B.C. LNG project approved despite emissions, fracking

lngcanadakitimat1_160204Described as one of the largest infrastructure projects ever in Canada, a $40-billion liquefied natural gas project in northern British Columbia was approved on October 1, and the five investors – Royal Dutch Shell, Mitsubishi Corp., Malaysian-owned Petronas, PetroChina Co. and Korean Gas Corp. –  have stated that construction on the pipeline and a processing plant will begin immediately. According to the CBC report , the project is expected to employ as many as 10,000 people in its construction and up to 950 in full-time jobs. The processing plant will be located in Kitimat, which is within the traditional territory of the Haisla First Nation, and which is in favour of the project, as are the elected councils of 25 First Nations communities along the pipeline route.  The B.C. Federation of Labour also supports the project, as stated in its press release: “The Federation and a number of other unions have been part of the LNG process since 2013….As a part of the former Premier’s LNG Working Group, and the new government’s Workforce Development Advisory Group with First Nations and LNG Canada, labour pushed for many of the work force provisions that are reflected in today’s final investment decision”.

That leaves environmental activists in opposition. Although B.C.’s Premier announced the project with as “B.C.’s new LNG Framework to deliver record investment, world’s cleanest LNG facility”  , the project’s emissions will represent more than one-quarter of B.C.’s legislated targets for carbon pollution in 2050.  Both the Pembina Institute and Clean Energy Canada   note how difficult it will be to reach B.C.’s targets for clean growth (currently under a consultation process), and Pembina warns of the dangers of fracking and of methane emissions associated with natural gas.  Reflecting years of opposition, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives wrote   “LNG is incompatible with B.C.’s climate obligations” (July 11). As far back as 2015, CCPA B.C. published  A Clear Look at B.C. LNG: Energy Security, Environmental Implications, and Economic Potential ,  by David Hughes.   An October 2  Maclean’s published an Opinion  piece, “Will LNG Canada increase greenhouse-gas emissions? It’s complicated.”  which considers (and rejects) the idea that B.C. LNG  might have a global benefit if it displaces coal use in China .

And finally, the issue of fossil fuel subsidies, which Canada and other G20 countries have promised to phase out.  In  “LNG Canada project called a ‘tax giveaway’ as B.C. approves massive subsidies” in The Narwhal,  author Sarah Cox reports that a senior B.C. government official “pegged the province’s total financial incentives for the project at $5.35 billion”, including break on the carbon tax, cheaper electricity rates, a provincial sales tax exemption during the project’s five-year construction period, and a natural gas tax credit.

The B.C. Green party, which has to date supported the current minority NDP government through a Confidence and Supply Agreement , maintains an online petition called  LNG is not worth it  . Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver issued this statement on October 1, expressing disappointment and stating:

“The government does not have our votes to implement this regime…..Despite our profound disappointment on this issue, we have been working closely in good faith with the government to develop a Clean Growth Strategy to aggressively reduce emissions and electrify our economy. The B.C. NDP campaigned to implement a plan to meet our targets and reaffirmed that promise in our Confidence and Supply Agreement. We will hold them to account on this. We will have more to say once that plan becomes public later this year.”

Federal Court of Appeal stops Trans Mountain pipeline in its tracks

killer whales rainforestAn August 30 decision by the Federal Court of Appeal  has quashed the approval of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion, directing that the the consultation with First Nations be re-done before the approval can again be considered.  The Court’s decision was based on two grounds: 1). Failure to adequately consult with First Nations –  characterizing the interaction as more “note-taking” than consultation – and 2) the National Energy Board  did not consider  the environmental impacts of  oil tanker traffic, especially its effect on the Southern Resident Orca Whales .  The Court stated:  “The unjustified exclusion of project-related marine shipping from the definition of the project rendered the board’s report impermissibly flawed”.  The National Observer has summarized the decision thoroughly  here , and maintains an ongoing series on “Kinder Morgan” here .  CBC News produced several stories, including a broad overview, including reactions, in “After Federal Court quashes Trans Mountain, Rachel Notley pulls out of national climate plan” .  A straightforward, briefer summary appeared in the Calgary Herald, “Five things to know about today’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Court Ruling” .

