Leading up to COP26: U.S. and China make important pledges; activists demand fossil-free future

As the IPCC Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow approaches on Oct. 31 to Nov. 12, international leaders are grabbing microphones, activists are lobbying, and important new reports are being released .  A chronology of some important highlights:  

On September 13, an Open Letter was delivered to the UN General Assembly, calling for a Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty. Signed by over 2000 academics and scientists from 81 countries, the Letter calls  for international cooperation on climate change and an end to new expansion of fossil fuel production in line with the best available science, and a phase-out of existing fossil fuel production of fossil fuels “in a manner that is fair and equitable”. 

On September 16, World Resources Institute and Climate Analytics released  Closing the gap: The impact of G20 climate commitments on limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C, which offers hope. The report argues that if G20 countries set ambitious, 1.5°C-aligned emission reduction targets for 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050, then global temperature rise at the end of the century could be limited to 1.7°C.  This hinges on the fact that G20 countries account for 75% of global GHG emissions.

A new, related report from the UNFCC is far less hopeful – in fact, Greta Thunberg , as quoted in Common Dreams, states that “this is what betrayal looks like”. The Synthesis Report of Nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement compiled the emissions reduction pledges of 191 countries as of July 31 2021, and evaluated and analyzed their targets and plans .  The bottom line: “The total global GHG emission level in 2030, taking into account implementation of all the latest NDCs, is expected to be 16.3 per cent above the 2010 level.”  Such a course would lead to a “catastrophic” increase in average temperatures by 2.7 degrees C. by the end of the century. While Argentina, Canada, the European Union, United Kingdom and United States strengthened their 2030 emission reduction targets (compared to the NDCs they submitted five years ago),  China, India, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have yet to submit their updated NDCs. The latter countries are responsible for 33% of global greenhouse gases.

On September 18, the EU and U.S. launched a Global Methane Pledge, promising to reduce methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030 – which is a step in the right direction, but fails to meet the target of 45% reduction in this decade , as called for by the UNEP in its Global Methane Assessment Report released in May 2021.  However, according to Inside Climate News, “Global Methane Pledge Offers Hope on Climate in Lead Up to Glasgow “, and The Conversation U.S. describes “Biden urges countries to slash methane emissions 30% – here’s why it’s crucial for protecting climate and health, and how it can pay for itself”  ( Sept. 17). It remains to be seen if Canada will join the eight countries already signed on to the new Methane Pledge; in Canada, the existing regulations for methane emissions from the oil and gas industry  target a reduction by 40% to 45% below 2012 levels by 2025. The Liberal election platform pledged to “Require oil and gas companies to reduce methane emissions by at least 75% below 2012 levels by 2030 and work to reduce methane emissions across the broader economy.”  (More Canadian context appears in The Energy Mix,  and from the WCR here, which explains the federal-provincial equivalency agreement re methane regulations.

The opening of UN General Assembly on September 20, began with a fiery speech by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres about global inequality, saying that the world is “sleepwalking”  to climate change disaster and pleading yet again for urgent action and  international cooperation.  Discussions around Covid-19, racism, and climate change are creating the “sombre mood” of the meetings . Yet speeches by U.S. president Biden and China’s Xi Jinping offer hope for climate change actions:

On September 21, US president Biden’s address to the General Assembly included a pledge that the US will become the world’s leading provider of climate finance, promising to double U.S. aid to $11bn by 2024.  Some reaction to the pledge was sceptical, given that the $100 billion in aid already pledged by developed countries has not been achieved. Canada is one of the worst offenders, with an average contribution only 17% of its fair share in 2017 and 2018, according to  “Climate Finance Faces $75-Billion Gap as COP 26 Looms 1,000 Hours Away” (The Energy Mix, Sept. 21).

Also on September 21, China’s leader Xi Jinping announced to the United Nations General Assembly that China “will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad.”  The impact, as explained here by the New York Times, can be huge, given that  “China built more than three times more new coal power capacity than all other countries in the world combined” last year. “‘Betting on a low-carbon future’: why China is ending foreign coal investment” (The Guardian, Sept. 22) highlights two important points: 1. the announcement signals that China is serious about climate action even though it hasn’t confirmed attendance at COP26, and 2. Real climate progress lies in reduction of China’s domestic coal production, which is 10 times higher than foreign production according to the report in Germany’s DW . So far, China has not specified plans re domestic production, nor re the timing of its commitment to end coal financing.

On September 22, a statement by over 200 civil society organizations from around the world called on progressive governments and public finance institutions to launch a joint commitment to end public finance for fossil fuels at COP26.  According to the spokesperson for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said: “While a growing number of governments are turning away from coal and oil, international financial institutions are still providing four times as much funding for gas projects as for wind or solar.”  The full statement and list of signatories is here and includes 28 Canadian organizations – including the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and the Syndicat de la fonction publique et parapublique du Québec (SFPQ).

#Wemaketomorrow is an activist campaign coordinated by the Trade Union Caucus of the COP26 Coalition. Planning and actions for COP26 are already underway at https://www.wemaketomorrow.org/ . The main COP26 Coalition website organizes The People’s Summit, “a global convergence space for movements, campaigns and civil society”, which this year, because of Covid-19, will feature in-person and virtual events.

More to come!

69% of Canada’s fossil fuel workers willing to move to clean energy jobs, says new poll

On July 14, Iron and Earth Canada released the results of online poll done on their behalf by Abacus Data , surveying 300 Canadians who currently work in the oil, gas, or coal sectors. The survey showed that  61% agreed with the statement:  “Canada should pivot towards a net-zero emissions economy by 2050 to remain a competitive global economy”, and 69% answered “yes” to “Would you consider making a career switch to, or expanding your work involvement in, a job in the net-zero economy?”.  The survey also measured workers’ interest in skills training and development for jobs in the net-zero economy, with 88% interested for themselves, and 80% supporting a National Upskilling Initiative . 

Although workers reported a high degree of optimism for the future (58% agreed that “ I will likely thrive in a Canadian economy that transitions to net-zero emissions by 2050”), workers also expressed their concerns – with 79% of workers under age 45 worried about reduced wages, and 77% of workers under 45 worried about losing their job.  44% of all workers would not consider taking a clean economy job if it resulted in a wage cut.

The full survey results are here , with breakdowns by age, sex, province, occupation, and Indigenous vs. Non-Indigenous.   Articles summarizing the survey appeared in The National Observer, The Narwhal , and The Energy Mix.

On a related note: many younger people are not attracted to a future in the fossil fuel industry, as described in the recent CBC News article “University of Calgary hits pause on bachelor’s program in oil and gas engineering” (July 8), and “U of C sees ‘remarkable’ drop in undergrads focusing on oilpatch engineering and geology “ (Oct. 6 2020).

Employment and Job loss experience of Canada’s oil and gas, coal workers

In September 2020, Canada’s oil and gas industry employed approximately 160,100 workers –a 0.9% increase from August 2020, but a 14% drop from September 2019.  In that same one-year period, employment in the services sub-sector decreased by 29%;  the pipelines sub-sector decreased by  30% and the exploration and production sub-sector increased by 3%.  These statistics are based on Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey (LFS) data,  made available on the  Employment and Labour Force Data Dashboard provided by PetroLMI, a labour market agency specializing in the oil and gas industry, jointly funded by government-industry.  Their September 2020 blog is here, summarizing the current trends ; an archive of PetroLMI reports re the trends and forecasts is here – most recently, The LNG Opportunity in Canada: Employment Prospects and Requirements (June 2020).

