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.
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.”
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 .
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.”
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 .
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 Glencore, Vale 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.
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”.
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.”
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.
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.”
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”.
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.”
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”.
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 Times “You 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.
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.”
The Angus Reid Institute is a Canadian non-profit public opinion research foundation Their recent survey of Covid-related experiences is summarized at their June 11 press release, with the full 11-page report was released under the title So long, office space? Two-thirds of Canadians who work from home expect it to continue after pandemic .
Of the 30% of Canadians who have been working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, only 36 % expect to return full-time to their workplace after the pandemic subsides – others expect to split working time between workplace and home, and 20% expect to work primarily from home. The survey measured productivity and mental health impacts of working from home, showing mixed results re mental health: 15% said it had been “terrible”, 16% said it had been “great”, and 68% ranking it as “okay” – notably, 20% of women 18 to 34 years old rank it as “awful”. The survey also reports on the job loss experiences of respondents since the March beginning of lockdown, with a high of 31% experiencing job loss in May, and 28% in June. Responses concerning job loss, economic outlook, and incidence and attitudes to government financial assistance are available by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics.
Is working from home good for the planet? or for workers?
An earlier WCR post in May, “Working from home may not save as much energy as we think” summarizes an article from Environmental Research Letters which found little empirical evidence that working from home benefits the environment or climate change. Initially some environmentalists saw a possible (though temporary) upside in a reduction of GHG emissions from commuting, and the concept is being embraced by corporate management – for its own reasons. The complexity of the issue is discussed in “Office work will never be the same” in Vox (May 27), which argues that flexibility may benefit the privileged white collar workers who can work from home, but also opens the door to increased workplace surveillance with its greater dependence on technology (not to mention the equity question for those who don’t have the option). In “Working from Home: Post-Coronavirus Will Give Bosses Greater Control of Workers’ Lives” ( June 4) in Jacobin, author Luke Savage cites examples of Canadian workplace policies from the Bank of Montreal and Shopify, and quotes an unnamed Canadian unionist . Savage concludes with this warning:
“With every home an office and every office a home, the residual boundaries between work and private life will be gone for good. Still worse, the whole or even partial demise of the physical office space could become a catalyst for a deeper precarization of work wherein many workers are effectively remote contractors, their homes operating like quasi-franchises over which employers can exercise discretionary control with minimal restriction.
Socialists have long argued that bosses and markets exert far too much power and control over our time, our private lives, and our individual autonomy. Unless we resist the burgeoning shift to remote work, both are about to devour an even bigger share of all three.”
The Canadian Steel Producers Association released a “Climate Call to Action” for their industry on March 4 , with a goal to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050. The press release calls that goal “the central plank” of their vision. More details are explained in a 19-page document, Canada’s Steel Industry: A Sustainable Choice , which states:
“Canada’s steel producers have the aspirational goal to achieve net-zero CO emissions by 2050. This means that we must significantly reduce net CO emissions including through removal or offsets. In order to achieve this aspirational goal, we need to work with stakeholders, including suppliers, customers, and government, to implement transformational changes and breakthrough technologies. This includes significant capital investments, public-private partnerships, and policies that support the industry during the transition.”
The Statement emphasizes technological breakthroughs and trade policy, and the words “workers”, “jobs” or “labour” do not appear anywhere. The most relevant section relates to operational efficiencies and manufacturing processes:
“We have also adopted process control technology and other innovative technologies, such as robotics, to improve our process reliability, production yields, and overall production efficiencies to reduce losses and the amount of energy used to produce each tonne of steel. However, there is limited room for further improvement based on existing technology. The adoption of new technologies to further advance and optimize steel manufacturing software control systems will continue to drive improvements in our sector.”
A useful and related report is Low and zero emissions in the steel and cement industries: Barriers, technologies and policies , an Issue Paper prepared for the November 2019 OECD Green Growth and Sustainable Development Forum. The paper is meant for international audience, though its author, Chris Bataille, is a prominent researcher at Simon Fraser University as well as at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) . He calls for an industry transition based on “well-designed policy packages and careful consultation with all parties involved and affected.” Specifically, regarding Just Transition, he states (p. 36) :
“To support change, we will need to make many modifications to existing institutions, and create new ones… A key element that is often overlooked is a transition plan for the management and labouring workforce, whose full support is required. This involves retraining for those already in the workforce, and redefinition of the curriculum in technical schools where electricians, pipefitters, heavy duty machinery specialists, etc. are trained. Oversight bodies are also required for the national transition plans, which have timetables of expected physical transitions against which they can measure progress and recommend policy adjustments and wholesale changes … At present, the UK Climate Change Commission, which recommends five year carbon budgets and parliamentary advice as required, is the best practise example of a national oversite body. It has no statutory authority to change policy, as this is the prerogative of the British Parliament, but it can monitor progress and recommend changes.”
Notably, one of the “asks” of the Canadian Steel Producers Association visioning document is the creation of “ a Canadian steel climate council with key government departments to monitor and report on the progress of the sector’s climate strategy, to share practices, to engage with other stakeholders, and to evolve the plan as new information and insights emerge”. (“Stakeholders” don’t include workers.)
Worldsteel , the global industry association, released its own position paper in 2020: Steel’s contribution to a low carbon future and climate resilient societies , which emphasizes most of the same themes of technology, circular economy, energy efficiency, and a “level playing field” globally. Worldsteel also recently published the Sustainable Steel: Indicators 2019 and the steel supply chain .
And from the U.K., academics at the University of Cambridge released Steel Arising: Opportunities for the UK in a transforming global steel industry in April 2019. The report was commissioned by GREENSTEEL Council which “promotes sustainable production methods and a revitalisation of engineering and the economy” in the UK. Steel Arising calls for greening by “moving away from primary production towards recycled steel made with sustainable power.” The report states: “Not only will this create long-term green jobs, it will lead to world-leading exportable skills and technologies and allow us to transform the highly valuable scrap that we currently export at low value, but should be nurturing as a strategic asset. With today’s grid we can do this with less than half the emissions of making steel with iron ore and with more renewable power in future this could drop much further.”
Updated on February 18 re the announcement of the Bezos Earth Fund.
Amazon workers have risen up again, at the risk of their own jobs. “Defying Company Policy, Over 300 Amazon Employees Speak Out” in Wired (Jan.27) was one of many media articles about the most recent incident in the employees’ campaign for climate action. A new protest stems from Amazon’s communication policy which threatened to fire employees who speak out to the public about climate change without company authorization. (A Washington Post article of January 2 summarizes all that). In response, as detailed in Wired, 363 Amazon employees intentionally violated that company policy by signing their names to posts about their own opinions and experiences. The posts were compiled by Medium on January 26. The protest was organized by the activist group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ) which posted an explanation on their Facebook page, stating that employees feel a “moral responsibility to speak up”. It continues:
“The protest is the largest action by employees since Amazon began threatening to fire workers for speaking out about Amazon’s role in the climate crisis. It signals that employees are convinced that the only right thing to do at this time is to keep speaking up. AECJ has continued to call on Amazon to commit to zero emissions by 2030, stop developing AWS products and services to accelerate oil and gas extraction, and end funding of climate-denying politicians, lobbyists, and think tanks.”
On February 17, Jeff Bezos , billionaire owner of Amazon, announced the creation of the Bezos Earth Fund, which will provide $10 billion in grants to scientists and activists to fund their efforts to fight climate change. The announcement was made on Instagram and reported by the Washington Post, which Bezos also owns. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice reacted with this statement : Their statement shows that AECJ is not letting up on the link between Amazon and Big Oil, and also, not letting up. Follow them on Twitter at @AMZNforClimate.
“Why did Amazon threaten to fire employees who were sounding the alarm about Amazon’s role in the climate crisis and our oil and gas business? What this shows is that employees speaking out works–we need more of that right now.”
Big Tech and Big Oil?
Although a general perception might be that Amazon need only reduce packaging or improve logistics to reduce transportation-related emissions, there is another big climate-related issue raised by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. As noted briefly in Vox on January 3: “Google and Amazon are now in the oil business” (Jan. 3) explaining that “big tech companies are developing AI for oil companies, even as they publicly celebrate their sustainable initiatives.” A much more detailed explanation appears in “Amazon’s New Rationale For Working With Big Oil: Saving the Planet” in Motherboard (Jan. 10) .
This is all happening in plain sight. Amazon itself describes its “Digital Oilfields” on its own website, and “Cenovus joins Big Oil’s push into Big Data with Amazon and IBM deals” appeared in the Financial Post in November 2019, giving insight into how data-driven oil and gas is growing in Canada. And Suncor boasts in a November 2019 press release from Calgary, Suncor accelerates digital transformation journey through strategic alliance with Microsoft, quoting Microsoft’s president: “Suncor is embarking on a journey to transform the energy industry. They are creating new business value for their customers, empowering and upskilling their workforce, and innovating for a sustainable future”.
On December 18, the Bank of England was widely reported to have unveiled a new “stress test” for the financial risks of climate change. That stress test is a proposal contained in an official BoE Discussion Paper, 2021 biennial exploratory scenario (BES) on the financial risks from climate change , open for stakeholder comments until March 2020. Mark Carney, outgoing Governor of the Bank of England, has led the BoE to a leadership position on this issue in the financial community and will continue in his new role as United Nations special envoy on climate action and climate finance in 2020. In a December BBC interview reviewing his legacy, he warned the world yet again about stranded assets and asked: “A question for every company, every financial institution, every asset manager, pension fund or insurer: what’s your plan?”
What are the climate plans for Canada’s pension funds ?
In their June 2019 report, Canada’s Pension Funds and Climate Risk: A Baseline For Engagement , ShiftAction concludes: “Canadian pension funds are already investing in climate solutions, but at levels that are far too low relative to the potential for profitable growth, consistent with levels required to solve this challenge.” The report provides an overview, and importantly, offers tips on how to engage with and influence pension fund managers.
The sustainability performance of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) continues to be unimpressive, as documented in Fossil Futures: The Canada Pension Plan’s failure to respect the 1.5-degree Celsius limit, released in November 2019 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis-B.C. (CCPA-BC). According to the CPPIB Annual Report for 2019, (June 2019) the CPPIB is aiming for full adoption of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures recommendations by the end of fiscal 2021 (page 28).
Canada’s second largest pension fund, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), announced in November that CEO Michael Sabia will retire in February 2020 and move to the University of Toronto Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. The press release credits Sabia with leading the Caisse to a position of global leadership on climate change, beginning in 2017 with the launch of an investment strategy which aims to increase low-carbon assets and reduce the carbon intensity of investment holdings by 25%. In 2019, the Caisse announced that its portfolio would be carbon-neutral by 2050. Ivanhoé Cambridge ,the real estate subsidiary of the Caisse de dépôt, has a stated goal to increase low-carbon investments by 50% by the year 2020 and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by the year 2025. In December 2019, Ivanhoé Cambridge announced that it had issued a $300 million unsecured green bond to finance green initiatives – the first real estate corporation in Canada to do so. Shawn McCarthy reviewed Sabia’s legacy in “Canada’s second largest pension fund gets deadly serious about climate crisis”, in Corporate Knights in December.
