Ontario Teachers’ pension fund invests in Abu Dhabi oil pipelines

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP), has outdone the May decision of AimCo in Alberta to invest in the Coastal GasLink pipeline,  with its announcement on June 23d that it is part of a consortium which has invested $10.1 billion  in a  gas pipeline network under development by the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.  Details appear in the Globe and Mail    and Energy Mix on June 23.  The consortium partners are Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management, New York-based Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), and investors from Singapore, South Korea, and Italy.  The Ontario Teachers Pension Plan  is quoted by the Globe and Mail, stating: “This strategic transaction is attractive to Ontario Teachers’ as it provides us with a stake in a high-quality infrastructure asset with stable long-term cash flows, which will help us deliver on our pension promise.”

Advocacy group Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health responded with a scathing statement , which says:

“Investments like the OTPP’s in fossil fuel infrastructure are betting the hard-earned retirement savings of thousands of Ontario teachers against the long-term safety of our climate… Ensuring the growth of pensions in the long-term requires ending investments that lock-in fossil fuels and redeploying massive pools of finance into climate solutions like renewable energy and clean technology.”

Shift also links to a 25-page Toolkit for OTPP members on the risks of fossil fuel investment of their pension funds. (May 2020).   The OTPP Statement on Responsible Investing for 2019 is here.

Alberta dissolves Energy Efficiency agency, weakens oil and gas approval process

Bill 22, The Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act  passed first reading in the Alberta legislature on June 11.  The latest in Alberta’s environmental roll-backs, Bill 22 is a 14-point omnibus bill which eliminates the need for cabinet approval for oil and gas projects, and dissolves the Energy Efficiency Alberta agency, begun in 2017. Alberta’s Environment Minister has said it  will be wound down by September and most staff re-assigned to the Emissions Reduction Alberta agency, which focuses on large-scale industry such as the oil and gas industry.  The changes are summarized in  an article in in The Energy Mix (June 14) and  in The Globe and Mail .   Efficiency Canada reacted with a critical press release on June 12, titled Alberta cuts successful job-creation engine in the midst of recession” which asserts that Energy Efficiency Alberta  created more than 4,300 private-sector jobs between 2017 and 2019”.  The Pembina Institute reaction also cites the job losses which will come from the decision, and states: “This move reinforces the negative image that the Government of Alberta was attempting to change when the EEA was installed as a major pillar of Alberta’s climate plan.”

The government justifies its decision in a blog  which doesn’t mention the job creation success of the agency.

Returning to work after Covid-19 – by transit or by cycling?

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) in Canada reported on May 12 that a Probe Research poll found that 78% of Canadian respondents support $5 billion in emergency government funding for public transit services, and 91% agree that governments have a responsibility to ensure access to safe, reliable, and affordable public transit.  Yet when asked whether they would use public transport after Covid-19, city-dwellers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K. and the Brussels metropolitan area, expressed “lukewarm enthusiasm for public transport, due to a fear of the risk of infection”. The European survey also was conducted in mid-May,  by YouGov poll, and according to an article in Politico Europe,  preference was for “active transportation” such as walking and cycling, with a majority supporting new zero-emissions zones, banning cars from urban areas,  and maintaining the gains in  road space dedicated to bikes and pedestrians that were implemented during the Covid-19 crisis.

In Canada, the cycling issue is explored in “Bike lanes installed on urgent basis across Canada during COVID-19 pandemic”  by CBC (June 7), highlighting a movement to establish permanent, protected cycling lanes – which is one of the demands of the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities, a statement championed by Jennifer Keesmaat, former City of Toronto Chief Planner. (a list of over 100 signatories is here ). Other proposals from the Declaration include a moratorium on the construction and reconstruction of urban expressways; congestion pricing policies, with 100% of the revenues dedicated to public transportation expansion, and electrification of the public transit fleet.

Catching the Bus : How Smart Policy Can Accelerate Electric Buses Across Canada   is a policy report released by Clean Energy Canada on June 11,  but unfortunately researched before the transformational impacts of Covid-19.  In an updated introduction, Clean Energy Canada argues that emergency financial relief for transit agencies should be the government’s top priority, but points out that transit procurement cycles run approximately 12 to 18 years, so that “investment decisions today will last for decades.” According to a blog by the Amalgamated Transit Union , the pandemic has resulted in a 75-85% decrease in ridership, with over 3,000 layoffs announced by mid-May and more expected.  The ATU has called on the federal government to provide a $5 billion stimulus investment just to stave off the bankruptcy of transit agencies  – the ATU position on electrification is stated in a February blog here .

