U.K. Parliament declares climate emergency; Government committee calls for Net Zero Emissions by 2050

extinction rebellion signThe government of the United Kingdom became the first national government to declare an environment and climate emergency. on May 1 when it passed a motion by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (and Ireland followed suit with its own vote in Parliament on May 10) . Many agree with the headline from Common Dreams, “Activism works: UK Parliament makes history in declaring climate emergency”, reflecting on the huge impact made by the April demonstrations of the School Strikes and Extinction Rebellion in the U.K.

UK net-zero-coverOn the heels of the symbolic victory of the climate emergency declaration, on May 2 the U.K. government’s Committee on Climate Change delivered its long-awaited landmark report, requested by the U.K., Scottish and Welsh Governments in 2018.  Net Zero: the U.K.’s contribution to stopping Global Warming  calls for net zero emissions by 2050, with Scotland to target net-zero by 2045 and Wales to target a 95 per cent reduction by 2050 relative to 1990.  The net-zero target would cover all greenhouse gases, including international aviation and shipping, and allow for the use of emissions credits. The Committee estimates the cost at equivalent to 1-2% of GDP each year, made possible by the rapidly falling cost of new technologies – and balanced by the benefits of a cleaner environment and improved health. In calling for more ambitious targets than the existing one of 80% emissions cut by 2050 (set out in the 2008 Climate Change Act), the Committee states that “Current policy is insufficient for even the existing targets”, and calls for “clear, stable and well-designed policies to reduce emissions … across the economy without delay”.

Links to the research reports supporting the Committee’s report are here .  The Guardian released a brief overview in “‘This report will change your life’: what zero emissions means for UK . More substantial reactions come from:  Carbon Brief, with a detailed summary; and from The Grantham Institute “What is Net Zero?” , and a political wish list in “Urgent response needed from U.K. government on Net Zero Emissions”  .

The Greener Jobs Alliance , a coalition of U.K. unionists and environmentalists, also summarizes what the new report may mean, acknowledging that “The 2050 target date for zero emissions will disappoint many demonstrating across the UK.”, but focusing especially on the breakthrough of the Committee’s call for Just Transition. The GJA states: “It should now reinforce this message by setting up a Just Transition Advisory Group, with union representation from the industrial, energy, public and voluntary sectors….” and “….the absence of a strategic advisory role for unions in the work of the committee is no longer tenable.”

Below is the GJA overview of what the Net Zero report will mean for workers, as published in their news release:

  • Up to one in five jobs across the UK will be affected by a Zero Carbon Britain strategy.
  • Major moves away from fossil fuels – with job losses across oil and gas extraction, power and heating industries, as well as job losses in supply chains for these sectors.
  • Some gas fired power stations could be needed, but they will need to run using hydrogen or Carbon Capture & Storage. All coal-fired stations close.
  • Huge job growth is expected in sectors like renewables, electric vehicles, home insulation and domestic heating.
  • Employment in offshore wind, for example, is predicted to quadruple to 27,000 jobs by 2030. The big prize comes when all three main parts of a wind turbine – the tower, the cell at the top and the blades – are made in the UK. The UK is currently a big importer of renewable technology. The UK has to develop full supply chains across the renewable energy sector.
  • By 2025 at the latest all new cars and vans should be electric, or use a low- carbon alternative such as hydrogen. The automotive industry must transition to electric vehicles, with major implications for jobs, skills and investment.
  • No new homes should be connected to the gas grid after 2025.
  • Retrofitting homes with energy efficiency measures and installing low-carbon heat into new and existing homes will require new skills. This programme could generate many more high-skilled jobs in the installation and construction industries.

Saskatchewan Court of Appeal rules for federal carbon tax program

With implications across the country, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal handed down a 3-2 decision  on May 3, ruling that the federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GGPPA) falls within federal government’s “National Concern” constitutional power. The Saskatchewan Association for Environmental Law has compiled all the legal submission documents here ; the EcoFiscal Commission provides a summary of the 155-page Decision here  .

