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