Canada signs on to COP26 Just Transition Declaration

At the end of week one of the Conference of the Parties in Glasgow (COP26),  Canada signed on to the Just Transition Declaration, along with 14 other countries, including the UK, USA, much of the EU, and New Zealand.  The declaration cites the preamble from the Paris Agreement and the 2015 ILO Guidelines for Just Transition,  and states that signatories recognize their role to ensure a transition that is

“ fully inclusive and benefits the most vulnerable through the more equitable distribution of resources, enhanced economic and political empowerment, improved health and wellbeing, resilience to shocks and disasters and access to skills development and employment opportunities. This should also display: a commitment to gender equality, racial equality and social cohesion; protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples; disability inclusion; intergenerational equity and young people; the promotion of women and girls; marginalised persons’ leadership and involvement in decision-making; and recognition of the value of their knowledge and leadership; and support for the collective climate action of diverse social groups. Social dialogue as well as rights at work are indispensable building blocks of sustainable development and must be at the centre of policies for strong, sustainable, and inclusive growth and development.  

We recognise that a just transition is not the replacement of one industry with another, but a diversification toward a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive economy overall. Lastly, we recognise the importance of facilitating the transition from the informal to the formal economy, through social dialogue, to ensure that no one is left behind, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.  

The Declaration provides more details about each of the objectives, and concludes with a statement that:  “We intend to include information on Just Transition efforts, where relevant, in our national Biennial Transparency Reports in the context of reporting on our policies and measures to achieve our Nationally Determined Contributions.” The ILO, which played a key role in drafting the Declaration, released its own press release and summary here.  Reaction from the International Trades Union Congress (ITUC) is here .

Note that much more was said about Just Transition at COP26 – much of it at side events or smaller panels. One example, the COP26 panel on Just Transition in the Steel and Energy Industry on November 8, available on YouTube here.  This panel was the occasion for the launch of Preparing for a Just Transition: Meeting green skill needs for a sustainable steel industry, a report written by Community Union and researchers from the Cardiff University School of Sciences.  The report provides an overview of decarbonization in the steel industry, but most importantly reports on the views of 100 steelworkers in the U.K., revealing that 92% feel a green transition is necessary, 78% feel it will bring a radical transformation to their industry, and 55% feel they already possess the skills necessary to make the transition.  79% had not been consulted by their employers, leading to a recommendation for more worker voice.  The survey also delved into what skills would be needed.  

CCPA’s Alternative Federal Budget 2022 calls for a fossil fuel moratorium and maps out a generous Transition plan for Canadian workers

As it has for 26 years, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released its Alternative Federal Budget, offering progressive, costed policy choices for Canada, along with a plan to pay for them. This year’s AFB, released on November 9, is titled: Mission Critical: A Just and Equitable Recovery, which focuses on key issues which include: strengthening and expanding the existing health care system,  implementing universal public child care, reforming Canada’s income security system, addressing the housing crisis, and moving forward on reconciliation with First Nations peoples.  Climate action is addressed in Chapter 7, “Physical Infrastructure for People, Biodiversity and Planet”, and relates to Chapter 6, “A Vision for Job Creation and Decent Work”.

Regarding climate action policies, the CCPA states “Building on the government’s own commitments to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, this AFB ramps up the stringency of environmental regulations. It also takes a more hands-on approach to transitioning the economy away from the production and consumption of fossil fuels.” Specifically, the document calls for an immediate moratorium on new fossil fuel extraction projects, and a phase- out of coal, oil and natural gas production for fuel by 2040. The ensuing disruption would require a permanent, independent Just Transition Commission, to oversee and co-ordinate the federal government’s just transition agenda for all sectors (not just fossil fuels), and to develop regional transition road maps.  For workers affected by fossil fuel closures (and the disruption to ancillary businesses in those communities), the AFB calls for “generous and predictable benefits”, financed by a budget allocation of $100 million per year over 20 years (the estimated lifetime of Canada’s fossil fuel phaseout).  This translates into  a $2,000 monthly Just Transition Benefit to offset their income loss for as long as it takes  them to find re-training and/or re-employment. For workers who are near retirement and cannot reasonably retrain for a new career, this benefit bridges their income till their pensions begin. The Commission would be supported by a $5 million per year budget, and would include the a wide variety of stakeholders, including labour unions, civil society groups, Indigenous peoples,  people with disabilities, business associations, independent experts, and public servants from governments of all levels.

Other notable climate-related proposals: 1.  Adjust the existing revenue-recycling formula for the national carbon pricing system by reallocating the majority of federal revenue away from middle-to-high-income households and toward emission reduction initiatives in the provinces where revenue is generated.  2. Establish a new federal economic diversification crown corporation which would prioritize direct public ownership of new infrastructure, funded by $15 billion per year over five years to allow it to invest at the required scale.  3.  Reconstitute the Canada Infrastructure Bank to become a fully publicly financed bank with a mandate to invest in publicly owned and publicly operated infrastructure (and to require Community Benefits Agreements in those projects). The new CIB would also provide low-cost loans to municipalities, Indigenous governments, and other public bodies to scale up important infrastructure projects that are in the public interest, and would include the new Economic Diversification Crown Corporation.

