Canadian Labour Congress calls for “a climate-action budget” for post Covid recovery

To coincide with Labour Day, the Canadian Labour Congress unveiled its new social media campaign, “Forward Together: A Canadian Plan” with a press release which says: “We need the government to reject calls for austerity and make real investments in our future. The only way to fix what’s broken is to invest,” …. “Workers are key to the recovery. The federal government can help alleviate a lot of anxiety by investing in jobs, making long-term care part of public health care, supporting a child care strategy, and implementing national pharmacare.”

The CLC campaign comes in advance of the federal government’s recovery plan, scheduled for release in the Throne Speech of September 23, and urges Canadians to contact their members of parliament. The campaign launched was amplified by member labour unions, and covered in mainstream press: for example, the Toronto Globe and Mail published an Opinion piece by CLC President Hassan Yussuff ; The Tyee published “Canada’s Top Labour Leader on Building a Better Life for Workers after the Pandemic”; the CBC posted “Workers’ group marks Labour Day with push for changes in Liberals’ throne speech”. In all of these articles, the focus was on the employment impacts of Covid-19 and recommendations to expand employment insurance.

CLC’s Pre-Budget Submission to the Government prioritizes Climate Action and Just Transition

This coverage doesn’t match up with the CLC’s associated pre-Budget Submission to the federal government in August, Forward Together: A Good Jobs and Climate Budget. It states : “Budget 2021 must be a Climate Action budget” and makes the first of its five recommendations: “Budget 2021 should set out a plan, with clear targets, benchmarks and timetables, for achieving Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions targets, committing $81 billion over 5 years to expand renewable energy, home and building retrofits, public transit, and Just Transition measures supporting workers and their families.”   

In the full text of the Submission, under the heading “Climate Action and Just Transition”, the CLC states: “Budget 2021 must be a Climate Action budget. The CLC recommends that the federal government adopt a five-year plan setting out a bold plan with clear targets, benchmarks and timetables for accomplishing a systematic shift in Canada’s energy system, its transportation networks, and housing and building stock. Expanded public investments in renewable energy production, green building construction, and public transportation offer major opportunities for skills training and the large-scale creation of good jobs. Along with its partner organizations in the Green Economy Network, the CLC calls for investments of $81 billion over 5 years in order to develop renewable energy, home and building retrofits, and low-emissions public transportation in urban centres.

The CLC recommends that the federal government establish a Crown corporation mandated to overhaul and transform Canada’s energy industry in collaboration with provinces and territories. It would identify renewable energy projects and ensure that existing and new manufacturing sources increase capacity to supply parts, equipment and new technology to meet Canada’s renewable energy needs. Through direct investment and procurement policy, the federal government should support continued conversion of idle plant for the manufacture of medically-necessary and green economy products and equipment. Consistent with this, it should invest in the conversion of the General Motors Oshawa facility to produce zero-emission vehicles to electrify the Canada Post fleet.

Budget 2021 must significantly expand investments in Just Transition measures to assist workers, their families and their communities affected by climate change policy to access training and employment services, relocation, childcare and housing assistance to adjust to new jobs, and support for older workers to transition to retirement.

Following the experience of the European Union, the federal, provincial and territorial governments should establish a guarantee that all young people under the age of 25 will receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. This could include a focus on providing decent jobs in land remediation and restoration, climate adaptation, and energy efficiency. It should also include green skills training and learning opportunities through partnerships with public education and training providers, with an emphasis on women, marginalized, low-income and at-risk youth.”

Canadian academics, experts describe plans for a Green Recovery after Covid-19

An April 28 Opinion piece in the New York Times makes an eloquent statement which summarizes global calls for a green recovery from the pandemic.   In “A Time to Save the Sick and Rescue the Planet”  António Guterres,  Secretary General of the United Nations, writes: “ Addressing climate change and Covid-19 simultaneously and at enough scale requires a response stronger than any seen before to safeguard lives and livelihoods. A recovery from the coronavirus crisis must not take us just back to where we were last summer. It is an opportunity to build more sustainable and inclusive economies and societies — a more resilient and prosperous world.” He proposes a 6-point plan, stating:  “As we spend trillions to recover from Covid-19, we must deliver new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition. Investments must accelerate the decarbonization of all aspects of our economy….Where taxpayers’ money rescues businesses, it must be creating green jobs and sustainable and inclusive growth. It must not be bailing out outdated polluting, carbon-intensive industries….Fiscal firepower must shift economies from gray to green, making societies and people more resilient through a transition that is fair to all and leaves no one behind……Looking forward, public funds should invest in the future, by flowing to sustainable sectors and projects that help the environment and climate. Fossil fuel subsidies must end and polluters must pay for their pollution.”

