Corporate Climate Risk Disclosure needed to protect Pensions

To protect pensions, companies should be required to come clean on climate risk” writes Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada in an Opinion piece in the National Observer on November 27.  Stewart reports that Greenpeace Canada has filed a formal request under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, for the Ontario government to review the need for mandatory disclosure of climate-related risks in corporations’ financial filings. The government’s response is expected by the end of 2017.  This is the latest of recent and ongoing calls for increased corporate disclosure of the risks posed by climate change,  to protect investors and financial stability.  The issue has even made it to the conservative Report on Business of the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper, in  “Business risk from climate change now top of mind for Canada’s corporate boards” (November 22)  . The article warns that Canada’s  stock markets are  particularly vulnerable to a potential “carbon bubble” in the valuations of fossil-fuel-dependent companies, given that the Toronto Stock Exchange is so heavily weighted with energy and mining companies (20 per cent for that category, as compared with only 2 per cent for clean technology and renewable-energy companies).  And that’s not the worst:  on the TSX Venture Exchange, mining and oil and gas companies account for 68 per cent of the index.  (Such a resource sector dependency was part of the reasoning given by the Norweigian Wealth Fund for its proposal to divest oil and gas investments (Nov. 16)).

Another related Globe and Mail article provides an excuse for the current state of climate risk disclosure in Canada in  “Companies Looking to Report Environmental Data Also Navigate Inconsistent Frameworks” (Nov. 22) . The article states that “There is a dizzying number of best-practice guidelines for climate disclosures” and lists the major ones – with information drawn largely from the Carrots & Sticks database . In fact, Carrots & Sticks lists  nine sustainability reporting instruments unique to Canada, in addition to widely-recognized international ones such as the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) Reporting Framework  and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises  .  (Carrots & Sticks  is an initiative begun in 2006 by KPMG International, Stichting Global Reporting Initiative, UNEP, and the Centre for Corporate Governance in Africa, with the goal of encouraging and harmonizing financial disclosure guidelines.)

Most recently, the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, led by Marc Carney and Michael Bloomberg, released their  landmark Final Report and Recommendations in 2016. The following Canadian pension funds have, at least on paper, supported it:  Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, OPTrust, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation.  The Canadian Securities Administrators  launched a Climate Change Disclosure Review  in March 2017 to investigate and consult re Canadian practice, which will issue a report “upon completion of its review”.

And across the globe in Australia, the  Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), the  regulator of the financial industry, has  also announced an industry-wide review of climate-related disclosure practices.  On November 29, an Executive Board member of the APRA delivered a speech, “The weight of money: A business case for climate risk resilience” , in which he outlines the Australian perspective on climate-related financial risks, and states:  “So while the debate continues about the physical risks, the transition to a low carbon economy is underway, and that means the so-called transition risks are unavoidable: changes to market sentiment, new financial or environmental regulations, or the emergence of new technologies with the potential to prompt a reassessment of the value of a large range of assets, and consequently the value of capital and investments.”  The speech is summarized in The Guardian.

Climate bargaining: a proposed model and a hint of urgency for progress

A Research Note  published in the Journal of Industrial Relations in July 2017 outlines how climate change and workplace relations are linked,  noting that “The link between climate change and ER is not simply a matter of industrial change, job loss and green jobs’ inferior wages and conditions.”  The article provides a brief review of academic studies on the issue, which notes how much it is on the margins, with the vast majority of research focused on a socio-political approach.  The main purpose of the article is the real world responses of the primary actors– unions and employer associations:  unions, with policy responses focused on Just Transition, and employers, with their own corporate social responsibility response.

Most importantly, the article then provides examples of “climate bargaining”, based on bargaining agreements, union policy documents and union reports from the U.K., Canada and Australia, from 2006 to 2014. With a focus on two “leadership” unions, the Australian National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) of the United Kingdom, the author concludes that “ER and climate change appear to be developing in two forms: embedded institutional and voluntary multilateral responses. Embedded institutional responses seek to integrate environmental commitments into EBAs via green clauses, while voluntary multilateralism moves away from formal clauses within legal frameworks and instead sees unions and employers pursue strategic workplace environmental projects that directly engage management and employees in environmental initiatives…. The voluntary multilateral model appears to offer a more successful and exciting integration of climate change and ER than simply bargaining for green clauses in enterprise agreements. Nevertheless, both approaches highlight the important role of the state in supporting these models via regulation and government-funded programmes.”

