New ILO report estimates productivity effects of working at over 35 degrees C.

ILO warmer planet coverReleased on July 1 by the International Labour Organiztion (ILO),  Working on a warmer planet: The impact of heat stress on labour productivity and decent work  presents estimates of the current and projected productivity losses at national, regional and global levels, and recommends policy and workplace actions.  The report  defines heat stress as “heat in excess of what the body can tolerate without suffering physiological impairment.” Roughly, it occurs at temperatures above 35°C, in high humidity. A growing body of research  show that it restricts workers’ physical capabilities and work capacity and thus, productivity, and can lead to  potentially fatal heatstroke.

The report projects that the equivalent of more than 2 per cent of total working hours worldwide will be lost every year by 2030. Agriculture and construction are the two sectors which will be worst affected , especially in south Asia, where job losses due to heat are projected to be 43 million jobs by 2030, and western Africa, where 9 million jobs are predicted to be lost. Other sectors especially at risk are environmental goods and services, refuse collection, emergency, repair work, transport, tourism, sports and some forms of industrial work. And as with so other climate change impacts, low-income countries are expected to suffer the worst, and people in the poorest regions will suffer the most.

Solutions:  From the report introduction: “Solutions do exist. In particular, the structural transformation of rural economies should be speeded up so that fewer agricultural workers are exposed to high temperatures and so that less physical effort has to be expended in such conditions. Other important policy measures that can help are skills development, the promotion of an enabling environment for sustainable enterprises, public investment in infrastructure, and improved integration of developing countries into global trade. At the workplace level, enhanced information about on-site weather conditions, the adaptation of workwear and equipment, and technological improvements can make it easier for workers and their employers to cope with higher temperatures. Employers and workers should discuss together how to adjust working hours, in addition to adopting other occupational safety and health measures. Accordingly, social dialogue is a relevant tool for improving working conditions on a warming planet.”

The report chapters include a global overview, as well as chapters for Africa, The Americas (composed of 4 sub-regions: North America, Central America, South America, and  The Caribbean) , Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, and Europe and Central Asia. The Americas discussion reiterates our favoured situation, with  low levels of heat stress and relatively high labour standards, although the patterns remain consistent:   “Whereas the impact of heat stress on labour productivity in Canada is practically zero, the United States lost 0.11 per cent of total working hours as a result of heat stress in 1995 and is projected to lose 0.21 per cent in 2030. The expected productivity loss in 2030 is equivalent to 389,000 full-time jobs. This effect is concentrated in the southern states of the country and concerns mostly outdoor workers, such as construction workers and farm workers in California.”

Outdoor workers and cancer:   Working on a warmer planet includes a highlight section regarding North American farm workers which cites the “Sun Safety at Work Canada” programme , which began in 2016 and is funded  by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.  In 2014, as many as 7,000 skin cancers in Canada were attributed to work-related sun exposure, and outdoor workers have a 2.5-3.5 times greater risk of developing skin cancer than indoor workers.  The Sun Safety at Work program focuses on skin cancer but also includes information about  heat stress and eye damage in its Resource Library  Downloadable publications for employers and individuals include fact sheets, videos and presentations .

Other recent, relevant reading: 

“Changes in Temperature and Precipitation Across Canada” : Chapter 4  in the federal government’s Canada’s Changing Climate Report, released in 2019. It assesses observed and projected changes for Canada.

The Urban Heat Island Effect at the Climate Atlas of Canada website discusses the issue and provides links to some of the adaptive municipal programs.

Healthy Climate, Healthy New Brunswickers: A proposal for New Brunswick that cuts pollution and protects health, by Louise Comeau and Daniel Nunes, released by The Conservation Council of New Brunswick on June 25. It predicts that  average temperatures in the 16 communities studied could rise 1.9 to 2.1 degrees Celsius between 2021 and 2050, and the number of days over 30 degrees are modelled to increase in the range of 122 to 300 per cent .

Life and Death under the Dome” (May 23) in the Toronto Star  , documents the summer of 2018 when at least  66  deaths in Montreal were attributed to heat.

