U.K. Rolls out Green Policies, including Fighting Plastics, Phasing Out Coal, and Encouraging Divestment

Theresa May 2018 Facing criticism for recent  policy reversals which have resulted, for example, in falling investment in clean energy in the U.K. in 2016 and 2017 , the government has recently attempted a re-set with its policy document:  A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment , released on January 11.    “Conservatives’ 25-year green plan: main points at a glance” (Jan. 11) in The Guardian summarizes the initiatives, which focused on reducing use of plastics (in line with a recent EU decision), encouraging wildlife habitat, and establishment of an environmental oversight body.  Specifics are promised soon; the Green Alliance provides some proposals in “Here’s what Theresa May should now do to end plastic pollution” (Jan. 11). George Monbiot is one of many critics of the government policy, in his Opinion Piece.

In the lead-up to the long-term Green Future policy statement, other recent developments have  included: 1.  Changes to investment regulations to encourage divestment.    “Boost for fossil fuel divestment as UK eases pension rules”  appeared in The Guardian on December 18 , stating:  “in what has been hailed as a major victory for campaigners against fossil fuels, the government is to introduce new investment regulations that will allow pension schemes to ‘mirror members’ ethical concerns’ and ‘address environmental problems.’    The rules are expected to come into force next year after a consultation period and will bring into effect recommendations made in 2014 and earlier this year by the Law Commission. ”

2. Coal Phase-out:  Also, on January 4, the British government responded to a consultation report by announcing CO2 limits to coal-fired power generation.  By imposing emissions limits, the government seeks to phase out coal-fired power by 2025, but still to allow flexibility for possible carbon capture operations, and for emergency back-up energy supply. The consultation report, Implementing the end of unabated coal: The government’s response to unabated coal closure consultation  , capped a consultation period which began in 2015.    The government’s policy response is  summarized in the UNEP Climate Action newsletter here  (Jan. 5).

 

Canada, the World Bank and International Confederation of Trade Unions announce a partnership to promote Just Transition in the phase-out of coal-fired electricity

One-Planet-Summit-sign2-1024x605Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister is back on the  international stage at the One Planet Summit in Paris, which is focusing on climate change financing – notably phasing out  fossil fuel subsidies, and aid to developing countries.  In a press release on December 12,  Canada announced a partnership with the World Bank Group to accelerate the transition from coal-fired electricity to clean sources in developing countries, stating: “This work also includes sharing best practices on how to ensure a just transition for displaced workers and their communities to minimize hardships and help workers and communities benefit from new clean growth opportunities. The transition to a low-carbon economy should be inclusive, progressive and good for business. We will work together with the International Trade Union Confederation in this regard.”   The World Bank Group announcement was briefer : “Canada and the World Bank will work together to accelerate the energy transition in developing countries and, together with the International Trade Union Confederation, will provide analysis to support efforts towards a just transition away from coal.”  The ITUC Just Transition Centre hadn’t posted any announcement as of December 13.

Other Canadian partnerships announced in a general press release: a Canada-France Climate Partnership to promote the implementation of the Paris Agreement through  carbon pricing, coal phase-out, sustainable development and emission reductions in the marine and aviation sectors; Canada was selected as one of five countries for a new partnership with the Breakthrough Energy Coalition led by Bill Gates; and Canada , along with five Canadian provinces, two U.S. states, and Mexico, Costa Rica and Chile, signed on to the Declaration on Carbon Markets in the Americas, to strengthen  international and regional cooperation on carbon pricing.

The World Bank, one of the organizers of the One Planet Summit, made numerous other announcements – including that it will no longer finance upstream oil and gas developments after 2019, and as of 2018, it  will report greenhouse gas emissions from the investment projects it finances in key emissions-producing sectors, such as energy. Such moves may be seen as a response to the demands of the Big Shift Global campaign of Oil Change International, which  released a new briefing called “The Dirty Dozen: How Public Finance Drives the Climate Crisis through Oil, Gas, and Coal Expansion  on the eve of the One Planet Summit.  Over 200 civil society groups also issued an Open Letter   calling on G20 governments and multilateral development banks to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and public finance for fossil fuels as soon as possible, and no later than 2020.  Signatories include Oil Change International, Les Amis de la Terre – Friends of the Earth France, Christian Aid, Greenpeace, Reseau Action Climat – Climate Action Network France, WWF International, BankTrack, Climate Action Network International, Global Witness, 350.org, Germanwatch, Natural Resources Defense Council, CIDSE, and the Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development.

In Canada, Environmental Defence is collecting signatures in a campaign to stop fossil fuel subsidies , stating  “ Together, federal and provincial governments hand out $3.3 billion in subsidies every year for oil and gas exploration and development. In 2016, Export Development Canada, a crown corporation, spent an additional $12 billion in public money to finance fossil fuel projects.”

