Canadian government climate priorities detailed in Mandate Letters to Ministers

The government’s priorities for all Ministries are set out in a series of Mandate Letters, released to the public on December 16, and available here.  Each letter is introduced with a general statement of priorities, which includes: “Building a cleaner, greener future will require a sustained and collaborative effort from all of us. As Minister, I expect you to seek opportunities within your portfolio to support our whole-of-government effort to reduce emissions, create clean jobs and address the climate-related challenges communities are already facing.”

Most specifically related to the tasks of climate change adaptation and mitigation are the Mandate Letters to the Ministers of Environment and Climate Change; Natural Resources; and  Labour – the latter two charged with advancing legislation for the promised Just Transition for workers and communities.  

To the Minister of Environment and Climate Change: (Steven Guilbeault) a long, detailed and challenging list of initiatives, highlighted as: “You will also set out by the end of March 2022, how we will meet our legislated 2030 climate goals. This will include new measures related to capping and cutting oil and gas sector emissions, further reducing methane emissions across the economy, mandating the sale of zero-emissions vehicles and setting us on a path to achieve an electricity grid with net-zero emissions by 2035. You will also work with your colleagues and crown corporations to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2023.”  Some specifics from the letter:

  • With the support of the Minister of Natural Resources, introduce a Clean Electricity Standard to achieve a net-zero clean electricity grid by 2035 and achieve a 100 per cent net-zero emitting electricity future.
  • Enact a strengthened Canadian Environmental Protection Act to protect everyone, including people most vulnerable to harm from toxic substances and those living in communities where exposure is high.
  • Identify, and prioritize the clean-up of, contaminated sites in areas where Indigenous Peoples, racialized and low- income Canadians live.
  • Recognize the “right to a healthy environment” in federal law and introduce legislation to require the development of an environmental justice strategy and the examination of the link between race, socio-economic status and exposure to environmental risk.
  • Work with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, and with the support of the Minister of Natural Resources, to accelerate our G20 commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies from 2025 to 2023, and develop a plan to phase out public financing of the fossil fuel sector, including by federal Crown corporations.
  • With the support of the Minister of Natural Resources, cap oil and gas sector emissions at current levels and ensure that the sector makes an ambitious and achievable contribution to meeting the country’s 2030 climate goals. This effort will take into account the advice of the Net-Zero Advisory Body and others, including provinces and territories, Indigenous Peoples, industry and civil society, and require the oil and gas sector to reduce emissions at a pace and on a scale needed to align with the achievement of net-zero emissions by 2050, with five-year targets to stay on track.
  • Make progress on methane emission reductions by developing a plan to reduce emissions across the broader Canadian economy consistent with the Global Methane Pledge and require through regulations the reduction of oil and gas methane emissions in Canada by at least 75 per cent below 2012 levels by 2030.
  • In collaboration with the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and the Minister of Indigenous Services, continue to work in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation to address climate change and its impacts, and chart collaborative strategies.
  • Work with the Minister of Natural Resources to help protect old growth forests, notably in British Columbia, by reaching a nature agreement with B.C., establishing a $50 million B.C. Old Growth Nature Fund, and ensuring First Nations, local communities and workers are partners in shaping the path forward for nature protection.

The Minister of the Environment and Climate Change had already issued a press release announcing that discussion papers on many of these issues would be issued before the end of 2021, to enable consultations in 2022. On December 16, the first of these was released, regarding zero emission vehicles. The Ministry also tabled its Reports to Parliament on December 13.

The Mandate Letter to the Minister of Natural Resources, (John Wilkinson) includes this  summary statement: “As Minister of Natural Resources, you will prioritize moving forward with legislation and comprehensive action to achieve a Just Transition, ensuring support for communities to create more economic opportunities for workers and families into the future and in all regions of the country. You will work with partners to develop and implement strategies to decarbonize regional electricity systems, grow the market for clean fuels and transform Canada’s building stock for the climate era. You will likewise move early to launch a Critical Minerals Strategy, ensuring that Canada’s natural resources are developed sustainably, competitively and inclusively.”  

Specifically, the Minister is given the lead on the Just Transition file with this statement:   

To support the future and livelihood of workers and their communities in the transition to a low carbon economy:

Work with the Minister of Labour in moving forward with legislation and comprehensive action to achieve a Just Transition. This work will be guided by consultations with workers, unions, Indigenous Peoples, employers, communities and provinces and territories. You will be supported by the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion and Ministers responsible for Regional Development Agencies;

Continue to deliver on investments to train workers and create opportunities for green jobs; and

Natural Resources is also charged with:

  • Increase inclusion in the clean energy workforce by creating more opportunities for women, LGBTQ2 and other under-represented people in the energy sector.
  • Work with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry to develop a sustainable battery innovation and industrial ecosystem in Canada, including to establish Canada as a global leader in battery manufacturing, recycling and reuse. In support of these efforts, you will work with stakeholders to identify new strategic priorities, including future battery types, ways to optimize batteries for cold weather performance and long-duration storage, and applications in heavy-duty transportation, and launch a Canada-U.S. Battery Alliance for stakeholders in both countries to identify shared priorities and create environmental requirements.
  • Reduce pollution from transportation by adding 50,000 new electric vehicle chargers and hydrogen stations to Canada’s network and supporting the installation of charging stations in existing buildings, and by making investments to retrofit large trucks currently on the road, and supporting the production, distribution and use of clean fuels, including low or zero carbon hydrogen.
  • Work with provinces and territories, communities and Indigenous Peoples to develop and implement a National Net-Zero Emissions Building Strategy to achieve net-zero emissions from buildings by 2050, with interim milestones, that include accelerating net-zero emissions new builds and deep retrofits of existing buildings through codes and incentives, requiring EnerGuide labeling of homes at the time of sale, transitioning away from fossil-fuel home heating systems, and launching a community level net-zero emissions homes initiative.
  • Work with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry on the development of model building codes, including publishing a net-zero emissions building code and model retrofit code by the end of 2024 that align with national climate objectives and provide a standard for climate-resilient buildings. You will also work to amend the National Building Code of Canada to specify firefighter and first responder safety as a core objective. To ensure effective implementation of these performance standards, work with partners to develop strategies around incentives, training programs and pilot initiatives.
  • Help Canadians improve the energy efficiency and resiliency of their homes by providing grants of up to $5,000 for home retrofits through the Canada Greener Homes Grants Program and creating a Climate Adaptation Home Rating Program as a companion to the EnerGuide home energy audits to protect homeowners from the impacts of climate change.
  • Work with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to help protect old growth forests, notably in British Columbia, by advancing a nature agreement with B.C., establishing a $50 million B.C. Old Growth Nature Fund, and ensuring First Nations and Métis, local communities and workers are partners in shaping the path forward on nature protection.

To the Minister of Labour   (Seamus O’Regan):

“Work with the Minister of Natural Resources in moving forward with legislation and comprehensive action to achieve a Just Transition. This work will be guided by consultations with workers, unions, Indigenous Peoples, employers, communities, and provinces and territories to support the future and livelihood of workers and their communities in the transition to a low carbon economy. You will be supported by the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion and Ministers responsible for Regional Development Agencies.”

Audit of coal workers’ transition promised in 2022; audit of green recovery funds finds job retention not measured

The federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development  tabled several reports in the House of Commons on November 25, including  Report 5—Lessons Learned from Canada’s Record on Climate Change. Well-documented and concise, it summarizes the history of climate policies and international agreements over the last 30 years, and concludes: “Repeated commitments, strategies, and action plans to reduce emissions in Canada have not yielded results…..Despite progress in some areas, such as public electricity and heat generation, Canadian emissions have actually increased by more than 20% since 1990.” The report identifies the central flaw of “policy incoherence”, highlighting the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the Onshore Emissions Reduction Fund as examples.  Eight “lessons” are discussed, with accompanying opportunities for the future, with an overarching lesson which calls  for greater leadership and coordination amongst all levels of government . Lesson 2 states that “Canada’s economy is still dependent on emission‑intensive sectors” and in a section entitled “Shielding workers and communities”,  the report highlights the findings of the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities. Most importantly, the Commissioner promises a performance audit to Parliament in 2022,  “examining Canada’s just transition for coal workers.”  In the discussion about the need for a national energy policy, and report  poses  “Considerations for parliamentarians” which include:  “How much financial support does Canada provide to the oil and gas industry? Could this support be reallocated to workers?” and “How can the federal government identify and assist communities and workers most affected by the transition to a low‑carbon economy?”

