Documenting Environmental injustice for Canada’s First Nations

As part of the  Access to Justice week  of the Alberta Branch of the Canadian Bar Association, the Alberta Environmental Law Centre published a blog in September, Access to Environmental Justice: Costs and scientific uncertainty raise barriers to protecting communities  .  This brief blog acts an introduction to the issue of environmental injustice in Canada by providing brief but well-documented overviews of case studies which illustrate the barriers to legal action (procedural costs and evidential uncertainty) experienced by Alberta First Nations. The  specific cases described are Kearl Oil Sands Environmental Assessment (2007), Fort McKay (2016) and the Beaver Lake Cree Nation. The blog also notes examples of Sarnia Ontario’s Chemical Valley, and Africville Nova Scotia, and briefly discusses the concept of climate justice. Other current information is described by reporters at The National Observer – for example, “How Alberta kept Fort McKay First Nation in the dark about a toxic cloud from the oilsands” (April 2019)  and “Alberta officials are signalling they have no idea how to clean up toxic oilsands tailings ponds” (Nov. 2018) .  The Narwhal maintains an archive of articles concerning Canadian mining examples, including the Mount Polley and Taesko mines. One example, “‘This is not Canada’: inside the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s battle against Taseko Mines” (August 2019) .

Syncrude_mildred_lake_plantThe environmental injustice of toxic and chemical waste is not only a problem in Alberta. An overview of the Canadian situation appears in The Statement of United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, issued following his visit in May/June 2019.  The Statement identifies “a pervasive trend of inaction of the Canadian Government in the face of existing health threats from decades of historical and current environmental injustices and the cumulative impacts of toxic exposures by indigenous peoples. ”  The Statement commented on the specific cases of the oil sands (Fort McMurray, Fort MacKay and Fort Chipewyan), Sarnia, Muskrat Falls, and mining sites such as Elk Valley.  He noted that Canada has “the second highest number of known mining accidents from 2007-2017, increasing significantly from previous years.”  The Special Rapporteur concluded: “It was clear during the course of my visit that many communities in Canada continue to be exploited by toxic exposures.  Some key concerns include: (1) the limited degree of protection of human health and ecosystems under various legislation; (2) the lack of environmental information and monitoring in areas of high risk; (3) long delays or absence of health impact assessment for affected communities; (4) the inadequate compliance with and enforcement of laws and policies; (5) systemic obstacles to access to justice, in particular for cases of health impacts due to chronic exposures; and (6) the recalcitrance to ensure that victims can realize their right to an effective remedy.   The situation of affected communities outside Canada is of equal concern in many of these regards, including the inordinate power imbalance faced by communities in low- and middle-income countries relative to Canadian corporations.”

The complete country  report on Canada by the Special Rapporteur will be delivered to the U.N. General Assembly in Fall 2020.

 

What if the financial sector moved away from fossil fuel investments?

On September 17, Bill McKibben, a leader of the divestment movement, wrote Money is the oxygen on which the fire of global warming burns , published in The New Yorker. The essay traces the progress of the divestment movement and asks, What if the banking, asset-management, and insurance industries moved away from fossil fuels?. On the same day came the announcement that “ University of California drops fossil fuels from its $80 billion portfolio”.   An article in Rolling Stone  quotes the UC representatives, stating “it wasn’t moral or political pressures that convinced them to phase UC’s hundreds of millions of dollars in fossil-fuel investments. Instead, they say, it was the growing realization that fossil fuel investments no longer made financial sense and weren’t a worthwhile investment.”

Investment performance of Fossil fuel companies

In what has been seen as an historical turning point, ExxonMobil lost its spot on the S&P Index list of “Top Ten Companies” in August 2019 –  the first time it had not appeared since the Index launched in 1957.  In 1980,  the energy sector as a whole represented 28% of the S&P 500 Index; as of August 2019, it represents  4.4%.  According to a summary by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), the energy sector claimed last place in the S&P rankings of sector performance in August 2019, following similar results in 2018 and 2017.“This is not some temporary aberration. The oil and gas sector is in decline, profits are shrinking and investment options problematic …. This is true even for companies like ExxonMobil that historically have deep pockets.”