In addition to providing regular labour force data by industry, on September 22 Statistics Canada released two studies in its Economic Insights series:  How Do Workers Displaced from Energy producing Sectors Fare after Job Loss? Evidence from the Oil and Gas”  Industry    and How Do Workers Displaced from Energy producing Sectors Fare after Job Loss? Evidence from coal mining. Both studies use data, (including age),  from Statistics Canada’s Longitudinal Worker File, covering the period 1995 to 2016, for  workers permanently laid off from those industries..  

Job loss experience for oil and gas workers

How Do Workers Displaced from Energy producing Sectors Fare after Job Loss? Evidence from the Oil and Gas” Industry reports that “job loss leads to substantial and persistent earnings declines”, although “three years or five years after being displaced, a significant fraction of workers displaced from this sector earn more than they did in the year prior to job loss.”  Data show that re-employment has become progressively more difficult, and for workers laid-off in 2015 or 2016, less than two-thirds found paid employment in the following year, with most moving outside the oil and gas industry – construction being the most common sector for re-employment. CBC produced a summary of the Statistics Canada report in an article here , augmenting it with personal stories and commentary from economists.

Coal workers’ job loss experience

Similar analysis (the reports are authored by the same Statistics Canada economists) appears in  How Do Workers Displaced from Energy producing Sectors Fare after Job Loss? Evidence from coal mining . Contrary to the trend for oil and gas workers, finding employment within a year of lay-off became easier for coal workers more recently: 67% for workers laid-off in 1995 compared to 89% for those laid-off in 2005 . However, regarding earnings loss, the report compares coal data with all industries, and states: “These numbers imply that about half of workers laid-off from coal mining and from other industries during the 2004-to-2011 period saw their annual wages and salaries drop by at least 30% in the short term. Since coal miners are paid higher-than-average wages …. the median declines in annual wages and salaries of coal miners displaced from 2004 to 2011 amounted to roughly $14,800 (in 2016 dollars) in the short term, more than twice the median declines (of about $6,100) experienced by other laid-off workers.” Conclusions are similar to those in the report on oil and gas workers: a  transition to “green jobs” has not materialized, and “ for many coal miners and other workers, job loss leads to substantial and persistent earnings declines”, but, “the financial consequences of job loss are not uniform for all displaced workers. …. Three years after job loss or five years after job loss, a significant fraction of displaced workers earn more than they did in the year prior to job loss.”

Coal-mining closures and energy transitions – impacts on women, youth, and communities

SEIdistributional-impacts-photo-1374x916In April 2020, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) published a Working Paper which analyses the research to date on mine closures – with an emphasis on coal mine closures.  Distributional impacts of mining transitions: learning from the past  states that few studies have dealt with the distributional impacts, and those which do exist focus on developed countries (largely the U.K., but some from Canada – including  the closure of iron mines in Schefferville Quebec in the 1990’s). Authors Strambo and Aung focus on the financial, psychological and labour-related impacts of mining closure, with a special attention to gender and youth impacts.  Their report also discusses the effectiveness of implemented policy responses and initiatives in supporting these two social groups.

Strambo and Aung, along with Atteridge,  wrote a related report, Navigating Coal Mining Closure and Societal Change: Learning from Past Cases of Mining Decline,  published by the SEI in July 2019.  It is an extensive, broader  bibliographic review and analysis which includes a detailed explanation of the search methods used. It concludes:

“Economic and employment impacts of closure are much more thoroughly documented in the literature than social and political impacts. On economic impacts, more attention needs to be paid to the distributional impacts of mine closure, because a smooth and “just” transition requires design measures that target the specific vulnerabilities of different groups in mining areas. Reducing social inequality is likely to be a particularly important success factor in post-mining transitions, especially in developing countries, where mining regions have often been characterized by high wealth concentration and very limited (if any) benefits in terms of human or social development … Political and social impacts of closure have also been understudied.”

The  SEI also recently published two Papers related to gender aspects of just energy transitions:  Assessing the gender and social equity dimensions of energy transitions , which synthesized findings from 67 peer-reviewed academic articles, mostly related to rural women in Asia and Africa.  A brief 5-page  synthesis report, Ensuring just and equitable energy transitions  summarizes the state of international research.

In January 2020, the Stockholm Environment Institute was ranked as the world’s top think tank on environmental policy issues in the annual 2019 Global Go To Think Tanks Index, by the University of Pennsylvania. SEI, headquartered in Sweden but with seven international locations, is  a prominent member of Think Sustainable Europe , a network if think tanks created in late 2019.  It also  hosts the  secretariat of the UN-affiliated Leadership Group for Industry Transition  .

Just transition for the Coal and Car Industries – a period of “revolutionary” change in Europe

coal-cars-and-the-world-of-work coverTowards a just transition: Coal, cars and the world of work  is a new and unique report edited by Béla Galgóczi, senior researcher at the European Trade Union Institute, a member of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) research project , and the author of several previous reports on Just Transition, including  Phasing out Coal – A Just Transition approach (2019) and  Greening Industries and Creating Jobs (2012).

In his introduction, he states:

” ‘Just transition’ has become the main concept and strategy tool for managing the transformation towards a net zero-carbon economy in a way that is both balanced and fair, but it is also clear that this concept is developing in a too broad and general, and often even over-stretched, manner. In order to discuss it meaningfully, we need to turn to specific case studies. Coal-based energy generation on the one hand and the automobile industry on the other do not only represent two sectors that are responsible for a large part of total GHG emissions, they also illustrate what is really meant by the different contexts of just transition.”

The report chapters, available individually for download here, are written by European experts, and will provide English-speaking readers with access to some of the research written in the European languages.

Part 1 updates the well-researched decarbonization of the coal industry, in Poland, Germany, France and Italy.

Part 2 breaks newer ground, as it “delivers an account of the revolutionary change taking place in the automobile industry, proceeding from a European overview (chapter 6) to insights both from France (chapter 7) and from Germany, the latter with its central eastern European supply chains (chapter 8). Chapter 9 then gives the view of IG Metall, a trade union which has a key role in managing change in the automobile industry in an active and forward-looking way.”   Regarding the automobile industry, the introduction states: “With digitalisation and decarbonisation, the industry faces unprecedented challenges in the near future that will re-write its entire business model, redefine work and redraw its value chains. Managing this change requires innovative approaches from the main actors and new forms of relationships between the actors.”  Germany’s social partnership bargaining structure is the framework for the innovative initiatives described at the EU, federal, regional and plant level.

The report is summarized by Mr. Galgóczi  in “Why should just transition be an integral part of the European Green Deal?”,  which appeared in Social Europe on December 4.