Saskatchewan’s new Climate Strategy maintains old positions: No to carbon tax, yes to Carbon Capture and Storage

Prairie Resilience: A Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy was released by the government of Saskatchewan on December 4,  maintaining the province’s  position outside the Pan-Canadian Framework  agreement  with this introductory statement:    “A federal carbon tax is ineffective and will impair Saskatchewan’s ability to respond to climate change.”  A summary of all the strategy commitments appears as  a “Backgrounder” from this link.  An Opinion column in the Regina Leader Post newspaper summarizes it as  a “repackaging” of past policies, and “oil over the environment”.

The provincial government defends their plan as “broader and bolder than a single policy such as a carbon tax and will achieve better and more meaningful outcomes over the long term” by encouraging innovation and investment – and yes, that Prairie spirit of independent resilience.  The strategy includes provisions re protecting communities through physical infrastructure investment,  water system management, energy efficiency for buildings and freight, and disaster management.   It commits to “maintain and enhance partnerships with First Nations and Métis communities to address and adapt to a changing climate through actions that are guided by traditional ecological knowledge.”   In the electricity sector, which at 19% is the third largest source of emissions, it proposes  to introduce regulations governing emissions from electricity generation by SaskPower and Independent Power Producers; meet a previous commitment of up to 50 per cent electricity capacity from renewables; and “determine the viability of extending carbon capture use and storage technology to remaining coal power plants while continuing to work with partners on the potential application for  CCUS technology globally.”    The Strategy is still open to consultation on the regulatory standards and implementation details, with a goal of implementation on January 1, 2019.  Consultation is likely to reflect the state of public opinion on climate change issues as revealed by the Corporate Mapping Project  in Climate Politics in the Patch: Engaging Saskatchewan’s Oil-Producing Communities on Climate Change Issues. The participants in that  study “were largely dismissive over concerns about climate change, were antagonistic towards people they understood as urban environmentalists and Eastern politicians, and believed that the oil industry was already a leader in terms of adopting environmentally sound practices.”      The oil and gas industry is Saskatchewan’s largest emitter, at 32% of emissions in 2015.  For an informed reaction, see Brett Dolter’s article in Policy Options, “How Saskatchewan’s Climate Change Strategy falls short”  (December 11).

sask-power-boundary-damOn the issue of carbon capture and storage:  The Climate Strategy document released on December 4 states a commitment to:  “determine the viability of extending carbon capture use and storage technology to remaining coal power plants while continuing to work with partners on the potential application for  CCUS technology globally.” On December 1, CBC reported that Saskatchewan had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming  to “share knowledge, policy and regulatory expertise in carbon dioxide capture, transportation, storage and applications such as enhanced oil recovery.”  By late 2017 or early 2018, SaskPower is required to make its recommendation on whether  two units at the Boundary Dam will be retired, or retrofitted to capture carbon and storage (CCS) by 2020.  As reported by the CBC , the research of economist Brett Dolter at the University of Regina has found  that conversion to natural gas power generation would cost about 16% of the cost of continuing with CCS ($2.7 billion to replace all remaining coal-fired plants with natural gas plants, compared to  $17 billion to retrofit all coal-fired plants with carbon capture and storage.)  The final decision will need to  consider the economic implications for approximately 1,100 Saskatchewan coal workers, and isn’t expected until a replacement for Premier Brad Wall  has been chosen after his retirement in late January 2018.

For more details:  “Saskatchewan, 3 U.S. states sign agreement on carbon capture, storage” at CBC News (Dec. 1) ; “SaskPower’s carbon capture future hangs in the balance” at CBC News (Nov 23)  , and  “Saskatchewan Faces Tough Decision on Costly Boundary Dam CCS Plant” in The Energy Mix (Nov. 28).

Alberta unveils its Just Transition plan for coal workers

On November 10, the government of  Alberta released the Recommendations of the Advisory Panel on Coal Communities – 35 recommendations to promote a just transition from coal-mining, necessitated  by the government’s Climate Leadership Plan to phase-out coal-fired electricity by 2030.  The Advisory Panel focuses on three areas: workers, communities and First Nations. The 18 recommendations regarding workers relate to income security and replacement, pension security, retraining and re-employment – and recommend a strong role for unions in planning and process.  Some examples:  … “Programs and training should be delivered, as much as possible, while workers are currently employed and should include accessible and flexible skills development models. This includes a role for employers to enable access to skills development during employment.”… “Employers and unions should play roles in facilitating the training or retraining of impacted workers. This could be reflected in employer cost sharing with government and union participation in planning and delivery of assistance.”… Where provisions are inadequate, facilitate the negotiation of severance provisions between employers and unions that represent workers at coal-fired facilities and associated coal mines. Similar negotiations should be facilitated for non-union employees. …Where provisions are inadequate, facilitate the negotiation of early retirement benefits between employers and unions that represent workers at coal-fired facilities and associated coal mines. Similar negotiations should be facilitated for non-union employees. …Immediately assess the direct impact of the transition on the funded status, solvency and operation of defined-benefit pension plans and take steps to ensure these plans are adequately funded. ”

In  a separate press release , the government announced more details about  a $40-million transition fund for workers and communities.  As described on the government website , benefits will include financial support for retraining (still under development), on-site employment counselling for individuals, and the provision of facilitators to  assist employers, employees and unions to establish a worker adjustment committee to develop a workplace transition plan, using labour market information or commissioned regional labour market studies.  In addition, Alberta is calling on the federal government to make changes to the Employment Insurance (EI) program immediately, so that the provincial  income support will not reduce their EI income,  and to also extend the duration of EI benefits for coal workers.

