Climate change and oil economics threaten Canadian fisheries industry

In its July 2019 report, the Expert Panel on Climate Change Risks and Adaptation Potential identified fisheries as one of the top “domains” at risk from  climate change between 2020 to 2040 in Canada.  The experts recognized the complexity of the issue, stating: “the economic, social, and cultural context varies across Canada’s fisheries, and the choice of adaptation measures should be informed by the local situation …. Adaptation can be particularly challenging for communities that rely heavily on a single fishery, and can have widespread economic and social consequences…. A combination of approaches, including catch quotas, community management, regulations on fishing gear, ocean zoning, and economic incentives, can help manage and restore marine fisheries and ecosystems.”

ocean law developmentsOcean Law Developments in Canada 2015-2019  , published at the end of August, summarizes the significant legal progress that has been made in four relevant areas of regulation: ocean governance, protection, marine protection, and marine spills . Improvements noted in the report: the G7 Ocean Plastics Charter; Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean; the Coastal First Nations Fisheries Resources Reconciliation Agreement; creation of eight new Marine Protected Areas; Bill C-55,which amended the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act; the new Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, passed in June 2019; orders issued under the Species at Risk Act to protect the critical habitat of orcas, Right whales, bottlenose whales, belugas, leatherback turtles, abalone and seals; a series of measures to protect orcas on the West Coast, and rolling fisheries closures and seasonal speed restrictions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to reduce industrial pressure on North Atlantic Right whales;  new Fisheries Act, which among other things, includes prohibitions on habitat alteration, damage and destruction (HADD). The report was published by SeaBlue Canada , an alliance of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre, Oceans North, West Coast Environmental Law, and WWF-Canada, dedicated to protection of the oceans.

Will these changes be sufficient for the scale of the problems faced by Canadian fisheries industry?  While general reaction to the legislative changes has been favourable, as reviewed in this May article from the National Observer, many problems remain.

Fish or Oil for Newfoundland?

offshore oil rigOn September 5, CBC News reported on a press conference from Atlantic Canada, with the headline: “FFAW vows to stop oil and gas exploration in crab fishing area”.  The Fish, Food and Allied Workers union ( FFAW), a division of Unifor,  claims that oil interests were again put ahead of the interests of the fishery,  when the regulator, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board , opened bids by  oil companies for offshore areas in August.  The union is demanding that the bidding process be halted, claiming that it was not consulted, even though the call threatens prime fishing areas on which their livelihoods depend.  In November 2018 FFAW also protested when the C-NLOPB approved five successful bids by the oil and gas industry which, in two cases, allowed oil and gas exploration in marine refuge areas where fishing activity was restricted.

In August, the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL), which represents independent inland fishers, supported a call for an independent authority to oversee the environment in the province’s offshore oil and gas industry.  In spite of the C-NLOPB statement   that “Offshore safety and environmental protection are paramount in all Board decisions. “, the Sea Harvesters concern  seems understandable, given the recent history of oil spills from the Hibernia offshore oil platform in August, just days after it had resumed production following a spill in mid-July, and after the largest oil spill in Newfoundland’s history in November 2018.  The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters have also protested the damage done by the seismic testing related to oil exploration, as described by iPolitics in “Seismic testing concerns ignored in oil ‘obsessed’ NFLD and Labrador: union”   in April 2018.

West Coast salmon fishery and First Nations communities face “the worst commercial fishery in 50 years”

On the West Coast, the State of Canadian Pacific Salmon 2019: Responses to changing climate was published by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, summarizing a 2018 workshop of scientists which discussed the impacts of marine heatwaves, changes to marine food webs, warmer freshwater conditions, more extreme rain and drought, and various human activities. It concludes that “No single factor can explain all of the recent observed patterns in salmon abundances. Along with ecosystem changes, fisheries, hatcheries, disease, and contaminants can also affect salmon.”  On September 6, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced $15 million in additional annual funding to support wild Pacific salmon research and management, but meanwhile, 2019 has been reported as the worst commercial fishing season in 50 years, in  “Advocates sound alarm on unfolding disaster in B.C. salmon fishing industry” (CBC, Sept. 9)  and  the Globe and Mail published  “Labour and First Nations groups call for federal disaster relief for West Coast Fishery” (Sept. 9)  which states:  “As well as wanting immediate relief for struggling workers, the groups called on the federal government to develop a long-term strategy to conserve wild salmon in the face of climate change, which they described as a dire and growing threat to the species.”