Report on Canada’s low carbon future makes recommendations for community and worker transitions

 A new report from the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices analyzes the trends in the global transition to a low carbon economy, and warns that  800,000  Canadian jobs could be at risk if we fail to support strategic industries.   The report states that Canada is particularly vulnerable to market disruptions because over 70 per cent of our goods exports and over 60 per cent of foreign direct investment in Canada are in vulnerable sectors – not only fossil fuels, but also such as auto parts and vehicles, minerals, and energy intensive industries such as steel and aluminum.

The report, Sink or Swim: : Transforming Canada’s economy for a global low-carbon future is a business analysis with the overall message that transition offers opportunity, and Canada needs to act more quickly to “catch the wave”. Besides examining the benefits and sectors of opportunity in the low carbon transition, the the report includes a recommendation to: “Develop local and people-focused transition plans that drive new areas of job creation, improve the resilience of the workforce and empower Indigenous economic leadership.” More specifically, the report concludes with : “  Federal, provincial, territorial, municipal, and Indigenous governments should work together to develop detailed transition plans to support workers and communities and improve overall well-being. Transition plans should aim to attract new sources of growth and jobs, support worker transition and skill development, improve youth education outcomes and readiness, ensure alignment with Sustainable Development Goals, and empower Indigenous economic leadership.”

The Sink or Swim discussion starts from a fundamental statement that “achieving success is also about more than supporting affected workers in transition-vulnerable companies or sectors. Success will come from generating strong and inclusive economic growth that improves the wellbeing of all Canadians.”  The ensuing discussion recognizes that multinational companies have weak connections and relationships to local communities, making them more likely to relocate than to re-invest. Using census data, it identifies 55 communities of 10,000 people or more that have more than 3% of their workforce employed in transition-vulnerable sectors, highlighting the Wood Buffalo area in the oil sands of Alberta, and Thompson Manitoba, a nickel-mining community. The report offers recommendations for communities, focusing on the critical areas of infrastructure investment, financing, and the need for local capacity to analyze labour markets and financial opportunities– using the examples of the InvestEU advisory hub and the Colorado Office of Just Transition.

Regarding workers, the report documents the increased vulnerability of youth, minorities, and especially Indigenous workers. It sees the solution for all as improved education and training opportunities – describing programs in B.C. , the North, and for  Indigenous workers.  The report also states: “all post-secondary education programs—including trades, engineering, science, economics, and business—can support transition success by incorporating future skills and knowledge needs into their curricula and programming.” 

New Nova Scotia legislation enshrines climate goals, with principles of equity and Mi’kmaq concept of Netukulimk

Nova Scotia’s Minister of Environment  introduced the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act to the Legislature on October 27 –  the press release is here. It builds on a previous Bill which was never enacted, with the important distinction that the EGCCRAct enshrines climate action goals and timelines into law.  The  new legislation follows a public consultation in 2021, and is built on four principles: equity, sustainable development, a circular economy,  and “Netukulimk” (a  Mi’kmaq word defined as “the use of the natural bounty provided by the Creator for the self-support and well-being of the individual and the community by achieving adequate standards of community nutrition and economic well-being without jeopardizing the integrity, diversity or productivity of the environment”).

The specific goals include: reducing total GHG emissions to at least 53% below 2005 levels by 2030;  ensuring at least 30% of new passenger vehicles are zero-emissions by 2030;a requirement that any new build or major retrofit in government buildings, including schools and hospitals, that enters the planning stage after 2022, be net-zero energy performance and climate resilient; decrease greenhouse gas emissions across Government-owned buildings by 75% by the year 2035; phase out of coal-fired electricity generation by 2030, with 80% of electricity supplied by renewable energy by 2030. The problematic issue of forestry policy is  finally addressed with a deadline of   2023 to implement the ecological forestry approach for Crown lands, as recommended in the 2018  Lahey report,  “An Independent Review of Forest Practices in Nova Scotia”.

Regarding equity, the government will “ initiate in 2022 ongoing work with racialized and marginalized communities to create a sustained funding opportunity for climate change action and support for community-based solutions and policy engagement.” The legislation mandates a Sustainable Communities Challenge Fund  to be established.  

The Act mandates a a Strategic Plan titled “Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth” to be tabled by December 31, 2022, with annual progress reports and a complete review in 5 years.

Reaction to the legislation, with a goal-by-goal analysis is available from Nova Scotia’s Ecology Action Centre, is here . One of the sector- specific pieces is a call for an end to oil and gas production and a Just Transition for workers . Despite the fact that there is currently no oil and gas production in Nova Scotia, the EAC highlights the danger that the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) issued a call for bids in May 2021.

Almost $40 trillion divested from fossil fuels by 2021, with University of Toronto joining the long list of institutions in October

Time to coincide with COP26, Divest Invest 2021: A Decade of Progress towards a Just Climate Future was released by Stand.earth on October 26. It reports that “there are now 1,485 institutions publicly committed to at least some form of fossil fuel divestment, representing an enormous $39.2 trillion of assets under management.”  The report provides a timeline and summary of the major institutions which have divested, and includes brief case studies of South Africa and Harvard University.  It argues that divestment is more impactful than shareholder engagement, and summarizes the impact of the shift of capital on the fossil fuel industry. Finally, the report discusses how that capital can be directed to renewables and to Just Transition, highlighting the cases of the Navajo Power in the U.S. and Frontier Markets in India.   Accompanying the report is a database with much more information about individual institutions.     

