Canadian Labour Congress and Climate Action: Pre-convention event June 10; Policy discussion on June 18

The 29TH Constitutional Convention of the Canadian Labour Congress will be held virtually from June 16 to 18.   Some important pre-convention events are available – notably, A Climate Action Agenda  on Thursday, June 10, 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., hosted by Samantha Smith of the ITUC Just Transition Centre, with Keynote speaker  Autumn Peltier, Wiikwemkoong First Nation. Panelists for a discussion of the role of workers and unions include:  Lara Skinner, (Labor Leading on Climate Initiative, New York State Just Transition Working Group);  Matt Wayland, (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers);  Chris Wilson, (Coalition of Black Trade Unionists), and Grace Moyo, (Toronto Community Benefits Network QuickStart Graduate). To attend this event, download an Observers registration form here.

The Climate Action Policy Paper is included in the compendium of policy papers , with the presentation and discussion scheduled for Friday June 18.  Calling climate action “urgent union work”, the Policy Paper highlights renewable energy, green building and retrofitting, green industrial policy, Just Transition, and the importance of the public sector. The introduction sums it up with this: 

“Labour’s Climate Action Agenda aims to achieve ambitious, enforceable renewable energy targets for electricity and transportation by 2030 and to achieve net-zero emissions in our economy by 2050. Crucial to this plan will be ensuring that the transition be democratic and worker-focused, leveraging the power of the public sector to lead the transition. A just transition that aims to create good jobs for workers and communities and that applies a gender, reconciliation and intersectional lens, is essential to all aspects and phases of a Climate Action Agenda.”    

Climate Resolutions are included in the 242-page Resolutions document , in the Economic and Social Policy section beginning on page 25.

Fall Economic Statement paves the way for a Green Recovery: energy efficiency, care economy, electric vehicle infrastructure, and nature-based solutions

On November 30, Canada’s  Finance Minister Chrystia Freedland presented the government’s Fall Economic Statement to the House of Commons, Supporting Canadians and Fighting COVID-19.  At over 200 pages, it is the fullest statement to date of how the government intends to finance a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, but Canadians must still wait for a full  climate change strategy, promised “soon”.

The government press release summarizes the spending for health and economic measures, including, for employers, extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy Canada, the  Emergency Rent Subsidy and Lockdown Support , and new funding for the  tourism and hospitality sectors through the new Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program.  In Chapter 3, Building Back Better,  the Economic Statement addresses the impacts of Covid-19 on the labour market and employment. It includes promises to create one million jobs, invest in skills training, reduce inequality, attack systemic racism, support families through early learning and child care, support youth, and build a competitive green economy.  Most budget allocations will be channeled through existing programs, but new initiatives include “the creation of a task force of diverse experts to help develop “an Action Plan for Women in the Economy”;  launch of “Canada’s first-ever Black Entrepreneurship Program”;  and a task force on modernizing the Employment Equity Act to promote equity in federally-regulated workplaces.  Under the heading, “Better working conditions for the care Economy” comes a pledge: “To support personal support workers, homecare workers and essential workers involved in senior care, the government will work with labour and healthcare unions, among others, to seek solutions to improve retention, recruitment and retirement savings options for low- and modest-income workers, particularly those without existing workplace pension coverage.”

Climate change provisions and a Green Recovery:

Another section in Chapter 3 is entitled A Competitive, Green Economy, which  reiterates the government’s commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and reiterates the importance of the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, currently before Parliament. Funding of  $2.6 billion over 7 years was announced to go towards grants of up to $5000 for homeowners to make energy-efficient improvements to their homes, and to recruit and train EnerGuide energy auditors. A further $150 million over 3 years was announced for charging and refuelling stations for zero-emissions vehicles, and  $25 million for “ predevelopment work for large-scale transmission projects. Building strategic interties will support Canada’s coal phase-out.

Under the heading of Nature-based solutions, proposed investments address the goal of 2 billion trees planted with a pledge of  $3.19 billion over 10 years, starting in 2021-22.  A further $631 million over 10 years is pledged for ecosystem restoration and wildlife protection, and $98.4 million over 10 years, starting in 2021-22, to establish a new “Natural Climate Solutions for Agriculture” Fund.

