Some labour union reflections on COP26

In “After Glasgow : Canadian Labour Unions Confront The Most Exclusionary COP Conference In History” (Our Times, Dec. 16), Sune Sandbeck and Sari Sairanen of Unifor describe their experiences as union delegates to the events – where unionists and even some countries were vastly outnumbered by the 503 delegates from the fossil fuel industry . The article asserts that, despite much disappointment in the COP26 results,

“Trade unions were instrumental in securing the Just Transition Declaration, whose signatories included Canada, France, Germany, the UK, the European Union and the U.S. And although just transition was omitted from early draft texts being negotiated, it would eventually make its way into vital passages of the final agreement. In fact, the Canadian labour delegation played a key role by drafting last-minute text proposals that would see just transition included in a crucial paragraph in the final COP26 decision.”    

The article names the following unions who sent representatives as the Canadian labour delegation at COP26 :  the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC ), the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), Unifor, the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU), the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE), the United Steelworkers (USW), and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada.  

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) wrote a brief reaction to events in “COP26 – workers must focus on solutions, not empty promises”, calling for a focus on concrete steps for job creation in a green economy.  CUPE cites the agenda of the international Trade Union Program for a Public Low-Carbon Energy Future, launched on November 4 at COP26. It states: “Focusing mainly on the power sector, the Program is an attempt to rally the international trade union movement behind an ambitious political effort to bring about a fundamental shift in climate and energy policy. This shift is needed both to correct the failures of the market model and to ensure that the energy transition is socially just, economically viable, and effective in terms of reaching climate goals.”  

The Canadian Teachers Federation reflected on COP26 and climate education with: “Turning of the oil taps begins in the classroom”, advocating for the important role of teachers. Much of the same thinking appears in the Education International reaction “COP 26 key outcomes: Why is this important for education unionists?” . That response notes that progress was made in the form of a pledges by government ministers regarding teacher training, student participation and climate resilience in education systems, and noted that youth activists stressed the importance of teacher support and student collaboration in reforming curricula across the world. However, the language of the formal negotiations for climate education ( part of the mandate of the Action for Climate Empowerment ) fell short, calling only for climate education to be “encouraged”.

From the international federation IndustriALL: “Trade unions at COP26: what we did, what we achieved, and what we need to focus on now” chronicled union events at COP26, and on December 14, the union published a more analytical piece “What happened at COP26 and what it means for workers” . Speaking about fossil fuel jobs, an IndustriALL delegate states: “… Rather than making our members believe that we can defend these jobs indefinitely, we must be honest with them and help them to prepare for the future. Our urgent task is to develop concrete frameworks for Just Transition that we can implement through social dialogue.” 

And to those who are suspicious that the claims of Just Transition are just “more of the same”,  the article has this: “Why should we believe it will be different this time?

“It won’t be different if we leave it to our politicians. But it can be different if we are engaged in driving the transition. We are facing an unprecedented shift in the global economy – the end of the age of fossil fuel, and the beginning of a new age that is yet to be defined. Unlike previous changes, this is a managed process, with space for unions to influence policy. The world’s governments will spend unprecedented amounts of money. It is up to us to ensure that this spend delivers good jobs to our members – and that we build a better world in the process.”

Flooding in British Columbia is an unfolding, man-made climate disaster

After the disastrous summer heat wave which killed 595 people in British Columbia in June 2021, along comes the worst natural weather disaster in Canada’s history so far : torrential rains and flooding which began on November 15 in southern British Columbia, centred on Abbotsford and the agricultural Fraser River Valley, including First Nations lands. One person so far has been pronounced dead; mudslides, rockslides and water have destroyed roads, bridges and rail lines;  motorists have been stranded, and supply chains from the port of Vancouver to the rest of Canada are disrupted.  Thousands of people and animals have been evacuated and rescued from homes under water.  The culprit?  As reported by the National Observer, “Lethal mix of cascading climate impacts hammers B.C.” (Nov. 17).   But human fingerprints are all over this climate catastrophe, as explained in  “‘A tipping point’: how poor forestry fuels floods and fires in western Canada”  (The Guardian, Nov. 16).  The Guardian article cites a February 2021 report, Intact Forests: Safe Communities, in which author Peter Wood warned of the potential catastrophe around the corner unless the province’s forest management practices were changed.