Reaction from environmentalists and First Nations is understandably overjoyed. EcoJustice, one of the main legal players in this consolidated case issued a press release  jointly  with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and  Living Oceans Society, emphasizing the conservation aspects of the decision. It states: “The past six years have been a hard-fought battle against a project that has come to symbolize some of the defining issues Canadians face at this moment in time: Navigating the ongoing process of reconciliation, mitigating climate change, and protecting the land and water for future generations.”   Climate Action Network states that “This decision from the Federal Court of Appeal affirms the primacy of Indigenous rights and community consent. “  The David Suzuki Foundation press release touches on both aspects of the decision, saying “What is clear is that today’s decision sets a new high-water mark in terms of what it means to achieve true reconciliation, with Indigenous Peoples and nature.”  From The Narwhal,  “The death of Trans Mountain pipeline signals future of Indigenous rights: Chiefs” is a good compilation of First Nations response, to be read along with the Vancouver Sun‘s “B.C. First Nations Divided on Kinder Morgan Ruling”.

Another environmentalist reaction: “‘This pipeline is dead’: Stand.earth applauds federal court decision on Trans Mountain Pipeline”  which states: “Today’s victory is a vindication for everyone who worked to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project — the hundreds of Water Protectors who were arrested in acts of peaceful civil disobedience, the tens of thousands of climate activists who marched against this pipeline, and the millions of Canadians who used their votes to elect candidates committed to creating a better future for Canada and the world.”

What does this mean for Canadian climate policy?  Professor David Tindall of University of British Columbia wrote an Opinion piece which appeared  in The Conversation on August 30, “Trans Mountain ruling: Victory for environmentalists, but a setback for action on climate change”.  He states: “While environmentalists can claim a victory in delaying the construction of a pipeline that would ship a further 500,000 barrels of oil each day to the Pacific Coast, the court ruling also threatens Canada’s plan to deal adequately with its greenhouse gas emissions. ”   A fuller discussion of this dilemma appears in “Trans Mountain pipeline ruling shakes central pillar of Trudeau agenda” (Aug. 31)  in the National Observer, and features in the many arguments for “Why Ottawa should step away from the Trans Mountain pipeline” , in Policy Options in August.  (A follow-up to an August 29 Open Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau on the topic, from 189 Canadian academics).  Finally, “The Global Rightward Shift on Climate Change”  in The Atlantic    (Aug. 28) examines Trudeau’s contradictory policies even before the Court decision,  in light of the recent ouster of Australia’s Prime Minister, partly over energy policies.

The threat to federal climate change policy comes because Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley, in reaction to the Court’s decision,  pulled the province out of the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, blaming the federal government for “the mess we find ourselves in”.  The Premier’s press release issues an ultimatum, stating: “…Alberta, and indeed Canada, can’t transition to a lower carbon economy, …if we can’t provide the jobs and prosperity that comes from getting fair value for our resources….So the time for Canadian niceties is over… First, the federal government must immediately launch an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Even more importantly, Ottawa must immediately recall an emergency session of Parliament to assert its authority and fix the NEB process as it relates to this project to make it clear that marine matters have been and will be dealt in a different forum.  Then Ottawa needs to roll up its sleeves and continue its work to protect our coast and improve consultation and accommodation relating to Indigenous peoples in the way they deserve.”