Local coverage and reaction appeared in the Regina Leader Post (May 3) in “Court of Appeal: Saskatchewan government loses carbon tax challenge , and the Premier of Saskatchewan immediately declared that the province will appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, which it must do within 30 days.  As the Globe and Mail points out,  “Saskatchewan court rules federal carbon tax constitutional in first of several legal challenges” .  According to a CBC report, the Premier of New Brunswick  is still considering his options, but newly-elected Premier Jason Kenny of Alberta will join the Saskatchewan Supreme Court action. The Premier of Manitoba announced that his government will not abandon its own court challenge, which it launched on April 3. In Ontario, the Ford government is aggressively promoting its own battle over the carbon tax: four days of hearings ended on April 18th, and the Ontario Court of Appeal is expected to render its own decision on the constitutionality of the carbon tax in several months – possibly not until after the federal election in October 2019.

The political significance of the Saskatchewan decision:  Aaron Wherry at CBC  summarizes the general situation in  “The carbon tax survived Saskatchewan. That was the easy part”  (May 4).  The Globe and Mail states what is a widely accepted opinion in its editorial,  “Why conservatives secretly love the carbon tax”: “Round One goes to Ottawa. But the courtroom war against the federal carbon tax continues – waged by a fraternity of conservative provincial governments with more of an eye on immediate political returns than ultimate legal outcomes.”

Update:  Three law professors- Jason MacLean (University of Saskatchewan), Nathalie Chalifour ( University of Ottawa) and Sharon Mascher (University of Calgary)  published a reaction to the Saskatchewan Court’s decision on May 7 in The Conversation“Work on Climate not weaponizing the constitution”   takes issue with some of the finer legal points of the decision, but welcomes the Court’s recognition of the urgency and scale  of the climate emergency, and concludes: “We have to stop weaponizing the Constitution and start working together, across party lines at all levels of government, on urgent and ambitious climate action.”

Job shifting effects of carbon pricing policy, with a focus on the Canadian construction industry

Construction and Carbon: The Impact of Climate Policy on Building in Canada in 2025  is a report released on May 1 by the Smart Prosperity Institute, with a title that doesn’t reflect the full range of the study.  The report actually models the effect of carbon pricing on GDP and employment in six sectors, although construction is the focal point since the research was financed by the Canadian Building Trades Unions.  Author Mike Moffatt uses the general equilibrium model gTech  to project two scenarios for the medium term (2025) :  a “business as usual” case (which assumes federal and provincial carbon policies as they existed in 2018) and an “aggressive” case, which assumes carbon prices increasing over time so that Canada would achieve its  Paris Agreement commitment to reduce  greenhouse gas emissions  by 30% by 2030.

Smart Prosperity emphasizes that “the construction sector is one of the ‘winners’ of carbon pricing, as escalating carbon prices unleash a wave of business and household investment.”  Specifically, raising the stringency of carbon prices (the aggressive scenario) shows that the total number of jobs in Canada would  increase by an 39,500 – 19,000 of which would be in construction, and 55,000 of which would be in services. These gains are offset by job losses in the other sectors: utilities, resources, manufacturing, and transportation. smart prosperity map re construction reportProjections are broken down by province: showing that for construction jobs, Saskatchewan would see the greatest growth, followed by Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Alberta, and British Columbia.

The report also provides forecasts for: Investment by sector; Impact of Higher Carbon Policies on Business Investment by Type (e.g. renewable energy, CCS, public transit); and  Impact of Higher Carbon Policies on Household Investment by Type (building efficiency, low-carbon vehicles).

The differentiated effect of carbon taxes by sector is a theme explored in an earlier Smart Prosperity working paper  Do Carbon Taxes Kill Jobs? Firm-Level Evidence from British Columbia , released in March 2019 as part of the Clean Economy Working Paper series.  The Smart Prosperity Institute is based at  the University of Ottawa.