Responding to over a year of intense pressure, the government of B.C. DID announce new plans in November, to defer logging on 2.6 million hectares of at-risk old growth forests for two years or so,  pending the approval of First Nations – a compromise policy which satisfied no one.   “BC Paused a Lot of Old-Growth Logging. Now What?”   (The Tyee, Nov. 8 ) explains background to the decision and the opposition from the United Steelworkers, whose members work in the forestry sector . The USW press release  accuses the government of selling out the workers.   “Protecting some old growth isn’t enough. B.C. needs a Forest Revolution”  and “Counting the Job Costs of halting old growth logging” expand on the economic arguments for the clearcutting of B.C.’s forests. (The Tyee, Nov. 10). B.C. now needs new research, to count the dollars required to re-build lives and infrastructure after this disaster.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right to Healthy Environment proposals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the article:

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

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

Canada’s report to the UNFCC shows an increase in GHG emissions

ghg emissions_NIR 2018As required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), Canada submitted its National Inventory Report on April 14, available from the U.N. website.   The Executive Summary   at the Canadian government website  announces that the Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were 729 million tons of CO2 and equivalent in 2018, (the latest figures available).  This is an increase of 15 million tons from 2017, and a reduction of only 1 million tons from 2005 – making Canada’s Paris Agreement target of a 30% reduction from 2005 levels a very challenging goal. The Executive Summary attributes the 2018 performance  to “higher fuel consumption for transportation, winter heating and oil and gas extraction.” The Toronto Star summarizes the official report in  “Canada’s emissions count jumped 15 million tonnes in 2018 from previous year, report shows” (April 15) ; a summary also appeared in The National Observer, focused on British Columbia.  The federal Green Party press release points out that Canada has missed the February deadline to submit its new target for Nationally Determined Contributions, and calls for Canada  to reduce our GHG’s to 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.  (In comparison, the latest EU target under debate is a 55% reduction by 2030  ).

The full National Inventory Report presents statistics since 1990, and analyses trends by region and according to industries – including energy, industrial processes, agriculture, land use (forestry) and waste management. It also measures emissions in 2018 by important gases, including carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. Carbon dioxide (CO2) accounted for 80% of Canada’s total emissions. Nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions (76% of which come from agriculture) accounted for 5%  in 2018, a 2.4% decrease from 1990 levels. Synthetic gases (HFC’s, PFC’s, SF6 and NF3) constituted slightly less than 2% of national emissions.

Canada’s other big polluter: methane

According to Canada’s National Inventory Report, methane accounted for 13% of Canada’s total emissions in 2018, an increase of  1% since 1990.  43% of those emissions are attributed to fugitive sources in oil and natural gas systems and another 31% from agriculture.  The  International Energy Agency  also tracks methane emissions from the oil and gas industry here , and in February 2020 summarized and critiqued Canada’s new policies to reduce methane emissions attributable to the oil and gas industry.   Methane (CH4) is a growing concern for global GHG emissions – as reported in an article in  Scientific AmericanMethane levels reach an all-time high” (April 12) , which summarizes recent reports by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) .

Blue skies from locked-down economies are fleeting – we still need strong policies to reduce carbon emissions

A statement from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on Earth Day estimates that the pandemic will result in a six per cent drop in carbon emissions in 2020 , but warned “COVID-19 may result in a temporary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but it is not a substitute for sustained climate action”.  The full WMO Statement on Global Climate Change continues …. “We need to show the same determination and unity against climate change as against COVID-19. We need to act together in the interests of the health and welfare of humanity not just for the coming weeks and months, but for many generations ahead.”

