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.”

 

 

 

Launch of Canadian Institute for Climate Choices promises “rigorous research and original analysis”

The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices  was launched on January 21 – described in their own press release  as an independent national institute with an aim “to establish a strong foundation for decision-making on climate change policies.” CBC commentator Aaron Wherry likens the new body to the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE), disbanded by the Harper government in 2013.

Supported by $20 million funding over 5 years from the federal government, the Institute promises to “Produce rigorous research, original analysis and evidence-based insight”. It will do this through engagement with experts, business and policy leaders, as well as Canadians – and by cultivating a national network of experts from a range of disciplines.

Those experts are currently organized into three Expert Panels ,to write and conduct peer review of the promised three research reports per year. Members named so far  include: Dale Beugin, Alain Bourque , Don Drummond, Stewart Elgie, Blair Feltmate, Kathryn Harrison, Sara Hastings-Simon, Glenn Hodgson, Mark Jaccard, Richard Lipsey, James Meadowcroft, Nancy Olewiler,  and Nic Rivers.

charting course framework diagramThe launch of the Institute was accompanied by a report, Charting our Course , which uses the extended metaphor of Canada as a ship navigating to safety on the stormy seas of climate change, and requiring “all hands on deck” to reach a safe destination. It is offered as a starting point for discussion, and includes a new analytical framework, visualized in the accompanying diagram (left).

Charting our Course makes four recommendations:

#1: Canadian governments should broaden objectives for climate policy – which acknowledges that all levels of government are involved, and their policy design needs “to go beyond the narrow lenses of mitigation, adaptation, and clean growth”…” By linking objectives more directly to the welfare of Canadians, this approach can also build a broader coalition of support for action.”

#2: Canadian governments should embrace Canada’s role in global outcomes.

#3: Canadian governments should expand the scope, scale, and pace of climate policies.  (“This means expanding the coverage of policies across regions, issues, and sectors, ramping up the magnitude of change, and tightening the timeframe for achieving results.”)

#4: Those analysing and developing policy options should seek out integrated solutions that drive multiple benefits.

Although funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Institute will operate independently, overseen by an eleven-member Board of Directors – including former Privy Council Clerk Mel Cappe, former Ecofiscal Commission Chair Chris Ragan, Dave Collyer, former president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Bruce Lourie, now President of the Ivey Foundation, and Sybil Seitzinger, Executive Director, Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.  A separate Advisory Council includes Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of the Climate Action Network – Réseau action climat (CAN-Rac) Canada.

The Institute has already released six blogs to flesh out the general statements.  More details also appear in articles in the National Observer, the Toronto Star , the CBC, and The Energy Mix .

Canadian youth sue federal government seeking stronger climate action

Larose plaintiffs 2019Just days after the federal election, on October 25, fifteen Canadians aged 10 to 19 launched a lawsuit in federal court, seeking a court-ordered plan for climate change based on the best available science.  The plaintiffs, from seven Canadian provinces and the Northwest Territories, announced their suit in Vancouver at the Fridays for Future climate strike alongside Greta Thunberg and recounted their personal experiences, including asthma, Lyme disease, mental health challenges, and injuries from wildfire smoke.

The Statement of Claim   in La Rose v. Her Majesty the Queen alleges that by failing to  protect essential public trust resources like air and water,  the Canadian government has violated the children’s right to life, liberty and security of the person under Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also alleges that the government has violated Section 15 of the Charter, since youth are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change.   A press release from the David Suzuki Foundation includes quotes from some of the individuals involved; the case was widely reported in the following sources:  the CBC , The Energy Mix ,  the National Observer, Toronto Starand the Vancouver Star  .

This is the second climate change case brought by Canadian youth: in 2019,   ENvironnement JEUnesse brought  a class action suit on behalf of Quebecers under the age of 35, which argued that the Canadian government was violating the class members’ fundamental rights by failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to ensure a safe climate. In July 2019, the Quebec Superior Court dismissed the petitioners’ motion because it rejected the nature of the class , namely, the age limit of 35 years. The case is under appeal.

