyond wildfires and floods: a call for urgent action to build resiliency

 The Tip of the Iceberg: Navigating the Known and Unknown Costs of Climate Change in Canada was released on December 3 by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, providing eye-popping evidence of the damage of climate change. Using data from the Canadian Disaster Database (CDD) and the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) – (provided graphically here ) –  the report states that insured losses for catastrophic weather events in Canada totalled over $18 billlion between 2010 and 2019, with the Fort McMurray wildfire of 2016 the largest single weather-related insurance loss event in Canadian history, with nearly $4 billion in insured losses and broader costs of almost $11 billion when property, infrastructure, business interruption, and other indirect economic losses are included.  The report also notes the growing trends: the number of catastrophic events has more than tripled since the 1980s, and the average cost per weather-related disaster has soared by 1,250 per cent since the 1970s.

The main message of this report is directed at policy-makers, and goes beyond costing out the catastrophic losses. It warns that other types of climate change damages are more gradual and less dramatic in extreme events, and that Canada lags the U.S. and other OECD countries in assessing the overall and complex impacts of climate change. The report hearkens back to 2011 as the  last examination of the broad range of national costs to Canada, in Paying the Price: The Economic Impacts of Climate Change for Canada, a report by the now-defunct National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, archived in the ACW Digital Library .

The main message of the report appears in this 6-page Executive summary , in the three over-aching recommendations, and in these selected quotes:

 “The imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions tends to dominate the debate over Canada’s progress in addressing climate change. Yet, as a climate solution, adaptation—ensuring human and natural systems can adjust to the spectrum of effects of climate change— will have a critical impact on the well-being and prosperity of all who live in Canada in the decades ahead. Current adaptation policies and investments in Canada fall far short of what is needed to address the known risks of climate change, let alone those that are still unclear and unknown. This has to change…..

……It’s essential to transition from a state of ad hoc responses to a changing climate and weather-related disasters to one of building resilience. This includes continual learning about what works, what doesn’t, and how to plan for uncertainty. Instead of waiting for more information, the uncertainty inherent in climate change requires acting decisively on what we already know while also developing improved foresight.”

 

The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices intends to follow up from The Tip of the Iceberg with other reports over the next two years, focused on health, infrastructure, macroeconomics and the North.

 

Updated Net-zero strategy for Greening Canadian government operations includes work from home provision

The Treasury Board of Canada released a statement on November 26, updating the Greening Government Strategy  which governs operations and procurement by the federal government. Because the government is the largest owner of real property in Canada and the largest public purchaser of goods and services (more than $20 billion in 2019), the strategy promises to make an actual impact on GHG emissions, as well as provide a model strategy for Crown Corporations and other employers.  According to the press release, “the new strategy includes, for the first time, commitments to achieve net-zero emissions from national safety and security (NSS) fleet, green procurement and employee commuting. In addition, Crown Corporations are being encouraged to adopt the Greening Government Strategy or an equivalent strategy of their own that includes a net-zero by 2050 target.”

The full Green Government Strategy is here , and includes goals for buildings and retrofits, clean energy, waste management, water, as well as employee engagement and transparent reporting of GHG emissions reductions. Highlighted changes below come under the heading “Mobility”, and  will impact employee commuting, work-from-home, and business travel:

  • The Centre will encourage employees to use low-carbon forms of transportation to reduce emissions from employee commuting and will track these emissions by the 2021 to 2022 fiscal year.
  • The government will facilitate opportunities for flexible work arrangements, such as remote work, by enabling remote computing telecommunications and by supporting information technology (IT) solutions.
  • The government will promote and incentivize lower-carbon alternatives to work-related air travel. Departments will contribute to the Greening Government Fund (GGF) based on their air travel emissions.  The GGF aims to incentivize lower-carbon alternatives to government operations by providing project funding to federal government departments and agencies to reduce GHG emissions in their operations.
  • Emissions from other travel related to operations, such as major events hosted and ministerial travel, may be offset by departments.
  • Purchase of carbon offsets for events, conferences and travel may also be used as an eligible expense for grants and contribution program recipients.
  • Regarding vehicle fleets, 75% per cent of new light-duty unmodified fleet vehicle purchases will be zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) or hybrids, with the objective that the government’s light-duty fleet comprises at least 80% ZEVs by 2030. Priority is to be given to purchasing ZEVs.
  • All new executive vehicle purchases will be ZEVs or hybrids.

An update of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory of emissions from federal operations was also released, showing a decrease of 34% from 2005 levels from real property and conventional fleet operations.  The details from the Inventory are here .

More detailed information about each of the priorities is available from the Greening Government Centre website. 

 

Canada’s legislation for net-zero emissions lacks urgency and enforcement mechanisms

On November 19, Canada’s Environment Minister introduced Bill C-12,  the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act in the House of Commons.  If passed, it would establish in law the already-promised national net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target for 2050, and require the Minister to establish a national greenhouse gas emissions target and plan for 2030 within six months of the Act coming into force. Requirements for public consultation and progress reports are included, along with a provision for an advisory body which would also be required to conduct “engagement activities”.  A summary of provisions appears in the government’s press release and in press reports from the CBC and  the Toronto Star . Initial reactions to the legislation abound on Twitter, mostly noting that  2030 is a disappointingly slow first target date. In an article in Behind the Numbers, Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood calls the legislation “much ado about nothing” , and says “the bill’s failure to require a new emissions reduction target before 2030 means the federal government can continue delaying the kinds of transformational climate policies we require to meet the scale of the climate change threat. A new 2025 target would have put real pressure onto the present government rather than shirking responsibility to a future one.”  Legal group Ecojustice  calls the legislation “a significant first step” , and West Coast Environmental Law calls the legislation a “critical juncture for Canada”.   WCELpledges to work towards improving the Bill  in the course of the parliamentary debate…. “to be effective, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act will need to prioritize immediate climate action by setting a 2025 target, and ensure that all the targets we set are as ambitious as possible. It also needs stronger requirements to ensure those targets are actually met.”

The House of Commons website here will link to the Debates on Bill C-12, and chronicle its passage through the legislature. Already, the new Leader of the Green Party, Annamie Paul, has issued a reaction titled, A failure of leadership: Government’s climate bill squanders “the opportunity of a lifetime” for a green economic recovery Former leader Elizabeth May is quoted in the same press release saying “Having worked on the climate issue for over thirty years, watching one government after another kick the problem down the road, today is the tragic low-point. The window on holding to a livable climate will close, forever, before this legislation holds anyone to account.”

Wind and solar PV will surpass coal and natural gas by 2024, according to latest IEA forecast

The International Energy Agency released another of its flagship reports in November: Renewables 2020: Analysis and Forecast to 2025.  This comprehensive report focuses in turn on each of: renewable electricity, renewable heat, solar pv, wind, Hydropower, bioenergy, CSP and geothermal, and transport bioenergy.  Overall, the report forecasts global energy demand is set to decline by 5% in 2020, and although all other fuels will decline, overall renewable energy demand will increase by 1%, and renewables used for generating electricity will grow by almost 7% in 2020.  The report provides statistics and comments on the impacts of Covid recovery policies.

