COP24 Updates and Week 2: Voices of unions, business, the U.S., and youth

COP24-table of delegatesThe official meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP 24) in Katowice began optimistically, with  over 40  countries, including Canada,  adopting the host country’s Solidarity and Just Transition  Silesia Declaration . On the same day, December 3,   IndustriALL Global Union and IndustriAll European Trade Union issued a joint declaration demanding a Just Transition for workers  .  The week ended with a diplomatic stand-off on whether delegates would “welcome” or “recognize” the landmark IPCC Scientific report – with four obdurate fossil fuel countries – U.S., Russia,  Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait –refusing  to use the word  “welcome”;  The Energy Mix summarizes those weekend negotiations and why the outcome is important – the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a statement that they are “deeply alarmed” by the U.S. position.    DeSmog UK sums up some of the concerns from Week 1 in  ‘We Cannot Accept an Unjust Energy Transition’: Future of Coal Communities Becomes Crucial Issue at Climate Talks”  .   The good news, according to an ITUC policy officer quoted in the article, is that “never, ever, before had climate negotiators debated so much about the impacts of the energy transition on workers and their communities”.

Away from the official agenda, in all-important side meetings:  on December 6, the Polish trade union Solidarność signed a joint declaration  with the U.S. Heartland Institute, aligning itself with the climate denying group and rejecting climate science.  A series of meetings were co-organized by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED)  ,  Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA)Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung-New York Office, the UK’s Public and Commercial Services UnionFriends of the Earth Europetransform! europe. The Agenda of the meetings is here ; discussion focused on the TUED discussion paper  written by  Sean Sweeney and John Treat,   When “Green” Doesn’t “Grow”: Facing Up to the Failures of Profit-Driven Climate Policy,  which is described as  “a discussion paper highlighting the failures of profit-driven climate policy and making the case for an alternative approach that focuses on the public good and meeting basic human needs, and that embraces the struggle for public / social ownership and democratic control over energy resources and use.”   It concludes with the observation that at the moment, everyone is being left behind. “This is not a scenario that unions can accept. Only a coordinated, public-goods approach allows us to escape the contradictions of commodified energy systems that pit some workers against others.”

Week 2, which runs from December 10 to 17th, has seen the arrival of political leaders, including Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna.  An interview with McKenna on her first day in Katowice appears  in the National Observer,  “McKenna says climate targets could be law in future” .  One of the issues addressed in the interview: a new report from Stand.earth and Environmental Defence, Canada’s Oil and Gas Challenge: A Summary Analysis of Rising Oil and Gas Industry Emissions in Canada and Progress Towards Meeting Climate Targets ,  which  shows how oil and gas emissions in Canada are rising, and documents examples of how oil and gas companies have influenced  Canada’s climate policies. It calls for phasing out subsidies to the oil and gas sector on an accelerated timeline, and extending just transition policies , especially to oil and gas workers. McKenna did not commit to any such new policies.

In its only official event, the  U.S. Administration attempted to lead a session on December 10,  called “US innovative technologies spur economic dynamism”, which promotes “ clean coal”.  As reported by Common Dreams  and DeSmog UK , protesters – mostly young people – disrupted the meeting  with laughter and speeches before they walked out.  Think Progress summarizes the event and the U.S. presence at COP24 in “Anger, protests greet U.S. fossil fuels side event at U.N. climate talks”.  In contrast to the positions of the U.S. Administration, We are Still In  , the coalition of U.S. state and local governments and organizations, is presenting a full slate of presentations and panels supporting the Paris Agreement – their agenda is here .  Included under this umbrella are the positions of the U.S. business community, including the We Mean Business coalition .  Their  blog, “Why we need a Just Transition to a Low Carbon World” summarizes their report, released at COP24:  Climate and the Just Transition: The Business Case for Action   .

