Reports documenting the state of global climate change released in advance of the Climate Ambition Summit

The online Climate Ambition Summit on December 12 marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, to be co-hosted by the U.N. and the United Kingdom and France, in partnership with Chile and Italy. It calls itself “a monumental step on the road to the UK-hosted COP26 next November in Glasgow….. countries will set out new and ambitious commitments under the three pillars of the Paris Agreement: mitigation, adaptation and finance commitments. There will be no space for general statements.”

In the weeks before the meeting, intergovernmental agencies have released a number of reports documenting the urgency of the issue:

State of the Global Climate 2020 from the World Meteorological Organization  – a detailed discussion of global climate change impacts related to temperature, ocean temperature, precipitation, storms, GHG emissions and Covid-19.  The highlight:  “The average global temperature in 2020 is set to be about 1.2 °C above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) level. There is at least a one in five chance of it temporarily exceeding 1.5 °C by 2024”.

The Production Gap Report measures the gap between the aspirations of the Paris Agreement and countries’ planned production of coal, oil, and gas. This year’s report concluded that countries plan to increase their fossil fuel production over the next decade – and singled out Canada, Australia and the U.S. in this regard. The takeaway message: “the world needs to decrease production by 6% per year to limit global warming to 1.5°C”.  The report also outlines six areas of policy action needed in COVID-19 recovery plans, including reduced government support for fossil fuels, restrictions on fossil fuel production, and commitment to direct stimulus funds to green investments. The Production Gap Report is produced jointly by the Stockholm Environment Institute , International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Overseas Development Institute, and E3G, as well as the United Nations Environment Programme.

The Emissions Gap Report  published on December 9 by the United Nations Environment Programme documents  global greenhouse gas emissions: GHG’s have grown 1.4 per cent per year since 2010 on average, with a more rapid increase of 2.6 per cent in 2019 due to a large increase in forest fires. Even with a brief dip in carbon dioxide emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the world is still heading for a temperature rise in excess of 3°C this century. Hope lies in a low-carbon pandemic recovery which could cut 25 per cent off the greenhouse emissions expected in 2030. The report analyses low-carbon recovery measures so far, summarizes the scale of new net-zero emissions pledges by nations and looks at the potential of the lifestyle, aviation and shipping sectors to bridge the gap.   It concludes with a chapter titled The Six Sector Solution to Climate Change, which argues that reducing emissions in the sectors of  Energy, Industry, Agriculture and Food, Forest and Land Use, Transportation, and Buildings and Cities has the potential to limit emissions enough to hold the world temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.

The 2020 Arctic Report Card was published on December 8 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), written by 133 scientists from 15 countries. It finds that the Arctic as a whole is warming at nearly three times the rate of the rest of the world, owing to feedback loops between snow, ice and land cover.  The report summarizes trends that are growing more extreme and have far-reaching implications for people living far outside the region.   A Canadian view of this report appears in “Scientists Plead for Action as Soaring Temperatures Show Arctic in Crisis” in The Energy Mix   (Dec. 11).

Ocean Solutions that Benefit People, Nature and the Economy  is  a report released by the High-level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy in December as part of the launch of a new campaign, Transformations for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.   Canada is among the 14 nations who are members of the Panel; the Secretariat is at the World Resources Institute.  The report “ builds on the latest scientific research, analyses and debates from around the world—including the insights from 16 Blue Papers and 3 special reports commissioned by the Ocean Panel: ‘The Ocean as a Solution to Climate Change: Five Opportunities for Action’, ‘A Sustainable and Equitable Blue Recovery to the COVID-19 Crisis’ and ‘A Sustainable Ocean Economy for 2050: Approximating Its Benefits and Costs’. “  A compilation of the many reports of the Panel is here .

European Journal of Industrial Relations Special Issue on Climate Change and Just Transition

“Trade Unions, Climate Change and Just Transition” is the theme of the December 2020 special issue of  the European Journal of Industrial Relations (Volume 26 #4).  In the introduction, EJIR editor Guglielmo Meardi acknowledges the paucity of academic industrial relations research on the issues of climate change, and states: “This Special Issue, edited with passion and experience by Linda Clarke and Carla Lipsig-Mummé, helps to fill the void. Its articles map the dilemmas of trade unions with regard to climate change and disentangle the issues raised by the idea of a Just Transition to a carbon-neutral economy. They show evidence of variation and influence in trade union actions on climate change and will certainly inspire more research on the complex problems they present.” 

