Review of Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan and carbon levy; updates on renewables and methane regulations

env defence carbon-pricing-alberta-fbEnvironmental Defence released a report in December 2018, Carbon Pricing in Alberta: A review of its success and impacts  . According to the report, Alberta’s carbon levy, introduced in 2017 as part of the broader Climate Leadership Plan, has had no detrimental effect on the economy, and in fact, all key economic indicators (weekly consumer spending, consumer price index,and gross domestic product) improved in 2017. The report also documents how the carbon levy revenues have been invested: for example, over $1 billion used to fund consumer rebates and popular energy efficiency initiatives in 2017; support for Indigenous communities, including employment programs; a 500% growth in solar installations; funding for an expansion of light rail transit systems in Calgary and Edmonton; and prevention of an estimated 20,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. The conclusion: the Climate Leadership Plan and its carbon levy is off to a good start, but improvement is needed on promised methane reduction regulations , and the regulations to enforce the legislated cap on oil sands emissions need to be released.

Methane Regulations:    The Alberta Environmental Law Centre published a report in 2017 evaluating the province’s methane emissions regulations. On December 13, the government released new, final regulations governing methane. On December 19, the Alberta Environmental Law Centre published a summary of the new Regulations here  

Since the Environmental Defence study, on December 17, the government announced  agreement on five new wind projects funded by Carbon Leadership revenues, through the  Renewable Electricity Program. Three of the five projects are private-sector partnerships with First Nations, and include a minimum 25 per cent Indigenous equity component to stimulate jobs, skills training and other  economic benefits. The government claims that all five projects will generate 1000 jobs.

On  December 19 the government also  announced   new funding of  $50 million from Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan for the existing  Sector-specific Industrial Energy Efficiency Program , to support technology improvements in the  trade-exposed industries of pulp and paper, chemical, fertilizer, minerals and metals facilities.

Balanced against this, a December 31 government press release summarized how its “Made in Alberta ” policies have supported the oil and gas industry: including doubling of support for petrochemical upgrading to $2.1 billion; creation of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) investment team to work directly with industry to expedite fossil fuel projects; political fights for new pipelines (claiming that “Premier Notley’s advocacy was instrumental in the federal government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain Pipeline”), and the ubiquitous Keep Canada Working  advertisements promoting the keepcanada workingbenefits of the Trans Mountain pipeline . The press release also references the November announcement that the province will buy rail cars  to ship oil in the medium term,  and the December 11 press release announcing that the province is  exploring  private-sector interest in building a new oil refinery .

Canada joins the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)

Canada officially became a member of the the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)  on January 9th, on the eve of the 9th Session of the Assembly in Abu Dhabi, where  1,200 delegates from more than 160 governments, the private sector and civil society met. IRENA describes itself as: “an intergovernmental organisation that supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future, and serves as the principal platform for international cooperation, a centre of excellence, and a repository of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge on renewable energy. IRENA promotes the widespread adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy, including bioenergy, geothermal, hydropower, ocean, solar and wind energy in the pursuit of sustainable development, energy access, energy security and low-carbon economic growth and prosperity.”

irena_renewable jobs 2017 coverCanada’s membership  brings to 160 the number of countries participating in IRENA, and will make it easier for Canadians to place their renewable energy development in an international context, by inclusion such flagship publications , such as the  Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review  . Recently, Vancouver B.C. was profiled as a case study in the IRENA publication Scaling up Renewables in Cities: Opportunities for Municipal Governments Renewable Energy.

The official press release from Canada’s ministry of Natural Resources was brief, and did not indicate any future plans for Canada’s involvement in IRENA research activities.   Some context is provided in a news item from the National Observer  . 