Climate Change and Health: It’s Time for Nurses to Act   published by the the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions includes heat stress in its overview of health-related dangers of climate change in Canada, and highlights the heat waves in Ontario and Quebec in 2018.

Internationally: 

The Imperative of Climate Action to protect human health in Europe” released on June 3  by the European Academies Science Advisory Council  is mostly focused on the general population, but does include discussion of heat stress and of its effects on productivity.

Can the Paris Climate Goals Save Lives? Yes, a Lot of Them, Researchers Say” in the New York Times (June 5) summarizes an article from the journal Sciences Advances (June 5) .  “Increasing mitigation ambition to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal avoids substantial heat-related mortality in U.S. cities”  reviews the literature about heat-related mortality and concludes that achieving the 1.5°C threshold of the Paris Agreement  could avoid between 110 and 2720 annual heat-related deaths in 15 U.S. cities.

 

USW Workshop Guide – and other climate change training resources

USW-365x365The United Steelworkers Union in Canada  produced a workshop guide, Climate Change and Just Transition: What will workers need? . The guide was piloted at the United Steelworkers National Health, Safety, Environment and Human Rights Conference in 2017, and released to the public in May 2019 by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW), which was a partner on the project. The 47-page guide is designed to lead union members through discussion topics and activities, including general introduction to climate change concepts and vocabulary, and how climate change contributes to the world of work, particularly in the forestry, mining, and transportation industries where USW membership is concentrated. The Guide also discusses Just Transition and the Canadian experience, as well as areas of action for unions: Collective Agreements; Political Lobbying; Green Procurement; Training; and Employment Insurance.

A 2018 resource,  Communicating Climate Change and Energy in Alberta , focuses on how to talk to people effectively, and gives specifics about vocabulary and themes that are participative and non-confrontational.  Some highlights are cited in Lessons in talking climate with Albertan Oil Workers” (Feb. 21), including:

“In Alberta, recognising the role that oil and gas has played in securing local livelihoods proved crucial. Most environmentalists would balk at a narrative of ‘gratitude’ towards oil, but co-producing an equitable path out of fossil fuel dependency means making oil sands workers feel valued, not attacked. Empathetic language that acknowledges oil’s place in local history could therefore be the key to cultivating support for decarbonisation.

…..This project was also one of the first to test language specifically on energy transitions. While participants were generally receptive to the concept, the word ‘just’, with its social justice connotations, proved to be anything but politically neutral. In an environment where attitudes towards climate are bound to political identities, many interviewees showed a reluctance to the idea of government handouts, even where an unjust transition would likely put them out of a job. Rather, the report recommends a narrative of ‘diversification’ rather than ‘transition’, stressing positive future opportunities instead of moving away from a negative past.”

The report was produced by the  Alberta Narratives Project, whose lead partners are The Pembina Institute and Alberta Ecotrust. It  is part of the global Climate Outreach Initiative,  whose goal is to understand and train communicators to deliver effective communications which lead to cooperative approaches.

environmental racism trainingThe ACW also partnered with  the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists  to produce the training materials used for an Environmental Racism and Work workshop at the Indigenous and Workers of Colour Conference organized by the Toronto and York Region Labour Council on June 1st.  The 2-hour workshop was co-delivered by Patricia Chong (Asian Canadian Labour Alliance) and Chris Wilson (Coalition of Black Trade Unionists) – the Facilitator’s notes for the 2-hour workshop are here.  Related  training materials on environmental racism are described, with links, here .

climate resistance handbookThe Climate Resistance Handbook  was released by 350.org in May 2019, and meant to be used with their library of free training resources.  This handbook is directed at a general audience, especially young climate strikers, with very basic principles of building relationships, tactics, and moving from actions to strategic campaigns.  It includes the example of an organized action in 2014 at the National Energy Board against  TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline.

