City of Toronto declares climate emergency

Toronto smallCanada’s largest city,  Toronto, has unanimously adopted a climate emergency resolution on September 20, joining hundreds of other municipalities across Canada.  The city’s TransformTO Climate Action Plan, passed in 2017, had a target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 80 per cent below 1990 city levels by 2050.  The emergency resolution passed in September speeds up that timetable, with a new commitment to net zero emissions before 2050. (As of July 2019, the city was ahead of schedule with a 44% reduction below 1990 levels). The action was precipitated by a Call to Action , which includes a call for a “Just Economic Transition” and for “Equity and Inclusion” is described in a press release from the Toronto Environmental Alliance: “Forty-seven organizations call on Toronto City Council to declare a climate emergency” (Sept. 20). The Call to Action statement is here , the list of signatories is here , and it includes Toronto and York Region Labour Council, Toronto Community Benefits Network, Good Jobs for All, and BlueGreen Alliance.  A spokesperson for the Toronto Environmental Alliance states:  “The good news is that just about everything that Toronto needs to do will improve our quality of life. For example, properly insulating our buildings will make them more energy efficient and safe from extreme weather, and create jobs for people in the skilled trades…. If developed in a thoughtful and well-coordinated way, green workforce strategies can be inclusive and reduce poverty.”

The mayor’s  voluntary Green Ways Initiative is described in “Mayor John Tory enlists major institutions in emissions plan as Toronto declares ‘climate emergency’” in the Toronto Star.  Developers, hospitals, and universities are being urged to cut their energy consumption and emissions – and one of those volunteer entities, the University of Toronto, announced its Low Carbon Action Plan  on September 27.  The University of Toronto maintains 266 buildings on three campuses, and more than half of those are over 80 years old.  Other participants in the Green Ways Initiative include include Oxford Properties, Ryerson University, Toronto District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board, Toronto Community Housing, and the University Health Network.

gardiner toronto_trafficThe major criticism of the climate emergency resolution is outlined in “Toronto just declared a climate emergency, so why is it still fixing up the Gardiner?” at the CBC (Oct. 4), referring to the major highway artery across Toronto’s downtown.  Journalist  John Lorinc also pursues this in his article in Spacing (Sept. 30), which contends that the Gardiner Expressway redevelopment project accounts for 5% of the city’s entire $40.7 billion ten-year capital budget, which is money which could be better used to fund transit, such as the Queen’s Quay East LRT, or to finance the retrofitting of the city’s portfolio of buildings, including community housing.  To these criticisms, the mayor is quoted in the Toronto Star and the CBC with this statement: “The amount we’re spending on rebuilding a small part of the Gardiner Expressway pales in comparison to what we’re investing in public transit to get people out of their cars entirely”.

Government gives the go- ahead to Trans Mountain pipeline despite declaring a climate emergency

climate emergencyOn June 18, in a controversial but expected move, the federal cabinet approved the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would triple the capacity of the existing pipeline, and allow up to 890,000 barrels per day of bitumen to travel from the Alberta oil sands to a marine terminal in Burnaby, British Columbia.  The approval was described by The Energy Mix as “the height of cynicism” because the House of Commons had only 24 hours previously approved a government resolution declaring a climate emergency.  Although the government put on a positive face by predicting that “shovels will be in the ground” by September, the project still has to satisfy conditions set out by the National Energy Board,  including negotiated approval from First Nations.  As described in  “Why we’ll be talking about the Trans Mountain pipeline for a long while yet” in The Narwhal: “The embattled oilsands pipeline has become a proxy battle, pitting the urgency of the climate crisis against near-term economic concerns”.

A sampling of  Reaction and Analysis:

An Angus Reid poll, Shovels in the Ground was released on June 21.  It reports that 56% of Canadians agree with the government’s  approval of  TMX, compared with 24% who disagree. The primary concerns for Canadians, both those who support and oppose the TMX, are the possibility of a tanker spill due to increased traffic in the Burrard Inlet (68%) and the increased burning of fossil fuels from pipeline expansion (66%).

Canada approves Trans Mountain pipeline expansion for second time”  in the National Observer (June 18).  This general overview of the decision is part of the ongoing Special Report on Trans Mountain by the National Observer.

Trans Mountain approval makes mockery of climate emergency declaration” press release from the Council of Canadians.

“Cognitive Dissonance: Canada declares a national climate emergency and approves a pipeline” by Warren Mabee of Queen’s University  in The Conversation (June 20).

“Trudeau Declared a Climate Crisis, then Backed Trans Mountain Again” in The Tyee (June 18), which summarizes reactions from British Columbia, and states that B.C. will  take its case to the Supreme Court of Canada as it seeks the legal right to regulate the shipment of materials (including oil and gas)  within the province.

“Transmountain  pipeline approval triggers lawsuits leaves fossils unsatisfied”    in The Energy Mix (June 19).

“Business leaders welcome pipeline approval but fear it may not be completed”  in The National Observer. The article states:  “Mark Scholz, CEO of the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors, who said in a statement the pipeline approval is “trivial” and will do little to help a suffering western Canadian drilling sector. Approval doesn’t make up for the federal government’s pursuit of Bills C-69 and C-48, bills reviled by the industry to revamp the regulatory system for resource projects and impose an oil tanker ban on the B.C. coast, he said.”