Also of interest: The Commissioner’s Report #4:  Emissions Reductions Fund – Natural Resources Canada, which is a scathing rebuke to the department and a catalogue of poor, hasty design and inaccurate measurement of the impacts of the Onshore Emissions Reduction Fund. The Fund, launched in 2020 as part of the federal Covid-19 Economic Response Plan, offered $675 million in the form of interest-free loans and non-repayable grants with the stated goals of helping land-based oil and gas companies attract investment, retain jobs, and reduce emissions. Amongst the failings:  Natural Resources Canada failed to use recognized GHG accounting principles to measure the GHG reductions, and awarded maximum grants to all applicants without assessing value for tax-payers money.  Further,   “Natural Resources Canada indicated that one of the rationales for the Onshore Program was to help maintain jobs in the oil and gas sector. However, we found that the department did not include job retention as a feature in the program’s design. For example, it did not list job retention as an eligibility condition or an assessment criterion for funding decisions. The department also did not include job retention or creation in the oil and gas sector as a performance indicator for the Onshore Program. However, it planned to request this information from funded companies as part of the contribution agreements’ reporting requirements.”  Natural Resources Canada has accepted this criticism and promises to  “provide annual and periodic reporting on greenhouse gas emission reductions and jobs (direct and indirect) from ERF‑funded projects, as new information becomes available.”   The new Minister of Natural Resources , Jonathan Wilkinson, announced a review of the program on November 26  

Canada joins Global Methane Pledge and ups the target for fossil-related reductions

With a government announcement on October 11, Canada joined twenty-three other countries and signed on to the Global Methane Pledge, launched by the U.S. and the U.K. on September 18.  By signing on, Canada pledges to reduce all methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030, and as described by the Washington Post (Oct. 11), Canada’s participation is significant because it is one of the world’s top 20 methane-emitting countries. Nine of the twenty have now signed on to the Global Pledge, but notably, Russia, China, India and Brazil have not.

The existing Canadian target for reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is a reduction of 40–45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. According to the October 11 press release, that will increase, with a commitment  “… to developing a plan to reduce methane emissions across the broader Canadian economy and to reducing oil and gas methane emissions by at least 75 percent below 2012 levels by 2030”. It is noteworthy that the Minister also states: “our approach will include regulations” , since the government has been criticized for relying more on taxpayer-funded incentives than regulation – as in “Canada supports global pledge to slash oil and gas methane”  (Oct. 13). That article quotes Julia Levine of Environmental Defence, who states: ““What we see in Canada is that despite the fact negative or low-cost (methane reductions) could be achieved through regulations, the federal government last year set up a $750-million emission reduction fund (that) is paying companies to reduce their methane emissions” …. “These are technologies that allow companies to have less leakage and, therefore, more product they can sell” …. So we’re subsidizing their ability to generate more profit from their products.”

Canada’s 75% pledge related to the oil and gas industry matches the  target called for by the International Energy Agency in Curtailing Methane Emissions from Fossil Fuel Operations , released on October 7. But as pointed out by another IEA report, Driving down methane leaks from the oil and gas industry   (January 2021), targets can only work if measurement of leaks is accurate. As scientists have proven , Canada’s methane leaks have been under-reported in the past.

Recommendations for increased climate action by federal and provincial governments

Pembina Institute and the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University published All Hands on Deck: An assessment of provincial, territorial and federal readiness to deliver a safe climate on July 24.  Although completed before the election call, the report is a timely and helpful assessment of where we stand, what our ambitions should be,  and reminds us that GHG emissions reduction is not up to the federal government alone. The report examines each province, territory and the federal government on 24 indicators across 11 categories, and concludes, in summary:

“The approach to climate action in Canada is piecemeal. It also lacks accountability for governments who promise climate action but don’t have timelines or policies to match the urgency of the situation. Despite the fast-approaching 2030 target, 95% of emissions generated in Canada are not covered by either a provincial or territorial 2030 target or climate plans independently verified to deliver on the 2030 target. No jurisdiction has developed pathways to describe how net-zero can be achieved.”  

The report states that Canada’s overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have dropped by only 1% between 2005 and 2019, and forecasts a national emissions reduction of 36% below 2005 levels by 2030, even accounting for the measures announced in A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy plan, released in Dec. 2020.  Despite the major impact of economy-wide carbon pricing and the phase-out of coal-fired electricity, emissions from other sources,  particularly from  transportation and oil and gas production, have increased since 2005.  

Taken in an international context, Canada has the third highest per capita emissions among the 36 OECD countries (approximately 1.6 times the OECD average), and was the second highest per capita emitter amongst the G7 countries in 2018. Perhaps most troubling, Canada is not moving fast enough to change – it has one of the lowest percentage reductions in GHG emissions per capita between 2005 and 2018.  The All Hands on Deck report offers specific recommendations for improvement for each province, as well as the following sixteen objectives that all jurisdictions should act on, listed below:   

1. Set higher emissions reduction targets and shrinking carbon budgets. Governments prepared to deliver on climate promises will: 

  • Commit to net-zero emissions by 2050 and model a pathway to achieve that goal
  • Commit to a 2030 target aligned with Canada’s historic contribution and ability to mitigate climate change
  • Translate targets into carbon budgets.

2. Make governments accountable. Accountability requires that federal, provincial and territorial governments:

  • Create an independent accountability body, and mandate independent evaluation and advice to the legislature, not the government of the day
  • Legislate targets and carbon budgets for regular, short-term milestones between 2021 and 2050
  • Mandate a requirement that climate mitigation plans, including actions to achieve legislated milestones, adaptation plans and evaluations, are tabled in their respective legislatures.

3. Prioritize reconciliation and equity. To begin the process of building reconciliation and equity into climate policy, governments need to:

  • Pass legislation committing to full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Commit to monitoring, publicly reporting on, and mitigating the impacts of climate change and climate change policy on Indigenous Peoples and their rights
  • Commit to monitoring, publicly reporting on, and mitigating the gendered, socio-economic and racial impacts of climate change and climate change policy.

4. Set economy-wide sectoral budgets and map net-zero pathways. In nearly every province and territory, either oil and gas or transportation (or both) are the largest source of emissions. As such, governments need to:

  • Set economy-wide sectoral budgets and strategies at national, provincial, and territorial levels
  • Prioritize emissions reductions in the highest-emitting sectors
  • Decarbonize electricity by 2035.

5. Plan for a decline in oil and gas. The federal government, and governments in fossil fuel-producing provinces and territories, need to:

  • Create transition plans for the oil and gas sector that are based on net-zero pathways and include comprehensive strategies to ensure a just and inclusive transition.

6. Accelerate the push to decarbonize transportation. Governments need to:

  • Mandate 100% zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) sales by 2035 and provide incentives for purchase and infrastructure
  • Develop decarbonization strategies for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles and goods movement
  • Develop and fund public transit and active transportation strategies.

Industrial policy in Europe and new “Fit for 55” proposals

For a fair and effective industrial climate transition is a working paper newly published by the European Trade Union Institute, evaluating the support mechanisms for heavy industry (such as steel, cement and chemicals) over the past twenty years. Looking specifically at Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, the paper describes and evaluates policies related to the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), energy tariffs, and other taxes and subsidies at the national level. The authors conclude that the policies have largely been defensive and insufficiently ambitious, and have had negative distributional effects. They call for a more cooperative approach across EU national jurisdictions, and highlight some “best case” current practices, particularly from the Netherlands. Finally, the paper makes specific suggestions for future transition roadmaps which incorporate a “polluter pays” approach, and which incorporate an environmental and social evaluation of all subsidies, tax breaks and other support mechanisms.