 

The children in La Rose v. Her Majesty the Queen  are represented by the B.C. law firms of Arvay Finlay LLP and Tollefson Law Corporation, and supported by the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation (CELL) , the David Suzuki Foundation, and Our Children’s Trust in the U.S., which pioneered the pending landmark youth case of Juliana vs. United States.  Our Children’s Trust compiles information on climate change lawsuits around the world including Australia, Belgium, Columbia, France, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, the Philippines, Uganda, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at New York’s Columbia Law School maintains a database of cases in the U.S., and a separate database from the rest of the world – approximately 1400 climate lawsuits against governments and fossil fuel corporations in more than 25 countries.

Protesters arrested as they demand Green New Deal policies from newly-elected Members of Parliament in Canada

trudeau electionThe Liberal party of Justin Trudeau was returned to power in the Canadian federal election on October 21 as a minority government. Enthusiasts such as the Washington Post called the election  “a victory for the planet”, based on the fact that climate change was a key issue and that a strong majority of the popular vote went to the four parties with serious plans for action (Liberals, Greens, NDP, and the Bloc). Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada , sums up a more complex situation in a National Observer article  : “With at least 63 per cent of voters casting ballots for parties that put forward strong climate platforms, it is clear that a majority of Canadians asked for more ambitious and urgent climate action…People voted out of fear of the Conservatives today, rejecting their threats to roll back climate policy. At the same time, voters did not have enough confidence in the Liberal climate record to hand them another majority.”

green new deal squadEnvironmental activists are determined to press the Liberal government to forge ahead with strong climate action –  as evidenced by the arrest of 27 protesters on October 28.  Youth activists organized by Our Time for a Green New Deal   were arrested and served with a 30-day ban from Parliament Hill after holding a sit-in in the House of Commons in an attempt to deliver “mandate letters” to newly-elected members of Parliament. The letters call for a Green New Deal, including strong climate action, respect for Indigenous rights, job creation,  and adherence to the IPCC target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.  The CBC   and Common Dreams describe the protest demonstration.  The mandate letter is here, as part of the Our Time ongoing news reports.

What do environmentalists want from the new government? 

In “Climate Community Declares the Win as Polling Shows Climate Concern Driving Vote”  , Energy Mix  compiles reactions from representatives of Climate Action Network-Canada, Smart Prosperity, Clean Energy Canada, and others across Canada and the U.S.

Canada to Trudeau – We expect more on climate” is a press release  from Oil Change International which lays out four core demands: Legislate the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; Promote a just transition for oil and gas workers and communities;  Say no to Trans Mountain Pipeline, and Eliminate all fossil fuel subsidies.

“With Climate On The Agenda, Advocates Call For Legislated Targets, Fossil Industry Phasedown” is an Opinion piece by Mitchell Beer in The Energy Mix which surveys responses of environmentalists,  including that of Environmental Defence Executive Director Tim Gray, calling for: “a legislated and more ambitious greenhouse gas target, an accountability mechanism to keep emission reductions on track, a swift end to fossil fuel subsidies, and reform of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act as first orders of business for the new government.”

McKenna wins, Sohi loses in mixed result for Liberals on green, energy files”  in the National Observer comments on the results of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the loss for the Minister of Natural Resources, both of whom have carried the torch of Liberal climate policy.

“What a Liberal minority government means for Canada’s environment” in The Narwhal predicts the likely policies which will survive in the minority position, including a carbon tax, incentives for electric vehicles, a ban on single use plastics, and “sooner rather than later”, a phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies.

“Minority government an opportunity for progressives” , a press release by Jerry Dias, president of Unifor , states that the union is “already making plans, in fact, to go to Ottawa and push progressive causes, including labour law reform, infrastructure funding, green transition, pharmacare, electoral reform, affordable housing and more.”