Calls for a Green Recovery in Canada

The state of the federal government’s Green Recovery planning is described in an article in La PresseTrudeau misera sur une «relance verte» après la crise” (April 22, French only), summarized in English by the Energy Mix as “Guilbeault, McKenna and Wilkinson assigned to chart post-Covid green recovery” (April 26). It states that “planning for the “green reboot” is still in its earliest stages” – giving experts time to weigh in on strategies.

One of the latest Green Recovery visions came on May 7, when a group of 50 academics sent an Open Letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and three ministers, called “Springing Canada Forward”. It sets out key principles “to guide investments that can future-proof our economies against climate catastrophe. Investments should link job creation and green infrastructure. They should include funding for both initial capital and long-term operations. COVID-19 has acutely highlighted that social inequalities threaten Canada’s resilience. Thus, investments should include principles of equity, diversity and inclusion and be consistent with Indigenous rights. Finally, to support an evidence-based approach, pilot projects, experimentation, rigorous testing and evaluation should be built into all major post-COVID investments.”   Specifically, the Open Letter calls for leveraging the existing programs of the Infrastructure Canada (with its formal “climate lens”) and the national Housing Strategy,  thus calling for  a transition to low-carbon energy, green infrastructure investment, and a national program of whole house energy retrofits.

In a surprisingly detailed statement regarding workers’ issues, the Open Letter states:

 “Facilitating the development of a climate-literate construction workforce should be a key part of Canada’s recovery investments en route to a low-carbon economy. High-quality, low-carbon construction requires a workplace culture that emphasizes reducing energy consumption. Major investments in developing new and upgraded climate-related construction skills is a key opportunity to expand equity, diversity and inclusion in the workforce while promoting greener practices and technologies. If climate literacy is an integral part of workers’ training, the industry can establish new skill requirements to ensure that newly trained workers can find the good quality jobs they expect and have the capacity to effectively contribute to Canada’s climate objectives. Upskilling workforces must address violence against women and open the road to take advantage of the important contributions that Indigenous workers and women can make to the green new economy.”

The Open Letter is summarized by  the National Observer in “Use pandemic to ‘future-proof’ against climate crisis, academic group urges”  (May 8).

Other Expert statements on Canada’s Green Recovery

The Institute for Climate Choices is publishing articles in  an ongoing COVID-19 Recovery series, beginning with “Climate policy in the long shadow of Covid-19”  by Dave Sawyer . Other articles include:  “Well and good” ( a reaction to the federal relief funding for orphan well clean-up in the oil sands);  “When Disasters collide”  (Apr. 8) and “When Disasters Collide: the Sequel” (Apr. 14) .

The journal Policy Options is publishing articles under the category,  The Coronavirus pandemic: Canada’s Response  . A few examples from the dozens of articles:  “Economy and climate need more than stimulus” written by Brendan Haley,  published in Policy Options (April 27) , which states: “…  the clean economy sector requires patient, long-term capital focused on earning returns from productivity improvements and environmental benefits. For a real recovery, capital needs to be funnelled towards building things instead of short-term speculation.” Haley reiterates Jim Stanford’s April call in “We’re Going to need a Marshall Plan to rebuild after Covid-19(April 2)  and continues: “… The Canada Infrastructure Bank could lead a national clean energy investment strategy. But it would need to take a more transformative view of green infrastructure, which includes zero-carbon buildings and other decentralized energy technologies. If the Infrastructure Bank is not the right vehicle, policy-makers should create new institutions, …. Expending the policy effort to create a Canadian climate investment bank makes good sense if the objective is to lay the foundation for the next decades of economic prosperity rather than solely providing short-term stimulus.” Most recently, “A Deep Retrofit of Homes and Buildings is the megaproject Canada needs”  by Tom-Pierre Frappé-Sénéclauze  (May 8).

The Canada we want: How a green recovery can help us bounce back stronger” in Corporate Knights (April 15) introduces their “Build Back Stronger” series of articles which will be published from April 22 to June 3, here . Among them,  “Building Back Better with a green renovation wave” – a roadmap for retrofitting policy, by Ralph Torrie and Celine Bak ; “To invest in a green power infrastructure, we’ll need to re-boot Canada’s electricity markets” by Pierre-Olivier Pineau.