Minister Morneau in Calgary to talk about the Trans Mountain Expansion project and the future of Canada’s Energy Sector “ (June 19)  a press release that lays out  the government’s best case for Albertans, and states that: “Every dollar the federal government earns from the project will be invested in Canada’s clean energy transition. The Department of Finance estimates that additional corporate tax revenues could be around $500 million per year once the project is online. These funds and any profits earned from the sale of the pipeline will be invested in the clean energy projects that power our homes, businesses and communities for years to come.”

billion-dollar-buyout LaxerA substantial analysis from a different viewpoint, Billion Dollar Buyout: How Canadian taxpayers bought a climate-killing pipeline  was just published by the Council of Canadians. Written by Gordon Laxer, professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, the report summarizes the long history of the Trans Mountain project, with a special interest in how it fits in to the United States Mexico Canada trade agreement (USMCA) and the energy goal of integrating Canadian oil and natural gas into the U.S. market.  Laxer also authored an OpEd in the Toronto Star on June 12, Don’t waste any more money on the Trans Mountain pipeline  .

Not all First Nations Oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline:  The National Observer summarizes First Nations opposition in “As Trans Mountain gets shovels ready for pipeline, First Nations vow to protect territory” (June 19), which  states that the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Squamish Nation will use “all legal tools” available to challenge the TMX approval.  The Tsleil-Waututh Nation has commissioned an independent environmental assessment and an economic study which estimates that TMX expansion will cost Canada $11.8 billion, in addition to the environmental costs. It also predicts lower demand than the government has anticipated and unused capacity. The 127-page economic study, Public Interest Evaluation of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is dated June 2019 and was written by Thomas Gunton, a professor at the  School of Resource and Environmental Management at  Simon Fraser University, and by Chris Joseph, a B.C. consultant.

Project Reconciliation  is an Indigenous-led coalition which aims to buy part of the pipeline and direct any profits to a Sovereign Wealth and Reconciliation Fund.  Their press release on June 18 applauds the government’s TMX decision.  A January 2019 article by CBC gives background on the group.  The Indian Resource Council is another group, composed of 134 First Nations bands most of whom are also interested in the economic benefits of  pipelines. CBC describes their meeting in  “More than 100 First Nations could purchase the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline” (Jan. 2019).  More recently, in June, the Iron Coalition  launched – “an Alberta-based Indigenous-driven organization with the sole purpose of achieving ownership in the Trans Mountain Pipeline (TMX).”  Iron Coalition leaders are from the Nakota Sioux Nation, the Papaschase First Nation and the Fort McKay Métis, and state that “all profits generated by Iron Coalition will be directed back to each member community to bring lasting economic benefit to Métis and First Nations in Alberta.”

 

Are the media getting the message? Mainstream media begin to cover the climate emergency – updated

Re-written on May 28 to include an article appearing in The Tyee: “Dear Journalists of Canada: Start Reporting Climate Change as an Emergency” .


The traditional media have been criticized for their indifference to the climate change issue – recently, in the Columbia Journalism Review, “The media are complacent while the world burns”, and in The Tyee,  “Dear Journalists of Canada: Start Reporting Climate Change as an Emergency”. 

Both article refer to a  Media Matters report that only 22 of the 50 largest newspapers in the U.S. even bothered to cover the landmark IPCC Report in October 2018. The article in The Tyee is presented as an open letter to media owners and journalists, and reports the author’s own search of  Canadian Newsstream — a database which covers 569 different English language news sources – mostly newspapers, as well as national evening news broadcasts by CBC and CTV television.  Giving examples, he identifies problems of lack of climate change coverage, failure to provide local context about international stories, and failure to seek accountability in story coverage. Finally, he calls upon Canadian journalists “to do these five things: properly placecovercontextualize, and localize the biggest story of our time, and hold public and private institutions to account for their actions and inactions on climate change.”

Improvements are on the way:    The Guardian newspaper in the U.K.  has been called  “one of the best-respected and most widely used international sources of information on the crises of the climate and the natural world” by Climate Home News.  In April 2019, The Guardian became the first newspaper to publish global carbon dioxide levels on its daily weather pages, and on May 17, it announced that it has updated its internal Style Guide to better reflect the reality and depth of the climate emergency. Now, instead of using the term  “climate change” in its reports,  the preferred terms will be “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown”. Other changes:  “global heating” rather than “global warming” and “climate science denier” rather than “climate sceptic”. In its explanation, Editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner is quoted as saying:  “The phrase ‘climate change’, for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”

In a follow-up report by The Guardian,  the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is cited as the furthest along amongst traditional news outlets (including the New York Times and Washington Post)  in adopting The Guardian’s  language:  “Senior CBC management told staff they were able to use the terms “climate crisis” and “climate emergency” when covering the wide-ranging impacts of temperature rises around the world.”  On CBC Radio, the host of Metro Morning interviewed a spokesperson from The Guardian on this issue here (9:34 minutes audio). Although the CBC guidance is permissive rather than prescriptive, it hardly seems possible to avoid the term “climate emergency”, when  the parliaments of both the federal and the Ontario government formally debated declaring a “climate emergency” in May, and municipalities across the country have already done so (over 300 municipalities in Quebec alone).