Some highlights:   “The renewables industry has adapted quickly to the challenges of the Covid crisis…. Supply chain disruptions and construction delays slowed the progress of renewable energy projects in the first six months of 2020. However, construction of plants and manufacturing activity ramped up again quickly, and logistical challenges have been mostly resolved with the easing of cross-border restrictions since mid-May.” As a result, the IEA has revised its May 2020 forecast of global renewable capacity additions upwards, and forecasts a record expansion of nearly 10% in 2021 for new renewable capacity, led by India and the EU.  Other eye-catching statements:  “ Solar PV and onshore wind are already the cheapest ways of adding new electricity-generating plants in most countries today… Overall, renewables are set to account for 95% of the net increase in global power capacity through 2025…..Total installed wind and solar PV capacity is on course to surpass natural gas in 2023 and coal in 2024. Solar PV alone accounts for 60% of all renewable capacity additions through 2025, and wind provides another 30%. Driven by further cost declines, annual offshore wind additions are set to surge, accounting for one-fifth of the total wind annual market in 2025.”

The Renewables 2020 website is here ; a 9-page Executive Summary is here .

Lobbying Joe Biden for climate action, and what it means for Canada

Despite the chaos in post-election politics of the United States, Joe Biden is the legitimate President-elect of the United States, and his climate change platform was an important factor in his victory.  As his Transition team prepares for inauguration in January 2021, environmental and climate change groups are among those advocating for appointments and policies. Prominent among these: The Climate Mandate, a joint initiative of the Sunrise Movement  and Justice Democrats . On November 11, Climate Mandate issued a statement saying:  “We can unite our nation by solving the crises we have in common: COVID-19, climate change, systemic racism and an economic recession. Joe Biden must command the federal government with fierce urgency and bold creativity….  This is Biden’s FDR moment”.  A top demand of the Climate Mandate movement:  the creation of a Climate Mobilization Office  – “with wide-reaching power to combat the climate crisis — just as we mobilized to defeat the existential threat of Nazi Germany in WWII.”  The CMO “will convene and coordinate across the President’s Cabinet agencies and, ultimately, hold every federal department accountable to the national project of stopping climate change. The Office of Climate Mobilization will deeply embed this mission into all of our spending, regulations, policies, and actions.”  Top picks suggested to lead the Climate Mobilization Office:  Washington Governor Jay InsleeGina McCarthy , now Head of the Natural Resources Defence Council and former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, or John Podesta, founder of the American Center for Progress and a counsellor to President Obama and Chief of Staff to President Clinton.

Other names which appear in the Climate Mandate wish list include Bernie Sanders , their top pick for Secretary of Labor; environmental justice champion Mustafa Santiago Ali to lead the Environmental Protection Agency; and  two union officials:  Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), as an alternate choice for Secretary of Labor, and Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA as a second choice for Secretary of Transportation.

The Climate 21 Project is a second group with proposals for Joe Biden.  A  group of more than 150 people, Climate 21 Project is co-chaired by Christy Goldfuss, a former Obama official and now with the Center for American Progress, and Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. The Summary of their Recommendations regarding the transition is here  , accompanied by eleven memos for each of the relevant departments and agencies .

Finally, Greenpeace USA released its Just Recovery Agenda on November 17, directed at Joe Biden.  Broader than climate and environmental issues, “the  Just Recovery Agenda includes more than 100 concrete policy recommendations spanning both legislation and executive action aimed at creating a world in which everyone has a good life and where our fundamental needs — including dignified work, healthcare, education, housing, clean air and water, healthy food, and more — are met.” Detailed policy proposals are here .

Here are a few general reactions and assessments of the climate future since Biden’s election: Initial Thoughts on the Impact of the 2020 Federal Elections on National Climate Policy by Joel Stronberg (Nov. 5);  “Election likely hardens political limits of Biden climate agenda” by Amy Harder in Axios (Nov. 5);   “State Climate Leadership Is Coming to the Nation’s Capital in 2021” in a Center for American Progress blog (Nov. 9) and “How Joe Biden plans to use executive powers to fight climate change”  in Vox (Nov. 9); and “Trump Rolled Back 100+ Environmental Rules. Biden May Focus on Undoing Five of the Biggest Ones” in Inside Climate News (Nov. 17) .

Canada greets Joe Biden and his climate plans

The National Observer maintained a Special Report section  about the U.S. election, including an overview of reactions in  “Ottawa welcomes president-elect Joe Biden as climate fight ally” (Nov. 9) -including comments from politicians (Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and former Minister Catherine McKenna, as well as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs ) along with policy experts Blair Feltmate and Sara Hastings-Simon. A good summary of the most important climate issues appears in  “The Biden presidency could change the terms of the climate debate in Canada”  by Aaron Wherry at CBC (Nov. 10).

In  “Five ways the Biden presidency could change Canadian climate policy for the better in CCPA’s Behind the Numbers (Nov. 12), Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood gives an overview, stating:

“For the past four years, a recalcitrant U.S. administration provided cover for Canadian politicians to water down and delay climate policies. With Biden in the White House, the situation may be reversed. Even if the new president only achieves a portion of his ambitious climate agenda, Canada risks falling behind in the transition to a net-zero carbon economy. …. Biden’s plan could energize Canada’s international climate agenda, could accelerate the growth of Canada’s clean economy, curb fossil fuel infrastructure, strengthen Canada’s carbon pricing system, and strengthen Canadian environmental regulations.”

Whether  Canada can compete with U.S. clean technology industry if the U.S. starts to ramp up its spending is a topic raised  in  “Biden’s victory raises the clean growth stakes for Canada”  (Nov. 7) by Sara Hastings-Simon and  Rachel Samson of the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices.  In “What Joe Biden’s Climate plan means for Canada” in The Conversation (Nov. 12),  Robert O’Brien of McMaster University focuses on the prospects for the oil and gas industry and the Keystone XL pipeline, flowing from Biden’s remark that “I would transition from the oil industry, yes.”  O’Brien considers the implications for Indigenous communities, workers and communities in that transition.  Will Greaves of University of Victoria focuses on the oil and gas industry and protection of the Arctic in  “What a Biden Presidency means for Climate Change and Canada” in Policy Options  (Nov. 10) .

Another analysis, from a trade perspective, appears  in Behind the Numbers“Biden’s Buy American Plan should inspire – not scare – Canada” (Oct 25) . Author Scott Sinclair argues that Buy American policies are  not likely to go away, and if you can’t beat ‘em, you should learn from them. “ Canadians can no longer afford to disregard or neglect considerable potential of government purchasing for job creation, improved working conditions and environmentally sustainable development. Given our current trade treaty constraints, ambitious “Buy Sustainable” purchasing policies offer the best way forward for Canadian workers and the environment.”

 

British Columbia tops in Canada’s Energy Efficiency Scorecard

Efficiency Canada has released its 2020 Energy Efficiency Scorecard , self-described as “a comprehensive benchmarking of provincial energy efficiency policies.”  The 2020 edition is the 2nd produced, and has expanded to include new information on Indigenous energy efficiency, heating fuel savings, building code adoption activities, active transportation, and geo-targeted efficiency.    A complex website offers a database with policy summaries sorted by province and by policy areas:  energy efficiency, enabling policies, buildings, transportation, and industry. Provincial fact sheets describe and rank  each province, with  British Columbia retaining its rank as #1 in Canada, followed by Quebec ; Nova Scotia ; Ontario, which dropped from third place in 2019 to fourth rank; Prince Edward Island (highlighted as most improved province); Manitoba ; New Brunswick in 7th place;  Alberta (slipped from 6th to 8th place); Newfoundland and Labrador at 9th, and in last place, Saskatchewan. The press release notes that “All provinces have significant room to improve. On a scale with 100 available points, the highest score this year is 58 and the lowest 17. ”

Efficiency Canada is housed at Carleton University’s Sustainable Energy Research Centre. The website also offers two highly useful reports: Less is More: A win for the economy, jobs, consumers, and our climate: energy efficiency is Canada’s unsung hero  (co-published by Clean Energy Canada and Efficiency Canada in 2018) and The Economic Impact of Improved Energy Efficiency in Canada Employment and other Economic Outcomes from the Pan-Canadian Framework’s Energy Efficiency Measures, prepared for Clean Energy Canada by Dunsky Consulting in April 2018.