The full Briefing Note,  ExxonMobil’s Fall From the S&P 500 Top Ten: A Long Time Coming (August 2019) also includes discussion of the role Canada’s oil sands have played in the decline of the industry.  Carbon Tracker Initiative provides further information in Exxon’s New Clothes – the tale of why Exxon lost its prized position in the S&P 500 .

Are the banking, asset-management, and insurance industries moving  away from fossil fuels?  

New initiatives launched at U.N. Climate Summit in New York in September point in that direction:

  1. 130 banks from 49 countries signed on to the Principles for Responsible Banking (PRBs), committing to align their business operations with the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. Despite the fact that the Bank of Canada issued a report flagging the investment risks of climate change in May, the only signatories from Canada were the National Bank of Canada and the Desjardins Group . Hardly surprising, given the April 2019 Fossil Fuel Report Card from Banktrack , which showed that Canada’s big banks rank 5th, 8th, 9th and 15th in the world for fossil fuel invesment since the Paris Agreement in 2015. In response to the PRI pledge, civil society groups issued a statement, “No More Greenwashing: Principles must have Consequences ”  which highlights the lack of concrete plans and the slow time frame: signatory banks are allowed up to four years to demonstrate their implementation of the principles.  A thorough discussion published by Open Democracy asks “The UN banking principles are welcome – but do they go far enough to stop climate destruction?
  2. A new Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance  was launched, convened by the U.N. Environmental Program’s  Finance Initiative and the Principles for Responsible Investment, and supported by WWF as part of its Mission 2020 campaign. The Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance signatories are insurance and pension fund management companies which hold approximately $2.3 U.S. Trillion. Their commitment document  pledges to re-balance those investment portfolios to make them carbon neutral by 2050, with intermediate targets set for 2025, 2030 and 2040. Founding members include   German insurer Allianz, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), Swedish pension fund Alecta, PensionDanmark, Swedish pension manager AMF, Nordea Life & Pension, Norwegian insurer Storebrand, and Swiss RE.
  3. European investment bank-logo-enThe European Investment Bank strengthened its climate commitments at the U.N. Climate Summit  pledging to “ position the EIB as an incubator for climate finance and expertise to mobilise others, helping our societies and economies transform to a low carbon future.” Specifically, the bank pledged that 50% of new investments will be for climate action and environmental sustainability by 2025 (previously the target had been 30% by 2020). Also,  “we aim to align all our financing activities with the principles and goals of the Paris agreement by the end of 2020. As an important first step, we will phase out energy projects that depend solely on fossil fuels.”
  4. financing the low carbon futureThe Climate Finance Leadership Initiative (CFLI) , chaired by Michael Bloomberg, released  Financing the Low Carbon Future  , a thorough but readable analysis of how clean energy investment works globally, with practical recommendations . The CFLI is composed of  senior executives of seven major private-sector financial institutions– Allianz Global Investors, AXA, Enel, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) and Macquarie.
  5. Over 500 environmental and advocacy groups from 76 countires supported the Lofoten Declaration at the U.N. Climate Action Summit. The Lofoten Declaration , (named after the Lofoten Islands of Norway where it was first drafted in 2017) states in part: “It is the urgent responsibility and moral obligation of wealthy fossil fuel producers to lead in putting an end to fossil fuel development and to manage the decline of existing production.”  Canada is one of those countries, and Catherine Abreu of Climate Action Network Canada was one of the supporters, stating: “True leadership in response to the climate emergency means having the courage to commit to ending the expansion of oil and gas production and make a plan to transition communities and workers to better opportunities.”  A summary  appears in “If a House Is on Fire, You Don’t Add Fuel’: 530 Groups Back Call to Rapidly Phase Out Fossil Fuels Worldwide” in Common Dreams (Sept. 23); Background to the Lofoten Declaration here  .