AIMCo, the Alberta Investment Management Corporation is a Crown Corporation of the Government of Alberta, with management responsibility for the public sector pensions funds in Alberta, along with other investments. In November 2019, the Alberta government passed Bill 22, which unilaterally transfers pension assets from provincial worker plans to the control of AIMCo (see a CBC summary here ). The Alberta Federation of Labour and the province’s large unions protested in a joint statement, “Union leaders tell UCP: ‘The money saved by Albertans for retirement belongs to them, not to you!’” (Nov. 20) . The unions state: “we’re worried that what you’re attempting to do is use other people’s money to create a huge slush fund to finance an agenda that has not yet been articulated to the public – and which most people would not feel comfortable using their life savings to support.” And in December 2019, those worries seem to come true as AIMCo announced its participation in a consortium to buy a 65% equity interest in the controversial LNG Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project from TC Energy Corporation. Rabble.ca reported on the demonstrations at AIMCo’s Toronto offices regarding the Coastal Gas project in January .
On January 8, the Toronto Star published “Toronto asks pension provider: How green are our investments?” – revealing that the city has asked for more details from the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement fund (OMERS). OMERS, with assets of over $100 billion, manages the pension savings of a variety of Ontario public employees, including City of Toronto and Toronto Police, Fire, and Paramedics. On January 8, OMERS announced the latest consolidation of Toronto pension plans with its consolidation of the Metropolitan Toronto Pension. Its Sustainable Investment Policy statement is here .
What are the climate plans for Canada’s private Banks?
The 10th annual edition of Banking on Climate Change: the Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card was released in October 2019 by Banktrac, Rainforest Alliance Network and others . It states that $1.9 trillion has been invested in fossil fuels by the world’s private banks since the Paris Agreement, led by JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America. Canadian banks also rank high in the world: RBC (5th), TD (8th), Scotiabank ( 9th), and Bank of Montreal (15th). Also in October, the World Resources Institute published Unpacking Green Targets: A Framework for Interpreting Private Sector Banks’ Sustainable Finance Commitments , which includes Canadian banks in its global analysis and provides guidance on how to understand banks’ public documents. “How Are Banks Doing on Sustainable Finance Commitments? Not Good Enough” is the WRI blog which summarizes the findings.
On September 14, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce announced the release of their first climate-related disclosure report aligned with the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. Building a Sustainable Future highlights the CIBC’s governance, strategy, and risk management approach to climate related issues. It provides specific metrics and targets, especially for its own operational footprint, but also a commitment: “to a $150 billion environmental and sustainable finance goal over 10 years (2018-2027).”
Scotiabank also announced climate-related changes in November, including “that it would “mobilize $100 billion by 2025 to support the transition to a lower-carbon and more resilient economy”; ensure robust climate-related governance and reporting; enhance integration of climate risk assessments in lending, financing and investing activities; deploy innovative solutions to decarbonize operations; and establish a Climate Change Centre of Excellence “to provide our employees with the tools and knowledge to empower them to act in support of our climate commitments. This includes training and education, promoting internal collaboration, and knowledge and information sharing.” Their 4-page statement on climate commitment is here. Their 2018 Sustainable Business Report (latest available) includes detailed metrics and description of the bank’s own operations, including that they use an Internal Carbon Price of CAD$15/tonne CO2, to be reviewed every two years.
RBC, ranked Canada’s worst fossil-fueling bank in the 2019 edition of Banking on Climate Change , released a 1-page statement of their Commitment to Sustainable Finance (April 2019) and an undated Climate Blueprint with a target of $100 billion in sustainable financing by 2025. However, in their new research report, Navigating the 2020’s: How Canada can thrive in a decade of change , the bank characterizes the coming decade as “Greener, Greyer, Smarter, Slower”, but offers little hope of a change in direction. For example, the report states “ Canada’s natural gas exports can also play a role in reducing emissions intensity abroad. LNG shipments to emerging economies in Asia, where energy demand is growing much faster than in Canada, can help replace coal in electricity production, just as natural gas is doing here in Canada. …As climate concerns mount, Canada’s challenge will be to better sell ourselves as a responsible, cleaner energy producer.”
REenergising Australian business: the corporate race to 100% renewable energy was released by Greenpeace Australia Pacific on December 4.
Drawing on public information as well as 34 responses to a survey sent to 80 “big-brand” companies, the report presents analysis of the corporate move to renewable energy, covering seven major industry sectors, as well as case studies of individual companies. Of the 80 companies profiled: 30% have committed to move to 100% renewable energy ; 26% have signed a corporate power purchase agreement , and 65% have invested in rooftop or onsite solar.
Regarding job creation: The report estimates the impact if companies moved to 100% renewable energy to power their operations: for 3 of Australia’s largest companies (Woolworths, Coles and Telstra) it would create 4194 construction job-years and 232 ongoing jobs ; the 10 largest companies in the property and construction sector would create more than 1000 construction job-years, and the 14 largest telecommunications, IT, and technology companies would create around 2000 construction job-years.
What is driving the corporate move to renewables? “The UComms polling found 67% of Australians would prefer to work for a company that uses renewable energy, rather than one that doesn’t, while 100% of companies surveyed by Greenpeace reported that a key reason for shifting to renewable energy is employee expectation. In 2019, the Edelman Trust Barometer found 67% of employees “expect that prospective employers will join them in taking action on societal issues” and 76% say “CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.”
Canadian workers can hope that climate change awareness is finally dawning at the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), responsible for the financial health of the Canadian public pension system. On November 4, a CPPIB press release announced that the Board entered into a purchase agreement with Pattern Energy Group Inc. ; the Globe and Mail describes the deal in “CPPIB bets on renewable energy with $2.63-billion purchase of wind-farm operator Pattern Energy” . This would demonstrate a big leap for the CPPIB, which reported in its 2019 Report on Sustainable Investing, released on November 6, “CPPIB’s investments in global renewable energy companies more than doubled to $3 billion in the year to June 30, 2019. This is up from just $30 million in 2016.” The annual Report includes other details, including a description of the new climate change investing framework, launched in April 2019. Bloomberg News video channel (Nov. 5) offers an interview with the CEO of CPPIB discussing the CPPIB climate risk strategy, and providing the good news that the CPPIB will not participate in the expected blockbuster fossil fuel public offering by Saudi Aramco.
Changes to public sector pensions in Alberta
One hopes that the Alberta government may also invest in that province’s growing renewable energy industries, as it has made the unilateral decision to consolidate Alberta public sector pensions under the control of the Alberta Investment Management Corporation, a crown corporation administered by the provincial government . According to an article in the Calgary Herald, “Unions blast provincial decision to shift billions in public sector pension funds” : “(The) government intends to reverse the option of public sector pension plans leaving AIMCo as a fund manager. Moreover, the Alberta Teachers Retirement Fund, Workers’ Compensation Board and Alberta Health Services will be expected to transfer funds to AIMCo for management, reducing redundant administration.” More details appeared in “Government contemplates changes to management of more than 400,000 Alberta workers’ pension plans” in the Edmonton Journal (Nov. 1) which summarizes the opposition by the Alberta public sector unions on the grounds that the decision reverses a recent change that gave more than 351,000 public sector employees joint control of their pension funds – a joint governance model that had been authorized by 2018 legislation under the previous NDP government, and which only took effect in March 2019. The Edmonton Journal article also states that police and firefighter pensions might also be included in their plans. “Alberta’s public unions prep for a fight, whether in the streets or the courts” is a broader overview from CBC Calgary which discusses the pension consolidation, as well as the wage cuts and workforce reduction included in Bill 21 of the new budget under the new UCP government.
The dangers of investing pension funds to prop up the Alberta fossil fuel industry are indicated by a recent study of three major state public pension funds in California and Colorado (CalSTRS, CalPERS and PERA) . “Study Shows Pension Funds’ Refusal to Divest From Fossil Fuels Cost Retired Teachers, Firefighters, and Public Workers $19 Billion” appeared in Common Dreams on November 5, summarizing a study by Canadian publisher Corporate Knights. Their analysis concluded that those three pension funds collectively lost over $19 billion in retirement savings for teachers, state troopers and public workers by continuing to invest in fossil fuels. The full reports are not available yet on the Corporate Knights website, but are on Google Drive here . A response by 350.org also summarizes the study, calls fossil fuel investments “a Losing Strategy for Retirement Savings — and the Planet” and asks “Why would any fund manager continue to invest in fossil fuels? Risky, harmful to our planet and shared future, and less profitable than many other investment opportunities, fossil fuel investments are a lose-lose choice.”
Two new reports in September call for a greater role for public banks to finance a Green New Deal and just transition.
A US Green Investment Bank for All: Democratized finance for a Just Transition was published by the Next System Project in September, proposing a new, democratically- managed structure for financial institutions so that they function in the public interest to achieve a green and just transition. From the report: “Of the $454 billion in climate finance invested in 2016, the private investment sector, which controls 80 percent of all banking assets, contributed $230 billion, while the public sector contributed $224 billion. That is, with only 20 percent of total assets, public banks invest nearly as much as all private banks combined. The short-term, return-maximizing horizons of private finance have failed, utterly, to drive anything like a green transition. The future of climate finance must look to the public sphere, not the private.” …. “ The key political-economic decision in the design is the balance between concessionary lending (nonprofit and loss-making operations) and non-concessionary lending (that is, for-profit). The answers must follow from the bank’s public interest mandate and triple bottom line.” The full report is summarized in “We need a democratized Green Infrastructure Bank for a Just Transition ” in Open Democracy.
A second report also cites the failures of the international global market-based financial system. The 2019 Trade and Development Report: Financing a Global Green New Deal was released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on September 25, and states: “We can meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, but only if we find the political will to change the rules of the international economic game and adopt policies that scale up the resources needed for a big investment push led by the public sector and set the global economy on an expansionary course.”
UNCTAD economists project that a net increase in global employment of at least 170 million jobs, with an overall reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, if total green investment were increased annually by around US$1.7 trillion, which they estimate at one third of what is currently spent by governments on subsidizing fossil fuels. Although each country will require a unique policy mix, the report calls for changes for all to include fiscal stimulus, public investment in infrastructure and green energy, and measures to boost wages. The report also contends that the 2030 Agenda goals to eradicate poverty and meet nutrition, health and education goals will impose unsustainable financial burdens on many developing countries, also requiring reforms to the international trade, financial and monetary system.
The U.S. Business Roundtable generated headlines and surprised reaction with the August 19th release of a new Statement of Purpose, signed by 181 CEO’s of high-profile companies including Amazon, Walmart, Bank of America, Lockheed Martin, Morgan Stanley, UPS, and others. That statement redefines their shared, overarching corporate goal from “delivering value for shareholders” to promoting “An Economy That Serves All Americans” – including by: “supporting the communities in which we work. We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.” …“Investing in our employees. This starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits. It also includes supporting them through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world. We foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.”
The full Business Roundtable Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, with signatories, is here ; case studies of member corporations’ social responsibility initiatives are outlined in Building Communities, Meeting Challenges .
A higher bar for business
In contrast to the Business Roundtable statement, scant attention was paid to an international call for human rights and climate justice, released in July. The Safe Climate Report provides a guide to the obligations of States and the responsibilities of businesses under international agreements and law, regarding the rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation, rights of the child, right to a healthy environment, and rights of vulnerable populations.
