New voices calling for climate change protections in NAFTA 2.0 – updated on May 7

NAFTA-2-0-People-or-Polluters-coverCanada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, arrived in Washington on May 7 for final “make or break” talks about NAFTA, according to a CBC report.  Below, some reports reflecting concerns from Canada’s labour and climate change communities.

On April 17, the Sierra Club, the Council of Canadians, and Greenpeace Mexico released a new report, NAFTA 2.0: For People Or Polluters? A Climate Denier’s Trade Deal versus a Clean Energy Economy.   In this report, economists from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico document the obstacles to climate progress in the current North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations, and propose climate, labour, and human rights protections  in line with the Paris Accord.  Canadian contributor Gordon Laxer, founder of the Parkland Institute, states:  “NAFTA’s little-known ‘proportionality’ rule locks Canada into perpetual production of climate-polluting tar sands oil and fracked gas, while giving corporate polluters a permanent green light to build tar sands oil pipelines to the U.S.” The NAFTA 2.0 report urges elimination of the proportionality rule, elimination of the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) tribunals under Chapter 11,  and elimination of  rules regarding regulatory cooperation that could be used to delay, weaken, or halt new climate policies, or to pressure Canada and Mexico to adopt the weaker climate standards favoured by the Trump administration.  NAFTA 2.0: For People or Polluters?  was written and researched by Dr. Frank Ackerman (Synapse Energy Economics, U.S.),  Dr. Alejandro Álvarez Béjar (Professor, National Autonomous University of Mexico), Dr. Gordon Laxer,  (Founding Director, Parkland Institute, University of Alberta, Canada), and Ben Beachy (Director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, U.S.). A summary appears in a Sierra Club Blog.

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Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs

 

On May 2, Canada’s labour, climate, and social justice communities  sent a joint  Open Letter  to Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, stating their  twelve shared principles and values on very specific NAFTA issues. They conclude: “ An alternative model of trade must be rooted in principles of equity, the primacy of human rights — including the rights of Indigenous peoples, women and girls, workers, migrants, farmers, and communities — and social and ecological justice. Furthermore, if Canada wishes to be an international champion of action on climate change, its trade policy must be compatible with its climate objectives.”  “Chrystia Freeland urged to be a climate champion at NAFTA talks” (National Observer, May 2summarizes the letter and quotes from an interview on the issue with Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).   The CLC was one of 8 labour unions and 47  organizations to sign the Open Letter.  The others include Canadian Union of Public Employees, CWA-Canada, National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), Public Service Alliance of Canada, Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, United Steelworkers, and Unifor amongst unions;  Climate Action Network-Canada, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Citizens Climate Lobby Canada, Oxfam Canada, and other social justice groups.

NAFTA Getting it right Council of CanadiansThe Council of Canadians have maintained a long-standing campaign against NAFTA, especially the ISDS provisions.  Their website on the issue is here; their own guide to the NAFTA Negotiations, Getting it Right:  A People’s Guide to re-negotiating NAFTA   was published in October 2017 and agrees with the new Sierra Club report in most respects, including elimination of the ISDS, and incorporation of workers’ rights.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis acts as the administrative lead  in the Trade and Investment Research Project (TIRP), a coalition of NGO and labour unions. CCPA published Canada’s Track Record Under NAFTA Chapter 11  (January 2018) which tracks the cases and penalties Canada has paid under the existing  ISDS provisions, and Renegotiating NAFTA: CCPA submission to Global Affairs Canada on the renegotiation and modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement (July 2017).

The International Institute for Sustainable Development has published  Can Investor-State Dispute Settlement Be Good for the Environment?  which reviews the European Energy Charter Treaty as well as NAFTA; Environmental and Public Interest Considerations in NAFTA Renegotiation (November 2017); and A Wish List for an Environmentally friendly NAFTA  (April 2018) .

 

Occupational health risks created by climate change: U.S. doctors get Guidelines, France releases expert report

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Warmer temperatures have brought the Black-legged tick  to Ontario, bringing an increase of Lyme’s Disease, especially for outdoor workers.

A  Guidance Document was released by the  American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in February 2018.  Responsibilities of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Provider in the Treatment and Prevention of Climate Change-Related Health Problems  (also appearing  in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine ) is intended to set standards for physicians specializing in workplace health.  The Guidance Document  provides concise and very current information about  the direct physical impacts related to climate change (heat stress and ultraviolet exposure, air quality, and allergic sensitivities) as well as indirect impacts (disaster zone exposure, stress and mental health, and waterborne and vector-borne disease).  Most of this information is not new:  two previous major reports have covered the same ground: The Lancet Countdown Report for 2017,  (which links climate change and specific health conditions for the population at large, not just workers, and which included a report for Canada ), and the landmark U.S . Global Change Research Program report, The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment (2016)  .