Much remains to be done:  Consider the September 2019 report by Carbon Tracker Initiative.  Breaking the HabitWhy none of the large oil companies are “Paris-aligned”, and what they need to do to get there. The report examines oil company investment activities , and concludes:

  • Last year, all of the major oil companies sanctioned projects that fall outside a “well below 2 degrees” budget on cost grounds. These will not deliver adequate returns in a low-carbon world. Examples include Shell’s $13bn LNG Canada project and BP, Total, ExxonMobil and Equinor’s Zinia 2 project in Angola.
  • No new oil sands projects fit within a Paris-compliant world. Despite this, ExxonMobil sanctioned the $2.6bn Aspen project last year – the first new oil sands project in 5 years.
  • The oil and gas in projects that have already been sanctioned will take the world past 1.5ºC, assuming carbon capture and storage remains sub-scale.

And Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2019 , commissioned by the United Nations, was published in September, reporting the good news that  global investment in new renewable energy capacity, led by solar power, “ is set to have roughly quadrupled renewable energy capacity (excluding large hydro) in the decade ending in 2019. Renewables accounted for 12.9 percent of global electricity in 2018—and if hydropower is also included, the renewable’s share of global electricity production is  measured at 26.3%.  Cost-competitiveness of renewables has “risen spectacularly over the decade, as the levelised cost of electricity has been steadily decreasing, down 81 percent for solar photovoltaics and 46 per cent for onshore wind since 2009.”

Yet despite this good news, the report states: “Overall, we note that these figures represent a small share of the overall economic transition required to address climate change…. global power-sector emissions are likely to have risen by at least 10 percent between the end of 2009 and 2019.”

 

Unions, tech workers, and even some employers set to Climate Strike in September

Greta ThurnbergThe wave of support for the youth-led Global Climate Strike has become an ocean. The strike has focal points: on September 20 in the U.S. and most of the world, where iconic climate activist Greta Thunberg will participate outside the United Nations headquarters in New York; on September 27, Greta will participate the strike in Montreal . Indicative of the enthusiasm: the New York City School District announced  that its 1.1 million students will be free to leave school on September 20, with parental consent.   The Toronto District School Board also  posted a policy statement on September 16,  allowing students in Toronto with parental permission to be absent on September 27 without academic penalty. Schools and universities in Montreal (excluding McGill University) are also cancelling classes, as reported by CBC.

And as organizers emphasize, “everyone is welcome and everyone is needed”. Parents, teachers, and the general public are all invited to participate in one of the hundreds of strikes around the world.  For information and news about Canadian strikes, check  #Fridays for Future Canada  or #Climate Strike Canada Twitter feeds.

Climate Strike in Canada, September 27:

According to the on-going list being maintained by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy Canadian unions supporting the climate strike include Unifor, The Toronto Labour Council, and the British Columbia Teachers Federation.  Some others are listed below.

unifor-climate-strike sept2019Unifor approved a resolution supporting the Global Climate Week of Action at their constitutional convention in August, and according to TUED,  Unifor’s National President sent a letter to the union’s members on September 10, encouraging them to to “take part in these important events.” Their press release to members is here.

The Toronto Labour Council has posted a statement on the Climate Emergency on their website, calling on Labour Councils across Canada to be involved in local and national efforts on climate action,  including on September 27th. The statement carries on with the initiatives outlined in their 2016 action plan, Greenprint for Greater Toronto: Working Together for Climate Action .  The Toronto Labour Council is part of the S27 coalition of Toronto activists in support of the strike: their list of demands includes “no worker left behind.” The list of members is here .   

The B.C. Teachers Federation Resolution in support of the strike is here  , along with links to teaching resources related to the climate strike.  The Vancouver Secondary Teachers Association also supports the strike and has posted a detailed position to guide teachers on their responsibilities .

The Confederation Syndicats Nationaux in Quebec are planning to coordinate union support across the province, according to their Convention document from June 2019, La Planete s’invite au travail  (in French only).

The Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo has announced their support, and the University’s administration is expected to follow.