Some of the “other factors” at play in the salmon crisis in 2019:  a massive obstruction of the Fraser River, caused by a rockslide ; sea lice infestation from farmed salmon (see “Sea Lice Plagues Return and Threat to Wild Salmon Increases” in The Tyee (June 11);  and shipping dangers, described in “Fraser River Chinook jeopardized by shipping terminal’s expansion” (July 29  ) in the National Observer.

Climate change will be a top issue as Canada votes on October 21

canada flagOn September 11, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau officially kicked off the  federal election, with voting set for October 21.  Throughout the summer, polls have consistently shown that climate change and environmental issues will be a high priority for voters – an August survey by Abacaus Data showed 82 per cent of Canadians say climate change is a serious problem and 42% think it is an emergency, ranking concern about climate change second only to the rising cost of living.  In September, researchers from the Université de Montréal and the University of California Santa Barbara released estimates of Canadian opinion on climate actions in almost every single riding across the country, with an online interactive tool  enabling anyone to see how their local riding compares to others across the country.

The Liberal government will be running on their climate change record – characterized by their “we don’t have to choose between the economy and the environment” approach, brought to life in their handling of the Trans Mountain pipeline .  The other party platforms are here:   Green Party: Mission Possible: The Green Climate Action Plan; New Democratic Party: Power to change: A new deal for climate action and good jobs, and Conservative Party:  A Real Plan to Protect Our Environment . “Where the four main parties stand on climate issues”  is a Globe and Mail  “Explainer” by Shawn McCarthy and Marieke Walsh (Sept 8), which quotes academic experts from all sides of the issue: Andrew Leach, University of Alberta; Jennifer Winter, University of Calgary; Mark Jaccard, Simon Fraser University;Kathryn Harrison, University of British Columbia, and Chris Ragan, chair, Ecofiscal Commission.

How to choose amongst the platforms?

Some commentators urge voting by your conscience – for example, Arno Kopecky in his Opinion Piece, “So What’s a progressive voter to do?”  in The Tyee. Others urge strategic voting – such as Mark Jaccard, energy economist and professor at Simon Fraser University, who stated in his August 1 Blog : “Climate-concerned Canadians need to vote strategically this fall to make sure they don’t elect a climate-insincere government. At the time of writing this blog, the most likely outcome is that the 65% of Canadians who tell pollsters they want a climate-sincere government will split their vote among three parties and enable the election of a climate-insincere government, just as in 2006-2015.” Activist Tzeporah Berman also warns against a split vote in a Toronto Star article “David Suzuki on climate change: ‘We have to address it as if it’s war’”  (Sept. 3), and Sandy Garossino wrote in July, “Despite Pipeline Approval, $70-Billion Federal Plan Is Canada’s Best Shot at Decarbonizing”in The Energy Mix . Garossino’s arguments were almost immediately challenged by UBC Professor Kathryn Harrison in “How ‘Serious’ is a Climate Plan that relies on Pipelines”    .

Unions are also Opinion Leaders   

The Canadian Labour Congress election positions are gathered under their webpage banner: “A Fair Canada for Everyone” , which prioritizes Pharmacare,
Retirement Security, Climate Action, Good Jobs, and Equity and Inclusion.  A statement re Climate positions calls for green manufacturing and infrastructure, better transit and electric vehicles, and green building and retrofits.

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)  launched their CUPE Votes website in August,  endorsing the New Democratic Party and offering information and tools for locals and individuals to get involved in the election. Informational “Notes” lay out positions on key issues, including, Climate Change and the Environment.

Unifor launched a “massive” member-to-member campaign for the election on September 4 under the banner of “Stop Scheer”.  At the national constitutional convention in August, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland addressed the full convention.