What is important about this new Guidance Document?  It focuses on the workplace, and sets standards for the role of occupational health physicians which include a responsibility to protect workers.  For example:  “Provide guidance to the employers on how to protect working populations in the outdoors or in the field who are potentially exposed to the extreme temperatures…. Quickly identify employees with acute and chronic cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses within the organization who will be significantly affected by increasing temperature and worsening air quality, an increase in ozone, particulate matter, and high pollen count  ….Provide effective guidance to employers about seasonal activity and address the increasing risk of vector-borne disease among the working population…. Deliver support to the employees at risk for mental illness due to disasters, loss, and migration by providing more comprehensive programs through their employment….  The article concludes with: “ OEM providers are called to be on the forefront of emerging health issues pertaining to working populations including climate change. The competent OEM provider should address individual and organizational factors that impact the health and productivity of workers as well as create policies that ensure a healthy workforce.”

There is also a call to action in a new report from France’s Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety.  The full expert analysis is available only in French ; an English abstract is here .  The report  predicts the occupational risks associated with climate change, from now till  2050, and identifies the main drivers of change: rising temperatures, changes in  the biological and chemical environment, and a change in the frequency and intensity of extreme events.  What’s new in this report?  It highlights the breadth of impact of climate change, stating that it will affect all occupational risks, except those associated with noise and artificial radiation.  The report also makes recommendations,  urging immediate workplace awareness campaigns and training about the health effects of climate change, with a preventive focus. From the English summary: “The Agency especially recommends encouraging all the parties concerned to immediately start integrating the climate change impacts that are already perceptible, or that can be anticipated, in their occupational risk assessment approaches, in order to deploy suitable preventive measures.”  The full report (in French only):  Évaluation des risques induits par le changement climatique sur la santé des travailleurs  (262 pages) is dated January 2018 but released in April. It was requested by France’s Directorate General for Health and the Directorate General for Labour, to support the country’s 2011 National Adaptation to Climate Change Action Plan (PNACC).

Unions well-represented on Canada’s new Task Force on Just Transition – including Co-Chair Hassan Yussuff, President of the CLC

Hassan Yussuff head shot

Hassan Yussuff, President, Canadian Labour Congress

On April 25, Canada’s  Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced the members of the the Just Transition Task Force for Canadian Coal-Power Workers and Communities, to be co-chaired by Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and Lois Corbett, Executive Director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.  Biographies are here , revealing that six of the eleven members of the Task Force are unionists: two from the CLC, the Alberta Federation of Labour,  United Steelworkers, Unifor, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.  The press release by the Canadian Labour Congress states: “The world is watching. By launching this task force, Canada has the opportunity to set an international example on how to implement progressive policy to reduce emissions while keeping people and communities at the centre”.  A National Observer article provides context and background about the members of the Task Force, and some quotes from the press conference which announced it.  A CBC report also includes a video of the press conference.

The full Terms of Reference for the Just Transition Task Force were originally published in February 2018, and include a mandate to make recommendations to the Minister via an interim report and a final report due at the end of 2018. Members of the Task Force will meet with government officials at the local and provincial level, workers, stakeholders, academics, and also make site visits to coal plants and communities that will be affected by the accelerated phase-out of coal power in Canada.  The Task Force will no doubt benefit from the work of  Alberta’s  Advisory Panel on Coal Communities , which also examined the impacts on communities and workers of an end to coal-fired electricity by 2030, and proposed strategies to support workers through the transition. The Alberta Panel issued its recommendations  in a brief report, titled Supporting Workers and Communities in November 2017, resulting in a number of provincial  programs, described here .

At the international level, Canada has been active since joining with the United Kingdom to launch the Powering Past Coal Alliance in November 2017 at the Conference of the Parties (COP23), in Bonn in 2017.  Updates on that initiative are available from this link.  As of April 2018, there are over 60 countries and private businesses in the alliance. An April 2018 release  reports that Canada and the U.K. will collaborate with Bloomberg Philanthropies on the goals of the Alliance, including to produce research and case studies on the issue.   Also, at the One Planet Summit in December 2017,  Canada announced its partnership with the World Bank Group and the International Trade Union Confederation, to accelerate the transition from coal-fired electricity to clean sources in developing countries.

Quebec unveils its Vision 2030 for sustainable mobility and transportation

Quebec electric busOn April 17, Quebec’s Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard announced the  government’s  Vision 2030, a 12-year strategy to increase sustainable mobility. The official government information is available only in French,  here .  Information in the English language is available from the Liberal Party of Quebec press release , and a Montreal Gazette report.  The government will invest $9.7 billion ($2.9 billion of which is new funding) to provide Quebecers with a 20% reduction in average commuting time, 20% reduction in commuting costs, and  access to at least four types of sustainable mobility by 2030 for 70 % of the population. Investments will be made in a light-rail electric train line for Montreal and an extension of the métro’s Blue Line; as well as transit services to Montreal’s suburbs. (The government had already called for tenders for 300 additional hybrid buses for Montreal in January 2018).   Future projects also include a tramway system for Quebec City, and transit alternatives for the regions, outside the two main cities. As environmental benefits, the province aims to achieve a 40% reduction in the amount of fuel consumed for transportation, with a 37.5% reduction in transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions over 1990 levels.