Recommendations for Just Transition coal phase-out in Europe

Bela Phasing-out-coal-a-just-transition-coverPhasing out coal – a just transition approach  was released as a Working Paper by the European Trade Union Institute in April – the latest of several publications on the topic by ETUI Senior Researcher and ACW associate Béla Galgóczi . Following  a summary of the role of coal in the European economy and the current employment structure of the broader coal sector, the paper provides an up-to-date summary of energy policies and just transition policies in France, Germany, Poland and Spain, and also looks at lessons learned from past phase-out experiences in the Ruhr Valley of Germany, Hazelwood coal plant in  Australia, and ENEL, Italy.  He notes that  a clear distinction should be made between hard coal regions, like the German Ruhr or Silesia in Poland, which are strongly-industrialized regions with a high level of urbanization and  a greater economic diversity,  and brown coal regions  such as German Lusatia or the Polish Lodzkie region, which  are rural areas with low population densities and employment concentrated in the mining and energy sectors.  The paper concludes that successful just transition requires, amongst other things: specific and targeted just coal transition policies with government involvement at the central and regional level; a properly-funded, specific mine closure agency, or a specialized agency for employment transitions for several years; individualized active labour market policies and personal coaching; and active EU-level financial support.

The author has made similar arguments  in a 5-page ETUI  Policy Brief,  From Paris to Katowice: the EU needs to step up its game on climate change and set its own just transition framework  (2018), and in his detailed  report  published by the ILO in October 2018 : Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies  and Societies for All, previously summarized in the WCR.

New York City announces its Green New Deal – including innovative building efficiency requirements and job creation

In a press release on April 22 , New York Mayor  Bill de Blasio announced  “New York City’s Green New Deal, a bold and audacious plan to attack global warming on all fronts….The City is going after the largest source of emissions in New York by mandating that all large existing buildings cut their emissions – a global first. In addition, the Administration will convert government operations to 100 percent clean electricity, implement a plan to ban inefficient all-glass buildings that waste energy and reduce vehicle emissions.”  The full range of Green New Deal policies are laid out in OneNYC 2050: Building a Strong and Fair City,  which commits to carbon neutrality by 2050, and 100% clean electricity. The full One NYC strategic plan is comprised of 9 volumes, including Volume 3: An Inclusive Economy , which acknowledges the shifting, precarious labour market and envisions green jobs in a fairer,  more equitable environment.

new york skyscraper

Photo by Anthony Quintano, from Flickr

A global first – Energy Efficiency mandates for existing buildings:  The Climate Mobilization Act, passed by New York City Council on April 18,  lays out the “global first” of regulation of the energy efficiency of existing buildings.  Officially called  Introduction 1253-C (unofficially called the “Dirty Buildings Bill”), 1253-C  governs approximately 50,000 existing large and mid-sized buildings- those over 25,000 sq feet-  which are estimated to account for 50% of building emissions. The bill categorizes these buildings by size and use (with exemptions for non-profits, hospitals, religious buildings, rent-controlled housing and low-rise  residential buildings ) and sets emissions caps for each category.  Buildings which exceed their caps will be subject to substantial fines, beginning in 2024. The goal is to cut emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.

Seen as historic and innovative, the energy efficiency provisions have been highlighted and summarized in many outlets: “New York City Sets Ambitious Climate Rules for Its Biggest Emitters: Buildings” in Inside Climate News ; “Big Buildings Hurt the Climate. New York City Hopes to Change That” in the New York Times (April 17); “’A New Day in New York’: City Council Passes Sweeping Climate Bill in Common Dreams;  and best of all,  “New York City’s newly passed Green New Deal, explained” (April 23) in Resilience, (originally posted in Grist on April 18).

Job Creation in Retrofitting and Energy Efficiency:  The New York City Central Labor Council strongly supports Introduction 1253-C  and cites job creation estimates drawn from Constructing a Greener New York, Building By Building , a new report  commissioned by Climate Works for All.  The report found that 1253-C would create 23,627 direct construction jobs per year in  retrofitting, and 16,995 indirect jobs per year in building operation and maintenance, manufacturing and professional services.  The report includes a technical appendix which details how it calculated the job estimates, based on the  job multipliers developed by Robert Pollin and Jeanette Wicks-Lam at the  University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute.

The Mayor’s Green New Deal press release also states “The City, working with partners, will pursue 100 percent carbon-free electricity supply for City government operations with the building of a new connection linking New York City to zero-emission Canadian hydropower. Negotiations will begin right away, with the goal of striking a deal by the end of 2020 and powering city operations entirely with renewable sources of electricity within five years. ” The National Observer describes reaction from Quebec and Hydro Quebec in “New York City’s Green New Deal music to Quebec’s Ears” (April 23).