Climate Strikes in the United States and other countries: September 20

The Labor Network for Sustainability is working hard to support the Climate Strikes, including publishing a  Climate Strike Special Issue of their newsletter  on September 12.  LNS highlights climate strike initiatives by: Service Employees International Union; Amazon Employees for Climate Action ; American Federation of Teachers; Alameda Labor Council; Labor Rise; and international initiatives, including support from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Also included in the LNS Newsletter: links to resources, including social media tools, for anyone who wants to support the student climate strikers.

An on-going  list of international union  initatives  is maintained by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy.

The International Trade Union Confederation statement regarding the global week of climate action is here , and a video statement  by Sharan Barrow was released on September 11, calling the climate strike as a “gamechanger” and stating that “our 200 million members around the world are totally behind you” .

An  OpEd by Rosa Pavanelli,  General Secretary of the global federation, Public Services International  appeared in Common Dreams on September 12, titled “Unions: We must back the climate strike”, stating “Under sustained attacks from the right across the world, we were forced to fight to preserve our achievements rather than expand social justice, … The climate strike provides an opportunity to break out of our constraints, to reinvigorate our movement, to learn from young people on the front lines, and to redefine what is possible.”  Another Common Dreams article, “We Must Be Bolder Than Ever’: Labor Federation Representing 30 Million Workers Calls on All Unions to Join Global Climate Strike” describes the support from PSI and other unions.

 

The September/October issue of the Greener Jobs Alliance newsletter  reports on similar sentiments amongst unions in the United Kingdom. From the GJA: “Unions will be backing the Youth Climate Strike on 20 September. The plan, agreed at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) annual conference in Brighton (September 10th), is for ‘30-minute workday campaigns’ across the UK. As Jo Grady, University and College Union, told the conference, ‘The Youth Climate Strikes movement is one of the most impressive forms of mass action in recent years.’ The education union’s general secretary asked, ‘How will young people forgive us if we let them down, whilst they are building a movement at this pivotal moment for the world’s climate?’ Or, as Unite’s Steve Turner put it, ‘Unions will back the school strikes on September 20th. If we don’t, we will be seen as irrelevant.’  Support for the climate strike was part of the  composite motion,  Climate Crisis and a Just Transition .

In Australia, government employees of Victoria have been given formal permission to ask for leave or flexible hours on September 20 to attend the climate strike, and the Australian Education Union, representing teachers,  has endorsed the rally.

Technology workers take a stand with a Digital Strike:  

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice  have established themselves in the past with a shareholder’s resolution urging climate action and an Open Letter to their boss, Jeff Bezos. Now they are also supporting the September 20 climate strike: here is their press release  , here is an article in Wired   , and here is an interview by CNBC with one of the strikers.

Other tech workers are joining in support of the climate strike, including Google Workers for Climate Action , Facebook Employees for Climate Action , and Microsoft Workers for Action .

Not only the workers, but some tech companies are joining in, according to a report from Common Dreams  September 16). A planned “digital strike” is being organized  with many of the largest websites in the world participating, including  Imgur, Tumblr, and WordPress, as well as the websites of the Sunrise Movement, Greenpeace, Burton, and many others. An organizational website offers free coding so that these companies can use their social media platforms to spread the climate strike message by donating ad space, or putting climate change banners on their websites which, on September 20th, will expand to  fullscreen so that the website will effectively be “on strike”.

 

Mining and the Low carbon economy: Human and Labour Rights in the Supply chains of electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels

Tracker_Headline_Image_1000x1000Mineral Tracker  is a special project of the London-based Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, with the goal of “tracking the human rights implications of the mineral boom powering the transition to a low-carbon economy.” The website provides analysis, data, and case studies focused on the allegations of violations against mining multinationals, relating to environmental damage, access to water, health impacts, indigenous rights and labour rights in the mining of the cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc.  The website monitors the mineral supply chains in the manufacture of  Electric vehicles , Wind Turbines , and Solar Panels .