 

Canadian nurses’ unions issue a call for action on the climate health emergency

Nurses climatechange-cover-368x480The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) is the umbrella organization representing approximately 200,000 nursing and front-line health professionals in unions across Canada. At their Biennial Convention in Fredricton in June, representatives passed Resolution #3, calling on the CFNU and its Member Organizations: …  to recognize within their position statements that climate change is “a global crisis and health emergency”; …to support sustainable health care practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in health care settings; …to “engage with community stakeholders, such as the Canadian Labour Congress, in initiatives and campaigns that raise the public’s awareness about the serious health implications of climate change”; and to call on the federal and provincial governments to undertake the necessary policies to meet Canada’s obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the Paris Agreement)….”

Also at the convention, the CFNU released a  discussion paper: Climate Change and Health: It’s Time for Nurses to Act . It is described as “a starting point for for advocacy and leadership”. It summarizes the well-established health impacts related to climate change in the Canadian environment – for example, heat stress, increased allergies and asthma, cardiorespiratory distress from air pollution due to wildfires, Lyme disease. It includes a special focus on mental health and anxiety impacts.  It also highlights three practical examples from  2018 : wildfire smoke exposure in B.C., flooding in Atlantic Canada, and heat waves in Ontario and Quebec.

The report concludes with these six recommendations for nurses:

  1. Work with your employers, unions and associations to reduce emissions and to “green” your workplace.  (sub-recommendations include “Promote the divestment of pension plans from high-emission sectors and the investment in clean technologies and low-emission sectors;”)
  2. Know about climate change science, and help educate patients and the general public about it.  (sub-recommendations include “Campaign for the ecological determinants of health to be included in nursing education to prepare future generations of nurses, who will see the greatest effects of climate change. Nursing education should support a basic level of climate change literacy.”)
  3. Call for meaningful federal and provincial actions to reduce and eliminate climate change-causing emissions to ensure Canada leads the world in implementing its obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (The Paris Accord). (Sub-recommendation: Promote transitioning away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. ….. By investing in renewal energy rather than in fossil fuels we are committing to a healthier future.)
  4. Be aware and plan for the emerging needs of patients resulting from climate change and help them take action to support a healthy planet. (Sub-recommendation: “ Be aware and prepare your workplaces for future influxes of climate refugees coming to Canada. This population may have experienced trauma or extreme environmental conditions and taken risks to enter this country.”)
  5. Be prepared for extreme weather events.
  6. Promote active transportation and local healthy agriculture and food systems to reduce emissions.

Climate-Change-Toolkit-for-Health-Professionals-2019-234x300The Discussion paper was launched as part of a panel which included Dr. Courtney Howard, president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.  CAPE issued their latest Call to Action  in February 2019 , in collaboration with the Canadian Medical Association , the Canadian Nurses Association, the Urban Public Health Network , and the Canadian Public Health Association.  On April 30, CAPE released a Climate Change Toolkit for Health Professionals, which is available for download in either English or French , and offers eight stand-alone modules with seven factsheets. Topics include Climate Change Health Impacts Globally and Across Canada; Taking Climate Change Action at Health Facilities ; Preparing for Climate Change in our Communities;  and Engaging in Climate Change as Health Professionals, which highlights, for example,  CAPE’s role in the campaign to phase-out coal in Alberta. As part of their active advocacy campaign, CAPE  makes frequent media statements and was part of the health delegation which met with the federal Minister of Health on June 7 .

Canada’s Green Party and NDP prepare to fight the October election with newly-released Climate Change plans

With unprecedented importance of climate change in the upcoming October 2019 election, and the weakness of the governing Liberal party on the issue, the NDP and Green Party are keenly competing for votes, as described in Aaron Wherry’s analysis for the CBC, “With Singh’s environment plan, the left-centre climate change bidding war begins” (June 1) . On May 16, Canada’s Green Party released a five-page plan called Mission Possible: The Green Climate Action Plan , built on the foundation of the Green Party’s overall policy Vision .  On May 31, the leader of the New Democratic Party released  Power to change: A new deal for climate action and good jobs 

MayElizabeth_GPGreen Party Proposal:  The Green Party’s Mission Possible Plan (press release is here ), “incorporates all the requirements for economic justice, just transition, the guarantee of meaningful work, while also respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.”  It endorses the Pact for a Green New Deal, and promises to go beyond it, stating: “Canadian Greens applaud their commitment and enthusiasm and wholeheartedly endorse their demands for decisive action on the climate emergency, mainly because we have been describing and promoting this exact thing sometime past forever.”