Reactions from unions, think tanks:

Among those reacting quickly to the Economic Statement, the Canadian Labour Congress  stated generally  “While today’s commitments on key priorities remain modest and reflect past promises, the government has signalled it will make further investments as the recovery begins to take shape.” Unifor issued two press releases, the first stating “This fiscal update shows that Canada’s workers are being heard, and must continue to advocate for the lasting changes required to secure a fair, resilient and inclusive economic recovery”, but a second complains “Canada’s fiscal update fails to support all airline workers .  The Canadian Union of Public Employees similarly issued two statements on December 1:  “Liberals’ economic update offers more delay and disappointment”  and “Canada’s flight attendants union disappointed by the federal economic update” .

Bruce Campbell reacted in The Conversation (Dec. 7)  that “The pace of government action to date does not align with the urgency of the twin climate and inequality crises. Nothing it has done so far is threatening to the corporate plutocracy and its hold on power.”   Several experts from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives contributed to a blog,  A fiscal update for hard times: Is it enough?”, with the answer from Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood re the climate change provisions : “Planting trees, retrofitting buildings and increasing ZEV uptake doesn’t go far enough without a clear timeline for winding down oil and gas production.”  Climate Action Network-Canada agrees with Mertins-Kirkwood when it states: “ today’s update includes a summary of new and existing spending that we hope will provide an important foundation for Canada’s new national climate plan that we expect in the coming weeks.  ….As part of a larger package, along with Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, and the pending new national climate plan, today’s fiscal update provides the backbone to guide Canada through some of the most important global transitions in generations.”

Other reactions:  “Feds’ fall economic statement shortchanges climate” (Corporate Knights, Dec. 2) quotes one observer who calls it  a “meek” effort, and offers a comparison of  the allocations in the Fall statement with earlier proposals from Corporate Knights  and the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery in September . The Energy Mix also cites the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery in its analysis of  the energy efficiency provisions of the Economic Statement , stating, : “the  recommended by C$2.6 billion allocated for a seven-year program raises questions about how seriously the Trudeau government is prepared to confront the climate crisis. In mid-September, the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery called for a $26.9-billion program over five years.”

International Labour delegates demand Just Transition action by G20 leaders

G20 government leaders gathered  in Argentina in September under the general theme, “Building consensus for fair and sustainable development”, and within that, the Argentinian leadership has focused on three themes:  the future of work, infrastructure for development, and a sustainable food future.  Canada’s website regarding the meetings is here.

L20_colorOf specific interest to WCR readers are the side meetings of the Labour 20 (L20) Engagement Group, where international labour union leaders met on September 4 and 5th under the theme: “An Agenda for Global Policy Coherence.”  The  L20  press release on September  5 calls on  the G20 Labour Ministers to commit to a nine-point plan, which go beyond past commitments regarding equality, job security, and social protection, and include demands around climate change and Just Transition.  The detailed, 10- page statement is here , with these climate change-related demands:

“The scale of the industrial transformation needed to comply with the climate objectives of the Paris Agreement is colossal but feasible. The transition to a low-carbon economy that keeps the temperature rise under 2°C requires not only massive investment in new and redesigned jobs, skills training, redeployment in new sectors, but also income guarantees and secure pensions. Social dialogue and collective bargaining are central components of the Just Transition, delivering socio-economic results that work better for everyone, building consensus and easing policy implementation.”  ….. “We call for coordination between Labour and Environment and Energy Ministers to support and accompany effective climate change policies with employment measures anticipating sectoral transformations, developing green sectors and skills, and providing social protection measures, following the ILO Just Transition Guidelines; and to adapt in order to deal with the impact of climate change on workers, their families, and communities, including increased heat and other extreme weather events on working conditions.”

Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress represented the CLC, which tweet tweeted at  #L20.

A library of all L20 statements, reports and documents is here. 

The Group of Twenty (G20) sees itself as the “ leading forum of the world’s major economies that seeks to develop global policies to address today’s most pressing challenges.” Its membership includes  the European Union and  19 individual countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.  In addition to the government representatives,  the following Engagement Groups also meet and issue statements: Business20, Women20, Labour20, Think20, Civil20, Science20 and Youth20 . News releases  summarize discussion and policy statements issued, and for 2018, reflect an emphasis on the digital economy and education and skills training.  The press release for the discussions of the official G20 Climate Sustainability Working Group is here (August 28)  .