International clean energy experts discuss investment levels, zero emissions vehicles, building emissions, gender equality in Vancouver meetings

CEM10-MI4_LogoIn the week of May 27, representatives from global government, industry, and NGO’s met as Canada hosted the 10th Clean Energy Ministerial in Vancouver. Several announcements were made against that backdrop:

Investment support for clean energy: The federal government announced it will contribute up to $30 million to Breakthrough Energy Solutions Canada (BESC),  a public-private initiative to support “cutting-edge companies to deliver game-changing clean energy innovations to the market.” This Canadian program will be administered by Natural Resources Canada – in collaboration with Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a $1 billion investment fund launched in 2016 by billionaires such as Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg.  The Canadian press release quotes Gates: “ We are hopeful that this Breakthrough Energy partnership with Canada will be a model for developing more collaborations…” A summary appears in “Canada launches homegrown version of Bill Gates-led clean energy fund”   in the National Observer (May 27).

The National Observer hosted a panel discussion on clean energy investment on May 28. The panel included the Vice-President of the European Investment Bank, the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, and Céline Bak, president of Analytica Advisors and author of the 2019 report,  Leveraging Sustainable Finance Leadership in CanadaA summary and video of the panel’s discussion is hereThe discussion revealed that, unbeknownst to Canada, the  European Commission and the European Investment Bank  have also reached agreement with Breakthrough Energy Ventures on a new €100 million fund to support clean energy investments – described in a May 29 press release.

Clean energy investment trends are worrying, as reported by the International Energy Agency in  World Energy Investment 2019 (May 14) : “Global energy investment stabilised in 2018, ending three consecutive years of decline, as capital spending on oil, gas and coal supply bounced back while investment stalled for energy efficiency and renewables.”  In May,  BankTrack and others published  Fool’s Gold – the Financial Institutions Bankrolling Europe’s Most Coal-dependent Utilities , naming the financial institutions behind almost €16 billion in support to the coal industry since the Paris Agreement was signed in December 2015.

electric truckZero emissions  vehicles: The International Energy Agency released the 2019 edition of one of their flagship publications, Global EV Outlook, which provides historical analysis, projections to 2030, and insights on electric vehicle and charging infrastructure deployment, ownership cost, energy use, carbon dioxide emissions and battery material demand. As part of the discussions on electrification of transportation at the CEM10, Canada became the first national government to endorse the Global Commercial Vehicle Drive to Zero (Drive to Zero) campaign, with British Columbia and the City of Vancouver also signing on . A press release explains “Drive to Zero is a strategic international initiative designed to catalyze the growth of the zero-emission (ZE) and near-zero-emission (NZ) medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sector (MHDV), which includes everything from transit buses to eighteen wheelers to box trucks to school buses. Pledge partners promise to collaboratively put in place supporting mechanisms to speed the early market for these vehicles and equipment.”  Drive to Zero is a program of CALSTART,  a nonprofit consortium with offices in New York, Michigan, Colorado and California, and international partners which include Clean Energy Canada.  As Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources stated in the press release, this is in line with Canadian priorities: the Final Report of the Advisory Council on Climate Action  ( May 28) recommends policies concerning zero-emissions vehicles, including “The Government of Canada, working with partners and stakeholders, should develop an integrated strategy to reduce emissions across modes of transportation, including actions to support modal shifts.”  Related: on May 2, the Pembina Institute published Fuel Savings and Emissions Reductions in Heavy-Duty Trucking : A blueprint for further action in Canada  . 

Gender Equality in Clean Tech:  Over 100 organizations have now signed onto the Equal by 30 initiative, an international campaign begun in 2018. It “ encourages companies and government to adopt gender-equal principles, advance the participation of women in the clean energy transition and take concrete actions to support women in the sector.” A summary of the Gender Diversity participants and events is here . 

Hydrogen as a source of clean energy: A new “Hydrogen Initiative was announced  under the leadership of Canada, the United States, Japan, the Netherlands and the European Commission, with the International Energy Agency as co-ordinating body. The initiative is intended to drive international collaboration on policies, programs and projects to accelerate the commercial deployment of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies across all sectors of the economy, especially industrial and transportation applications.

Building efficiency: Heating and cooling strategies in the clean energy transition: Outlooks and lessons from Canada’s provinces and territories is a report released at the Clean Energy Ministerial meetings on May 27. It is the result of collaborative research between the International Energy Agency and the National Energy Board of Canada. Using Canadian provincial data, it examines energy demand patterns and energy policies regarding  heating and cooling services in buildings, urging policies to move from natural gas to existing, cleaner technologies.  The National Observer summarizes the report in “Cutting fossil fuels could save Canadians  $24 billion a year by 2050”  .

Canadian banks still investing in yesterday’s economy – fossil fuels

offshore oil rigBanking on Climate Change – Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card 2019 , the 10th annual report by BankTrack and a coalition of advocacy groups, has been expanded to include coal and gas investors, as well as oil, as it ranks and exposes the  investment practices of 33 of the world’s largest banks. The newly-released report for this year reveals that $1.9 trillion has been invested in these fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement, with the four biggest investors  all U.S. banks – JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America. But Canadian banks rank high: RBC ranks fifth, TD ranks 8th, Scotiabank ranks 9th, and Bank of Montreal ranks 15th.  Among those investing in tar sands oil : “five of the top six tar sands bankers between 2016 and 2018 are Canadian, with RBC and TD by far the two worst.”

In addition to the investment tallies, the report  analyzes the banks’ performance on human rights, particularly Indigenous rights, as it relates to the impacts of specific fossil fuel projects, and climate change in general.  The report also describes key themes, such as tar sands investment, Arctic oil, and fracking.

In response to the Banking on Climate Change report, SumofUs has mounted an online petition It’s time for TD, RBC and Scotiabank stop funding climate chaos.    An Opinion piece in The Tyee,  “How Citizens can stop the big five ” calls for a citizens strike on Canadian banks – particularly by young people and future mortgage investors, and points out the alternatives: credit unions, non-bank mortgage brokers, and ethical investment funds, (such as Genus Capital of Vancouver ).  But while individual Canadians can make ethical choices, that doesn’t seem to be the path of our public pension plan, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which manages $356.1 billion of our savings.  On March 19, Reuters reported that the CPPIB  will invest $1.34 billion to obtain a 35% share in  a $3.8 billion joint venture with U.S. energy firm Williams to finance gas pipeline assets in the Marcellus and Utica shale basins.

Investment attitudes are shifting away from fossils:  The Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund continues to lead the way: In March, it announced it would divest almost $8 billion in investments in 134 companies that explore for oil and gas; in April, it  announced it will  invest in renewable energy projects that are not listed on stock markets – a huge marekt and a significant signal to the investment community, as described in   “Historic breakthrough’: Norway’s giant oil fund dives into renewables” in The Guardian (April 5) .

In Canada, with the Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance   scheduled to report shortly, the Bank of Canada announced on March 27 that it has joined the  Central Banks’ and Supervisors’ Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS), an international body established in December 2017 to promote best practices in climate risk management for the financial sector.  (This is despite the fact that Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz discussed the vulnerabilities and risks in Canada’s financial system in his year-end progress report in December  2018   – without ever mentioning climate change. )  In the U.S., on March 25, the head of the  Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco released Climate Change and the Federal Reserve  , which states: “In this century, three key forces are transforming the economy: a demographic shift toward an older population, rapid advances in technology, and climate change.”  A discussion of both these developments appears in “Bank of Canada commits to probing climate liabilities” in The National Observer (March 27) .