From an international business view,  Climate Change and the  Just Transition: An  Investor  Guide was released on December 10   by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, in partnership with the the Initiative for Responsible Investment at the Harvard Kennedy School.    The International Trade Union Confederation is also listed as a partner in this publication.  The Guide endorses the need for Just Transition and illustrates a review of academic research and reveals the viewpoints of the financial community on the value of Just Transition. The release of the report coincides with the release of a Global Investor Statement  by some of the world’s largest pension funds, asset managers and insurance companies, which calls for governments to phase out thermal coal power, put a meaningful price on carbon, and phase out fossil fuel subsidies. It’s significance is described  in The Guardian article, “Largest ever group of global investors call for more action to meet Paris targets”   .  The Investor Group Briefing Paper  includes an endorsement of the Powering past Coal Alliance, and states: “Investors encourage governments to transition to a low carbon economy in a sustainable and economically inclusive way. As stated in the Paris Agreement, this must include “the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities”, by providing appropriate support for workers and communities in industries undergoing transition . Additionally, governments should work with investors to ensure that the benefits and opportunities created by acting on climate change and the increased adoption of clean energy technologies are accessible to all”.

For COP24 News  from a trade union perspective , read a blog by Philip Pearson appear in “Breaking News” at the Greener Jobs Alliance website or the  COP24 Blog by IndustriALL  .

And for another view of the “unofficial” side of COP24, check Democracy Now, which is reporting from Katowice.   “Thousands Protest at U.N. Climate Summit in Coal-Heavy Poland, Facing Riot Police & Intimidation ”   was posted on December 10,  and Amy Goodman interviewed Swedish teenager and “climate hero” Greta Thunberg  on December 11.  December 8 was officially dedicated to Youth voices , with Greta being the most publicized, but certainly not alone.  Last words to Greta and the  young people she represents:   “… we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future,” …. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge.”  And from video of a speech posted by the UNFCC , she states: “The first thing I have learned is that you’re never too small to make a difference.”greta speech cop24

Opposition to Trump’s Executive Order targeting the Clean Power Plan

The Labor Network for Sustainability in the U.S.  released a new paper,  “Trump’s Energy Plan: A Brighter Future for America’s Workers? , which urges the labour movement to “unwrap the package” and examine the proposals in Trump’s America First Energy Policy , released on the first day after his  Inauguration.  LNS reviews and refutes the major planks in that policy, including the “bring back the coal industry” claim, and states, “Our hard-hit coal miners and communities deserve a plan that will enable them to find decent livelihoods in the future, not one that lures them with illusions that it will bring the coal industry back.”  LNS has previously published its plan,  The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs, Saving Money , written by Synapse Economics .

trumphardhatThe most recent installment of the America First Energy Policy was released on March 28: the  Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth , replete with the illusory promise to bring back coal jobs.  Summaries and explanations are easy to find: from the Office of the White House Press Secretary ;  the Brookings Institute  ;  “The Giant Trump Order is Here. What it is, what it does”  in The Atlantic; “Trump just gutted U.S. policies to fight climate change”  from Think Progress . Dismay and outrage is also widespread, summed up by Vox :“This is it. The battle over the future of US climate policy is officially underway”.  Even the mainstream Washington Post brings out the battle imagery in its headlines:   “The standoff between Trump and green groups just boiled into war” (March 30)  ,  and “The assault on climate science is evil, and evil must be fought”   (March 31).

Although disguised in the language of job creation for coal miners, the Executive Order goes beyond the attack on the Clean Power Plan and coal-fired power plants  –  empowering the Cabinet to review and rollback  other Obama-era policies, including limits on methane leaks, a moratorium on federal coal leasing, and the use of the social cost of carbon to guide government actions. The Editorial Board of the New York Times sums up the scale of the attack:  “President Trump risks the Planet”  (March 28) .