Scientists are speaking out against the “good news” approach of highlighting clear skies as a silver lining in the Covid crisis. Kate Marvel, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University, writes “I am a mad scientist” , calling for bolder climate change action, and stating  :

“I’m angry at the very idea that there might be a silver lining in all this. There is not. Carbon dioxide is so long-lived in the atmosphere that a small decrease in emissions will not register against the overwhelming increase since the start of the Industrial Revolution. All this suffering will not make the planet any cooler. If the air quality is better now, if fewer people die from breathing in pollution, this is not a welcome development so much as an indictment of the way things were before. “

U.K. financial consultants MSCI express similar thoughts from an economic viewpoint in “Will coronavirus reduce emissions long term? .  “This modeled decline in 2020 emissions does not necessarily indicate a structural change to our current world economy. The estimated emission levels are still comparable to those observed over the past five years, and the economy could readily rebound, returning emissions to prior levels. China already increased its industrial output when their quarantine began to slowly lift. Once Europe and the U.S. lift lockdowns and reopen borders, travel, commuting and economic output could return to “normal” levels. Thus, the projected decrease in global emissions could be short-lived. If so, the risk climate change poses to countries, companies and investors has not dissipated. A much more visible and immediate crisis has simply overshadowed it.”

Researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute are interviewed in “COVID-19 pandemic raises new questions about the health impacts of air pollution”  and explain how  encouraging pictures of blue skies do not reflect the complexities of air pollution. The article, importantly, also seeks to counter the mis-impression that reduced economic activity is necessary to reduce air pollution, by pointing to the more important policy measures in many countries, including Canada, which have been improved air quality and human health without compromising economic growth.

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.

City of Toronto declares climate emergency

Toronto smallCanada’s largest city,  Toronto, has unanimously adopted a climate emergency resolution on September 20, joining hundreds of other municipalities across Canada.  The city’s TransformTO Climate Action Plan, passed in 2017, had a target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 80 per cent below 1990 city levels by 2050.  The emergency resolution passed in September speeds up that timetable, with a new commitment to net zero emissions before 2050. (As of July 2019, the city was ahead of schedule with a 44% reduction below 1990 levels). The action was precipitated by a Call to Action , which includes a call for a “Just Economic Transition” and for “Equity and Inclusion” is described in a press release from the Toronto Environmental Alliance: “Forty-seven organizations call on Toronto City Council to declare a climate emergency” (Sept. 20). The Call to Action statement is here , the list of signatories is here , and it includes Toronto and York Region Labour Council, Toronto Community Benefits Network, Good Jobs for All, and BlueGreen Alliance.  A spokesperson for the Toronto Environmental Alliance states:  “The good news is that just about everything that Toronto needs to do will improve our quality of life. For example, properly insulating our buildings will make them more energy efficient and safe from extreme weather, and create jobs for people in the skilled trades…. If developed in a thoughtful and well-coordinated way, green workforce strategies can be inclusive and reduce poverty.”

The mayor’s  voluntary Green Ways Initiative is described in “Mayor John Tory enlists major institutions in emissions plan as Toronto declares ‘climate emergency’” in the Toronto Star.  Developers, hospitals, and universities are being urged to cut their energy consumption and emissions – and one of those volunteer entities, the University of Toronto, announced its Low Carbon Action Plan  on September 27.  The University of Toronto maintains 266 buildings on three campuses, and more than half of those are over 80 years old.  Other participants in the Green Ways Initiative include include Oxford Properties, Ryerson University, Toronto District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board, Toronto Community Housing, and the University Health Network.