The Safe Climate Report, as well as the June 2019 U.N. Report on extreme poverty and climate change by Philip Alston, are the subject of a September 4 article in The Conversation Canadian edition, “Climate change, poverty and human rights: an emergency without precedent” . The authors state that “The Alston report suggests that the only way to address the human rights dimensions of climate crisis is for states to effectively regulate businesses and for those harmed by climate change to successfully sue responsible companies in court. …. “the Safe Climate report goes further…”
Specifically, the Safe Climate Report states:
“Businesses must adopt human rights policies, conduct human rights due diligence, remedy human rights violations for which they are directly responsible, and work to influence other actors to respect human rights where relationships of leverage exist. As a first step, corporations should comply with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as they pertain to human rights and climate change…. The five main responsibilities of businesses specifically related to climate change are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their own activities and their subsidiaries; reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their products and services; minimize greenhouse gas emissions from their suppliers; publicly disclose their emissions, climate vulnerability and the risk of stranded assets; and ensure that people affected by business-related human rights violations have access to effective remedies.90 In addition, businesses should support, rather than oppose, public policies intended to effectively address climate change.” (page 19/20).
Legal obligations of States:
The discussion in this report is also highly relevant to any litigation against states or companies regarding climate change, as well as for the rights of Indigenous peoples and children. Boyd concludes:
“A failure to fulfill international climate change commitments is a prima facie violation of the State’s obligations to protect the human rights of its citizens. As global average temperatures rise, even more people’s rights will be violated, and the spectre of catastrophic runaway climate chaos increases. There is an immense gap between what is needed to seriously tackle the global climate emergency and what is being done.
A dramatic change of direction is needed. To comply with their human rights obligations, developed States and other large emitters must reduce their emissions at a rate consistent with their international commitments. To meet the Paris target of limiting warming to 1.5°C, States must submit ambitious nationally determined contributions by 2020 that will put the world on track to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45 per cent by 2030 (as calculated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). All States should prepare rights-based deep decarbonization plans intended to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, in accordance with article 4, paragraph 19, of the Paris Agreement. Four main categories of actions must be taken: addressing society’s addiction to fossil fuels; accelerating other mitigation actions; protecting vulnerable people from climate impacts; and providing unprecedented levels of financial support to least developed countries and small island developing States.”
The Safe Climate Report (formally titled The Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment) was submitted to the U.N. General Assembly, written by Canadian human rights scholar and U.N. Special Rapporteur David R. Boyd, whose 2012 book, The Environmental Rights Revolution: A Global Study of Constitutions, Human Rights and the Environment, stands as a landmark study in environmental law. The Special Rapporteur’s Report was informed by a consultation period in 2019 in which States and organizations were invited to participate – the few which did are posted here . (Neither Canada nor the U.S. were among the countries which submitted). Two noteworthy organizational submissions available are from Canada’s Ecojustice, and Our Children’s Trust (U.S.) on the issue of intergenerational responsibility and youth. A separate report by Special Rapporteur John Knox discussed The Children’s Rights and the Environment in 2018, and it may be significant the concluding sentence of the Safe Climate Report uses Greta Thunberg’s famous words, “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”
As part of its stated Action Plan for Engaging in a Just Energy Transition , the Fonds de Solidarité des Travailleurs du Québec (FTQ) (an investment fund controlled by Quebec trade unions) put forward the following shareholder’s resolution at the Cenovus Energy Annual Meeting in Calgary in April. (The text of the resolution appears on page 51, as Appendix A in the company’s Information Circular):
Resolved: That Cenovus Energy Inc. (“Cenovus”) set and publish science-based greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets that are aligned with the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit global average temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels. These targets should cover the direct and indirect methane and other GHG emissions of Cenovus’ operations over medium and long-term time horizons. Such targets should be quantitative, subject to regular review, and progress against such targets should be reported to shareholders on an annual basis.
The Board’s written response and recommendation states “…..Cenovus has always and will continue to assess our approach to climate change risk management with a view to maximizing shareholder value. ….Achieving the level of commitment contemplated by the Paris Agreement requires an integrated plan at a national and global level, with policies to guide the actions of governments, individuals and corporations to collectively work together toward the desired outcome. Our view is that it is an overly demanding request, and contrary to the best interests of shareholder value, to require an individual company to unilaterally set targets…. As such, we recommend voting against the proposal.” And sure enough, as expected, the FTQ proposal was defeated by an 89% vote against. The news is summarized and in The Energy Mix and by the CBC .
The Fonds de Solidarité des Travailleurs du Québec (FTQ), along with the Canadian shareholders’ non-profit SHARE, was also part of the recent resolution to Exxon . That resolution, filed in the U.S. by a group of investors led by the New York State Common Retirement Fund and the Church Commissioners for England, proposed that the company develop “short-, medium- and long-term greenhouse gas targets aligned with the goals established by the Paris Climate Agreement to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.” In response, ExxonMobil applied for and received permission from the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), allowing it to exclude the resolution from its Proxy Circular. In retaliation, SHARE states in a blog, Why we’ll vote against Exxon’s entire board of directors, that it is “recommending to our proxy voting clients that they withhold their support for all Exxon directors at the upcoming annual general meeting on May 29th.”
The “Micromanaging” argument: “Investors Worried About Climate Change Run Into New SEC Roadblocks” from Inside Climate News (May 3), in addition to providing a good overview of shareholder actions, explains: “The term “micromanage” has become the linchpin to objections by companies seeking to block these resolutions. The precedent was set last year when the SEC agreed with EOG Resources, a Texas-based oil and gas exploration company, that a resolution asking the company to adopt emissions goals had sought to “micromanage” the company.” More in “Exxon Shareholders want action on climate change: SEC calls it micromanagement” in the Washington Post (May 8). According to the CBC report about the FTQ resolution at Cenovus, the corporate CEO called the proposal “overly demanding”, and said “we had challenges with the prescriptive nature of the proposal”, echoing the industry’s language and strategy.
To stay up to date: The U.S. non-profit As you Sow monitors corporate environmental and social responsibility, including climate change and the energy transition – through press releases , reports, and an up-to-date database of resolutions .
On May 8, General Motors Canada and Unifor held a joint press conference and issued a statement announcing that GM will invest $170 million to save approximately 300 of the 2,600 union jobs at the Oshawa Ontario manufacturing facility, slated for closure by the end of 2019 as part of the North American restructuring announced in November 2018.
After a vigorous and high profile union campaign against the closure, an “Oshawa Transformation Agreement” has been reached, including:
- A $170 million investment by GM to convert the plant from vehicle assembly to stamping, related sub-assembly, and “other miscellaneous activities for GM and other auto industry customers.”
- Part of the Oshawa Plant property will be converted into a test track for autonomous and advanced technology vehicles, to support GM Canada’s existing Canadian Technical Centre , in particular its Oshawa and Markham campuses where the company develops software and hardware for Autonomous Vehicle Systems, Embedded Controls, Active Safety Systems and Infotainment.
- The company will also donate the three-acre Fenelon Park and the 87-acre McLaughlin Bay wildlife preserve to the City of Oshawa “for the permanent benefit of all its citizens.”
But what about the workers?
A separate Jobs Transition Backgrounder states:
- GM Canada will offer special relocations to Oshawa employees for jobs at the St. Catharines propulsion plant or the Woodstock Distribution Centre;
- GM will offer enhanced retirement packages to retirement-eligible Oshawa Assembly employees “including vouchers toward the purchase of new GM vehicles, a benefit that will support both retiring employees and GM dealerships in Durham Region and surrounding areas.”
- In June 2019, GM Canada, Unifor and the Ontario government will open a Jobs Action Centre in Oshawa, offering personalized transition counselling, a skills / jobs matching database and “other supports.” Durham College, the local community college, will support the Job Action Centre with a dedicated jobs portal and several job fairs planned for 2019.
- Durham College, Centennial College, and Trent University Durham will offer training tailored to regional and GTA-based partner employers.
- “GM Canada will offer training support for qualified Oshawa Assembly hourly employees.” (no further details stated in the public release).
Unifor Local 222 , which represents the workers at the Oshawa plant, have called a meeting on May 9 to inform the membership about the resolution of their grievance against the company, which sought to increase incentives and severance packages.
In better news for Ontario’s auto industry: Starting in 2022, Toyota will begin to produce the luxury Lexus NX at its Cambridge plant, in both gasoline and hybrid versions . ( Cambridge currently produces of the mid-size luxury Lexus RX and RX hybrid). According to a report in the Hamilton Spectator : “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Ontario Premier Christine Elliott, and a host of local mayors and dignitaries were at the Fountain Street facility Monday afternoon to announce the plant had secured the right to make the company’s Lexus NX gas and hybrid compact SUVs starting in 2022. The news came almost a year after the federal government partnered with the province — at the time led by Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals — to each invest $110 million in the company as part of an overall investment of $1.4 billion by Toyota.”
In what a New York Times article characterizes as “ the largest employee-driven movement on climate change to take place in the influential tech industry”, almost 7,000 employees of tech giant Amazon have now signed their names to an Open Letter to Jeff Bezos and the Amazon Board of Directors, released on April 10. The Letter states: “we ask that you adopt the climate plan shareholder resolution and release a company-wide climate plan that incorporates the principles outlined in this letter.” It then outlines a thorough list of desired actions, including: a complete transition away from fossil fuels rather than relying on carbon offsets; prioritization of climate impact when making business decisions; prioritizing the most vulnerable communities in pollution reduction initiatives related to Amazon locations; and “fair treatment of all employees during climate disruptions and extreme weather events. Unsafe or inaccessible workplaces should not be a reason to withhold pay, terminate, or otherwise penalize employees — including hourly and contract workers.” Amazon Employees for Climate Justice provides updates at their Twitter account here.
According to an article in Gizmodo : “Employees from seemingly every background and department have signed on, from UX designers to biz dev managers to systems development engineers and beyond. A number of senior employees are on board, too—in addition to the VP, at the time of writing, I counted at least eight directors on the list. It’s part of a growing trend towards worker advocacy in the tech industry, coming on the heels of the Google Walkout for Change and the We Won’t Build It effort, also at Amazon.” The culture of empowerment behind the Open Letter is evident in an interview published in Gizmodo, “One of the Amazon Workers Behind the Push to Get Jeff Bezos to Address Climate Change Speaks Out” . Wired also describes the culture of shareholder activism in “Amazon Employees Try A New Form Of Activism, As Shareholders” .
Amazon has more than 65,000 corporate and tech employees in the United States, who are awarded shares as part of their compensation program. In late November and early December, 2018, 16 current and former Amazon employees exercised their rights as shareholders by tabling a shareholder resolution – which has been seen as the trigger for Amazon’s Shipment Zero initiative, a vision to make all Amazon shipments net-zero carbon, with 50 percent of all shipments net zero by 2030. Amazon’s response to the latest Open Letter is partly reproduced in the Gizmodo article, and states: “We have a long history of commitment to sustainability through innovative programs such as Frustration Free Packaging, Ship in Own Container, our network of solar and wind farms, solar on our fulfillment center rooftops, investments in the circular economy with the Closed Loop Fund, and numerous other initiatives happening every day by teams across Amazon. In operations alone, we have over 200 scientists, engineers, and product designers dedicated exclusively to inventing new ways to leverage our scale for the good of customers and the planet. We have a long term commitment to powering our global infrastructure using 100% renewable energy.” Amazon’s corporate website details all its sustainability efforts – and on April 8th, just before the Open Letter was published, a press release announced 3 new wind energy projects, to augment the current level of 50% renewable energy power for the Automated Web Services part of the business.