Articles addressing the election’s  other take-away, regional divisions:

Why are Albertans so damned angry?” in The Straight (Oct. 25) has been widely praised in the Twittersphere. The article is by Eric Denhoff, a self-described “Prairie boy” and a former deputy minister in B.C. and Alberta under Liberal, NDP, Conservative, and Social Credit governments. He writes that “Trudeau and his Ottawa team are mystified that having factually delivered much more cash to Alberta in four years than Harper in nine-plus, buying a pipeline at considerable political expense, they face this level of hostility.” But sparing no criticism of Alberta Conservative Premier Jason Kenney, Denhoff concludes that  “politicians find it easy to trade in a province with a median family income 25 percent or so higher than the rest of the country, with no sales tax, lower income and corporate taxes, and services Ontarians could only dream about. So, the battle will continue… more intense than ever. Ottawa will have to give, and Alberta will have to adjust. As in any relationship.”

Liberal win stokes talk of separation in Alberta” from the Calgary Herald and “Oilpatch market reaction muted after election of minority Liberal government” in The Star .

A landslide win for climate politics. Now beware its nemeses” (Oct. 22) in the National Observer  states: “We have got to be self-reflective at an important moment like this, and we should beware the twin nemeses of victory — factionalism and triumphalism….We can’t allow the parties’ activists and operators to go on placing politics above planet….we need to raise the chorus demanding deeper, faster action and simultaneously convince sensible, normal people that the policies needed are completely reasonable.”

Of course Canada is divided- that’s the whole point of elections”  by Crawfod Kilian   in The Tyee (Oct. 24)  calls for us to focus on the self-diagnosis in the election results, “and explore possible remedies for all our ailments: Progressive Narcissism, the Tories’ Prairie Victimization Syndrome, the Bloc’s Passive-Aggressive Separatism, and the Liberals’ High-Functioning Climate Denialism.”

Politicians Offered a Choice between Climate Fantasies as Our Future Grows Bleaker” (Oct. 25) in The Tyee  in which Andrew Nikoforuk grimly states:  “Our pathetic politics reflects the inertia in the fossil fuel system, the moral poverty of the status quo and a popular denial about the scale of change required to prevent an unending emergency.”

Shawn McCarthy, former Globe and Mail reporter, writes in the National Observer –   “What Trudeau needs to do to win the West”.  He  calls for  “a multi-pronged approach to address the seemingly contradictory realities: the urgent need to reduce emissions, and the uneven cost that effort imposes across the country.” He argues “We tend to focus on — and argue over — the supply side of the energy equation, especially oil and gas versus renewables. The demand side requires far more attention. There is a vast amount of progress that can be made in improving our national efficiency and reducing energy consumption, thereby saving businesses and consumers money over the medium term.”

In a similar vein, Bruce Lourie ,  Director of Canadians for Clean Prosperity wrote in the National Observer before the election:  “If Scheer wins, Albertans can kiss their economic future goodbye . He promotes a Capital Plan for Clean Prosperity  and states:  “The only option for Canada is to understand and embrace the complexity of how to finance the transition to a clean economy through a measured, long-term transition investment strategy that sees the cleaning up of the fossil fuel sector in a way that demonstrates global leadership. Politicians pitting different parts of Canada against each other is about the worst possible outcome for Canadians and a sad reflection on the narrow-mindedness of our Balkanized politicians. We need to be competing with the world, not each other.”

For readers  from the international community seeking  more insight into Canadian politics,  the New York Times focuses on the regional differences in “Trudeau Re-election Reveals Intensified Divisions  in Canada”    and Jeremy Wildeman of the University of Bath, England explains “Justin Trudeau’s political setback: A surprise to the world, but not to Canada”   in The Conversation .

Climate change will be a top issue as Canada votes on October 21

canada flagOn September 11, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau officially kicked off the  federal election, with voting set for October 21.  Throughout the summer, polls have consistently shown that climate change and environmental issues will be a high priority for voters – an August survey by Abacaus Data showed 82 per cent of Canadians say climate change is a serious problem and 42% think it is an emergency, ranking concern about climate change second only to the rising cost of living.  In September, researchers from the Université de Montréal and the University of California Santa Barbara released estimates of Canadian opinion on climate actions in almost every single riding across the country, with an online interactive tool  enabling anyone to see how their local riding compares to others across the country.