The ETUI working paper was completed before the European Commission announced its  ‘Fit for 55’ package on July 14 –   proposals for legislative reforms to reduce emissions by at least 55% from 1990 levels by 2030 . Fit for 55 includes comprehensive and controversial proposals which must survive negotiation and debate before becoming law, but offer  reforms to the Renewable Energy Directive, the Energy Taxation Directive, the Energy Efficiency Directive, and the European ETS, including a carbon border adjustment mechanism.  Also included: a circular economy action plan, an EU biodiversity strategy, and agricultural reform.  The Guardian offers an Explainer here; the Washington Post calls the scope of the proposals “unparalleled”, and highlights for example the transportation proposals, which  mandate reducing new vehicles’ average emissions by 55 percent in 2030 and 100 percent in 2035, which “amounts to an outright ban of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035 ….”.  

Environmental racism in Nova Scotia and calls for changes to Canadian climate change policy

“Environmental Racism and Climate Change: Determinants of Health in Mi’kmaw and African Nova Scotian Communities”  was published in July by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices. Author  Ingrid Waldron, HOPE Chair in Peace and Health at McMaster University, presents case studies of several communities, based on her nine-year research and advocacy ENRICH project at Dalhousie University.  The article links to the ENRICH Project Map, which locates polluting industries in Nova Scotia, showing the proximity of waste incinerators, waste dumps, thermal generating stations, and pulp and paper mills near Mi’kmaw and African communities. Specific communities described in some detail include historic sites such as the Sydney tar ponds and Africville, as well as lesser-known examples and more current disputes, such as Boat Harbour and the Alton Gas dispute near Shubenacadie.  

These are examples of environmental racism, “the idea that marginalized and racialized communities disproportionately live where they are affected by pollution, contamination, and the impacts of climate change, due to inequitable and unjust policies that are a result of historic and ongoing racism and colonialism.”   Such locations, combined with such “structural determinants” of health as income and employment, come together to make residents more susceptible and sensitive to climate change impacts, and Waldron concludes the article with recommendations for policies to achieve “health equity”.  These include: environmental justice legislation focused on eliminating differential exposure to, and unequal protection from, environmental harms, (such as Bill C-230, the private member’s bill by Lenore Zann). Waldron also states: “ health equity impact assessment must be incorporated into the environmental assessment and approval process to examine and address the cumulative health impacts of environmental racism in Indigenous and Black communities that are outcomes of long-standing social, economic, political, and environmental inequities.”  More broadly, her accompanying blog, states : “To be effective, climate policy must focus on undoing the structural inequities that lead to power imbalances within society and, consequently, differential exposure to climate devastation.”

Groundbreaking moment as Canada passes climate accountability law

Down to the wire on June 29, before adjourning for summer recess, the Senate of Canada passed Bill C-12, An Act respecting transparency and accountability in Canada’s efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.   C-12 had been approved in the House of Commons on June 22, following a determined campaign by environmental advocacy groups, described by Climate Action Network-Canada here . And Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law wrote, urging passage in  “To amend or not to amend – Why Bill C-12 should be passed even though it could be better” (June 16) .

The reactions of many of those groups are compiled in “Senate Vote on Climate Accountability Act Counters ‘Decades of Broken Promises’”  (The Energy Mix, June 30)   – including Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment,  Climate Action Network-Canada, Ecojustice,  Leadnow, and West Coast Environmental Law. Their general consensus was that the bill is far from perfect, but as Catherine Abreu of CAN_RAC states, it is : “a groundbreaking moment and ushers Canada into a new era of accountability to its climate commitments.”   EcoJustice provides an excellent summary and reaction here , pointing out the positives, such as clearer, more detailed GHG reduction targets, improved timelines, and a requirement for 5-year reviews. However, many remain concerned about “the independence of its advisory body, transparency around the role of provinces and territories in achieving Canada’s climate targets, and how we define the term “net-zero.” ”

The full Legislative history of C-12 is here, including links to the meetings of and briefs to the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, and the Senate Pre-Study of the Bill. For an excellent summary, see “How Bill C-12 aims to guide Canada to net-zero” (National Observer, June 30).

Avoiding Dangerous Distractions such as Net-zero emissions goals

Dangerous Distractions: Canada’s carbon emissions and the pathway to net zero  is a newly published report by Marc Lee, of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – B.C.  The report argues that “Net zero has the potential to be a dangerous distraction that reduces the political pressure to achieve actual emission reductions in favour of wishful thinking about future technologies and “nature-based solutions…. This permits business-as-usual to continue for longer than it should, perpetuating the era of fossil fuels including other adverse health and environmental impacts.”  Instead, the Canadian government should invest in  proven climate change solutions such as renewal energy.

A working definition of “net zero” might be similar to that offered by the  Institute for Climate Choices: “Achieving net zero emissions requires shifting to technologies and energy systems that do not produce greenhouse gas emissions, while removing any remaining emissions from the atmosphere and storing them permanently.”  “Net zero” targets have been increasingly adopted by governments – including Canada – and by businesses – whose use has been challenged by many – notably by Friends of the Earth International in Chasing Carbon Unicorns: The Deception of Carbon Markets and Net Zero (Feb. 2021).

 Dangerous Distractions  concerns the Canadian government policy approach to a net zero goal, particularly focusing on  carbon removal technologies such as carbon capture and storage, forestry management, and the use of carbon offsets, especially the international trade in carbon offsets (such as proposed by the international Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets , founded by Mark Carney).  Lee concludes: “It’s impossible to know what carbon removal technologies of the future could achieve. For now, they are a dangerous distraction that diverts resources away from bona fide solutions. Scaling these ideas is very expensive and impractical, while perpetuating the era of fossil fuels prolongs other costly adverse impacts on human health, such as those due to air pollution.”

What follows are several recommendations, the first of which  is: “ Plan to reduce domestic emissions to “real zero” and to phase out the extraction and production of fossil fuels for export.”  He continues, “Don’t subsidize carbon capture and storage (CCS) with public funds. Require CCS for any proposed fossil fuel projects and phase in requirements for CCS in current projects”, and “Fund conservation of intact forests and nature-based solutions recognizing their important carbon, biodiversity and other co-benefits but treat this as a global public service. They should not be counted towards the 2050 target”; “Reject international carbon markets and do not plan on meeting domestic GHG targets by buying credits from outside Canada.”

The government of Canada legislated its net-zero emissions goal in Bill C-12, The  Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, introduced in November 2020 and currently before Committee.  In February 2021, Canada’s federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change established a permanent  Net-Zero Advisory Body, consisting of fourteen experts, and also in February, the Institute for Climate Choices published a lengthly report, Canada’s Net Zero Future: Finding our way in the global transition. That report contrasts to  Dangerous Distractions by advocating for two pathways forward: “safe bets” in the short term, and in the long term, “wild cards” which include negative emission technologies that are not yet commercially available.

Government policy: Thermal coal mining not consistent with Canadian climate commitments

A press release by Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change on June 11 spells the end of thermal coal mining in Canada, stating that the Government considers that new thermal coal mining or expansion projects “are likely to cause unacceptable environmental effects and are not aligned with Canada’s domestic and international climate change commitments.”  The specific details of the new policy are here , and are summarized in “Feds toughen permit requirements for thermal coal mining projects” (National Observer, June 11) .  At the same time as the Minister released the thermal coal policy, he officially notified  Coalspur Mines Ltd. that the policy applies to its proposed, controversial thermal coal mine expansion at the Vista Coal Mine near Hinton, Alberta. (the company challenges the federal jurisdiction over its development).  Alberta launched its own review of coal-mining policies in March, with a report promised for November.   