Green New Deal – an opportunity for the U.S. and for Labour

As the U.S. Congress returned for its 116th Session in January 2019, newly-elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal  have become the symbols of the “freshmen” class in Washington. The term is now everywhere – as shown green new deal tweetsby  “What’s the Deal with the Green New Deal” from the Energy Institute at Haas, University of California at Berkeley, which coins the acronym “GND” and shows a graph of the Twitter traffic on the topic.  More substantially, the article critiques the economic, job creation proposals in the Green New Deal proposal, as does economist Edward B. Barbier in “How to make the next Green New Deal work” in Nature.com on January 1. From a Canadian, much less conservative viewpoint, Thomas Clayton-Muller discussed a Canadian version called the “Good work Guarantee”, as proposed by 350.org.  in “Canada needs its own Green New Deal. Here’s what it could look like” in the National Observer (Nov. 29) , and Matt Price urged unions to follow the lead in “Unions Should Go Big on a Green New Deal for Canada” in an Opinion piece in The Tyee  (Dec. 10) .

Jeremy Brecher and Joe Uehlein of the  Labor Network for Sustainability write “The Green New Deal provides a visionary program for labor and can provide a role for unions in defining and leading a new vision for America” in “12 Reasons Labor Should Demand a Green New Deal” in Portside. The article reviews the history of the original U.S. New Deal, but more importantly, shows how the Green New Deal can help U.S. labour unions reclaim bargaining power, political power, and good jobs.  They conclude with a long list of Labour goals for any Green New Deal, including: Restore the right to organize: Bargain collectively and engage in concerted action on the job; Guarantee the Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly in the workplace; Restore the right to strike; Guarantee the right to a safe and healthy work environment; Provide a fair and just transition for workers whose jobs may be threatened by economic change; Establish fair labor standards; Establish strong state and local prevailing wage laws; Encourage industry-wide bargaining; Establish a “buy fair” and “buy local” procurement policy. They conclude with suggestions for how unions can support a Green New Deal .  Héctor Figueroa ,  President of 32BJ Service Employees International Union also urges other unions to support the GND, and describes its importance for his union in “For the Future of Our Communities, Labor Support for The Green New Deal” in Common Dreams (Dec. 13) .

The political story of the Green New Deal revolves around the negotiations to form a House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, summarized in a great article from Inside Climate News, “New Congress Members See Climate Solutions and Jobs in a Green New Deal” (Jan. 3).  HR-1, the first Bill tabled by the Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party in the new House of Representatives is a  60-page statement, which establishes the mandate of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in Section 104, (pages 46-49). Reaction from the Sunrise Movement  stated:  “The mandate for @nancypelosi‘s Climate Select Committee is out, and it’s everything we feared. No mandate to create a plan on the timeline mandated by top scientists; No language on economic & racial justice, or a just transition; Allows members to accept fossil fuel money. As well, it lacks power to supoena.” Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash is extensively quoted in  “They Failed Us Once Again’: House Democrats Denounced for Dashing Hopes of Green New Deal”  from Common Dreams (Jan. 3), and though disappointed, she states: “In losing this fight on the Select Committee, we have won the biggest breakthrough on climate change in my lifetime.”

The Select Committee is  not the only political avenue to deal with climate change. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Democractic Representative Frank Pallone, announced it will hold its first hearing on climate change, as reported by The Hill  . And prospective Democratic presidential candidates are under pressure, as described in “Green Leftists Prepare to Give Democratic Candidates Hell” in the New Republic (Jan. 4) .

Canada: the year past and the battle over carbon pricing in the year ahead

The Energy Mix Yearbook Review for 2018 is undoubtedly the most thorough and informed review of 2018 climate issues for Canadians.  It compiles its newsletter coverage of 2018 stories and adds context and analysis, as well as a multitude of links to further reading.  The sections of exceptional interest include “Jobs and Just Transition: Renewables and Efficiency Jobs Surge while Fossil Employment Sags “; “Fossils go for Broke”  and “Canada’s Contradiction: Low-Carbon Leader or Perpetual Petro-State?”  .  Other, briefer overviews for Canada include “State of Play 2018”  from EcoJustice, highlighting legal issues;  “ 10 wins for Canadian energy and climate action in 2018: Year in review” with a positive slant from the Pembina Institute (Dec. 20) ; and from the Council of Canadians 2018 in Review: Offshore drilling (December 21),  a chronology from Atlantic Canada.

