Budget 2019 provides modest funding for climate change improvements – Just Transition, electric vehicles, energy efficiency

budget2019No clean economy vision is evident in the  pre-election budget , Investing in the Middle Class, delivered by Canada’s Finance Minister on March 19.  The National Observer has a Special Report on Budget 2019 , composed of  twelve focused articles covering the range of notable provisions. Mitchell Beer provides a good summary of the Budget’s climate-related provisions, in “Morneau’s Pre-Election Budget Boosts ZEVs and Energy Retrofits, Extends New Fossil Subsidy”  in the Energy Mix (March 20).  Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party is quoted in that article, and says that the climate provisions are “pathetic” – a similar reaction to that of Environmental Defence,which states more diplomatically that “funding for climate change in this budget does not match the scale of the challenge”. Similarly, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reaction judges the climate provisions as “modest efforts to move forward on greening the economy”, although calls the just transition plan “an important precedent.”  The Canadian Labour Congress reaction is a lengthly commentary on many worker-related initiatives  – including the issue of Just Transition.

On the issue of Just Transition:  The Budget plan text on Just Transition reiterates the previous Budget’s pledge of $35 million over five years for Just Transition of coal workers.  In its reaction, the Canadian Labour Congress  acknowledges the new pledge of  $150 million in infrastructure funding to directly assist resource-based municipalities, but quotes Hassan Yussuff, Co-Chair of Canada’s Task Force on Just Transition: “… Canada’s unions are looking forward to working with the Minister of Natural Resources as the newly named lead minister, but are disappointed to see that the government has not addressed key Task Force recommendations to support workers, in terms of income, training and reemployment needs. Without this, workers will be left behind.”

More details appear in  “Coal workers get cash in budget but lack of details risks ‘major blowback”  in the National Observer (March 19), including that the  $150 million infrastructure funding will not flow until the 2020-2021 fiscal year.  Funds  will be delivered by Western Economic Diversification Canada at a rate of $21 million a year over 4 years,  and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency , at a rate of $9 million a year for 4 year.

Watch for a promised analysis by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood of the CCPA, whose March 12  blog assessing the Just Transition  Task Force Report  promised  to keep “a close eye” on Budget 2019 provisions.

On the issue of fossil fuel subsidies:  The government  reaffirmed its long-standing (and unfulfilled) commitments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies , and pledged to establish an expert committee to examine the issue. Here is the reaction from the Stop Funding Fossils Initiative: “This year marks the tenth anniversary of Canada’s G20 commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. Yet, despite moderate progress in the 2017 budget, Canada remains the largest provider of fiscal support to oil and gas production in the G7 relative to the size of its economy…. the Government of Canada has doubled down on fossil fuels by introducing billions of dollars in new subsidies in the past year. Budget 2019 allocates a further $100 million over four years to the Strategic Innovation Fund, aiming to help the oil and gas industry reduce emissions. ”

(Coincidentally, the 2019 Annual Fossil Fuel Report Card  was released on March 20, revealing  that global banks have invested nearly US$2 trillion in fossil projects since the Paris Agreement was signed, and Canada’s Bank of Montreal, RBC, ScotiaBank and CIBC  are amongst the worst offenders. )

On the issue of electric vehicles: Budget 2019 included a number of policies  aimed at speeding  up EV adoption, including a  2040 deadline to phase out new internal combustion vehicle sales, and consumer rebates for purchases of electric and hybrid vehicles ($5000 for purchases under $45K).  Despite recent reports that EV supply is restricting purchases, the government did not institute a mandatory sales mandate for car manufacturers. Businesses will be allowed to deduct the full value of a new ZEVehicle  worth up to $55,000 in the year they purchase it.  The government also pledged $130 million over the next five years  to build electric vehicle charging stations – specifically including workplaces in the named locations.  The National Observer summarizes these proposals in “Canada proposes rebates for electric cars, voluntary sales mandate”. 

