Strong community advocacy brings landmark climate legislation to New York State

New YorK RenewsOn June 18, the New York State Assembly passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act   – what the New York Times calls  “one of the world’s most ambitious carbon plans” (June 18) . Originally tabled in 2016 as the Climate and Community Protection Act , the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act calls for the state to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and economy-wide, net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  The final legislation was a compromise – stripped of measures on prevailing wages, apprenticeship programs, preferences for women- and minority-owned businesses, and investment for disadvantaged communities. The NY Renews coalition, comprised of  unions, community and environmental groups issued a statement  which reads, in part: “Ultimately, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is a partial victory for New Yorkers. The fight for true climate justice demands transformative change, and we will bring that fight until our communities win…We stand strong knowing that as recently as last week, the Governor dismissed any funding for frontline communities, and in his Climate Leadership Act, refused to set a timeline for economy-wide emission reductions. This new legislation does both, and that is a direct result of years of tireless organizing by the members of the NY Renews coalition.”

New York Is About to Pass One of the Most Ambitious Climate Bills in the Land” in The Nation (June 19)  describes the political battles and compromises involved, and states “the real heroes of the fight for the CCPA are the hundreds of protesters who stormed the state Capitol on a recent Tuesday in June, and the dozens who staged a “die-in” outside the governor’s office to illustrate the consequences of failing to pass climate legislation.”  An article by David Roberts in Vox (June 20) also summarizes the nitty gritty of the bill and its evolution.

Planning under the new legislation will be led by a 22-member Climate Action Council, composed of the heads of various New York state agencies, along with members appointed by the governor, the Senate, and the Assembly. The Council will convene advisory panels on, for example, transportation, land use and local government, and will also convene working groups on Just Transition and Climate Justice.

Climate apartheid and chaos – U.N. official warns that only the rich will escape poverty, disease and displacement

mumbai floods 2019It appears that Greta Thunberg is not the only person willing to speak truth to power. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights for the United Nations, officially tabled a report at the U.N. on June 28.  Although the title, Climate Change and Poverty, sounds like another bureaucratic exercise, his language is urgent and blunt.

The full report is available from this link at the U.N. press release.   Some excerpts :

 

“Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction. …It could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places poor people live and work….

We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer… The risk of community discontent, of growing inequality, and of even greater levels of deprivation among some groups, will likely stimulate nationalist, xenophobic, racist and other responses. Maintaining a balanced approach to civil and political rights will be extremely complex…

…Staying the course will be disastrous for the global economy and pull vast numbers into poverty. Addressing climate change will require a fundamental shift in the global economy, decoupling improvements in economic well-being from fossil fuel emissions. It is imperative this is done in a way that provides necessary support, protects workers, and creates decent work.

Governments, and too many in the human rights community, have failed to seriously address climate change for decades. Somber speeches by government officials have not led to meaningful action and too many countries continue taking short-sighted steps in the wrong direction…..Although climate change has been on the human rights agenda for well over a decade, it remains a marginal concern for most actors. Yet it represents an emergency without precedent and requires bold and creative thinking from the human rights community, and a radically more robust, detailed, and coordinated approach.

… incremental managerialism and proceduralism ..are entirely disproportionate to the urgency and magnitude of the threat. Ticking boxes will not save humanity or the planet from impending disaster.”

Summaries from the media appear in: “To Prevent ‘Climate Apartheid Scenario’ Where Rich Escape and Poor Suffer, UN Report Issues Urgent Call for Global Economic Justice” in Common Dreams (June 25) and  “‘Climate apartheid’: UN expert says human rights may not survive” in The Guardian .

The potential of worker ownership to finance Just Transition – and other inspiring Canadian examples

briarpatch special issueSaskatchewan’s Briarpatch magazine has published a Special Issue on Just Transition. It is a treasure trove of inspiring on-the-ground perspectives and information from Canadians working for an economic  Just Transition. 

All the articles are worth reading, but here are some highlights:

How will we pay for a Just Transition”   expresses doubt that we can rely on the usual government policies to finance meaningful transition – for example, it reviews the One Million Climate Jobs campaign of the Green Economy Network and the inadequate response by the Trudeau government.  Instead, the article provides examples of more innovative models of worker ownership and cooperation which support redistribution of wealth and financial capital. First,  The Working World, which launched in 2015 in Buenos Aires to finance employee ownership of non-extractive businesses, and now administers a “financial commons” Peer Network .  The Working World has inspired other projects, such as the Just Transition Loan Fund and Incubator and the Reinvest in Our Power projects , being launched by the U.S. Climate Justice Alliance . The article discusses the role of philanthropy, specifically the U.S. Chorus Foundation, which states that it “works for a just transition to a regenerative economy in the United States.” In Canada, a much smaller similar philanthropic initiative is the Resource Movement,  a project of Tides Canada, which gathers “ young people with wealth and class privilege working towards the equitable distribution of wealth, land and power.” 