On December 20, easily overlooked because of the holiday season,  Environment and Climate Change Canada published five separate review reports.  Clean Canada:  Protecting the Environment and Growing our Economy   is a snapshot of Canada’s federal climate action policies and expenditures, and seems intended for a wide popular audience.  Second Annual Synthesis Report regarding the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Action   (French version here )  is a more detailed accounting of the policies and programs by the federal and provincial governments in 2018, organized in chapters relating to carbon pricing, complementary measures (buildings, transportation, electricity, agriculture, etc.); adaptation and resilience; clean technology and innovation and jobs; reporting and oversight; federal engagement and partnership with Indigenous people .  2018 Canada’s Greenhouse Gas and Air Pollutant Emissions Projections Report  (French version here ) provides, again,  a policy overview but its main purpose is to continue the series of annual reports (since 2011) of detailed emissions data for economic sector and  geographic region. It also includes emissions projections to 2030 under two different scenarios – (spoiler alert: oil and gas will be Canada’s leading source of emissions, followed by transportation and heavy industry).

Other substantial reports published on December 20 will form the basis for consultations in 2019.  The new draft for the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy 2019 to 2022 will inform a public consultation until April 2, 2019. (The companion 2018 Progress Report on the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy  evaluates the 2016 to 2019 strategy goals and the activities of  41 federal departments and agencies.)

The final Clean Fuel Standard Regulatory Design Paper focuses on the liquid fuels regulations, with comments requested by February 1, 2019. The draft regulation is scheduled to be published in 2019 and a final regulation by 2020, bringing to an end a complex consultation process that began in 2016 (summarized by WCR  in January 2018).  The Clean Fuel Standard will apply to the full life cycle of all fuels, gasoline and diesel, aviation fuel, natural gas for heating, and metallurgical coal, and has been called the single most important policy tool to achieve Canada’s emissions reductions target for 2030.

And finally, a regulatory proposal relating to the most publicized issue for 2019: carbon pricing.  Next Steps in Implementing the Federal Pollution Pricing System for Large Industry (the “Output Based Pricing System”)  was released on December 20, and carries  a deadline for public comments of February 15, 2019. The Output Based Pricing System registration system went live on November 1, 2018, with reporting and verification requirements starting on January 1, 2019.

The coming battles over Carbon tax in 2019:   As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in late October 2018,  the federal government has not backed down on its determination to impose a carbon pricing policy across all Canadian jurisdictions in 2019, despite resistance and constitutional challenges led by the premiers of Saskatchewan and Ontario.  In some provinces – British Columbia , Alberta , Quebec  – established carbon pricing systems continue; in Nova Scotia , Prince Edward Island , Newfoundland and Labrador –  newly approved systems which meet the government’s benchmarks under the Pan-Canadian Framework will begin.   In the other provinces who have opposed the federal plan – Manitoba , Saskatchewan , New Brunswick and Ontario  –  the federal backstop fuel charge will be imposed starting in April 2019, sweetened by a “Climate Action Incentive”,  whereby all carbon revenue collected by the federal government will go directly back to people in the provinces from which it was generated.  The Annex of the Second Annual Synthesis Report of the Pan-Canadian Framework  provides up to date summaries for the situation in each province.

Public opinion supports the government’s carbon tax actions, though barely, according to polling made public by Global News on January 3 . Based on a November 9 internal poll conducted for the Liberal party, 46 per cent supported and 44 per cent opposed the plan  in Saskatchewan and Manitoba ; in Ontario, 43 per cent were in support and 32 per cent opposed. Nationally, support was at 47 per cent and opposition was at 29 per cent, with women more supportive than men.

Recently, one article appeared in the labour press, supporting carbon pricing:  “Pricing carbon first step to tackling climate change” in CUPE’s Economy at Work newsletter (Jan. 2).  The mainstream press has been far more active, with general support for a carbon tax: for example,  an editorial in  the Globe and Mail newspaper is titled: “ Do you want a carbon tax, or do you want to be lied to? “(Dec. 26) . The editorial is critical of the Ontario government’s Ontario Carbon Trust proposal, about which it states:  “One emerging conservative alternative to carbon pricing is working with business to spur the development of green technology. What that usually means is taxpayers giving subsidies to business.… “Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives ….say they will dish out $400-million on a “Carbon Trust” that will collaborate with industry on emissions cuts. They can rail against carbon pricing all they want; spending taxpayer money has the same effect on pocketbooks as asking consumers to pay more.”