Links between Pandemics, biodiversity, and climate change

The experts of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services  (IPBES) released their Report of an earlier workshop on October 29,  warning that “the risk of pandemics is increasing rapidly, with more than five new diseases emerging in people every year, any one of which could potentially spark a pandemic.”  The problem, as stated in the report: “The majority (70%) of emerging diseases (e.g. Ebola, Zika, Nipah encephalitis), and almost all known pandemics (e.g. influenza, HIV/AIDS, COVID-19), are zoonoses – i.e. are caused by microbes of animal origin. These microbes ‘spill over’ due to contact among wildlife, livestock, and people……Pandemics have their origins in diverse microbes carried by animal reservoirs, but their emergence is entirely driven by human activities. The underlying causes of pandemics are the same global environmental changes that drive biodiversity loss and climate change. These include land-use change, agricultural expansion and intensification, and wildlife trade and consumption. These drivers of change bring wildlife, livestock, and people into closer contact, allowing animal microbes to move into people and lead to infections, sometimes outbreaks, and more rarely into true pandemics that spread through road networks, urban centres and global travel and trade routes.”

Prevention 100 times cheaper than reactive policies

The IPBES Report asserts that pandemics are not inevitable. The authors advocate a dramatic shift in policy to prevention, rather than the current reactive scramble to treat diseases through vaccines etc. – an approach which brings enormous human suffering, and economic costs. The report estimate the economic costs of the reactive approach at “ likely more than a trillion dollars in economic damages annually.”  – likely 100 times the costs of prevention.

Given that the IPBES is an intergovernmental body linked to the United Nations, it is perhaps not surprising that one of their key recommendations is to establish a high-level intergovernmental council on pandemic prevention, which would provide decision-makers with scientific research,  economic impact estimates, and a global monitoring mechanism. They also suggest an international accord or agreement with mutually agreed upon targets. Finally, they suggest specific measures, such as taxes or levies on meat consumption, which would impact consumption patterns, and reduce the globalized agricultural expansion and trade that have led to pandemics.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was established in 2012, with 137 member states as of 2020 (including Canada and the U.S.) . In 2019, the IPBES published a landmark report,  Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services .  A  key IPBES scientist, Cambridge Professor Partha Dasgupta,  was named by the government of the United Kingdom to lead an Independent Review on the Economics of Biodiversity, in preparation for the 15th UN Biodiversity Conference , now postponed till May 2021.  The Dasgupta Review Interim Report was published in April 2020.  (discussed in  “Halt destruction of nature or suffer even worse pandemics, say world’s top scientists”   in The Guardian (April 2020) .  

Also in 2020, the 13th annual edition of the Living Planet Report  was published by the WWF, linking pandemics to ecosystems, and reiterating the message that “unsustainable human activity is pushing the planet’s natural systems that support life on Earth to the edge.” In addition to compiling data about the loss of natural species, the report offers nature-based solutions to prevent ecological collapse and to mitigate climate change – especially in the companion report, Too Hot To Handle: A Deep Dive into Biodiversity in a Warming World .  

Canada’s Just Transition Task Force as a model for energy and climate policy discussion

The Positive Energy research program at the University of Ottawa released two new reports in September. First,  Addressing Polarization: What Works? A Case Study of Canada’s Just Transition Task Force, written by Brendan Frank with Sébastien Girard Lindsay. According to the authors (p.26): “The primary aim of this case study was to identify specific attributes and processes of the Just Transition Task Force potentially conducive to depolarization over energy and climate issues in Canada …. To do so, we assessed whether the Task Force’s consultation process aligned with principles of procedural justice—consistency, neutrality, accuracy of information, correctability, representativeness and ethical commitment.” Unlike many other studies, this analysis took labour union views into consideration, insofar as it included a review of ENGO and labour organizations’ responses to Task Force activities.

The authors  conclude:

“Several elements of the Task Force’s approach are worth building on and studying further to reduce the risk of polarized opinion over energy and climate issues in Canada. Specifically, this research suggests that anyone designing or leading similar task force processes should pursue opportunities to go beyond the technocratic dimensions of the policy problem, engage with stakeholders in both formal and informal settings, ensure that the composition of the task force is geographically and vocationally reflective of the groups it is consulting, and, crucially, avoid any perceptions of partisanship or politicization. Lastly, given the complexity of Canada’s climate and energy files, it is important to consider the timing of the consultations and situate any policy problem a task force is commissioned to address within the broader policy, political and economic context.”

 

A two-page Brief summarizes the findings and implications for decisionmakers. The authors also wrote “Canada’s Just Transition Task Force can offer lessons for a green recovery” (The National Observer, Sept.18), which emphasizes “Most important were the neutral, non-partisan approach and the demonstration of ethical commitment of Task Force members, aided by a dynamic, iterative approach to consultations that took regional realities into consideration.”

Public Opinion on Oil and Gas and the Retraining of oil and gas workers

A survey was conducted as part of the Positive Energy research in Fall 2019, measuring public opinion on the present and future of the oil and gas industry in Canada, the role of federal and provincial governments, and issues related to transition. The authors summarized the findings in “What Canadians think about the future of oil and gas” in Policy Options (September 17), and in a 4-page Brief titled Polarization over Energy and Climate in Canada: Oil and Gas – Understanding Public Opinion.    Some highlights: there is overwhelming agreement amongst Canadians that oil and gas is important to the current economy, regardless of party affiliation, ideology, region, gender or age. Agreement regarding the future importance of the industry diminishes according to the age of the respondent. When asked if phasing out oil and gas is necessary and whether a phase-out is unfair to people in producing provinces, opinion is fragmented overall and polarized along partisan and ideological lines (but not along regional, age or gender lines).  Overall, there is strong agreement (70%) with the statement: “Canada needs to invest tax dollars into retraining workers as the country addresses climate change.  Positive Energy has conducted surveys of public opinion since 2015, compiled here . “On Energy and climate we’re actually not so polarized” appeared in Policy Options in January 2020, reporting on attitudes to carbon tax and pipeline construction, among other topics.

The Positive Energy project at the University of Ottawa is now in its second phase,  and has published a number of studies previously, including these, which  flew under the radar when released in the early days of the pandemic.  Addressing Polarization: What Works? The Alberta Climate Leadership Plan (March 2020) finds that while the Climate Leadership Plan was polarizing within Alberta, “it opened a policy window across the country. Many of Canada’s subsequent energy and climate policies would not have been possible without it.” The authors conclude that the Climate Leadership Plan was a success in terms of agenda setting and policy development, but a failure of implementation and communication.

What is Transition:  The Two Realities of Energy and Environmental Leaders in Canada  (March 2020), summarized in “Can Language drive polarization in the fight against climate change?” in The Hill Times (April 2020) .  Of this study, it is worth pointing out that the 40 energy and environmental leaders interviewed about their use and interpretation of the term “transition” did not include any labour leaders. (“interviewees were drawn from the energy and environmental communities, including from industry, policy, regulatory, non-government, research and Indigenous organizations”) .

The Positive Energy website provides access to their publications since 2015.

