B.C. Building Step Code credited with the province’s top rank in Canada for energy efficiency

energy efficiency scorecardWith a view to encouraging cooperation amongst provinces, Efficiency Canada launched  Canada’s  first-ever Provincial Energy Efficiency Scorecard  on November 19,  accompanied by an interactive database  which is promised to be updated regularly.   The full Scorecard report is a free download from this link   (registration required). Provinces were scored out of 100 for their energy efficiency programs, enabling policies, building, transportation, and industry, between January 2018 and June 2019.   British Columbia ranks #1 (56 points), followed by  Quebec (48), Ontario (47)  and Nova Scotia (45). Saskatchewan was last with only 18 out of 100 possible points. But beyond the gross numbers and overview comparisons,  the report, at 190 pages,  provides a wealth of detail  and policy information provided about  best practices and achievements in each jurisdiction – especially about electrification, electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, and building policies and codes.

Two of the study co-authors, Brendan Haley and James Gaede, have written  “Canadians can unite behind energy efficiency” published in Policy Options , providing context and highlights.

Workers who respond to wildfires – some news you might have missed

The Columbia Journalism Review published an article on November 1: “What journalists miss when covering the California fires” . It states “we discuss celebrities and show pyro-pornography to capture attention. …. journalists could also use the borrowed interest to discuss bigger environmental consequences impacting people inside (and sometimes outside) of California.”

firefight in smokeHere are some articles which  focus on the impacts for working people in California and Canada, especially first responders and health care workers.  A previous WCR article,  “What happens to workers when wildfires and natural disasters hit?”  appeared in December 2017, after the Fort McMurray wildfires in Alberta.

California:

At PG&E, a workforce on edge — and under attack — as fire season arrives” in the San Francisco Chronicle (June 8) describes how front line workers are suffering harassment because the public blames their employer, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, for the 2018 Camp fire, as well as for the disruptions of their planned power outages to avoid sparking more fires.

A blog post  Power Shutoffs: Playing with Fire summarizes the issue of California power shutoffs and includes anecdotal reports from a  focus group study of home health care and nursing home workers, which  found that lack of communication was a common problem as they try to care for or evacuate their vulnerable patients.  The focus group was convened by the Emerald Cities Collaborative and SEUI2015.

Home healthcare in the Dark : Why Climate, Wildfires and Other Emerging Risks Call for Resilient Energy Storage Solutions to Protect Medically Vulnerable Households from Power Outages. This report published by Clean Energy Group and Meridian Institute in June 2019  identifies the problems associated with unreliable power when the electric grid goes down either through disaster or through  planned power outages to prevent wildfires. The report  makes a series of recommendations directed at policy makers, including:  “truly resilient power should be generated onsite, should not be dependent on supply chains that may be disrupted during catastrophic events”.

Getty fire: Housekeepers and gardeners go to work despite the flames” in the LA Times which also highlights the chaos brought by lack of communication, and the need for low-wage workers to work, despite danger.

International Association of Firefighters press release “California Members Work around the Clock to Contain Wildfires” provides an overview of  wildfire fighting by their members and points out that firefighters’ homes may also be in the path of destruction. (a fact that is true for other essential workers such as  health care workers).

“As fires rage, California refines an important skill: Evacuating” in the Washington Post (Oct. 29).  Describes the challenges of first responders responsible for vulnerable patients in hospitals.

New threats put wildfire fighters health on the line”  in the New York Times points out : “While burning wood poses some threat to lungs, man-made products and the gases and particles they produce when burned are far more dangerous…Unlike urban firefighters dealing with structural blazes, these wildfire responders do not wear heavy gear that filters air or provides clean air because the gear is unwieldy and too limited to allow the kind of multi-hour, high-exertion efforts demanded on the front lines of these large outdoor infernos.”

And from 2017, “Suicide rate among wildland firefighters is “astronomical”” in Wildfire Today  , based on a more substantial article in The Atlantic: “A Quiet Rise in Wildland-Firefighter Suicides”

 

Canada:

Climate change is making wildfires in Canada bigger, hotter and more dangerous”  in Maclean’s (July 18 2019) is a quick overview of the Canadian experience.

We were blindsided: Rappel firefighters criticizes UCP for axing program  in the Edmonton Journal  (Nov. 7) and an article in the newspaper Fort McMurray Today react to the Alberta government cuts which will eliminate the 40-year-old rappelling program, which employs more than 60 firefighters who rappel from helicopters into forest fires. Staffing for close to 30 wildfire lookout towers and one air tanker unit will also be cut. The articles describe the dangerous job of fighting fires.

A  British Columbia government press release at the end of October 2019 announces two research projects underway to study  firefighter health and wellness (including its physical, mental and emotional dimensions).  One at the University of Northern B.C. is a scoping study to contribute to a long-term research strategy for worker health by the B.C. Wildfire Service. The second, supported by the government of Alberta,  is examining the nature and concentration of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the air that firefighters breathe and accumulate on their skin. This study will also “explore the practicality and effectiveness of firefighters using respiratory protective equipment; and investigate whether wildland firefighters have more chronic lung disease than other people of the same age, gender and geographic location.” A progress report on the initial phase of this project is expected in March 2020.