The overall theme of the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos Switzerland in 2019 was the 4th Industrial Revolution. Climate change issues were top of mind in discussions, as the annual Global Risks Report for 2019 had ranked the top global risks to the world as extreme weather and climate-change policy failures. Discussions, speeches, blogs and reports are compiled on the themes of The Future of the Environment and Natural Resource Security and Climate Change . Highlights include : “6 things we learned about the Environment at Davos” , an overview which highlights Japan’s pledge to use its G20 Presidency to reduce plastic ocean pollution; the launch of a new organization called Voice for the Planet to showcase the youth climate activist movement: and a pledge by 10 global companies have to take back the electronic waste from their products. Also of interest, the speech by Greta Thunberg, who is at the centre of the new youth climate activism – “Our House is on Fire” ; and “Why income inequality is bad for the climate”, a blog by the President of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation.
WEF Reports of interest: Improving Traceability in Food Value Chains through Technology Innovations, which offers technology as a means to make the current industrial food system safer (and possibly more sustainable). Shaping the Sustainability of Production Systems: Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies for competitiveness and sustainable growth discusses the coming world of manufacturing, focussing on the electronics and automotive industries of Andhra Pradesh, India and the automotive industry in Michigan U.S.A., including a discussion of Cobotics 2.0 (collaborative robots) , Metal 3D printing, and “augmented workforce”.
The circular economy was also discussed, with a spotlight on electronic waste, which is estimated at 50 million tonnes of produced each year currently. A New Circular Vision for Electronics Time for a Global Reboot was released by the E-waste Coalition, which includes the International Telecommunication Union (a UN organization), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and others. The report, summarized here, is an overview of e-waste production and recycling, and includes a brief discussion of labour conditions, calling for upgrading and formalization of the recycling industry as a “major opportunity”. It states: “the total number of people working informally in the global e-waste sector is unknown. However, as an indication, according to the ILO in Nigeria up 100,000 people are thought to be working in the informal e-waste sector, while in China that number is thought to be 690,000.” As for the dangers… “using basic recycling techniques to burn the plastic from electronic goods leaving the valuable metals (melting down lead in open pots, or dissolving circuit boards in acid) lead to adult and child workers, as well as their families, exposed to many toxic substances. In many countries, women and children make up to 30% of the workforce in informal, crude e-waste processing and are therefore particularly vulnerable.” According to the report, the International Labour Organization is scheduled to release a new report in March 2019, to be titled Decent work in the management of electrical and electronic waste.
The “Driving a Fair Future” website has documented the complaints against Tesla for years – including an analysis of Tesla injury rates between 2014 and 2017 at its Freemont California plant, which showed that injuries were 31% higher than industry standards. In June 2018, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board began to hear some of the workers’ complaints of safety violations and anti-union harassment, with the United Auto Workers representing them. Two themes have emerged in the saga of Tesla’s bad labour relations: 1. how can the apparently “green jobs” become decent, good jobs? and 2. would unionization at Tesla give a toehold at other precarious Silicon Valley workplaces such as Google, Amazon, and their like.
“Tesla’s Union Battle Is About the Future of Our Planet” (Oct. 9) in Medium describes the union drive at the Freemont California electric vehicle manufacturing plant, in light of its environmental mission. The article contends : “ This case isn’t just about Tesla. It’s about the future of an industry that sees itself as key to addressing the climate crisis. Clean tech companies peddle a progressive vision of a low-carbon future, but Tesla’s anti-union fervor suggests that some in the industry have lost sight of their work’s bigger point.”
Workers from Tesla’s solar panel factory in Buffalo New York expressed similar sentiments in interviews with the local news organization . Taking pride in their green jobs, they are seeking better pay, benefits, and job security through a unionization drive announced in December. The Tesla Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo received $750 million in taxpayer funding for the state-of-the-art solar production facility, promising new jobs in a high unemployment area; the unionization campaign involves about 300 production and maintenance employees in a partnership between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Steelworkers. The drive is endorsed by the Labor Network for Sustainability , which states: “We are hearing a lot about the need for a Green New Deal that will provide millions of good jobs helping protect the climate. These Tesla workers represent the Green New Deal in action.” Follow developments on the Facebook page of the Coalition for Economic Justice Buffalo.
Implications for High Tech workers: “Why Elon Musk’s latest legal bout with the United Auto Workers may have ripple effects across Silicon Valley” is a thorough overview about the UAW unionization drive at Tesla’s auto manufacturing plant at Freemont California, from CNBC in early December. Similar themes appeared in “What Tesla’s union-busting trial means for the rest of Silicon Valley” appeared in Verge in September 2018, chronicling the arguments of the UAW and Tesla management – including Elon Musk and his tweets – during the NLRB hearings in June 2018. The article concludes that “Tesla’s case [is] a bellwether — particularly for Amazon. … Tesla might be a car company, but it’s also a tech company — and if its workers can unionize, tech workers elsewhere are bound to start getting ideas.”
What is life like for these high tech workers? A New Kind of Labor Movement in Silicon Valley” in The Atlantic (Sept. 4 ) gives a good overview, and introduces nascent groups as Silicon Valley Rising and Tech Workers Coalition .
After the November 26 bombshell announcement that the GM plant in Oshawa will close at the end of December 2019, Unifor President Jerry Diaz has demanded that GM allocate product to the Oshawa plant, putting his faith in the newly-signed USMCA trade agreement and stating “Oshawa has been in this situation before with no product on the horizon and we were able to successfully make the case for continued operations.” But in a CBC interview, “Why can’t they make the future in Oshawa?‘”(Nov. 27), the Canadian Vice President for Corporate and Environmental Affairs states firmly that there is no hope for further production in Oshawa. “This decision has to do with simply being able to make the transition to the future and reallocate capital into the massive investments that are needed for electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles.” He forecasts that about half of the existing Oshawa workers will be eligible to retire with enhanced full pensions, some (but not all) others may find work at GM plants in Ingersoll or St. Catharines, and the rest will be covered by whatever compensation, benefits and timing is negotiated with their union, Unifor. In a more recent CBC article, “GM Canada president says electric vehicles are the future — but they won’t be made in Oshawa” (Dec. 4), the president reiterates that there are no changes planned for the CAMI plant in Ingersoll or the St. Catharines facility, and points to the growth of the new GM Canadian Technology Centre opened in Markham in January 2018, which has already hired approximately 450 software engineers and coders, with plans to hire more.
Although Ontario Premier Ford somehow blamed the previous government’s cap and trade policies for GM’s decision, others are recognizing the GM closure as part of the disruption and transformation of the auto industry. From the Energy Mix, “GM Plant Closure Shows Industry Transition Catching Canada, Ontario Flat-Footed” (Nov. 30) ; (also of interest: “Lost Opportunities Show Cost of Canada’s Moribund Cleantech Manufacturing Strategy” (Nov. 30), which discusses the dilemma of electric bus manufacturers in Canada). In “GM and Canada’s transition to a zero-emissions fleet” in IRPP Policy Options (Dec. 3) , author Ryan Katz-Rosene of the University of Ottawa states that “ the 20th-century auto-sector model (in which a handful of global automakers commanded the market and much of the supply chain associated with it) is pretty much dead now.” The article asks, “Where does this leave Canada in terms of its preparedness to participate in the 21st century automobile sector, which is largely centred on electric and autonomous vehicles? And, what role (if any) should governments, at all levels, play to improve Canada’s industrial positioning in that sector?” And Barry Cross of Queen’s University asks “Have we reached peak car?” in The Conversation (Dec. 2) – a quick view of the future of autonomous vehicles and car sharing.
The Good News: British Columbia: In the latest encouragement to electric vehicle ownership in British Columbia, the Premier announced on November 20 that he will introduce legislation in Spring 2019 to phase in targets for the sale of zero-emission vehicles in the province – 10% ZEV sales by 2025, 30% by 2030, and 100% by 2040. This will be accompanied by funding to expand charging infrastructure, and for consumer incentives in addition to the existing incentives under the Clean Energy Vehicle program . The new policies are in line with the Intentions Paper on Transportation, part of a public consultation in Summer 2018. (For background, read “Fuelled by strong demand, B.C. adds $10 million to electric vehicle incentive program” (Sept 27) and “B.C. proposes mandate for electric vehicles” (July 27), both in the National Observer.) Mandates for EV sales are already in place in Quebec, California, and other U.S. states.
The Bad news: Ontario: Mandates for EV sales in the U.S. was part of the modernization strategy by General Motors in its comments to the U.S. government under the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule on October 26, 2018. According to the National Observer at the time, “Transport Canada welcomes GM’s electric car plan”. Apparently, Transport Canada didn’t know what was in store. As of November 26, GM’s global modernization strategy came crashing down on Ontario auto workers – announced in the November 26 corporate press release: GM Accelerates Transformation . The brief and unexpected press release names the GM Assembly plant in Oshawa Ontario as one which will be “unallocated” in 2019, along with Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly ( Detroit) and Lordstown Assembly (Warren, Ohio). The Toronto Star makes the connections in “GM plant closure in Oshawa part of company’s shift to electric, self-driving autos” (Nov. 26) .
Unifor, which represents approximately 2,500 GM Oshawa workers who will lose their jobs, was only informed of the decision one day ahead of the public announcement, and has stated : “Based on commitments made during 2016 contract negotiations, Unifor does not accept this announcement and is immediately calling on GM to live up to the spirit of that agreement.” Ontario’s Premier Ford issued a statement saying: “As a first step, I will be authorizing Employment Ontario to deploy its Rapid Re-Employment and Training Services program to provide impacted local workers with targeted local training and jobs services to help them regain employment as quickly as possible….we are asking the federal government to immediately extend Employment Insurance (EI) eligibility to ensure impacted workers in the auto sector can fully access EI benefits when they need them most….We are also asking the federal government to work with their U.S. counterparts to remove all tariffs so that impacted auto parts suppliers can remain competitive after the Oshawa Assembly Plant closes its doors.”
The Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), which brought together the world’s politicians, business leaders, and civil society organizations in San Francisco, concluded on September 14 . The final Call to Global Climate Action calls on national governments to urgently step up climate action, including by enhancing their UNFCC Nationally Determined Contributions by 2020.The GCAS final press release summarizes the many announcements and 500+ commitments that were made; even more comprehensive is A Chronology of Individual Summit and Pre-Summit Announcements , in which Summit organizers list all important actions and documents, dating back to January 2018. Plans were announced to monitor actions flowing from the Summit at a revamped Climate Action Portal, hosted by the UNFCC – focused around an interactive map as the key to aggregated data about climate action by region and sector.
Labour unions at the Summit: Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, delivered a speech to the Summit on September 13, “Fight Climate Change the Right way” , in which he highlighted the passage of Resolution 55 at the AFL-CIO Convention in October 2017. He emphasized that the climate change/clean energy resolution was adopted unanimously…”with the outspoken support of the unions whose members work in the energy sector. That part is critical–the workers most impacted by a move away from carbon fuels came together and endorsed a plan to save our people and our planet….”