North Sea offshore oil workers rank job security as most important factor in a Just Transition

Three  environmental groups in the U.K. have released a new report on September 29: Offshore:  Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition . The report summarizes the views of 1,383 workers in the North Sea oil and gas industry (representing 4.5% of the workforce),  as provided in a survey conducted  in the summer of 2020 by  Friends of the Earth Scotland , Greenpeace UK , and the less well-known, London-based Platform.  In addition to the worker’s responses, the report summarizes the economic and working conditions of North Sea offshore oil and gas workers, includes case studies of the personal experiences of eight workers, and makes recommendations for government action. In the final call to action, the three environmental groups invite energy workers, unions, and others to participate in a planned consultation process across the UK, with workshops where energy workers can draft policy demands for a transition that works for them.

Almost 35% of respondents identified themselves as union members, – the two largest unions being  RMT-OILC (52.5%)  and Unite (36%).  In response to the report, RMT issued this press release, which states: “The skills and expertise of offshore oil and gas workers are key to a Just Transition.… To hear this strong, pro-worker, pro-trade union message from influential environmental groups is a significant moment in the debate which operators, contractors and Governments must listen to and act on. We applaud Platform, FoE Scotland and Greenpeace for taking this initiative and RMT will continue to work with them and like-minded NGOs in the fight for action to protect offshore jobs and skills from an unjust transition.”

Workers reveal an appetite for change, fueled by a desire for more job security

Selected survey results show:

  • 42.8% of oil and gas workers have been made redundant or furloughed since March 2020;
  •  Satisfaction with health and safety standards was most commonly rated 3/5;
  • 81.7% said they would consider moving to a job outside of the oil and gas industry- only 7% said they would not.
  • The most important consideration for those willing to transition outside the oil and gas industry was job security (58%). Second most important, at 21%, was pay level.
  • When asked what part of the energy sector they would be willing to retrain for and move to, 53% chose Offshore wind 53%;  51% Renewables ; 38%  Rig decommissioning ; 26% Carbon capture and storage . 20% would also consider moving outside the energy sector.

Based on these responses, the report makes recommendations for three key areas of action: 1. Consultation with workers:  “a representative section of the workforce should be involved in participatory policy-making, where workers are able to help determine policy, in addition to engagement with trade unions”; 2. Immediate government intervention and regulation to “improve job security and working conditions for workers in the oil and gas sector, to boost morale, improve quality of life, and mitigate the risk of workers leaving the energy sector altogether”; and  3. “Address barriers to entry and conditions within the renewables industry, including creating sufficient job opportunities.”

Platform is a U.K.-based environmental and social justice collective with campaigns focused on the global oil industry, fossil fuel finance and climate justice and energy democracy.  Readers may remember that Platform partnered with Friends of the Earth Scotland and  Oil Change International, to publish  Sea Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction , released on May 2019 and highlighted by WCR here .

Canada Pension Plan continues to risk Canadians’ retirement savings – this time, fracking investments in Colorado

The Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board continues to display a hypocritical disregard for its own sustainability principles, as reported in  “CPPIB’s fracking operation in U.S. raises questions” in the Toronto Globe and Mail on September 27. The Globe and Mail describes the fracking activities and political donations of Crestone Peak Resources, a company 95% owned by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and formed out of the ashes of Encana. The article reports that Crestone spent more than US$600,000 to support pro-business candidates who opposed tougher regulation of fracking in the 2018 Colorado state elections. Friends of the Earth Canada were involved in the Globe and Mail investigation and has posted unique information here .

The Energy Mix also published “’Canadians Don’t Want This: Fracking Company Owned By Canada Pension Plan Spent $600,000 To Influence Colorado State Elections” (September 30).The article quotes  Professor Cynthia Williams, Osler Chair in Business Law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, who states:  “It’s a “perfectly correct statement of corporate law” to say that CPP and Crestone are separate companies”, …. But it’s “an imperfectly correct answer to the ethical questions about CPPIB using its heft, based on the involuntary monetary contributions of millions of citizens and other people working in Canada, to try to shape politics to support its oil and gas investments, in Colorado, even as the Government of Canada has committed to working to transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Professor Williams  is the author of  Troubling Incrementalism: Canadian Pension Plan Fund and the Transition to a Low-carbon Economy , published in September by the Canada Climate Law Initiative.  The report discusses CPPIB investments in fossil fuels in the last six years in detail, including fracking companies in Ohio and the Crestone company in Colorado, as well as oil sands expansion in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The report concludes by calling on CPP Investments to fundamentally re-evaluate its role, stating:

“Our view is that CPP Investments should be, and could be, making a substantial contribution to Canada’s future economy by supporting new technologies, new companies, and the just transition to a low-carbon economy. We argue that doing so would be more consistent with its statutory mandate to manage the assets of the CPP Fund in the best interests of the twenty million Canadian contributors and beneficiaries than is its current approach. It would also be more consistent with its common-law fiduciary duties, which require intergenerational equity.”

What can Canadians do to move their pension funds away from fossil fuels?

Friends of the Earth Canada offers an online letter to Heather Munroe-Blum (Chair, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board) and Mark Machin (CEO), with five recommendations arising from the Crestone investigation. FOE is also conducting open informational meetings about the CPP investments throughout Canada in October.

Shift Action  is a project of Tides Canada which advocates for environmentally-responsible pension management.  Their press release (Sept. 29) cites the Crestone investment, highlights the nearly $12 billion invested in Chinese coal mines and other fossil fuel companies (double its clean energy investments),  and warns: “The CPP is betting Canadian retirement savings against the unstoppable transition to a clean energy economy, and fueling the global climate crisis in the process.”  In an interview published in The Energy Mix , Shift Action’s Executive Director, Adam Scott urges Canadians:  “One of the best ways to have an impact in this crisis is to make sure the funds that are invested on your behalf are invested in solutions to climate change, not in the problem. There’s a tool on our website that makes it easy for all Canadians to send a note to their pension funds asking what they’re doing on climate risk and how they’re investing.”   Shift Action published a detailed guide to engagement in June 2019, Canada’s Pension Funds and Climate Risk: A Baseline For Engagement . It concludes with tips which include:  “Each of Canada’s major pension plans has a different structure for governance and accountability. Beneficiaries should understand this structure and have a clear sense of their pension plan’s sponsors and governance model. Beneficiaries should engage with all relevant points of contact, for example a union pension representative or a government appointed pension trustee.”

And finally, for pension fund trustees, the Canada Climate Law Initiative  flagship initiative is the Canadian Climate Governance Experts program, which offers “pro bono sessions on effective corporate governance to address climate-related financial risks and opportunities to corporate boards of directors and Canadian pension fund boards.”

 

 

Update: Summer Proposals for Canada’s Green Recovery focus on public infrastructure, retrofitting

With the mainstream press zeroing in on the implications of Mark Carney’s return to Ottawa policy circles, and rumours of a “deepening rift” between Prime Minister Trudeau and Finance Minister Morneau over covid-recovery plans, perhaps the moment for a Green Recovery has arrived.  Here are highlights of some proposals made since the last  WCR compilation in a June 17 post.

Proposals from the  labour movement:

Unifor released its  #Build Back Better campaign in June, detailed in a 58-page document, Unifor’s Road Map for a Fair, Inclusive and Resilient Economic Recovery. There are five core recommendations, with detailed discussion of each: 1. Build Income Security Programs that Protect All Workers;  2. Rebuild the Economy through Green Jobs and Decarbonization;  3. Expand and Build Critical Infrastructure  4. Rebuild Domestic Industrial Capacity;  and  5. Strong, Enforceable Conditions on Corporate Support Packages.  Recommendation #2  “Rebuild the Economy through Green Jobs and Decarbonization”, understandably advocates for the sectors which Unifor represents – auto manufacturing, energy, forestry, transit etc. and calls for, among other things, targeted industry support programs, and a federal Just Transition fund (for example, for orphan well clean up and methane reduction initiatives and  expansion of the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund. On the issue of transit, Unifor also calls for the federal government to convene  special committee, bringing together municipalities, labour unions, private and public transit agencies, academics, urban planners and transit rider groups to develop a National Public Transit Strategy. The Road Map also calls for a National Auto Strategy to support zero-emission electric vehicle manufacturing,  a national charging infrastructure, and a call to develop a joint government-union accredited green jobs training system.  Unifor calls on the government to institute a tripartite model for advisory groups and oversight bodies so that labour unions are involved in any initiatives to develop climate/green transition policy frameworks.