The report states: “Major new divestment commitments from iconic institutions have arrived in a rush over just a few months in late 2021, including Harvard University, Dutch and Canadian pension fund giants PME and CDPQ, French public bank La Banque Postale, the U.S. city of Baltimore, and the Ford and MacArthur Foundations.”  Add to that list, Canada’s largest university, the University of Toronto, which  announced  on October 27  that the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM) – which manages $4.0-billion – “will divest from all direct investments in fossil fuel companies within the next 12 months, and divest from indirect investments, typically held through pooled and commingled investment vehicles, by no later than 2030, and sooner if possible. UTAM will also allocate 10 per cent of its endowment portfolio to sustainable and low-carbon investments by 2025, representing an initial commitment of $400 million, and is committing to achieve net zero carbon emissions associated with U of T’s endowment by no later than 2050.”  Many of the same details were provided in the U of T President’s Letter to “the University of Toronto Community”, here, which also describes the newly-announced goal of a “climate-positive” St. George campus by 2050 , and defends why it has taken the U of T so long to act after the 2015 report of the  President’s Advisory Committee on Divestment from Fossil Fuels  .     

Canada heads to COP26 with a new, activist Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Prime Minister Trudeau announced his appointments to Cabinet on October 26, and one of the strongest symbolic appointments was that of Steven Guilbeault as the new Minister of Environment and Climate Change. It appears that Trudeau did not (yet)  follow the demands in Unifor’s October 22 letter to the Prime Minister , which included “Establish a Just Transition Ministry and Just Transition Fund, partially financed through levies on large industrial emitters, with the mandate to support workers affected by climate-related job displacements through enhanced income insurance, pension bridging, severance pay, retraining and relocation support, and local just transition centres.”  However, the new appointments sent an unmistakable signal, as described in the National Observer article “Cabinet shuffle signals support for climate, not oil and gas”.  The previous ECC Minister, Johnathan Wilkinson, was shifted to the ministry of Natural Resources – replacing Seamus O’Regan, who had been accused of a too-cozy relationship with the fossil fuel industry which falls under the Natural Resources portfolio.  The National Observer article highlights the continued importance of Wilkinson on the climate change file.

Mitchell Beer provides the background to Steven Guilbeault in  “Guilbeault to Environment, Wilkinson to Natural Resources as ‘PM in a Hurry’ Names New Cabinet”Energy Mix, Oct. 26). The article includes reaction from environmental activists – many of whom have worked alongside Guilbeault in his earlier life as a Greenpeace campaigner (when he was arrested for scaling the CN Tower in Toronto) , co-founder of  non-profit Équiterre in Quebec, and as a member of the government’s 2018 advisory panel on climate change, before he was elected to Parliament in 2019.  An exemplary quote, from Stand.earth Climate Finance Director Richard Brooks, “Hoping my old friend @s_guilbeault will remain true to his roots—and lead Canada in upping its climate ambition and more importantly its actions…”  Yet as Keith Stewart of Greenpeace points out in their press reaction, a whole of government approach will be needed. Stewart hopes it will lead to “greater cooperation on climate action across departments, as the minister of Natural Resources has in the past acted as the chief advocate for the oil industry at the Cabinet table.”  As indicated in the reaction from Macleans magazine,  “Trudeau sends a signal to Alberta. Cue the squirming” (Oct. 26), Wilkinson and NRCan are expected to smooth over the sharper edges of a potentially rocky relationship with Alberta:  “ A major test, past Glasgow, will be how Wilkinson and Guilbeault handle their government’s buzzy term: “just transition.”… It will fall in large part to Steven Guilbeault to maintain a steady and reassuring tone that this isn’t the case. His past doesn’t suggest he’s perfectly suited for this task…”  

Reaction from the fossil fuel industry and Premier Jason Kenney is predictably negative, as reported in CBC’s story,   “Kenney says longtime activist’s appointment as environment minister sends ‘very problematic’ message”.  The CBC report quotes an Alberta academic who calls  Guilbeault’s appointment  “a finger in the eye to everything that Kenney has done.” A brief article from Reuters sums up the hostile reaction of the fossil fuel industry in the language of its headline “Trudeau roils Canada’s oil patch naming Greenpeace activist as climate chief (Reuters, Oct. 26).

B.C.’s new Roadmap to 2030 disappoints critics despite new measures announced

CleanBC Roadmap to 2030 is the new climate strategy document released by the B.C. government on October 25.  The press release summarizes the framework of eight pathways to action: Low Carbon Energy; Transportation; Buildings ; Communities; Industry, including Oil and Gas ; Forest Bioeconomy; Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries; and Negative Emissions Technologies. Some of the flagship proposals include an increase to the carbon price; stronger regulations for methane emissions (by 2035); new requirements to make all new buildings zero-carbon by 2030; 100% adoption of zero-emission vehicles by 2030 and new ZEV targets for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. What’s missing?  Glaringly, no reduction of fossil fuel subsidies, no end to fracking of Liquefied Natural Gas.