The United Steelworkers have endorsed the New Democratic Party – their Election 2019 webpage  offers news and resources, including their May 31 statement, “NDP Climate Plan Protects our Planet and our Jobs”  .  View the Steelworkers’ TV election ads here .

Some Websites to follow for climate-related Election coverage:

The National Observer Election 2019 Special Report:   will compile stories throughout the election, in addition to a special Election Integrity Project  which aims to highlight and call out disinformation – for example, on September 6  “How Maxime Bernier hijacked Canada’s #ClimateChange discussion” . These special features all feed from National Observer’s highly-regarded on-going reporting and Opinion pieces about climate change and the environment.  One relevant recent article: “Who were the winners and losers under Liberal climate policy?”   (Sept. 9)

The Energy Mix will monitor and compile news items from other sources, and publish original content under their special Canada Election 2019 banner .

The Tyee in Vancouver offers  an Election 2019 section  as well as a free election newsletter, called The Run.  It’s worth noting that The Tyee joined the global network Covering Climate Now over the summer of 2019, and in addition to its special topic on Environmental stories, promises another special section on the Climate Crisis.

Shake Up The Establishment is a non-partisan website run by youth volunteers, dedicated to monitoring and comparing the climate and environmental commitments of the main parties.  It publishes a monthly newsletter and maintains active social media sites.

Business responsibilities for climate change: U.S. Roundtable nods, U.N. sets a high bar

The U.S. Business Roundtable generated headlines and surprised reaction with the August 19th release of a new Statement of Purpose,  signed by 181 CEO’s of high-profile companies including Amazon, Walmart, Bank of America, Lockheed Martin, Morgan Stanley, UPS, and others. That statement redefines their shared, overarching corporate goal from “delivering value for shareholders” to  promoting “An Economy That Serves All Americans” – including by: “supporting the communities in which we work. We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.” …“Investing in our employees. This starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits. It also includes supporting them through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world. We foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.”

The full Business Roundtable Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, with signatories, is here ;  case studies of member corporations’ social responsibility initiatives are outlined in Building Communities, Meeting Challenges .

A higher bar for business

In contrast to the Business Roundtable statement, scant attention was paid to an international call for human rights and climate justice, released in July. The Safe Climate Report  provides a guide to the obligations of States and the responsibilities of businesses under international agreements and law, regarding the rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation, rights of the child, right to a healthy environment, and rights of vulnerable populations.

The Safe Climate Report, as well as the June 2019 U.N. Report  on extreme poverty and climate change by Philip Alston, are the subject of a September 4 article in The Conversation Canadian edition, “Climate change, poverty and human rights: an emergency without precedent” . The authors state that “The Alston report suggests that the only way to address the human rights dimensions of climate crisis is for states to effectively regulate businesses and for those harmed by climate change to successfully sue responsible companies in court. ….  “the Safe Climate report goes further…”

Specifically, the Safe Climate Report states:

“Businesses must adopt human rights policies, conduct human rights due diligence, remedy human rights violations for which they are directly responsible, and work to influence other actors to respect human rights where relationships of leverage exist. As a first step, corporations should comply with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as they pertain to human rights and climate change…. The five main responsibilities of businesses specifically related to climate change are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their own activities and their subsidiaries; reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their products and services; minimize greenhouse gas emissions from their suppliers; publicly disclose their emissions, climate vulnerability and the risk of stranded assets; and ensure that people affected by business-related human rights violations have access to effective remedies.90 In addition, businesses should support, rather than oppose, public policies intended to effectively address climate change.”  (page 19/20).

Legal obligations of States:

The discussion in this report is also highly relevant to any litigation against states or companies regarding climate change, as well as for the rights of Indigenous peoples and children.  Boyd concludes:

“A failure to fulfill international climate change commitments is a prima facie violation of the State’s obligations to protect the human rights of its citizens. As global average temperatures rise, even more people’s rights will be violated, and the spectre of catastrophic runaway climate chaos increases. There is an immense gap between what is needed to seriously tackle the global climate emergency and what is being done.

