Phase-out, not expansion of fossil fuels – some recommendations for Canada

Oil, Gas and the Climate: An Analysis of Oil and Gas Industry Plans for Expansion and Compatibility with Global Emission Limits was published by the Global Gas and OilGas-ReportCoverOil Network (GGON) in December 2019.  The report analyzes the expansion plans of the oil and gas industry in relation to the global Paris climate goal of a 1.5C warming limit, and concludes that “if the world uses all the oil and gas from the fields and mines already in production, it will push us beyond 1.5°C of warming. This is true even if global coal use were phased out overnight, and if cement emissions were drastically reduced.” This report is the latest to sound this alarm: for example, Oil Change International, part of the GGON , began to publish such warnings in 2016 with The Sky’s Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production , followed by Drilling towards Disaster in 2019.

Oil, Gas and the Climate states that from now until 2024, oil and gas companies are set to invest a further $1.4 trillion U.S.  in new oil and gas extraction projects – with 85% of that expansion in North America, and with the impact of the U.S. alone putting a 2 degree warming target out of reach.  Further, it states that over 90% of U.S. expansion would be shale production dependent on fracking.  It highlights that the Permian Basin (west Texas and southeastern New Mexico) would account for 39% of new U.S. oil and gas production by 2050. “It holds the greatest risk for new oil and gas development in the United States and in the world.”

Projected Canadian investment is a distant second to that of the U.S., but even so, the report states that “new oil and gas development in Canada between now and 2050 could unlock an additional 25 GtCO2 , more than doubling cumulative emissions from the sector.” The report highlights the approved Exxon Aspen Oil Sands project and the pending Teck Frontier Mine, but warns  “…Shale gas extraction, particularly the Montney Shale Basin in British Columbia, is a major focus of the industry…From 2020 to 2050, new gas projects could be responsible for as much CO2 as new oil projects.” (For a recent overview of the extent of Canada’s LNG infrastructure, see The New Gas Boom, published by Global Energy Monitor in June 2019).

“A better future is possible”, and here’s how to get there:

Despite the grim projections, Oil, Gas and the Climate  argues that “a better future is possible” and calls for “the launch of a well-planned phase-out of oil and gas production that addresses the needs of workers and communities impacted by fossil fuel developments. ” The report recognizes the impact of recent civil society actions such as Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion, and calls on governments and investors to catch up with such leadership.

Based on the findings of the report, Environmental Defence makes the following recommendations to support Canada’s phase-out:

Clear new federal rules under our environmental assessment law that review possible expansions of oil and gas projects against our commitment to climate goals. If we cannot credibly demonstrate how investing in a fossil fuel project is consistent with a 1.5C warmed world then the project should not be permitted to go ahead.

Institutional investors should apply a similar screen that will guide their decisions regarding whether to provide financing for new projects.

The federal government must invest in research and development of new energy technologies like geothermal electricity that have huge employment and energy production opportunities in places like Alberta and northern British Columbia. At a minimum, the government should make available an amount equivalent to the billions in subsidies that have been given to the fossil fuel industry through tax breaks or direct investment in pipeline infrastructure (e.g. Trans-Mountain) – subsidies that should be phased out rapidly. Success will create skills-linked jobs and massive supply of electrical energy for export to a North America that must replace the energy of fossil fuels.

Domestic demand for fossil fuels must be rapidly driven down through improved efficiency (e.g. buildings, appliances, manufacturing), electrifying transportation and home heating and increased renewables generation and storage.

The Oil, Gas and the Climate report is a project of the Global Gas and Oil Network , supported by Oil Change International; 350.org; Center for Biological Diversity; Center for International Environmental Law; CAN-Rac Canada; Earthworks; Environmental Defence Canada; Fundacin Ambiente y Recursos Naturales:FARN; Global Witness; Greenpeace; Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie); Naturvernforbundet; Observatorio Petrolero Sur; Overseas Development Institute; Platform; Sierra Club; Stand.Earth.