#Build Back Better also addresses issues affecting all workers, such as income security, equity, and pension security. Key to these appear in Recommendation #5. “Strong, Enforceable Conditions on Corporate Support Packages”, which states: “ Government must require an environmental sustainability plan, restrict wage reductions for non-executive workers and establish job protection guarantees to prevent layoffs due to restructuring and offshoring. Any capital investment enabled by government support must include Canadian content when equipment is purchased or capital investments are made. Support packages must include a union neutrality clause and prevent recipients from accessing employee pensions for short-term liquidity.”

Rebuilding our Economy for All  describes the priorities of the British Columbia Federation of Labour, as submitted to the provincial Economic Recovery Task Force in May. The sixth of eight priorities states: “We must make up for lost time in addressing the climate crisis, with an accelerated and inclusive path to a green economy”, but doesn’t suggest any specifics beyond the existing Clean BC program . Priority 7, “Use public investment to restart the economy”  translates into mid-term goals  to electrify the transit fleet, launch conservation programs and habitat restoration projects; undertake remediation of industrial sites; replace all government vehicles at end of life with e-vehicles; develop and install zero-emission vehicle infrastructure throughout BC.; and continue to expand public, commercial, and residential building retrofits.

The Ontario Federation of Labour also produced an economic recovery plan in June, The New Normal: Building an Ontario for All   – Submission to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs.  The document calls for investment in public infrastructure, but  makes only one brief mention of climate, calling for the government to : “Develop, support, and resource a climate action plan that focuses on green jobs, carbon emission reductions, and the impact on equity-seeking communities – with clear mandates for industry.”

The Canadian Labour Congress released Labour’s Vision for an Economic Recovery  in May, which with an emphasis on health and safety, and job and income security. It touched on climate-related priorities by calling  for “Green industrial policy and sector strategies, anchored in union-management dialogue”, and endorsed the Just Recovery for All principles.  On July 17,  the CLC issued  a statement of support for the  ‘Safe Restart’  agreement reached between the federal, provincial and territorial governments,  commending the provision of sick leave entitlements so that every worker can take time off when they are sick and need to self-isolate. Also in July, the CLC made six recommendations for reforms  to the Employment Insurance system  to ensure a smooth transition from CERB to EI benefits.

Labour and Green Groups pulling together

It is worth noting that the environmental movement has included job and worker concerns in its proposals for Green Recovery, beginning with the Just Recovery for All campaign in May . Other examples:   Green Strings: Principles and Conditions for a Green Recovery from COVID-19 in Canada , published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)  in June lists seven “strings”: Support only companies that agree to plan for net-zero emissions by 2050; Make sure funds go towards jobs and stability, not executives and shareholders; Support a just transition that prepares workers for green jobs; Build up the sectors and infrastructure of tomorrow; Strengthen and protect environmental policies during recovery; Be transparent and accountable to Canadians.

Green-Green Budget-Coalitions-Preliminary-Recommendations-The Green Budget Coalition, representing twenty-four leading Canadian environmental organizations, presented a Discussion Paper for their pre-Budget recommendations at the end of June, with their final submission promised for September.  Their focus: 1) Stimulus investments for clean transportation industries; 2) Building retrofit jobs 3) Nature-based climate solutions 4) Conservation and Protected Areas, including Indigenous Protected Areas and Guardian programs.

The David Suzuki Foundation has included “Transform the Economy”   as one of the three pillars of its Green and Just Recovery campaign .  Blog posts with accompanying online petitions have been published on “Pandemic and climate crises unmask inequalities” in May, and “Four Day Workweek can spur necessary Transformation” in August .

Other Proposals of Note, with a  focus on Retrofitting:

ccpa alternative fed budget recovery planThe Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released its Alternative Federal Budget Recovery Plan  in July, stating: “The AFB Recovery Plan is a collective blueprint for how Canada can get through this crisis in the short, medium, and long term. It closes the chapter on the old normal.”….. “COVID-19 exposed the impossibility of a healthy economy without a healthy society. The status quo is no longer an option. This is our chance to bend the curve of public policy toward justice, well-being, solidarity, equity, resilience, and sustainability….”.  The CCPA calls for  “immediate action to  implement universal public child care so people can get back to work, reform employment insurance, strengthen safeguards for public health, decarbonize the economy, and tackle the gender, racial, and income inequality that COVID-19 has further exposed.”  Within this broad framework there is a section titled Climate Change, Just Transition and Industrial Strategy” (pages 50 – 54), which points out that “Governments at all levels have taken unprecedented action to respond to COVID-19 and that same level of ambition and speed must also be applied to the zero-carbon transition…A just recovery from COVID-19 will not be a return to the status quo of an exploitative fossil fuel-based economy.” In the short-term, the Recovery Plan repeats calls for a Just Transition Act for displaced workers and affected communities, (first announced in 2019 ),  a Just Transition Commission, a Strategic Training Fund and a Just Transition Transfer. Furthermore, the Recovery Plan calls for a clear regulatory phase-out of oil and gas production for fuel by 2040 (modeled on the national phase-out of coal power by 2030), beginning immediately so that  recovery funds are not invested into the stranded assets of the oil and gas industry.  In the medium term, the Recovery Plan calls again for a  National Decarbonization Strategy to achieve a net zero-carbon economy through public investments in industries such as electricity generation, public transit, forestry and building and home retrofitting, especially in Canada’s North. This Decarbonization Strategy would allow for $250 million per year to establish a new Strategic Training Fund; $10 billion per year to establish a youth Green Jobs Corps. Amongst the long-term recommendations for rebuilding: high impact green infrastructure projects under direct public ownership, with social enterprises and other forms of cooperative, community-based ownership also encouraged.

On July 22,  the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery released  its Interim Report ,  costing out five key policy directions for the next five years, with a total price tag of just under $50 billion.  The Task Force lists key actions and actors to achieve five broad goals:  “Invest in climate resilient and energy efficient buildings; Jumpstart Canada’s production and adoption of zero-emission vehicles; Go big on growing Canada’s clean energy sectors; Invest in the nature that protects and sustains us; Grow clean competitiveness and jobs across the Canadian economy .   As part of #1, investment in climate resilient and energy efficient buildings, the Task Force calls for “investing $1.25 billion in workforce development for energy efficiency and climate resiliency, including for enhancing access to training programs and for developing new approaches.”  Under the policy goal of investing in nature, the Task Force includes a call for  $400 million investment “to connect unemployed and underemployed Canadians with opportunities in the nature economy, and to boost the planning and implementation capacity of local governments, Indigenous groups, conservation agencies, forestry and agriculture operations, NGOs and tourism bodies.”  The Task Force Final report is promised for September 2020.

The Labour Council of Toronto and York Region, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 353, and the Carpenters District Council of Ontario have signed on as foundation partners in a new coalition of employers, educators, and unions, formed to fast-track green building as an economic and jobs solution to re-start the economy. The Atmospheric Fund (TAF) is the seed funder for the coalition, called Workforce 2030 . It is based on the recommendations of the Canada Green Building Council, Ready, Set, Grow: How the green building industry can re-ignite Canada’s economy , published in May. The TAF proposals are outlined in their submission to the government, here.