On the issue of infrastructure and the built environment:  The text of the government’s announcement relating to energy efficiency is here , and a Backgrounder: Strong Communities, Affordable Electricity and a Clean Economy  is also relevant.     Initiatives include $1.01 billion in funding, immediately, to increase energy efficiency in residential, commercial and multi-unit buildings – in the form of financing and grants to retrofit community buildings, financing for municipal initiatives to support home retrofits, and financing to improve energy efficiency and support on-site energy generation in affordable housing developments .  Funds will be administered through the Green Municipal Fund of  the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.   Macleans magazine summarizes this, as well as infrastructure funding, in “Cities are billion-dollar winners in Budget 2019”   which states that “the biggest single new spending item in the budget is a $2.2 billion “one-time transfer” through the federal Gas Tax Fund. That money doubles the usual federal-municipal transfer through that mechanism. The windfall is intended to address “serious infrastructure deficits” in municipalities and First Nations communities.”

 

Final Report released by Canada’s Task Force on Just Transition

catherine mckenna hussan yussuff

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna stands with Hassan Yussuff, Co-Chair of the Just Transition Task Force and President of the Canadian Labour Congress

The Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities was appointed by the Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change in April 2018.  Their  report, completed in December 2018, was released to the public on March 11, 2019 :  A just and fair transition for Canadian coal power workers and communities – in French,  Une transition juste et équitable pour les collectivités et les travailleurs des centrales au charbon canadiennes .

This report provides ten recommendations for the workers and communities affected by the federal government’s 2016 policy decision to phase-out coal-fired electricity in Canada, as part of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.  A 2030 timeline was decided in  2018, and final  Regulations were released in November 2018.  There are 16 coal-fired generating stations left in Canada and nine mines which produce the thermal coal that feeds them, located in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  Coal worker layoffs have already begun in Alberta, which has its own Workforce Transition Program  in place. Workers in the metallurgical coal industry, which is used to make steel, are unaffected by the coal phaseout.

The new federal report, A Just and fair transition for Canadian coal power workers is built upon 7 principles, and makes 10 recommendations. Those principles of a Just Transition include: 1. Respect for workers, unions, communities, and families; 2. Worker participation at every stage of transition; 3. Transitioning to good jobs; 4. Sustainable and healthy communities; 5. Planning for the future, grounded in today’s reality; 6. Nationally coherent, regionally driven, locally delivered actions; and, 7. Immediate yet durable support.   The report defines Just Transition, relates it to the Paris Agreement, provides an overview of coal mining work and provincial policies, and makes  ten broad recommendations, largely based on what the Task Force heard in its public engagement sessions across the four provinces in the summer of 2018.  “What we heard”  is an accompanying report which summarizes submissions and lists the dozens of communities and organizations involved.

Recommendations:  The Foundational recommendations of the Task Force include a call to  “embed just transition principles in planning, legislative, regulatory, and advisory processes to ensure ongoing and concrete actions throughout the coal phase -out transition: 1. Develop, communicate, implement, monitor, evaluate, and publicly report on a just transition plan for the coal phase-out, championed by a lead minister to oversee and report on progress. 2. Include provisions for just transition in federal environmental and labour legislation and regulations, as well as relevant intergovernmental agreements. 3. Establish a targeted, long-term research fund for studying the impact of the coal phase-out and the transition to a low-carbon economy.” Recommendations concerning workers include:  establish local transition centres to provide retraining,  relocation and social supports; establish a pension-bridging program for those forced to retire early; create a detailed and publicly available inventory of labour market information regarding coal workers, and create a comprehensive funding program to assist workers in securing a new job – including income support, education and skills building, re-employment, and mobility. Recommendations relating to communities include: identify, prioritize, and fund local infrastructure projects in affected communities, and establish a dedicated, comprehensive, inclusive, and flexible just transition funding program ; meet directly with affected communities to learn about their local priorities, and to connect them with federal programs that could support their goals.

$35 million was committed to Just Transition programs in 2018. The Task Force estimates that  “direct and indirect costs of the phase-out will stretch well into the hundreds of millions of dollars and the timeframe will go beyond 2030.”  It calls for  “additional and more substantial investments in Budget 2019 and budgets thereafter.”   Canada’s next budget will be delivered on March 19 – providing a gauge of the government’s intentions re Just Transition for coal workers and their communities.