“Fire-weary Western Canadians are picking up stakes and moving on” in the National Observer (June 24  2019)considers the impact of smoke as well as fire over the past two years in the West, discussing how “residents … young and old, often on fixed or limited incomes, are making tough choices about where they want to live and to work. The decisions are being informed by many factors, but often the most pressing concern is the increasing frequency of forest fires.”  (This updates some of the themes of a 2017 Globe and Mail article “Fort MacMurray wildfires leaves livelihoods in limbo” ).

Unions have made consistent and significant donations to wildfire-affected communities.  Some examples: “Steelworkers Humanity Fund Contributes $69,000 to Fort McMurray Recovery” (2016); “Steelworkers Contribute $100,000 to B.C. Fire Relief” (August 2017),  and Steelworkers Humanity Fund Contributes $58,950 to Support Disaster Recovery Here and Abroad (June 2019) –  which specifies a $10,000  donation to the  High Level Native Friendship Centre food bank in Northern Alberta after  forest fires caused  the evacuation of the town.  Also,  “Unifor wildfire relief donations top $220k” in 2017, and  a 2018 press release announced $150,000 to the B.C. Fire Relief Fund of the Canadian Red Cross in 2018 through Unifor’s Canadian Community Fund  as well as its Social Justice Fund .

Alberta government proposes to snatch away joint governance of public sector workers’ pension funds

The UCP government in Alberta has made the unilateral decision to consolidate Alberta public sector pensions under the control of the Alberta Investment Management Corporation, a crown corporation administered by the provincial government . According to an article in the Calgary Herald,  “Unions blast provincial decision to shift billions in public sector pension funds” : “(The) government intends to reverse the option of public sector pension plans leaving AIMCo as a fund manager. Moreover, the Alberta Teachers Retirement Fund, Workers’ Compensation Board and Alberta Health Services will be expected to transfer funds to AIMCo for management, reducing redundant administration.” More details appeared  in  “Government contemplates changes to management of more than 400,000 Alberta workers’ pension plans” in the Edmonton Journal (Nov. 1) which summarizes the opposition  by the Alberta public sector unions on the grounds that the decision reverses a recent change that gave more than 351,000 public sector employees joint control of their pension funds, through  a joint governance model that had been authorized by 2018 legislation and which only took effect in March 2019.  The Edmonton Journal article also states that police and firefighter pensions might also be included in the government plans.  “Alberta’s public unions prep for a fight, whether in the streets or the courts” is a broader overview from CBC Calgary which discusses the pension consolidation, as well as the wage cuts and workforce reduction included in Bill 21 of the new budget under the new UCP government.

ccpa-bc_fossilpensions_june2018-thumbnail (1)The attempt to shift Alberta workers’ pension funds brings to mind the 2018 report, Canada’s Fossil-Fuelled Pensions: The Case of the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation by the Corporate Mapping Project.  The report found that  despite its statements that it was a climate responsible investor, BCI had actually increased its  fossil fuel investments – for example, by boosting investment from $36.7 million in 2016 to $65.3 million in 2017  in Kinder Morgan, owner of the Trans-Mountain pipeline.  And although the new publication by the Corporate Mapping Project,  Big Oil’s Political Reach: Mapping fossil fuel lobbying from Harper to Trudeau, examines the power of the fossil fuel industry at the federal level, some might argue that its influence could also extend to Alberta’s pension management decisions.

 

B.C. climate change legislation improves transparency, breaks cycle of “setting targets then missing them”

imageA press release from the government of British Columbia announced “Climate action gets new teeth with accountability act”, describing Bill 38, The Climate Change Accountability Amendment Act  introduced in the provincial legislature by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy on October 30. The press release summarizes the main provisions, including:

  • Government will set an interim emissions target for GHG emissions by no later than Dec. 31, 2020, on the path to the legislated 2030 target – which remains unchanged at  40% in greenhouse gas reductions below 2007 levels.
  • No later than March 31, 2021, separate 2030 sectoral targets will also be established following engagement with stakeholders, Indigenous peoples and communities, to “ make sure carbon pollution is reduced effectively across B.C.’s economy, homes, workplaces and transportation choices”.
  • Every fifth year, the climate change accountability report will include an updated provincial climate risk assessment, which will build on B.C.’s Preliminary Strategic Risk Assessment, published in July 2019.
  • A new independent advisory committee will be established, consisting of no more than 20 members, of which at least half must be women. The new committee is to be modelled on the Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council, now completed.

Initial response have been published by the Pembina Institute, which states: “We applaud the government for taking concrete steps to break the cycle of setting goals and missing them.” and  “The reforms put forward by the B.C. government should form a blueprint for transparency and accountability on climate action at the federal level. ”  Also, from the Business Coalition for a Clean Economy (an initiative of the Pembina Institute):  “As businesses committed to acting on climate change, we commend the government for its willingness to be accountable for its climate action promises.”