gardiner toronto_trafficThe major criticism of the climate emergency resolution is outlined in “Toronto just declared a climate emergency, so why is it still fixing up the Gardiner?” at the CBC (Oct. 4), referring to the major highway artery across Toronto’s downtown.  Journalist  John Lorinc also pursues this in his article in Spacing (Sept. 30), which contends that the Gardiner Expressway redevelopment project accounts for 5% of the city’s entire $40.7 billion ten-year capital budget, which is money which could be better used to fund transit, such as the Queen’s Quay East LRT, or to finance the retrofitting of the city’s portfolio of buildings, including community housing.  To these criticisms, the mayor is quoted in the Toronto Star and the CBC with this statement: “The amount we’re spending on rebuilding a small part of the Gardiner Expressway pales in comparison to what we’re investing in public transit to get people out of their cars entirely”.

“Business as usual” could lead to 13% loss in growth for the Canadian economy.

According to a study published in August by both the National Bureau of Economic Research and by  U.K.’s Cambridge University Institute for New Economic Thinking,      the overall the global economy could shrink by 7% unless the world’s nations meet the Paris Agreement targets for GHG emissions reductions. Long-Term Macroeconomic Effects of Climate Change: A Cross-Country Analysis” analyses data from 174 countries over the years 1960 to 2014 to model changes in output growth related to temperature and precipitation. The result: “Our counterfactual analysis suggests that a persistent increase in average global temperature by 0.04°C per year, in the absence of mitigation policies, reduces world real GDP per capita by 7.22 percent by 2100. On the other hand, abiding by the Paris Agreement, thereby limiting the temperature increase to 0.01°C per annum, reduces the loss substantially to 1.07 percent.”

The effects differ widely across countries. For Canada, the analysis finds that a “business as usual” scenario could result in a 13% loss in growth for the Canadian economy.     A summary for non-economists from the Climate News Network  quotes one of the authors of the study: “The idea that rich, temperate nations are economically immune to climate change, or could even double or triple their wealth as a result, just seems implausible.”

 

Activists are mobilizing to push for a Canadian Green New Deal in the 2019 elections

The push for a Canadian Green New Deal is a rising tide with strong public support, and a number of different activist groups are gathering in different coalitions to push our politicians to action. “Canadian Coalitions’ Election Platforms Call For Faster Action On Climate” (May 7) in The Energy Mix summarizes three prominent initiatives that launched in early May. Here are a few more details:

SUZUKI green new dealThe Pact for a Green New Deal  launched on May 6 with a very high profile campaign in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. An Executive summary called 10 Questions  states: “it is a non-partisan, grassroots initiative supported by individuals, scientists, unions, Indigenous and civil society organizations and youth from across the country.” It  has been endorsed by over 67 organizations, including many of Canada’s largest environmental advocacy groups, and the following  labour unions:  CUPE Ontario, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), Syndicat de la fonction publique et parapublique du Québec, London and District Labour Council, and Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation.  Amongst youth, endorsers include: Climate Strike Canada, PowerShift: Young and Rising, ENvironnement JEUnesse (ENJEU), iMatter Halifax, and Students for Direct Action.  It also includes a number of influential celebrities, including David Suzuki, Naomi Klein, Stephen Lewis, Michelle Landsberg,  and dozens of musicians and artists – even  K.D. Laing, but not Margaret Atwood!  The full list of endorsers is here.

The 10 Questions document also states that the The Pact for a Green New Deal (P4GND) is NOT a copy of the U.S. campaign so widely identified with  the Sunrise Movement and Alexandria Ocacio Cortez. This Canadian initiative was inspired by Le Pacte  that was started in Quebec in November 2018 by Dominic Champagne (who endorses this new initiative).  The Pacte has attracted over  270,000 signatories who pledge to make personal lifestyle changes to address the climate emergency, including citizen engagement, and who endorse a definite list of priorities.  In contrast,  The Pact for a Green New Deal is a visionary process, as set out in a 3-page statement:

“We Invite All Sectors of Society to Launch The Year of The Green New Deal:  We call on workers, Indigenous communities, students, trade unions, migrants, community organizations and people across the country to gather, define and design a plan for a safe future and more prosperous present. The conversation about a Green New Deal for Canada must be led from the ground up. We call on all politicians and political parties to respond to the demands of the people with a Green New Deal that rests on two fundamental principles: 1. It must meet the demands of Indigenous knowledge and science and cut Canada’s emissions in half in 11 years while protecting cultural and biological diversity. 2. It must leave no one behind and build a better present and future for all of us.”