Efficiency Canada, another founding partner of the Workforce 2030 coalition, released its Pre-budget Submission to the government on August 5. It calls for $1.5 billion to expand green building workforce training,  $10.4 billion over three years to expand provincial and municipal energy efficiency portfolios, $13 billion to capitalize a building retrofit finance platform implemented through the Canada Infrastructure Bank, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation; $2 billion for large-scale building retrofit demonstration projects; and additional incentives to provinces that adopt higher energy performance tiers of the 2020 model national building codes, with a plan to achieve a 90% compliance rate.

Alberta Pension fund invests in Coastal GasLink pipeline, the latest risky fossil fuel investment

Carbon Tracker, the group which originated the term “stranded assets, published two new reports about the financial risks of fossil fuel investment in June:  It’s Closing Time: The Huge Bill to Abandon Oilfields Comes Early  and Decline and Fall: The Size & Vulnerability of the Fossil Fuel System on June 4 .  Banking giant Goldman Sachs also released a new report, Carbonomics: The Future of Energy in the age of climate change , which sees a fundamental shift from fossils to renewable energy investments.

Yet even as the drumbeat of fossil fuel decline continues, the public sector pension funds of Alberta and South Korea purchased a majority ownership stake in the Coastal GasLink pipeline from TC Energy on May 25,  using  the  retirement savings of millions of individuals.  “Alberta and South Korea’s pensions just bought the Coastal GasLink pipeline: 8 things you need to know” in The Narwhal (June 10) analyses the situation and cites a report from Progress Alberta :  Alberta’s Failed Oil and Gas Bailout , with this subtitle provided: “How AIMCO invested more than a billion dollars of pensioners and Albertans money into risky oil and gas companies with more than $3 billion in environmental liabilities and how the people running those companies got rich through huge salaries, share buybacks, dividends and conservative political connections.” Besides exposing the political shadows and environmental liabilities of many AimCo energy investments, the report makes recommendations, including for a public review of the investment performance and governance of Aimco; to divest from risky fossil fuel investments; to allow pension plans whose funds are being managed by AIMCo to appoint representatives to its board ; and to allow pension funds the freedom to leave AIMCo.

The recommended reforms are necessary because of the changes made by the Kenney government in November 2019,  described by WCR here and by Alberta unions in:  Union leaders tell UCP: ‘The money saved by Albertans for retirement belongs to them, not to you!’    Alberta’s Failed Oil and Gas Bailout   report urges: “The mismanagement of pensions and the Heritage Fund today offers opportunities for unions, political parties, civil society groups and organizers to engage and activate people who otherwise might never get involved in political collective action. People’s retirements and Alberta’s savings fund from its fossil fuel wealth are at stake.”

International Energy Agency roadmap for a sustainable recovery forecasts job growth led by retrofitting and electricity

The International Energy Agency, in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, released a roadmap which would require global investment by governments of USD 1 trillion annually between 2021 and 2023 to create jobs and accelerate the deployment of clean energy technologies and infrastructure.  The World Energy Outlook Special Report: Sustainable Recovery , released on June 18th states:  “Through detailed assessments of more than 30 specific energy policy measures to be carried out over the next three years, this report considers the circumstances of individual countries as well as existing pipelines of energy projects and current market conditions.” The report data and analysis will form the basis for the IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit on July 9 2020, where decision-makers in government, industry and the investment community will meet to discuss policy options for economic recovery post Covid-19.

From the report: ” Our new IEA energy employment database shows that in 2019, the energy industry – including electricity, oil, gas, coal and biofuels – directly employed around 40 million people globally. Our analysis estimates that 3 million of those jobs have been lost or are at risk due to the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis, with another 3 million jobs lost or under threat in related areas such as vehicles, buildings and industry. “ The recommendations promise to save or create approximately 9 million jobs per year, with the greatest number in building retrofitting for energy efficiency, and in the electricity sector.  The Sustainable Recovery Plan also seeks to avoid the kind of rebound effect which occurred after the 2008/2009 recession, claiming that it would stimulate economic growth while achieving annual energy-related greenhouse gas emissions which “would be 4.5 billion tonnes lower in 2023 than they would be otherwise”,  decreasing air pollution emissions by 5%, and thus reducing global health risks.

Under the heading of “Opportunities in technology innovation”, the report examines four specific technologies: “hydrogen technologies, which have a potentially important role in a wide range of sectors; batteries, which are very important for electrification of road transport and the integration of renewables in power markets; small modular nuclear reactors, which have technology attributes that make them scalable as an important low-carbon option in the power sector; and carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), which could play a critical role in the energy sector reaching net-zero emissions. We also compare the near-term job creation potential of some of these measures.” The IEA is preparing an Energy Technology Perspectives Special Report on Clean Energy Technology Innovation, which will be released in early July 2020.

Pembina proposes a low-carbon blueprint to create 67,2000 jobs in Alberta

alberta emerging economyA report released on June 15 calculates  that, with supportive government policies, 67,200  jobs could be created in Alberta by 2030 in four key areas: renewable electricity; transit and electric vehicle infrastructure; energy efficiency in buildings and industry; and environmental cleanup and methane reduction in the oil and gas industry.  Alberta’s Emerging Economy: A blueprint for job creation through 2030  was funded by the Alberta Federation of Labour  and written by researchers at the Pembina Institute.  It provides detailed data for each of the four sectors, along with well-informed policy discussion. Notably, the number of jobs forecast represents a significant diversification of the labour market for the province: 67,200 jobs is equal to 67% of the total workforce of the mining, and oil and gas extraction industry in 2019.

Alberta’s Hydrogen initiative

Alberta’s Emerging Economy does not consider the potential jobs from new technologies such as carbon capture and storage, or hydrogen production.  Fundamental to understanding that technology is the difference between “grey hydrogen”,  “blue” hydrogen and “green” hydrogen”- explained by an expert at the International Energy Agency here , or in Green Tech Media in “The Reality Behind Green Hydrogen’s Soaring Hype”.

On May 14, the Alberta Industrial Heartland Hydrogen Task Force was launched as “an independent working group created to develop a framework to implement a hydrogen economy in the region” and “produce a public report detailing the approach and steps needed to advance a zero-emission fuel economy in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland.” The Task Force includes local mayors from Alberta and Saskatchewan (including  Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson). The full list of Task Force members and advisors is here , and is organized by Transition Accelerator – itself launched in 2019, by the University of Calgary research group CESAR.  A recent report in their  “The Future of Freight” series, Implications for Alberta of Alternatives for Diesel  advocates for “blue hydrogen” production (hydrogen made from natural gas by steam-methane reforming (SMR) coupled to carbon capture and storage (CCS)).

Hydrogen production is described in the Globe and Mail on June 14, “Ottawa, Alberta develop new hydrogen strategies” .  An overview in Corporate Knights magazine on May 14  claims “Hydrogen can make Canada an energy superpower again”.  It concludes:

We live in Alberta, so know the danger in including the words ‘national’ and ‘energy’ in the same sentence. But picture a Canada where hydrogen is the focus of a pan-Canadian strategy that would have all provinces working together for a net-zero emission energy future that revitalizes our economy and again positions Canada as an energy superpower.

 

Global reports call for renewables to lead a green recovery from Covid-19

Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2019 was released on June 2 by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), showing that “more than half of the renewable capacity added in 2019 achieved lower power costs than the cheapest new coal plants.” The analysis spans around 17,000 renewable power generation projects from around the world, and includes discussion of job impacts in the industry. A statistical dashboard is searchable by country  , including Canada, and by jobs statistics.