The Liberal government will be running on their climate change record – characterized by their “we don’t have to choose between the economy and the environment” approach, brought to life in their handling of the Trans Mountain pipeline .  The other party platforms are here:   Green Party: Mission Possible: The Green Climate Action Plan; New Democratic Party: Power to change: A new deal for climate action and good jobs, and Conservative Party:  A Real Plan to Protect Our Environment . “Where the four main parties stand on climate issues”  is a Globe and Mail  “Explainer” by Shawn McCarthy and Marieke Walsh (Sept 8), which quotes academic experts from all sides of the issue: Andrew Leach, University of Alberta; Jennifer Winter, University of Calgary; Mark Jaccard, Simon Fraser University;Kathryn Harrison, University of British Columbia, and Chris Ragan, chair, Ecofiscal Commission.

How to choose amongst the platforms?

Some commentators urge voting by your conscience – for example, Arno Kopecky in his Opinion Piece, “So What’s a progressive voter to do?”  in The Tyee. Others urge strategic voting – such as Mark Jaccard, energy economist and professor at Simon Fraser University, who stated in his August 1 Blog : “Climate-concerned Canadians need to vote strategically this fall to make sure they don’t elect a climate-insincere government. At the time of writing this blog, the most likely outcome is that the 65% of Canadians who tell pollsters they want a climate-sincere government will split their vote among three parties and enable the election of a climate-insincere government, just as in 2006-2015.” Activist Tzeporah Berman also warns against a split vote in a Toronto Star article “David Suzuki on climate change: ‘We have to address it as if it’s war’”  (Sept. 3), and Sandy Garossino wrote in July, “Despite Pipeline Approval, $70-Billion Federal Plan Is Canada’s Best Shot at Decarbonizing”in The Energy Mix . Garossino’s arguments were almost immediately challenged by UBC Professor Kathryn Harrison in “How ‘Serious’ is a Climate Plan that relies on Pipelines”    .

Unions are also Opinion Leaders   

The Canadian Labour Congress election positions are gathered under their webpage banner: “A Fair Canada for Everyone” , which prioritizes Pharmacare,
Retirement Security, Climate Action, Good Jobs, and Equity and Inclusion.  A statement re Climate positions calls for green manufacturing and infrastructure, better transit and electric vehicles, and green building and retrofits.

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)  launched their CUPE Votes website in August,  endorsing the New Democratic Party and offering information and tools for locals and individuals to get involved in the election. Informational “Notes” lay out positions on key issues, including, Climate Change and the Environment.

Unifor launched a “massive” member-to-member campaign for the election on September 4 under the banner of “Stop Scheer”.  At the national constitutional convention in August, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland addressed the full convention.

The United Steelworkers have endorsed the New Democratic Party – their Election 2019 webpage  offers news and resources, including their May 31 statement, “NDP Climate Plan Protects our Planet and our Jobs”  .  View the Steelworkers’ TV election ads here .

Some Websites to follow for climate-related Election coverage:

The National Observer Election 2019 Special Report:   will compile stories throughout the election, in addition to a special Election Integrity Project  which aims to highlight and call out disinformation – for example, on September 6  “How Maxime Bernier hijacked Canada’s #ClimateChange discussion” . These special features all feed from National Observer’s highly-regarded on-going reporting and Opinion pieces about climate change and the environment.  One relevant recent article: “Who were the winners and losers under Liberal climate policy?”   (Sept. 9)

The Energy Mix will monitor and compile news items from other sources, and publish original content under their special Canada Election 2019 banner .

The Tyee in Vancouver offers  an Election 2019 section  as well as a free election newsletter, called The Run.  It’s worth noting that The Tyee joined the global network Covering Climate Now over the summer of 2019, and in addition to its special topic on Environmental stories, promises another special section on the Climate Crisis.

Shake Up The Establishment is a non-partisan website run by youth volunteers, dedicated to monitoring and comparing the climate and environmental commitments of the main parties.  It publishes a monthly newsletter and maintains active social media sites.