Climate change and employment relations ” was written  by Caleb Goods, who was a Co-Investigator in the Adapting Canadian Work & Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) project and is now a Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia. His previous work includes Why Work And Workers Matter In The Environmental Debate (2016), and Greening Auto Jobs: A critical analysis of the green job solution (2014). Go to “Climate change and employment relations”  to download the article for a fee; only the abstract is available for free.

 

Review of Australia’s Electricity future seeks political compromise; unions see some hints of Just Transition

Flag_of_Australia.svgThe Final Report of the Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market  was submitted to the Australian government  by  its Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, on June 9 – the government press release is here  . Given that Australia currently obtains approximately two-thirds of its electricity from coal-fired generating units, it is controversial territory.  The Finkel Review seeks compromise ground: it doesn’t  recommend a return to Australia’s previous emissions trading scheme , nor a carbon tax – instead,  it recommends a “clean energy target”, where cleaner power generators would get financial rewards relative to the amount of CO2 emitted per megawatt hour.   In “Australia: New climate policy same old politics”, Climate Home states:  A “major review of Australian climate policy has been compromised by the malignant politics that has sent Australia to the back of the international pack”.  Even more critical is  “Alan Finkel’s emissions target breaks Australia’s Paris commitments”     in The Guardian (June 9), which states that the Finkel recommendations would result in emissions levels 28% below 2005 levels by 2030 for the electricity sector – less than needed, and less than called for in a 2016 report by the Climate Change Authority,  Policy options for Australia’s electricity supply sectorThe Guardian also published “Finkel review anticipates lower power prices, but weak electricity emissions target“, with detail of the recommendations and the political response.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) response to the Finkel report is muted, and focused less on the strength of the emission targets and more on the recommendations for an orderly transition of the sector, and a three year notice period before generator withdrawal. From the ACTU press release: “it is immediately clear that the report states the need for an orderly transition that includes workforce preparedness….The report also recommends a three year notice period before generator withdrawal, which would provide some notice for workers and communities.”  The ACTU has previously recommended the establishment of the Energy Transition Authority to navigate the transition to a clean energy economy.

 

EU Industry pledges no new coal plants as Australians mobilize to fight the giant Adani coal project

The Union of the Electricity Industry (EURELECTRIC), representing 3500 companies across Europe, released a statement on April 5, pledging that no new coal-fired plants will be built in the EU after 2020.   “The European electricity sector believes that achieving the decarbonisation objectives agreed in the Paris Agreement is essential to guarantee the long-term sustainability of the global economy. EURELECTRIC’s members are committed to delivering a carbon neutral power supply in Europe by 2050, and to ensuring a competitively priced and reliable electricity supply throughout the integrated European energy market.” Poland and Greece remain outside the agreement, and apparently outside the mainstream.

The Guardian calls the EU position   a “death knell for coal”,    and in a separate piece, summarizes the decline of coal-fired electricity around the world.  “Coal in ‘freefall’ as new power plants dive by two-thirds”  (March 22)    quotes a new report by Greenpeace  , Sierra Club USA,  and Coalswarm   :  Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking The Global Coal Plant Pipeline.   Its findings show a 62 percent drop in new construction starts, and an 85 percent decline in new Chinese coal plant permits. A senior Greenpeace official states: “2016 marked a veritable turning point”.  “China all but stopped new coal projects after astonishing clean energy growth has made new coal-fired power plants redundant, with all additional power needs covered from non-fossil sources since 2013. Closures of old coal plants drove major emission reductions especially in the U.S. and UK, while Belgium and Ontario became entirely coal-free and three G8 countries announced deadlines for coal phase-outs.”