Specifically, Mission Possible calls for  Step #1 to “Declare a Climate Emergency: Accept, at every level of government, that climate is not an environmental issue. It is the gravest security threat the world has ever seen.”  The 20 action items in Mission Possible include: double  the country’s 2030 emissions reduction target to 60%; maintain carbon pricing; abolish fracking; green and modernize the east-west electricity grid; complete a national building retrofit; ensure that all new vehicles are electric by 2030 and address emissions from international shipping, aviation and the military.  Without using the term “Just Transition”, the recommended actions reflect a recognition of the need for  jobs in the new greener economy, the role of re-skilling, and the need for a gradual transition for workers in the fossil fuel sector.  The controversial bit:  Although the Greens oppose new fossil fuel projects and fracking in Canada and propose to end all foreign oil imports, the plan supports new pipelines to transport Alberta’s oil. They call for a shift for all Canadian bitumen from fuel to feedstock for the petrochemical industry by 2050, and state that “ pipelines would be needed to transport refined product (gasoline, propane, diesel) instead of diluted bitumen.”

The National Observer summary of the plan is here , and CBC summarizes it in “Greens call for a doubling of Canada’s carbon emissions reduction target”. CBC also discusses the most controversial elements  in “ Elizabeth May wants to only use Canadian oil — a plan Quebec’s Green Party leader can’t support” .

singh facebook photoNew Democratic Party: Power to change: A new deal for climate action and good jobs   was released by the NDP on May 31 – a plan which aims to reduce Canada’s emissions to 38 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, achieve net carbon-free electricity by 2030, and create at least 300,000 good jobs.  Proposals to reach the targets include: Immediate elimination of fossil fuel subsidies ( valued at  $3.3 billion, which would be reinvested in clean strategies); a Low Carbon Industrial Strategy which would, for example, use Buy Canadian procurement;  establishment of a new Canadian Climate Bank,  capitalized with $3 billion from  the federal government to invest in clean technologies; a Clean Communities Fund to support investments in innovative community-owned and operated clean energy projects; make all new buildings in Canada “net-zero ready” by 2030 and retrofit existing buildings by 2050;  continuation of the federal electric vehicle purchase subsidies with  $5,000 federal purchase incentive (rising  in time to $15,000 for made-in-Canada vehicles), plus exemption on the federal sales tax for working families; electrification of Canada’s transit fleets by 2030, and a commitment to  work with municipalities towards establishing fare-free transit.   Other important proposals:  enact  an Environmental Bill of Rights guaranteeing clean air, land, and water for Canadians, and tackle pollution with a ban on single-use plastics by 2022, and develop extended producer responsibility legislation to hold companies responsible for the entire lifecycle of their plastics products and packaging.   The platform is summarized in the Toronto Star and in the National Observer in  “NDP climate plan hinges on electrification, helping workers impacted by climate change”.

The NDP tries to differentiate itself from the Green Party chiefly by its emphasis on jobs and workers, promising to create at least 300,000 good jobs in energy efficiency retrofits, affordable housing, renewable energy, infrastructure, and transit.  Specifically, it pledges to make the Employment Insurance system more responsive to the realities of transition by making  easier to qualify for EI, and giving workers the option of taking EI-based training before being laid off , and to receive EI if they leave a job to go back to school.  The plan further promises to address injustice for Indigenous communities in training opportunities and education, as well as injustice for women, racialized Canadians, Indigenous peoples, and other under-represented groups for apprenticeships. The plan also pledges to create a framework for enshrining Community Benefits Agreements in federally-funded infrastructure projects. The controversial position for the NDP  occurred before the release of Power to Change, and is described by The Energy Mix in  “Singh discovers new interest in climate, declares against oil and gas fracking in wake of B.C. byelection loss” (May 14) .  As a result of the NDP’s position opposing the LNG terminal in Kitimat and the Coastal Gas pipeline project, some union leaders in B.C. are “not happy with Jagmeet Singh, according to The Toronto Star (May 15). 