A dramatic change of direction is needed. To comply with their human rights obligations, developed States and other large emitters must reduce their emissions at a rate consistent with their international commitments. To meet the Paris target of limiting warming to 1.5°C, States must submit ambitious nationally determined contributions by 2020 that will put the world on track to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45 per cent by 2030 (as calculated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). All States should prepare rights-based deep decarbonization plans intended to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, in accordance with article 4, paragraph 19, of the Paris Agreement. Four main categories of actions must be taken: addressing society’s addiction to fossil fuels; accelerating other mitigation actions; protecting vulnerable people from climate impacts; and providing unprecedented levels of financial support to least developed countries and small island developing States.”

The Safe Climate Report  (formally titled The Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment)  was submitted to the U.N. General Assembly,  written by Canadian human rights scholar and U.N. Special Rapporteur David R. Boyd, whose 2012 book, The Environmental Rights Revolution: A Global Study of Constitutions, Human Rights and the Environment,  stands as a landmark study in environmental law.  The Special Rapporteur’s Report was informed by a consultation period in 2019 in which States and organizations were invited to participate – the few which did are posted here . (Neither  Canada nor the U.S. were among the countries which submitted).  Two noteworthy organizational submissions available are from Canada’s Ecojustice, and Our Children’s Trust (U.S.)  on the issue of intergenerational responsibility and youth. A separate report by Special Rapporteur John Knox discussed The Children’s Rights and the Environment in 2018, and it may be significant the  concluding sentence of the Safe Climate Report uses Greta Thunberg’s famous words,  “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

ICYMI – More Labour support for a Green New Deal in the U.S.

Hardhats vs hippies: how the mainstream media misrepresents the debate over the Green New Deal” appeared in In these Times  (June 18)  and was re-posted to Common Dreams  .  It responds to the negative image in  “Labor anger over Green New Deal greets 2020 contenders in California” ( Politico, June 1), and states  “….though building-trades workers may fit Trump’s image of working-class America, they are not representative of labor or the working class as a whole when it comes to green issues. The future of labor will be helmed by service workers, women, immigrants and people of color. Accordingly, the Green New Deal or other strong climate change policies have won endorsements from SEIULos Angeles County Federation of Labor and National Nurses United, along with various locals like New York State Nurses Association and American Federation of Teachers – Oregon. A survey released by Data for Progress this month found that “union membership is one of the factors most highly correlated with support for Green New Deal policies as well as the Green New Deal framework as a whole.”

Blue Collar Workers – let’s support the Green New Deal”   in Resilience (July 18 2019)   also takes issue with the Politico article. Author Steve Morse states: “I am a blue-collar worker – a retired member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, which represents workers throughout Northern and Central California. The union leaders quoted in that article certainly don’t speak for me, nor for tens of thousands of other building trades workers.” The article points out examples of positive union retraining initiatives, and calls for union workers to support the Green New Deal.

Unions are finally learning to love the Green New Dealappeared in The Nation on July 12, in which author Bob Massie profiles the recent Convergence meeting organized by Labor Network for Sustainability to discuss action strategies for a Green New Deal. He notes key leaders amongst unions, including SEIU and the Association of Flight Attendants, and also notes that a contentious resolution concerning racial and economic justice emerged on the final day of meetings, and explains: ” The tension arose in part because the leaders committed to racial and economic justice—like the rest of their union counterparts—are waking up to the vast potential power of the Green New Deal as a set of ideas and as force for political change. They were not rejecting it; quite the opposite. They wanted to be certain that their concerns were not overlooked.”

18Strategies-for-Slider2The Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) is an active supporter of the Green New Deal, and maintains a compilation of labour union endorsements of the Green New Deal here , and a compilation of other GND articles and tools here  .  The most recent article appeared in June, by Jeremy Brecher, Director of Research and Policy at LNS.  He presented an essay at  The Climate Movement, What’s Next? , a forum organized by the Great Transition Initiative (GTI). Brecher’s essay,  “The Green New Climate Deal,”  characterizes the Green New Deal as the third and current phase of the climate movement. He considers the GND as unique for several reasons:  like the Extinction Rebellion and the Student Strike for Climate movement, it represents a shift to using direct action techniques against governments and politicians; it calls for  strong government leadership and authority;  it is specifically directed to the needs of the working class (for example, calling for universal job guarantees and labour rights protection); and finally, it is uniquely ambitious by calling for  public policies to meet the targets as laid out by climate science.