Canadians favour a shift away from oil and gas, 68% support federal help for worker transition

abacus 2019 just transitionAn online survey  was conducted by Abacus Data in mid- December 2019 to gauge opinion about an energy transition and compare attitudes in Alberta with those in the rest of Canada. The summary was posted to the Abacus website on January 3 and to Clean Energy Canada, which commissioned the survey, here .  Based on responses from a random sample of 1,848 adults,  a majority of Canadians and Albertans recognize that energy transition is a global issue and a necessary development, although in Alberta, only 49% see it as beneficial for the province in the long-term.

Further insights:  

72% across Canada, and 60% in Alberta would prefer to see Alberta’s economy shift over time because “global demand will change and Alberta will be left behind if the province is more dependent on oil.”

40% of Albertans want their Premier to “reject the idea of an energy shift and promote growth in Alberta’s oil sector.”  (Nationally, only 32% support promoting Alberta’s oil sector).

57%  of Albertans said an energy transition should be done more slowly or not at all, and 45% see it as intended to punish Alberta’s workers.

Nationally, 68% of respondents support federal government help for Alberta’s workers seeking new opportunities.  In Alberta, only 49% support such federal help for transitioning workers, while 51% want the federal government to help grow the province’s oil sector.

Just Transition and Green New Deal as policy and bargaining issues for Unifor

unifor logoAccording to their website, “Unifor is Canada’s largest oil, gas and chemical sector union, representing over 11,800 members in nearly every province, from offshore platforms off Newfoundland’s outer banks to Suncor in Alberta’s oil sands; from energy crown corporations in Saskatchewan to private refineries in every region of Canada.”

The union’s 3rd Constitutional Convention was held in Quebec City in August , gathering delegates to debate Resolutions , including Resolution #5, submitted by the autoworkers of  Local 222 in the Oshawa area regarding a Worker’s Green New Deal…“defined as “a massive government jobs program and investment in clean energy, green technology and electrification.” A Workers’ Green New Deal must include just transition protection for workers whose jobs are affected and fair labour standards. BECAUSE: • This program meets the needs of and has the potential to unite the labour movement, environmentalists and all those who have been the victims of inequality, discrimination, racism and now, climate change. ….”

and Resolution #21 regarding Just Transition, submitted by the energy workers of Local 707A from Fort McMurray, Alberta:  “…..UNIFOR NATIONAL WILL: 1. Launch and promote a nationally-coordinated awareness and action campaign that will include: a. Awareness materials to the attention of Unifor members explaining the idea of just transition and how it can apply to workers in Canada today to build a more sustainable, fair future for working people with workers at the table when planning for a Just Transition to a regenerative economy. b. A call to all levels of governments to: i. support strategic investments in infrastructure, ii. A recognition of climate change needs and a commitment to meeting international greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, iii. A national strategy on Just Transition for workers c. Unifor’s inaugural Just Transition Conference scheduled for September, 2019 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. 2. Encourage all local unions to take part in the campaign in solidarity with Unifor’s energy workers in all provinces…”

Just as the resolutions regarding Green New Deal and Just Transition call for advocacy and action campaigns, the 50-page Collective Bargaining Program approved at the Convention deals with these issues not as bargaining priorities, but as policy challenges: “…we demand that governments: • Bolster our public health care and education systems; • Secure industries and workplaces most vulnerable to ongoing trade disputes; • Establish more rigorous income assistance and just transition supports for workers adjusting to labour market changes (including those that are climate-related) (italics added by WCR); • Invest in public and social infrastructure, including long-overdue universal public Pharmacare and Child Care programs; • Develop a coordinated national, sustainable industrial development strategy.”

The National Unifor Just Transition Conference   is scheduled for September 22 -24 in Saskatoon, and is described in this July letter  from the  National Health, Safety and Environment Director .  “The Conference plenaries, workshops and discussions will focus on the importance of climate policies aimed at reducing emissions along with those aimed at building resilience and adaptive capacity. These large table discussions that will take place at the conference will set the tone for Unifor’s position on carbon footprint reduction and job security as the entire country moves forward to address the need for climate change initiatives.”  Unifor’s previous lobby document,  The International Climate Crisis and Just Transition, from 2018, is here.