Dan Woynillowicz  lays out a framework for  “How Canada can build back better” (April 17) at the Clean Energy Canada website, envisioning three stages: 1. our current relief stage, 2. a stimulus stage (with the goal is to kickstart the economy), and 3.  a recovery stage (characterized by “continued government efforts to rebuild the economy, building on and expanding stimulus efforts to ensure sustained and sustainable economic activity.”) He concludes:

“The COVID-19 pandemic, like climate change, isn’t a “black swan” event but a “gray rhino”  (“highly obvious, highly probable, but still neglected dangers”). Risk expert Michele Wucker, who came up with the “gray rhino” metaphor, notes that “it matters immensely that decision-makers view risks as gray rhinos instead of obsess in vain about black swans, because we can see gray rhinos in front of us, but black swans by definition only appear in the rearview window. That means we have a chance to do something about gray rhinos. And, in fact, most so-called black swans happen because people ignored the gray rhinos.

The gray rhino of climate change clearly stands before us.”

U.K. proposals for a green recovery after Covid-19

A widely-reported study by economists at Oxford University seeks to identify fiscal policies which will best lead the world to post-Covid economic recovery, while also leading to a net-zero economy.  Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?  was published on May 4 as a Working Paper by the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University, (forthcoming as an article in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy). Lead authors Cameron Hepburn and Brian O’Callaghan are joined by economic heavy-weights such as Nicholas Stern and Joseph Stiglitz, among others. The paper states: “The climate emergency is like the COVID-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver. Both involve market failures, externalities, international cooperation, complex science, questions of system resilience, political leadership, and action that hinges on public support. Decisive state interventions are also required to stabilise the climate, by tipping energy and industrial systems towards newer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper modes of production that become impossible to outcompete.”

The authors identified over 700 fiscal stimulus policies used since the 2008 financial crisis – both climate-friendly and not – and distilled these down to 25 archetypal policies. They then  surveyed the reactions of 231 senior economists and financial experts from over 50 countries to these archetypal policies, and identified the  five “with high potential on both economic multiplier and climate impact metrics: clean physical infrastructure, building efficiency retrofits, investment in education and training, natural capital investment, and clean R&D. In lower- and middle income countries (LMICs) rural support spending is of particular value while clean R&D is less important.”

An informal summary of this report, written by the two lead authors, appears as Leading economists: Green coronavirus recovery also better for economy” at Carbon Brief (May 5). Other coverage includes “Green Stimulus can repair global economy and climate, study says”  (The Guardian, May 5);

Also on May 4, the Smith School released a companion Working Paper  “A net-zero emissions economic recovery from COVID-19”  which discusses the differences between the 2008 financial crisis and the economic damage of the  Covid-19 pandemic. It  builds on the paper by Hepburn et al., and makes 10 specific recommendations for a U.K. green stimulus package, with strategies clustered around:

  1.  Large-scale investment (including Transforming energy generation, storage and distribution; transforming industrial energy usage, especially  in the energy-intensive industrial sectors (steel, cement, ceramics, chemicals, pulp and paper) ; high-speed broadband internet connectivity to embed working from home practices ; investment in nature-based solutions for disaster resiliency.
  2.  Accelerate investment in high-sustainability impact technologies
  3.  Incentivize individual-level change – in transportation, home energy efficiency, and job training for green economy jobs
  4. Make Bailouts conditional on a legal commitment and a pathway and timeline to net-zero emissions, particularly for fossil fuel intensive industries such as airlines.

The paper concludes with proposals for institutional structures to implement these policies, including a Climate Change Emergency Committee and a Net Zero Delivery Body in the U.K. , and perhaps most remarkably, proposes an international Sustainable Recovery Alliance (SRA) to be launched at COP 26. The purpose: to act  “As a flexible “coalition of the willing” outside of the UNFCCC architecture, the group would promote a shared vision of a sustainable recovery.”

committee on climate change

And on May 6, the existing U.K. Committee on Climate Change issued a press release announcing its Letter to the Prime Minister, setting out six key principles to for a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The principles call for fairness to be embedded as a core principle,  a shift to new behaviours such as cycling and working from home, the possibility of raising carbon taxes, and,  “Support for carbon-intensive sectors should be contingent on them taking real and lasting action on climate change, and all new investments need to be resilient to future climate risks.”

