Positive examples of climate action needed to bring unionists into the climate fight, says veteran activist

“The Climate Movement Doesn’t Know How to Talk with Union Members About Green Jobs” appeared in The Intercept on March 9, transcribing an interview with Jane McAlevey,  a veteran labour activist in the U.S. and now a senior policy fellow at the University of California Berkeley’s Labor Center.  One interview  question: “What do you think organizers should be doing right now to make sure a climate-friendly platform can win in a presidential race where Trump will argue that ending fossil fuel investment means lost jobs?” In response, McAlevey urges activists to allay workers’ fears about the future with examples of positive changes – citing as one of the best examples  the “New York wind deal”  when,  “unions won a far-reaching climate agreement to shift half of New York State ’s total energy needs to wind power by 2035. They did it by moving billions of subsidies away from fossil fuels and into a union jobs guarantee known as a project labor agreement.”   (A previous WCR post  summarizes the campaign which culminated in the New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in the summer of 2019).  Ultimately, McAlevey calls for “spade work” which educates workers about the climate crisis and reassures them by providing positive solutions. Citing the deeply integrated nature of the climate and economic crises, she concludes: “We have to build a movement that has enough power to win on any one of these issues that matter to us….. We’re relying on the people that already agree with us and trying to get them out in the streets. We can’t get there with these numbers.”

McAveley CollectiveBargain-book-cover-329x500The Intercept interview is one of many since Jane McAlevey’s published her third book  in January 2020.   A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy  discusses the climate crisis, but is a much broader call to arms for  the U.S. labour movement.  A very informative review of the book by Sam Gindin appears in The Jacobin, here .

One more time: can Canada meet its GHG emissions targets if oil and gas continues to expand?

The Canadian government pledged to  exceed 2030 emissions reduction targets and reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at COP25 in December 2019, and on January 13, the Minister of Finance announced  pre-Budget consultations  that will include climate change as a “central focus”.    Encouraging as all this sounds, it contrasts with the government’s  2018 purchase of the  Trans Mountain Pipeline (recently critiqued by B.C. economist Robyn Allan, and pictured with new “pipe in the ground” in December), and its mixed signals over whether Cabinet will approve the enormous Teck Frontier oil sands project in February – explained in a Narwhal Backgrounder: “Why the proposed Frontier oilsands mine is a political hot potato”.  (Hint: because it has the potential to produce 260,000 barrels of bitumen every day until 2060).

Recent forecasts for expansion of  oil and gas industry production are also at odds with  Morneau’s “focus on climate change” :

Oil, Gas and the Climate: An Analysis of Oil and Gas Industry Plans for Expansion and Compatibility with Global Emission Limits , published by the Global Gas and Oil Network ( December 2019)  describes how “new oil and gas development in Canada between now and 2050 could unlock an additional 25 GtCO2 , more than doubling cumulative emissions from the sector.”  The report is summarized in a separate WCR post  here .

Canada’s Energy Future 2019: Energy Supply and Demand Projections to 2040 , released in December by Canada Energy Regulator (CER) (formerly the National Energy Board) states “Canada is making progress in transitioning to a low-carbon future” but :

“From 2018 to 2040, crude oil production grows by nearly 50%, to around seven million barrels per day.

Natural gas production increases by about 30%, to over 20 billion cubic feet per day over the next 20 years.

In 2005, wind and solar made up 0.2% of Canada’s total generation. Combined they now make up 5%, and that share grows to nearly 10% by 2040. Over the outlook period, installed capacity of wind nearly doubles, while solar more than doubles. This depends on many factors, including costs of wind and solar power continuing to fall. EF2019 assumes that the cost of wind power falls by 20% and solar by 40% from 2018 to 2040.”

canadas energy future 2019

The  Pembina Institute responded with “Why Canada’s Energy Future report leads us astray”  on January 9th, which states: “How does the government’s long-term decarbonization plan square with its projections for energy production? The simple answer is that it doesn’t. The report’s implication is that Canada will blow past our climate targets as our oil and gas sector effectively continues on a business-as-usual trajectory….The report has real implications for federal planning and decision-making and, perhaps most significantly, the overall vision of the energy sector in this country.”  Canada’s Energy Future 2019: Energy Supply and Demand Projections to 2040 is available in PDF format and in an interactive version .

Amid the distraction of the Christmas season,  the government of Canada released Canada’s GHG Emissions Projections to 2030 , as required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and as part of Canada’s 4th Biennial Report to the UNFCC.  The December 20 press release from the Minister of Environment and Climate Change claims that Canada will achieve an “historic level of emissions reductions” … projected to be 227 million tonnes (Mt) below what was projected in 2015 [italics by WCR]. ” The summary provides details of anticipated reductions by sector in 3 scenarios: 2019 Reference Case (policies currently in place); a 2019 Additional Measures Case, which considers the Reference Case and those that have been announced but not yet fully implemented as of September 2019 (for example, the Clean Fuel Standard); and a Technology Case, an “exploratory scenario that includes more optimistic assumptions about clean technology adoption in a number of sectors.” A summary of the Emissions Projections document is here ; the full details are in the 4th Biennial Report to the UNFCC, in English here   and here in French .