The claim of “bringing back coal jobs” has been disproved repeatedly and convincingly. Typical is the press release from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis , which sees “zero employment impact” from Trump’s measures, stating,  “Market forces overwhelmingly favor natural gas-fired electricity generation and renewable energy, and the trend away from coal will continue”…. Coal is simply being outpaced. It is an industry in decline, and the fundamentals are inescapable.”  “A simple way to see why Trump’s climate order won’t bring back many coal jobs”  in Vox refers to the Department of Energy  Annual Energy Outlook 2017 , which projected that without the Clean Power Plan,  U.S. coal consumption would rebound only as far as the  historically low levels of 2015, when there were approximately 63,000 coal miners in America.  Today, there are approximately 50,000.   Compare this to the solar workforce, which created 51,000  jobs in 2016 alone – to bring the total number to 260,077 U.S. solar workers, according to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census.  Even the CEO of Murray Energy, the largest privately-owned coal company in the U.S., acknowledged in a report in The Guardian, that coal jobs are not coming back.

What the Trump Executive Order could do, according to modelling by consulting firm the Rhodium Group,  is to limit U.S. greenhouse gas emission reduction to around 14 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 – a far cry from the Paris Agreement pledge of 26 %, and effectively ceding climate leadership to the European Union and China.  The Sierra Club USA provides a thorough discussion of the environmental impacts in  Donald Trump Orders EPA to Unwind Clean Power Plan in Setback for “Vitally Important” Clean Air   (March 28) .    The reaction of major environmental groups such as Environmental Defence Fund, Earthjustice, and  Natural Resources Defence Council is summarized in “Environmental groups vowing to fight Trump’s Climate Actions ”   in the  National Observer (March 29).

Is there any cause for hope?  Yes, according to analysis by  Inside Climate News in  “Hundreds of Clean Energy Bills Have Been Introduced in States Nationwide This Year”  (March 27).  This provides a state-by-state summary of bipartisan clean energy legislation, stating:  “At least eight states—California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York,  Pennsylvania and Vermont—are considering legislation to dramatically boost their reliance on clean power in the coming decades. These bills specifically call for increasing the mandate to obtain electricity from sources like wind and solar, a common form of escalating quota called a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Currently,  29 states in the nation, along with Washington, D.C., have them and eight others have voluntary targets.”

Voices of Business are also challenging the Trump agenda.  In  “Climate change is real: Companies challenge Trump”  in The Guardian  (March  29) , the CEO of the We Mean Business coalition calls  the transition to a low-carbon economy “inevitable”, and the Executive Order “regrettable “.  Further, he states: “This announcement undermines policies that stimulate economic competitiveness, job creation, infrastructure investment and public health.” Similar sentiments appear in the Business Backs Low Carbon USA statement signed in November 2016 by over 1000 companies and investors. The statement  calls for the U.S. economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy, and  re-affirms “our deep commitment to addressing climate change through the implementation of the historic Paris Climate Agreement.”   The list of over 1000 companies is here  .

Finally, and giving everyone a voice: the People’s Climate March  on Washington D.C. on April 29 , organized by the coalition which emerged from the  2014 March in New York City and around the world.  The Labor Network for Sustainability will be leading a labour contingent in Washington – see their Facebook page for information , and see the People’s Climate March website for  locations of sister marches.

climate march

 

Fossil Fuel Investment Risk: Losses, and Pressure to disclose Risks to Investors

A March 2 article in The Tyee, “How a B.C. union dumped fossil fuels and cashed in”   highlights the profitable  decision of the B.C. Government Employees Union to move $20 million in its strike fund and general reserves from equities (and fossil fuels)  into cash in 2014. The article then discusses the more complex issues of climate risk in pension fund investing (B.C.GEU did not divest its pension fund). A March 1 article  in Grist, “New York lost Billions with Fossil Fuel Investments”  estimates  that the New York State Common Retirement Fund,  the third largest pension fund in the U.S., lost $5 billion over three years through its investments in fossil fuel companies.  The estimate is based on the analysis of Toronto-based Corporate Knights, using its Decarbonizer  calculator.  Another Corporate Knights analysis of the performance of 14 major funds  , including Harvard’s endowment, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the pension plans of Canada and the Netherlands, estimated that the combined losses of the 14 funds since  2012 was $23 billion.