Most recently, the Toronto Star began a new newsletter series in May, Undeniable: Canada’s Changing Climate . So far, topics have included: “Toronto’s Ninja Storm” (re the 2018 flooding) (May 21); “Life and Death Under the Dome”  (when 66 Montrealers died in a heat wave)  (May 23) ;  and “Open for Business” (May 27) (re mining in Ontario’s North) . Much more to come from The Star, which has previously collaborated with the  National Observer, Global News, the Michener Awards Foundation, the Corporate Mapping Project and four journalism schools on a special investigative series, The Price of Oil, regarding the impacts of the oil and gas industry on Canadian communities.

Finally, the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation announced a new international initiative in late April,  the Covering Climate Now project, which  aims to improve the media’s coverage of “the most  urgent story of our time” . The project  “will provide substantial resource guides for journalists, tutorials, source lists, and web briefings; we’ll gather the best of climate coverage in an online blog, and provide commentary on how other reporters can replicate it; and we will increase our own reporting on how news outlets are covering the climate crisis, highlighting what is working and calling out what isn’t.”  The first big goal: to organize a  week of concentrated climate coverage beginning September 16,  in the lead-up to the UN climate Summit in New York City on September 23. They’ll have lots to cover, now that 350.org is also organizing a one-day global strike for September 20.

 

U.K. Parliament declares climate emergency; Government committee calls for Net Zero Emissions by 2050

extinction rebellion signThe government of the United Kingdom became the first national government to declare an environment and climate emergency. on May 1 when it passed a motion by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (and Ireland followed suit with its own vote in Parliament on May 10) . Many agree with the headline from Common Dreams, “Activism works: UK Parliament makes history in declaring climate emergency”, reflecting on the huge impact made by the April demonstrations of the School Strikes and Extinction Rebellion in the U.K.

UK net-zero-coverOn the heels of the symbolic victory of the climate emergency declaration, on May 2 the U.K. government’s Committee on Climate Change delivered its long-awaited landmark report, requested by the U.K., Scottish and Welsh Governments in 2018.  Net Zero: the U.K.’s contribution to stopping Global Warming  calls for net zero emissions by 2050, with Scotland to target net-zero by 2045 and Wales to target a 95 per cent reduction by 2050 relative to 1990.  The net-zero target would cover all greenhouse gases, including international aviation and shipping, and allow for the use of emissions credits. The Committee estimates the cost at equivalent to 1-2% of GDP each year, made possible by the rapidly falling cost of new technologies – and balanced by the benefits of a cleaner environment and improved health. In calling for more ambitious targets than the existing one of 80% emissions cut by 2050 (set out in the 2008 Climate Change Act), the Committee states that “Current policy is insufficient for even the existing targets”, and calls for “clear, stable and well-designed policies to reduce emissions … across the economy without delay”.

Links to the research reports supporting the Committee’s report are here .  The Guardian released a brief overview in “‘This report will change your life’: what zero emissions means for UK . More substantial reactions come from:  Carbon Brief, with a detailed summary; and from The Grantham Institute “What is Net Zero?” , and a political wish list in “Urgent response needed from U.K. government on Net Zero Emissions”  .

The Greener Jobs Alliance , a coalition of U.K. unionists and environmentalists, also summarizes what the new report may mean, acknowledging that “The 2050 target date for zero emissions will disappoint many demonstrating across the UK.”, but focusing especially on the breakthrough of the Committee’s call for Just Transition. The GJA states: “It should now reinforce this message by setting up a Just Transition Advisory Group, with union representation from the industrial, energy, public and voluntary sectors….” and “….the absence of a strategic advisory role for unions in the work of the committee is no longer tenable.”

Below is the GJA overview of what the Net Zero report will mean for workers, as published in their news release:

  • Up to one in five jobs across the UK will be affected by a Zero Carbon Britain strategy.
  • Major moves away from fossil fuels – with job losses across oil and gas extraction, power and heating industries, as well as job losses in supply chains for these sectors.
  • Some gas fired power stations could be needed, but they will need to run using hydrogen or Carbon Capture & Storage. All coal-fired stations close.
  • Huge job growth is expected in sectors like renewables, electric vehicles, home insulation and domestic heating.
  • Employment in offshore wind, for example, is predicted to quadruple to 27,000 jobs by 2030. The big prize comes when all three main parts of a wind turbine – the tower, the cell at the top and the blades – are made in the UK. The UK is currently a big importer of renewable technology. The UK has to develop full supply chains across the renewable energy sector.
  • By 2025 at the latest all new cars and vans should be electric, or use a low- carbon alternative such as hydrogen. The automotive industry must transition to electric vehicles, with major implications for jobs, skills and investment.
  • No new homes should be connected to the gas grid after 2025.
  • Retrofitting homes with energy efficiency measures and installing low-carbon heat into new and existing homes will require new skills. This programme could generate many more high-skilled jobs in the installation and construction industries.