And for an example of how Industry is framing their emissions vs. growth dilemma:

Cenovus Energy issued a press release on January 9 announcing “Bold Sustainability Targets”  which “position us to thrive in the transition to a lower-carbon future”. The company states: ” Cenovus is targeting to reduce its per-barrel GHG emissions by 30% by the end of 2030, using a 2019 baseline, and hold its absolute emissions flat by the end of 2030″, with a “long-term ambition is to reach net zero emissions by 2050.”  This, despite a separate investor release which promises: “Total production increase of 7% compared with 2019 guidance, as Cenovus’s crude-by-rail program, coupled with the Government of Alberta’s Special Production Allowances, positions the company to move to unconstrained production levels.”

 

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 .

Will the fossil fuel industry hijack energy policy in Canada’s election?

As the Canadian federal election campaign counts down to October 21, The Narwhal’s Explainer from September remains one of the most readable and interesting overviews of the parties’ energy and environmental platforms;  the survey responses from a consolidated questionnaire from the major environmental advocacy groups remains the most complete.  Climate activism has been a backdrop to the campaign: according to Fridays for Future Canada, over one million Canadians in 245 communities participated in climate strikes between September 20 to September 27 (a summary from Energy Mix gives more details).  On October 7, Extinction Rebellion began their demonstrations, blockading  bridges in Vancouver, Victoria, Toronto, Edmonton and  Halifax –  and according to the Vancouver  Star, pledging to escalate actions.

New publications regarding the fossil fuel industry:

Canada’s relationship with its oil and gas industry was the subject of a country profile of Canada published by Carbon Brief on October 8, providing the basic facts and figures.  The Narwhal published an Opinion Piece highlighting  the issue of fossil fuel subsidies:  “Canada’s fossil fuel subsidies amount to $1,650 per Canadian. It’s got to stop.” The article is based on a May 2019 report from the International Monetary Fund  which estimated Canada’s fossil fuel subsidies at close to $60 billion in 2015, despite the government’s G20 commitments to phase out “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies. A related report by Environmental Defence and the International Institute for Sustainable Development in February, Doubling Down with Taxpayer Dollars , examined $2Billion in fossil fuel subsidies in Alberta.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP)  Energy Platform – essentially  a “wish list” from the fossil fuel industry – calls for expanded production for oil and gas and Liquefied Natural Gas.  In report released on October 7, Environmental Defence estimates that the CAPP proposals would increase  oil and gas emissions by 60% from 2017 to 2030.  The report,  The Single Biggest Barrier to Climate Action in Canada – the Oil and Gas Lobby, documents the two types of barriers created by the oil and gas lobby: 1. the actual carbon emissions of the sector, which are responsible for 27% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and for 80 % of the increase in Canada’s overall emissions; and 2. Industry campaigns and lobbying to block or weaken climate change policies.

env diefence re Oil-Lobbyin electionRegarding the economic benefits which the oil and gas industry claims, Environmental Defence states:  “… job creation in oil and gas is far from guaranteed even as the industry expands and reaps significant corporate profits. Despite growing production since 2014, almost 30,000 jobs (10 per cent of the workforce) have been axed in the oil patch in the following four years, with another 12,000 expected to be cut in 2019. That’s because oil and gas companies are moving increasingly towards automation, with the stated goal to “de-man” the industry. Meanwhile, the CEOs of companies such as Suncor, Encana, TransCanada, and CNRL rake in salaries north of $10 million per year.”

The report concludes: “ Canada is bigger than oil. The opportunities that are available to Canadian businesses, citizens, and governments get shortchanged when one industry is able to hijack public policy on energy development and environmental protection.”  Or, as Richard Heede wrote more bluntly in a new series in The Guardian called  The Polluters: “It’s time to rein in the fossil fuel giants before their greed chokes the planet” . Heede’s Opinion article is based on the latest research about the global fossil fuel industry by the Climate Accountability Institute.  The research found that “chiefly from the combustion of their products, the top 20 companies have collectively produced 480bn tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane since 1965 – 35% of all fossil fuel emissions worldwide in that time.”  The press release names the top 20 polluters, led by Saudi Aramco, Chevron, ExxonMobil, GazProm, and BP. All research and data is here .