All article abstracts are available here ; access to the full articles is restricted to subscribers. The following list links to the authors’ abstracts: “Future conditional: From just transition to radical transformation?” by Linda Clarke and Carla Lipsig-Mummé; “Just Transition on the ground: Challenges and opportunities for social dialogue”,  by Béla Galgóczi;  “Trade union strategies on climate change mitigation: Between opposition, hedging and support”, by Adrien Thomas and  Nadja Doerflinger; “Unions and the green transition in construction in Europe: Contrasting visions”, by Linda Clarke and Melahat Sahin-Dikmen; “Innovating for energy efficiency: Digital gamification in the European steel industry”, by Dean Stroud, Claire Evans and Martin Weinel; and “From Treadmill of Production to Just Transition and Beyond” by Paolo Tomassetti.

Marjorie Griffin Cohen, author of “Climate Change and Gender in Rich Countries”, awarded the Charles Taylor Prize

Marjorie Griffin Cohen, Professor Emeritus at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, was awarded  the 2020 Charles Taylor Prize for Excellence in Policy Research, as announced on May 28.  Marjorie’s research has focused on the intersection of gender and sexuality issues, as well as climate and labour policy.  Amongst her many publications, Marjorie authored “Does Gender Matter in the Political Economy of Work and Climate Justice?”  in 2011 as part of the Work in a Warming World research project, the predecessor to the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces project.  Along with John Calvert, she also authored “Climate Change and Labour in the Energy Sector”, as a Gender book coverchapter in  Climate@Work  in 2013. In 2017, Marjorie edited the path-breaking Climate Change and Gender in Rich Countries, published by Routledge.

Over her career, Marjorie has served on several boards and commissions in British Columbia, including as the first Chair of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in B.C. (which she helped to establish).  The Charles Taylor Prize, normally awarded at the Broadbent Institute Progress Summit, could not be delivered in person, but Marjorie’s acceptance speech is available on YouTube .  In it, she discusses her work as the Chair of the B.C. Fair Wages Commission from 2017-2018, which contributed directly to the  increase in the provincial minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Notably, the same YouTube video  also includes a speech by Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of Climate Action Network – Canada, who was awarded the 2020 Jack Layton Progress Prize for her international leadership on climate policy and action.

Both awards represent welcome recognition of the increasing importance of climate change research in public policy.

Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission issues final annual report

ecofiscal final 2019 reportIn November 2019, Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission announced that their five-year mandate was coming to an end with the release of their final research report,  Bridging the Gap: Real Options for Meeting Canada’s 2030 GHG Target , which recommended quadrupling of Canada’s carbon tax by 2030.   On April 22, the Commission released their  2019 Annual Report , with research summaries of their work,  and metrics which attest to their strong influence on Canada’s policy debate over their five years of operation.  With a mission to: “identify and promote practical fiscal solutions for Canada that spark the innovation required for increased economic and environmental prosperity”, the Commission’s major focus was on carbon pricing –  expressed in research, publications, educational events, and in 2019, in supporting the constitutionality of carbon pricing in the court cases brought by Saskatchewan and Ontario.   Although not stated explicitly, the final Letter from Director Chris Ragan implies that the resources of the Commission will be archived – the Ecofiscal Commission website is here.  Many of the principal authors at the Ecofiscal Commission are finding a new home as part of the new government Institute for Climate Choices , announced in April 2019 – for example, Don Drummond, Stewart Elgie, Richard Lipsey, Mike Moffatt and Nancy Olewiler.  Chris Ragan (formerly Executive Director of the Ecofiscal Commission) and Mel Cappe  are both members of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Climate Choices.

New climate change research network launches, saying climate won’t wait for the pandemic to end

A new network of university researchers launched on April 2: the International Universities Climate Alliance (IUCA) .  The  network will  showcase climate change research from 40 universities in 18 countries , with a wide range of disciplinary expertise, including engineering, economics, law, social science and planning, as well as climate science.

With a website tag line, “Collaborating for Climate Impact”, the IUCA states in its  official press release :

“Alliance members are to work together to identify the most effective ways to communicate research-based facts related to climate change to the public. Members will engage in work across climate change science, impact, mitigation strategies and adaptation.”

