Addressing environmental racism through legislation and through activism

Bill C-230, An Act respecting the Development of a National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism  is a private members bill introduced to the federal House of Commons on Feb. 26 by Nova Scotia MP Lenore Zann, seconded by Elizabeth May of the Green Party. The Bill calls on the government to develop a national strategy which will address the disproportionate number of Indigenous or racialized people who live in environmentally hazardous areas. If passed, the Bill would require the Minister of Environment and Climate Change “to consult with representatives of provincial and municipal governments, of Indigenous communities and of other affected communities, as well as with any other affected persons and bodies.”  Further, the strategy must:

  • (a) examine the link between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk;
  • (b) collect information and statistics relating to the location of environmental hazards;
  • (c) collect information and statistics relating to negative health outcomes in communities that have been affected by environmental racism;
  • (d) assess the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in each province; and
  • (e) address environmental racism including in relation to
    • (i) possible amendments to federal laws, policies and programs,
    • (ii) the involvement of community groups in environmental policy-making,
    • (iii) compensation for individuals or communities,
    • (iv) ongoing funding for affected communities, and
    • (v) access of affected communities to clean air and water.

Member of Parliament Zann had previously introduced Bill 111, The Environmental Racism Prevention Act  in 2015,  when she was a member of the  provincial legislature Waldron something in the water coverof Nova Scotia . An article in Saltwire (Feb. 28) explains how Nova Scotia has become a centre for research and action on environmental racism –  led by the research of Dr. Ingrid Waldron of Dalhousie University. Dr. Waldron’s book,  There’s Something in the Water,  was published by Fernwood Press in 2018 and has been turned into a documentary co-directed by Halifax-born star Ellen Page.   In 2017, the East Coast Environmental Law Association  proposed an innovative  Nova Scotia Environmental Bill of Rights  which states that the people “have a right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment”, and recognizes that “there is a history of environmental racism in Nova Scotia that has disproportionately and negatively affected historically marginalized, vulnerable, and economically disadvantaged individuals, groups or communities, particularly Indigenous People and African Nova Scotians”.

Green is Not White

On the same day as Bill C-230 was introduced, Medium’s Asparagus magazine took up the issue of racism in the environmental movement.   “Too White to Solve the Climate Crisis?” (Feb. 26)  discusses the white elitism of the environmental movement, and offers the example of the Green is Not White project, which educates Green_Is_Not_White_cover ACWtrade unionists about environmental racism and advocates for the rights and inclusion of Black, Asian, and Indigenous workers in a zero-carbon economy. The Green is Not White project was begun in December 2016 by the Ontario branch of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) , led by Chris Wilson of the Public Service Alliance of Canada,  in collaboration with the  Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW).  Its work engages community and labour activists in workshops and participative research , and  has  also been highlighted in Rabble.ca (Feb. 29) and  in Our Times .

The Twitter account at  #EnvRacismCBTUACW posts frequently,  and the ACW website compiles previous articles, resources, videos, and handouts here – including  descriptions of the workshops and free downloads of  a Workshop Guide , a detailed (35-page) Facilitator’s Notes and a  Presentation which concludes with this statement:

“If Canada’s racialized and indigenous communities are not engaged in the struggle, the transition to a green economy will not be just. There can be no change without a struggle.”

Unifor’s campaign to defend Northern Pulp mill jobs in Nova Scotia

northern pulp view

A January 8 general news release, “Nova Scotian forestry workers already struggling as Northern Pulp prepares to close ” summarizes the union’s position in a quote from Atlantic Region Director Linda MacNeil: ““We all agreed Boat Harbour had to close. That closure did not have to come at the cost of thousands of rural jobs ­­– there was a solution for the mill to coexist, but there was no political will from McNeil to make it happen …. Our members and other forestry workers are not the ones responsible for any wrong-doing here. … They deserve better than to be blamed and sacrificed due to the government’s lack of leadership, consultation or clear regulatory expectations.”