And if we needed more proof that coal is a dying industry:  The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis released Over 100 Global Financial Institutions Are Exiting Coal, With More to Come  in February, drawing on the ongoing and growing  list of banks which have stopped investing in new coal development, as maintained by BankTrack.   The detailed IEEFA report states that “34 coal divestment/restriction policy announcements have been made by globally significant financial institutions since the start of 2018. In the first nine weeks of 2019, there have been five new announcements of banks and insurers divesting from coal. Global capital is fleeing the thermal coal sector.”  Proof: global mining giant Glencore announced on February 20 that it would cap its coal production at current levels in  “Furthering Our Commitment to the Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy. “

COP24 Updates and Week 2: Voices of unions, business, the U.S., and youth

COP24-table of delegatesThe official meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP 24) in Katowice began optimistically, with  over 40  countries, including Canada,  adopting the host country’s Solidarity and Just Transition  Silesia Declaration . On the same day, December 3,   IndustriALL Global Union and IndustriAll European Trade Union issued a joint declaration demanding a Just Transition for workers  .  The week ended with a diplomatic stand-off on whether delegates would “welcome” or “recognize” the landmark IPCC Scientific report – with four obdurate fossil fuel countries – U.S., Russia,  Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait –refusing  to use the word  “welcome”;  The Energy Mix summarizes those weekend negotiations and why the outcome is important – the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a statement that they are “deeply alarmed” by the U.S. position.    DeSmog UK sums up some of the concerns from Week 1 in  ‘We Cannot Accept an Unjust Energy Transition’: Future of Coal Communities Becomes Crucial Issue at Climate Talks”  .   The good news, according to an ITUC policy officer quoted in the article, is that “never, ever, before had climate negotiators debated so much about the impacts of the energy transition on workers and their communities”.

Away from the official agenda, in all-important side meetings:  on December 6, the Polish trade union Solidarność signed a joint declaration  with the U.S. Heartland Institute, aligning itself with the climate denying group and rejecting climate science.  A series of meetings were co-organized by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED)  ,  Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA)Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung-New York Office, the UK’s Public and Commercial Services UnionFriends of the Earth Europetransform! europe. The Agenda of the meetings is here ; discussion focused on the TUED discussion paper  written by  Sean Sweeney and John Treat,   When “Green” Doesn’t “Grow”: Facing Up to the Failures of Profit-Driven Climate Policy,  which is described as  “a discussion paper highlighting the failures of profit-driven climate policy and making the case for an alternative approach that focuses on the public good and meeting basic human needs, and that embraces the struggle for public / social ownership and democratic control over energy resources and use.”   It concludes with the observation that at the moment, everyone is being left behind. “This is not a scenario that unions can accept. Only a coordinated, public-goods approach allows us to escape the contradictions of commodified energy systems that pit some workers against others.”

Week 2, which runs from December 10 to 17th, has seen the arrival of political leaders, including Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna.  An interview with McKenna on her first day in Katowice appears  in the National Observer,  “McKenna says climate targets could be law in future” .  One of the issues addressed in the interview: a new report from Stand.earth and Environmental Defence, Canada’s Oil and Gas Challenge: A Summary Analysis of Rising Oil and Gas Industry Emissions in Canada and Progress Towards Meeting Climate Targets ,  which  shows how oil and gas emissions in Canada are rising, and documents examples of how oil and gas companies have influenced  Canada’s climate policies. It calls for phasing out subsidies to the oil and gas sector on an accelerated timeline, and extending just transition policies , especially to oil and gas workers. McKenna did not commit to any such new policies.

In its only official event, the  U.S. Administration attempted to lead a session on December 10,  called “US innovative technologies spur economic dynamism”, which promotes “ clean coal”.  As reported by Common Dreams  and DeSmog UK , protesters – mostly young people – disrupted the meeting  with laughter and speeches before they walked out.  Think Progress summarizes the event and the U.S. presence at COP24 in “Anger, protests greet U.S. fossil fuels side event at U.N. climate talks”.  In contrast to the positions of the U.S. Administration, We are Still In  , the coalition of U.S. state and local governments and organizations, is presenting a full slate of presentations and panels supporting the Paris Agreement – their agenda is here .  Included under this umbrella are the positions of the U.S. business community, including the We Mean Business coalition .  Their  blog, “Why we need a Just Transition to a Low Carbon World” summarizes their report, released at COP24:  Climate and the Just Transition: The Business Case for Action   .

From an international business view,  Climate Change and the  Just Transition: An  Investor  Guide was released on December 10   by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, in partnership with the the Initiative for Responsible Investment at the Harvard Kennedy School.    The International Trade Union Confederation is also listed as a partner in this publication.  The Guide endorses the need for Just Transition and illustrates a review of academic research and reveals the viewpoints of the financial community on the value of Just Transition. The release of the report coincides with the release of a Global Investor Statement  by some of the world’s largest pension funds, asset managers and insurance companies, which calls for governments to phase out thermal coal power, put a meaningful price on carbon, and phase out fossil fuel subsidies. It’s significance is described  in The Guardian article, “Largest ever group of global investors call for more action to meet Paris targets”   .  The Investor Group Briefing Paper  includes an endorsement of the Powering past Coal Alliance, and states: “Investors encourage governments to transition to a low carbon economy in a sustainable and economically inclusive way. As stated in the Paris Agreement, this must include “the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities”, by providing appropriate support for workers and communities in industries undergoing transition . Additionally, governments should work with investors to ensure that the benefits and opportunities created by acting on climate change and the increased adoption of clean energy technologies are accessible to all”.

For COP24 News  from a trade union perspective , read a blog by Philip Pearson appear in “Breaking News” at the Greener Jobs Alliance website or the  COP24 Blog by IndustriALL  .

And for another view of the “unofficial” side of COP24, check Democracy Now, which is reporting from Katowice.   “Thousands Protest at U.N. Climate Summit in Coal-Heavy Poland, Facing Riot Police & Intimidation ”   was posted on December 10,  and Amy Goodman interviewed Swedish teenager and “climate hero” Greta Thunberg  on December 11.  December 8 was officially dedicated to Youth voices , with Greta being the most publicized, but certainly not alone.  Last words to Greta and the  young people she represents:   “… we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future,” …. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge.”  And from video of a speech posted by the UNFCC , she states: “The first thing I have learned is that you’re never too small to make a difference.”greta speech cop24

Job protection gets high priority in Germany’s Commission on phase-out of brown coal

According to a March 2018 report by Clean Energy Wire, Germany’s coal industry, ( hard coal and lignite coal), employed approximately 36,000 workers in 2016, in contrast to 160,000 people employed in the wind power industry and 340,000 in the entire renewable energy generation sector.  Yet on June 6,  Germany’s Special Commission on Growth, Structural Economic Change and Employment was launched to study and make recommendations for social and economic policy  for a phase-out of lignite coal in Germany by the end of 2018. The word “coal” does not appear in its name, reflecting the political tension surrounding the issue.  Groups such as The Green Party,  WWF Germany and Greenpeace Germany are critical, as summarized in “Why are German coal workers so powerful, when there are so few?” in Climate Home News (Aug. 14) , which states that ” “saving jobs in the coal sector is its first priority, followed by designing the structural change in the coal regions towards low-carbon economies, with climate protection and coal phase-out coming last.”