The Canadian Labour Congress announcement concerning the Task Force Report release is  titled “Just Transition Task Force report has potential to put people at the heart of climate policy”, and pictures the members of the Task Force. In addition to Hassan Yussuff, President of the CLC and Co-Chair of the Task Force, union members included Gil McGowan (Alberta Federation of Labour), Mark Rowlinson (United Steelworkers), Scott Doherty (Unifor) , Tara Peel (Canadian Labour Congress), and Mark Wayland (IBEW).

Just Transition taskforce

Reports on the future of Ontario’s auto industry: one by experts, one by the Ontario government

future of auto industryIn The Future of Canada’s Auto Industry , released on February 26, co-authors Charlotte Yates and John Holmes assess  the sector’s current state – focusing on trade agreements and technological innovation –  and recommend a suite of policies to boost competitiveness and avoid plant closures, especially timely in the aftermath of the “shocking” closure announcement of GM Oshawa.  Although concentrated in Ontario, the industry is important nationally: “The automotive industry contributes significantly to Canada’s economic prosperity through investment, employment and technological innovation. Currently, it is Canada’s second largest manufacturing industry, adding $18.28 billion a year to GDP, $86.58 billion a year to Canadian exports (17% of total merchandise exports), and employing over 126,000 people directly and half a million people indirectly.”

The authors acknowledge the importance of the future trend to electric and autonomous vehicles, and propose a green industrial policy with targeted supports for companies that commit to building green vehicles sustainably. They point out current  shortages of skilled workers and the aging workforce in the industry, and call for   a workforce development plan that will invest in engineering, technical and data analytic skills, including trades and apprenticeships and income supports for skills retraining towards a just transition for workers.  They acknowledge the challenges of global competitiveness and the need for research and development, and call for financial incentives, including tax credits and grants, and better access to capital for small- and medium-sized Canadian technology companies, as well as more focused R & D investments. In general, they call for deep collaboration between the federal and Ontario government, rising above bureaucratic and jurisdictional interests.  Flagged as the most important condition for future success for the industry:  “government policy needs to prioritize the North American automotive platform centered on the Great Lakes. Canada–U.S. auto production and trade could be further integrated to create even greater competitive advantages of efficiency associated with a larger regional production footprint. Canada continues to need preferential tariff access to the American market for finished goods for this model to succeed.”

The Future of Canada’s Auto Industry was published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.  A summary article which appeared in the Toronto Star on February 26,   “Electric, driverless vehicles key to survival of Canada’s auto industry ” gives short shrift to the trade relationships and the complex global dynamics of the auto industry, which figure more prominently in the actual report.  The authors, John Holmes and Charlotte Yates, are both members of Canada’s Automotive Policy Research Centre (APRC), with long and deep knowledge of Canada’s  auto industry.

autostrategy_2019Ontario government discussion paper recommends less red tape and “pro-jobs labour reforms”: 

In a second report, the same issues are discussed but with much different emphasis and level of analysis.  The Ontario government’s  discussion paper, Driving Prosperity: the Future of Ontario’s Automotive Sector  was released in February under the “Open for Business” mandate.  The government describes the paper as:  “… a 10-year vision for how industry, the research and education sector, and all three levels of government, can work together to strengthen the auto sector’s competitiveness and bring new jobs to the province.”  In the introduction, the government states “We are driving prosperity in the industry and creating a pro-jobs environment by cutting red tape, eliminating the cap-and-trade carbon tax, allowing businesses to write off job-creating capital investments faster, and
embracing pro-jobs labour reforms.”

Although the government report acknowledges technological disruption and trade issues as challenges, there is no direct mention of the GM Oshawa plant closing – and in fact, most of the statistics provided are from 2017.   The issue of retraining and skills upgrading is raised in the general context of changing technologies, stating: “ We also want to minimize the disruption caused to workers and their families by technology and production mandate changes. We need to find new ways to respond to complex challenges. We need to establish new relationships with government partners in labour and academia to help Ontarians find faster and smarter training solutions.”

