U.K. Unions call for Transformative Transition and Energy Democracy

The Public and Commercial Services Union of the U.K. (PCS), with 180,000 civil service members, chose its annual delegate conference in late  May  to release  Just transition and Energy Democracy,  a thorough discussion of climate change impacts and solutions, which argues that “Far from being a distraction, climate change can reinforce trade union organisation, show their contemporary relevance particularly to young members, and start to place trade unions at the very centre of the crucial and urgent debate about what we mean when we talk of a just transition.”    The paper argues for energy democracy as a fundamental right, and  references a 2016 report  Public ownership of the UK energy system – benefits, costs and processes , which states that energy democracy is necessary for the development of renewable energy and financially possible to achieve .  Just Transition and Energy Democracy  sets out a framework for the public sector role in this energy transition, and states, “For PCS therefore we advocate that a just transition is also a transformative process for economic and social justice, going beyond market based solutions and negotiation within a framework of green capitalism.” In the transformative scenario a just transition “will address the inherent inequality and injustice of the capitalist system”.  Step one in the process would be the  creation of a National Climate Service similar to the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS), to ensure there is a body to create the jobs needed to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The University and College Union (UCU) also debated and carried a resolution     concerning climate change and Just Transition at its convention in June, and adopted a  resolution to take to the TUC conference in September, enumerating actions, including support for energy democracy.

Jeremy_Corbyn_speaking_at_the_Labour_Party_General_Election_Launch_2017

Photo by Sophie Brown, from Wikipedia Commons

Reaction of unions to the surprise Labour surge in the U.K. election is summarized in the June/July newsletter of the Greener Jobs Alliance.  All cite the importance of the Labour Party manifesto, For the many, not the few ,  which included proposals for energy democracy through publicly owned, locally accountable energy companies and cooperatives. It also proposed an industrial and skills strategy to drive investment in electric vehicles, home insulation, new low carbon technologies for heavy industries like steel, and a ban on fracking.

Paths forward for decarbonization in Canada: two new reports

TopAsksCover-600x777In June, the Columbia Institute’s Centre for Civic Governance released the first annual progress report  on the  18 federal and 24 provincial/territorial policies that it had identified in its 2016 report, Top Asks for Climate Action: Ramping Up Low Carbon Communities . The 2016 report focuses on local government issues and the policy support they  need from the federal, provincial and territorial governments in the areas of  capacity building, funding, buildings, transportation and smart growth.  The 2017 Report Card  credits the federal government for some accomplishments – such as establishing a national price on carbon – and highlights nine  key areas where “room for improvement” remains.  These are: 1) establishing scientific GHG targets that will meet Paris Agreement commitments; 2)Establishing a mechanism that will guarantee new infrastructure spending that won’t lock Canadians into a high carbon path; 3) Moving faster on eliminating fossil fuel subsidies; 4)Providing more robust tools for retrofitting homes and commercial buildings; 5)Providing all communities with energy, emissions and natural capital baseline data; 6) Prioritizing transit and active transportation over auto-only infrastructure; 7) Giving priority to community and Indigenous -owned renewable energy projects to advance energy democracy in Canada;  8) Developing a national thermal energy strategy; 9) Helping local governments transition to low carbon fleets.  A June 5  article in the National Observer summarizes the report, and provides response from the federal government.

A second  new report, Re-Energizing Canada: Pathways to a Low-Carbon Future , takes a more academic approach, but includes many of the same issues.  The report, published by Sustainable Canada Dialogues, is the product of  input from Canadian academics and First Nations, establishes a framework of our energy system, and examines the important issues in Canadian energy policy with statistics and analysis.  The report identifies governance issues as central to a successful low-carbon energy transition, and states: “we believe that the key barriers to accelerating the low-carbon energy transition are social, political and organizational.” Many of its recommendations relate to governance structures needed for policy harmonization.   Re-energizing Canada was Commissioned by Natural Resources Canada in Fall 2016, and published by  Sustainable Canada Dialogues,   a Canada-wide network of over 80 scholars from engineering, sciences and social sciences. It is an initiative of the UNESCO-McGill Chair for Dialogues on Sustainability and is housed in Montreal.