Less favourable reaction is reported by CTV News , which highlights reaction from the West Coast Environmental Law Association, (full statement here ) and also the Georgia Straight Alliance, whose spokesperson states:  “We are disappointed that B.C. did not choose to put a mechanism in place to reassess their climate targets in the light of the best available science, and will continue to advocate for them to do so.”

 

Climate change and oil economics threaten Canadian fisheries industry

In its July 2019 report, the Expert Panel on Climate Change Risks and Adaptation Potential identified fisheries as one of the top “domains” at risk from  climate change between 2020 to 2040 in Canada.  The experts recognized the complexity of the issue, stating: “the economic, social, and cultural context varies across Canada’s fisheries, and the choice of adaptation measures should be informed by the local situation …. Adaptation can be particularly challenging for communities that rely heavily on a single fishery, and can have widespread economic and social consequences…. A combination of approaches, including catch quotas, community management, regulations on fishing gear, ocean zoning, and economic incentives, can help manage and restore marine fisheries and ecosystems.”

ocean law developmentsOcean Law Developments in Canada 2015-2019  , published at the end of August, summarizes the significant legal progress that has been made in four relevant areas of regulation: ocean governance, protection, marine protection, and marine spills . Improvements noted in the report: the G7 Ocean Plastics Charter; Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean; the Coastal First Nations Fisheries Resources Reconciliation Agreement; creation of eight new Marine Protected Areas; Bill C-55,which amended the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act; the new Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, passed in June 2019; orders issued under the Species at Risk Act to protect the critical habitat of orcas, Right whales, bottlenose whales, belugas, leatherback turtles, abalone and seals; a series of measures to protect orcas on the West Coast, and rolling fisheries closures and seasonal speed restrictions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to reduce industrial pressure on North Atlantic Right whales;  new Fisheries Act, which among other things, includes prohibitions on habitat alteration, damage and destruction (HADD). The report was published by SeaBlue Canada , an alliance of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre, Oceans North, West Coast Environmental Law, and WWF-Canada, dedicated to protection of the oceans.

Will these changes be sufficient for the scale of the problems faced by Canadian fisheries industry?  While general reaction to the legislative changes has been favourable, as reviewed in this May article from the National Observer, many problems remain.

Fish or Oil for Newfoundland?

offshore oil rigOn September 5, CBC News reported on a press conference from Atlantic Canada, with the headline: “FFAW vows to stop oil and gas exploration in crab fishing area”.  The Fish, Food and Allied Workers union ( FFAW), a division of Unifor,  claims that oil interests were again put ahead of the interests of the fishery,  when the regulator, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board , opened bids by  oil companies for offshore areas in August.  The union is demanding that the bidding process be halted, claiming that it was not consulted, even though the call threatens prime fishing areas on which their livelihoods depend.  In November 2018 FFAW also protested when the C-NLOPB approved five successful bids by the oil and gas industry which, in two cases, allowed oil and gas exploration in marine refuge areas where fishing activity was restricted.

In August, the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL), which represents independent inland fishers, supported a call for an independent authority to oversee the environment in the province’s offshore oil and gas industry.  In spite of the C-NLOPB statement   that “Offshore safety and environmental protection are paramount in all Board decisions. “, the Sea Harvesters concern  seems understandable, given the recent history of oil spills from the Hibernia offshore oil platform in August, just days after it had resumed production following a spill in mid-July, and after the largest oil spill in Newfoundland’s history in November 2018.  The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters have also protested the damage done by the seismic testing related to oil exploration, as described by iPolitics in “Seismic testing concerns ignored in oil ‘obsessed’ NFLD and Labrador: union”   in April 2018.

West Coast salmon fishery and First Nations communities face “the worst commercial fishery in 50 years”

On the West Coast, the State of Canadian Pacific Salmon 2019: Responses to changing climate was published by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, summarizing a 2018 workshop of scientists which discussed the impacts of marine heatwaves, changes to marine food webs, warmer freshwater conditions, more extreme rain and drought, and various human activities. It concludes that “No single factor can explain all of the recent observed patterns in salmon abundances. Along with ecosystem changes, fisheries, hatcheries, disease, and contaminants can also affect salmon.”  On September 6, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced $15 million in additional annual funding to support wild Pacific salmon research and management, but meanwhile, 2019 has been reported as the worst commercial fishing season in 50 years, in  “Advocates sound alarm on unfolding disaster in B.C. salmon fishing industry” (CBC, Sept. 9)  and  the Globe and Mail published  “Labour and First Nations groups call for federal disaster relief for West Coast Fishery” (Sept. 9)  which states:  “As well as wanting immediate relief for struggling workers, the groups called on the federal government to develop a long-term strategy to conserve wild salmon in the face of climate change, which they described as a dire and growing threat to the species.”

Some of the “other factors” at play in the salmon crisis in 2019:  a massive obstruction of the Fraser River, caused by a rockslide ; sea lice infestation from farmed salmon (see “Sea Lice Plagues Return and Threat to Wild Salmon Increases” in The Tyee (June 11);  and shipping dangers, described in “Fraser River Chinook jeopardized by shipping terminal’s expansion” (July 29  ) in the National Observer.