The new federal policy is a welcome improvement, but it applies to thermal coal only, not metallurgical coal which is used for steel-making.  The Grassy Mountain metallurgical coal mining project is currently under federal-provincial review, with a decision due in June.  Andrew Nikoforuk describes the issues of the Grassy Mountain project in The Tyee, in “The Fate of the Canadian Rockies May Rest on This Decision” (May 31). The Narwhal has archived several in-depth article focused on coal in Canada, here.

A framework of six essential policies for the U.S. to THRIVE

A new report by Jeremy Brecher of the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) was released in May. Making “Build Back Better” Better: Aligning Climate, Jobs, and Justice is a cast as a “living document” to provide a framework for discussion by the labour and environmental movements.  Common Dreams summarizes it here.  Brecher begins by identifying the range of climate-related policy proposals in the U.S.:   “There are many valuable plans that have been proposed in addition to Build Back Better. The original Green New Deal resolution sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; the THRIVE (Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy) Agenda   ; the Evergreen Action Plan; the Sierra Club’s “How to Build Back Better” economic renewal plan; the AFL-CIO’s “Energy Transitions”proposals; the BlueGreen Alliance’s “Solidarity for Climate Action,” and a variety of others. All offer contributions for overall vision and for policy details.” 

The contribution of this report from LNS is to frame these policy proposals around “six essential elements” : • Managed decline of fossil fuel burning • Full-spectrum job creation • Fair access to good jobs • Labor rights and standards • Urgent and effective climate protection • No worker or community left behind.  The new report links to many of the previous LNS reports which have discussed these elements in more detail.  

Labor Network for Sustainability has endorsed the THRIVE Agenda, with its strong emphasis on climate justice.  At the end of April, The THRIVE Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress, spearheaded by Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, and supported by progressive Democrats, environmentalists, and unions.  The Rolling Stone summarized the provisions  here , stating:  “Bold” may be an understatement. While President Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan calls for spending $2 trillion over the next 10 years, the THRIVE Act green-lights the investment of $1 trillion annually. The money would go toward creating an estimated 15 million “family-sustaining” union jobs, rebuilding the nation’s physical and social infrastructure, and cutting carbon emissions in half by 2030.”

The Green New Deal Network has compiled extensive documentation of the economic studies behind the THRIVE Agenda here , based heavily on the work of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), led by Robert Pollin.  

Canada’s Climate Emergency Unit seeks to light a spark across Canada

The Climate Emergency Unit is a newly-launched initiative of the David Suzuki Institute, with the Sierra Club B.C. and the Rapid Decarbonization Group of Quebec as Strategic Partners.  The Unit is led by Seth Klein and inspired by his 2020 book, A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency, which argues that climate mobilization requires an effort similar to what previous generations expended against the existential threat of fascism during the Second World War. (This is an approach shared with the U.S. group The Climate Mobilization, and others). The stated goal of the CEU is “to work with all levels of government and civil society organizations – federal, provincial, local and Indigenous governments, businesses, trade unions, public institutions and agencies, and industrial/sectoral associations” – to network, educate and advocate for the mobilization ideas in A Good War, to decarbonize and electrify Canadian society and the economy,  while enhancing social justice and equity. 

In an article in Policy Options in November 2020, Klein summarizes the four hallmarks of a government committed to an urgent, emergency response:

  • It spends what it takes to win;
  • It creates new economic institutions to get the job done;
  • It shifts from voluntary and incentive-based policies to mandatory measures;
  • It tells the truth about the severity of the crisis and communicates a sense of urgency about the measures necessary to combat it.

Seth Klein was the founding Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in British Columbia, and continues to publish in the CCPA Policy Note , as well as in the Climate Emergency Unit blog, and as a columnist for The National Observer – for example, with “Feds need to treat climate crisis like a national emergency” on April  30.

$17.6 Billion announced for Green Recovery in Canada’s new Budget- but still not enough to meet the Climate Emergency – updated

On April 19, the federal government tabled its much-anticipated 2021 Budget, titled A Recovery Plan for Jobs, Growth, and Resilience, announcing $30 billion over five years and $8.3 billion a year afterward to create and maintain early learning and child-care programs – stating:  “It is the care work that is the backbone of our economy. Just as roads and transit support our economic growth, so too does child care”. COVID-19 wage subsidy, rent subsidy and lockdown support programs will be extended until September, depending on how long the crisis continues, the maximum sickness benefit period for Employment Insurance will be extended from 12 to 26 weeks, and a new Canada Recovery Hiring Program will provide employers with funding to hire new workers between June 6, 2021 and November 20, 2021.  A new $15 federal minimum wage will apply in federally regulated private businesses.

Green Recovery and the Climate Emergency: The Budget still falls short

In an article in Policy Options in March, Mitchell Beer laid out the challenge: Chrystia Freeland must pick a lane with next budget – climate change or oil and gas? Climate activists laid out what they were looking for in Investing for Tomorrow, Today: How Canada’s Budget 2021 can enable critical climate action and a green recovery , published on March 29 and endorsed by nine of Canada’s leading environmental organizations: Pembina Institute, Nature Canada, Climate Action Network Canada, Environmental Defence, Équiterre, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Ecology Action Centre, Leadnow, and Wilderness Committee. 

Yet it appears that the federal Budget is still trying to maintain one foot on the oil and gas pedal, while talking about GHG emissions and clean technologies. The reactions below indicate such concerning elements – incentives on the unproven technologies of carbon capture and storage and hydrogen, no signs of an end to fossil fuel subsidies, no mention of a Just Transition Act, and, despite hopes that the Prime Minister would announce an ambitious target at the U.S. Climate Summit convened by President Biden, a weak new GHG reduction target increasing to only 36 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The Budget summary announces “$17.6 billion in a green recovery that will help Canada to reach its target to conserve 25 per cent of Canada’s lands and oceans by 2025, exceed its Paris climate targets and reduce emissions by 36 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and move forward on a path to reach net-zero emission by 2050.” This  Backgrounder summarizes some of the Green Recovery highlights, which include :

  • $4.4 billion to support retrofitting through interest-free loans to homeowners, up to $40,000
  • $14.9 billion over eight years for a new, permanent public transit fund
  • $5 billion over seven years, to support business ventures through the Net Zero Accelerator program – which aims to decarbonize large emitters in key sectors, including steel, aluminum, cement—and to accelerate the adoption of clean technology. Examples given are aerospace and automobile manufacture industry.
  • $319 million over seven years “to support research and development that would improve the commercial viability of carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies.” This would be in the form of an investment tax credit, with the goal of reducing emissions by at least 15 megatonnes of CO2 annually.
  • a temporary reduction by half in corporate income tax rates for qualifying zero-emission technology manufacturers, such as solar and wind energy equipment, electric vehicle charging systems, hydrogen refuelling stations for vehicles, manufacturing of equipment used for the production of hydrogen by electrolysis of water, production of hydrogen by electrolysis of water and others
  • $63.8 million over three years, starting in 2021-22, to Natural Resources Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Public Safety Canada to work with provinces and territories to complete flood maps for higher-risk areas.
  • $2.3 billion over five years to conserve up to 1 million square kilometers more land and inland waters, and an additional $200 million to build natural infrastructure like parks, green spaces, ravines, waterfronts, and wetlands.

Reactions

Watershed moment for child care, long-term care: Budget 2021: But pharmacare, tax reform and climate change remain in limbo”, from CCPA states: “Budget 2021 delivers on a number of previously-announced emission reduction initiatives and green infrastructure projects, including $14.9 billion over eight years for a new, permanent public transit fund…….Unfortunately, while the budget makes big strides toward a greener economy, it fails once again to tackle Canada’s dependence on fossil fuel production. Without a clear plan and timeline for winding down oil and gas extraction we simply cannot meet our net zero emission target.”