The context:

The “years of controversy” over the Northern Pulp mill is summarized in a Backgrounder  in the Halifax Chronicle Herald on December 10 2019, published just before the government of Nova Scotia announced that it would enforce a 2015 law which would require the mill to stop pumping effluent in Boat Harbour.  Paper Excellence Canada , the owner of the Northern Pulp mill,  stated almost immediately  that it would close the mill, but apparently the years of controversy are not over yet.  As reported on January 9 in “NS effluent dumping mill to move ahead with environmental process” in the National Observer , Paper Excellence has issued a new statement: “Our team is currently focused on supporting our employees, developing plans for a safe and environmentally responsible hibernation, and working with the government of Nova Scotia and stakeholders to determine next steps.”

Unifor’s role in the controversy: 

Unifor represents approximately 230 workers at the  mill and has been actively engaged in advocating to protect its members’ jobs by allowing the mill owners, Excellence Paper, to improve the environmental performance of the mill by building a new effluent treatment plant. Unifor’s Save Northern Pulp Jobs campaign  includes “Why Mill Jobs Matter” as a summary;  in early 2019, the union commissioned  a detailed economic impact study by consultants Gardner Pinfold which makes the case for the “keystone” importance of the mill in the region, profiling major businesses from the supply chain of  1,379 companies associated with the mill operation,  and estimating that the mill accounts for approximately 2,679 full-time equivalent jobs, earning approximately $128 million annually.  (Note that Gardner Pinfold completed an earlier economic impact study  for the industry group, Forest Nova Scotia, in 2016).

An ongoing series of Updates chronicle how Unifor has participated in the provincial environmental assessment process and in direct advocacy for their membership.  The January 3 update  reports to members on interactions with government, stating: “the best course of action for a viable and continued forest industry in the province is with Northern Pulp continuing to operate. We reiterated that the $50 million should be used to assist all workers in the industry through a temporary shutdown of the mill to facilitate the construction of Northern Pulp’s new effluent treatment facility (ETF)…. We also suggested the idea of a third-party expert who could serve as intermediary between government regulators and the company to establish a firm and fair process and timelines for the necessary approvals to take place for construction of the ETF.”

The update also states:  “Premier McNeil announced a $50 million transition fund for forestry workers that was of particular interest during the meeting, especially since the fund was never mentioned to the union, or anyone else, prior to his December 20 decision.”

Work and Climate Change Report has summarized the $50 million  Forestry Transition Fund here.

Further documentation: The March 2019 submission of Unifor Atlantic Region to the provincial Environmental Assessment process is here , included in a compilation of all submissions ; comments by Unifor’s National Office to the environmental assessment process in October 2019 appears here (around page 14).

 

northern pulp view

$50 million Forestry Transition Fund to retrain and support workers following closure of Nova Scotia’s polluting Northern Pulp plant – Updated

This blog has been updated on January 10 to reflect the company announcement that a new environmental assessment process may yet keep the mill alive. It also expands on Unifor’s position in supporting the mill and the opposition by environmental groups and First Nations. 

After years of controversy, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced on December 20 that the province will enforce a January 31 2020 deadline for B.C.-owned Northern Pulp plant to stop pumping effluent in Boat Harbour, near Pictou Landing First Nation.  The deadline had been set by legislation in 2015, and will not be extended, despite the company’s threat to shut down the mill.  Acknowledging the job loss and economic hardship which will result from the decision, the Premier’s announcement  included a $50-million transition fund for forestry sector workers and businesses “to support displaced workers across the province, small contractors and all those whose livelihoods will be affected. The transition fund will be used for retraining and education, and for emergency funding to help those in immediate need.” On January 3, the Premier’s Office announced the composition of the Forestry Transition Team. A previous announcement had designated the provincial deputy minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Trade as the team lead; members announced on January 3 include more government representatives as well as industry management – noticeably absent, any worker representation.

