New fuel regulations aim to reduce emissions from Canada’s freight industry

With freight transportation producing approximately 10 percent of Canada’s total emissions, on June 14, Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister announced   new carbon-pollution regulations for heavy-duty vehicles, defined as  “ school buses, transport tractors and trailers, garbage trucks, delivery vans, and larger pick-up trucks”. The regulations begin in 2020, and become increasingly stringent with each passing year – with a goal to reduce carbon pollution by approximately 6 million tonnes a year by 2030.

state of freight coverThe Pembina Institute welcomes the regulations here, with reference to its detailed report on the issue:  State of Freight ( June 2017),  and also an OpEd from Policy Options in April 2018, “On vehicle emissions standards, it’s time Canada divorced the U.S.” .   “McKenna touts new climate pollution controls for large trucks and buses”  in the National Observer (June 14) includes a discussion of the Canada-U.S. alignment over fuel standards.

In May, the Conference Board of Canada released  Greening Freight: Pathways to GHG Reductions in the Trucking Sector, which recommends several ways to help reduce emissions from freight transport,  including the adoption of established fuel-saving technologies, carbon pricing, and disruptive technologies such as electric zero-emission and driverless trucks. The report is available from this link (free, registration required).

Also on this topic, an article by researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Clean Energy Research Centre appeared in  the April 2018 issue of Energy Policy“Electrification of road freight transport: Policy implications in British Columbia” concludes that all-electric  trucks could  reduce 64% of the emissions from road freight transport in the province by 2040, if 65% of trucks ran on 100% hydroelectric power. However, the demand created would overwhelm the supply available – therefore, the authors call for new policies “to support diversified renewable electricity generation and low-carbon pathways. For example, carbon capture and sequestration coupled with provincial reserves of natural gas can enable low-carbon hydrogen production and decrease the electricity requirements for zero-emission vehicles in B.C.”  An article on the CBC website summarizes the academic article.

 

Recognition of the mental health impacts of flooding and wildfires in Canada – B.C. offers support

A June 2018 report from the Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation  at the University of Waterloo presents statistics about the rising financial costs of weather-related disasters in Canada, and  profiles the results of 100 door-to-door interviews with households in flooded communities around Burlington Ontario. After the Flood: The Impact of Climate on Mental Health and Lost Time From Work   found that members of households which had been flooded experienced significantly more worry and stress than non-flooded households, and the worry and stress persisted even up to 3 years after the event. After the Flood also reported that 56% of flooded households had at least one working member who took time off work, and that the average time lost was seven days per flooded household (10 times greater than the average absenteeism for non-flooded workers).

The report cites official documents concerning the growing financial costs of disasters for example, the 2016 report from Canada’s Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer ,  Estimates of the Average Annual Cost for Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements due to Weather Events and includes a bibliography of the growing  international public health literature concerning the health effects of weather disasters.

talk in tough times logoOther official recognition of the rising dangers of extreme weather events:  in May 2018, the Province of British Columbia, under the leadership of Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, announced mental health support services for those who might be impacted by re-living their experiences from the record-breaking 2017 wildfire season.   In partnership with the B.C. branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the program directs people to support services through a Facebook campaign called Talk in Tough Times, and a phone-based support program.

Federally, the  Minister of Infrastructure and Communities announced the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund in May 2018, a 10-year national program that will invest $2 billion in infrastructure projects such as diversion channels, wetland restorations, wildfire barriers and setback levees, to help communities better withstand natural hazards such as floods, wildfires, seismic events and droughts.

Workforce implications of innovation in Canada’s Forest Sector

On May 4th, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources  released its report,    Value-added products in Canada’s forest sector : cultivating innovation for a competitve bioeconomy . The report  is the latest discussion of  advancing Canadian value-added forest products and a forest-sourced bioeconomy, and addresses five themes: (1) protecting Canadian forests and primary resources (which recognizes the threats of climate change and beetle infestation); (2) advancing industrial integration, innovation and talent development; (3) strengthening partnerships with Indigenous peoples; (4) maximizing market opportunities in Canada and abroad; and (5) a case study on building with wood, with a focus on advanced mass timber construction.

Discussion of the issue of training and talent development (beginning on page 18), calls for  more internships and employment opportunities for engineering and science students and highly trained post-graduates;  the need to develop a well-educated forest-sector workforce in rural areas; and the need for diversity and gender equity.  Employment implications are present in the discussion of wood-based construction of homes, where witnesses talk about transforming wood construction from a craft-based industry to a more mainstream manufacturing process, where “prefabrication in a factory environment would make wood construction more cost competitive and less wasteful, with greater potential for automation, customization and design accuracy.” The report also provides a case study of two Canadian examples of “tall wood buildings”: including Brock Commons, a new 18-storey student residence at the University of British Columbia , and Origine, a 13-storey building in Quebec City’s Pointe-auxLièvres eco-district.

