NDP-Green alliance promises a new chapter for B.C. government and climate change policies

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B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan  (photo by The Canadian Press/Chad Hipolito)

According to a June 12 press release, the Legislature of British Columbia will be recalled on June 22, when a confidence motion will determine who will lead the government  after the cliff-hanger election of May 9.  Read “Greens to prop up NDP’s Horgan in minority BC government” in the National Observer (May 29) for an overview of the alliance reached between the Green Party and the New Democratic Party (NDP) as they prepare to form the new provincial  government.  What have they agreed on?  The text of the “Supply and Confidence” agreement, “founded on the principles of good faith and no surprises”,  is available at the B.C. NDP website . Major points of agreement on climate change issues are:  implacable opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline;  an increase in the province’s carbon tax by $5 a tonne each year from April 2018, rising to the nationally required $50 a tonne by 2021;  a six-month, independent review of the unpopular  Site C hydroelectric project (a concession by the Greens, who had wanted to axe it outright); revival of  the province’s Climate Leadership Team; and  an investigation into  the safety of fracking. Read also “What does a NDP- Green Alliance mean for Climate Change?” in the Climate Examiner (June 8), and for the larger picture beyond climate change-related issues, see “ BC NDP-Green agreement offers historic opportunity for game-changing new policies” by Seth Klein and Shannon Daub of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. , or  “NDP and Greens Promise Electoral Reform Referendum, Big Money Ban and Higher Carbon Tax”  in The Tyee (May 30).

The national implications of the coming changes to B.C. energy policy are raised by Kathryn Harris  in “A Historic moment for B.C. Politics and our Environment”  in the Globe and Mail (updated June 1), who states: “At the heart of the Trudeau government’s 2016 climate plan lies a political compromise: a commitment to pursue reductions in Canada’s own greenhouse gas emissions in exchange for expansion of fossil-fuel exports to other countries via new pipelines. The looming NDP-Green partnership in British Columbia reveals both the political fragility of that compromise and the contradiction of climate leadership funded by fossil-fuel development.”

In that controversial pipeline debate: new, required reading from the Parkland Institute: Will the Trans Mountain Pipeline and Tidewater Access Boost Prices and Save Canada’s Oil Industry?.  Author David Hughes  challenges the contention by pipeline proponents (for example, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley)  that Alberta would benefit from a “tidewater premium” by reaching global markets, and concludes that “The new BC government would be wise to withdraw the Province’s approval for this project.”  And “Showdown looms for LNG project”,  an overview article  in The Globe and Mail indicates the changes likely to come on that file, although the NDP-Green agreement doesn’t explicitly address the LNG issue.

The Pembina Institute offers an alternative to the Clark fossil fuel economy,  in their Vision for Clean Growth Economy  for B.C., released in May.  It outlines  five key priorities and makes specific recommendations for their achievement: 1. Build a strong clean tech sector 2. Position B.C. to be competitive in the changing global economy 3. Make clean choices more affordable 4. Stand up for healthy and safe communities, and 5. Grow sustainable resource jobs.

How the B.C. Insulators Union fights climate change and promotes green awareness in the construction industry

The Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change research project has released two  papers relating to the built environment, and more specifically, the accomplishments of one labour union in British Columbia to  promote major climate change improvements in the construction industry.  Evaluating the Impact of the BC Insulators’ Union Campaign to Promote Improved Mechanical Insulation Standards in BC’s Construction Industry   (April 2016) described the campaign by  BC Insulators union Local 118 to encourage municipalities in B.C. to require higher insulation standards in their building requirements and procurement contract tenders.  To do this, the union “funded independent, technical research papers, commissioned best practice manuals with detailed guidelines on installing MI and initiated an extensive and carefully organized public education campaign to pressure industry and government to raise standards. It approached municipalities, building contractors, government officials, property developers, industry professionals and trade organizations to alert them to the importance of reducing the energy footprint of buildings. It pressured governments to raise MI standards in procurement of new and refurbished buildings and implement tougher requirements in their building codes. And it introduced climate change literacy into the curriculum of the apprenticeship system it oversees.”