A reaction from Sierra Club B.C. states: “While the Roadmap outlines strong steps to tackle emissions from transportation and buildings, key issues that remain unaddressed include fossil fuel subsidies, uncounted forest emissions, and fracked LNG….. Of significant concern to us is that the Roadmap focuses mainly on 2030 targets, nine years away, and does not include binding targets and pathways to set or achieve milestones in the intervening years. B.C.’s emissions have increased every year from 2015 to 2019; this calls for immediate action to curb emissions in the short, medium and long term.”  A more outraged reaction comes from Seth Klein in a  Climate Emergency Unit blog titled, “From leader to follower: B.C.’s updated climate plan – its “CleanBC Roadmap to 2030” – is not an emergency plan”, which bemoans the lack of urgency and detail in the new Roadmap. Other criticisms are summarized in “Critics aren’t buying B.C.’s new climate plan” (The Tyee, Oct. 26) highlighting that it will be impossible to meet GHG emissions reduction targets while supporting  the LNG industry in the province. 

Renewable energy jobs continue steady growth to 12 million jobs worldwide, but more government intervention is recommended

In its first annual review published in 2013, the International Renewable Energy Association (IRENA) estimated 7.3 million people were directly and indirectly employed in the industry in 2012. According to the latest newly-released edition Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review 2021, that number has grown to 12 million people employed in 2020. Solar PV, both large and small-scale, is the largest sector, providing 4 million jobs. Wind energy now employs 1.25 million people, with an increasing number of people in operations and maintenance and in offshore wind energy sector.  Only a fifth of wind energy workers are women, compared to 32% women in the whole renewable energy sector. In addition to detailed information about jobs, skills, and demographics, the report discusses policy needs, particularly for a just energy transition, and highlights IRENA’s modeling of the employment implications of energy transition scenarios to 2050. 

The report concludes with the policy discussion of what kinds of jobs and skills will be required, the need for decent jobs, and for urgency: “A speedy and co-ordinated approach requires governments to take on a much more proactive role, acting in the public interest and safeguarding broad social imperatives. This may occur through regulations and incentives, public investment strategies, and public ownership of transition-related assets and infrastructure (both at national and community levels).”

Green investment brings greater job creation, but job quality not guaranteed

The Green Jobs Advantage: How Climate-friendly Investments Are Better Job Creators  was co-published by the International Trade Union Confederation, the World Resources Institute and the New Climate Economy, and released in mid-October.  The paper reviews a dozen studies from 2009 to 2020 and compares the job creation projections in Brazil, China, Indonesia, Germany, South Africa, South Korea, the United States and globally.  The analysis of these studies compares near-term job effects from clean energy versus fossil fuels, public transportation versus roads, electric vehicles versus internal combustion engine vehicles, and nature-based solutions versus fossil fuels – with the conclusion that greener investments create more jobs, dollar for dollar. The report also addresses the issue of job quality, and notes that in developing countries, many jobs are informal and temporary, with limited  access to work security, safety, or social protections. In developed countries, “new green jobs may have wages and benefits that aren’t as high as those in traditional sectors where, in many cases, workers have been able to fight for job quality through decades of collective action.”  One conclusion: “ Government investment should come with conditions that ensure fair wages and benefits, work security, safe working conditions, opportunities for training and advancement, the right to organize, and accessibility to all.”

Worker’s events at COP26: virtual and in-person

The UN Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow begins on October 31 and runs until November 12, with the world’s media in attendance to chronicle if the high expectations are being met.  A good source of news from a Canadian perspective is Canada’s National Observer, which will send reporters to Glasgow, and whose coverage has already begun, here .  

Some news from a worker’s point of view:   

Climate Jobs: Building a workforce for the climate emergency  will be released  to coincide with COP26, by the Campaign against Climate Change, a coalition of U.K. unions .  As of October 26, two chapters of the new report are available for free download:  Warm homes, healthy workplaces: climate jobs in buildings  and Creating a green, affordable and accessible network for all: climate jobs in transport.  The new report updates their 2014 report, One Million Climate Jobs.

Another U.K. organization, the COP26 Coalition, is a broader, civil society coalition which includes environment and development NGOs, labour  unions, grassroots community campaigns, faith groups, youth groups, migrant and racial justice networks. Their statement of demands is here .  The Coalition is organizing a Global Day of Climate Justice on November 6 – with events in Canada happening in Toronto and in Quebec City , along with a related event in Sherbrooke Quebec on Nov. 5th .  

In addition, COP26 Coalition has organized a People’s Climate Justice Summit  in Glasgow, composed of 150 sessions which will focus on indigenous struggles, racial justice, youth issues, and worker and labour union perspectives.   Many, but not all, worker-related sessions will be held on November 8 as a “Just Transition Hub” –  a full day of sessions hosted by the Friends of the Earth Scotland, Just Transition Partnership, Platform, STUC, TUC and War on Want.   The full program, with the ability to register is here :   those unable to travel to Glasgow can register as  “Online-  only” to receive a Zoom link for a livestream of some of the sessions.  The online program includes the opening panel for the Just Transition Hub:  “Here and Everywhere: Building our Power”, to be led by Asad Rehman, (War on Want), Sean Sweeney,(TUED), Roz Foyer, (STUC), and Denise Christie, (FBU). Other sessions available online include  “UK climate jobs rooted in global solidarity and climate justice”  and “Just Transition in Latin America, from Decarbonization to Transformation”.  