Trumka also spoke on September 12 at Labor in the Climate Transition: Charting the Roadmap for 2019 and Beyond , an affiliate event sponsored by the University of California Berkeley Labor Center, along with the California Labor Federation, California Building and Construction Trades Council, Service Employees International Union, IBEW 1245, the International Trades Union Confederation, and BlueGreen Alliance. In that speech, titled Collective Action and Shared Sacrifice Key to Fighting Climate Change, Trumka cast the AFL-CIO climate record in a positive light, repeated the success of Resolution 55 at the 2017 Convention, gave a 100% commitment to fighting climate change, and stated: “…we must be open to all methods of reducing carbon emissions—including technologies some environmentalists don’t like.” He concluded: “When the movement to fight climate change ignores the issue of economic justice, or treats it as an afterthought, when we seek to address climate change without respecting the hard work and sacrifice of workers in the energy and manufacturing sectors whose jobs are threatened—we feed the forces who are trying to tear us apart…. If we don’t get this right, we could find that our democracy fails before our climate…as rising fear and rising hate converge on us faster than rising seas.”
The Berkeley event also featured panels on Just Transition, chaired by Samantha Smith, Director, Just Transition Centre of the ITUC, and included Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour, as a speaker, and a panel on Energy Efficiency in buildings , which included John Cartwright, President, Toronto & York Region Labour Council (pictured right) as a speaker. Videos of the Berkeley event are here , including one of the Trumka speech.
Finally, as part of the main Summit announcements, the International Transport Federation (ITF) released a statement in support of the Green and Healthy Streets Declaration by the C40 Cities, which commits signatory cities to procure zero emission buses by 2025 and to ensure that major areas of cities are zero emissions by 2030. (Montreal and Toronto are the two Canadian signatories). The ITF statement, Green & Healthy Streets: Transitioning to zero emission transport , is motivated by the benefits of lowering air pollution and occupational health and safety for transport workers, as well as the economic justice of providing transit opportunities for workers to commute to work.
The ITF and its affiliates commit to: “Working in partnerships with mayors and cities to ensure that the transition to fossil-fuel-free streets is a just transition that creates decent jobs, reduces inequality, and drives inclusion and improvements in the lives of working class and low income people. • Building partnerships with mayors and city authorities to develop and integrate just transition plans that drive decent work and social action, including labour impact assessments, safeguards and job targets for men and women workers. • Mobilising workers knowledge and skills to shape and enhance the supportive actions needed to meet the commitments in the Declaration. • Working in partnerships with mayors and city authorities to deliver a just transition to zero emission buses, including developing plans for relevant worker training.”
Other progress for workplace concerns at the Summit:
Amid the announcements from the formal meetings, one new initiative stands out: the Pledge for a Just Transition to Decent Jobs, which commits renewable energy companies to ILO core labor standards and ILO occupational health and safety standards for themselves and their suppliers, as well as social dialogue with workers and unions, wage guarantees, and social protections such as pension and health benefits. The BTeam press release “Companies step up to Deliver a Just Transition” lists the signatories, and also quotes Sharan Burrow, Vice-Chair of The B Team and General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, who states: “We will not stand by and see stranded workers or stranded communities.… We have to work together with business, with government and workers. We can build a future that’s about the dignity of work, secure employment and shared prosperity.” The BTeam press release also references Just Transition: A Business Guide, published jointly by the B Team and the Just Transition Centre in May 2018.
Another announcement related to the workplace: 21 companies announced the Step Up Declaration, a new alliance “dedicated to harnessing the power of emerging technologies and the fourth industrial revolution to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all economic sectors and ensure a climate turning point by 2020.” The press release references “the transformative power of the fourth industrial revolution, which encompasses artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT). In addition, the declaration acknowledges the role its signatories can play in demonstrating and enabling progress both in their immediate spheres of influence and “collaboratively with others— across all sectors of society, including individuals, corporations, civil society, and governments.” Signatories include several established climate leaders: Akamai Technologies, Arm, Autodesk, Bloomberg, BT, Cisco Systems, Ericsson, HP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Lyft, Nokia, Salesforce, Supermicro, Symantec, Tech Mahindra, Uber, Vigilent, VMware, WeWork, Workday.
The U.K. Committee on Climate Change (CCC) submitted its 2018 annual report to the British Parliament on June 28, marking ten years since the Climate Change Act became law in 2008. On the plus side, the report highlights a decoupling of economic growth: since 1990, emissions have fallen by 43% and the economy has grown by over 70%. Since 2008, the UK has achieved a 59% reduction in emissions from electricity generation. Yet despite that progress, other sectors, notably transport, agriculture and the built environment, have not achieved reductions – transport emissions have actually grown and at 28% of total UK emissions, are now the single largest emitter. Reducing UK emissions – 2018 Progress Report to Parliament outlines four high-level, messages for government and calls for immediate policy action in residential energy efficiency, development of Carbon Capture and Storage, and stronger consumer incentives for electric vehicles.
No sooner said than done: on July 9, the British Ministry of Transport released a long-awaiting document, The Road to Zero Strategy , with the goal that all new cars and vans will be effectively zero emission by 2040, at which time the government will end the sale of new conventional gas and diesel cars and vans. The press release highlights and summarizes the proposals . Some specifics: commitment to continue consumer purchase incentives for plug-in cars, vans, taxis and motorcycles; commitment that all the central Government car fleet will be zero emissions by 2030; the launch of a £400 million Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund and as much as £500 incentive for electric vehicle owners to help them install a charge point at their home; increasing the grant level of the existing incentives for Workplace Charging stations.
Stimulating the motor vehicle industry: Notably, the strategy aims to improve emissions in road transport in the U.K. while putting the U.K. “at the forefront of the design and manufacturing of zero emission vehicles.” Measures announced to support industry include: public investment in auto technology R & D, including £246 million to research next generation battery technology; and working with the industry training group, Institute of the Motor Industry, “to ensure the UK’s workforce of mechanics are well trained and have the skills they need to repair these vehicles safely, delivering for consumers” .
However, “Road to Zero or Road to Nowhere: Government revs up green vehicle ‘ambition’ ” in Business Green newsletter compiles reaction from business and environmental sources, all of which agree that the 2040 target date is too late. The quote from the Policy Director of Green Alliance sums up reaction: “It’s rare for the oil industry, mayors and environmentalists to agree on something, but we all think 2040 is far too late for a ban on conventional vehicles…Moving it to 2030 and setting a zero emissions vehicles mandate would encourage car companies to build electric cars in the UK, and give the country a head start on its competitors across Europe. While there are some welcome measures, including on charging infrastructure, the Road to Zero strategy is on cruise control. As it stands, it won’t help the UK build a world leading clean automotive industry.”
The full Road to Zero policy document is here ; the accompanying technical report, Transport Energy Model provides data about the GHG emissions, energy requirements, and pollution associated with cars, trucks and double decker buses using conventional fossil fuels as well as biofuels, hydrogen, and electricity.
The British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCI) is the fourth largest pension fund manager in Canada, and controls capital of $135.5 billion, including the pension funds of the province’s public employees. A June report asks the question: is BCI investing funds in ways that support the shift to a two degree C global warming limit? The answer is “no”, and in fact, fossil fuel investments have been increasing, according to the authors of Canada’s Fossil-Fuelled Pensions: The Case of the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation . For example, BCI boosted its investment in Kinder Morgan, owner of the Trans-Mountain pipeline, to $65.3 million in 2017 from $36.7 million in 2016.
An article in the Victoria B.C. Times Colonist newspaper summarizes the study and includes reaction from one of the authors, James Rowe, an associate professor at University of Victoria. Rowe states: “BCI claims to be a responsible investor. …But we find some hypocrisy in that we don’t find any good signs they are investing with climate change in mind.” The article also quotes an email from BCI, which defends the investment in Kinder Morgan, as “a passive investment held inside funds designed to track Canadian and global markets.” Further, it states, “BCI does invest in oil and gas companies, but that particular sector accounts for a significant portion of the Canadian economy. It’s about 20 per cent of the composite index on the Toronto Stock Exchange.” For more from BCI, see their website which provides their 2017 Responsible Investing Annual Report , as well as a Responsible Investing Newsletter, with the most recent issue (Oct. 2017) devoted to “Transparency and Disclosure”.
Canada’s Fossil-Fuelled Pensions: The Case of the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation makes the following recommendations so that BCI can align its investments with the 2°C limit:
- “A portfolio-wide climate change risk analysis to determine the impact of fossil fuels on BCI’s public equity investments in the context of the 2°C limit. And, subsequent disclosure of all findings to pension members.
- Divestment. The surest way to address the financial and moral risks associated with investing in the fossil fuel industry is to start the process of divestment: freezing any new investment and developing a plan to first remove high-risk companies from portfolios, particularly coal and oil sands producers, and then moving toward sector-wide divestment.
- Reinvest divested funds in more sustainable stocks. The International Energy Agency estimates that trillions of dollars of investment are needed in the renewables sector to support the transition away from fossil fuels.”
The report is part of the Corporate Mapping Project (CMP), jointly led by the University of Victoria, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and Parkland Institute. CMP is a research and public engagement initiative investigating power dynamics within the fossil fuel industry.
According to a ranking by Project Drawdown, businesses around the world could eliminate 82 billion hours of air travel time for employees by substituting travel to meetings with high-quality video conferencing systems – a work practice with the potential to cut atmospheric carbon dioxide by 1.99 gigatons by 2050. This solution, dubbed Telepresence, is ranked as 63rd out of 100 solutions to global warming in the Project Drawdown study which compares the cost and GHG savings of three adoption scenarios (ranging from 16% – 50%) in the period 2020-2050.
Project Drawdown describes its work as “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming”. In an April 25 New York Times interview , Paul Hawkin, Project Drawdown’s executive director, states: “A primary goal of Drawdown is to help people who feel overwhelmed by gloom-and-doom messages see that reversing global warming is bursting with possibility: walkable cities, afforestation, bamboo, high-rises built of wood, marine permaculture, multistrata agroforestry, clean cookstoves, plant-rich diet, assisting women smallholders, regenerative agriculture, supporting girls’ ongoing education, smart glass, in-stream hydro, on and on.” The solutions have been proposed and researched by an international collaboration of “ geologists, engineers, agronomists, researchers, fellows, writers, climatologists, biologists, botanists, economists, financial analysts, architects, companies, agencies, NGOs, activists, and other experts” .
The complete list of 100 proposals was published by Penguin Books in 2017 and is available at the Project Drawdown website. Canadian news outlet The Energy Mix is currently posting excerpts from Project Drawdown, and highlighted Telepresence in its May 11 issue.
“Canadian cleantech startups get ready for a breakout year” appeared in the Globe and Mail on January 3, 2018 citing a 2017 report by Cleantech Group, which ranked Canada “fourth in the world as a clean-technology innovator – and tops among Group of Twenty countries – up from seventh place in 2014.” Then on January 24, the San Francisco-based company Cleantech Group released its ninth annual Global Cleantech 100 list for 2018 ; the List includes 13 Canadian companies, and the full Report is here (free; registration required). Sure enough, Canada has improved its showing. And on January 18, the Government of Canada announced that the federal government will invest $700 million over the next five years through the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) “ to grow Canada’s clean technology industry, protect the environment and create jobs “, as part of its larger Investment and Skills funding. The same press release also announced the launch of the Clean Growth Hub, the government’s “focal point for clean technology”, which will focus on supporting companies and projects that produce clean technology, as well as coordinate existing programs and track results.