insulalater2-365x365The climate literacy curriculum is the subject of a new report released in April 2017: Promoting Climate Literacy in British Columbia’s Apprenticeship System: Evaluating One Union’s Efforts to Overcome Attitudinal Barriers to Low Carbon Construction   describes  the ‘Green Awareness’ course the union provides as part of the apprenticeship training for  all mechanical insulation trades workers in British Columbia. The two-module course was introduced in 2011 and is taught over the course of the first two years of the four-year program.  After conducting a review of the ‘Green Awareness’ course content, the research team performed qualitative interviews with a cohort of 2nd and 4th year apprentices to determine how effective the training had been.   These findings indicate the need for further refinements in the content and delivery of the ‘Green Awareness’ course material. The authors conclude that incorporating climate change-related course content into the training process is an important step in fostering climate literacy within the industry and should be encouraged in other trades. They caution, however, that its degree of impact will be limited unless more sweeping changes are made to the organization and culture of the construction industry itself.

Both papers were authored by John Calvert and Corinne Tallon.  The evaluation of the climate literacy program was presented at the International Labour Process Conference (ILPC), Sheffield, United Kingdom, April 4 – 6, 2017.

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B.C. Election 2017: focusing on energy and the environment amid all those scandals

Flag_of_British_Columbia.svgThe sitting Liberal government of British Columbia, led by Premier Christy Clark, is facing an election on May 9, amid allegations of corruption  – most recently, in  “How Teck Resources benefits from being the largest BC Liberal donor”  from West Coast Environmental Law (April 6).  The Energy Mix reports  that  the Supreme Court of B.C. will begin a review of the government’s ties to Kinder Morgan,  the company behind the Trans Mountain pipeline, on May 3rd .  There are also wider, older  allegations of “cash for access” and donation scandals – for examples, see  the Dogwood Institute reports .

The election is full of contentious issues –  follow “ B.C. in the Balance”, a special series of election reports by The Tyee , or  DeSmog Canada ,  or the CBC Vancouver website for ongoing coverage.  Context is provided by a  CCPA-BC Policy Note (April 4), which summarizes the results of a recent survey of B.C. residents’ concerns: affordable housing and the cost of living (26%), the environment (24%), and  jobs and the economy (15%).

For a climate change-related viewpoint, West Coast Environmental Law has published a comparison of the climate change-related elements of the platforms of the three parties, and a scorecard .

The Liberal party platform, released on April 10, states: “ To keep B.C.’s economy strong and growing, today’s BC Liberals will get Site C built – employing thousands, and guaranteeing a 100-year supply of clean, affordable, reliable power. And the platform outlines key actions to strengthen forestry, secure new mining investments, and grow B.C.’s energy sector, including LNG.”    The Pembina Institute reaction speaks for most environmentalists in opposing the government’s continuing focus on LNG development:  “The platform released today continues … doubling down on an LNG industry that would be responsible for 20 million tonnes of B.C.’s carbon pollution in 2050. B.C.’s legislated 2050 target for carbon pollution is 13 million tonnes. Clearly, LNG is not a climate solution.”

Irene Lanzinger, President of the B.C. Federation of Labour  and member of Green Jobs BC  is critical of the Liberal record on green jobs, in  an April 13 article in The Tyee  , and points to the Green Jobs BC priorities for green job growth: clean energy, transit, building retrofits and forestry.

The Green Party platform   includes a statement on Building the New Economy,  and the platform on climate leadership . The Green Platform is most notable for its pledge to increase B.C.’s carbon tax by $10 per tonne per year, reaching $50 per tonne by 2021. (as recommended by the shelved 2016 Climate Leadership Plan ).  David Suzuki praises the Green platform but states:  “Missing from this announcement are details of a funding framework for public transit infrastructure investment and a firm commitment to expand the use of low-impact renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and tidal power to achieve the province’s energy needs.”  According to West Coast Environmental Law, neither the Green nor NDP platform makes any statement about fossil fuel subsidies.