In-person only sessions, which tend to have a U.K. focus,  include: “Lessons from the Frontline: Climate crisis resistance from around the world”; “Are green jobs great jobs, or are green jobs rubbish jobs?”; “The Lucas Plan for Climate? How workers are fighting to future-proof industry”; “Geared Up: Campaigns for Greener Transport”;  “Air tight: Campaigns for home retrofits”;  “Organising the unorganised: tactics and strategies for power in new industries”; and  “Changing workplaces, changing jobs: organising for power in unionised workplaces” – a training session led by Prospect union.  Other sessions, outside of the Just Transition Hub, ( in-person only), include “Trade Unions and Climate Action”, a training session led by the Ella Baker School of Organizing and “International Trade Union Forum on Social and Ecological Transitions: what’s next?”,  reporting on the International Trade Union Forum on Ecological and Social Transitions which took place for 6 days during June 2021, with more than 140 organizations from about 60 countries.

Canadian Pension fund managers pledge climate action; Unions can push for more

In the run-up to COP26, and on the same day that Canada’s Big Six Banks joined the United Nations Net-Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA), Canadian institutional investors and some of its pension fund managers also hit the news, by releasing a new Canadian Investor Statement on Climate Change. Coordinated by the Responsible Investment Association (RIA), the statement signed on October 25 states: “We recognize that a transition to a net-zero economy will involve a major transformation of sectors and industries. We encourage all companies and stakeholders to facilitate a just transition that does not leave workers or communities behind. We also recognize that the financing required for transition activities and climate solutions presents an investment opportunity….. We further recognize that Indigenous Peoples have managed collective wealth for millennia – including lands, waters, and …..We support a transition to a net-zero economy informed by Indigenous perspectives, that supports Indigenous economic opportunities, and encourages business practices that align with the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).”

The Statement sets out specific expectations for investees which include just transition, and pledges five actions for the investment community, such as integrating climate-related risks and opportunities into the investment processes and developing a climate action plan to achieve net-zero by 2050.  Further, the 36 signatories pledge to “ Ensure that any climate-related policy advocacy we undertake supports a just transition and the ambition of achieving global net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner, and engage with our industry associations to encourage climate advocacy efforts that are consistent with these goals.”  

Pension funds which have signed on to the Statement  (so far) include:  British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, British Columbia Municipal Pension Board of Trustees, British Columbia Public Service Pension Board of Trustees, Canada Post Corporation Pension Plan, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Ontario Pension Board, Pension Plan of The United Church of Canada, University of Toronto Asset Management (UTAM), and the University Pension Plan.   

 “Only Labor Can Force Canadian Pension Funds to Divest From Oil “ (Jacobin, October 19)  puts this lofty new institutional Statement in perspective, as it takes a more critical look at one of the leading pension fund managers, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, and its September announcement that it would quit all oil production investments at the end of 2022.  After also highlighting examples of the fossil and mineral exploration investments of some of Canada’s major pension funds, the article concludes: “ ‘Financial sustainability’ — despite the Caisse’s announcement — will continue to take precedence over climate justice.” 

Thus, the main point of the Jacobin article is to urge unions to take action:

 “….the unions who represent the beneficiaries of these pension funds can fight to make sure that the deferred wages of workers are used for the common good. In many cases, unions appoint trustees to boards of investment funds. If the labor movement chose to organize around these issues, it would be a game changer. …. Public sector funds are subject to legislation and can be reformed through political action. Although they’ve been carefully designed to be free of democratic accountability, they are not immune to external pressure. Sustained organizing by unions and their members can lead to greater amounts of worker control over the use to which these large sums of money are put.”

Quebec bans fossil fuel exploration

In a speech to the Quebec National Assembly on October 19, Premier François Legault announced: “the Government of Quebec has decided to definitively renounce the extraction of hydrocarbons on its territory. We must therefore … capitalize on our strengths by fundamentally transforming our economy.”  The move was not unexpected: an article in the Montreal Gazette in September forecast announcement, and linked it to the legal action brought by Utica Resources against the province when it refused an application for exploration in the Gaspé region.  Although Quebec does not have a large fossil fuel extraction industry, it is the second largest Canadian oil and gas processor outside of Alberta.

Greenpeace Canada provides a compilation in of reactions from many of the grassroots groups in Quebec who have worked and lobbied for years for this result. Greenpeace also released a statement on October 20, titled “Many environmental groups and citizens call for no compensation for oil and gas”, which references a May 2021 report  from the Center québécois du droit de l’environnement, which concluded that the government has the legal authority to legislate this ban without compensating fossil fuel companies. A Greenpeace spokesperson states further : “Rather, it is Quebec society that should demand compensation from oil and gas companies for the floods, heat waves and forest fires that we are suffering from as a result of climate change.”