An interactive map here shows all the planned locations for the Pact for a Green New Deal cross-country tour, starting in Toronto in May.

Environmental Asks for the October 2019 Election: Many of the endorsers of the Pact for a Green New Deal are also endorsing another initiative, announced  on May 7, presenting 20 “asks” for Party Platforms .  “These platform recommendations represent the collective priorities of all of the organizations listed below and will form the basis of joint-venture communication concerning each political parties’ commitments in the lead-up to the 2019 Federal election.”  The group will also evaluate and compare the party platforms once they are announced. There are 14 groups involved are:  Canadian Environmental Law Association, CPAWS, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre, ecojustice, équiterre, Environmental Defence, Greenpeace, Nature Canada, Pembina Institute, Sierra Club Canada Foundation, West Coast Environmental Law Association, Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, and WWF-Canada. In addition, the United Steelworkers have announced their support via an article in the Toronto Star,Labour a key partner in a Green New Deal” (May 6 ) , also issued as a USW press release.

Younger Canadians launched their own political initiative to fight for a Green New Deal on April 17. The group, Our Time, states its goal   is “to organize and mobilize a generational alliance of young and millennial voters that’s big enough and bold enough to push politicians to support a Green New Deal in the lead up to the 2019 election.”

And without using the tern “Green New Deal”, the youth organization Climate Strike Canada, inspired by the Fridays for Future movement, has set out a list of political demands in an Open Letter and online petition :

“We, as citizens, therefore call upon all political parties and politicians to create and commit to a science-based and human rights focused Emergency Plan for Climate Justice that limits global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

We, as citizens, pledge to vote only for political parties and politicians that include the following demands in their Emergency Plan for Climate Justice.

  • Bold Emissions Reductions Targets
  • Separation of Oil and State
  • A Just Transition
  • Environmental rights
  • Indigenous rights
  • Conservation of Biodiversity
  • Protection for Vulnerable Groups

U.K. makes progress on a Green New Deal amid the chaos of Brexit

Understandably, the Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom are preoccupied with the chaos of the Brexit crisis – which in itself, has huge implications for environmental policy in the country.  “How Brexit will impact the UK’s environmental policy”  provides a good summary of the specifics, and an active website publishes analysis by “a network of impartial academic experts analysing the implications of Brexit for UK and EU environmental policy and governance” . Greener UK, a network of 14 environmental NGOs, is also focused on Brexit “in the belief that leaving the EU is a pivotal moment to restore and enhance the UK’s environment. ”

Lucas UK screenshot gnd billProgress on a Green New Deal  amidst the chaos:  But while Brexit rages, and  the country awaits the May 2 publication of recommendations on long term net zero emission targets by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC),  the Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill  was tabled in the House of Commons by two members of Parliament – Green Party member Caroline Lucas  and Labour Party member Clive Lewis .  Although the bill doesn’t use the term “Green New Deal”,  Caroline Lucas  does in her Opinion piece in The Guardian, “The answer to climate breakdown and austerity? A green new deal” (March 27).  She states: “Our bill would introduce a “green new deal” – an unprecedented mobilisation of resources invested to prevent climate breakdown, reverse inequality, and heal our communities. It demands major structural changes in our approach to the ecosystem, coupled with a radical transformation of the finance sector and the economy, to deliver both social justice and a livable planet… This is purposely radical territory. We must push the boundaries of what is seen as politically possible. Because climate justice and social justice go hand in hand.”  The official summary  of the Bill appears on page 7 of the parliamentary Order Paper for March 26 including a 10-year time line with reporting requirements, and a stated goal for  community and employee-led transition from high-carbon to low and zero-carbon industry, and the eradication of inequality.