Although much information about the Commission is in German, Clean Energy Wire ( based in Berlin) publishes in English, and  is monitoring the Commission’s progress  . It  has produced two Fact Sheets that are essential reading: 1.  Coal in Germany, a Fact Sheet  (Dec. 2017) ( full of facts and figures about the industry); and  2. Germany’s Coal Exit Commission, a Fact Sheet  – which includes a list of  the members of the Commission –  representatives from government, industry, academia, environmental groups,  and these unions: German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) ; Ver.di (Service industries)  and IG BCE  (mining, chemicals and energy industries). Position statements from some of the members of the Commission are here  ; IG BCE states: “The people in the mining regions do not need an accelerated exit from coal.. .The path for a phase out of coal-fired power generation has long been mapped out. What they need is an entry into structural change that secures good industrial work. That’s what we will work towards in the commission.”  From another member, Germanwatch: “The coal exit is aligned with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and has the potential to be the foundation for a fair structural change and a modernisation of the economy. One hopes that the economic associations involved do not obstruct, but put the opportunities front and centre.”

On August 3 that the Germany’s Employment Minister presented a 6-point plan, summarized in “Employment minister suggests infrastructure projects for coal mining regions” .

Further background and opinion:  

From Euractiv: “Leaked: Germany’s planned coal commission shows little interest for the climate”    (June 1)   and “ Germany launches coal commission in a bid to protect climate and jobs”  (June 7)

From DW, “Germany′s mining communities brace themselves for post-coal era” (June 1)   and  “Germany’s coal exit: Jobs first, then the climate” from DW   (June 26);

Contrast the European coverage with “New Commission studies unprecedented, orderly coal phase out for Germany” in The Energy Mix (August 14) .

 

New York City and State announce plans to divest pension funds; Canadian Public Pension fund holds on to coal

I love new yorkNew York City Mayor Bill diBlasio captured headlines on January 10 2018 for his announcement that New York City will divest from fossil fuels and will sue Exxon and other oil companies for the damages of Superstorm Sandy.   Yet  it was actually on December 19 that New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo  first announced separate proposals to freeze current fossil fuel investments, divest New York’s public pension funds from fossil fuels, and reinvest in renewable energy.    Common Dreams summarized the announcements in ” ‘Undeniable Victory’: Cheers Follow Proposals to Divest Massive New York Pensions From Fossil Fuels”Reaction from 350.org (Dec. 19)  emphasized the importance of five years of citizen activism , and quoted Bill McKibben, who emphasized the symbolic importance of New York’s announcement:  “Coming from the capital of world finance, this will resonate loud and clear all over the planet. It’s a crucial sign of how fast the financial pendulum is swinging away from fossil fuels.”   (As further proof, in November, administrators of Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund recommended no further investment in fossil fuels and  divestment from existing oil and gas shares , and in the U.K., legal changes are in the works to ease divestment for pension funds.)

At the state level,   Governor Cuomo’s press release  states:  “Governor Cuomo and Comptroller DiNapoli will work together to create an advisory committee of financial, economic, scientific, business and workforce representatives as a resource for the Common Retirement Fund to develop a de-carbonization roadmap to invest in opportunities to combat climate change and support the clean tech economy while assessing financial risks and protecting the Fund.” The New York Common Fund of the state manages approximately $200 billion in retirement assets for more than one million New Yorkers and is  heavily invested in fossil fuels, with nearly $1 billion invested in ExxonMobil alone.

At the city level, officials have set a goal of divesting the city’s  funds from fossil fuel companies within five years , according to the press release from the Office of the Comptroller,  which also highlights the complex process involved.  In February 2017,  the Office of the Comptroller had issued a  press release  stating,  “the Trustees of the New York City Pension Funds … will conduct the first-ever carbon footprint analysis of their portfolios and determine how to best manage their investments with an eye toward climate change. In the 21st century, companies must transition to a low-carbon economy, and a failure to adapt to the realities of global warming could present potential investment risks.”  The New York City pension fund includes municipal employees, teachers, firefighters and police.

Related reading re New York activism : The Divest NY website;  “How New Yorkers won fossil fuel divestment”  from the Indypendent (Jan. 12); and Noami Klein’s article in The Intercept (Jan. 11).

Contrast the New York divestment announcements with the continued fossil fuel investment of the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), revealed in two new reports.  In early December, Friends of the Earth Canada, as part of its ongoing campaign,  released  Canadian Coal Investment: Powering Past the Coal Alliance, and Urgewald, a German organization, released Investors vs. the Paris Agreement.  The two reports “present a compelling picture of entrenched investors holding onto the old dirty economy and its growing risks at a time when politicians are committing to the phase out of coal.” – specifically, the Powering Past Coal Alliance launched by Canada and Great Britain at COP23 in Bonn in 2017.  The Powering Past Coal Declaration commits governments to phasing out existing traditional coal power and placing a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage, and commits all partners to supporting clean power through their policies and investments, as well as restricting financing for traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage. In an October 2017  press release,  Friends of the Earth representatives asked, “Why is the CPPIB ignoring government policy and undermining Canada’s diplomatic efforts to lead a global phase-out of coal?” . To date, there has been no public statement adjusting  the Sustainable Investing position of the CPPIB to bring it in line with the Powering Past Coal Alliance Declaration.

Canadian Coal Investment: Powering Past the Coal Alliance calculates the CPPIB’s total investment in coal at $12.2 billion Cdn., with $267 million of that in new coal projects . In a global ranking in Investors vs. the Paris Agreement, Urgewald found that Canada is the 8th largest investor in new coal development, and names several Canadian institutions in its Top 100 Investors list, including SunLife  (ranked #31 with $895 million invested); Power Financial Corporation (#53 with $631 million invested); Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec ( #71 with $433 million invested); Royal Bank (#86 with $356 million invested); and Manulife Financial ( #98 with $282 million invested).

Also of interest:  “Failure to Launch” in Corporate Knights  magazine (Jan. 15 2018), which provides a serious discussion of the problems of pension plan regulation as the answer to its tagline question: “Why are Canadian pension funds dragging their feet when it comes to climate change?”

 

 

International action on Just Transition: what’s been accomplished, and proposals for the future

ituc logoJust Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? A Guide to National Policies and International Climate Governance  was released on September 19 by the International Trade Union Confederation, summarizing what has been done to date by the ITUC and through  international agencies such as the  ILO, UNFCCC, and the  Paris Agreement.  It also provides short summaries of some transition situations, including the Ruhr Valley in Germany, Hazelwood workers in the LaTrobe Valley, Australia, U.S. Appalachian coal miners and the coal mining pension plan, Argentinian construction workers, and Chinese coal workers.  Finally, the report calls for concrete steps to advance Just Transition and workers’ interests.