The report emphasizes the importance of renewables in a global economic recovery strategy, stating:

“Renewables offer a way to align short-term policy action with medium- and long-term energy and climate goals.  Renewables must be the backbone of national efforts to restart economies in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. With the right policies in place, falling renewable power costs, can shift markets and contribute greatly towards a green recovery.”

On June 10, the Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report was released by the U.N. Environment Programme, with a press release  with a similar message:  “As COVID-19 hits the fossil fuel industry, the GTR 2020 shows that renewable energy is more cost-effective than ever – providing an opportunity to prioritize clean energy in economic recovery packages and bring the world closer to meeting the Paris Agreement goals. ….. In 2019, the amount of new renewable power capacity added (excluding large hydro) was the highest ever, at 184 gigawatts, 20GW more than in 2018.” The 80-page Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment  is an annual report commissioned by the UN Environment Programme in cooperation with Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance, produced in collaboration with Bloomberg NEF, and supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety.

The argument for the cost advantage of clean energy is demonstrated with detailed modelling for the United States by researchers at the University of California Berkeley Goldman School of  Public Policy. Their new report,  2035: The Report: Plummeting solar, wind and battery costs can accelerate our clean electricity future  “uses the latest renewable energy and battery cost data to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of achieving 90% clean (carbon-free) electricity in the United States by 2035. “The 90% Clean case avoids over $1.2 trillion in health and environmental costs, including 85,000 avoided premature deaths, through 2050”… and “ supports a total of 29 million job-years cumulatively during 2020–2035. ….These jobs include direct, indirect, and induced jobs related to construction, manufacturing, operations and maintenance, and the supply chain. Overall, the 90% Clean case supports over 500,000 more jobs each year compared to the No New Policy case.”

renewables 2020Another report,  Renewables 2020 Global Status Report   was released by REN21 on June 16, with a  36-page summary of Key Findings . The report provides detailed global statistics re capacity and investment trends, and  also discusses the considerable impact of the coronavirus. There is much good news – for example, over 27% of global electricity now comes from renewables, up from 19% in 2010…. The share of solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind power has grown more than five times since 2009” .  But there is also an urgent call to end fossil fuel subsidies and for other policy actions under the heading: “Momentum in renewable power hides a profound lag in the heating, cooling and transport sectors”.  The report states:

“It would be short-sighted to celebrate advances in the power sector without acknowledging the alarmingly low shares and slow uptake of renewables in the heating, cooling and transport sectors. …. Renewable shares in heating and cooling are low (10.1%) and struggle to increase, even as the sector accounts for more than half of total energy demand. Similarly, energy demand in transport – which accounts for a third of total energy demand – is growing the fastest by far, yet renewable shares barely exceed 3.3%. Ongoing dependence on fossil fuels for heating, cooling and transport is related to a lack of policy support for renewables in these sectors. There is still no level playing field. Many countries continue to uphold fossil fuel subsidies, which in 2018 increased 30% from the year before. Global fossil fuel subsidies totalled USD 400 billion, more than double the amount that governments spent on renewable power. ….. The massive support for fossil fuels hinders the already difficult task of reducing emissions and must be brought to a halt. “ In 2019, a record 200 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power capacity was added, more than three times the level of fossil fuel and nuclear capacity. Over 27% of global electricity now comes from renewables, up from 19% in 2010.– a remarkable rise attributed largely to continued cost declines for these technologies.”

On  June 11, the U.S.  Solar Energy Industry Association released its Solar Market Insight Report for the 2nd Quarter of 2020, forecasting a 31% drop in solar installations in 2020 over 2019, mostly  as result of Covid-19.   The SEIA  press release estimates that 72,000 workers in the U.S. have lost their jobs .  The Executive Summary  discusses the impact of the coronavirus extensively; only the Executive Summary is available for free. The report analysis is done by Wood MacKenzie consultants, and the full report is pricey.

Lessons for Canada’s EV policy in new IEA EV Global Outlook report

On June 15 , the International Energy Agency released  Global EV Outlook 2020 , a global ev 2020comprehensive annual report which provides historical analysis and projections to 2030, along with policy recommendations. It states that global electric car sales in 2019 were 2.1 million –  a 6% growth from 2018, but at a slower rate than previous years – partly explained by the Covid-19 pandemic. The report discusses electric vehicle and charging infrastructure deployment, ownership cost, energy use, carbon dioxide emissions and battery material demand, as well as the performance and costs of batteries. Further, it updates its life-cycle analysis re end-of-life treatment for batteries. It also includes case studies on transit bus electrification in Kolkata (India), Shenzhen (China), Santiago (Chile) and Helsinki (Finland).  The press release summary is here .

Ben Sharpe and Jesse Pelchat argued that “Canada is falling behind on transition to electric vehicles” in Policy Options (May 1), summarizing the findings of a report by the International Council on Clean Transportation,  Canada’s role in the electric vehicle transition (March 31). They state that “One of the most impactful things governments in Canada can do to stimulate manufacturing of zero-emission cars and trucks is to ramp up the effort to deploy policies aimed at growing the domestic market for these vehicles” – an argument expanded  by Clean Energy Canada  in Catching the Bus : How Smart Policy Can Accelerate Electric Buses Across Canada   (June 11).

Updating Job proposals for a Green Recovery: Canada, U.S., Europe

Green Recovery proposals in Canada:

The Work and Climate Change Report  has previously highlighted  proposals for a Green Recovery from Covid-19, including   Labour’s Vision for Economic Recovery by the Canadian Labour Congress, the Just Recovery for All  coalition campaign and the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery  .  Another very focused campaign is  Inclusive Recovery , which states that Canada’s federal government is planning to invest over $187 billion dollars on infrastructure projects over the next ten years as part of its Green Recovery funding.  The Inclusive Recovery campaign, organized by the Toronto Community Benefits Network, Toronto & York Region Labour Council, the Labour Education Centre, and other unions and social service agencies,  is seeking support and endorsement of a joint letter to the Federal government calling on them  “to integrate and expand community benefit expectations in publicly funded infrastructure projects”.

On June 4,  Corporate Knights magazine  published “Building Back Better: A roadmap to the Canada we want ” , which consolidates the already-published articles and roundtable discussions from its Green Recovery series.   The resulting “roadmap” , written by consultants Ralph Torrie and Céline Bak, with Toby Heaps, argues that “ By 2030, Canada could create more than five million quality job-years of employment by greening the power grid, electrifying transport and upgrading our homes and workplaces to be more comfortable and flood resilient.” In estimating the cost, that job-creation number goes even higher: “the federal investment in the programs we have proposed would total $106 billion, crowding in an additional $730 billion in private and other sector investment, creating 6.7 million years of employment – more than twice the jobs that have been lost due to COVID-19”, and continues: “These investments would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 237 million tonnes from 2018 levels. That would meet our Paris Climate Agreement commitments and put us on a path to a carbon-free economy within a generation.”   In a postscript, the authors state: “The best chance we have for the green economy to prevail is by marrying the green economy movement with social justice movements, which on a practical level means Building Back Better with vastly enhanced supports for eldercare, childcare and living wages, and as we’ve noted repeatedly throughout the series, by supporting thriving Indigenous communities.”