After the first meeting of the Forestry Transition Team,CBC reports that the government has  fired an industry member. The Premier has announced  $7 million to assist silviculture and forest road building operations  in the central and western regions of the province .  The January 10 article in the National Observer also states that the Premier  is working to ensure the stability and accessibility  of the mill’s pension plan .

Company enters new environmental assessment process which may yet keep the mill alive

On  January 10 , an article in the National Observer   reported on a statement by Paper Excellence Canada , the owner of the Northern Pulp mill:   … “Our team is currently focused on supporting our employees, developing plans for a safe and environmentally responsible hibernation, and working with the government of Nova Scotia and stakeholders to determine next steps.” Plant closure has been at least temporarily averted as the company has informed the government that it will continue the environmental assessment process for its proposed effluent treatment plant.  In response,  the Nova Scotia Environment Ministry released draft Terms of Reference for that assessment on January 8, giving the public and government reviewers 30 days to comment on the draft.  Following a period for company response, the terms of reference will be provided  by early April, and the company will be given another two years to complete the environmental assessment report.  The government  webpage dedicated to the environmental assessment is here , providing the new draft terms of reference, how to make a submission, and an archive of past documentation in this long-running project.

Opposing viewpoints in a long controversy

The Halifax Chronicle Herald has published many articles describing the long history and competing interests in this dispute, for example in a Timeline of the dispute ; “Nova Scotia sticks to Boat Harbour deadline; Northern Pulp confirms shutdown”;  and “Northern Pulp mill will close without extension to Boat Harbour Act, company says” (Dec. 19).

Unifor, which represents 230 workers at Northern Pulp in Local 444 , has maintained an  ongoing  Save Northern Pulp Jobs campaign , described in  WCR’s separate blog postAfter the government’s December 20 announcement, the union issued a press release, “Premier McNeil throws away 2,700 rural jobs in Nova Scotia” . Another press release on  January 3  is more detailed, reporting to members on subsequent interactions with government, and stating: “the best course of action for a viable and continued forest industry in the province is with Northern Pulp continuing to operate. We reiterated that the $50 million should be used to assist all workers in the industry through a temporary shutdown of the mill to facilitate the construction of Northern Pulp’s new effluent treatment facility (ETF)…. We also suggested the idea of a third-party expert who could serve as intermediary between government regulators and the company to establish a firm and fair process and timelines for the necessary approvals to take place for construction of the ETF.”

boat harbour rallyIn contast to Unifor’s support for the company’s proposal for an alternate effluent treatment plant, which was rejected in a provincial environmental assessment on December 17, it had been  widely opposed – by the Pictou Landing First Nation, as well as fishermen’s associations from all three Maritime provinces , tourism operators, cottagers, boaters and others whose livelihoods would be affected by the proposed dumping of treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait.

Environmental advocacy and First Nations groups also oppose the mill. “Northern Pulp decision validates rights, First Nations lawyer says”  summarizes the position of the Pictou Landing First Nations and praises the Premier’s courage in “righting an injustice spanning five decades.”  And while acknowledging the hardship ahead for forestry workers, the Ecology Action Centre of Nova Scotia calls the decision “courageous” and “forward-thinking”, saying : “For the first time in Nova Scotia’s history, a government has said no to a pulp mill’s coercive demands in defence of environmental protection, Indigenous rights and human health. It is a watershed moment — a turn away from the old ways of allowing mass extraction and the pollution of the air, land and water. This decision could mark the start of a new, cleaner future and a livable planet for our descendants.”

Just Transition Initiative among positive developments at U.N. Climate Action Summit 2019

UN summit climate action 2019The United Nations 2019 Climate Action Summit in New York at the end of September has been viewed as a disappointment by many because it failed to deliver new and dramatic commitments from the major polluting countries, as summarized by Inside Climate News in “Small Countries Step Up While Major Emitters Are Silent, and a Teen Takes World Leaders to Task” . But CBC provides a more optimistic view in its summary of the “Big Takeaways” from the meetings, including news that the Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance, composed of  pension fund managers and insurers (and including La Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec) committed to carbon-neutral investment portfolios by 2050  . A  compilation of UN Press releases reveals many new initiatives announced at the Summit.