The political context is behind Notley’s response is  reported in “‘Notley’s in a lot of trouble’: Massive political fallout from Trans Mountain court decision” in the Calgary Herald and in the Edmonton Journal (Aug. 31) :  “’It is a crisis’: Alberta premier withdraws support for federal climate plan after Trans Mountain approval quashed” . Other Western politicians are quoted in  “ ‘A hideously expensive white elephant’: Essential quotes on the quashing of the Trans Mountain pipeline approval”  in the Calgary HeraldReaction from British Columbia’s  Premier  was brief, and focused on First Nations rights;  the mayors of Burnaby and Vancouver B.C.  were more enthusiastic (having been part of the applicant group of the case) .

What’s Next?  The Prime Minister reiterated federal resolve to build the pipeline in an interview on August 31, after the decision.  Construction has been stopped indefinitely, but a CBC analysis cautions, “Don’t dig Trans Mountain’s grave just yet” , and UBC Professor George Hoberg has predicted that it will take another 18 months at least for the issue to reach, and be decided, in the Supreme Court of Canada.  And in the meantime, in Canada, the September 8 RISE Global Day of Climate Action will be a day of celebration .

 

B.C. consultation on “Clean Growth” policies for transportation, industry, and the built environment

Flag_of_British_Columbia.svgWhile British Columbia is understandably preoccupied with the devastating wildfires raging across the entire province, an engagement process called Towards a Clean Growth Future in B.C.  was launched on July 20, with a short, summertime deadline of August 24.

Three brief Intentions Papers have been published to solicit public input : Clean Transportation ,which discusses policies to incentivize Zero Emissions Vehicles – including the possibility of a ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel light duty vehicles by 2040;  Clean, Efficient Buildings,  which proposes five steps to cleaner buildings, including Energy efficiency labeling information, financial incentives, and additional training for workers in energy efficient retrofitting and in the new-build Energy Step code; and A Clean Growth Program for Industry , which includes the province’s Industrial Incentive under the carbon tax regime and addresses the potential dangers of “carbon leakage”.

Public Submissions are available online  and to date have been submitted by: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), written by Marc Lee ; Closer Commutes ;   The Wilderness Committee ; and  The Pembina Institute , which at 37 pages is extremely detailed, and includes 5 recommendations relating to Training and Certification for Clean Buildings,  including  a call for “a construction labour strategy that addresses skilled labour gaps and equity issues in the building industry. Integrate with emerging technology and innovation strategy to foster greater use of automation and prefabrication.”

The West Coast Environmental Law Association (WCEL)  also posted a thorough discussion of the Clean Growth proposals on its own website on August 16.  “BC’s decade-delayed climate strategies show why we need legal accountability” by Andrew Gage notes that the intentions papers are largely built on existing proposals (some dating back to the 2008 Climate Action Team  Report ), and that they are not complete, as the government is also developing proposals through its  Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council  and the newly appointed Emerging Economy Task Force .  (The Wilderness Committee calls the proposals “underwhelming”). Whatever the final policies that flow from these consultations, WCEL emphasizes the importance of demanding accountability, and like Marc Lee in his submission, points to the success of the U.K.’s Climate Accountability Act (2008). WCEL has previously critiqued  Bill 34, B.C.’s  Climate Change Accountability Act which received Royal Assent on  May 31 2018.

Another commentary, appearing in the National Observer (July 27) addresses the weakness of the transportation proposals.  “B.C.’s climate plan needs a push – from you”  refers to the author’s more detailed report, Transportation Transformation: Building complete communities and a zero-emission transportation system in BC , which was published by the CCPA in 2011.

The CCPA also published an article on August 2, 2018 in Policy Note:  “The Problem with B.C.’s Clean Growth climate rhetoric” . Author Marc Lee reviews the history of the term “clean growth” and offers his critique, noting that clean growth “promises change without fundamentally disrupting the existing economic and social order.”

Individuals have until August 24 to can email their input to clean.growth@gov.bc.ca .