Stop-Adani-LogoYet in Australia, environmentalists are waging an epic environmental battle against a giant, $16.5-billion coal mine adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, proposed by Indian energy conglomerate Adani. Government supporters, including the Prime Minister and politicians in Queensland, have argued that the mine would bring jobs and would not increase GHG emissions globally because Australian coal is cleaner than any other that India would be able to source from other countries; see an article in Climate Home for the rebuttal to that.  Voices in opposition include Bob Brown, a former Green Party leader, who states  : “This is the environmental issue of our times and, for one, the Great Barrier Reef is at stake. The Adani corporation’s dirty coalmine is an impending disaster with effects which will reach far beyond Australia.”  Or read:   “It’s either Adani or the Great Barrier Reef – are we willing to fight for a Wonder of the World?”   in The Guardian.   Thirteen community groups, claiming to represent 1.5 million Australians have joined the Stop Adani Alliance since its launch in March, and the Australian Conservation Foundation is behind another high-powered campaign . For context, see “The coal war: Inside the fight against Adani’s plans to build Australia’s biggest coal mine” from the Sydney Morning Herald.   For a catalogue of “the ten most-absurd things about the Adani mine ” , see “Australia’s Climate bomb: the senselessness of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine”    in The Conversation (April 12).

UPDATE:  An April 24 analysis  of the bleak prospects of the Carmichael Mine proposed by Adani for Australia  “Adani: Remote Prospect: Carmichael Status Update 2017”  .

Just Transition proposals for Australia’s Coal Industry workers

Flag_of_Australia.svgOutside of the United States, it seems that there is general recognition that the coal industry is in decline, and that this demands a planned response to transition both the energy mix and the communities and workers.  The Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) in Paris, for example, is coordinating a Coal Transitions Project, bringing together researchers from Australia, South Africa, Germany, Poland, India and China, to publish reports examining past experiences in the six countries in March 2017, culminating with a global report and a consideration of the future of coal by 2018.

Australia’s coal production has a long and highly-political  history – summarized in  “The long-term future of Australian coal is drying up”  in The Conversation (October 2015), or “Australia’s Addiction to Coal” in the New York Times (November 14, 2016) . Amidst this highly political climate, the current government established a  Senate Inquiry into the Retirement of Coal Fired Power Stations in October 2016,  to examine “the transition from ageing, high-carbon coal generation to clean energy”  in light of the Paris Agreement commitments on emissions reductions , and the Agreement’s  provisions re just transitions. The deadline for the Inquiry’s Final Report has been extended to the end of March; an  Interim Report was released at the end of November 2016, with Chapter 4 devoted to options for managing the transition for workers and communities.   Submissions to the Senate committee are here, listed by author. Three  noteworthy examples: the Australian Psychology Association reviews the “flow-on psychosocial impacts on individuals, families and whole communities” of mass closures, but argues for the possibility of  building “vibrant, diversified, energy sustainable communities with good local jobs, and capable of lifting the prospects of all citizens”. The submission states: “Community-led transitions that identify the community’s needs and resources, involve the community in the formulation and control of change, and strengthen the local people’s capacity for action, are critically important components of planned transitions. “”  The Appalachian Transition  and Renew Appalachia are cited as models of community building.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) submitted a thorough, 30-page proposal:  Sharing the challenges and opportunities of a clean energy economy: Policy discussion paper. A Just Transition for coal-fired electricity sector workers and communities.  Amongst the recommendations: establish  a “national independent statutory authority”, named Energy Transition Australia (ETA), within the environment and energy portfolio, and reporting to the Minister and parliament.   The  ETA would be overseen by a tripartite advisory board comprised of industry, unions and government, with a mandate to  oversee a planned and orderly closure of Australia’s coal fired power stations;  “manage an industry-wide multi-employer pooling and redeployment scheme, where existing workers would have an opportunity to be redeployed to remaining power stations or low-emissions generators; and  develop a labour adjustment package to support workers obtain new decent and secure jobs, including by providing funding for workers to access job assistance support, retraining, early retirement and travel and relocation assistance.”

Finally, a submission by Professor John Wiseman  of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute lists and synthesizes many of the recommendations from recent  Just Transition publications, including   Life After Coal: Pathways to a Just and Sustainable Transition for the Latrobe Valley  (October 2016). This report by the Environment department of the province of Victoria  focuses on the four Hazelwood coal-fired power plants, scheduled to close as early as April 2017.