Green recovery studies: United States

The Sierra Club in the U.S. released a new report in June, Millions of Green Jobs:  A Plan for Economic Revival . It lays out estimates and a policy options for  the “multiple, mutually reinforcing crises” of Covid-19 , economic inequality, and global heating, and importantly, states that “All investments in this economic renewal plan must uphold the following environmental, labor, and equity standards”  – which include Buy America and domestic procurement policies to stimulate manufacturing.   Also included:  “All construction and related contracts should require community benefit agreements; a mandatory “ban the box” policy to ensure fair employment opportunities for all; hiring preferences for low-income workers, people of color, people with disabilities, and returning citizens; and contracting preferences for businesses led by women and people of color.”  Using job creation estimates produced by Robert Pollin, the report argues for “family-sustaining jobs for over 9 million people every year for the next 10 years while building an economy that fosters cleaner air and water, higher wages, healthier communities, greater equity, and a more stable climate. That includes supporting over 1 million manufacturing jobs each year.”  The report offers a  sectoral breakdown of the 9 million jobs per year, in  infrastructure for clean water, clean transportation, and clean energy; renewable energy;  energy efficiency; and  regenerative agriculture.

Millions of Green Jobs:  A Plan for Economic Revival is based on a technical report released in May 2020: Job Creation Estimates Through Proposed Economic Stimulus Measures:  Modeling Proposals by Various U.S. Civil Society Groups; Macro-Level and Detailed Program-by-Program Job Creation Estimates  , written by Robert Pollin and Shouvik Chakraborty at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Another data-driven report from researchers at the University of California Berkeley Goldman School of  Public Policy is  2035: The Report:  Plummeting solar, wind and battery costs can accelerate our clean electricity future . It  “uses the latest renewable energy and battery cost data to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of achieving 90% clean (carbon-free) electricity in the United States by 2035.” Two central cases are simulated using state-of-the-art capacity expansion and production-cost models from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.  “The 90% Clean case avoids over $1.2 trillion in health and environmental costs, including 85,000 avoided premature deaths, through 2050”… and “supports a total of 29 million job-years cumulatively during 2020–2035. Employment related to the energy sector increases by approximately 8.5 million net job years, as increased employment from expanding renewable energy and battery storage more than replaces lost employment related to declining fossil fuel generation. The “No New Policy” case requires one-third fewer jobs, for a total of 20 million job-years over the study period. These jobs include direct, indirect, and induced jobs related to construction, manufacturing, operations and maintenance, and the supply chain. Overall, the 90% Clean case supports over 500,000 more jobs each year compared to the No New Policy case.”

A dedicated website  offers downloads of the report and an interactive “Data Explorer” which includes  a jobs component.

Green Recovery plans: Europe

Influential consultants McKinsey published “How a post-pandemic stimulus can both create jobs and help the climate” on May 27 , written by  McKinsey partners from  Frankfurt, London, Paris, Stockholm, as well as San Francisco.  The report focuses on 12 potential stimulus measures with a strong emphasis on European experience, and estimates the jobs created per Euro spent, as well as total jobs created, for each of its twelve low-carbon strategies. The McKinsey report highlights the  2017 econometric study of the U.S.,  “Green vs. Brown” by Heidi Garrett-Pelletier, which concluded that “on average, 2.65 full-time-equivalent (FTE) jobs are created from $1 million spending in fossil fuels, while that same amount of spending would create 7.49 or 7.72 FTE jobs in renewables or energy efficiency. Thus each $1 million shifted from brown to green energy will create a net increase of 5 jobs.”

In the U.K.,  the Local Government Authority released Local green jobs – accelerating a sustainable economic recovery, on June 11 . It predicts that “”Soaring demand for green jobs will require a diverse range of skills and expertise to roll-out clean technologies”. Specifically, the report forecasts that by 2030,  an estimated 693,628 low-carbon jobs  and “between 2030 and 2050, the low-carbon workforce in England could increase by a further 488,569, taking the total level of jobs to more than 1.18 million by 2050.”

In its own interest, the LGA argues for increased funding at the local level, to “ fast-track green jobs” with concentrated action to introduce national skills programmes for training and retraining.  Local Green Jobs is supplemented by an interactive regional breakdown of statistics by local authority , and a supportive policy framework document .

Environmental rollbacks during Covid-19 in Canada and the U.S.

This post was updated on June 17 to include new developments in Alberta and Ontario. 

On June 3, Canadian journalist Emma McIntosh compiled and published a Canadian list of environmental rollbacks, and continues to update it as changes continue in almost every province.  “Here’s every environmental protection in Canada that has been suspended, delayed and cancelled during COVID-19” in the National Observer, is a compilation built by scouring news reports and legislative websites.  Although it includes all Canadian provinces, the Alberta and Ontario governments are highlighted as the worst offenders, including changes to Alberta’s environmental monitoring in the oil sands and weakening of air quality monitoring .  The inventory was updated to include Bill 22, The Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act , which passed first reading in the Alberta legislature on June 11. A 14-point omnibus bill, Bill 22 eliminates the need for cabinet approval for oil and gas projects, and dissolves the Energy Efficiency Alberta agency, begun in 2017. Alberta’s Environment Minister has said it  will be wound down by September and most staff re-assigned to the Emissions Reduction Alberta agency, which focuses on the oil and gas industry. Efficiency Canada reacted with a critical press release on June 12, titled “Alberta cuts successful job-creation engine in the midst of recession” – which states that “The agency created more than 4,300 private-sector jobs between 2017 and 2019”.

In Ontario, early on, the government suspended part two of the provincial Environmental Bill of Rights, excusing the government from notifying or consulting the public on environment-related projects, changes or regulations.  Changes were also made to zoning requirements, to speed the development approval process. Unexpectedly,  the government restored the protections on June , although it has been vague about its reasoning, and more importantly, has not revealed what projects were approved during the suspension period.  “Doug Ford government restores environmental protections it suspended amid COVID-19” (June 15). The article notes that since Premier Doug Ford took office in  2017, “Ontario has cancelled 227 clean energy projects, wound down conservation programs, weakened endangered species protections and has taken away powers from the province’s environmental commissioner.”

In Newfoundland

Although it is not noted in the National Observer inventory yet (updating is ongoing) – Newfoundland joined the ranks of major actors on June 4, when the government press release announced  a “New Regional Assessment Process Protects the Environment and Shortens Timelines for Exploration Drilling Program Approval”. This action reverses a 2010 decision and places authority for exploration approval back with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB), rather than the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA). Calling the drilling of offshore exploration wells a “low impact activity”, the press release promises a faster approval process which “allows the province to become more globally competitive while maintaining a strong and effective environmental regulatory regime.”  A June 4 press release from the federal government endorses the move, according to their press release:  “The Government of Canada announces new regulatory measure to improve review process for exploratory drilling projects in the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador offshore” .  

It is notable that the Just Recovery for All campaign launched in Canada on May 25  calls for a fair and just recovery from COVID-19 through relief and stimulus packages, and includes as one of its six principles:

“Bailout packages must not encourage unqualified handouts, regulatory rollbacks, or regressive subsidies that enrich shareholders or CEOs, particularly those who take advantage of tax havens. These programs must support a just transition away from fossil fuels that creates decent work and leaves no one behind.”

In the United States

Donald Trump’s environmental rollbacks during the Covid-19 pandemic have been well-reported, with the New York Times maintaining  an ongoing register in “The Trump Administration Is Reversing 100 Environmental Rules. Here’s the Full List” (last updated on May 20) and more recently, on June 4,  “ Trump, Citing Pandemic, Moves to Weaken Two Key Environmental Protections”. This article notes his Executive Order allowing agencies to waive required environmental reviews of infrastructure projects, and a new rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency which weakens air pollution controls under the  Clean Air Act regulations.

Greenpeace USA issued a response highlighting the racist intent of these changes, and DeSmog Blog published a blog “Trump EPA’s Refusal to Strengthen Air Quality Standards Most Likely to Harm Communities of Color, Experts Say“.

 

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