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce was also widely cited as supporting a carbon tax, to the extent that they issued a press release on December 17 2018, clarifying their position:  “While some of the [media] coverage notes the Chamber’s support for carbon pricing, it neglects to include that the support is contingent upon significant caveats. The report calls for government to take concrete steps to reduce the overall regulatory burden on businesses in Canada, and to return the revenues from the carbon tax to business to help them lower their carbon emissions and their energy costs.”  The report referred to, outlining the full arguments, is   A Competitive Transition: How smarter climate policy can help Canada lead the way to a low carbon economy, which was published in December 2018.

Take it to the Courts!  Saskatchewan filed its challenge to the constitutionality of the federal price on carbon pollution in April 2018; the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal announced that it will hear the case in February 13 and 14, 2019, and released the lengthly list of intervenors which it has allowed to appear.  Intervenors include the provinces  of Ontario and New Brunswick on the side of Saskatchewan, and the province of British Columbia on the side of the federal government; other intervenors include the Canadian Public Health AssociationEcoJustice, representing the David Suzuki Foundation and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation; and the Council of Canadians , as part of a  group of seven other civil society groups, including the National Farmers Union and  Climate Justice Saskatoon.

A separate case  was filed by the Government of Ontario and will be heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal in April 2019.  The full list of intervenors, as well as the court filings by the Ontario government, appear at the Court of Appeal website here . British Columbia and New Brunswick have also applied for intervenor status in this case.

How will the courts decide?   “Courts should not have to decide climate change policy” appeared on December 21  in Policy Options,  with a discussion of the carbon pricing cases as well as the recent litigation by Quebec’s ENvironnement JEUnesse . Co-authors Nathalie Chalifour and Jason Maclean  argue that “only a collaborative  approach to policy-making is capable of delivering the kinds of rapid, forward-looking and systemic changes in how industries and societies function that are necessary to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. Litigation, by contrast, is necessarily reactive and typically divisive, time-consuming and influenced by the incremental development of legal precedent.”  Regarding the provincial carbon tax challenges, they state that “the federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is an example par excellence of cooperative federalism.”…. “There’s little doubt that the courts will confirm the federal government’s jurisdictional authority to regulate GHG emissions. They may even decide that the Constitution obliges the government to take more serious climate action.”

A complex road is ahead, as indicated by a C.D. Howe Institute Memo published in October 2018:   “Federal carbon-pricing backstop is new constitutional territory”.

 

Canada at COP24: Summary and reaction

COP24-table of delegatesIn the wee hours of Saturday December 16, after a dramatic extension of negotiations, the Katowice Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP24) concluded with the adoption of  the Katowice Climate Package.   The meetings had brought together over 22,000 participants, including nearly 14,000 government officials, over 7,000 representatives from UN bodies and agencies, intergovernmental organizations, and civil society organizations, and 1,500 members of the media.  What was accomplished?    IISD Reporting Services provides an overview summary of accomplishments,  and a 34-page compilation of official decisions . For a more readable general overview, the UNFCC summarizes and links to the highlights in a release on December 14 , including reports and developments of civil society participants. Next steps for the international negotiators: Another round at  COP 25 in Chile in November 2019.  In preparation, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will convene a Climate Summit in New York City in September 2019 .

Canadian reaction to COP24:  As characterized by Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party – there was a dual agenda at the COP24  meetings: first,  to agree on  the “Paris Rule Book”,  which will govern a shared approach to calculating and reporting on the specific items required under the  Paris Agreement, and secondly, to respond to the urgency and dire warnings of the October IPCC report to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees C.  Recognizing the difficulty of achieving any level of agreement in the politically fraught atmosphere of 2018, reaction in Canada and internationally was generally positive and aimed to put the best light possible on the failure to resolve other points, such as more ambitious GHG reduction targets.