In early March, the investment committee for the largest pension fund in the U.S., California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) voted  to require that the corporations it invests in must include people on their boards who have expertise in climate change risk management strategies.  On March 24, CBC reported  that the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) has ordered Exxon to put to a vote at its shareholders’ meeting in May a resolution which would require Exxon to make annual disclosure of risks to company’s operations from climate change or legislation designed to control carbon pollution.

These are all evidence that the investment community is paying attention to the investment risks of fossil fuels, particularly stranded assets.  At COP21, a global Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) was established, with Michael Bloomberg at the head, to“consider the physical, liability and transition risks associated with climate change and what constitutes effective financial disclosures across industries”… and to “ develop voluntary, consistent climate-related financial risk disclosures for use by companies in providing information to investors, lenders, insurers, and other stakeholders”.  In January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland,  proposals for risk reporting by fossil fuel companies were set out in  Considerations for Reporting Disclosure in a Carbon-constrained world   from Carbon Tracker Initiative and the Climate Disclosure Standards Board .  Too Late, Too Sudden: Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy and Systemic Risk (Feb. 2016)     from the  European Systemic Risk Board in February recommends that policymakers increase disclosure of the carbon intensity of non-financial firms (that would include the fossil fuel industry), noting that “Fossil-fuel firms and electricity utilities are substantially debt financed, exacerbating the potential financial stability impact of a sudden revaluation of stranded assets.”  For a Canadian context, see an October 2015 working paper from SHARE, Integrating the Economy and the Environment: An Overview of Canadian Capital Markets  .

Electricity Industry in the U.K. Sees the Green Light

Reported in The Guardian on February 28   as a “watershed moment”,  the biggest energy lobbying group in the country, Energy UK,  has shifted its position on green energy and will start campaigning for low-carbon alternatives. The shift in policy follows the publication of Pathways for the GB Electricity Sector to 2030 , commissioned by Energy UK and written by consultants KPMG. (For comparison purposes, see the Canadian Electricity Association documents   Vision 2050  ( 2014) , and Adapting to Climate Change  (2016).

The U.K. Budget delivered on March 16  initially imposed a VAT increase from 5 – 20% on solar panels and other energy-saving products, but Chancellor George Osborne was forced to backtrack by political opposition.  Small comfort when the  Petroleum Revenue Tax was effectively abolished  and a supplementary charge on oil and gas extraction dramatically reduced – the government claims that it has provided tax support worth 1 billion pounds to the oil and gas industry.

Sustainability in the corner office: Business and Climate Change

Corporate Knights magazine released the results of its annual ranking of MBA programs in October – unlike most surveys, it includes measures of social and environmental responsibility in the teaching and research at MBA programs around the world . As in previous years, the 2015 Better World MBA survey ranks Canadian universities at the top: for the 12th year, York University’s Schulich School of Business ranked #1, followed by Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, and Copenhagen School of Business as #3. And the latest Harvard Business Review ranks the “Best Performing CEO’s in the World” using a changed system: in 2015, long-term financial results achieved by the CEO are weighted at 80%, rather than 100% as before. The remaining 20% goes to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance.
 

Most telling: business leaders are making sure that their viewpoint is part of climate change policy discussions, especially leading up to and including COP21. Earlier this year, Citigroup bank announced that it would lend, invest, and/or facilitate $100 billion towards climate and environmental solutions, and more recently renounced investments in coal, led by its Environmental and Social Policy Framework document. Coordinated by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), six major U.S. banks issued a Climate Action Statement in October, as did the CEO’s of ten major food companies, including Mars, General Mills, Unilever, and Kellogg, who issued a joint letter to world leaders. C2ES also released Weathering the Next Storm: A Closer Look at Business Resilience. More businesses signed on to RE100, a global business campaign committed to 100% renewable electricity. And on October 19, the White House announced that 81 U.S. companies, with combined revenue of $5 trillion, have now signed the “American Business Act on Climate Pledge”, launched in July 2015.