UK Green New Deal coverGreen Party MP Caroline Lucas has a long history with the concept of “green new deal”, as part of the Green New Deal Group which was founded in the U.K. in 2007  and published its first policy statement :  A Green New Deal Joined-up policies to solve the triple crunch of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices  in 2008.

The Labour Party has also been in the news recently for its new grassroots initiative, the Labour Green New Deal.  For example,  “Labour scrambles to develop a Green New Deal” in Climate Change News (Feb. 14);  “Labour members launch Green New Deal inspired by US activists” in The Guardian (March 22) ; and “Our new movement aims to propel Labour into a radical Green New Deal”  (March 22) in The Guardian,  an Opinion piece by  Angus Satow, co-founder of the coalition, who states that the party’s  Green Transformation Environmental policy statement, is a starting point, but “ a GND means a new settlement for Britain. It would give local communities the funding and power to control their future, while democratising industry and the economy. Communities with control of utilities will have great power over their lives, while tackling fuel poverty, as the profits go to ordinary people, not shareholders.” “Labour for a Green New Deal – because climate change is a class issue” by Chris Saltmarsh at Labourlist(March 22) lays out the role of unions in the initiative, with specific and detailed plans: “A Green New Deal in the UK is therefore nothing without participation and leadership from our unions. Rank-and-file trade unionists across the country are ready to organise for this from below. We’ll work with them to build support, host events, pass motions from branches to policy conferences, and develop regional plans for a Green New Deal that put workers first.”

United Nations reports warn of health impacts of climate change, thawing Arctic

geo6 final 2019The Fourth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) convened from March 11 – 15 in Nairobi, Kenya, under the sombre cloud of the crash of Ethiopian Airlines which killed many, including Canadians, on their way to attend the meetings.

The flagship report, produced by 250 global scientists and experts, is the Sixth Global Environmental Outlook, which the UN press release calls “the most comprehensive and rigorous assessment on the state of the environment completed by the UN in the last five years .. warning that damage to the planet is so dire that people’s health will be increasingly threatened unless urgent action is taken.”  It warns that, without such urgent action,  cities and regions in Asia, the Middle East and Africa could see millions of premature deaths by 2050, with pollutants in freshwater systems leading to deaths through increased  anti-microbial resistance, as well as impacts on  male and female fertility and impaired neurodevelopment of children, from endocrine disruptors.  A 28-page  Summary for Policymakers   is available in multiple languages besides English, including French .  GEO6-NA_cover_large

The official documents from the UNEA meetings are compiled here , including the closing press release summary, “World pledges to protect polluted, degraded planet as it adopts blueprint for more sustainable future” .

Other reports relevant to Canada:

1.The Assessment and Data Report for North America is one of the regional reports, all of which are compiled here .

2.  Global Resources Outlook 2019: Natural Resources for the Future We Want    examines the economic benefits and environmental costs of resource use, and finds that all resource sectors combined (including agriculture, mining, forestry ) account for 53% of the world’s carbon emissions. Extraction and primary processing of metals and other minerals  is responsible for 20% of health impacts from air pollution and 26% of global carbon emissions. The report warns that without change,  resource demand would more than double to 190bn tonnes a year, greenhouse gases would rise by 40% and demand for land would increase by 20%.   A summary of the report appeared in The Guardian.