Clearing the Air: How electric vehicles and cleaner trucks can reduce pollution, improve health and save lives in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area was released on June 3, a joint project by Environmental Defence ,  the Ontario Public Health Association,  and the University of Toronto’s Transportation and Air Quality Research Group. The report considers the impact of electrification of passenger cars, urban buses, and freight trucks, with the main purpose of demonstrating the considerable health effects of lower pollution.  Policy prescriptions for buses are scanty, though the report estimates that  electrifying all public transit buses in Canada would provide social benefits of up to $1.1 billion per year.  The report and a series of interactive maps of the region are here .

Of these recent reports, only the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities addresses the issue of transit equity, so evident in the pandemic world as low-wage and essential workers may not have the luxury of replacing their transit commute with a passenger car. Work and Climate Change Report summarized Canadian initiatives pre-Covid in “Transit Equity and Free Transit: addressing social justice, climate justice and workplace justice (Feb.10) . Also pre-Covid in November 2019, an interview with University of Toronto professor Steven Farber discusses how transit policy is a social justice issue.  Farber also spoke at the ATU  Transit Equity Summit in December 2019  .

Marjorie Griffin Cohen, author of “Climate Change and Gender in Rich Countries”, awarded the Charles Taylor Prize

Marjorie Griffin Cohen, Professor Emeritus at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, was awarded  the 2020 Charles Taylor Prize for Excellence in Policy Research, as announced on May 28.  Marjorie’s research has focused on the intersection of gender and sexuality issues, as well as climate and labour policy.  Amongst her many publications, Marjorie authored “Does Gender Matter in the Political Economy of Work and Climate Justice?”  in 2011 as part of the Work in a Warming World research project, the predecessor to the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces project.  Along with John Calvert, she also authored “Climate Change and Labour in the Energy Sector”, as a Gender book coverchapter in  Climate@Work  in 2013. In 2017, Marjorie edited the path-breaking Climate Change and Gender in Rich Countries, published by Routledge.

Over her career, Marjorie has served on several boards and commissions in British Columbia, including as the first Chair of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in B.C. (which she helped to establish).  The Charles Taylor Prize, normally awarded at the Broadbent Institute Progress Summit, could not be delivered in person, but Marjorie’s acceptance speech is available on YouTube .  In it, she discusses her work as the Chair of the B.C. Fair Wages Commission from 2017-2018, which contributed directly to the  increase in the provincial minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Notably, the same YouTube video  also includes a speech by Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of Climate Action Network – Canada, who was awarded the 2020 Jack Layton Progress Prize for her international leadership on climate policy and action.

Both awards represent welcome recognition of the increasing importance of climate change research in public policy.

CLC, TUC publish visions for post-Covid just economic recovery; new campaign launches

On May 25, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC)  posted  Labour’s Vision for Economic Recovery . Rejecting austerity-thinking, the CLC guiding principles call for government action which focuses on getting Canadians back to work and fully employed in decently paid, productive jobs, based on labour market planning, coordination and concerted government action. Priorities include protection for worker health and safety, including mental health, in the return to work. The CLC also introduces a calls for a Green Youth Job Guarantee: “Following the experience of the European Union, the federal, provincial and territorial governments should establish a guarantee that all young people under the age of 25 will receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education…. This could include a Green Youth Corps providing decent jobs in renewable energy, land remediation and restoration, climate adaptation, building retrofits and sustainable transportation. Additionally, it should include green skills training and learning opportunities. The Green Youth Corps would target marginalized, low-income and at-risk youth in urban centres, as well as in rural and isolated communities.”

Labour’s Vision also calls for public investment in physical, social and green infrastructure, and on renewal and expansion of public services. “Green industrial policy and sector strategies, anchored in union-management dialogue, should provide the framework for expanded investment in manufacturing capacity, skills training and workforce development.” Labour’s Vision concludes: …” It is time to address the precarity, poor working conditions and wage discrimination in sectors dominated by women, including care work, retail and health services. This work is essential to the health and well-being of our communities and economy.”  More broadly, it calls for reform of Canada’s long term care sector, accelerating universal pharmacare, and fair taxation.