Labour and climate activists make recommendations for fossil fuel workers in new joint report

At a press conference on October 13, representatives of Climate Action Network Canada , Blue Green Canada, United Steelworkers, and Unifor launched a new report,  Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers in Canada’s Energy and Labour Transitions.  The report considers the challenges to the fossil fuel industry, including automation, and projects that 56,000 alternative jobs will need to be created for current Canadian oil and gas workers in the next decade. The report offers seven recommendations for a Just Transition, building on policy proposals from Canada’s Just Transition Task Force for Coal Workers and Communities, the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, and Unifor (whose most recent statement is their submission to the Just Transition consultation process here. ) Key recommendations include: “Recognizing the expertise of workers, through consultation with workers and communities, Canada must create Just Transition policy / legislation that holds the government accountable to developing transition strategies. Similar policy / legislation should be adopted by all provinces with an emphasis on the oil and gas producing provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador.” Funding is seen to come from Covid recovery funds and the Infrastructure Bank, with another recommendation: “Tie public investments to employers meeting conditions on job quality, including pay, access to training, job security, union access and representation through mandatory joint committees.”

Summaries of Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future appear in the press release from Climate Action Network, and in “With Canadian fossil fuel jobs about to be cut in half, it’s time to talk about a just transition” (National Observer, Oct. 15).  The latter article highlights the enhanced impact of the bringing labour unions and climate activists together, and also emphasizes that workers must be included in all transition plans, using the cautionary tale of Algoma Steel. As explained in “Why Mike Da Prat boycotted the prime minister’s Algoma Steel announcement” (Soo Today, July 6 2021) the union was not adequately consulted on transition planning when the government awarded $420 million in July 2021 to help Algoma Steel transition from coal to greener, electric-arc furnace production.

Canadians and Calgarians support Just Transition, end to fossil fuel subsidies in public opinion polls

Citizens of Calgary voted in municipal elections on October 18 and returned the city’s first female mayor, Jyoti Gondek .  As summarized by CBC, she promised to address “inclusive economic recovery, …. social disparities within communities and take action to address climate change.” In the lead-up to Calgary’s elections,  Alberta Ecotrust FoundationCalgary Climate Hub and Clean Energy Canada commissioned a poll, conducted in August 2021, with results announced on September 8th. The results show that 69% of Calgarians are concerned about climate change impacts. Some specific highlights:

73% agreed with the statement: “ It is important to recognize the future of fossil fuels and invest in transitioning oil and gas workers to other industries.”

 70% agreed that “The transition to renewable energy will ultimately improve the health and well-being of my family and me.”   

67% agreed that “Calgary should focus its economic diversification efforts in becoming a leader in addressing climate change”.

And when asked to choose between a path to more oil and gas investment or a clean energy path, 49% agreed with the statement: “The signal from investors and financial markets is clear as they divest of oil & gas assets, and Calgary should invest in the transition toward clean energy.”  (compared to 38% who favoured the old oil and gas economy). 

Environmental concerns were high, including: 79% who expressed concern about poor air quality from wildfire smoke, 75% concerned with protecting ecological sensitive areas, and 73% concerned with the increasing number of extreme weather events.

Across Canada:

Closely following the federal election on September 20, an Abacus poll was taken in the first week of October 2021, to measure expectations of the newly elected government. Results were released on October 14th, with a press release  from the new activist coalition, No More Delays.  Some highlights:

65% of all respondents want “a swift delivery on the promise of a Just Transition plan to help workers thrive in the net-zero economy” (with almost 50% of Conservative voters in agreement);

64% want the government to establish a cap on oil and gas emissions (even amongst Conservatives, this had 47% support);

62% want the government to establish a plan to stop taxpayer subsidies going to the oil and gas industry

The more detailed poll results are hereNo More Delays is a new initiative for climate action, supported by SumofUs, Stand.earth, Climate Emergency Unit, Équiterre, Greenpeace Canada, Council of Canadians, Citizens Climate Lobby Canada, Climate Reality Project Canada, Leadnow and Climate Action Network Canada – Réseau action climat Canada (CAN-Rac Canada).

Historical CO2 emissions: Canada tops the list as the highest per capita emitter

Which countries are historically responsible for climate change?  is a new analysis released by Carbon Brief on October 5, and Canada scores high: #10 in the world for total historical emissions, and #1 as the worst offender per capita (calculated as cumulative emissions in each year divided by the current population – which implicitly assigns responsibility for the past to those alive today). Time to finally lay to rest that old chestnut that Canada’s contribution to the climate crisis is relatively insignificant, and we should wait till the bigger countries act to cut our own emissions.

Those bigger countries don’t escape blame either: overwhelmingly, the U.S. continues to rank as the #1 country for CO2 emissions since 1850, responsible for 20% of the global total. In comparison, the next highest-ranked countries are China (11%), and Russia (7%). Calculations of rankings are complex and subject to the mists of time, given that the calculations date back to 1850, and the inclusion of deforestation and land use emissions for the first time has also made a difference –   bringing Brazil and Indonesia into the top 10 emitters, and raising Australia to 13th rank, from 16th.      