The NDP platform is here , and was welcomed by the Pembina Institute on its release:      “We are pleased to see the commitment to implementing the recommendations of the premier’s Climate Leadership Team, which plot a course to significantly reduce B.C.’s carbon pollution — in particular, the pledge to adopt the proposed 2030 target and sector-by-sector targets for emissions.”

B.C. Cleantech start-up companies show dramatic growth and a confident future

BC cleantech coverIn mid-March, the B.C. Cleantech CEO Alliance released British Columbia Cleantech: Status Report 2016 , the result of a survey conducted by consultants KPMG in Fall 2016.   The new Status Report  shows “dramatic growth” since the previous report in 2011, supporting the Alliance branding of B.C. cleantech as “the next pillar of the Canadian economy”.

Between 2011 and 2016,  “the number of Cleantech companies is up 35% to 273, the number of BC-based employees is up 20% to 8,560, average wages have increased by 24% to $84,000 and the amount of equity raised is also up 25% to $6 billion.” The sector employs highly trained workers, such as engineers, designers, and sales and marketing professionals, resulting in that high average salary. 91% of companies are located in the Greater Vancouver area.

The survey respondents were only those early-stage companies whose primary purpose is developing new technologies – respondents were distributed as follows:  20%  energy generation; 16%   transportation; 12 % Building efficiency; 12% Resource recovery and waste management; 11% industrial efficiency; 11% water and waste water; 7% transmission and storage; 4% sustainable agriculture,  and a miscellaneous 7% remainder. Given the early stage of these companies, the key focus in the survey was on the sources of finance and the business climate for entrepreneurs. Results show that there is a heavy reliance on federal and provincial government incentive programs – for example, 75% of respondent companies had applied to the Scientific research and experimental development (SR&ED) program and over half had applied to the federal Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP).

B.C. Municipalities urged to take fossil fuel giants to court

In January,  West Coast Environmental Law and over 50 other environmental, health, human rights, women’s rights, and faith-based organizations sent an Open Letter  to local municipalities in British Columbia, urging them  1.) to write to fossil fuel companies, demanding accountability for the climate change costs being borne by citizens , and 2.) To consider participating in a class action lawsuit against the big polluters.  As part of their new  initiative, called   Climate Law in Our Own Hands  , West Coast Environmental Law is offering legal research and support to interested local governments, as well as template letters and fossil fuel company addresses to facilitate the  letter-writing campaign.  WCEL argues that fossil fuel companies will only start working towards climate change solutions when they are held to account to pay their fair share for the damage being caused.   According to one of the Open Letter signatories, Sierra Club B.C. , “The Province of BC has estimated that Metro Vancouver Municipalities will need to spend $9.5 billion between now and 2100 to address rising sea-levels (about $100 million per year on average).”  The list could continue to add wildfires, the destruction of forests by the mountain pine beetle, drought, and extreme weather.

WCEL  is not new to this issue, but rather have been active since the 2015 landmark Urgenda case in the Netherlands , when they released their report  Taking climate justice into our own hands  , which included a draft Climate Compensation Act .  The new website,  Climate Law in Our Own Hands maintains a blog about legal actions around the world, including a November 2016  report about  420 “grannies”  in Switzerland who are working with  Greenpeace Switzerland to launch a legal challenge  against the Swiss government for inadequately addressing threats to their health and future generations from climate change.  Other high profile court cases underway include the challenge to stop Arctic drilling  by  Norweigian youth and Greenpeace in Norway ,  and the ongoing cases led by  Our Children’s Trust   against the U.S. federal and state  governments.  The federal case,  Juliana v.United States  first launched in 2015,  and most recently (November 10, 2016) has been permitted to proceed to trail, after Judge Ann Aiken issued an opinion and order denying the U.S. government and fossil fuel industry’s motions to dismiss .  The 21 plaintiffs, mostly teenagers, are suing for the constitutional right of future generations  to live in  a healthy and safe environment.