Geographically, Southern Africa leads in the number of allegations made, followed by South America, Asia Pacific, North America – where four allegations have been made regarding nickel mining, three regarding cobalt and two regarding  zinc.  A special report is dedicated to practices in Southern Africa ,  where half of the top companies mining these minerals have been accused of serious human rights abuses, from violating access to water and land rights to corruption, violence and deaths.   An overview  global analysis and summary was released in August 2019, charting the number of human rights allegations by mineral, and identifying the top five companies and their countries of operation.  Of these, only Teck Resources has Canadian Headquarters, with operations in Peru and the USA. Teck is cited for seven human rights allegations in zinc mining used in wind turbines and solar panels.

minerals-sourcing-for-renewable-energy_COVER-300x425 Mineral Tracker maintains an archive of important  articles and reports from other organizations.  Some other reports available there: Responsible minerals sourcing for Renewable Energy  (2019)  by Earthworks, and  Green Conflict Minerals: The fuels of conflict in the transition to a low-carbon economy (2018) published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

The parent organization, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre published  Renewable Energy Risking Rights & Returns: An analysis of solar, bioenergy & geothermal companies’ human rights commitments in 2018.  Read the WCR summary of that report here.

U.K. updates on Just Transition: Statement, Resolutions from the Trades Union Congress, and a training module from Greener Jobs Alliance

tuc 2019 just transitionThe Trades Union Congress (TUC), the labour union central in the United Kingdom,  published  A just transition to a greener, fairer economy­ in July. According to the accompanying press release , the document sets out principles “to take the whole trade union family towards that new economy.”  (This seems to be a reference to the divisive nature of the Just Transition debate during the 2018 TUC Congress, reported by the WCR here ).

These excerpts from A just transition to a greener, fairer economy­ summarize the main demands:

“Companies and organisations moving to a lower carbon model should put in place Transition Agreements – agreed with unions – that cover a range of issues, including the overall number of jobs or workers employed, pay and conditions, job security, working time, job descriptions, duties assigned to job roles, training and skills, apprenticeships, retirement policy, monitoring and surveillance, performance management, health and safety implications and equal opportunities. Companies should also work with unions to identify and deliver best environmental practice at a workplace level.”

….”we’re calling for a cross-party commission on long term energy strategy, involving affected workers, unions, industries and consumers, to set out the path towards clean, affordable and reliable energy. The commission should study the social impacts of the transition, its regional impacts and necessary mitigation measures. Investment – in infrastructure, in new skills for workers, and in services such as public transport – is vital.”

…“Government has a key role in making this happen, as a funder and procurer of new energy and broader infrastructure. When government invests in new infrastructure it should use its procurement powers to ensure that jobs generated benefit workers in the local community and throughout the supply chain. It must also insist that jobs created provide workers with trade union recognition, and that employers have fair recruitment, industrial relations and pay policies for all workers. Companies winning government contracts must adhere to agreed standards of corporate behaviour; for example, contracts should not go to companies based in tax havens and companies must be registered in and pay tax in the UK.”

Trades Union Congress passes resolutions on Just Transition, endorses Student Strike on Sept. 20

The 151st Congress of the Trades Union Congress  was held from September 8 to 11, 2019 .  Understandably, debate about Brexit loomed large over the meetings, but there were several motions related to climate change, most notably Composite Motion 02 Climate crisis and a Just Transition, which was approved on September 10, and resolves: “that the TUC calls for a 30-minute workday campaign action to coincide with the global school strike on 20 September. 2. to campaign for national and regional Just Transition Commissions including full union and education representation to develop, monitor and implement the process.”  An article in The Guardian  also summarizes the Congress vote; the TUC press release on student strikes is herethe University and Colleges Union position on the student climate strike is here

Other climate change related motions at the TUC Congress: “Buses and a green transport system” moved by ASLEF ; “Public ownership of energy” moved by Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union ; and  Securing Green UK Jobs, moved by GMB.

New training module on Just Transition available

Discussions and panels were held at the Fringe Meetings , most notably by the Greener Jobs Alliance , which used the occasion to launch their new, free, online Just Transition Training Module  . Other Fringe sessions included: How Can We Grow The UK’s Aviation Sector whilst Meeting Climate Change Targets?; Action on the Climate Emergency: How Should Trade Unions Respond?; sponsored by the Campaign Against Climate Change, Trade Unionists And Climate Strikes: Responding to the Climate Emergency.