The toll of Australia’s Black Summer of bushfires

Australia’s Summer of Crisis  was published by the Climate Council of Australia in March, describing the economic and climate change impacts of the bushfires of 2019/20. Although the bushfires were widespread, the report focuses on the two most severely affected areas of the country:  New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. It estimates that there was a 10-20 percent drop in international visitors, so that the tourism sector alone will lose at least $4.5 billion.  Bushfire-related insurance claims in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria totalled an estimated value of $1.9 billion.  The report also estimates the unprecedented climate impacts – between 650 million and 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere ( Australia’s annual emissions are around 531 million tonnes). The report states that the hot dry conditions which fuelled the fires will only worsen, and calls urgently for an end to fossil fuel production and export, and a plan to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions to net zero.

Health impacts

Unprecedented smoke‐related health burden associated with the 2019–20 bushfires in eastern Australia”, published in the Medical Journal of Australia (March 12) estimated that bushfire smoke was responsible for more deaths than the fires, and extraordinary health impacts. The researchers estimate there were  417 excess deaths, 1124 hospitalisations for cardiovascular problems and 2027 for respiratory problems, and 1305 presentations to emergency departments with asthma.  The article is summarized by The Guardian here  , which also reports that the authors have obtained funding for follow-up studies through the Centre for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Research (CAR), funded by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council .  The CAR website offers fact sheets and research summaries about bushfire impacts.

 

Green stimulus, worker health and safety ignored as U.S. authorizes $2 Trillion in Coronavirus crisis

On March 27, the U.S. Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) – at $2 trillion, the largest stimulus in U.S. history.  For individual taxpayers, it offers a one-time  $1,200 payment, plus $500 more for each child under age 17; it also  expands unemployment insurance amounts and duration. Details of the provisions are summarized in FAQ’s from the New York Times  , and in Forbes . General reaction to what is clearly a compromise Bill appears in “ ‘Far More to Do,’ Say Progressives After House Approves and Trump Signs Corporate-Friendly Coronavirus Relief Act “(Mar. 28).  Pramila Jayapal , Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC),  issued a press release which states that Democrats are already formulating policies for the next legislative package, and gives a point-form summary of the CARES Act, describing  provisions related to  Worker-Centered Industry Assistance, the airline industry,  and transit industry:

“The bill requires businesses receiving federal assistance to maintain existing employment levels to the extent possible and prohibits stock buybacks or dividends for the length of any loan provided by the federal government plus one year and restricts any increases to executive compensation for two years. The bill also provides direct payroll payments to keep millions of airline workers on the job and receiving paychecks, while also prohibiting airline companies from stock buybacks and dividends for the entire life of a federal grant, plus one year.” Regarding Transit Agencies: “The bill provides $25 billion to transit agencies, which have all seen a drastic drop in revenues as social distancing has been implemented.  This funding is to be used to protect the jobs of the employees of the transit agencies, funding their paychecks during this public health emergency.”

 

Worker Health and Safety in the CARES Act

The  article in Common Dreams  quotes the president of the Economic Policy Institute, who states that the CARES Act “also egregiously fails to include explicit protections for worker safety during this epidemic in industries seeking federal relief.”  On this issue,  Labor Notes published a compilation of worker actions over health and safety concerns in “Walkouts Spread as Workers Seek Coronavirus Protections”(Mar. 26). Anxious and sick workers at food delivery service Instacart and at Amazon announced their plans to  strike over health and safety on March 30, as described in “Amazon and Instacart Workers Are Striking for COVID-19 Protections” in Slate, and also in ‘The Strike Wave Is in Full Swing’: Amazon, Whole Foods Workers Walk Off Job to Protest Unjust and Unsafe Labor Practices (Mar. 30).

Other workers are also walking out on March 30, as described in Vice : “General Electric Workers Launch Protest, Demand to Make Ventilators” , demanding that their idle plants be converted to the socially-useful work of making ventilators.

