Calls for improvements to Ontario’s failed climate policies

failure-to-launchEnvironmental Defence released a one-year progress report on the climate change policies of the Ontario government in early October. Failure to Launch   reviews each of the promises/actions proposed by the Conservative government of Doug Ford under its much-citicized “ Made-In-Ontario Environment Plan,  which lowered Ontario’s target for GHG emissions reductions from 37 to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and cancelled renewable energy programs.   Environmental Defence finds that the government has not even made sufficient progress in its first year to meet the diminished GHG reduction goals, and makes specific recommendations for accelerated action. A summary appears in the Environmental Defence blog .  Then, on November 7, thirty environmental advocacy groups, including Environmental Defence,  posted an Open Letter to the members of Ontario’s provincial parliament  on November 7, with specific demands which would take serious action on climate change.  This coincides with the recall of the legislature after an historic 4-month recess.

The government led  the new session with its  2019 Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review  under a new banner: “ A Plan to Build Ontario Together”.  Although analysts note many “about face” policy changes to some programs, the climate/environmental file hasn’t benefitted, as described in an article in the National Observer . It notes that there was no mention in the budget of the previously announced Ontario Carbon Trust, a fund of $400 million over four years to support the private sector in developing clean technologies .

Ontario to pursue carbon tax case, and dragging its feet on action

According to analysis of the Economic Outlook from TVO: “Anyone looking for signs of reasonableness from the Tories on carbon pricing will be disappointed: despite the recent federal-election results, the fall economic statement reiterates that the government will keep fighting the federal carbon tax in court. The Supreme Court of Canada is expected to hear the case in March 2020.”

On October 31, this press release  proposes to expand fines for environmental regulations, reinvesting that revenue “to support projects that provide local solutions to environmental issues”. Environmentalists were not impressed.

white pines decomissioningThe White Pines wind farm decommissioning began in October, with the government following through on its 2018 decision to cancel the almost-completed  project, despite an estimated cost to taxpayers of $100 million in costs and penalties.  The local press of Prince Edward County reported on October 31 “ Sadness for green energy supporters as dismantling begins on turbine project” . The National Observer published a related article concerning the costs of cuts to clean energy  programs, including White Pines: “Doug Ford ‘throwing away’ millions to kill Ontario clean energy programs” (Nov. 19). The article cites a cost to the taxpayer of $230 million from killing more than 750 renewable-energy projects.

A government press release on November 7 announced a “Multi-Sector Impact Assessment Will Help Communities Identify Climate Change Risks and Strengthen Resilience”.   Apparently there’s no urgency: the private sector contract for this assessment will be tendered in 2020 for 2 years, producing a final report in 2022.

 

Success stories from Appalachian coal mining communities

appalachiaA new report was released on October 31 by the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, a group which seeks to spur coal mine reclamation projects throughout Central Appalachia.  A New Horizon: Innovative Reclamation for a Just Transition profiles 19 projects in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia, including data centres, a YMCA Wellness Centre, as well as many ecotourism projects.  Although much is specific to the U.S. funding opportunities, the case studies offer instructive descriptions of the challenges and obstacles faced by the communities, and also attempt to quantify the economic impacts of each project.

The press release describes the progressive approach used to create a “new horizon”: “In the past, efforts to reuse old mine sites too often resulted in sparse, lasting economic activity. Surface mined areas near population centers became shopping centers, hospitals and other standard uses, but more remote sites were either completely abandoned, converted to low-productivity cattle grazing lands, or developed into speculatively built industrial parks or golf courses at great taxpayer expense. Those “if you build it, they will come” projects now largely sit empty. To break from this unsuccessful approach to coal site reclamation, the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition established six guiding principles to identify optimal repurposing projects, including ensuring they are appropriate to the place in which they are occurring, that they include non-traditional stakeholders in decision-making, and are environmentally sustainable and financially viable long-term.”

The report was published as part of the launch of a new website, ReclaimingAppalachia.org, by the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, which consists of organizations in four states — Appalachian Voices in Virginia, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Kentucky, Coalfield Development Corporation in West Virginia, and Rural Action in Ohio — and a regional technical expert, Downstream Strategies, based in West Virginia. The website as a whole is intended as an information and education resource , providing best practices and information about potential U.S. funding sources.

Australian unions support offshore wind development as a means for Just Transition

Putting the ‘Justice’ in ‘Just Transition’: Tackling inequality in the new renewable economy  is a report released on November 7, co-written by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Electrical Trades Union, the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council and the Victorian Trades Hall Council . This is the latest development  in a union campaign to promote Australia’s offshore wind industry  , focusing on the Star of the South project, Australia’s first proposed offshore wind farm.  The report calls Australia offshore wind campaignfor government policies to support the emerging industry and to make the Star of the South “ the best possible example of a just transition” by diversifying the job opportunities for workers and communities currently reliant on coal, oil and gas.

