LNG, fossil subsidies as issues in B.C. election on October 24

British Columbia will vote on October 24, and climate and environmental issues are prominent in the Party Platforms of the ruling New Democratic Party (NDP) , the Green Party, and to a much lesser extent, the Liberal Party, which lacks any specific emissions reductions targets, and endorses LNG development.  

The NDP is running on its record and its 2018 CleanB.C. Plan; Sarah Cox wrote a detailed review in The Narwhal in September, “So there’s going to be a fall election in B.C.: has the NDP kept its environmental promises?” . A key NDP commitment  is to reach  net-zero emissions by 2050, but according to David Hughes at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (and many others), that won’t be possible with the current NDP policy to support the LNG industry –  explained, for example, in BC’s Carbon Conundrum Why LNG exports doom emissions-reduction targets and compromise Canada’s long-term energy security (July) . A related report, Subsidizing Climate Change:  how BC gives billions to corporate polluters  was published by Stand.earth in September, reporting that B.C. is second only to Alberta in subsidies to the oil and gas industry, at $557 million in 2018 (the last year for which data is available).  The Dogwood Institute also reports on this in “Tax-payer funded climate change” (Oct. 2) and “BC NDP candidates quiet as oil and gas subsidies soar (Oct. 7).  The NDP platform promises only “a comprehensive review of oil and natural gas royalty credits”. And on another hot-button issue, the Site C Dam – The Narwhal summarizes two critical reports that call for it to be scrapped in an October 15 article, and even the right-wing C.D. Howe Institute published Site C – the case is getting weaker .

For quick summaries and comparisons of all party platforms, see The Tyee “Where they Stand: Climate Change” , or an Explainer on climate and environmental issues in The Narwhal (October 19) .

B.C.’s Covid-19 economic recovery plans, and safety, WCB coverage for workers

“What Kind of Recovery Economy Is BC Planning to Build?” appeared in The Tyee (May 6)  discussing the British Columbia Economic Recovery Task Force, appointed in early April.  The article points out that the 19-member Task Force lacks any representation from environmental advocacy groups – although Laird Cronk, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour was appointed, along with the leaders of major business and community organizations, in addition to the Premier, cabinet ministers, and senior BC emerging economies taks forcecivil servants. The province also consults with their Climate Solutions Advisory Council, and on May 11, released the Final Report of the  Emerging Economies Task Force, appointed in 2018.  The press release affirms that it “will also be a valuable resource to help inform the province’s COVID-19 pandemic economic recovery”, despite the fact that it was submitted to the government in March 2020, and so pre-dates the Covid-19 crisis.  One of its five strategic priorities  of the Emerging Economies report is titled “Leveraging B.C.’s Green Economy”.

Worker safety as the economy re-opens

On May 6, Premier Horgan announced  Phase 2 , a cautious re-opening the economy. Responsibility for the safe opening and operation of workplaces is delegated to WorkSafe B.C., whose media release states: “As employers prepare to resume operations, they will need to have a safety plan in place that assesses the risk of COVID-19 transmission in their workplace, and develops measures to reduce these risks. This planning process must involve workers as much as possible to ensure their concerns are heard and addressed — this includes frontline workers, supervisors, Joint Health and Safety Committees, and/or worker representatives.” WorkSafeB.C. will issue industry-specific guidance and promises consultation with workers and employers; their general resources for Covid-19 return to work is here

The B.C. Federation of Labour  reacted on May 11 to the announcement that the Workers Compensation Board will add COVID-19 to Schedule 1 of the Workers Compensation Act, thereby granting “presumptive coverage” and expediting workers’ claims.  According to the B.C. Fed, there were  317 COVID-19-related WCB claims in B.C. as of April 29. The B.C. Fed had advocated for the enhanced WCB protection, as well as for the enhanced sick leave protections and $1,000 tax-free provincial Emergency Benefit for Workers, announced in March.

Related Note: On May 7, the Vancouver Just Recovery Coalition  released a statement signed by community, advocacy groups and unions, stating:   “As our federal, provincial and municipal governments begin to strategize on their post-COVID recovery and rebuilding strategies, we need to prioritize those most impacted, ensuring that our economic recovery lessens existing inequalities, respects Indigenous rights, and tackles the climate emergency. The pre-COVID status quo was failing too many people. ”

 

A Just Plan to wind down B.C.’s Fossil fuel industry by 2050

Winding Down_report cover_CCPA-BC_1  Winding Down BC’s Fossil Fuel Industries: Planning for climate justice in a zero-carbon economy   was released on March 4  by the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, as part of the Corporate Mapping Project.  Authors Marc Lee and Seth Klein begin with an overview of the province’s  fossil fuel industries (including locations, production and reserves)  noting that all fossils produce one-quarter of B.C.’s GHG emissions, (most of which is from Liquified Natural Gas (LNG)). Calling the government’s current strategy of promoting LNG production through clean electricity “untenable”, the report proposes a four-point phase-out plan for all fossils over the next 20 to 30 years, including: 1. Establish carbon budgets and fossil fuel production limits; 2. Invest in the domestic transition from fossil fuels and develop a green industrial strategy; 3. Ensure a just transition for workers and communities; 4. Reform the royalty regime for fossil fuel extraction.