NDP Reveals ‘Ambitious’ Climate Change Plan” in Vice (May 31) quotes positive reaction from spokespersons from Environmental Defence and 350.org , but includes the criticism of the Liberal Minister of Environment and Climate Change: “The NDP would do almost as much harm to the economy as the Conservatives want to do to the planet,” … “The NDP want to do some of the things we are already doing to fight climate change, but their approach would threaten jobs and hurt workers.” Similarly, the Toronto Star published “ NDP’s $15-billion climate plan greeted with mixed reviews” , which gives voice to the criticisms of the Green Party and Liberal political leaders , as well as Chris Ragan of the Ecofiscal Commission. From the Globe and Mail, ” NDP Climate Policy is serious but not radical“.

In contrast, the United Steelworkers issued a press release  calling the NDP plan  “the most comprehensive environmental platform of any of the parties”… “This climate plan is worker-oriented and jobs-centred. … this plan specifically mentions working with labour and refers to the recommendations of the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities.”

Canadian youth continue climate strikes and join the political push for a Canadian Green New Deal

fridays may 3Students in approximately 95 towns and cities across Canada went on strike from school on May 3, continuing their Fridays for Future campaign .  As was the case after the huge March 15 demonstrations ,  mainstream press coverage was limited, but included a front-page story in the Sudbury Star . Other coverage:  Corner Brook Newfoundland ; Regina Saskatchewan , Edmonton , and Vancouver, where an article in The Straight (May 3) summarizes the strike in Vancouver and notes others across Canada and the world.  In Halifax, CBC News reported that 400 students marched, despite threats of suspension from at least one high school .  In “Thousands march for action on climate change in Montreal as city braces for flooding”, the CBC reports that intergenerational demonstrations were held in Quebec on April 27, and states “Quebec’s largest unions took part in similar marches in Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Rimouski, Rouyn-Noranda, Alma, Gaspé, Mont-Laurier and Ottawa.”

Youth are driven by fear:  The National Observer has launched a new series on Youth, Parents and the Climate Crisis with “Climate strikes and the youth mental health crisis” (May 2).  Similarly,  “Meet the millennials grieving for the future of planet Earth” describes ecological grief circles in Montreal .  The words of a sampling of youth leaders are revealing in the interviews from  “Canadian Teens Told Us Why They’re Striking Over Climate Change” (May 2) in  Vice . 

What’s Next?  The Federal Election and a Green New Deal: Students say they will continue their school strikes, and in addition, some are now joining the political fight, despite being too young to vote in many cases.   Climate Strike Canada has posted an Open Letter and online petition which lists their demands:

“We, as citizens, therefore call upon all political parties and politicians to create and commit to a science-based and human rights focused Emergency Plan for Climate Justice that limits global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

We, as citizens, pledge to vote only for political parties and politicians that include the following demands in their Emergency Plan for Climate Justice.

  • Bold Emissions Reductions Targets
  • Separation of Oil and State
  • A Just Transition
  • Environmental rights
  • Indigenous rights
  • Conservation of Biodiversity
  • Protection for Vulnerable Groups

SUZUKI green new dealSeveral youth organizations are among the 67 groups who announced for a Green New Deal for Canada  on May 6, launching another political movement to fight for  climate change action in the coming election.  The Energy Mix provides a summary of these new political campaigns  in “Canadian Coalitions’ Election Platforms Call For Faster Action On Climate” (May 7).  Common Dreams also describes the new group in “‘The Pact for a Green New Deal’: Visionary Roadmap From Canadian Coalition Launched”  (May 6).