The report defines Just Transition on a national or regional scale, as  “an economy-wide process that produces the plans, policies and investments that lead to a future where all jobs are green and decent, emissions are at net zero, poverty is eradicated, and communities are thriving and resilient.” But the report also argues that Just Transition is important for companies, with social dialogue and collective bargaining as key tools to manage the necessary industrial transformation at the organizational level.  To that end, the ITUC is launching “A Workers Right To Know” as an ITUC campaign priority for 2018, stating, “Workers have a right to know what their governments are planning to meet the climate challenge and what the Just Transition measures are. Equally, workers have a right to know what their employers are planning, what the impact of the transition is and what the Just Transition guarantees will be. And workers have a right to know where their pension funds are invested with the demand that they are not funding climate or job destruction.”

The ITUC report makes new proposals. It calls on the ILO to take a more ambitious role and to negotiate a Standard for Just Transition by 2021, carrying on from the Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies forAll  (2015).   The ITUC also states “expectations” of how Just Transition should be given greater priority in the international negotiation process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), so that:  Just Transition commitments are incorporated into the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of countries; Just Transition for workers becomes a permanent theme within the forum on response measures under the Paris Agreement, and Just Transition is included in the 2018 UNFCCC Facilitative Dialogue. It also calls for the launch of a “Katowice initiative for a Just Transition” at the COP23 meetings to take place in Katowice, Poland in 2018, “to provide a high-level political space”.  Finally, the ITUC calls for expansion of the eligibility criteria of the Green Climate Fund to allow  the funding of Just Transition projects.

Just Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? is a Climate Justice Frontline Briefing from the International Trade Union Confederation, with support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and is based upon Strengthening Just Transition Policies in International Climate Governance by Anabella Rosemberg, published as a Policy Analysis Brief by the Stanley Foundation in 2017.

Other Just Transition News:  In Calgary in September, the  Just Transition and Good Green Jobs in Alberta Conference took place, sponsored by BlueGreen Alberta, with updates on national and provincial developments and with a global perspective from Samantha Smith, Director of the ITUC’s Just Transition Centre as the keynote speaker.  A companion event, the 3rd Annual Alberta Climate Summit, hosted by the Pembina Institute and Capital Power,  also included a session on  “Just Transition: Labour and Indigenous Perspectives” which featured Andres Filella (Metis Nation of Alberta), Samantha Smith(Just Transition Centre) and Heather Milton-Lightening ( Indigenous Climate Action Network).

In advance of these events, the Alberta government had announced  on  September  11  the launch of  the Coal Community Transition Fund to assist Alberta communities impacted by the mandated coal-phase out in the province.   Municipalities and First Nations can apply for grant funding to support economic development initiatives that focus on regional partnerships and economic diversification.  Further funding is anticipated from the federal government, with retraining programs also expected after the Advisory Panel on Coal Communities  provides its recommendations in a report to the government, expected this fall.

How Trump’s budget will rob coal workers and communities of federal aid for transition and retraining

An April Issue Brief from the Center for American Progress examines the Trump actions to date and concludes that “The Trump Budget Cuts Hit Coal Communities and Workers Where It Hurts”  . In a concise, well-documented overview, the paper explains the widely-accepted facts about the decline of the coal industry – that it is caused not by over-reaching environmental regulation, but by market forces and declining productivity, especially in the Appalachian coal mines. But the thrust of the report is to estimate in detail how the Trump budget proposed for 2018  would eliminate $1.13 billion in federal funding for  7 of the 12 Obama-era programs, undoing the current  efforts to diversify the economies of coal mining communities and provide workforce training.

In 2015, then-President Barack Obama launched the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization, or POWER, Initiative, which funded efforts by  12 federal agencies to align, scale up, and target federal economic and workforce development assistance to coal communities and coal economy workers . Coordinated by the Department of Commerce, the Initiative included the Appalachian Regional Commission, which had been established in 1965 to invest in economic and workforce opportunities  in Appalachia, and the National Dislocated Worker Grants program, part of the Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, which channeled funding to state workforce development agencies to provide employment and training services.   The CAP issue paper was co-authored by Jason Walsh,  who  was a senior policy adviser in the White House under President Obama, involved in the design and coordination of the POWER Initiative.

A new report from Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy asks “Can Coal make a Comeback?”    and with detailed statistics and  discussion of coal in the context of the global energy industry, answers the question as “No”.   The paper concludes with some examples of local economic diversification  programs, stating: “There is a lot the federal government can do to help accelerate locally driven economic diversification efforts… But this all requires a clear-eyed assessment of the outlook for the coal industry and a commitment to put sustainable solutions ahead of politically expedient talking points.”

The Columbia paper also calls for the federal government to help provide retirement and healthcare security by passing the Miners’ Protection Act  .  But an April 19 article in the New York TimesRetired Miners Lament Trump’s Silence on Imperiled Health Plan”(April 19)  describes the uncertainty for the miners and the political horsetrading in Congress – part of the government funding showdown due April 30.  The fates and possibly the lives of more than 20,000 retired miners rests on extending federal funding to the health benefits fund, depleted by coal industry bankruptcies . For the best explanation  see “ Mine wars: The struggle for coal miners’ health care and pension benefits comes to a head”  in The Conversation,  published April 26 and updated April 30th with the news that Congress  had extended health care benefits until May 5. This will be the latest of several extensions, without a resolution to the issue.

In addition to the economic analysis of the Columbia University report, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis ( IEEFA) published a brief on April 21, “U.S. Coal Phase-out, Blow by Blow: Plant Closings and the Likely Corresponding Effect on Specific Companies and Mines”—  which “focuses on how the scheduled closures, conversions or curtailments of 46 coal-fired generating units at 25 electricity plants in 16 states stand to affect the U.S coal-mining industry through 2018, including the loss of nearly 30 million tons of coal demand.”   It does not estimate job losses or community impacts.

EU Industry pledges no new coal plants as Australians mobilize to fight the giant Adani coal project

The Union of the Electricity Industry (EURELECTRIC), representing 3500 companies across Europe, released a statement on April 5, pledging that no new coal-fired plants will be built in the EU after 2020.   “The European electricity sector believes that achieving the decarbonisation objectives agreed in the Paris Agreement is essential to guarantee the long-term sustainability of the global economy. EURELECTRIC’s members are committed to delivering a carbon neutral power supply in Europe by 2050, and to ensuring a competitively priced and reliable electricity supply throughout the integrated European energy market.” Poland and Greece remain outside the agreement, and apparently outside the mainstream.

The Guardian calls the EU position   a “death knell for coal”,    and in a separate piece, summarizes the decline of coal-fired electricity around the world.  “Coal in ‘freefall’ as new power plants dive by two-thirds”  (March 22)    quotes a new report by Greenpeace  , Sierra Club USA,  and Coalswarm   :  Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking The Global Coal Plant Pipeline.   Its findings show a 62 percent drop in new construction starts, and an 85 percent decline in new Chinese coal plant permits. A senior Greenpeace official states: “2016 marked a veritable turning point”.  “China all but stopped new coal projects after astonishing clean energy growth has made new coal-fired power plants redundant, with all additional power needs covered from non-fossil sources since 2013. Closures of old coal plants drove major emission reductions especially in the U.S. and UK, while Belgium and Ontario became entirely coal-free and three G8 countries announced deadlines for coal phase-outs.”