 

The Green New Deal and Labour – updated with March 8 letter by AFL-CIO Energy Committee

LNS at 2017 Washington Climate MarchThe Labor Network for Sustainability in the U.S.  published a new Discussion Paper written by Jeremy Brecher in late February.   18  Strategies for a Green New Deal: How to Make the Climate Mobilization Work  states that initial discussion of the Green New Deal resolution was rightly focussed on values and goals, but this Discussion paper moves on to the “how”- in 18 specific proposals which are itemized individually, but are intended to work together. The paper explains and consolidates many of the goals and strategies which have been proposed before by  LNS, including: protect low-income energy consumers and empower communities; mobilize labour and leave no worker behind; ensure worker rights and good union jobs, and yes, provide a “job guarantee.”  The 18 Strategies Discussion paper is summarized as “The Green New Deal can work: Here’s How”, which appeared in Commons Dreams on February 25  and was re-posted in  Resilience on Feb. 26.  In the article, Jermey Brecher states: “A GND will not pit workers against workers and discourage the growth of climate-protecting industries and jobs abroad. It will oppose both escalating trade wars and the free trade utopia of neoliberalism.”

The Labor Network for Sustainability has worked to build solidarity behind the Green New Deal, and on February 26,  published a Special  Issue of their newsletter, which profiles the GND endorsements and initiatives of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council in California, SEIU Locals 32BJ in New York, SIEU Local  1021 in San Francisco, and the Business Manager of IBEW Local 103 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, along with other examples and resources.  The LNS  website also hosts a new blog by Todd Vachon,  Green New Deal is a Good Deal for New Jersey workers , in which he argues for the GND and cites some of his research  which shows that union members are more likely than the general population to support environmental action.

Sean Sweeney, the Director of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, has published  “The Green New Deal’s Magical Realism” in New Labor Forum,  which rejects the “far-fetched” label that many have used for the GND, and argues that “the magnitude of the climate crisis makes the half-measures and failed ‘market mechanisms’ of the mainstream in fact more unrealistic than the bold plans put forward by the Green New Deal.”  He further argues that the GND deserves to be defended by the Left,  not least because it  does not call for carbon pricing. “If it can be sustained, this exclusion will amount to a massive policy breakthrough, because it flies in the face of almost 30 years of investor-focused climate policy.”

Another voice for consensus:  David Roberts, the climate change journalist at Vox, who wrote “This is an emergency, damn it: Green New Deal critics are missing the bigger picture  (Feb. 23).  Roberts  states: “….. So that’s the context here: a world tipping over into catastrophe, a political system under siege by reactionary plutocrats, a rare wave of well-organized grassroots enthusiasm, and a guiding document that does nothing but articulate goals that any climate-informed progressive ought to share. Given all that, for those who acknowledge the importance of decarbonizing the economy and recognize how cosmically difficult it is going to be, maybe nitpicking and scolding isn’t the way to go. Maybe the moment calls for a constructive and additive spirit.”

On the other hand, Naomi Klein attacks Republicans, but also unions, in her article  “The Battle lines have been drawn on the Green New Deal” , which appeared in The Intercept (Feb. 13) . Klein praises the Canadian Union of Postal Workers for their climate change vision in Delivering Community Power , but singles out “bad actors like the Laborers’ International Union of North America who are determined to split the labor movement and sabotage the prospects for this historic effort.” Calling LiUNA “a fossil fuel astroturf group disguised as a trade union, or at best a company union”, Klein states: “The time has come for the rest of the labor movement to confront and isolate them before they can do more damage. That could take the form of LIUNA members, confident that the Green New Deal will not leave them behind, voting out their pro-boss leaders. Or it could end with LIUNA being tossed out of the AFL-CIO for planetary malpractice.”