“Federal Budget React: Canadian Civil Society Responds” compiles reactions from Canada’s major climate advocacy groups, including Climate Action Network’s own statement: “…. Some investments made by budget 2021 are extremely helpful – particularly investments in clean transportation, energy efficient homes, resilient agriculture, and Canada’s first green bonds. Some investments made by budget 2021 are extremely worrisome – investments in carbon capture and storage risk perpetuating our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels, and some of the forestry investments perpetuate a transactional relationship with nature that treats it like a commodity we can trade. Yet the big take away is this: we are in a time of changing norms, and Budget 2021 does not present a vision for climate-safe transformational change” 

Budget 2021 is a healthy dose for the clean economy, but climate measures lack potency” from the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, which points out “There is no way to reach our near-term or net zero targets without retrofitting practically all of Canada’s homes and buildings.  That’s why the lack of mention of energy efficiency and deep retrofits for buildings beyond single-family homes is surprising … There is no mention in the budget of strategic incentives or financing for municipalities or developers to ensure new construction is near-zero construction.”

The Canadian Labour Congress press release, Canada’s unions welcome ‘crucial’ funding for child care, skills training and $15 federal minimum wage doesn’t mention any of the green recovery elements. The CLC later released a Summary and Analysis of the Budget, here.

From NUPGE: Federal Budget 2021: Lofty ambitions need details , which follows NUPGE President Larry Brown’s letter to Environment and Climate Change Minister Wilkinson, titled No more delays on climate action, justice.  

Federal Budget Leaves Out Transit Workers and Riders as Operational Transit Funding Completely Left Out, Says ATU Canada” from the Amalgamated Transit Union  

If not now, when?” Liberals waste another shot at equitable recovery with Budget 2021 from Canadian Union of Public Employees

And from the National Observer: “Critics throw shade at federal budget cash for home retrofits”  and  “Will Trudeau’s wager on carbon capture help or hurt the environment? “.

Can Biden unite Labour and climate activists with his American Jobs Plan ?

On March 31, U.S. President Biden announced his “American Jobs Plan,” which outlines over $2 trillion in spending proposals, including $213 billion to build, modernize and weatherize affordable housing,  $174 billion for incentives and infrastructure for electric vehicles; $100 billion for power grid modernization and resilience; $85 billion investment in modernizing public transit and bringing it to underserved areas; $35 billion investment in clean technology research and development, including incubators and demonstration projects; $16 billion employing union oil and gas workers to cap abandoned oil and gas wells and clean up mines, and $10 billion to launch a  Civilian Climate Corps to work on conservation and environmental justice projects.  All of these are proposals, to be subject to the political winds of Washington, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggesting a date of July 4 for a vote on legislation.

The White House Fact Sheet outlines the specifics . Robert Reich calls the plan “smart politics” in  “Joe Biden as Mr. Fix-it” in Commons Dreams, and according to “Nine Ways Biden’s $2 Trillion Plan Will Tackle Climate Change” in Inside Climate News, “President Joe Biden aims to achieve unprecedented investment in action to address climate change by wrapping it in the kind of federal spending package that has allure for members of Congress of both parties.”   David Roberts offers a summary and smart, informed commentary in his Volt blog, stating: “Within this expansive infrastructure package is a mini-Green New Deal, with large-scale spending targeted at just the areas energy wonks say could accelerate the transition to clean energy — all with a focus on equity and justice for vulnerable communities on the front lines of that transition. If it passes in anything like its current form, it will be the most significant climate and energy legislation of my lifetime, by a wide margin.”

Julian Brave NoiseCat writes in the National Observer on April 6, summing up the dilemma:   …” Each policy has the potential to unite or divide the Democrat’s coalition of labour unions, people of colour, environmentalists and youth activists. Some policies, like the creation of a new Civilian Climate Corps …. are directly adopted from demands pushed by activists like the youth-led Sunrise Movement. Others, like investments in existing nuclear power plants and carbon capture retrofits for gas-fired power plants, will pit labour unions against environmental justice activists from the communities those industries often imperil. Uniting the environmental activists who oppose the development of fossil fuel pipelines with the workers who build them will be among the Democrats’ greatest challenges.”

Some Specific U.S. statements:

Generally favourable reaction comes in a brief statement from the AFL-CIO. The  BlueGreen Alliance states: “This is a historic first step, and yet we know this and more will be needed to deliver the scale of investment needed, particularly in disadvantaged communities and for workers and communities impacted by energy transition.”  Similarly, Kate Aronoff writes “Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Needs More Climate Spending” in The New Republic; and the Climate Justice Alliance response is titled  “Grassroots, Environmental Justice Communities call on Biden To Go Bigger, Bolder And Faster For A Climate, Care And Infrastructure Recovery Package That Meets The Moment”.

The Sunrise Movement press release commends Biden for calling for passage of the PRO Act, for clean energy initiatives, and environmental justice aspects, and has a mixed reaction to Biden’s version of the Civilian Climate Corps: “This gives our movement a starting place, and with a foot in the door we can fight to expand and strengthen the CCC over the coming years.” ….. “The plan Biden rolled out today would create about 10,000-20,00 jobs in a Civilian Climate Corps, which would train and employ young people to build clean energy and decarbonize the economy. When FDR rolled out a similar Civilian Conservation Corps, it employed around 300,000 people per year, and that was back when the US population was ~40% of its current size .”   

Will Biden’s Plan push Canada’s climate ambitions?

The CBC published “Here are four ways Biden’s big climate bill touches Canada” .  Mitchell Beer compiles reactions in “Biden Jobs, Infrastructure Plan Aims to ‘Turbocharge the transition’ off Fossil Fuels”  in The Energy Mix, including Adam Radwanski’s response in the Globe and Mail, “Joe Biden’s new climate plans should jolt Ottawa” (restricted access).   And the Canadian United Steelworkers alludes to the “Buy American” elephant in the room for Canadians, in its press release titled, Build Back Better Through Infrastructure Spending on Both Sides of the Border (April 1)  “the United Steelworkers union (USW) sees U.S. President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan as an opportunity to maintain and create jobs, bolster manufacturing and make our communities safer. ….A decade ago, the USW worked with the Obama administration and the Canadian government to create a North American strategy that benefited workers in the United States and Canada…. Canada is not the problem facing U.S. manufacturing and workers. Co-operation between Canada and U.S. will build on our longstanding and productive trading relationship.”

Finally, a roadmap to a Canadian Just Transition Act

In 2019 at COP25, Canada’s federal politicians pledged to enact a Just Transition Act , and even included the promise in the Liberal election platform.  Yet the December 2020 federal climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, makes little mention of Just Transition, and the absence of follow-through has not gone unnoticed – for example, in a January 2021 article in the Toronto Star which asks: “The Liberals promised help for oil workers as their jobs disappear. So where is it?

On April 1, a new report,  Roadmap to a Canadian Just Transition Act:  A path to a clean and inclusive economy advances the issue by offering a framework and costed proposals for essential provisions.  The Roadmap is built on an overview of the international research and best practices, and makes proposals which are meant to be comprehensive and ambitious, and commensurate with the scale of the problem- costed as “in the order of $16.5 billion per year (declining over the lifetime of the transition).”

The Roadmap proposes the following components for a Just Transition Act for Canada:

• Enshrine fundamental just transition principles, rights and definitions; • Establish a Just Transition Commission to oversee and guide the government’s transition agenda; • Establish a Just Transition Benefit to support workers in affected communities; • Establish an Economic Diversification Crown Corporation to invest in job-creating projects in affected communities; • Establish a Just Transition Training Fund that ensures access for historically marginalized groups to employment in the lower-carbon economy; and, • Establish a new federal-provincial/territorial Just Transition Transfer to deliver funding for these new social programs.

The role of the Just Transition Commission is central, coordinating the activities that will be administered through federal departments, encompassing the entire Canadian economy and workforce. The commission should represent and engage with “a wide variety of stakeholders, including labour unions, civil society groups, Indigenous peoples, business associations, independent experts, and public servants from governments of all levels.  …..It should lead the development of regionally specific roadmaps for Canada’s transition away from fossil fuels—plans that map out a timeline for the wind down of fossil fuel production and the scaling up of alternative industries for affected provinces and communities. It should propose and monitor policies related to decarbonization and workforce transition to ensure the principles of a just transition are respected at all stages of implementation. The commission should play a role in developing skills inventories and recommending investments in training for affected regions and workers. It should also work with employers and workers to facilitate job shifting and job bridging to avoid layoffs wherever possible.”