Brecher acknowledges many dangers to the Green New Deal initiative: “Opposition from the friends of fossil fuels, combined with tepid support from the supposed friends of climate protection, workers, and justice, could easily turn the GND into one more inadequate, toothless, feel-good public relations fig leaf. In a worst-case scenario, the initiative could morph into a cover for expanding nuclear energy, geoengineering, “clean coal,” and other environmental nightmares. Fortunately, we have the start of a GND movement that is alert to these dangers and mobilizing to push back against them. The outcome is likely to be largely determined by how hard those of us who should be fighting for the GND actually do so.”  He calls for that fight to begin, knowing that “The truth is that we don’t know how compatible effective climate protection is with capitalism…. The rational thing to do under such conditions of uncertainty is to start implementing the measures that are necessary to protect the climate while compensating for the negative consequences we can clearly anticipate.”

Brecher’s essay was part of a forum, The Climate Movement, What’s Next? , organized by the Great Transition Initiative (GTI). In his overview/introduction to the forum,   Bill McKibben  asks “Do we need a meta-movement?”.  Among the many other contributors: Guy Dauncey of the  British Columbia Sustainable Energy Association, with Charting how we get there ; Gus Speth of the Next System Project with Imploding the Carbon Economy ; climate justice expert Tom Athanasiou, with  Globalizing the Movement ; and Anders Wijkman, chairman of the Swedish Association of Recycling Industries, with A Climate Emergency Plan The Great Transition Initiative (GTI)  has a long history as a worldwide network of visionary thinking and writing. Most recently, in 2014, it was relaunched by the Tellus Institute as an online forum , “offering a rolling series of essays, viewpoints, reviews, and interviews.”

And further discussion of a Green New Deal:

Decarbonizing the U.S.economy: Pathways towards a Green New Deal was released in June 2019 by the  Roosevelt Institute. In this detailed (80-page) report, three economists argue that the  Acasio-Cortez/Markey Green New Deal proposals are based on sound economic policy, and make  detailed proposals to move to a low-carbon economy based on  1) large-scale public investments; 2) comprehensive regulations to ensure decarbonization across the board; and 3) a cap-and-dividend system that puts a price on carbon while offsetting the regressive effects on income distribution.

Equity for marginalized workers needed in Canada’s Just Transition policies

mertins kirkwood2019 who is includedA new discussion of Just Transition in Canada was released in August 2019, Who is included in a Just Transition? Considering social equity in Canada’s shift to a zero-carbon economy.    Co-authors Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood, senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives,  and Zaee Deshpande provide this introduction:  “After establishing a conceptual framework for just transition, including a distinction between reactive and proactive approaches, we analyze Canada’s existing transition policies to determine who is benefiting from them and who is excluded. We specifically consider gender identity, Indigenous status, racialized identity and immigrant status in our analysis of coal communities covered by the transition. We find that the main beneficiaries of present just transition policies are Canadian-born white men, which reflects their disproportionate presence in the coal workforce. However, many socially and economically marginalized people also face costs and risks from the same climate policies but do not share in the benefits of transition policies, which means these policies may lead to further marginalization.”  The conclusions are supported by the labour market analysis based on Statistics Canada employment data, combined with a synthesis of federal and Alberta Just Transition policies currently in place for the coal industry.  The paper makes a series of policy recommendations including targeted training, apprenticeship and education for people from marginalized groups.

The August report was co-published by  the Canadian Centre for Policy and  Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change project (ACW), as was a 2018 report by  Mertins-Kirkwood, Making decarbonization work for workers: Policies for a just transition to a zero-carbon economy in Canada,  in which he sets out the distinctions between “reactive” and “proactive” Just Transition policies.  In November 2019, a related article by Mertins-Kirkwood and Ian Hussey, “A top-down transition: A critical account of Canada’s government-led phase-out of the coal sector,” will appear in the forthcoming international book Just transition(s): social justice in the shift towards a low-carbon world, to be published by Pluto Press .