Pollution cost Canada $2 billion in Lost Labour Output alone

The June 2017 report, Costs of Pollution in Canada: Measuring the impacts on families, businesses and governments reviews and synthesizes existing studies to produce the most comprehensive assessment of pollution and its costs  in Canada to date. Some quick facts: the cost of climate change-related heat waves in Canada is estimated to have been $1.6 billion in 2015; Smog alone cost Canadians $36 billion in 2015. But the report also provides detailed estimates, organized in three categories: 1.  Direct Welfare Costs: (Harm to health and well-being such as  lower enjoyment of life, sickness and premature death); 2.  Direct Income Costs – (Direct out of pocket expenses for families (e.g. medications for asthma), businesses (e.g. increased maintenance costs for buildings) and governments (remediation of polluted sites); and 3. Wealth impacts.

Direct Welfare Costs of pollution, the most studied and understood,  are estimated as at least $39 billion in 2015, or about $4,300 for a family of four.  The Direct Income Costs   that could be measured amounted to $3.3 billion in 2015, but the study cautions that this many important costs could not be measured, and full impacts on income were likely in the tens of billions of dollars.  In this category, the study estimates  Lost Labour Outputs, using a metric derived from the 2016  OECD study,  The  Economic Consequences of Outdoor Air Pollution.  The OECD estimates outdoor air pollution to cost 0.1% of national GDP, which, when applied to Canada’s  2015 GDP of approximately  $1,986 billion, implies a costs of about $2 billion in lost labour output alone. And finally, Wealth impacts, or costs on value of assets , are said to be the least understood of pollution costs, about which, “We simply do not know how much pollution costs us in terms of lost wealth”.

Costs of Pollution in Canada: Measuring the impacts on families, businesses and governments was prepared by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), with funding from the Ivey Foundation; the full report is available in English- only. Summaries are in English  and French.Short  videos were derived in cooperation with the Conference Board of Canada to focus on key topics:  e.g. extreme weather, contaminated sites, and smog .

A closer look at electric vehicle growth: impact on pollution, and labour conditions in the mines supplying raw materials

solar-power-1020194_1920The summer started with several “good news” stories about the surge of electric vehicles, such as “Starting in 2019, Volvo will use electricity to power every new model” from the Washington Post (July 5) , quoting Volvo’s CEO :  “This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car.”  Bloomberg Business Week, summarizing the findings of its latest New Energy forecast,  stated on July 7, “in just eight years, electric cars will be as cheap as gasoline vehicles, pushing the global fleet to 530 million vehicles by 2040″, and “Electric cars will outsell fossil-fuel powered vehicles within two decades as battery prices plunge, turning the global auto industry upside down and signaling economic turmoil for oil-exporting countries” .  On July 6,  France announced   it would end the sale of gas and diesel cars by 2040 ,  and on July 26 the U.K. released its Clean Air Plan, which included  a ban on the sale of new diesel and gas cars after 2040, with only electric vehicles available after that.

Response to the U.K. announcement is mixed.  In “Electric cars are not the solution to air pollution” Professor Frank Kelly, a professor of environmental health at King’s College London and chair of the government’s  Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants states that “The government’s plan does not go nearly far enough,” “Our cities need fewer cars, not just cleaner cars.”  In his role as a member of  the Centre for London’s commission on the future of the capital’s roads and streets  ,    Professor Kelly provides more detail about the problem of particle pollution and states:  “London should lead in showing electric cars will not tackle air pollution”  in The Guardian (August 4).  His conclusion: “The safe and efficient movement of people around the city can only be achieved through a clean and expanded mass transit system served by buses, overground trains and the underground system – and as much active transport in the form of walking and cycling as is feasibly possible.”

Others are raising issues about electric vehicles on other grounds, specifically the environmental costs  and labour conditions of producing the lithium ion batteries that power them.  These are not new concerns:  Carla Lipsig Mumme and Caleb Goods raised the flag in June 2015 with “The battery revolution is exciting, but remember they pollute too”   in The Conversation.   In January 2016, Amnesty International published a detailed documentation of the hazardous working conditions and the use of child labour in cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in  This is what we die for: Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo power the global trade in cobalt  . (Cobalt is also used in mobile phones, laptop computers, and other portable electronic devices). The report  is available in English, French and Chinese from this link .