Regarding a Just Transition Benefit for individuals, the authors state:  “Unlike some existing transition supports, eligibility for this benefit should not be conditional on direct employment in an emissions-intensive industry. Instead, anyone suffering a significant drop in income due to the wind down of fossil fuel production in a qualifying region should be able to claim it. The benefit should be available, for as long as necessary, to help displaced workers to seek re-training and/or re-employment.”

Regarding proactive economic diversification, the report notes that “the amount spent by Canadian governments on economic diversification in the context of decarbonization is woefully inadequate” and calls for the creation of  a new federal Economic Diversification Crown Corporation, distinct from the existing Western Economic Diversification Fund or the Canada Infrastructure Bank. It would play “a crucial and distinct role in accelerating economic diversification away from fossil fuels through direct public ownership of new infrastructure …At least initially, new public investments in economic diversification must be on the scale of the industries being phased out—in the order of $15 billion per year at first and declining as the transition unfolds.”

Regarding training, the report calls for the legislation to “create a Just Transition Training Fund that has the explicit purpose of training new workers from historically marginalized groups for good, green jobs in a lower-carbon economy. Offering preferential support to certain groups, including women, Indigenous peoples, disabled people and people from racialized communities, is consistent with the principle of employment equity and protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”  The report calls for “ a significant portion of the Just Transition Training Fund should be allocated directly to expand training infrastructure, including through public colleges, labour union training centres and on job sites across the country.”

Roadmap to a Canadian Just Transition Act:  A path to a clean and inclusive economy was written by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood and Clay Duncliffe, and co-published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis and the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW) Research program . Mertins Kirkwood summarizes the contents in an Opinion piece in the National Observer .

Canada’s Supreme Court affirms federal government’s constitutional right to enact carbon pricing legislation

On March 25, the Supreme Court of Canada released a majority decision stating that the federal government of Canada was within its constitutional rights when it enacted the 2018 Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act — which required the provinces to meet minimum national standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The decision enables the federal government to move on to more ambitious climate action plans, since it ends a two-year battle with the provinces, and affirms the importance of the climate change issue. The majority decision states that national climate action “is critical to our response to an existential threat to human life in Canada and around the world.”   Summaries and reaction to this hugely important decision include an Explainer in The Narwhal , and “Supreme Court rules federal carbon pricing law constitutional” (National Observer) . Mainstream media also covered the decision, including a brief article in the New York Times which relates it to U.S. policy climate.

The Canadian Labour Congress issued a press release “Canada’s unions applaud Supreme Court decision upholding federal carbon pricing” – pointing out that the carbon tax is only one piece of the puzzle in reducing GHG emissions. Unifor emphasized next steps, calling on the provincial premiers of Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and the federal Conservative leader, to “stop complaining” and devise their own climate action plans. Similar sentiments appeared in the reactions of other advocacy groups: for example,  Council of Canadians;  the Pembina InstituteClean Energy Canada, and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) .

Political reactions

The reaction and explanation of the case from the federal government is here. The CBC provides a survey of political reaction here. Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta were the three provinces who lost their Supreme Court case: in a press release,  Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney pledged that his government will continue to “fight on”, and will now begin to consult with Albertans on how to respond to the court’s decision – as reported in the National Observer, “Alberta has no carbon tax Plan B, was hoping to win in court: Kenney” (March 26) . Kenney further stated,  “We will continue to press our case challenging Bill C-69, the federal ‘No More Pipelines Law,’ which is currently before the Alberta Court of Appeal.”  [Note Bill C-69 is actually titled An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act… and was enacted in June 2019]. Ontario’s “disappointment” is described in this article in the Toronto Star and Saskatchewan’s government reaction is described here by the CBC .   A sum-up Opinion piece appears in The Tyee: “Sorry Cranky Conservatives! Carbon Pricing Wins the Day” (March 29).

Only 18% of global Recovery spending in 2020 was green

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released Are We Building Back Better? Evidence from 2020 and Pathways for Inclusive Green Recovery Spending,    on March 10.  It estimates that in 2020, the world’s fifty largest economies announced USD14.6tn in fiscal measures to address the pandemic economic crisis, and states: …. “Excluding currently uncertain packages from the European Commission, 18.0% of recovery spending, and only 2.5% of total spending, is expected to enhance sustainability. The vast majority of green spending has come from a small set of high-income nations” with France, Germany and South Korea highlighted for their relatively high percentage of green recovery spending.  Canada’s spending is small, with only brief references which state that we have focused on “cleaning dirty energy assets”, and have made fossil fuel investment. (no details or examples given).  It is notable that the report covers 2020, so that U.S. spending is also low, though hope is expressed for the Biden/Harris administration.  Notably, the report looks to the future: “….. the largest window for green spending is only now opening, as nations shift attention from short-term rescue measures to recovery. Using examples from 2020 spending, we highlight five major green investment opportunities to be prioritised in 2021: green energy, green transport, green building upgrades & energy efficiency, natural capital, and green research and development.”    

Each of those topics is analyzed, with some exemplary policies highlighted. Some overarching issues: “Of particular note, despite continuing high global unemployment and widespread damage to human capital, spending on worker retraining in 2020 was small and almost exclusively non-green. Nations transitioning to a low-carbon economy must invest in human capital to enable and match future growth priorities. Structural changes in major sectors, including energy, agriculture, transport, and construction, require shifts in the structure and capabilities of the domestic labour force.”

Also, regarding “green strings”: “Although some dirty rescue-type expenditure may have been necessary to ensure that lives and livelihoods were saved, many of the largest of these policies could have included positive green attributes. For instance, airline bailouts in nations all over the world, including South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States could have included green conditions. Green conditions tied to liquidity support, like requirements to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or mandates to increase sustainable fuel use, can ensure short term relief while also promoting investment in long-term technological development and acting as a strong guide in national efforts to meet climate targets.”

The report is supported by the United Nations UNEP, the International Monetary Fund and GIZ through the Green Fiscal Policy Network (GFPN). The data was collected by the Oxford University Economic Recovery Project and is now available through the Global Recovery Observatory, a new database which will be updated regularly (most recently at the end of February).

The report cites many other studies and reports, notably: “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?” by Cameron Hepburn, Brian O’Callaghan, Nicholas Stern, Joseph Stiglitz, and Dimitri Zenghelis, which appeared in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy in May 2020.    .

The Lancet publishes a damning review of Trump’s legacy, including damage to occupational health and the environment

A special issue of the prestigious British journal The Lancet was released on February 11, titled Public policy and health in the Trump era, with an Editor’s introduction which captures the broad scope and tone:

“President Biden must contend with the continued COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout in addition to Trump’s corrosive legacy. Each roll-back from regulation
and every retreat from global cooperation that defined the Trump era has become an action item on a daunting but crucial list: racism, income inequality, immigration
protection, universal health coverage, nutrition, the environment, workplace safety, reproductive rights, antiscience, and isolationism.”

Discussion of  “The environment, workplace, and global climate” starts on page 27, with a list of Trump’s regulatory rollbacks related to air pollution and emissions, and toxic chemicals and occupational hazards. It states that Trump used the Covid-19 pandemic as a “cover” for rollbacks, and comes to some shocking conclusions, based on official data:   “Between 2016 and 2019, the annual number of environmentally and occupationally related deaths increased by more than 22000, reversing 15 years of steady progress”,  and  “The Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks have increased disease, injury, and death among workers in the USA. Its weakening of mine health and safety standards and mine enforcement programmes has led to increased injury deaths among workers employed in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction .… and increased mortality from coal workers’ pneumoconiosis … Despite rising deaths from work-related silicosis, the administration terminated a silicosis prevention programme launched during the Obama era.”