The Coal Transition Coalition project, an alliance of unions led by the Alberta Federation of Labour, had previously published its recommendations in  “Getting it Right: A Just Transition Strategy for Alberta’s Coal workers.  The AFL response to the government’s announcements on November 10  calls the Transition Plan “a step in the right direction” and credits the Advisory Panel with listening to workers’  input.  President Gil McGowan warns, however, that   “Offering bridging supports to workers on EI and extending the benefit period for workers close to retirement are important elements of the plan, but they depend on the federal government doing their part,” … “Many coal-fired units in Alberta are closing due to federal government regulatory changes. They have a responsibility to these workers to help ensure a just transition.”

How to phase out Alberta’s Oil Sands by 2040, including Just Transition principles

Gordon Laxer, Professor emeritus at the University of Alberta and founding director of the Parkland Institute, has released a new report, Act or be Acted Upon. The case for phasing out Alberta’s Sands .  He summarized the report  in an article,  “The case for phasing out Alberta’s Tar Sands” , which appeared in Resilience  on May 23.   The full report reflects the author’s long and deep understanding of the political economy of Alberta. His fairly brief discussion of Just Transition principles occurs at the end of the report.

Syncrude_mildred_lake_plant

From Wikimedia, in the public domain. Syncrude Lake Mildred plant, Alberta.

Section 1 of Act or be Acted Upon discusses the market forces and policy environment in which the oil sands continues to operate – including a discussion of the cap on emissions put in place in the Alberta government’s Climate Leadership Plan , and the issues of divestment and stranded assets. Looking for lessons to be learned, Section 2 examines the international and Canadian progress in banning coal-fired power, with a detailed look at Ontario’s experience and Alberta’s current efforts. The author emphasizes the importance of the health-based  arguments in Ontario’s campaign against coal, and suggests two possible motivators for an Alberta campaign against the oil sands: first,  the under-reported  health effects on residents and workers around Fort McMurray, the Peace River country, and the Aboriginal community of Fort Chipewyan,  and second, the devastating wildfire in Fort McMurray in 2016.

Section 3: “Phasing out the oil sands”,  calls for a permanent moratorium on new projects and a schedule for shutting down older projects that have paid off their capital costs- starting with the Suncor and Syncrude projects  which are over 50 years old. Finally, the author calls for replacing the existing emissions cap under the Climate Leadership Plan with  “an annually lowering GHG ceiling on all remaining Sands projects until they collectively reach zero by 2040.”

The final section of the Green Paper states: “It’s vital that phasing out the Sands be accompanied by a well-thought-out plan to provide workers and communities in the Sands with alternative work and retraining…. A just transition is the right thing to do, but it is also needed because if workers involved in the Sands don’t see a sure-fire alternative, they will fight hard to hang on to the Sands jobs they currently have, which will hamper the changes Alberta and Canada need to make.”   Those looking for new approaches to Just Transition will have to hope that Professor Laxer writes another paper – in this one, he goes only so far as to endorse the Just Transition principles set out in the October 2016 paper from the UNFCCC,  Just transition of the workforce, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs  .  To recap, those are: • Develop skills and retraining for green jobs  • Develop green enterprises • Promote government programmes to help the unemployed find work • Provide social protection • Minimize hardship for workers and address their needs • Consult all stakeholders to plan for a just transition.

Recalling the huge federal and provincial government research subsidies in the 1960’s that launched the oil sands, Professor Laxer concludes with this:  “The same governments now need to devote as much research money in today’s dollars to plan useful employment for Sands workers necessitated by the shift to a low-carbon future.”

after the SandsAct or be Acted Upon. The case for phasing out Alberta’s Sands  is a “Green Paper”, commissioned by the Alberta Institute of Agrologists and presented to them in March 2017.  Related reading:  Gordon Laxer’s book from 2015 , After the Sands. Energy and Ecological Security for Canadians ;   and from the Parkland Institute:  Restructuring in Alberta’s oil industry: Internationals pull out, domestic majors double down (April 2017);  Five things to know about Alberta’s oil sands emissions cap   (Feb. 2017); Extracted Carbon: Re-examining Canada’s Contribution to Climate Change through Fossil Fuel Exports (Jan. 2017).