3.   With a forecast even more dire than the 2018  IPCC report, Global linkages: A graphic look at the changing Arctic  warns that even if global emissions were to halt overnight, winter temperatures in the Arctic would still increase 4 to 5°C by 2100 because  of  greenhouse gases already emitted and ocean heat storage. The UNEA report warns of the dangers of thawing permafrost, predicting that by  2050, four million people, and around 70% of today’s Arctic infrastructure, will be threatened.  However, a critique by  the Carbon Brief    disputes this particular conclusion within the UNEA report, and states that  if humanity can mobilize to hit a -2 degrees C target, “future Arctic winter warming will be around 0.5 to 5.0°C by the 2080s compared to 1986-2005 levels, much lower than the 5.0 to 9.0°C values stated in the report.” … “This means that much of the future warming in the Arctic will depend on our emissions over the 21st century, rather than being ‘locked in’, as the report claims.” The Carbon Brief analysis is summarized in The  Energy Mix .

 

Supreme Court rules in Redwater: bankruptcy is no escape from “polluter pays”

Supreme court of canada buildingOn January 31, the Supreme Court of Canada released a long-awaited, precedent-setting decision which holds fossil fuel companies responsible for the clean-up costs of their abandoned operations, and gives environmental clean-up costs precedence over other creditors’ claims.  The case arose from the 2015 bankruptcy  of Redwater Energy, a small, Calgary-based oil and gas company; the agent managing the  bankruptcy was proposing to  sell the company’s  profitable wells to pay off debts, and leave the clean-up costs of the other non-producing wells to the Orphan Well Association (OWA), a provincial, industry-funded agency.  The Supreme Court provides its own “Case in Brief” summary of the the case,  Orphan Well Association v. Grant Thornton Ltd.  here , with links to all the official documents.  The full decision is here ; French-language versions of the Case in Brief , and the full decision are also provided. The response by the Orphan Well Association is here  .

For a brief reaction:  “Redwater decision reassuring, but we aren’t out of the woods” by the Pembina Institute (Jan. 31) or from the  National Observer special series Legacy of Liabilities ,  a summary of the decision  and the more detailed, “Alberta lauds court ruling but has no oil well cleanup plan”

Deeper background and analysis appears in  “Alberta’s Mega Oil and Gas Liability Crisis, Explained” in The Tyee , in which Andrew Nikoforuk asks, “Just how will an increasingly indebted industry, hobbled by low energy prices and rising costs, find the up to $260 billion needed to clean up its inactive pipelines, wells, plants and oilsands mines as it enters its sunset years?”  He concludes with words from Regan Boychuk, a founder of Reclaim Alberta, an advocacy group which began in 2016 to propose an Alberta Reclamation Trust , which would clean-up inactive wells and provide funding for job creation in the energy sector.   Boychuk’s own insider’s view appeared in the National Observer as “Putting the Supreme Court’s Redwater decision in context”  (Feb. 1) .  (Boychuk also provided a briefer Opinion piece as a guest blogger in David Climenhaga’s Albertapolitics.ca ).

Other detailed articles:  An Explainer from The Narwhal: “What the Redwater ruling means for Alberta’s thousands of inactive oil and gas wells”  or from a legal point of view, from Osler law firm, “Supreme Court of Canada decision in Redwater: Early Implications “. 

It is clear that the implications of this decision are huge and expensive, not only for Alberta, but for all extractive industries across Canada.  As the Pembina Institute points out:  “obligations have steadily grown, and now include over 80,000 inactive oil and gas wells, facilities, and pipelines as well as 1.4 trillion litres in fluid oilsands tailings. The Government of Alberta officially estimates it will cost CAD$57 billion to cleanup these sites, though there are ongoing concerns about the accuracy of this figure. Conversely, only $1.2 billion is currently held in securities to protect the public. ”  (A joint investigation by the National Observer, Global News, the Toronto Star, and StarMetro Calgary  in November 2018 estimated that the actual clean-up costs are approximately $260 billion in Alberta alone).

A “new social contract” launches to fight climate change in Quebec

Montreal Climate-March_Mike-HudemaTwitter-660x400@2xAn article in the Montreal Gazette on November 12  describes the rapid rise of a new grassroots group in the province: in English, called “The Planet goes to Parliament”.  Their demonstrations have been covered by the CBC– including a march of 50,000 people in Montreal on November 10, calling for the newly-elected provincial government to make climate change action an urgent priority .  A report of an earlier  march in October is here   .