The Report concludes with a long list of recommendations for Executive Action (which includes rejoining the Paris climate agreement) and for Legislative Action, including: “Implement the Green New Deal, end subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuels, and ban coal mining and single-use plastics.”  The all- encompassing scope of the review is reflected in these concluding paragraphs:

“The path away from Trump’s politics of anger and despair cannot lead through past policies. President Biden must act for the people, not for the wealthy and the corporations they control. Resources to combat climate change, raise living standards, drop financial barriers to higher education and medical care, meet global aid responsibilities, and empower oppressed communities within the USA must come from taxes on the rich, and deep cuts in military spending…. For health care, overreliance on the private sector raises costs and distorts priorities, government must be a doer, not just a funder—eg, directly providing health coverage and engaging in drug development rather than paying private firms to carry out such functions.”

This report was authored by a Lancet Commission on Public Health and Policy in the Trump Era,  comprised of thirty-three experts from medical, public health and law schools, universities, Indigenous communities, clinical settings, public health agencies, unions, and legislative bodies, in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada. The Commission website states: “Convened shortly after President Trump’s inauguration in 2017, the Lancet Commission on public policy and health in the Trump era, offers the first comprehensive assessment of the detrimental legislation and executive actions during Trump’s presidency with devastating effects on every aspect of health in the USA. The Lancet Commission traces the decades of policy failures that preceded and fueled Trump’s ascent and left the USA lagging behind other high-income nations on life expectancy.”

Canada’s net zero future should include policies to support technology “wild cards”: report

Canada’s Net Zero Future: Finding our way in the global transition is a policy document released on February 8  by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, the national research network created by Environment and Climate Change Canada in 2020. The report provides a simple definition of net zero: “shifting toward technologies and energy systems that do not produce emissions, and offsetting any remaining emissions by removing GHGs from the atmosphere and storing them permanently.” Based on technical analysis by Navius Research which examined more than 60 modelling scenarios, the report is announced as “the first in-depth scenario report to explore how Canada can reach net zero emissions by 2050”. It concludes that the goal is doable, using two pathways: “safe bets” and “wild cards”.

Most impact will be made by “Safe bets—commercially available, cost-effective, existing technologies like electric vehicles, heat pumps, and smart grids” which they estimate can generate at least two-thirds of the emission reductions required. In the longer-term, to reach the 2050 target, the authors rely on results from unproven “wild cards”— “high-risk, high reward technologies like advanced biofuels, zero-emissions hydrogen, and some types of engineered negative emission technologies that are not yet commercially available”.   The conclusion: “To scale up safe bets, governments should continue to steadily increase the stringency of policies such as carbon pricing and flexible regulations. To advance wild cards, governments should spread their bets—supporting a portfolio of emerging technologies, without delaying progress on existing smart bet solutions over the next crucial decade.”

Of the four formal Recommendations, #4 is “Governments should work to ensure that the transition to net zero is fair and inclusive”.  ….. “It is vital that governments understand the full range of implications the transition will have on all of Canada’s regions, sectors, workers, communities, and income groups. This is necessary to ensure that policies successfully address adverse impacts and work to lift up groups who have historically been left behind, instead of exacerbating those inequalities. This will require direct engagement with all of those groups.”

The lead author of the report is Jason Dion, Mitigation Research Director at the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, but the report is a “consensus document” involving many advisors who compose its Mitigation Expert Panel Working Group, as well as expert external reviewers.  Two accompanying blogs condense the message in “What puts the “net” in net zero?” (regarding three means of negative emissions) and “Net zero is compatible with economic growth if we do it right” (emphasizing the importance of likelihood of GDP growth through the recommended policies.) 

Related Recent reports:

The Carbontech Innovation System in Canada released in December 2020 by the Pembina Institute, along with CMC Research Institutes and the Alberta Clean Technology Industry Alliance. It reviews and evaluates Canada’s position in the global carbon capture and utilization marketplace.

Accelerating Decarbonization of the United States Energy System published by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in February 2021. Written by a committee of experts, this is a policy blueprint for the U.S. to decarbonize its transportation, electricity, buildings, and industrial sectors, in order to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. See a summary here.

Can Technology solve Climate Change? two brief essays debating the pro and con arguments, by Adam Dorr and Richard Heinberg.

President Biden’s Executive Orders and Keystone XL cancellation – what impact on Canada?

Incoming U.S. President Biden exceeded expectations with the climate change initiatives announced in week 1 of his term, and many have important repercussions for Canada.  The most obvious came on Day 1, January 20, with an Executive Order cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline and taking the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement.  Also of potential impact for the Canadian clean tech and auto industries – the Buy American policies outlined in Executive Order on Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers (Jan. 25). On January 27 ( “Climate Day ”), the Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at home and abroad (explained in this Fact Sheet ) announced a further series of initiatives, including a pause on oil and gas leases on federal lands, a goal to convert the federal government’s vehicle fleet to electric vehicles, and initiatives towards environmental justice and science-based policies. Essential to the “whole of government” approach, the Executive Order establishes the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy to coordinate policies, and a National Climate Task Force composed of leaders from across 21 federal agencies and departments. It also establishes the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, “to be co-chaired by the National Climate Advisor and the Director of the National Economic Council, and directs federal agencies to coordinate investments and other efforts to assist coal, oil and natural gas, and power plant communities.”    

The New York Times summarized the Jan. 27 Orders as “a  sweeping series of executive actions …. while casting the moves as much about job creation as the climate crisis.” A sampling of resulting summaries and reactions: ‘We Need to Be Bold,’ Biden Says, Taking the First Steps in a Major Shift in Climate Policy” in Inside Climate News (Jan. 28); “Fossils ‘stunned’, ‘aghast’ after Biden pauses new oil and gas leases” in The Energy Mix (Feb. 1); “Biden’s “all of government” plan for climate, explained” in Vox (updated Jan. 27) ;  “Biden’s Pause of New Federal Oil and Gas Leases May Not Reduce Production, but It Signals a Reckoning With Fossil Fuels”  (Jan. 27) ; “Biden is canceling fossil fuel subsidies. But he can’t end them all” (Grist, Jan. 28);  “Activists See Biden’s Day One Focus on Environmental Justice as a Critical Campaign Promise Kept”  and  “Climate Groups Begin Vying for Power in the Biden Era as Pressure for Unity Fades” (Jan 21) in The Intercept , which outlines the key policy differences between the BlueGreen Alliance (which includes the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and the United Steelworkers in the U.S.) and  the Climate Justice Alliance, a national coalition of environmental justice groups.

The Narwhal provides an excellent overview of the important issues for Canada in “Biden has hit the ground running on climate and environmental justice. How will Canada respond?

Focus: Cancelling the Keystone XL Pipeline

The January 20 Executive Order halting the Keystone XL pipeline construction was meant to be a highly symbolic break with the previous administration’s policies, as described by Bill McKibben in the New Yorker as “Joe Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline is a landmark in the climate fight” . Inside Climate News wrote “Biden Cancels Keystone XL, Halts Drilling in Arctic Refuge on Day One, Signaling a Larger Shift Away From Fossil Fuels” (Jan. 21).       

In Canada, the Keystone XL cancellation set off a torrent of reactions – with  Alberta’s Premier immediately calling for trade retaliation  – summarized in “‘Gut punch’: Alberta premier blasts Biden on revoked Keystone XL permit” (National Observer, Jan. 20) . The federal government held an Emergency Debate on Keystone on January 25, the first day the House of Commons re-convened after Christmas break. Environmental groups, along with social justice groups, First Nations, and the B.C. Government Employees Union, sent an Open Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and all cabinet ministers on January 26, approving of the Keystone cancellation and stating: “Canada must follow Biden’s lead on Keystone XL and cancel TMX because it directly conflicts with the federal government recently announced climate plan and it does not have permission or consent from affected Indigenous Nations.”  An opposite viewpoint was reported in  “Keystone XL denial will hurt communities, Indigenous business coalition leader says” (National Observer, Jan. 22). Consistent with the past policies of the construction unions in the U.S. and Canada, Canada’s Building Trades Unions issued a press release expressing deep disappointment in lost jobs as a result of the decision – as did their U.S. counterpart the North American Building Trades Union (NABTU) . (The discord amongst unions over pipeline construction has been long-standing and well documented – for example, in Contested Futures: Labor after Keystone XL by Sean Sweeney ( New Labor Forum, 2016.)  