Stop-Adani-LogoYet in Australia, environmentalists are waging an epic environmental battle against a giant, $16.5-billion coal mine adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, proposed by Indian energy conglomerate Adani. Government supporters, including the Prime Minister and politicians in Queensland, have argued that the mine would bring jobs and would not increase GHG emissions globally because Australian coal is cleaner than any other that India would be able to source from other countries; see an article in Climate Home for the rebuttal to that.  Voices in opposition include Bob Brown, a former Green Party leader, who states  : “This is the environmental issue of our times and, for one, the Great Barrier Reef is at stake. The Adani corporation’s dirty coalmine is an impending disaster with effects which will reach far beyond Australia.”  Or read:   “It’s either Adani or the Great Barrier Reef – are we willing to fight for a Wonder of the World?”   in The Guardian.   Thirteen community groups, claiming to represent 1.5 million Australians have joined the Stop Adani Alliance since its launch in March, and the Australian Conservation Foundation is behind another high-powered campaign . For context, see “The coal war: Inside the fight against Adani’s plans to build Australia’s biggest coal mine” from the Sydney Morning Herald.   For a catalogue of “the ten most-absurd things about the Adani mine ” , see “Australia’s Climate bomb: the senselessness of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine”    in The Conversation (April 12).

UPDATE:  An April 24 analysis  of the bleak prospects of the Carmichael Mine proposed by Adani for Australia  “Adani: Remote Prospect: Carmichael Status Update 2017”  .

Opposition to Trump’s Executive Order targeting the Clean Power Plan

The Labor Network for Sustainability in the U.S.  released a new paper,  “Trump’s Energy Plan: A Brighter Future for America’s Workers? , which urges the labour movement to “unwrap the package” and examine the proposals in Trump’s America First Energy Policy , released on the first day after his  Inauguration.  LNS reviews and refutes the major planks in that policy, including the “bring back the coal industry” claim, and states, “Our hard-hit coal miners and communities deserve a plan that will enable them to find decent livelihoods in the future, not one that lures them with illusions that it will bring the coal industry back.”  LNS has previously published its plan,  The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs, Saving Money , written by Synapse Economics .

trumphardhatThe most recent installment of the America First Energy Policy was released on March 28: the  Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth , replete with the illusory promise to bring back coal jobs.  Summaries and explanations are easy to find: from the Office of the White House Press Secretary ;  the Brookings Institute  ;  “The Giant Trump Order is Here. What it is, what it does”  in The Atlantic; “Trump just gutted U.S. policies to fight climate change”  from Think Progress . Dismay and outrage is also widespread, summed up by Vox :“This is it. The battle over the future of US climate policy is officially underway”.  Even the mainstream Washington Post brings out the battle imagery in its headlines:   “The standoff between Trump and green groups just boiled into war” (March 30)  ,  and “The assault on climate science is evil, and evil must be fought”   (March 31).

Although disguised in the language of job creation for coal miners, the Executive Order goes beyond the attack on the Clean Power Plan and coal-fired power plants  –  empowering the Cabinet to review and rollback  other Obama-era policies, including limits on methane leaks, a moratorium on federal coal leasing, and the use of the social cost of carbon to guide government actions. The Editorial Board of the New York Times sums up the scale of the attack:  “President Trump risks the Planet”  (March 28) .

The claim of “bringing back coal jobs” has been disproved repeatedly and convincingly. Typical is the press release from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis , which sees “zero employment impact” from Trump’s measures, stating,  “Market forces overwhelmingly favor natural gas-fired electricity generation and renewable energy, and the trend away from coal will continue”…. Coal is simply being outpaced. It is an industry in decline, and the fundamentals are inescapable.”  “A simple way to see why Trump’s climate order won’t bring back many coal jobs”  in Vox refers to the Department of Energy  Annual Energy Outlook 2017 , which projected that without the Clean Power Plan,  U.S. coal consumption would rebound only as far as the  historically low levels of 2015, when there were approximately 63,000 coal miners in America.  Today, there are approximately 50,000.   Compare this to the solar workforce, which created 51,000  jobs in 2016 alone – to bring the total number to 260,077 U.S. solar workers, according to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census.  Even the CEO of Murray Energy, the largest privately-owned coal company in the U.S., acknowledged in a report in The Guardian, that coal jobs are not coming back.

What the Trump Executive Order could do, according to modelling by consulting firm the Rhodium Group,  is to limit U.S. greenhouse gas emission reduction to around 14 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 – a far cry from the Paris Agreement pledge of 26 %, and effectively ceding climate leadership to the European Union and China.  The Sierra Club USA provides a thorough discussion of the environmental impacts in  Donald Trump Orders EPA to Unwind Clean Power Plan in Setback for “Vitally Important” Clean Air   (March 28) .    The reaction of major environmental groups such as Environmental Defence Fund, Earthjustice, and  Natural Resources Defence Council is summarized in “Environmental groups vowing to fight Trump’s Climate Actions ”   in the  National Observer (March 29).

Is there any cause for hope?  Yes, according to analysis by  Inside Climate News in  “Hundreds of Clean Energy Bills Have Been Introduced in States Nationwide This Year”  (March 27).  This provides a state-by-state summary of bipartisan clean energy legislation, stating:  “At least eight states—California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York,  Pennsylvania and Vermont—are considering legislation to dramatically boost their reliance on clean power in the coming decades. These bills specifically call for increasing the mandate to obtain electricity from sources like wind and solar, a common form of escalating quota called a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Currently,  29 states in the nation, along with Washington, D.C., have them and eight others have voluntary targets.”

Voices of Business are also challenging the Trump agenda.  In  “Climate change is real: Companies challenge Trump”  in The Guardian  (March  29) , the CEO of the We Mean Business coalition calls  the transition to a low-carbon economy “inevitable”, and the Executive Order “regrettable “.  Further, he states: “This announcement undermines policies that stimulate economic competitiveness, job creation, infrastructure investment and public health.” Similar sentiments appear in the Business Backs Low Carbon USA statement signed in November 2016 by over 1000 companies and investors. The statement  calls for the U.S. economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy, and  re-affirms “our deep commitment to addressing climate change through the implementation of the historic Paris Climate Agreement.”   The list of over 1000 companies is here  .

Finally, and giving everyone a voice: the People’s Climate March  on Washington D.C. on April 29 , organized by the coalition which emerged from the  2014 March in New York City and around the world.  The Labor Network for Sustainability will be leading a labour contingent in Washington – see their Facebook page for information , and see the People’s Climate March website for  locations of sister marches.

climate march

 

Just Transition proposals for Australia’s Coal Industry workers

Flag_of_Australia.svgOutside of the United States, it seems that there is general recognition that the coal industry is in decline, and that this demands a planned response to transition both the energy mix and the communities and workers.  The Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) in Paris, for example, is coordinating a Coal Transitions Project, bringing together researchers from Australia, South Africa, Germany, Poland, India and China, to publish reports examining past experiences in the six countries in March 2017, culminating with a global report and a consideration of the future of coal by 2018.