Climate Action Jobs Initiative to promote Just Transition

One important such initiative:  the Climate Action Jobs Initiative, aimed at the creation of decent jobs and protecting livelihoods as part of climate action. The Initiative will be led by the International Labour Organization (ILO), along with  International Trade Union Confederation and the International Organisation of Employers, and will build on the ILO Guidelines for a Just Transition, released in 2016.   According to the press release of September 18, almost 50 countries have committed to forming Just Transition Plans, with suggested specific measures including skills development and upgrading, social protections, and mechanisms for inclusive social dialogue to achieve consensus for transformative change.

“The commitments represent a significant engagement by governments, employers organizations, trade unions, UN agencies and civil society to pursue a common agenda to advance a just transition to environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all.”

Other Reports announced before and during the U.N. Climate Summit included:

UN the heat is onThe Heat is On: Taking Stock of Global Climate Emissions,   released by the UNFCC and the U.N. Development Program in advance of the Summit meetings. It analyses trends in the international progress to “ratchet” the emissions reductions goals under the Paris Agreement and emphasizes the urgency for countries to put plans in place for the 5-year review of the Paris targets in 2020… “While climate action has accelerated since Paris, it still falls far short of an unprecedented transformation needed to limit impacts of climate change. …Many developed economies are mapping out long-term plans to eliminate GHGs by 2050, even as they have yet to clarify plans for shorter-term NDC revisions.” Regarding “Long Term Strategies”: “12 countries have submitted LTS to the UNFCCC since 2016 – Canada, Germany, Mexico, the United States, Benin, France, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Marshall Islands, Fiji and Japan.”

The United in Science report, which is composed of a number of reports from such agencies as the World Meterological Organization, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Global Carbon Project, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The reports state that the world is currently on track for a more than 10 per cent rise in emissions above 2016 levels by 2030, and concluded that governments must triple their 2015 pledges to keep global warming well below 2 C by 2100, or increase them fivefold to hold it to 1.5 C . The WMO’s greatest concern is with sea level rise, which has averaged 3.2 millimetres per year since 1993 but hit 5.0 millimetres per year between 2014 and 2019. It also found that the oceans had the highest heat content on record in 2018.

Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC)  : this IPCC report presenting the work of 104 scientists from 36 countries, synthesizing 7,000 publications – the most comprehensive study to date of the current and future impacts of the climate crisis on Earth’s oceans and the cryosphere (the parts of the planet that are covered in ice). Rising ocean temperatures means more intense tropical cyclones, with more powerful storm surges and downpours, leading to more extreme weather along the coasts and potentially devastating loss of marine ecosystems. Summaries are provided by the National Observer  , Inside Climate News  and international NGO OneOcean

Climate change litigation in Canada: ENvironnement JEUnesse is under appeal

environnement jeunesse demonstrationA September blog published by legal firm Aird Berlis  summarizes the July 2019 decision of the Quebec Superior Court in Canada’s youth climate change litigation: ENvironnement JEUnesse v. Canada.  The environmental group  ENvironnement JEUnesse also summarizes the progress of the case, which sought to represent Quebecers under the age of 35 in a class action suit, arguing that the Canadian government was violating the class members’ fundamental rights by failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to ensure a safe climate. In July 2019, the Quebec Superior Court dismissed the petitioners’ motion because it rejected the nature of the class proposed by the petitioners, namely, the age limit of 35 years. Lawyers for ENvironnement JEUnesse filed an appeal of the decision in August and await a hearing. The French-language decision is here ; an unofficial English-language translation posted by Columbia Law School is here .  ENvironnement JEUnesse  sees itself as part of the global movement of climate litigation begun with the Urgenda decision in The Netherlands, and summarizes other cases around the world on its English-language website. The French-language website is much more informative – in addition to updates on the case, it posts news on the Quebec climate youth movement and its  annual conference.