 

 

 

 

 

L7 leaders alert to backsliding on Just Transition at the G7 meetings; Unionists share  Just Transition experiences in Vancouver

clc-logoIn Ottawa on April 4 and 5, the Canadian Labour Congress, along with the International Trade Union Confederation and the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC), hosted the L7 meetings of international labour leaders, as part of Canada’s presidency of the G7 this year.  According to the CLC press release, the L7 considered a full range of topics, including extension of bargaining rights, full employment, gender equity, and progressive trade – but also “ welcomed the creation of a new G7 Employment Task Force – a key outcome of the G7 Employment Ministers meeting in Montréal from March 26th to 28th.” The G7 Leaders’ official statement re Employment Outcomes and the Task force is here;  one of the “deliverables”  is to  “Share best practices and identify policy approaches to assist individuals in making the transition and adapting to changes in the labour market.”  In the L7 Evaluation of the Outcomes of the G7 Innovation and Employment Ministerial Meeting  released after the meetings, the unionists point out : “While discussing transitions, the text does not refer to “just transitions” in contrast to the outcomes of the Italian G7 presidency. The main proposals for transitions by the G7 focus on reviewing social protection and training systems. The support for “apprenticeship and training opportunities and adult upskilling programs” is welcome but is not enough and does not address financing and governance challenges.”  The CLC press release states:  “For trade unions, the Task Force should aim for “Just Transition” principles that ensure that workers are not paying the cost of the adjustment to decarbonisation, digitalisation and the shifts in production and services technologies.”

Just Transition Vancouver event 2018

Photo  by Tracy Sherlock, from the National Observer, April 6

On April 5 and 6th  in Vancouver,  labour leaders from around the world presented and discussed their experiences at the Metro Vancouver Just Transition Roundtable, hosted by the B.C. Federation of Labour,  the Canadian Labour Congress, Green Jobs B.C., the City of Vancouver, Vancouver and District Labour Council, and others.  Amongst the speakers:   B.C. Federation of Labour President Irene Lanzinger, who  argued that “the two defining problems of our time are climate change and inequality”, and they need to be addressed together, and urgently.  Samantha Smith, Director of the Just Transition Centre of the International Trade Union Confederation, provided European examples in her Keynote Address, and a spokesman from the United Federation of Danish Workers 3F, the largest trade union in Denmark, spoke of the clean economy investment of members’ pension funds.  Other union speakers were from New Zealand and Norway.   From Vancouver,  City Councillor Andrea Reimer discussed their Renewable City Strategy and the Greenest City Action Plan. The Councillor reported that  Vancouver has 25,000 green jobs (5% of all jobs), and that surprisingly, these are not  in the transportation and waste recovery sectors, but in local food production, clean buildings and local technology companies. For a summary of the event, read  “BC FED President Irene Lanzinger calls climate change and inequality ‘defining problems of our time’”  in the National Observer (April 6). 

Progress at COP23 as Canada’s Minister pledges to include the CLC in a new Just Transition Task Force

cop23An article in the Energy Mix reflects a widely-stated assessment of the recently concluded Conference of the Parties in Bonn: “COP23 Ends with solid progress on Paris Rules, Process to Push for Faster Climate Action” :  “It was an incremental, largely administrative conclusion for a conference that was never expected to deliver transformative results, but was still an essential step on the road to a more decisive “moment” at next year’s conference in Katowice, Poland.”  A concise summary of outcomes  was compiled by  the  International Institute for Environment and Development, including a link to the main outcome document of the COP23 meetings – the Fiji Momentum for Implementation .  Germany’s Heinrich Böll Institute also issued a checklist and assessment titled  We will not drown, we are here to fight  . The UNFCCC provides a comprehensive list of initiatives and documents in its closing press release on November 17. And from the only Canadian press outlet which attended COP23 in person, the National Observer: “Trump didn’t blow up the climate summit: what did happen in Bonn?” .