New report calls on B.C. Pension Fund management to divest from fossil fuels, reinvest in renewables

ccpa-bc_fossilpensions_june2018-thumbnailThe British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCI) is the fourth largest pension fund manager in Canada,  and controls capital of $135.5 billion, including the pension funds of the province’s public employees.  A June report asks the question: is BCI investing funds in ways that support the shift to a two degree C global warming limit?  The answer is “no”, and in fact, fossil fuel investments have been increasing, according to the authors of  Canada’s Fossil-Fuelled Pensions: The Case of the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation   . For example, BCI boosted its investment in Kinder Morgan, owner of the Trans-Mountain pipeline, to $65.3 million in 2017 from $36.7 million in 2016.

An article in the Victoria B.C. Times Colonist newspaper  summarizes the study and includes reaction from one of  the authors, James Rowe, an associate professor at University of Victoria.  Rowe  states: “BCI claims to be a responsible investor. …But we find some hypocrisy in that we don’t find any good signs they are investing with climate change in mind.”  The article also quotes an email from BCI,  which defends the investment in Kinder Morgan, as “a passive investment held inside funds designed to track Canadian and global markets.”  Further, it states, “BCI does invest in oil and gas companies, but that particular sector accounts for a significant portion of the Canadian economy. It’s about 20 per cent of the composite index on the Toronto Stock Exchange.”  For more from BCI,  see their website which  provides their  2017 Responsible Investing Annual Report , as well as a Responsible Investing Newsletter, with the most recent issue (Oct. 2017) devoted to “Transparency and Disclosure”.

Canada’s Fossil-Fuelled Pensions: The Case of the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation   makes the following recommendations so that  BCI can align its investments with the 2°C limit:

  1. “A portfolio-wide climate change risk analysis to determine the impact of fossil fuels on BCI’s public equity investments in the context of the 2°C limit. And, subsequent disclosure of all findings to pension members.
  2. Divestment. The surest way to address the financial and moral risks associated with investing in the fossil fuel industry is to start the process of divestment: freezing any new investment and developing a plan to first remove high-risk companies from portfolios, particularly coal and oil sands producers, and then moving toward sector-wide divestment.
  3. Reinvest divested funds in more sustainable stocks. The International Energy Agency estimates that trillions of dollars of investment are needed in the renewables sector to support the transition away from fossil fuels.”

The report is part of the Corporate Mapping Project (CMP), jointly led by the University of Victoria, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and Parkland Institute. CMP is  a research and public engagement initiative investigating power dynamics within the fossil fuel industry.

Recognition of the mental health impacts of flooding and wildfires in Canada – B.C. offers support

A June 2018 report from the Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation  at the University of Waterloo presents statistics about the rising financial costs of weather-related disasters in Canada, and  profiles the results of 100 door-to-door interviews with households in flooded communities around Burlington Ontario. After the Flood: The Impact of Climate on Mental Health and Lost Time From Work   found that members of households which had been flooded experienced significantly more worry and stress than non-flooded households, and the worry and stress persisted even up to 3 years after the event. After the Flood also reported that 56% of flooded households had at least one working member who took time off work, and that the average time lost was seven days per flooded household (10 times greater than the average absenteeism for non-flooded workers).

The report cites official documents concerning the growing financial costs of disasters for example, the 2016 report from Canada’s Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer ,  Estimates of the Average Annual Cost for Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements due to Weather Events and includes a bibliography of the growing  international public health literature concerning the health effects of weather disasters.

talk in tough times logoOther official recognition of the rising dangers of extreme weather events:  in May 2018, the Province of British Columbia, under the leadership of Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, announced mental health support services for those who might be impacted by re-living their experiences from the record-breaking 2017 wildfire season.   In partnership with the B.C. branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the program directs people to support services through a Facebook campaign called Talk in Tough Times, and a phone-based support program.

Federally, the  Minister of Infrastructure and Communities announced the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund in May 2018, a 10-year national program that will invest $2 billion in infrastructure projects such as diversion channels, wetland restorations, wildfire barriers and setback levees, to help communities better withstand natural hazards such as floods, wildfires, seismic events and droughts.