What next for Canada, now that Keystone XL has been cancelled?

CBC reports  “Trudeau government looks to continental energy strategy in wake of Keystone cancellation” (Jan. 27), which summarizes the unimpressive history of international energy initiatives but strikes an optimistic note because of the new Biden administration.  Eric Grenier summarizes the political and public opinion landscape and concludes that “For Trudeau, there’s no political reason to fight for Keystone XL” , and Aaron Wherry expands on that theme in “How political symbolism brought down Keystone XL” (Jan 23). In “Cenovus unveils capital spending plan, confirms up to 2,150 layoffs still targeted” (Jan. 29)  the CEO of Cenovus states that while the Keystone XL pipeline cancellation was a  “tragedy” for the industry, it wouldn’t affect his company’s ability to move oil and that Biden’s pause on oil and gas leasing, “is probably good for the Canadian oilpatch” . The Cenovus layoffs announced are not related to Biden’s policies but come as a result of its takeover of Husky Energy- Cenovus had already announced it would cut 20 to 25 per cent of its combined employee and contractor workforce (approx. 1,720 and 2,150 workers) in October 2020. 

Warren Mabee wrote in The Conversation Canada (Jan.21) “Biden’s Keystone XL death sentence requires Canada’s oil sector to innovate” – (republished in The Narwhal here ) arguing that Canada and Alberta “need to decide if more pipeline capacity is really needed” and “The future of Canada’s oil sector may not be in volume, but in value” – for example, high value-added products such as plastics, rubber and chemicals.   But this is Canada, so pipeline battles will continue: “With Keystone XL cancelled, all eyes turn to Trans Mountain expansion battle” (Ricochet , Jan. 27) and “The cancellation of Keystone XL raises the stakes for Trans Mountain (Globe and Mail Opinion piece, Jan. 26) . David Hughes has written, most recently in October 2020, that the Trans Mountain pipeline capacity is not needed, and on December 8 2020, the Parliamentary Budget Office released a report with the same conclusion. An excellent overview on the status of the Trans Mountain issue appears from the West Coast Environmental Law, and the Dogwood Institute maintains an online petition against TMX here.

What’s ahead for Canadian climate and energy policy in 2021?

The Canadian government has a full climate change agenda ahead when it reconvenes Parliament on January 25, not the least of which will be the debate and passage of Bill C-12, the Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act , analyzed by the Climate Action Network here.  After its introduction in November, C-12 was criticized for lacking urgency and specific plans – for example, in an article by Warren Mabee in The Conversation which calls for three per cent to four per cent GHG reductions “every year, starting now.”

On December 11, the government  released its latest climate plan,  A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, previously discussed in the WCR and noted primarily for its proposed carbon tax hike to $170 per tonne by 2050. According to  “The good, the bad and the ugly in Canada’s 2030 climate plan” (The National Observer, Jan. 18):  “The good news is that …The government’s recently announced A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy plan contains enough new climate policy proposals that, if implemented, will allow Canada to reach its 2030 target. The bad news is….Climate laws enacted by Canadian politicians to date don’t come anywhere close to meeting our 2030 target. With time running out and a gigantic emissions gap to close, Canada needs to enact climate laws now.”

Clean Fuel Standard, Hydrogen, and Small Nuclear Energy Policies released

On December 19, the government released the long-awaited draft regulations for a Clean Fuel Standard, triggering a 75-day consultation period, with final regulations expected in 2021, to take effect in 2022.   According to the government Q&A  website, the new regulations differ from previous drafts in that they apply only to liquid fossil fuels : gasoline, diesel and oil.  Producers and importers of fossil fuels will be required to reduce their carbon content by 2.6% by 2022 and by 13% by 2030 over 2016 levels.  Clean Energy Canada compiled the reactions of several environmental groups here .  The Pembina Institute called the regulations “both fair and cost-effective” in a press release reaction.  Their report , The Clean Fuel Standard: Setting the Record Straight (Nov. 2020) stated: “ The Clean Fuel Standard is expected to create as many as 30,000 jobs as new clean fuel facilities are built, supplied and operated. While some job losses could result from choices made under the CFS, robust modelling shows a net gain for Canadian workers: Energy-economic modelling suggests the CFS will yield a net employment gain resulting in between 17,000 and 24,000 additional jobs.” These projections are taken from on a technical analysis, conducted by Navius and EnviroEconomics consultants before the switch in scope to liquid fossil fuels only.  

Next, on December 16, the Minister of Natural Resources Canada released A Hydrogen Strategy for Canada: Seizing the Opportunities A Call to Action, another long-awaited strategy document which is the result of three years of study, analysis, and consultations, along with collaboration with industry associations: the Transition Accelerator, the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (CHFCA), the Canadian Gas Association, and others . The report states that the government will now establish a Strategic Steering Committee, with several targeted task teams, to implement recommendations.  Key highlights of the Hydrogen Strategy are here; the government’s Hydrogen website is here . 

From page 86, a glimpse into the thinking behind the report:

“The energy transition will fundamentally shift the Canadian economy and alter value chains in many related sectors. One shift of particular importance is the transition away from the direct burning of fossil fuels without carbon abatement. Canada’s energy sector accounted for 900,000 direct and indirect jobs as of 2017, with assets valued at $596 billion . This industry’s significant energy expertise and infrastructure can be leveraged to support the development of the future hydrogen economy in Canada. Hydrogen will be critical to achieving a net-zero transformation for oil and natural gas industries. It provides an opportunity to leverage our valuable energy and infrastructure assets, including fossil fuel reserves and natural gas pipelines, providing a pathway to avoid underutilizing or stranding these assets in a 2050 carbon neutral future. Leveraging these valuable assets will not only be instrumental in achieving the projected economic growth for the domestic market, but also presents the opportunity for Canada to position to become a leading global clean fuels exporter.”

Regarding regulatory changes, the report states: “Policies and regulations that encourage the use of hydrogen technologies include low carbon fuel regulations, carbon pollution pricing, vehicle emissions regulations, zero emission vehicle mandates, creation of emission-free zones, and renewable gas mandates in natural gas networks. Mechanisms to help de-risk investments for endusers to adapt to regulations are also needed.”  There is no mention of training or transition policies, although the report  forecasts a  job creation potential for hydrogen which might reach more than 350,000 jobs in 2050 at the upper end  – “a combination of new job growth and retrained and reskilled labour”. (pages 85 and 86).  

 An article in The National Observer discusses the strategy, the state of hydrogen initiatives in Alberta , and reaction of environmental groups, including a quote from  Environmental Defence, saying: “…. “a focus on fossil hydrogen only serves the interests of the oil and gas sector as they seek to create new markets for their products.” Similarly, Clean Energy Canada released a statement saying, “Canada’s long-awaited federal hydrogen strategy … falls short of what some other nations have put forward in terms of investment and ambition.”   A New Hope, published in October 2020, fleshes out Clean Energy Canada’s recommendations about hydrogen in Canada.

Finally, on December 18, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources released a national Small Nuclear Reactor Action Plan (SMR) , which responds to the 53 recommendations identified in Canada’s SMR Roadmap from November 2018. The list of organizations endorsing the SMR Agenda reflects the entrenched “who’s who” of Canada’s “ 75-year nuclear energy heritage.”  Each of these organizations – governments, public utilities, Indigenous groups, and unions, contributed a chapter to the Plan – available here. Individual endorsements include: the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; The International Union of Operating Engineers ; Power Workers Union – which highlights the pending closure of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station in 2025 and the need to transition that workforce; and the National Electrical Trade Council (NETCO) a workforce development organization for Red Seal electrical trades in Canada, jointly led by  the Canadian Electrical Contractors Association (CECA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) .