How to phase out Alberta’s Oil Sands by 2040, including Just Transition principles

Gordon Laxer, Professor emeritus at the University of Alberta and founding director of the Parkland Institute, has released a new report, Act or be Acted Upon. The case for phasing out Alberta’s Sands .  He summarized the report  in an article,  “The case for phasing out Alberta’s Tar Sands” , which appeared in Resilience  on May 23.   The full report reflects the author’s long and deep understanding of the political economy of Alberta. His fairly brief discussion of Just Transition principles occurs at the end of the report.

Syncrude_mildred_lake_plant

From Wikimedia, in the public domain. Syncrude Lake Mildred plant, Alberta.

Section 1 of Act or be Acted Upon discusses the market forces and policy environment in which the oil sands continues to operate – including a discussion of the cap on emissions put in place in the Alberta government’s Climate Leadership Plan , and the issues of divestment and stranded assets. Looking for lessons to be learned, Section 2 examines the international and Canadian progress in banning coal-fired power, with a detailed look at Ontario’s experience and Alberta’s current efforts. The author emphasizes the importance of the health-based  arguments in Ontario’s campaign against coal, and suggests two possible motivators for an Alberta campaign against the oil sands: first,  the under-reported  health effects on residents and workers around Fort McMurray, the Peace River country, and the Aboriginal community of Fort Chipewyan,  and second, the devastating wildfire in Fort McMurray in 2016.

Section 3: “Phasing out the oil sands”,  calls for a permanent moratorium on new projects and a schedule for shutting down older projects that have paid off their capital costs- starting with the Suncor and Syncrude projects  which are over 50 years old. Finally, the author calls for replacing the existing emissions cap under the Climate Leadership Plan with  “an annually lowering GHG ceiling on all remaining Sands projects until they collectively reach zero by 2040.”

The final section of the Green Paper states: “It’s vital that phasing out the Sands be accompanied by a well-thought-out plan to provide workers and communities in the Sands with alternative work and retraining…. A just transition is the right thing to do, but it is also needed because if workers involved in the Sands don’t see a sure-fire alternative, they will fight hard to hang on to the Sands jobs they currently have, which will hamper the changes Alberta and Canada need to make.”   Those looking for new approaches to Just Transition will have to hope that Professor Laxer writes another paper – in this one, he goes only so far as to endorse the Just Transition principles set out in the October 2016 paper from the UNFCCC,  Just transition of the workforce, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs  .  To recap, those are: • Develop skills and retraining for green jobs  • Develop green enterprises • Promote government programmes to help the unemployed find work • Provide social protection • Minimize hardship for workers and address their needs • Consult all stakeholders to plan for a just transition.

Recalling the huge federal and provincial government research subsidies in the 1960’s that launched the oil sands, Professor Laxer concludes with this:  “The same governments now need to devote as much research money in today’s dollars to plan useful employment for Sands workers necessitated by the shift to a low-carbon future.”

after the SandsAct or be Acted Upon. The case for phasing out Alberta’s Sands  is a “Green Paper”, commissioned by the Alberta Institute of Agrologists and presented to them in March 2017.  Related reading:  Gordon Laxer’s book from 2015 , After the Sands. Energy and Ecological Security for Canadians ;   and from the Parkland Institute:  Restructuring in Alberta’s oil industry: Internationals pull out, domestic majors double down (April 2017);  Five things to know about Alberta’s oil sands emissions cap   (Feb. 2017); Extracted Carbon: Re-examining Canada’s Contribution to Climate Change through Fossil Fuel Exports (Jan. 2017).