More recently,  “Politically charged: do you know where your batteries come from? ” appeared in The Conversation (July 26),   providing an overview of the geography , politics, and environmental impact of  lithium-ion battery raw materials. Briefly, the current major producers of lithium are Australia, Chile, Argentina and China, with Australia and Chile accounting for about 75% of the total. The main environmental concern, especially in Chile, is that the extraction can impact water supply in desert areas.  The article also looks at supply chain issues and states : “With almost half of the world’s cobalt ore reserves concentrated in Democratic Republic of Congo for the foreseeable future, and with a large proportion of refining capacity located in China, the supply chain could be more vulnerable.”  Not to mention the vulnerability of the miners Amnesty International has documented.

A  Canadian viewpoint on  the issue of supply:   “Clean Energy Spurs Lithium Rush, Demands Response to ‘Dirty Mining’” in the  Energy Mix (August 8). In the article, Financial Post columnist Peter Tertzakian states: “ it takes the equivalent of 15,000 cell phone batteries to make one battery for an electric car,” and “ramping up raw material inputs to build millions of car batteries a year fills the back of the envelope with scalability issues.” These supply issues may lead to a growth of “dirty mining” practices.  Will Canada be affected by the push for clean energy raw materials?  We do not currently produce lithium, although the article states that  engineers are trying to isolate it from tar sand/oil sand waste. We are a minor producer of other battery components,  graphite and cobalt, and the 3rd largest  producer of  nickel in the world.  According to Bloomberg News in August, the growth of electric vehicles will drive a doubling of demand for nickel by 2050. However, Bloomberg reports that  mining giant  BHP Bilton will invest in Australia to make it the world’s largest producer of nickel for electric vehicle batteries.

A final troubling issue with electric vehicles: disposal.  “The rise of electric cars could leave us with a big battery waste problem ”   according to The Guardian (August 10) , which cites the International Energy Agency estimates of  140m electric cars globally by 2030, resulting in a possible  11 million tonnes of spent lithium-ion batteries in need of recycling.  Two solutions are profiled in the article: recycling and reuse. The recycling profile features the CEO of  Canadian battery recycling start-up company, Li-Cycle, which is pioneering a  wet chemistry process which would  retrieve all of the important metals from batteries. The  proponents of the re-use solution include Aceleron and carmaker Nissan, which has patented a process for re-use. The article states that  car batteries can still have up to 70% of their capacity when they stop being good enough to power electric vehicles, so that they can be broken down, tested and re-packaged for functions such as home energy storage.

 

 

 

Union calls for a legal responsibility on employers to address a crisis in U.K. air pollution

BWTUC logoThe Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Union Council (BWTUC) is the Southwest London arm of the Trades Union Congress and a founding supporter of the Greener Jobs Alliance. The BWTUC has undertaken a campaign against toxic air, and argues that employers are the root cause of diesel emissions –  from their transport fleets as well as the individual  journeys to and from work made by workers.  As part of its campaign against what it calls the “number one public health issue”, BWTUC will help local unions to carry out monitoring of pollution levels where they work, and is also producing online training modules which will be available at the Greener Jobs Alliance website after a May 27 launch.  Finally, it is advocating for a Clean Air Act, as stated in the  Greener Jobs Alliance Top 10 Election Demands  : #10: “ Introduce a Clean Air Act to tackle air pollution once and for all. Place a clear legal responsibility on employers and businesses to address air quality and develop a network of low emission zones in pollution hot spots.”

The U.K. government has addressed the issue of roadside air pollution in Improving air quality in the UK: tackling nitrogen dioxide in our towns and cities: Draft UK Air Quality Plan for tackling nitrogen dioxide  (May 2017).  Unlike the BWTUC, the government clearly sees pollution as an individual, not employer, responsibility.  “The UK Government is clear that any action to improve air quality must not be done at the expense of local businesses and residents. Therefore local authorities must work closely with local people to create an approach which works for them. Everyone has a role to play in helping to address NOx by considering how they can reduce emissions through their day-to-day activities, for example by choosing cleaner vehicles.”  The government does propose incentives for low carbon fuel vehicle fleets, and for clean busses for commuting, but the plan is controversial and inadequate – see “UK’s new air pollution plan dismissed as ‘weak’ and ‘woefully inadequate‘” and  “Air pollution plan: sacrificing the nation’s health to save an election campaign“, both of which appeared in The Guardian on May 5.

double decker busAccording  to a BWTUC press release , the people of Battersea/Wandsworth have a lot at stake: “In 2016 Putney High St had the dubious distinction of being the most polluted road in the whole of Europe.  By law hourly levels of Nitrogen Dioxide must not exceed 200 micrograms per cubic metre more than 18 times in one year. In fact, the hourly limit was exceeded over 1,200 times in 2016. In January 2017 the standard was breached 11 times in one day.” …. “In April, the Wandsworth Guardian quoted a report that showed 29 schools in the borough located in areas exceeding the safe legal limit.”