Media summaries include: “The countries most responsible for climate crisis revealed” reposted from The Guardian by the National Observer;  “Any way you slice it, Canada  is one of the worst emitters on the planet” (National Observer, Oct. 7) ; and “Historical emissions tally paints clearer picture  of climate responsibility” (Energy Mix, Oct. 12).

It is significant that this analysis was released in the Carbon Brief series of articles on Climate Justice, and in the lead-up to COP26 . Historical responsibility for the climate crisis and the North-South divide will be a key issue at COP26, as briefly discussed in   “Rich Economies Face Demands for Cash to Fix Climate Damage” (Bloomberg News, Oct. 11), and foreshadowed by the “fiery” speech about global inequality by U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres in September. Shortly afterwards, U.S. president Biden addressed the U.N. General Assembly and  promised to double U.S. climate financing aid to $11bn by 2024.  According to  “Climate Finance Faces $75-Billion Gap as COP 26 Looms 1,000 Hours Away” (The Energy Mix, Sept. 21), Canada has one of the worst records for living up to its climate financing pledges, with an average contribution only 17% of its fair share in 2017 and 2018.

An article in Ricochet summarizes the Canadian record in “Repaying our climate debt” (May 2021),  with a focus on the African operations of Canadian countries. The Ricochet article cites other recent research on climate justice: “Quantifying national responsibility for climate breakdown: an equality-based attribution approach for carbon dioxide emissions in excess of the planetary boundary” in (The Lancet Planetary Health, September 2020)   and Confronting Carbon Inequality (Oxfam, Stockholm Environment Institute, Sept. 2020), which concluded that consumption by the richest 10% of the world’s population accounts for 24.5% of global emissions today, and half of those emissions are attributed to Canada, the U.S. and the EU.

Canada joins Global Methane Pledge and ups the target for fossil-related reductions

With a government announcement on October 11, Canada joined twenty-three other countries and signed on to the Global Methane Pledge, launched by the U.S. and the U.K. on September 18.  By signing on, Canada pledges to reduce all methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030, and as described by the Washington Post (Oct. 11), Canada’s participation is significant because it is one of the world’s top 20 methane-emitting countries. Nine of the twenty have now signed on to the Global Pledge, but notably, Russia, China, India and Brazil have not.

The existing Canadian target for reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is a reduction of 40–45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. According to the October 11 press release, that will increase, with a commitment  “… to developing a plan to reduce methane emissions across the broader Canadian economy and to reducing oil and gas methane emissions by at least 75 percent below 2012 levels by 2030”. It is noteworthy that the Minister also states: “our approach will include regulations” , since the government has been criticized for relying more on taxpayer-funded incentives than regulation – as in “Canada supports global pledge to slash oil and gas methane”  (Oct. 13). That article quotes Julia Levine of Environmental Defence, who states: ““What we see in Canada is that despite the fact negative or low-cost (methane reductions) could be achieved through regulations, the federal government last year set up a $750-million emission reduction fund (that) is paying companies to reduce their methane emissions” …. “These are technologies that allow companies to have less leakage and, therefore, more product they can sell” …. So we’re subsidizing their ability to generate more profit from their products.”

Canada’s 75% pledge related to the oil and gas industry matches the  target called for by the International Energy Agency in Curtailing Methane Emissions from Fossil Fuel Operations , released on October 7. But as pointed out by another IEA report, Driving down methane leaks from the oil and gas industry   (January 2021), targets can only work if measurement of leaks is accurate. As scientists have proven , Canada’s methane leaks have been under-reported in the past.

Postal banking services begin in Nova Scotia, Alberta and the U.S.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) announced that Canada Post will launch postal banking, with pilot sites opening in Nova Scotia in September and in Alberta in October. The goal is to offer the new financial services in over 249 Canada Post locations before the end of 2021. (Financial Services Update #4, July 2021).  This brings to fruition an initiative which began with the 2012-2016 collective agreement  between CUPW and Canada Post, and its Appendix T: Service Expansion and Innovation and Change Committee. That Appendix  secured the right “to establish and monitor pilot projects which will test the viability of the proposals” to expand services, as envisaged in the Delivering Community Power campaign.  That larger campaign, which still continues, is meant to green Canada Post, and includes postal banking, conversion of the postal fleet to electric vehicles, provision of electric vehicle charging stations at Canada Post outlets, and more.  The test program offers unsecured loans, and will run in collaboration with TD Bank. CUPW continues to work to establish a postal banking service independent of the big banks, as stated in Financial Services Update #5 (Sept. 2021). The arguments for postal banking appear on the CUPW website, and in Why Canada Needs Postal Banking,  a research paper published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2013.

The U.S. Postal Service also launched a pilot project to offer banking services in four cities in September, allowing customers to cash payroll or business checks of up to $500 and have the money put onto a single-use gift card, which the postal service already sold. The back story is described  in “USPS begins postal banking pilot” (American Prospect, October 11), and in “Postal Banking Could Become a Reality Even Without Congress. Here’s How” (In these Times, May 2018).  As in Canada, the American Postal Workers Union negotiated a Memorandum of Agreement as part of its 2016 collective bargaining agreement, which called for a joint labor/​management task force to consider pilot programs for opportunities to increase revenue – including  two specific ideas: ​“modernization of money orders” and “expansion of international money transfers.” The APWU is an important member of the coalition, Campaign for Postal Banking ,  whose website chronicles the U.S. campaign.