Election updates: Liberal platform calls for Just Transition Act, national flood insurance plan for high risk homeowners

With the federal election only weeks away on October 21, Justin Trudeau began to flesh out the Liberal Party climate change platform  with a campaign speech in Burnaby B.C. on September 24.  His speech, titled  A Climate Vision that Moves Canada Forward ,  promised that Canada would achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and announced that a re-elected Liberal government would halve the corporate tax rate for clean-technology businesses – from 9% to to 4.5 % for small business, from 15% to 7.5% for larger companies.  The Energy Mix summarized the clean tech proposals here  .

In French only, Trudeau also promised a Just Transition Act: “On va donc introduire une Loi sur la transition équitable, qui fera en sorte que les travailleurs aient accès à la formation et au soutien dont ils ont besoin pour réussir dans une économie plus verte. … Ensemble, on peut continuer de bâtir un pays où les entreprises de technologies propres sont prospères, où nos citoyens sont encouragés à faire des choix plus verts et où nos travailleurs s’épanouissent alors qu’on amorce notre transition écologique.”   An unofficial English translation of that promise might read: “We will be introducing a law on Just Transition, where there’s access for workers for the training and support that they’ll need  if they are to take part in an economy becoming steadily greener.  Together, we can continue to build a country where our own high tech businesses prosper, where citizens choose  green and greener ways of living , and where workers fulfill their goals while they make the choices that will shape Canada’s environment of the future. ”

flooding firefighterA CBC article provides a summary of a second round of Liberal climate change announcements which came on September 25. Trudeau, like the other leaders,  promised financial incentives to encourage energy efficiency retrofits, but  also promised to address the human costs of flood disasters through: creation of a low-cost national flood insurance program for homeowners in high-risk flood zones without adequate insurance protection; a national action plan to help homeowners at highest risk of repeat flooding with potential relocation; efforts to design an Employment Insurance Disaster Assistance Benefit to help people whose jobs and livelihoods are negatively affected by disaster; and to work with provinces and territories to update and complete flood maps to guide Canadians in home-buying decisions.

Looking for guidance on how to vote?

ClimateFederalPartySurvey_CAN-RacCanada-960x640Although Elections Canada made the ground shaky  for environmental groups to speak publicly in the current election, some are stepping up with information.  Fourteen of Canada’s major environmental advocacy groups consolidated their priorities to produce a questionnaire, sent to the federal parties in July 2019.  The responses from five parties are here ; the People’s Party of Canada did not respond . Questions included: “Will you immediately legislate a climate plan that will reduce Canada’s emissions in line with keeping warming below 1.5°C?; Will your climate plan clearly and precisely describe programs to reduce emissions from transportation, buildings and the oil and gas sector? Will you ensure that workers and their families thrive during the transition to a low-carbon economy, by extending the Task Force on Just Transition to include all fossil fuel industries?; Will you create a Federal Environmental Bill of Rights that formally recognizes the legal right to a healthy environment?”.

Climate Action Network Canada was one of the fourteen, and had released Getting Real about Canada’s Climate Planin June, intended as “a baseline against which we can assess federal parties’ climate plans.” EcoJustice was also part of the collaborative questionnaire, but has  posted its own analysis of the party platforms here . Macleans magazine has compiled their own guide to the platforms on all issues here ; on environment and climate change issues here  and on energy policy (including pipelines)  here .

A sampling of Opinions:

“Climate change the sword as Liberal and Conservatives battle for power” in the National Observer https://www.nationalobserver.com/2019/09/25/news/climate-change-sword-liberal-and-conservatives-battle-power  (Sept. 25), which describes the competing political rhetoric in the wake of Trudeau’s first announcement;

Clean Energy Canada issued a press release on October 1,  stating: “The platform identifies similar areas of focus as the NDP and Green plans: more and cleaner public transit, increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles on the road, generating more clean power, and building and retrofitting more energy efficient homes. While not as aggressive as those plans, the proposed policies, programs, and investments are generally laid out in greater detail….The Liberal plan is unique, however, in its identification of electrification as a strategic opportunity to make Canadian industries and manufacturing the cleanest in the world, supported by a proposed $5-billion Clean Power Fund sourced from the Canada Infrastructure Bank. “

Simon Donner, professor of climatology at the University of British Columbia  writes in Policy Options (Oct. 1): “Despite lofty claims and aspirational goals, there is no Canadian plan consistent with avoiding 1.5°C or 2°C warming. Wherever you are on the political spectrum, the rhetoric of your party on climate change does not match the numbers.” His article was featured in the Toronto Star .

This week in climate inaccuracy: Climate strike poses” by Chris Turner in The National Observer (Sept. 30) is the first in a promised series of critiques of all parties.

On climate change, the Liberal  plan (mostly) adds up”, an Editorial in the Globe and Mail (restricted access)  (Oct.1).