Yet in reaction to the government’s announcement, the president of Analytica Advisors, which publishes an annual review of Canadian clean tech, had this to say in the National Post : “A $700-million investment to help clean technology firms expand and develop new products won’t turn Canada’s clean-tech industry into the “trillion dollar opportunity” the government keeps touting until we get out of our fossil-fuel comfort zone”. She also co-authored an OpEd in the Globe and Mail, “Canada’s financial sector is missing in action on climate change” (Jan. 23) where she berates the Canadian financial community for sitting on the sidelines amidst international initiatives for more climate-risk disclosure so that those risks can be priced into investment decisions. For an update on the Canadian scene regarding this issue, see “Modernizing financial regulation to address climate-related risks” by Keith Stewart, in Policy Options (Feb. 2).
In what is being called a revolutionary document, A New Textile Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future characterizes the current system of textile and clothing production as a “wasteful, linear system” which “leads to substantial and ever-expanding pressure on resources and causes high levels of pollution. Hazardous substances affect the health of both textile workers and the wearers of clothes, and plastic microfibres are released into the environment, often ending up in the ocean.” To improve the societal and environmental impacts of the industry, the report fleshes out the means to achieve four fundamental objectives: 1. Phase out substances of concern and microfibre release 2. Transform the way clothes are designed, sold, and used to break free from their increasingly disposable nature, 3. Radically improve recycling by transforming clothing design, collection, and reprocessing, and 4. Make effective use of resources and move to renewable inputs. Benefits to consumers are emphasized, and benefits to workers seem to flow from a reduced exposure to the toxic chemicals used in manufacture. There is only vague attention to “A better deal for employees. Because a circular economy is distributive by design, value would be circulated among enterprises of all sizes in the industry, rather than being extracted. This would allow all parts of the value chain to pay workers well and provide them with good working conditions.” The report was released by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Circular Fibres Initiative, with Stella McCartney adding star power.
A greater focus on the working conditions in the global clothing industry comes from The Clean Clothes Campaign . Greenpeace International has been promoting the fight against toxic chemicals in fashion for several years in their Detox My Fashion campaign.
“To protect pensions, companies should be required to come clean on climate risk” writes Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada in an Opinion piece in the National Observer on November 27. Stewart reports that Greenpeace Canada has filed a formal request under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, for the Ontario government to review the need for mandatory disclosure of climate-related risks in corporations’ financial filings. The government’s response is expected by the end of 2017. This is the latest of recent and ongoing calls for increased corporate disclosure of the risks posed by climate change, to protect investors and financial stability. The issue has even made it to the conservative Report on Business of the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper, in “Business risk from climate change now top of mind for Canada’s corporate boards” (November 22) . The article warns that Canada’s stock markets are particularly vulnerable to a potential “carbon bubble” in the valuations of fossil-fuel-dependent companies, given that the Toronto Stock Exchange is so heavily weighted with energy and mining companies (20 per cent for that category, as compared with only 2 per cent for clean technology and renewable-energy companies). And that’s not the worst: on the TSX Venture Exchange, mining and oil and gas companies account for 68 per cent of the index. (Such a resource sector dependency was part of the reasoning given by the Norweigian Wealth Fund for its proposal to divest oil and gas investments (Nov. 16)).
Another related Globe and Mail article provides an excuse for the current state of climate risk disclosure in Canada in “Companies Looking to Report Environmental Data Also Navigate Inconsistent Frameworks” (Nov. 22) . The article states that “There is a dizzying number of best-practice guidelines for climate disclosures” and lists the major ones – with information drawn largely from the Carrots & Sticks database . In fact, Carrots & Sticks lists nine sustainability reporting instruments unique to Canada, in addition to widely-recognized international ones such as the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) Reporting Framework and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises . (Carrots & Sticks is an initiative begun in 2006 by KPMG International, Stichting Global Reporting Initiative, UNEP, and the Centre for Corporate Governance in Africa, with the goal of encouraging and harmonizing financial disclosure guidelines.)
Most recently, the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, led by Marc Carney and Michael Bloomberg, released their landmark Final Report and Recommendations in 2016. The following Canadian pension funds have, at least on paper, supported it: Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, OPTrust, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation. The Canadian Securities Administrators launched a Climate Change Disclosure Review in March 2017 to investigate and consult re Canadian practice, which will issue a report “upon completion of its review”.
And across the globe in Australia, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), the regulator of the financial industry, has also announced an industry-wide review of climate-related disclosure practices. On November 29, an Executive Board member of the APRA delivered a speech, “The weight of money: A business case for climate risk resilience” , in which he outlines the Australian perspective on climate-related financial risks, and states: “So while the debate continues about the physical risks, the transition to a low carbon economy is underway, and that means the so-called transition risks are unavoidable: changes to market sentiment, new financial or environmental regulations, or the emergence of new technologies with the potential to prompt a reassessment of the value of a large range of assets, and consequently the value of capital and investments.” The speech is summarized in The Guardian.
November brought exciting news about electric vehicles: BYD, one of China’s leading electric carmakers, announced that it will open an assembly plant in a yet-to-be-announced location in Ontario in 2018, (though according to the Globe and Mail article, the new plant will only create about 40 jobs to start ). Also in mid-November, Tesla revealed a concept design for an electric truck in an glitzy release by Elon Musk , and the Toronto Transit Commission announced its plan to buy its first electric buses, aiming for an emissions-free fleet by 2040. Unnoticed in the enthusiasm for these announcements was a report released by Amnesty International on November 15: Time to Recharge: Corporate action and inaction to tackle abuses in the cobalt supply chain which concludes : “ Major electronics and electric vehicle companies are still not doing enough to stop human rights abuses entering their cobalt supply chains, almost two years after an Amnesty International investigation exposed how batteries used in their products could be linked to child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).” (That earlier report was This is what we die for released in January 2016) .
Under the heading “The Darker side of Green Technology”, Time to Recharge states: “Renault and Daimler performed particularly badly, failing to meet even minimal international standards for disclosure and due diligence, leaving major blind spots in their supply chains. BMW did the best among the electric vehicle manufacturers surveyed.” Tesla was also surveyed and ranked for its human rights and supply chain management; Tesla’s policies are described in its response to Amnesty International here. And further, Tesla has come in for suggestions of anti-union attitudes in “Critics Suggest Link to Union Drive After Tesla Fires 700+ Workers” , in The Energy Mix (Oct. 23), and in an article in Cleantechnica , and for discriminatory policies in “The Blue-Collar Hellscape of the Startup Industry“, published in In these Times and re-posted in Portside.
The Amnesty International report is a result of a survey of 29 companies, including consumer electronics giants Apple, Samsung Electronics, Dell, Lenovo, and Microsoft, as well as electric vehicle manufacturers BMW, Renault and Tesla. Questions in the survey were based on the five-step due diligence framework set out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas. Detailed responses from many of the surveyed companies are here.
Just Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? A Guide to National Policies and International Climate Governance was released on September 19 by the International Trade Union Confederation, summarizing what has been done to date by the ITUC and through international agencies such as the ILO, UNFCCC, and the Paris Agreement. It also provides short summaries of some transition situations, including the Ruhr Valley in Germany, Hazelwood workers in the LaTrobe Valley, Australia, U.S. Appalachian coal miners and the coal mining pension plan, Argentinian construction workers, and Chinese coal workers. Finally, the report calls for concrete steps to advance Just Transition and workers’ interests.
The report defines Just Transition on a national or regional scale, as “an economy-wide process that produces the plans, policies and investments that lead to a future where all jobs are green and decent, emissions are at net zero, poverty is eradicated, and communities are thriving and resilient.” But the report also argues that Just Transition is important for companies, with social dialogue and collective bargaining as key tools to manage the necessary industrial transformation at the organizational level. To that end, the ITUC is launching “A Workers Right To Know” as an ITUC campaign priority for 2018, stating, “Workers have a right to know what their governments are planning to meet the climate challenge and what the Just Transition measures are. Equally, workers have a right to know what their employers are planning, what the impact of the transition is and what the Just Transition guarantees will be. And workers have a right to know where their pension funds are invested with the demand that they are not funding climate or job destruction.”
The ITUC report makes new proposals. It calls on the ILO to take a more ambitious role and to negotiate a Standard for Just Transition by 2021, carrying on from the Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies forAll (2015). The ITUC also states “expectations” of how Just Transition should be given greater priority in the international negotiation process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), so that: Just Transition commitments are incorporated into the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of countries; Just Transition for workers becomes a permanent theme within the forum on response measures under the Paris Agreement, and Just Transition is included in the 2018 UNFCCC Facilitative Dialogue. It also calls for the launch of a “Katowice initiative for a Just Transition” at the COP23 meetings to take place in Katowice, Poland in 2018, “to provide a high-level political space”. Finally, the ITUC calls for expansion of the eligibility criteria of the Green Climate Fund to allow the funding of Just Transition projects.
Just Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? is a Climate Justice Frontline Briefing from the International Trade Union Confederation, with support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and is based upon Strengthening Just Transition Policies in International Climate Governance by Anabella Rosemberg, published as a Policy Analysis Brief by the Stanley Foundation in 2017.
Other Just Transition News: In Calgary in September, the Just Transition and Good Green Jobs in Alberta Conference took place, sponsored by BlueGreen Alberta, with updates on national and provincial developments and with a global perspective from Samantha Smith, Director of the ITUC’s Just Transition Centre as the keynote speaker. A companion event, the 3rd Annual Alberta Climate Summit, hosted by the Pembina Institute and Capital Power, also included a session on “Just Transition: Labour and Indigenous Perspectives” which featured Andres Filella (Metis Nation of Alberta), Samantha Smith(Just Transition Centre) and Heather Milton-Lightening ( Indigenous Climate Action Network).
In advance of these events, the Alberta government had announced on September 11 the launch of the Coal Community Transition Fund to assist Alberta communities impacted by the mandated coal-phase out in the province. Municipalities and First Nations can apply for grant funding to support economic development initiatives that focus on regional partnerships and economic diversification. Further funding is anticipated from the federal government, with retraining programs also expected after the Advisory Panel on Coal Communities provides its recommendations in a report to the government, expected this fall.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a Statement at the end of visit to Canada by the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights on June 1. This is a preliminary document – the official mission report will be presented to the 38th session of the Human Rights Council in June 2018, and should be worth watching for. The preliminary Statement provides a summary of the results of fact-finding meetings with government officials, business organizations related to Canada’s mining and oil and gas industries, and Indigenous people. Most importantly, it makes a number of recommendations regarding human rights, labour rights, environmental and social impact consultation, and the right to consult for Indigenous people.
“Part of the backdrop to our visit were visible protests by indigenous communities to several large-scale development projects, such as the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline, the construction a large-scale hydroelectric dam (Site C Dam), and continued expansion of development projects of extractives industries. Several of these cases have also been repeatedly raised by UN human rights human rights mechanisms, such as the situation of the Lubicon Cree Nation, whose territories are affected by extensive oil sands extraction. In several indigenous territories, extensive mining and oil and gas extraction are accompanied by significant adverse environmental impacts affecting the right to health.”
Regarding the established “duty to consult” with Indigenous people regarding mining projects, the Working Group encourages the Canadian government to ratify the ILO Convention No. 169 and for provincial and the federal government to promote more inclusive consultation regarding development projects.
The Working Group also urges the federal government to “follow up” on the April 2017 recommendations by the Expert Panel regarding Environmental Assessment in Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada “to include indigenous peoples in decision-making at all stages through a collaborative process that is developed in partnership with impacted indigenous communities.”