Other articles:

B.C. Municipalities urged to take fossil fuel giants to court

In January,  West Coast Environmental Law and over 50 other environmental, health, human rights, women’s rights, and faith-based organizations sent an Open Letter  to local municipalities in British Columbia, urging them  1.) to write to fossil fuel companies, demanding accountability for the climate change costs being borne by citizens , and 2.) To consider participating in a class action lawsuit against the big polluters.  As part of their new  initiative, called   Climate Law in Our Own Hands  , West Coast Environmental Law is offering legal research and support to interested local governments, as well as template letters and fossil fuel company addresses to facilitate the  letter-writing campaign.  WCEL argues that fossil fuel companies will only start working towards climate change solutions when they are held to account to pay their fair share for the damage being caused.   According to one of the Open Letter signatories, Sierra Club B.C. , “The Province of BC has estimated that Metro Vancouver Municipalities will need to spend $9.5 billion between now and 2100 to address rising sea-levels (about $100 million per year on average).”  The list could continue to add wildfires, the destruction of forests by the mountain pine beetle, drought, and extreme weather.

WCEL  is not new to this issue, but rather have been active since the 2015 landmark Urgenda case in the Netherlands , when they released their report  Taking climate justice into our own hands  , which included a draft Climate Compensation Act .  The new website,  Climate Law in Our Own Hands maintains a blog about legal actions around the world, including a November 2016  report about  420 “grannies”  in Switzerland who are working with  Greenpeace Switzerland to launch a legal challenge  against the Swiss government for inadequately addressing threats to their health and future generations from climate change.  Other high profile court cases underway include the challenge to stop Arctic drilling  by  Norweigian youth and Greenpeace in Norway ,  and the ongoing cases led by  Our Children’s Trust   against the U.S. federal and state  governments.  The federal case,  Juliana v.United States  first launched in 2015,  and most recently (November 10, 2016) has been permitted to proceed to trail, after Judge Ann Aiken issued an opinion and order denying the U.S. government and fossil fuel industry’s motions to dismiss .  The 21 plaintiffs, mostly teenagers, are suing for the constitutional right of future generations  to live in  a healthy and safe environment.

Just Transition: U.S. viewpoints and 2 new Policy proposals

Just Transition: Just What Is It?”: An Analysis of Language, Strategies, and Projects   is a paper published by the  Labor Network for Sustainability, along with  Strategic Practice: Grassroots Policy Project.  It traces the history of the Just Transition concept from a U.S. point of view, starting with  the Jobs for Peace movement post-WW2, to the Super Fund for Workers initiated by Oil Chemical, and Atomic Workers leader Tony Mazzocchi, to the adoption of the idea by the environmental movement, the resistance that has developed to the “just transition” idea within much of organized labor, and finally to the adoption of the term and its reinterpretation by the environmental justice and climate justice movements.  An analysis of policy is followed by  seven “mini-case studies”  of concrete social experiments, and the paper concludes with a series of questions which aim to bring a common vision to the fight for Just Transition.  The report  is based on 17 interviews conducted between October, 2015 and March, 2016. Leaders of the following organizations reflect on their experiences and interpretations of “ Just Transition”:  Climate Justice Alliance; GreenWave; National People’s Action; New Economy Coalition; ALIGN: The Alliance for Greater New York ; Asian Pacific Environmental Network; Buffalo PUSH; Kentuckians For The Commonwealth; Movement Generation; AFL-CIO; Black Workers for Justice; BlueGreen Alliance; Labor Network for Sustainability; Oregon AFL-CIO; North Carolina League of Conservation Voters; and Sierra Club.

A related paper, jointly published by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), is another example of the many  policy proposals to achieve Just Transition.  The unique aspect in  Beyond a Band-Aid: A Discussion Paper on Protecting Workers and Communities in the Great Energy Transition , is the  proactive approach to  Just Transition strategy, calling for direct investments to be  made in local economies dependent on fossil fuel jobs before devastating economic disruption begins.  A Community and Worker Protection Fund (CWP Fund) is proposed to replace the taxes and fees paid by fossil fuel facilities; it would make targeted investments designed to create jobs, before or at the pace that fossil fuel jobs are declining.  Job creation would be directed at such initiatives as renewable energy, HVAC conversion, decommissioning fossil fuel facilities, and economic diversification.  The paper also discusses possible ways to pay for the CWP Fund, including: levying a “modest” carbon fee or tax, or eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks.

Also, from the Labor Center at the University of California, Berkeley , comes Advancing Equity in California Climate Policy: A New Social Contract for Low-Carbon Transition .  (Executive Summary here  ). This paper, directed at advocacy groups, lawmakers and regulators,   proposes  a  “Climate Policy Equity Framework”  and uses it to evaluate California’s climate policies to date,  using  three principles:  Environmental Justice; Economic Equity; and Public Accountability.  It also applies the Framework  to two cases of statewide GHG reduction strategies, one in the area of energy efficiency and the other in renewable energy. Finally, the report recommends strategies to build a social contract as part of the effort to restructure to a greener economy, “to move beyond   a “lowest common denominator” approach towards a proactive equity agenda” with greater public accountability.