The CLC, along with other unions and social justice and climate action groups, endorsed the Just Recovery for All campaign launched on May 25. The campaign calls for a fair and just recovery from COVID-19 through relief and stimulus packages based on these six foundation principals:  Put people’s health and well-being first; Strengthen the social safety net and provide relief directly to people; Prioritize the needs of workers and communities; Build resilience to prevent future crises; Build solidarity and equity across communities, generations, and borders;  and Uphold Indigenous rights and work in partnership with Indigenous peoples.

Regarding the  “Prioritize the needs of workers and communities” principal, the campaign expands with:

  “Support must be distributed in a manner consistent with Indigenous sovereignty, a climate resilient economy, and worker rights, including safe and fair labour standards and a right to unionize. Improved conditions for essential service workers must be maintained beyond this crisis.

Bailout packages must not encourage unqualified handouts, regulatory rollbacks, or regressive subsidies that enrich shareholders or CEOs, particularly those who take advantage of tax havens. These programs must support a just transition away from fossil fuels that creates decent work and leaves no one behind.”

In answer to the question “Why did you call it a “just recovery” and not a “healthy”, “resilient”, or “green” recovery?”, Just Recovery for All  explains: “We were inspired by principles and organizers in the US and internationally who started the idea of principles for a “Just Recovery” we wanted to align ourselves with global allies. We also wanted to lead with the idea that justice – fairness and equity – needed to be part of the focus of the work coming out of COVID.”

Those who have endorsed the Just Recovery campaign are listed here, with union  endorsements  from the Canadian Labour Congress, ACTRA, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, CUPE Local 3903, Confederation des syndicats nationaux, Federation de la sante et des services sociaux,  Syndicate de professionnelles et profesionnels du government du Quebec, and Toronto and York Regional Labour Council, as well as climate/union coalitions including Blue Green Canada, Green Economy Network, Good Jobs for All.  A COVID-19 Yellow Pages lists and summarizes many of the Canadian campaigns currently underway by endorsing organizations.

In the U.K., the Trades Union Congress (TUC) published A Better Recovery on May 20 – like the CLC, rejecting austerity economics and proposing an “investment for growth” approach for post Covid recovery. The report highlights six principles: Decent work (with a higher minimum wage and new collective bargaining rights); Economic stimulus for Just Transition and a low-carbon economy; social security reforms including a job guarantee; rebuilding public services with good jobs in care work; equality at work; new internationalism.  Other TUC articles re Covid-19 are here .

Business is offering advice re Economic Recovery too

Just as unions are advocating for their versions of economic recovery, so are businesses. One such Canadian campaign launched in mid-May and now numbers more than 280 Canadian companies and business organizations.  The Resilient Recovery campaign is a collaboration between Clean Energy Canada and the Canada Cleantech Alliance—calling for direct and immediate investment in Canadian clean energy and clean tech companies.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce established a Canadian Business Resilience Network to coordinate over 450 chambers of commerce, boards of trade, and business and industry association. In addition to serving their membership, they aspire to “Provide a consistent and reliable flow of accurate, up-to-date, authoritative information; and “Work closely with government to ensure the right supports are in place, and to be a conduit for information from the government to the private sector.”  On May 21, the they released  Reopening Canada’s Economy, A National Guide for Business, “designed to provide guidance, or access to guidance, for business owners and senior managers responsible for re-establishing their operations while ensuring the health and safety of operators, staff, customers and the general public is at the forefront.”

Internationally, on May 19 the  Science Based Targets initiative, the UN Global Compact, and the We Mean Business coalition issued a joint press release titled: “Over 150 global corporations urge world leaders for net-zero recovery from COVID-19” . Their signed statement  urges governments “to prioritize a faster and fairer transition from a grey to a green economy by aligning policies and recovery plans with the latest climate science…..We must move beyond business-as-usual and work together in solidarity to deliver the greatest impact for people, prosperity and the planet.”  The 150 companies who signed on to the statement are from 33 different countries, but only two are Canadian:  Arc’teryx Equipment , SkyPower Global .

(The Science Based Targets initiative is a collaboration between CDP, the UN Global Compact, World Resources Institute and WWF, and  independently assesses and validates corporate climate targets against the latest climate science. It includes 885 companies which are taking some science-based climate action and 373 companies whose targets have been approved by the SBTi.)