The LiUNA official response to the Green New Deal was posted on February 7, and states: “It is exactly how not to successfully enact desperately needed infrastructure investment. It is exactly how not to enact a progressive agenda to address our nation’s dangerous income inequality. And it is exactly how not to win support for critical measures to curb climate change…. threatens to destroy workers’ livelihoods, increase divisions and inequality, and undermine the very goals it seeks to reach. In short, it is a bad deal.”

UPDATE:   On March 8, the Energy Committee of the AFL-CIO released a letter they sent to Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, opposing the Green New Deal.   The Washington Post reported:  AFL-CIO criticizes Green New Deal, calling it ‘not achievable or realistic’” (March 12)  and  in a follow-up piece , “Labor opposition to Green New Deal could be a big obstacle” ( March 14).   More details are here, along with a link to a policy paper submitted by IBEW, United Mine Workers of America and others to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in February 2019.

For all those who are still wandering through the mountains of Green New Deal articles and opinions:  Canada’s  National Observer published a very brief summary in  “What is the Green New Deal and how would it benefit society?   (reprinted from The Guardian in the U.K. ).  A more detailed explanation appears in The Green New Deal: Mobilizing for a Just, Prosperous and Sustainable Economy , a 14-page paper written by the originators of the concept, Rhianna Gunn-Wright and Robert Hockett at New Consensus, or their 2-page summary  . And here is the text of the GND Resolution tabled in the House of Representatives on February 7 2019: Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal  .

One more time – how best to train workers in green construction?

UK 2019 housingThe  U.K.’s Committee on Climate Change released a new report on February 21, U.K. Housing – Fit for the Future? , assessing how well U.K. housing  is prepared for the impacts of climate change, including heat waves and flood risks. Energy use in Britain’s 29 million homes accounts for 14% of current GHG emissions, and the report concludes that the U.K. cannot meet its present climate targets without major improvement in the housing sector.  The report states that energy use in homes actually  increased between 2016 and 2017, with many energy efficiency initiatives stalled and standards and policies weakened or not enforced.  The report identifies 5 priorities and makes 36 recommendations to improve that performance, with a goal  to reduce emissions by 24 % by 2030 from 1990 levels.

One of the five priority areas needing urgent change is “the skills gap”.  The report states: “Regular changes to key policies have led to uncertainty and poor focus on new housing design and construction skills in the UK. The UK Government should use the initiatives announced under the Construction Sector Deal to tackle the low-carbon skills gap. …. Professional standards and skills across the building, heat and ventilation supply trades need to be reviewed, with a nationwide training programme to upskill the existing workforce, along with an increased focus on incentivising high ‘as-built’ performance. There is an urgent need for further work to ensure that low-carbon heat and mechanical ventilation systems are designed, commissioned and installed properly, and that householders are supported to use them effectively. Similar efforts are needed to develop appropriate skills and training for passive cooling measures, water efficiency, property-level flood resilience and Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS).”

The Paper Trail of Government Reports:  The Construction Sector Deal  referred to is a 2018 policy paper, part of the larger Industrial Strategy exercise, which includes a “People” section , which describes very specific proposals to improve training and apprenticeship programs under the industry-led Construction Industry Training Board (which was itself reviewed in 2018).  The 2018 Construction Sector Deal built upon Construction 2025,  which was a vision paper of government and industry working together, released in 2013.

A different perspective from the government-industry reports appears in an article by   Linda Clarke, Colin Gleeson, and Christopher Winch in 2017, “What kind of expertise is needed for low energy construction?” which appeared in the journal Construction Management and Economics.  The authors, from ProBE , the Centre for the Study of the Production of the Built Environment at University of Westminster,   sketched out the essence of the problem, stating: “There is a lack of the expertise needed for low energy construction (LEC) in the UK as the complex work processes involved require ‘energy literacy’ of all construction occupations, high qualification levels, broad occupational profiles, integrated teamworking, and good communication.”  Their proposed prescription for low energy construction  was “a transformation of the existing structure of VET provision and construction employment and a new curriculum based on a broader concept of agency and backed by rigorous enforcement of standards. This can be achieved through a radical transition pathway rather than market-based solutions to a low carbon future for the construction sector.”