A June press release,  “Unifor energy workers ratify historic national agreement” announced a new pattern-setting four-year collective agreement with Suncor Energy, and highlights gains in wages, severance, and a new framework for addressing domestic violence. The Suncor agreement will set the pattern for all energy sector employers in Canada – the text is not  publicly available as of early September 2019.

Unifor’s Energy Council met in June, as summarized here , to discuss the new pattern bargaining and the union’s new promotional campaign for the sector, anchored around a YouTube video  produced by Unifor.

First Nations, environmentalists file court challenges to Trans Mountain pipeline

orcas against Vancouver skylineOn June 18, as described in an earlier  WCR post, Government gives the go- ahead to Trans Mountain pipeline despite declaring a climate emergency.   By July 8, two court challenges have been filed against the decision.  Six First Nations, led by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation , filed a court challenge on the grounds that the federal government failed in the requirement to adequately consult them.  More details are described in  First Nations launch new court challenge to Trans Mountain pipeline at the CBC (July 9), and  First Nations renew court battle to stop Trudeau and Trans Mountain   in the National Observer.

Another separate appeal was also filed on July 8 by EcoJustice on behalf of Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Living Oceans Society, on grounds that the government decision doesn’t comply with the responsibility to protect endangered southern resident killer whales, whose survival would be threatened by increased tanker traffic. CBC reports here,  the National Observer also reports  in “Conservationists file legal challenge to Trans Mountain reapproval over whales.” 

A standard to measure party platforms in Canada’s upcoming climate change election

In the lead-up to the autumn federal election, climate change platforms have now been released by the Green Party: Mission Possible: The Green Climate Action Plan; the federal New Democratic Party: Power to change: A new deal for climate action and good jobs, and most recently, on June 20, by the Conservative Party:  A Real Plan to Protect Our Environment .  The WCR has summarized these platforms as they were released, here and here .

Advocates are also releasing their own views about these climate proposals.  On June 14,   Climate Action Network Canada  released  a report  intended as “a baseline against which we can assess federal parties’ climate plans.” Getting Real about Canada’s Climate Plan  calls for a plan which is comprehensive, effective and accountable and which will legislate new, more ambitious, GHG reduction targets for “politically-relevant short-term periods, such as interim 2025 targets, or create carbon budgets to define needed progress between 2020 and 2030.” Other policies called for: eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and “Leave no community, group, or worker behind. Canada needs to offer real assistance to communities and workers grappling with the inevitable decline of fossil-fuel-dependent sectors, and improve consultation of Indigenous groups by integrating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into future climate policy.”  The more detailed policy discussion appears in the Appendix, which calls for the recommendations of the Just Transition Task Force to be  implemented fully and swiftly, and expanded beyond coal workers and communities to include all GHG intensive sectors where employment impacts from environmental regulations are anticipated.

Climate Action Network-Canada  also issued a statement on June 5, on behalf of itself and the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre, Environmental Defence, Équiterre, and Greenpeace Canada. The press release,  All Federal Parties Must Reject CAPP’s Election Demands on Energy Development and Climate Change Say Environmental Groups  , summarizes and rejects the election proposals from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), as outlined in Oil and Natural Gas Priorities: Putting Canada On The World Stage: An Energy Platform for Canada . Catherine Abreu, Executive Director at Climate Action Network-Canada states: “Any party that borrows from such a proposal is a party with no sincere interest in the future of Canadian society.” Notably, in  “Scheer touts industry friendly climate plan” (June 20)  in the National Observer the Conservative Party platform is linked to the CAPP demands.

Although not focused on election platforms, a thoughtful and related overview of Canadian climate change policies appears in Heating Up, Backing Down: Evaluating recent climate policy progress in Canada. The report is written by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood and was co-published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change research program (ACW) on June 13.