A selection of  notable readings about Covid-19, workers, and the climate crisis in the U.S.:

Jeremy Brecher, Research Director of Labor Network for Sustainability has written three articles so far in his new column, Strike.  Brecher offer his own views and commentary, but also links to important reports and statements from unions, advocacy groups, and such U.S.  press outlets as Vox, Grist, Politico, and the Washington Post, among others.  The first Commentary,  “In Coronavirus Fight, Workers Are Forging an Emergency Green New Deal” (Mar. 16) describes the impact and challenges of Covid 19 in workplaces, and the initiatives taken by many U.S. unions.  Article #2, “An Emergency Jobs Program for an Emergency Green New Deal” ( March 24) proposes what he calls  a “Green Work Program” (GWP) for the U.S. , based on the principles of a jobs guarantee: “A GWP will provide jobs for all who want them in their own communities performing socially useful work. It will be established by federal legislation, funded by the federal government, and run under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor or another federal agency. It will be primarily administered by local and municipal governments, nonprofits, social enterprises, and cooperatives. In contrast to the WPA, it is a permanent program, though its size can be expected to vary depending on economic conditions and social needs.”  Brecher’s #3 commentary is “Momentum Builds for Green New Deal Jobs”, which  appeared on March 30, summarizing major policy proposals for a Just Recovery.

Naomi Klein updates her thoughts about disaster capitalism in a new video  at The Intercept, explaining how  governments, especially the Trump administration in the U.S.,  are exploiting the the coronavirus outbreak “to push for no-strings-attached corporate bailouts and regulatory rollbacks.” The most egregious example of this regulatory rollback came on March 26 in an EPA press release “EPA Announces Enforcement Discretion Policy for COVID-19 Pandemic “,  critiqued by Inside Climate News in “Trump’s Move to Suspend Enforcement of Environmental Laws is a Lifeline to the Oil Industry” (Mar. 27) .  The Intercept‘s Coronavirus coverage emphasizes this aspect of the crisis.

David Roberts, “A just and sustainable economic response to coronavirus, explained” appeared in Vox (Mar. 25) .

Meehan Crist in “What the Coronavirus means for climate change” an Opinion piece in the New York Times  on March 27.

Bill McKibben now writes an Opinion series for the New Yorker magazine, emphasizing climate change connections.  Recent articles include: “If We’re Bailing out Corporations, they should bail out the planet” (Mar. 20), and “The Coronavirus and the Climate Movement  (Mar. 18) .

Progressives and climate activists: An Open Letter to Congress for a Green Stimulus Plan  appeared in Medium on Mar. 22 (with approximately 1200 signatures by Mar. 24).  Amongst the signatories are  high-profile activists such as 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben; former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy;  Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis, co-founders of The Leap, as well as prominent academics.  It is aligned with the 5 Principles for Just COVID-19 Relief and Stimulus  proposed by environmental, labour, and other progressive groups, including the Climate Justice Alliance(CJA).    In a March 24 press release, “Seven Congressional Leaders Join 500+ Progressive Organizations To Demand People’s Bailout In Response To Coronavirus Crisis”, CJA announces that  Senators Ed Markey and Tammy Duckworth, and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Pocan, Debbie Dingell, Pramila Jayapal, and Barbara Lee endorse joined their People’s Bailout campaign, based on the 5 Principles.

Thomas Hanna and Carlos Sandos Skandier :  “We can’t let this economic crisis go to waste” an Opinion Piece in Open Democracy (March 16), which argues ..”During this, or any future, economic crisis, public support and funding to stricken industries must be conditioned on public ownership and control within the overall perspective of a Green New Deal and a just transition for workers and communities affected by the required shifts to renewable energy and less carbon intensive modes of transportation and production. This means not simply injecting public money into banks, oil and gas companies, and airlines in order to stabilize and resurrect their existing business so they can continue financing, extracting, and burning fossil fuels at a pace that will blow our chances of keeping temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius by 2036.” ….

 “How to Make the Airline Bailout Work for Workers, Not Just CEOs” from Inequality.org (March 17) endorses the proposals from Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA , including direct payroll subsidies for airline workers.   The article in Inequality includes a table which shows how much the five biggest U.S. carriers spent on stock buybacks between 2010 and 2019 – including American Airlines, which spent $12.5 billion on buybacks, to increase the value of executive stock-based pay. Sara Nelson makes her case in an interview in In These Times (Mar.19) :  “Our Airline Relief Bill Is a Template for Rescuing Workers Instead of Bailing Out Execs” .  She concludes:

“This virus is a very clear metaphor for what we always say in the labor movement, which is “An injury to one is an injury to all.” It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, or where you come from. If a virus exists and we don’t do something about it, then we’re all at risk. “