Regarding the dam breach and tailings spill at the Mount Polley mine, the Working Group states: “We encourage the British Columbia government to complete expeditiously the impact study, continue to monitor closely the short-term and long-terms impacts of the tailings discharge, and communicate more widely their findings and proposed actions. Moreover, the provincial government should consult more broadly with indigenous communities who may have concerns about the breach and its impact on their lives. We also recommend the British Columbia government to consider establishing an independent body to assume compliance and monitoring of mining regulations, as recommended in the Auditor General’s report”.
Regarding the Westray Law, the Working Group states: “We heard concerns that the Westray law is not being properly implemented and enforced. We heard that there was a lack of coordination between key government parties, to secure sites of industrial accidents, for further investigation and inspection. We note that the Government of Alberta recently signed a new memorandum of understanding with ten police forces and Alberta Justice, that defines protocols for notification, investigation and communication between departments when there is a serious workplace incident. Other provinces should follow Alberta’s lead”.
Regarding the need to protect the right to peaceful protest: “During our visit, we were told of the criminalization of peaceful protests and the use of security personnel and police to break up and arrest activists who were exercising their democratic right to protest against extractive projects both within and outside Canada. The government should work all relevant stakeholders to ensure more space for peaceful dissent and protest at home and abroad.” And also: referring to Ontario and Quebec, “we would encourage other provincial governments to develop similar Anti-SLAPP legislation. “
In conclusion: The Working Group revives a 2006 proposal for an Ombudsperson with a mandate to investigate allegations of business-related human rights abuse, and “we encourage the federal government to work together with provincial governments to develop a comprehensive national action plan on business and human rights. ”
The Working Group Statement was also concerned with human rights abuses overseas by Canadian mining companies: see the analysis of the Working Group statement by Human Rights Watch here, or see “The ‘Canada Brand’: Violence and Canadian Mining Companies in Latin America“, an extensive report in the Osgoode Law Research Paper Series (December 2016).
OPTrust administers the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU ) Pension Plan, with almost 87,000 members and retirees. On January 31, it became a leader in Canadian pension plan administration by releasing two documents: Climate Change: Delivering on Disclosure, a position paper, and OPTrust: Portfolio Climate Risk Assessment, a report by Mercer consultants, which provides an assessment and analysis of the fund’s climate risk exposure . The OPTrust press release states: “For pension funds, climate change presents a number of complex and long-term risks. In Canada alone, pension funds manage well over $1.5 trillion in assets, which brings a real responsibility to collectively seek innovative approaches to modeling carbon exposure and its impact across portfolios.” The position paper, Delivering on Disclosure, includes a call for collaboration amongst other financial actors to develop standardized measures for carbon disclosure. It is noteworthy that OPTrust is governed by a 10-member Board of Trustees, five of whom are appointed by the union, OPSEU, and five by the employer, the Government of Ontario.
In a February 2 press release affecting the pension plans of New York’s public employees, teachers, firefighters and police, the Office of the Controller of New York City announced: “the Trustees of the New York City Pension Funds … will conduct the first-ever carbon footprint analysis of their portfolios and determine how to best manage their investments with an eye toward climate change. In the 21st century, companies must transition to a low-carbon economy, and a failure to adapt to the realities of global warming could present potential investment risks.” The New York City pension system has been a leader in addressing climate change risks, including an initiative called the Boardroom Accountability Project , which began in 2014 to give investors the ability to ensure boards are diverse and “climate-competent”.
On this point, a January 2017 report from Vancouver-based Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE) found that “… companies in Canada’s most carbon-intensive sectors are not demonstrating ‘climate competency’ in the boardroom.” The report, Taking Climate on Board: Are Canadian energy and utilities company boards equipped to address climate change? urges greater transparency from boards at publicly-traded corporations, stating “Investors need boards to demonstrate that they are “climate-competent” – that they understand and prioritize climate change risks to long-term value, including the physical, legal, reputational, stranded asset and regulatory risks related to climate change.” The report is based on a review of the public disclosures from 52 companies across Canada’s energy and utilities sectors, using 3 measures: board skills and experience, oversight, and risk disclosure. It concludes that “more companies are starting to talk about climate change in their reporting, but only three boards disclosed any expertise amongst their members on the issue, and no board included climate change knowledge in its board competency matrix.” The full report is here. (On another note, SHARE has walked the walk by filing shareholder resolutions with Enbridge Inc., and met with TD Bank regarding their environmental and social aspects of their investments in the Dakota Access Pipeline. See “The Dakota Access Pipeline and Indigenous Rights.” )
Cobalt is a key ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones, laptops and electric cars. 60% of the world’s supply is mined in Congo, according to “The Cobalt Pipeline” (September 2016), a Washington Post special report which documented the appalling working conditions of the “artisanal miners”. Occupational health and safety concerns for miners was also expressed in “The Battery Revolution is exciting, but Remember they Pollute too”, by Carla Lipsig Mumme and Caleb Goods in The Conversation (June 2015).
In a December 20 article, the Washington Post reports on two new initiatives to curb “the worst forms of child labor” and other abusive workplace practices in the supply chain for cobalt. The first, the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, is being led by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Metals, Minerals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters, and supported by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with members pledging to follow OECD guidelines which call for companies to trace how cobalt is being extracted, transported, manufactured and sold. Apple, HP, Samsung SDI and Sony have signed on.
The second initiative, the Responsible Raw Materials Initiative (RRMI) has been launched by the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition , a nonprofit group sponsored by more than 110 electronics companies, and “dedicated to improving the social, environmental and ethical conditions of their global supply chains.” The EICC states that it “engages regularly with dozens of non-member organizations including civil society groups, trade unions and other worker’s groups, academia and research institutions, socially responsible investors, and governmental and multilateral institutions.” Ford Motor Company is a member of the Responsible Raw Materials Initiative, by virtue of being the first auto manufacturer to join the EICC. ( Press release is here (February 2016). Ford has sought to brand itself as a leader in ethical supply chain management ; see their report, Going Further towards Supply Chain Leadership . Tesla, the most high-profile electric vehicle manufacturer, is said to be considering membership in the RRMI. According to a report from Energy Mix (June 24, 2016) “Tesla’s Ambitions Demand ‘Unprecedented Quantities’ of Key Minerals” , including lithium, nickel, cobalt, and aluminum to produce vehicle batteries. As of January 2017, Energy Mix also reported that Tesla started mass production at its lithium-ion battery Gigafactory in Nevada, which will be the world’s largest when it is complete in 2018 .
In what the WWF has called “a landmark moment for responsible investment in Europe” , the European Parliament voted in November 2016 to mandate that all workplace pension administrators must consider climate risk and risks “related to the depreciation of assets” -stranded assets- in investment decisions. It also requires greater transparency about investment policies. Individual governments of the EU now have two years to pass into national law this updated version of the existing Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision (IORP) Directive. Currently, the directive would affect occupational pension plans affected covering approximately 20% of the EU workforce, mostly in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany . A September 2016 Briefing Note from the European Parliament details the administrative/political evolution of the Directive; a December article from Corporate Knights or Go Fossil Free or Reuters provide summaries.
In December 14, 2016, the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure, chaired by Michael Bloomberg, released its report and recommendations to the Financial Stability Board, a G-20 organization chaired by Mark Carney. An article by the two men appeared in The Guardian, capturing the gist of the work: “We believe that financial disclosure is essential to a market-based solution to climate change. …. A properly functioning market will price in the risks associated with climate change and reward firms that mitigate them. As its impact becomes more commonplace and public policy responses more active, climate change has become a material risk that isn’t properly disclosed.” The Task Force calls for companies to make voluntary disclosure of climate risks to their business, to help investors, lenders and insurance underwriters to manage material climate risks, and ultimately to make the global economic and financial systems more stable. A 60-day public consultation period began with release of the report; an updated report, incorporating that input, will be released in June 2017. The Task Force report was summarized in “Climate disclosure framework creates a better environment for investors” in the Globe and Mail ; Bloomberg News also reported on another recommendation, “Carney Panel Urges CEO Compensation Link With Climate Risk ” , stating that the time has come for organizations to provide detailed reporting of how manager and board member pay is tied to climate risks. (See a Dec. 1 Reuters article about Royal Dutch Shell’s moves to link CEO bonuses to GHG reduction).
In Canada, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which administers the assets of the national public pension fund, seems to be standing on the sidelines. A recent article in the Globe and Mail was written by the director of the CPPIB Sustainable Investment department , which is described in more detail in their 2016 Report on Sustainable Investing . The report states (page 11) “ CPPIB has established a cross-departmental Climate Change Working Group to consider how physical risks, as well as technological, regulatory and market developments will impact climate change-related risks, and create opportunities, in the future. …. This review, which will take some time, is being done from a long-term perspective in light of how the gradual transition to a lower-carbon global economy might unfold…. On the topic of divestment and climate change, research has shown that investors with longer horizons tend to be more engaged with the companies that they invest in, and CPPIB is a case in point. As responsible owners, we believe that in many cases selling our shares to investors who might be less active in terms of considering material risks, including climate change, would be counterproductive.” In light of this very slow approach, Friends of the Earth (FOE) has been frustrated in its divestment campaign for the CPPIB in 2016 ; FOE maintains a petition website, Pensions for a Green Future, which calls for the CPPIB to, among other things, “report immediately to its 19 million members on the carbon footprint and exposure to climate solutions of our CPP investment portfolio” and “to replace climate polluting investments with those in green energy, technologies and infrastructure that support Canada’s commitment to act to avoid 1.5°C of warming.” The CPPIB discloses the companies it is invested in here .
In contrast to the CPPIB, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), the second largest pension fund manager is Canada, is highlighted in a new report by the World Economic Forum as “ one of the most important institutional investors in wind power” for its investment of close to $2.5 billion (US) in both onshore and offshore wind projects in Europe and North America, starting in 2013 with a tentative investment in the Invenergy , and now including the London Array wind farm in the outer Thames estuary. The Caisse statements on environmental and social responsibility are here ; it is a signatory to the U.N. Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), a member of the Carbon Disclosure Project and the Carbon Water Disclosure Project, and endorses the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative , which monitors the oil and gas industry .
Many publications and press statements were released to coincide with Climate Week NYC 2016, a gathering of businesses and government officials in New York City from September 19 – 26. A sampling brings some insight into business/climate thinking. For example, General Motors was one of several companies joining the energy campaigns of RE100 , a global initiative of companies committed to transitioning to 100% renewable power. (A sister campaign, EP100, works with businesses committed to doubling their energy productivity) . GM’s stated goal to meet 100% of its electricity needs with renewable energy by 2050 includes about 350 facilities in 59 countries, including both manufacturing and non-manufacturing buildings . The CEO is quoted as saying that GM wants to contribute to cleaner air “while strengthening our business through lower and more stable energy costs.” Further, in GM Details its 100% Renewable Goal : “Renewable energy offers more stable pricing options than traditional energy sources like fossil fuel, reducing the price volatility caused by external threats like government relations and natural disasters. Wind energy is already price competitive with traditional forms of energy and we expect the price of solar power to continue to decrease as demand grows.” Related reading: GM’s 2015 Sustainability Report and its environmental blog, GM Green .
From CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project) , Embedding a carbon price into business strategy : based on responses from over 5,000 companies, the report states that 1,200 companies either plan to or currently place an internal price on carbon. Why? Could be the cost of capital, as signalled in the Forward: “As public pension funds, CalSTRS and AP4 have hundreds of thousands of members and stakeholders relying on the secure retirement future that we are here to provide in perpetuity—it is absolutely critical that we take action to guard against this risk [climate change]…..“As the momentum for full disclosure in this area increases, we will not only be looking at company emissions but also analyzing how climate risk mitigation is embedded within their corporate strategies. Those companies who show investors and owners that they take this issue seriously and have a plan in place to tackle it will enjoy a lower cost of capital in the future against those that don’t.”
Consultants EY and the UN Global Compact published a report, The State of Sustainable Supply Chains, based on interviews with 70 companies. From the introduction: “Over the past few years, sustainability has been added to the procurement and sourcing criteria for many companies. Workforce health and safety incidents, labor disputes, geopolitical conflicts, raw materials shortages, environmental disasters and new legislation in areas such as conflict minerals and modern slavery have contributed to the growing awareness of supply chain risks among customers, consumers, investors, employees and local communities.”…. Overall, the results of the study show that by improving environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance throughout their supply chains, companies can enhance processes, save costs, increase labor productivity, uncover product innovation, achieve market differentiation and have a significant impact on society.” This report is complemented by the website: UN Global Compact Sustainable Supply Chains: Resources and Practices .
In October, CDP North America released a report discussing the “paradigm shift” in the importance attributed to the “total cost of ownership”, or life cycle of products. With examples from the U.S. military and the IT industry, it concludes that “It has become a business necessity because it saves money, smooths operations, diminishes risk in supply chains and opens new business opportunities.” See: A paradigm shift in total cost of ownership From procurement to product innovation:How companies are hardwiring sustainability across the value chain to future-proof their business.
In the latest report of the Oxfam Behind the Brands campaign about the international food products industry, the Big 10 food and beverage companies are said to have made significant new commitments over the past three years to improve social and environmental standards in their supply chains, with progress most evident in the areas of protecting land rights, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and tackling gender inequality. However, The Journey to Sustainable Food states that companies “must go much further and fundamentally re-write the business models in their supply chains to ensure that much more power and much more of the value their products generate reaches the farmers and workers who produce their ingredients.” Companies monitored are: Associated British Foods (ABF), Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever.
A March 2016 study by Greenpeace International assesses 14 companies that committed to “no deforestation” to understand the impact of palm oil production on the plantations of Indonesia. The companies reviewed in Cutting deforestation out of the palm oil supply chain – Company Scorecard are: Colgate-Palmolive, Danone, Ferrero, General Mills, Ikea, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, Orkla, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Unilever.
At the end of March, the President of the University of Toronto issued an official response to the Advisory Committee on Divestment from Fossil Fuels, which had reported in December 2015. The University rejected a blanket divestment strategy and opted to pursue a targeted approach which will incorporate environmental, social, and governance-based factors (ESG) in investment decisions. It states that the core mission of the university, research and teaching, will be used as its main contribution to the fight against climate change. The statement is summarized in a Globe and Mail article (March 30) . On April 12, the New York Times reported that Yale University had also found a compromise position regarding investment strategies for its endowment fund, rather than outright divestment. Arguing against such approaches: from researchers at the London School of Economics, “Climate value at risk’ of global financial assets” in Nature Climate Change online (April 4) which uses models to estimate the impact of twenty-first-century climate change on the present market value of global financial assets, and concludes that “losses could soar to $24tn, or 17% of the world’s assets, and wreck the global economy”. An article in The Guardian (April 4) summarizes this and other studies. Even the Harvard Business Review (April 14) is sounding the alarm, based on the latest research. An article in Corporate Knights magazine, “Defending Divestment” (April 6) considers the financial and moral arguments about divestment.
A March 2 article in The Tyee, “How a B.C. union dumped fossil fuels and cashed in” highlights the profitable decision of the B.C. Government Employees Union to move $20 million in its strike fund and general reserves from equities (and fossil fuels) into cash in 2014. The article then discusses the more complex issues of climate risk in pension fund investing (B.C.GEU did not divest its pension fund). A March 1 article in Grist, “New York lost Billions with Fossil Fuel Investments” estimates that the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the third largest pension fund in the U.S., lost $5 billion over three years through its investments in fossil fuel companies. The estimate is based on the analysis of Toronto-based Corporate Knights, using its Decarbonizer calculator. Another Corporate Knights analysis of the performance of 14 major funds , including Harvard’s endowment, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the pension plans of Canada and the Netherlands, estimated that the combined losses of the 14 funds since 2012 was $23 billion.
In early March, the investment committee for the largest pension fund in the U.S., California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) voted to require that the corporations it invests in must include people on their boards who have expertise in climate change risk management strategies. On March 24, CBC reported that the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) has ordered Exxon to put to a vote at its shareholders’ meeting in May a resolution which would require Exxon to make annual disclosure of risks to company’s operations from climate change or legislation designed to control carbon pollution.
These are all evidence that the investment community is paying attention to the investment risks of fossil fuels, particularly stranded assets. At COP21, a global Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) was established, with Michael Bloomberg at the head, to“consider the physical, liability and transition risks associated with climate change and what constitutes effective financial disclosures across industries”… and to “ develop voluntary, consistent climate-related financial risk disclosures for use by companies in providing information to investors, lenders, insurers, and other stakeholders”. In January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, proposals for risk reporting by fossil fuel companies were set out in Considerations for Reporting Disclosure in a Carbon-constrained world from Carbon Tracker Initiative and the Climate Disclosure Standards Board . Too Late, Too Sudden: Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy and Systemic Risk (Feb. 2016) from the European Systemic Risk Board in February recommends that policymakers increase disclosure of the carbon intensity of non-financial firms (that would include the fossil fuel industry), noting that “Fossil-fuel firms and electricity utilities are substantially debt financed, exacerbating the potential financial stability impact of a sudden revaluation of stranded assets.” For a Canadian context, see an October 2015 working paper from SHARE, Integrating the Economy and the Environment: An Overview of Canadian Capital Markets .
In early March, the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions released the first update since 2008 to its Common Vision for Sustainable Seafood , a widely-used best-practices guide used by the North American food industry. New in the 2016 edition are strong prescriptions for labour rights and traceability of the supply chain. From the preamble: “…socially responsible seafood ensures that sourcing does not impact the food security of vulnerable communities, provides a living wage for workers in seafood supply chains, and supports the sustainable livelihoods and cultural heritage of communities.” Specific steps are outlined, including: “ Establish effective grievance mechanisms for labor abuses and worker safety that meet the minimum standards set forth in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and include a meaningful role for workers themselves in the monitoring of workplace conditions and resolving disputes. • Develop corrective action plans with suppliers found to violate human or labor rights.• Include requirements in purchasing agreements and contracts that suppliers will respect fundamental labor rights, including freedom of association and right to collective bargaining, and will pay workers a living wage.” The Association website also includes a Social Resource Centre , with links to all the major organizations and documents relating to sustainability and core labour standards in the fisheries industry.
The annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, brings together the corporate and political elites – this year’s theme from January 20 – 23rd is “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”. Yet climate change ranks high on the agenda and several reports relevant to climate change and labour have been released. Notably, the Global Challenge Initiative on Environment and Natural Resource Security project produced The Global Risks Report 2016 , which ranks global risks, in terms of likelihood as : 1. Large-scale Involuntary migration; 2. Extreme weather events 3. Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation. A project about the Circular Economy released a report commissioned by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and conducted by McKinsey & Company: The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of Plastics . ( press release here ). The new report addresses the problems identified in a 2014 report from the UNEP Plastics Disclosure Project, Valuing Plastic: The Business Case for Measuring, Managing and Disclosing Plastic Use in the Consumer Goods Industry , which projected that, “ in a business-as-usual scenario, by 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight), and the entire plastics industry will consume 20% of total oil production, and 15% of the annual carbon budget. ”
Regarding supply chains, a report by an Accenture consulting firm, Beyond Supply Chain: Empowering Responsible Value Chains discusses the “triple advantage” of ethical supply chains which include environmental goals. The Accenture report paints a favourable picture of corporate behaviour, in contrast to Scandal: Inside the Global Supply Chains of 50 Top Global Companies, a hard-hitting report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The ITUC focuses mainly on working conditions and wages, as well as health and safety of workers. Bringing it all together and released in advance of Davos, research from the University of Sheffield concludes that “ Audits are ineffective tools for detecting, reporting, or correcting environmental and labour problems in supply chains. They reinforce existing business models and preserve the global production status quo…. The growth of the audit regime is carving out an ever greater role for corporations in global corporate governance and enforcing an ever smaller role for states.” A summary of the Sheffield research appeared in The Guardian on January 14; the full report is Ethical Audits and Supply Chains of Global Corporations (registration required to download). A related article, focusing on the coffee industry, appeared in The Conversation (December 1): “Why corporate sustainability won’t solve climate change ” .
The Corporate Knights survey is based on the methodology of the pioneering Beyond Grey Pinstripes survey of the Aspen Institute (which ceased in 2012). The rankings follow three categories: faculty research, course content, and institutional support. Responses are from faculty and administrators, with the student perspective reflected in measures of student-led initiatives (e.g. student groups, consulting clubs, faculty groups, and student committees/task forces). Unlike many other surveys of MBA programs, the Corporate Knights survey does not include alumni salaries in their metrics, on the grounds that rankings could be skewed because students entering the non-profit sector typically earn less after graduating.
1) In the U.S., a new research initiative led by hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, former U.S. Treasury secretary Henry Paulson, and outgoing mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg aims to calculate the true financial cost of climate change. In a report expected in summer 2014, “Risky Business” will “combine existing data on the current and potential impacts of climate change with original research to reveal the most vulnerable sectors and assist with preparation”. According to Bloomberg Markets Magazine, the team also hopes to show that the eventual consequences of “business as usual” will outweigh its short-term benefits. See http://riskybusiness.org/about or http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-01/climate-change-rescue-in-u-s-makes-steyer-converge-with-paulson.html
2) Launched on September 24, the new Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, co-chaired by Nicholas Stern, will conduct a “year-long, $9 million study to analyze the economic costs and benefits of acting against climate change”. The study will use macroeconomic modeling techniques to analyze possible outcomes, factoring in potential policy mechanisms, economic growth, investment, employment, poverty reduction, income distribution, and the need for improved health, energy, and food security. The commission hopes to uncover pathways to a resilient, resource-efficient, low-carbon economy. See http://newclimateeconomy.net/
3) Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario will launch a Centre for Sustainable Food Systems on November 14, to bring together researchers from the departments of Geography and Environmental Studies, Psychology, Biology, Global Studies, Religion and Culture as well as the School of Business and Economics. From their website at: https://www.wlu.ca/homepage.php?grp_id=13686: “Our vision is to conduct research that is both grounded in practice and theoretically informed, and to disseminate this co-generated knowledge through local, national and global networks to advance opportunities for and educate about more sustainable food systems.”
A report published by WWF and the Carbon Disclosure Project of New York is directed to the business community, and argues that a 2020 “science-based” emissions reduction target can be reached profitably in steps of 3% per year reductions. The report strikes an urgent note, emphasizing the benefits of the “latent cost savings” of energy efficiency, and quantifying the costs of extreme weather and the necessity of pricing of carbon emissions. The 3% Solution: Driving Profits through Carbon Reduction is at: https://www.cdproject.net/CDPResults/3-percent-solution-report.pdf