Specifically, the new report recommends:

  • the Commonwealth establish an energy transition authority to work with states and regions, develop a stand-alone Offshore Renewables Act, and create an agency responsible for facilitating the development of offshore renewable energy in Commonwealth waters;
  • the development of offshore and onshore renewable energy master plans that incorporate assessments of supply chains, procurement and infrastructure;
  • ensuring renewable energy financing, targets, contracts, licensing and approvals require the maximising of local jobs, including planning for direct redeployment of workers from fossil fuel industries;
  • the Victorian Government establish a just transition group to ensure a well-planned energy transition with the best possible social outcomes by formally consulting with relevant stakeholders including trade unions, employers and communities;
  • maximising the social benefit of the Star of the South project by requiring local design, manufacturing, and construction;
  • funding of appropriate training and retraining through local TAFEs, along with minimum apprentice ratios; and
  • maximising the number of jobs available by ensuring good rosters and reasonable hours of work.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) represents seafarers supplying the offshore oil and gas industry, as well as workers in Newcastle’s coal terminals, and port and tug workers in coal export ports in New South Wales and Queensland.  The MUA is  part of the Offshore Alliance ,which works to organise workers and improve conditions in the offshore oil and gas industry. The MUA position on renewable energy and a discussion of the Just Transition campaign are available here ; the MUA maintains a petition here .

San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank commissions studies of climate change risks to the economy, impacts on labour productivity

In “Scared Central Banks Face Up to Threats From Climate Change”  (Sept. 23) , Bloomberg News reported that “Most major central banks — with the exception of the U.S. Federal Reserve — are joining forces to promote sustainable growth, after realizing that climate change threatens economic output and could even sow the seeds of a financial crisis.”  Now it appears that even the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, or at least one of its components, the San Francisco Fed., is catching up to the rest of the world. Climate Change and the Federal Reserve  drew attention when it was published by the San Francisco Fed in March 2019,  and a special climate change-themed issue of the newsletter, Community Development and Innovation Review  was published by the San Francisco Fed in October , highlighting independent economic analysis it had commissioned.  The New York Times summarizes that research in  “Bank Regulators Present a Dire Warning of Financial Risks From Climate Change ”.

The economic research was also highlighted  in a conference on November 8. Host Mary Daly, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, introduced the event with  a speech entitled, “Why Climate Change Matters to Us ” .  Two highlighted conference papers: “Climate change: Macroeconomic impact and implications for monetary policy ” presented  by Sandra Batten from the Bank of England, which explains why central banks care about climate change, and includes the warning that “for each degree the temperature rises above a daily average temperature of 59°F, productivity declines by 1.7%”.   In “Long-Term Macroeconomic Effects of Climate Change: A Cross-Country Analysis “, six academics from the U.S., U.K. and Taiwan modelled the links between  historical levels of temperature and precipitation and changes in labour productivity. They conclude that global GDP per capita could fall 7% by 2100 in the absence of climate change mitigation effects, but that loss could be reduced to 1% by conforming to the Paris Agreement.

Of related interest:  SHARE Canada (Shareholder Association for Research and Education) summarizes the position of the major Canadian banks in an October 10 blog post “Responsible Banking – Part 2: Aligning finance with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement .”

Social workers urged to advocate for a Green New Deal and climate justice

environmental justice social workersThe  November issue of the journal Environmental Justice includes “Time is Up: Social workers take your place at the climate change table” ( free access only until November 22, 2019). The authors maintain that “Social workers are uniquely situated to be involved, with their training in social policy, legislative advocacy, and community organizing, in combating the negative effects of climate change and the inherent social justice issues associated with this issue. However, …. they must be trained on topics such as disaster-specific trauma, bereavement, and resource disruption.

The article begins with a broad overview of policies related to climate change – including the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Climate Agreement, but the main focus is on social workers in the United States as actors in climate change.  Based on reviews of the social work literature between 2008 and 2019, the authors conclude that what little has been written has focused on consequences and/or coping strategies after a natural disaster. They  also conclude that  most of the climate-related training of social workers is occurring outside of the United States in countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

The article reveals how the professional organization,  the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, has viewed the climate emergency.  The AASWSW issued its  12 Grand Challenges for Social Work in 2016, and it included a goal to “Create social responses to a changing environment”. A separate Policy Briefing outlines amibitious goals, including: (1) adopt and implement evidence-based approaches to disaster risk reduction, (2) develop policies targeting environmentally induced migration and population displacement, and (3) strengthen equity-oriented urban resilience policies and proactively engage marginalized communities in adaptation planning.  A 2015 background paper preceded the goal statement:  Strengthening the Social Response to the Human Impacts of Environmental Change .

The latest issue of the Association’s journal Social Work Today  is a progress report on the Grand Challenges. Regarding the changing environment, it reports that the Association has been advocating for the Green New Deal, and will “examine the social work implications of the proposed Green New Deal and to call social workers to action around environmental justice policies.”  It concludes:

“One of the greatest challenges toward continued progress is in making social workers aware of their role and responsibility in addressing both the causes and consequences of climate change,” …. Many social workers feel there are more immediate issues to deal with, even if they acknowledge the seriousness of the problem.”