The network is spearheaded by the University of New South Wales,Sydney, and also includes the California Institute of Technology, Cornell University, the University of Edinburgh, King’s College London, the Sorbonne, and from Australia, University of Melbourne and Monash University as well as the UNSW. From Canada, only McGill University in Montreal is included so far in the full list of member universities, here .  A deliberate strategy was to include universities from emerging economies in the group.

The decision to launch now, amidst the “information saturation” of Covid-19 was explained in a press release from the University of New South Wales:

“This new platform is needed now more than ever as the world grapples with providing a coordinated approach to tackling climate change. …Notwithstanding current urgencies around the COVID-19 pandemic, the alliance members decided not to delay the formation of the alliance due to the pressing and ongoing need to accelerate climate change mitigation and improve decision making.”

That theme is expanded in  a related  press release on April 1, titled simply: Climate change mitigation can’t wait for Covid-19 to play out.

An expanding role for experts

The experts in the new International Universities Climate Alliance (IUCA) may benefit from the important and highly visible role of scientific experts in the fight against the pandemic.  Lesson #1 in Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood’s blog,  6 lessons for climate action from Canada’s COVID-19 response is “Listen to scientists.”  He argues: “At every stage of this pandemic, the public narrative and the associated policy response has largely been guided by epidemiologists and public health officials. ….Yet climate scientists are still sidelined in the public discourse and climate policy is still guided more by short-term political considerations than physical evidence. The climate crisis demands a more central role for climate science.”

Another  recent comment  in After the Coronavirus, Two Sharply Divergent Paths on Climate”  from Yale350 (April 7)  states: “Some policy experts are optimistic that victory over the coronavirus will instill greater appreciation for what government, science, and business can do to tackle climate change. But others believe the economic damage caused by the virus will set back climate efforts for years to come.” The article outlines the two approaches, with a general view that the politics of the U.S. may continue to conspire against informed fight against climate change, while the EU will continue to follow a more evidence-driven path. 

Sciences received 770% more funding than the social sciences for climate change research

A new and innovative study measures the problem of underfunded social science research into climate change.  “Misallocation of climate research funding“addresses an important issue, since the social sciences seek to understand human and societal attitudes, norms, incentives, and policies – without which understanding, scientific facts seem insufficient to motivate change.  The authors analyzed a new dataset of research grants awarded in 37 countries, including Canada, from 1950 to 2021- a database which represents a cumulative budget of $1.3 trillion U.S.  Included in the category of social sciences research grants were those relevant to the world of work: economics, sociology, business and management, psychology, and law.

The researchers report that:

“Between 1990 and 2018, the natural and technical sciences received 770% more funding than the social sciences for research on issues related to climate change. Only 0.12% of all research funding was spent on the social science of climate mitigation.”  Even the countries identified as spending the most on social science climate research in absolute terms—the UK, the USA, and Germany—spent between 500% and 1200% more on climate research in the natural and technical sciences than on social sciences.

The authors discuss the challenges and potential solutions to promote and improve social science research, including:

  • Funding for climate mitigation needs to match the magnitude of the threat and the narrow window of opportunity for dealing with it.
  • There is a need for better global coordination and oversight of funding for climate research….most obviously, this could reduce redundancy and serve as a mechanism for research teams to identify synergies and possible collaborators.
  • More rigorous social science research is needed…the authors state “Brandt et al. noted that methods were often chosen based on familiarity or specialization of the researchers involved, rather than their suitability for a given research question.”
  • Better alignment with emissions sources and trends… “Some of the funding for climate change-related social science research follows the thematic logic of natural science funding, which does not necessarily fit the social sciences.”
  • Climate change is a global challenge, and therefore, the authors advocate the  use of  “the problem, challenge, or mission-based approach”. They use the example of one such project,  the Global Challenges Research Fund in the United Kingdom, which asked “How can sustainable development be achieved for all while addressing global climate change?”. They urge putting research into the context of challenging, “big picture”questions,  to promote “focused but interdisciplinary social science work.”

Misallocation of climate research funding” is available online now as an Open Access article, and  will appear in print in the April 2020 issue of Energy Research and Social Science. It describes the details of the database analysis  and lists the funding agencies from 37 countries, which included all major member states of the OECD,  as well as Brazil, China, India, and Russia. The relatively few agencies listed from Canada are overwhelmingly science and health –related, with the notable exceptions of the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC), the Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research (ACCFCR), and by far the largest, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), acw-logo-transparent-copy which funds the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW ) research project.