To design a Just Transition plan, the authors cite as “helpful” the examples of the Alberta coal phase-out and the 2018 coal phase-out agreement in Spain, as well as the existing Columbia Basin Trust example of community transition.  In the long time frame of 20 to 30 years, they see the retirement of many existing workers, so that attrition will accomplish much of the job shedding. Although they say that Just-transition strategies “must include efforts to maintain employment in areas where jobs are likely to be lost” – implying reinvestment in resource-based communities – they also recognize the built-in gender bias of such a strategy and advocate investment in  public sector jobs – such as child care and seniors services.

To secure Just Transition funding

The report states:

“ ….BC should aim to invest 2 per cent of its GDP per year … or about $6 billion per year in 2019, an amount that would grow in line with the provincial economy. Assuring such levels of investment should give comfort to workers currently employed in the fossil fuel industry. Revenues from higher carbon taxes and royalty reforms (described below) would be an ideal source of funds, and/or governments could borrow (through green bonds) to undertake high levels of capital spending on decarbonization initiatives. In contrast, the 2019 BC Budget lists total operating and capital expenses for CleanBC over the next three years at, cumulatively, only $679 million, less than one-tenth of a percent of BC’s GDP.”

Managing Income loss for transitioned workers:

The authors state: “On average, fossil fuel workers make 28 per cent more than workers in the rest of the economy, although this includes gasoline station workers who earn  comparably low wages. Replacing more than $5 billion of income over the course of the wind-down period is therefore a central challenge”…. By assuming a 20 to 30 year time frame, they calculate a job substitution of 500 to 700 jobs per year, and state: “ There is no reason to believe that such a transition should be a problem if the right policy supports are implemented and a proactive green investment strategy is pursued to create alternative employment options.”  Earlier in the report, the authors estimate that, assuming the province invests 2 per cent of its GDP annually (about $6 billion in 2019) in green job creation, at least 42,000 direct and indirect jobs would be created  in a range of opportunities.

The CCPA offers an 8-page Executive Summary of the report, and an even briefer version , written by co-author Marc Lee, was published in the Vancouver Sun on March 8.

Clean Energy B.C. : reports reflect little progress in jobs and training; new Climate Solutions Council appointed

cleanbc logoAt the showcase Global 2020 conference in Vancouver on February 10, the government of British Columbia released the  2019 CleanBC Climate Change Accountability Report, titled Building a Cleaner, Stronger  B.C.. The report  is a comprehensive summary of the policies under the Clean BC plan, especially focused on energy efficiency in the built environment, waste management,  and electrification of transportation. Amongst the statistical indicators reported: The carbon intensity of B.C’s economy has gone down 19% over the last 10 years while jobs  in the environmental and clean tech sectors have doubled. The report provides detailed emission forecasts and breakdowns by sector. Ironically, given the current Canada-wide protests in solidarity with the Coastal GasLink dispute with the Wet’suwet’en people,  Section 7 highlights co-operative relations with Indigenous People.  Section 4 reports on the oil and gas industry.

Jobs and job training under Clean BC: 

The 2019 Accountability Report  briefly mentions the “CleanBC Job Readiness Plan”, for which consultations were held for one month, in November 2019 (discussions archived here) . It states: “Our job readiness plan will respond to feedback from stakeholders, assessments of labour market conditions and economic trends in a low-carbon economy—providing a framework for sector-specific actions and guiding investments in skills training. Consultations will continue into 2020.” The named sectors of interest are: clean buildings and construction, energy efficiency, transportation, waste management, sustainable tourism, sustainability education, and urban planning.

Indicators to measure “affordability, rural development, the clean economy and clean jobs, reconciliation and gender equality ” are promised for future reports.  Until then, there there are no statistical measures of the impact of the CleanBC policies on jobs, incomes, or workers.  In Appendix A, which summarizes current initiatives and their GHG emissions reduction impact, the category of “Economic Transition” does not measure jobs or income. Another sector- specific chart in Appendix A includes the category:  “Helping people get the skills they need”, but it does not quantify how that would impact GHG emissions reduction, and  consists of two entries: • “Develop programs like Energy Step Code training and certification, and Certified Retrofit Professional accreditation • Expand job training for electric and other zero-emission vehicles.”  Elsewhere in the text, two programs are briefly highlighted:  the new EV Maintenance Training Program at B.C. Institute of Technology, and the Sustainable energy engineering program at Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus.  On page 64, the report highlights skills training programs for small business, citing the BC Tech Co-op Grant, ( up to $10,800 for hiring new coop students in clean tech).

Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council releases a final report and recommendations to end its mandate; New Climate Solutions Council appointed

The February 10 government press release also announced the appointment of a new Climate Solutions Council to act as an independent advisor, and to track progress on Clean BC Phase 2.  The new Council replaces the Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council, which completed its 2-year mandate at the end of 2019 with the publication of a final report and recommendations, here . While attention now shifts to the new Council, the detailed recommendations of the original Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council merit consideration – although they reflect a primary concern with business, and particularly natural resources (worth noting here: the Council was co-chaired by the Senior VP, Sustainability & External Affairs of Teck Resources – the same company whose controversial Frontier oil sands mine project in Alberta is awaiting a  federal cabinet decision in February 2020.)   The voice of labour comes through most clearly in the Recommendations regarding the proposed Implementation Plan (p. 7), which calls  for “ Stronger focus on just transition planning, including the Labour Readiness Plan: Government needs a stronger plan for labour readiness and adjustment. This would take the form of more funding and details regarding the assessment, timeline, output and desired outcomes, and the Ministry or Ministries responsible.” The Council also notes that “enduring support will necessitate ongoing engagement with Indigenous and nonIndigenous communities, industry, civil society, youth and young adults, organized labour, and utilities.”

The new Climate Solutions Council  is Co-chaired by Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, and Colleen Giroux-Schmidt, vice-president of Corporate Relations, Innergex Renewable Energy Inc.  Along with environmentalists, First Nations, and academics such as Marc Jaccard and Nancy Olewiler, the new Climate Solutions Council includes Labour representation by David Black, (President of MoveUP), and  Danielle (DJ) Pohl , (President of the Fraser Valley Labour Council).  Industry representatives include Tom Syer, (Head of Government Affairs , Teck Resources),  Skye McConnell, (Manager of Policy and Advocacy, Shell Canada), and Kurt Niquidet, (Vice-President of the Council of Forest Industries).  All members are listed and profiled here  .

Fossil fuel and LNG subsidies in B.C., and an alternate viewpoint on the issue

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) maintains an ongoing initiative, the Global Subsidies Initiative , to research fossil fuel subsidies worldwide.  Their most recent publication relating to Canada is  Locked In and Losing Out: British Columbia’s fossil fuel subsidies. The authors calculate that BC’s fossil fuel subsidies reached  $830 million Cdn.  in 2017–2018, with no end in sight. Despite B.C.’s clean energy image, the report documents the significant new support granted by the current B.C. government to encourage the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry.  Locked In and Losing Out calls for the provincial government to create a plan to phase-out its own subsidies, and coordinate with the federal government in its current  G20 Peer Review of fossil fuel subsidies, launched in 2019 and administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada.   In August 2019, the IISD also released its Submission to Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Consultation on Non-Tax Fossil Fuel Subsidies calling for Canada to re-affirm its long-standing  G7 commitment to reform fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 and provide a detailed action plan to achieve the goal.  

new labor forumAn alternate view

Sean Sweeney of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy takes an alternate view on fossil fuel subsidies in “Weaponizing the numbers: The Hidden Agenda Behind Fossil-Fuel Subsidy Reform” appearing in the January 2020 issue of  New Labor Forum. As might be expected, Sweeney challenges the findings and assumptions of the International Monetary Fund (for example, in a 2019 working paper by David Coady ). He also takes issue with some progressive analysis – notably, he cites  Fossil Fuel to Clean Energy Subsidy Swaps: How to Pay for an Energy Revolution (2019) and Zombie Energy: Climate benefits of ending subsidies to fossil fuel production (2017)  – both published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).  After a brief discussion of the main concepts, Sweeney concludes:

“For activists in the North, making fossil-fuel subsidies a key political target is a mistake. It buys into the IMF’s obsession with “getting energy prices right” which targets state ownership and regulation of prices. Such an approach may lead to a more judicious use of energy, but it would not address the mammoth challenges involved in transitioning away from fossil fuels, controlling and reducing unnecessary economic activity, or reducing emissions is expeditiously as possible.

The problem is fossil fuel dependency, not underpriced energy. Raising the price without alternative forms of low-carbon energy available for all will not produce the kind of emissions reductions the world needs. This does not mean that progressive unions and the left should support subsidies for fossil fuels—especially when the beneficiaries are large for-profit industrial users or billionaire Lamborghini owners cruising the strips in Riyadh or Shanghai. But there is a need to be aware of what the IMF and the subsidy reform organizations are proposing, and what these proposals might mean for workers and ordinary people, especially in the Global South.”