Health Impacts of Cap and Trade policies on California’s disadvantaged communities

Acting on a December 2016 Executive Order of Governor Gerry Brown, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment released the first in a series of reports which will examine the impact of the state’s climate change programs on communities designated as “disadvantaged”.  The February report,  Tracking and Evaluation of Benefits and Impacts of Greenhouse Gas Limits in Disadvantaged Communities: Initial Report   measuring the effects of  the Air Resources Board’s Cap-and-Trade Program, which regulates greenhouse gas emissions from industrial facilities and other sources.  The report is largely based on 2014 emissions data, and warns that “limited data does not yet allow for comprehensive analysis of the impacts of Cap-and-Trade on disadvantaged communities”.   Initial findings however, are that  major industrial facilities are disproportionately located in disadvantaged communities;  there is a moderate correlation between GHG and other air pollutants, with refineries showing the strongest correlation.   California maintains  a planning and enforcement tool,  CalEnviroScreen, the “ first comprehensive, statewide environmental health screening tool” in the U.S.  In late January, California Air Resources Board   announced the appointment of its first Assistant Executive Officer for Environmental Justice, with a mandate to ensure that environmental justice and tribal concerns are considered in air pollution policy-making and decision- making.

Canadian government announces a phase-out of “traditional” coal-fired electricity by 2030

On November 21, the federal Environment Minister announced  that the four remaining provinces with coal-fired electricity  (Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia) must  speed up the their emissions reduction targets. All traditional coal-fired units (i.e. those without carbon capture and storage)  will be required to meet a performance standard of 420 tonnes of carbon dioxide per gigawatt hour by no later than 2030, and performance standards must be developed  for new units to ensure they are built using efficient technology.  Details are set out in a Backgrounder  .  To allow for flexibility, Equivalency Agreements can be negotiated under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act , and both Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan are pursuing such agreements.  Nova Scotia, which announced  on November 21 that  it would  implement a cap and trade system which would  meet or exceed the federal emissions reduction target , will be allowed to continue to use coal in high-demand winter months even after 2030, (with no  specific date set yet for full compliance) .  Saskatchewan, which relies heavily on carbon capture and sequestration technology to meet its recent emissions reduction plan, is “displeased”  about the coal phase-out plan, according to a CBC report .  Alberta has already announced its own plans   for a coal phase-out by 2030, promising  support for workers and communities.  See the “Liberals present plan to phase out coal-powered electricity by 2030” CBC (Nov. 21) for a good overview.

 What does this mean for coal workers?  Currently, coal-fired power  generated at 35 plants represents over 70% of emissions in Canada’s electricity sector, but provides  only 11% of our  electricity.  The coal industry employs approximately 42,000 direct and indirect workers.   In “Canada’s rejection of coal will clear the air but impact workers and power bills” , the CBC (Nov. 22) examines the likely higher  electricity bills in store for consumers, and  the likely job losses.  The CBC article quotes Warren Mabee, a researcher with the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change project and the associate director of the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy: he states that many workers in coal mines will be laid off  “while others will shift to extracting metallurgical coal, which is used in the steel-making process.”  It is important to note that the government press release explicitly promises:“ The Government of Canada will work with provinces and labour organizations to ensure workers affected by the accelerated phase-out of traditional coal power are involved in a successful transition to the low-carbon economy of the future.”

Much of the government’s motivation for its initiative comes down to the health benefits of removing pollutants of coal-fired electricity – carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide, mercury and other heavy metals .  The Pembina Institute, along with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Canadian Public Health Association   and others, released   Out with the coal, In with the new: National benefits of an accelerated phase-out of coal-fired power  on November 21.  The report estimates that a  national coal phase-out by 2030 would prevent  1,008 premature deaths, 871 ER visits, and health outcomes valued at nearly $5 billion (including health and lower productivity costs) between 2015 and 2035.  The Pembina Institute reacted to the government announcement, calling it “timely” and “necessary .  Clean Energy Canada responded with  Quitting coal will drive clean growth and cut pollution.   BlueGreen Canada, which includes the United Steelworkers union, recently published the  Job Growth in Clean Energy report, which recognizes the world-wide decline of the coal industry, and states that, “if properly supported now, Alberta’s renewable energy sector will create enough jobs to absorb the coal labour force”.