Federal government about to release its proposals for promised national carbon pricing system as California debates radical changes to its cap-and-trade program

In advance of a consultation paper by the federal government, expected to be released in the week of May 15, the Pembina Institute released a Backgrounder report , Putting a price on carbon pollution across Canada . The Pembina report  outlines the current federal and provincial carbon pricing policies in Canada, and makes recommendations for the national benchmark plan promised by 2018. Recommendations  include that any benchmark should at least  provide guidance on treatment of Export Import Trade Exposed sectors and be designed to minimize carbon leakage and competitiveness impacts; and stipulate that cap-and-trade systems must have a cap decline rate in line with a 30% reduction below 2005 levels by 2030. Pembina places emphasis on the need for a 2020 carbon pricing review, as well as frequent carbon pricing and climate policy reviews to ensure that Canada meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement.

A briefer paper on carbon pricing, also released in May, also summarizes the existing provincial carbon pricing plans – but from a right-wing point of view. From the Fraser Institute:   Poor Implementation undermines Carbon Tax efficiency in Canada  .

Also on the topic of carbon pricing, Pembina posted a blog  on May 11 “Time for Premier Brad Wall to focus on carbon price implementation” , in which Nathalie Chalifour, a Professor of Law at University of Ottawa, explains her opinion that the federal government is within its constitutional authority to impose a carbon pricing mechanism on the provinces, despite Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall`s recently stated opinion to the contrary.

Meanwhile, as reported in the National Observer (May 4) , “California tables new cap-and-trade plan that jumps ahead of Quebec and Ontario” . Quebec and California  have a linked carbon credit market that expires at the end of 2020, and Ontario`s cap and trade plan is schedule to link to the California−Quebec system in 2018.  Continued partnership with California  will demand that those provinces raise their minimum price per tonne of carbon and abolish offsets, among other changes outlined in the  bill currently before the California state Senate . For a full discussion of the proposed legislation, read “California is about to revolutionize climate policy … again” (May 3) in Vox.  Author David Roberts states: ” The changes that SB 775 proposes for the state’s carbon trading program are dramatic — and, to my eyes, amazingly thoughtful. I know some environmental groups have reservations (on which more later), but in my opinion, if it passes in anything close to its current form, it will represent the most important advance in carbon-pricing policy in the US in a decade. Maybe ever.”

66% of Canada’s energy in 2015 came from renewable sources, and other facts

NEB Revenewables coverA Canadian Press story in early May highlighted that renewable energy accounted for 66% of energy generated in Canada in 2015, and appeared widely –  for example, in  the Globe and Mail (May 2) and the Toronto Star . The information behind the news was drawn  from  Canada’s Adoption of Renewable Power Sources – Energy Market Analysis May 2017  by the National Energy Board , which provides much more detail about each type of renewable energy, and notes the factors influencing their adoption rates (including costs, technological improvement, environmental considerations, and regulatory issues).  The NEB also compares  Canada to other countries, and perhaps most interestingly,  includes a section on Emerging Technologies , which highlights tidal power, off-shore wind, and geothermal.  Canada has no existing production capacity for either off-shore wind or geothermal, although the report outlines proposed developments.

Some highlights from the Canada’s Adoption of Renewable Power Sources: the 2015 proportion of 66% renewables in our energy mix is an increase from 60% in 2005;  only five countries (Norway, New Zealand, Brazil, Austria, and Denmark) produce a similar or larger share of electricity from renewable sources; China leads the world in total hyroelectricity production – Canada is second; over 98% of Canada’s solar power generation capacity is located in Ontario.

Other useful NEB publications:   Canada’s Renewable Power Landscape (October 2016), which documents historical growth rates for renewable power in Canada, and each province and territory, and for the latest in energy projections, see Canada’s Energy Future 2016: Update – Energy Supply and Demand Projections to 2040 . These projections, which include fossil fuels as well as renewables,  were published in October 2016 and therefore don’t reflect the policies of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.