What was the union assessment of COP23? The International Trade Union Confederation expressed concern for the slow progress in Bonn, but stated: “The support for Just Transition policies is now visible and robust among all climate stakeholders: from environmental groups to businesses, from regional governments to national ones. The importance of a social pact as a driver to low-carbon economics means we can grow ambition faster, in line with what science tells us. ”  The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) also expressed disappointment, reiterating the demands in its October  ETUC Resolution and views on COP 23  , and calling for a “Katowice plan of action for Just Transition”  in advance of the COP24 meetings next year in Katowice, Poland.

The biggest winner on Just Transition was the Canadian Labour Congress, who pressed the Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change outside of formal negotiations at Bonn and received her pledge for federal support for the newly-announced Just Transition Plan for Alberta’s Coal Workers –  including flexibility on federal  Employment Insurance benefits,  and a pledge that  Western Economic Diversification Canada will  support coal communities.   Importantly, “Minister McKenna also announced her government’s intention to work directly with the Canadian Labour Congress to launch a task force that will develop a national framework on Just Transition for workers affected by the coal phase-out. The work of this task force is slated to begin early in the new year”, according to the CLC press release “  Unions applaud Canada’s commitment to a just transition for coal workers” .  The background story to this under-reported breakthrough  is in the National Observer coverage of the Canada-UK Powering Past Coal initiative, on November 15 and November 16.  Unifor’s take on the Task Force is here .

This global alliance is the biggest COP23 news story for Canadians, coming near the end of meetings. Canada, along with the U.K. and the Marshall Islands, announced the “Powering Past Coal” global alliance to phase out dirty coal power plants around the world.  See the government press release for Canada  and the U.K. , and see the Official Declaration, which states:

  • “Government partners commit to phasing out existing traditional coal power in their jurisdictions, and to a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage within their jurisdictions.
  • Business and other non-government partners commit to powering their operations without coal.
  • All partners commit to supporting clean power through their policies (whether public or corporate, as appropriate) and investments, and to restricting financing for traditional coal power without carbon capture and storage.”

Amongst the 20-some jurisdictions already signed up to the alliance are Canada , the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, the city of Vancouver, and the states of Washington and Oregon.  Noticeably absent so far are the major coal polluters – the U.S., Germany, China and India. The stated goal is to grow the alliance to 50 members jurisdictions.  The Energy Mix provides a summary and related interviews;   Climate Action Network-Canada reacted with “Powering Past Coal Announcement Shows Rise of International Collective Action; Domestic Implementation will Bring it Home” (Nov. 16);  DeSmog UK calls the alliance the “start of a journey” ;  German news source DW provides an international viewpoint of the alliance, especially focused on the politically-charged debate about coal in Germany.

There were other breakthoughs at COP23, including on  Gender Equality, Indigenous Rights, and Agriculture.   Delegates adopted the first Gender Action Plan  .  As reported in “To combat climate change, increase women’s participation”  in DW  (Nov. 20), for the first time,  there is a plan which  sets out specific activities, with a timeline for implementation, and allocation of responsibilities.  National governments are responsible for reporting back on progress on these activities in 2019.

COP23-It takes roots Indigenous NetworkThe Guardian reported “Indigenous groups win greater climate recognition at Bonn summit”   (Nov. 15) citing the improved language from the 2015 Paris Agreement.  ” The technical document approved at COP23 states:  countries “should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.”  In response, the Indigenous Environmental Network states: “… while progress has been made on the UNFCCC traditional knowledge Platform for engagement of local communities and Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Peoples’ rights are not fully recognized in the final platform document of COP 23. The burden of implementation falls on local communities and indigenous peoples.”  News and reports released by It Takes Roots, the Indigenous Environmental Network COP23 delegation, are here, including their report in opposition to carbon pricing: Carbon Pricing: A Critical Perspective for Community Resistancereleased at COP23.

Finally, regarding agriculture:   As reported by the  International Institute for Environment and Development  “After years of fraught negotiations on this issue, the COP23 decision on agriculture  requests the subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC to simultaneously address vulnerabilities of agriculture to climate change and approaches to tackle food security. Breaking the deadlock on issues connecting agriculture and climate change was a big win for COP23.”