Illinois sets U.S. standard for equity and labour standards in new Climate and Equitable Jobs Act

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act  (SB2408) is a 900-page bill signed into law by the Governor of  Illinois in September 2021.  It is summarized by Natural Resources Defence in a blog titled “Illinois Passes Nation-Leading, Equitable Climate Bill”, by David Roberts in  his new blog, Volts, and by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition press release

Why does David Roberts call it  “ one of the most environmentally ambitious, worker-friendly, justice-focused energy bills of any state in the country”?   Some highlights:  the CEJA requires Illinois to achieve a 100% zero-emissions power sector by 2045 (including their coal power plant), while encouraging electrification of transportation and buildings, and reforms to the utility rate structure. It increases the existing Solar for All funding (by 5 times) to help low-income families to switch to solar energy, creates a Green Bank to finance clean energy projects. For workers, the Act requires that all utility-scale renewable energy projects must use project-labor agreements, and all non-residential clean-energy projects must pay prevailing wages. Diversity hiring reports will be required to prove that projects have recruited qualified BIPOC candidates and apprentices. The Act also provides funds for 13 Clean Jobs Workforce Network Hubs across the state, to deliver workforce-development programs to low-income and underserved populations.  According to David Roberts, “The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Illinois Department of Employment Security will work together to develop a “displaced worker bill of rights,” with $40 million a year to go toward transition assistance for areas dependent on fossil fuel production or generation.”    

The CEJA is a model not only for what it contains, but also how it was achieved.  Roberts calls it “a model for how diverse stakeholders can reach consensus” and describes the years-long process in detail: “The state’s labor community was sensitive to the fact that it had largely been left out of the 2016 bill; the legislation contained no labor standards, and recent years have seen Illinois renewable energy projects importing cheaper out-of-state workforces. Labor didn’t want to get left behind in the state’s energy transition, so it organized a coalition of groups under the banner Climate Jobs Illinois and set about playing an active role in negotiations.   Environmental and climate-justice groups organized as the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition. All the groups introduced energy bills of their own. And then they spent years banging their heads together.  A special shout-out goes to the environmental-justice community in Illinois, which used three years of relentless grassroots organizing to build an incredible political force, without which the bill couldn’t have passed and wouldn’t have been as equity-focused.”   The result, according to Roberts,  “As far as I know, this gives Illinois the most stringent labor and equity requirements of any state clean energy program. Similar policies tying renewable energy projects to labor standards have passed in Connecticut, New York, and Washington, but no other state’s energy policy has as comprehensive a package of labor, diversity, and equity standards.”

IndustriALL Europe launches Just Transition campaign

On September 23, the global labour federation IndustriALL issued a press release   announcing that “IndustriAll Europe’s Executive Committee has agreed on a European campaign for a Just Transition for industrial workers.”  From 25 October to 10 November, member organisations will hold a variety of national campaigns and events, which will be accompanied by intensified political lobbying at EU level and a pan-European social media campaign. The campaign is planned to extend beyond the two-week action, with  a series of sectoral round table discussions at regional level and joint actions with IndustriALL Global in connection with COP26 in Glasgow. The political platform statement adopted by the European Executive Committee is titled Just Transition: ‘Nothing About Us, Without Us! . It includes 5 demands, including the completion of “a clear, granular mapping of the employment consequences of a shift towards climate-neutral industries”, and  a “European legal framework…. to ensure workers have the right to co-decision during the transition in their workplaces and regions, strengthening social dialogue and collective bargaining.”   A more complete statement of IndustriALL Europe’s priorities comes in the Strategic Plan 2021-2023  from their Congress in summer 2021.

TUC recommendations to prevent carbon leakage of jobs and “future-proof” manufacturing

Safeguarding the UK’s manufacturing jobs with climate action: carbon leakage and jobs  is a September Briefing paper from the U.K. Trades Union Congress. The report estimates that between 368,000 – 667,000  jobs could be offshored from Britain if industries fail to meet climate targets and the UK falls behind other countries on climate action.  The regions most at risk are the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, and West Midlands; the industries with most jobs at stake are: iron and steel , glass and ceramics, and chemicals.  The report outlines the actions needed to “future proof” British jobs, specifically: 1.  Public investment, which the report states is too low, stating that  the UK’s green recovery investment plans are just a quarter (24%) of France, a fifth (21%) of Canada, and 6% of the USA’s plans (when adjusted for population size). 2. Clear policies on decarbonisation across the economy – aligning actual plans with targets; and 3. Rules on local content – specifically, a local content requirement for offshore wind of at least 80%, with local supply chain commitments required and stringently enforced for all energy and infrastructure projects.  In addition to the call for beefed-up local content requirements, the report calls on the government to: Implement the Green Jobs Taskforce recommendations in full; Level up investments in green infrastructure, including industrial decarbonization, in line with its G7 peers, extending to 2030; Establish a Just Transition Commission, including representation from employers and unions, to oversee the workforce aspect of the transition to Net Zero; • Introduce a permanent short-term working scheme to help protect working people through periods of future industrial change.