Although the majority of the plan addresses personal transportation, it also sets a goal to increase the goods shipped at ports and intermodal rail terminals by 25%, and promises an increase in the province’s  annual sales of transportation equipment from $10 billion to $15 billion.

Premier Couillard is calling the initiative “the James Bay of our era” – referring to the transformative hydro development of the 1970’s.

New evidence supports benefits of cap and trade policies – an important issue for Ontario voters

With a June 2018 election approaching in Ontario,  climate change policies and the cap and trade program are already emerging as  key issues.  Several relevant reports have been published since the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario addressed these issues in her audit report,  Ontario’s Climate Act: From Plan to Progress  in January 2018.

The government’s own progress report on the 5-year Climate Change Action Plan was released on March 14  , and includes an evaluation of the policies and projects funded through Ontario’s cap and trade program. One such program is the “Low Carbon Building Skills” initiative announced in August 2017 under the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, which  aims to improve training for low carbon building projects –  including retrofits, green construction and building operations.  Other highlighted initiatives relate to hospital energy efficiency; building and school retrofits; social housing; research into climate change impacts on  building codes.

clean economy alliance progress report ontario year 1A more independent view comes in   A Progress Report on Ontario’s Cap-and-Trade Program and Climate Change Action Plan: Year One ,  published by the Clean Economy Alliance – an alliance of Ontario’s  businesses, clean technology firms, industry associations, labour unions, farmers, health advocates and environmental organizations.   In answering its key question, “Is there any evidence that cap-and-trade has hurt Ontario’s economy or cost jobs?” the report concludes that “Rather than shedding jobs, Ontario added 155,000 jobs between January 2017 and December 2017 – the first year of cap-and-trade. Gains were driven by employment growth in wholesale and retail trade, professional services and manufacturing. Cap-and-trade doesn’t appear to have hurt economic growth either. 2017 marked a 7-year high in Ontario’s GDP growth. Forecasters including RBC, TD Bank and the Conference Board of Canada agree that in 2018, economic growth will slow slightly, but will remain strong.” The report card evaluates impact on emissions reduction, as well as implementation rates by policy area (transportation, buildings and homes, land use planning, and “others”) . It concludes with a brief case study of the incentives for electric vehicles – noting that 2017 was the first year that  more electric vehicles (EVs) were sold in Ontario than in any other province.

On  April 10, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario released another relevant report: the 2018 Energy Conservation Progress report, Making Connections: Straight Talk about Electricity in Ontario.  In this statistically-dense report, she acknowledges that the province’s electricity  system was 96 per cent emission-free in 2017, but warns that the province will fall short of its 2030 carbon reduction target unless consumer behaviour changes:  “Looking ahead, much more conservation and low-carbon electricity will be needed to displace fossil fuels as the climate crisis continues to worsen. Ontario is not yet preparing seriously for this future.”

With the explicit purpose of informing the policy discussion before and after the Ontario election in June 2018, Ontario 360  has been established at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance, as an “ independent, non-partisan, and fact-based” resource.  On April 18, their first briefing on Climate Policy was published, written by Trevor Tombe, associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary. The briefing reviews the cap-and-trade system and the various initiatives which have been funded by its proceeds, and provides a top-level explanation of the merits of carbon pricing in general, with a comparison of cap and trade and carbon taxes. His conclusion: “while the evidence finds that pricing should be the backbone of any credible climate policy in Ontario, it is not a magic wand. There are areas where it may not be administratively feasible, and therefore narrow complementary policies should also be on the table. And even where pricing is appropriate, reasonable people will disagree over the appropriate price level and coverage. But whatever path forward future governments choose, they should strive for transparency in costs and benefits, clarity in the goals a policy is trying to achieve, and flexibility as new evidence emerges.”

Finally, a related report from the United States was released on April 17, evaluating the economic and environmental impacts of the cap and trade markets of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative ( RGGI) in the U.S. from 2015-2017 .  The Economic Impacts of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative on Nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States   found that the nine states which form the network  gained $1.4 billion in economic benefits over the past three years because of the way they invested proceeds, with the biggest payoffs (including in new jobs) coming from investments in energy efficiency programs.  In the same period, there has been no damage to the reliability of the electricity grid, nor a net increase in electricity bills.    The Economic Impacts of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative on Nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States  was produced by The Analysis Group , who also were responsible for two previous evaluations since the RGGI launched in 2009, available here .