In addition to marches and demonstrations, over 175,000 Quebecers have signed the group’s Pact for Transition (English version here ), French version here ), which calls for “radical, co-ordinated and societal transformation” .  The Pact first calls for a solemn personal pledge to change behaviours “to wean ourselves off fossil fuels.” It also calls for the government to: enact a plan by 2020 for reaching Quebec’s climate targets; commit to reducing emissions by 50 per cent by 2030; develop an energy efficiency and electrification strategy; rule out any exploitation of fossil fuels in Quebec; and make climate change the first consideration of every policy.  Dominic Champagne, a theatre producer and anti-fracking campaigner, is being credited with launching the mass movement, and states: “This time it’s not just left-wing ecologists and artists. It’s way larger … This is really fulfilling an empty space on the political landscape.”

The Quebec government is now led by the right-wing Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) party, which had the weakest  environmental platform in the election campaign; Québec Solidaire, a new left-leaning party, had the most well-developed and ambitious climate platform , and went from 0 to 10 seats in the new legislature. (See a WCR explainer here).   Since taking power in October,  the CAQ government announced the cancellation of the Apuiat wind farm , which was to be built in partnership with Innu communities.  As reported by the  Energy Mix ,the Chair and Vice-Chair of  Hydro-Québec resigned due to the cancellation.  Details about the Apuiat project are provided by CBC here (Oct. 20).

The Planet Goes to Parliament  has announced plans for at least two more climate protests, in Quebec City and in Montreal,  during  the COP24 meetings in Katowice Poland in December.  The group is thinking big, with a goal of 1 million signatories to their Pact – out of a population of 8 million in the province.

Preview of the recommendations by Canada’s Just Transition Task Force

Hassan Yussuff head shotIn a November 5 article, “ Federal panel privately urges Trudeau government to do more for coal workers”  ,  National Observer reporter Carl Meyer reveals that the Just Transition Task Force Interim Report is already in the hands of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, though not yet publicly available. Canada’s Just Transition Task Force was launched in April 2018 – an  11-member advisory group co-chaired by Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff,  to “ provide advice on how to make the transition away from coal a fair one for workers and communities.”  The Task Force Terms of Reference   allowed for 9 months for the report; Environment and Climate Change Minister McKenna said on  November 2 : “We’re still reviewing the report, but as we talk about the need to power past coal and our commitment in Canada to phase out coal by 2030, we know there has to be a priority to supporting workers and communities.” A formal response is expected in November, and given the Minister’s leadership role in the international  Powering Past Coal Alliance and the public spotlight of the upcoming COP24 meetings in Katowice Poland in early December, that deadline is likely to be met.

The National Observer article of November 5, along with an April 2018 article about the Task Force launch, provide good background to the Task Force.  The new article emphasizes the different needs of different provinces – notably Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.  Most of the article is based on interviews with a few Task Force members.

But what are the Report’s Recommendations?  One member states that  “A lot of the recommendations are directly connected to what we heard from municipalities, from workers, from unions and from communities.”  The comments about the actual  recommendations are far from earth-shattering, but include:  1. Just Transition policies should be enshrined in legislation so that they are not as vulnerable to changing governments; 2. The  government should commit to infrastructure funding for municipalities in order to attract other businesses and offset job losses; 3. Support to workers should be extended, to help people quickly and efficiently access benefits like employment insurance, retraining, and relocation assistance.  These fall along the same lines as the 2017 Recommendations from the Alberta Advisory Panel  on Coal Communities , which are more detailed and which also accounted for First Nations issues.

A list of Task Force members is here. In addition to co-Chair Hassan Yussuff, there are members from the CLC, the Alberta Federation of Labour,  United Steelworkers, Unifor, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.