The United Steelworkers , who represent over 18,000 forestry workers after their 2004 merger with the  Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers of Canada (IWA), presented a Brief to the Committee in November 2017.  The Brief identifies  the main challenges facing the sector, as low harvest volumes, insufficient infrastructure funding, and decreasing raw log exports, and concludes  that, although it’s a provincial jurisdiction,  “The Steelworkers submit that Canada needs a national forestry strategy that recognizes while the challenges within the lumber, pulp, paper, or value added sector are unique, … the whole sector is highly integrated, and dependent on each facet of the sector succeeding. “  The Brief also states  “The costs that the industry as a whole faces will further increase with the federal government’s plan to roll out a $50/tonne price on carbon by 2022. This new carbon pricing regime will not only risk further impacting tight margins in regions like Ontario, but also risks leading to carbon leakage. Canadian companies are now operating in the southern USA which does not have a carbon pricing regime.”

Unifor, which represents approximately 24,000 forest workers, also issued a report (not submitted to the Committee)  in October 2017:  The Future of Forestry: A Workers Perspective for Successful, Sustainable and Just Forestry .  A key message from Unifor is the need to involve workers in a in  a national  policy-making process: “forestry ministers must lead efforts to bring together business, government, labour, Indigenous leaders, environmental organizations and community leaders in a reinstated National Forestry Council.”  Also on this topic, a 2017 report by the Innovation Committee of the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers,  A Forest Bioeconomy Framework for Canada . 

New research on climate change impacts on mental health

nature climate change special issue mental healthThe April Issue of Nature Climate Change focuses on the relationship between climate change and mental health. The introductory editorial  summarizes the three articles on the topic and makes the case that 1. Mental health issues are often neglected in the general research about the health impacts of climate change, and 2. more research is needed.  (Please note that all articles have restricted access and are available only for a fee. )  The first article in the issue, “Ecological grief as a mental health response to climate change-related loss” discusses the personal grief experienced by people as their natural world changes,  illustrated by the experiences of Indigenous people in  Northern Canada and the Australian wheatbelt.  The second article, “The case for systems thinking about climate change and mental health” examines the current state of research about climate change and mental health from a policy perspective, arguing for a more epidemiological research.  The third article, “Mental health risk and resilience among climate scientists” discusses whether climate scientists themselves face unique mental health risks because they are immersed in depressing information.  Dr. Susan Clayton, author of the third article, is also co-author of the influential 2014 report Beyond Storms & Droughts: The Psychological Impacts of Climate Change, published by the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica.   In March 2017, the APA, ecoAmerica and Climate for Health  updated Beyond Storms & Droughts with   Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance .

 

Corporate Disclosure of climate change risks, and shareholder action by BCGEU on sustainability

The British Columbia Government and Services Employees’ Union  (BCGEU) issued a press release on April 20 to announce its partnership with the global advocacy group SumOfUs (Fighting for people over profits).  Over the summer, on behalf of BCGEU, SumOfUs will file proposals at annual general meetings of Canadian companies,  calling  for greater fairness in corporate governance and increased scrutiny around human rights and labour practices as well as of the impacts of deforestation.

BCGEU President Stephanie Smith stated “As a union, we need to make sure that funds our members count on, such as the strike fund, are financially healthy and this requires careful and responsible investment decisions. …Calling for greater corporate responsibility as a shareholder is not only financially prudent, but it allows us to pursue our values as a labour union as well.”  This is not the first time BCGEU has taken initiative  – in 2014,  the union divested its strike fund and general reserves from fossil fuel equities, and saw in increase in values.

With a similar strategy, the Fonds de Solidarité des Travailleurs du Québec (FTQ), empowered SHARE (Shareholder Association for  Research and Education), to file a shareholder proposal at the April 27 annual meeting of Imperial Oil, requesting better disclosure on its exposure to and management of water-related risks in its oil and gas operations.

Even Canada’s financial regulators are moving in the direction of increased transparency and disclosure for corporations. The Canadian Securities Administration,  concluding a process which had stretched out for over a year, issued a press release on April 5, announcing   CSA Staff Notice 51-354 Report on Climate change-related Disclosure Project.  The report announced  its intention to consider new disclosure requirements relating to material risks and opportunities and “how issuers oversee the identification, assessment and management of material risks.  This would include, for example, emerging or evolving risks and opportunities arising from climate change, potential barriers to free trade, cyber security and disruptive technologies.”

And on April 12, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change announced  the creation of an  Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance. Part of the mandate of the Expert Panel will be to  explore the issue of  voluntary standards for corporate disclosure of the financial risks associated with climate change, and to provide  recommendations to the federal government by the fall of 2018. Full Terms of Reference are here .  The Expert Panel is expected to build upon the work of the CSA Task Force, and the earlier, international Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCDF), led by Michael Bloomberg,  and chaired by  Mark Carney. Canada’s new Expert Panel will be chaired by Tiff Macklem, Dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and former Senior Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada; the other three members are Andy Chisholm, member of the Board of Directors of the Royal Bank of Canada; Kim Thomassin, Executive Vice-President, Legal Affairs and Secretariat, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec; and Barbara Zvan, Chief Risk and Strategy Officer, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

For context on the issue of corporate disclosure, read “Investigation finds nearly half  of Canadian failing to  Disclose Climate-Related Risk” from the National Observer (April 5), and, in the opposite direction in the United States, In ‘Attack on Shareholder Rights,’ SEC Seeks to Sideline Activist Investors .