From Canadian sources:COP24 delivers progress, but nations fail to heed warnings of scientists”  (Dec. 15) from the Climate Action Network Canada; “The Hard Work Starts Now as COP Delivers Incomplete Rule Book, Low Ambition”   from the Energy Mix (Dec. 18); “Environmental activists frustrated COP24 deal not strong enough” at CBC ; and from Greenpeace Canada  “COP24 ends without firm promises to raise climate action and ambition.”   More critical comments come in “Trudeau government fails to take bold action at COP24 to avoid climate breakdown” (Dec. 16)  and  “McKenna’s global carbon market plan more charade than genuine climate action”   both  by Brent Patterson in Rabble.ca.  On December 14, CBC broadcast an interview with Elizabeth May , where she asks  “Do we want to survive or not?” , criticizing the focus on bureaucratic process which interfered with addressing the fundamental question of how to reduce emissions.

What did Canada achieve at COP24?:  Canada’s  Minister of Environment and Climate Change pledged to improve Canada’s emission reduction targets on December 5 before she travelled to Katowice, and once there, signed on to the statement of the “High Ambition Coalition” , (along with    the Marshall Islands, Fiji, Ethiopia, EU, Norway, U.K., Germany,  New Zealand and Mexico), pledging to enhance their Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement by 2020.

Regarding coal phase-out, the government’s official  statement  was issued on December 13,  highlighting  Canada’s continuing leadership role in the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which was co-founded by Canada and the U.K. in 2017.   On  December 12, Canada made good on its 2016 pledge to phase out traditional coal-fired electricity by 2030 by publishing the final regulations for that effort in the Canada Gazette .

Regarding Just Transition:  Previous WCR posts (Dec. 6  and Dec. 11  ) summarized the many Just Transition publications and events at COP24.  Canada, along with 40 other jurisdictions, was a signatory to the  Solidarity and Just Transition  Silesia Declaration  put forth by host country Poland.  In the Climate Action Network Canada  press release at the conclusion of COP24, Donald Lafleur, Executive Vice-President, Canadian Labour Congress is quoted by Climate Action Network as saying:   “Canada’s trade unions applaud Canada and other parties for signing on to the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration. We hope to see a commitment to a just transition that is tied to human rights and helps drive a more ambitious climate action plan designed to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.”  The Environment and Climate Change Minister joined the Canadian Labour Congress and the Just Transition Centre at the side event,  Unions in Action on Just Transition,  on December 10, yet she did not release the recommendations of the federal Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities .  Personal testimony of Just Transition came  from Roy Milne, a coal miner and the president of United Steelworkers Local 1595 in Wabamun, Alberta, who calls himself part of the first group at the first coal mine to be  phased out in Canada. “Some jobs in new energy industries come with a pay cut of $50K: coal miner” is an interview with Mr. Milne, was broadcast on CBC’s The Current on Dec. 13, in which he states that currently, “a basic operator earns $80,000-$100,000 per year, with additional benefits and a defined pension scheme. An electrician retraining as a renewable energy technician would go from that salary to $45,000-$50,000 per year.”

Other issues: The Minister’s  own Statement at the conclusion of COP24 says that “Canada also played a leading role in laying the groundwork for a global carbon market, to help mobilize the billions of dollars of investments needed to tackle climate change” and “ Canada took part in the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, encouraging all countries around the world to use the most cost-effective tool to reduce emissions.”  The details of that global carbon market remain unspecified.  In another press release,  the government announced that it will support increased participation by Indigenous people in international climate talks, by  providing  $800,000 over four years to to enable the creation of the Indigenous Peoples Focal Point at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “The Focal Point will coordinate and lead work on issues related to Indigenous Peoples and climate change, promote awareness of Indigenous perspectives on climate change, and serve as a technical expert and advisor.”

And yet, with all the pledges and announcements, it must be noted that right after COP24, on December 18, the government of Canada announced    a $1.6 billion aid package for Alberta’s oil companies.  The National Observer article summarizes this in “Sohi announces $1.6 billion to help Alberta oil patch”  and quotes Minister Sohi: “ These are commercial loans, made available on commercial terms. We have committed to phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025, and we stand by that commitment.” However, as stated in a press release from Environmental Defence    “At COP24 in Katowice, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna announced that Canada would increase the ambition of its targets to cut carbon pollution. Less than two weeks later, her Cabinet colleagues, Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi and Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr, are using public money to make Canada’s already-weak targets even harder to achieve.”