Australia’s coal production has a long and highly-political  history – summarized in  “The long-term future of Australian coal is drying up”  in The Conversation (October 2015), or “Australia’s Addiction to Coal” in the New York Times (November 14, 2016) . Amidst this highly political climate, the current government established a  Senate Inquiry into the Retirement of Coal Fired Power Stations in October 2016,  to examine “the transition from ageing, high-carbon coal generation to clean energy”  in light of the Paris Agreement commitments on emissions reductions , and the Agreement’s  provisions re just transitions. The deadline for the Inquiry’s Final Report has been extended to the end of March; an  Interim Report was released at the end of November 2016, with Chapter 4 devoted to options for managing the transition for workers and communities.   Submissions to the Senate committee are here, listed by author. Three  noteworthy examples: the Australian Psychology Association reviews the “flow-on psychosocial impacts on individuals, families and whole communities” of mass closures, but argues for the possibility of  building “vibrant, diversified, energy sustainable communities with good local jobs, and capable of lifting the prospects of all citizens”. The submission states: “Community-led transitions that identify the community’s needs and resources, involve the community in the formulation and control of change, and strengthen the local people’s capacity for action, are critically important components of planned transitions. “”  The Appalachian Transition  and Renew Appalachia are cited as models of community building.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) submitted a thorough, 30-page proposal:  Sharing the challenges and opportunities of a clean energy economy: Policy discussion paper. A Just Transition for coal-fired electricity sector workers and communities.  Amongst the recommendations: establish  a “national independent statutory authority”, named Energy Transition Australia (ETA), within the environment and energy portfolio, and reporting to the Minister and parliament.   The  ETA would be overseen by a tripartite advisory board comprised of industry, unions and government, with a mandate to  oversee a planned and orderly closure of Australia’s coal fired power stations;  “manage an industry-wide multi-employer pooling and redeployment scheme, where existing workers would have an opportunity to be redeployed to remaining power stations or low-emissions generators; and  develop a labour adjustment package to support workers obtain new decent and secure jobs, including by providing funding for workers to access job assistance support, retraining, early retirement and travel and relocation assistance.”

Finally, a submission by Professor John Wiseman  of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute lists and synthesizes many of the recommendations from recent  Just Transition publications, including   Life After Coal: Pathways to a Just and Sustainable Transition for the Latrobe Valley  (October 2016). This report by the Environment department of the province of Victoria  focuses on the four Hazelwood coal-fired power plants, scheduled to close as early as April 2017.

Union Proposals for a Just Transition for Alberta’s coal workers

The phase-out  of the Alberta’s  coal -fired electricity generation  is in the works, with regulations begun by the Harper government and continued by the current provincial government in its Climate Leadership Plan  . Approximately 3,000 workers at 18 coal-fired electricity plants and their associated mines will be affected by the end of the phase-out in 2030.  In September 2016, consultant Terry Boston submitted recommendations to the government on how to transition the electricity supply; for public consultation about transition issues for workers and communities, an  Advisory Panel on Coal Communities  was established, and is scheduled to release its report “in early Spring 2017”.

On March 3, the union-based  Coal Transition Coalition  unveiled its detailed policy recommendations for the Advisory Panel.    Getting it Right: A Just Transition Strategy for Alberta’s Coal Workers , aims  to influence discussion early on in the planning process,  to ensure that issues such as  pensions, severance, labour-retention strategies and

coal transition coalition

Coal Transition Coalition logo

economic diversification are built in from the start. Getting it Right chronicles government policies and the coal mines to be affected, then describes in detail four case study examples of coal transitions in the U.S. and the Rhuhr Valley in Germany .  These case studies form the basis of the    “Lessons learned”  section, which in turn form the basis of the recommendations.

The Coalition’s recommendations emphasize  the advantage of a long-lead time available, the importance of unique, community-led plans, and the importance of public and political acceptance of the Transition programs.  Income replacement and severance benefits are a central concern – calling for enhanced federal Employment Insurance program benefits, and a provincial pension bridging trust fund with adequate reserves to help workers just shy of retirement in 2030. The Coalition also recommends that the province conduct an audit of existing pensions and their coverage and gaps, and prepare a plan to ensure pensions are fully funded and mandated to  meet their obligations.  The report cites a separate report commissioned by the Alberta Federation of Labour, Pension And Benefit Plans In A Just Transitions Strategy For The Alberta Coal-Fired Electricity Industry (November 2016)), which is not available online.

The core recommendation is to establish an Alberta Economic Adjustment Agency , free of political interference, to develop “a just transition plan that places the interests of affected workers, their families and communities as its highest priority”.  Programs would be funded through an  Alberta Economic Adjustment Trust Fund, governed by an independent board of trustees to guard against any  political or industry interference, and financed through  contributions “on the order of $10 million to $20 million per year” leading up to 2030.   The report is silent on who will provide the funding.

The Coal Transition Coalition is led by the Alberta Federation of Labour and includes the following unions:  Canadian Energy Workers Association, CSU 52, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers,   Ironworkers Local 720 , Unifor, United Steelworkers, and United Utility Workers Association.

Canadian government announces a phase-out of “traditional” coal-fired electricity by 2030

On November 21, the federal Environment Minister announced  that the four remaining provinces with coal-fired electricity  (Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia) must  speed up the their emissions reduction targets. All traditional coal-fired units (i.e. those without carbon capture and storage)  will be required to meet a performance standard of 420 tonnes of carbon dioxide per gigawatt hour by no later than 2030, and performance standards must be developed  for new units to ensure they are built using efficient technology.  Details are set out in a Backgrounder  .  To allow for flexibility, Equivalency Agreements can be negotiated under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act , and both Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan are pursuing such agreements.  Nova Scotia, which announced  on November 21 that  it would  implement a cap and trade system which would  meet or exceed the federal emissions reduction target , will be allowed to continue to use coal in high-demand winter months even after 2030, (with no  specific date set yet for full compliance) .  Saskatchewan, which relies heavily on carbon capture and sequestration technology to meet its recent emissions reduction plan, is “displeased”  about the coal phase-out plan, according to a CBC report .  Alberta has already announced its own plans   for a coal phase-out by 2030, promising  support for workers and communities.  See the “Liberals present plan to phase out coal-powered electricity by 2030” CBC (Nov. 21) for a good overview.

 What does this mean for coal workers?  Currently, coal-fired power  generated at 35 plants represents over 70% of emissions in Canada’s electricity sector, but provides  only 11% of our  electricity.  The coal industry employs approximately 42,000 direct and indirect workers.   In “Canada’s rejection of coal will clear the air but impact workers and power bills” , the CBC (Nov. 22) examines the likely higher  electricity bills in store for consumers, and  the likely job losses.  The CBC article quotes Warren Mabee, a researcher with the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change project and the associate director of the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy: he states that many workers in coal mines will be laid off  “while others will shift to extracting metallurgical coal, which is used in the steel-making process.”  It is important to note that the government press release explicitly promises:“ The Government of Canada will work with provinces and labour organizations to ensure workers affected by the accelerated phase-out of traditional coal power are involved in a successful transition to the low-carbon economy of the future.”

Much of the government’s motivation for its initiative comes down to the health benefits of removing pollutants of coal-fired electricity – carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide, mercury and other heavy metals .  The Pembina Institute, along with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Canadian Public Health Association   and others, released   Out with the coal, In with the new: National benefits of an accelerated phase-out of coal-fired power  on November 21.  The report estimates that a  national coal phase-out by 2030 would prevent  1,008 premature deaths, 871 ER visits, and health outcomes valued at nearly $5 billion (including health and lower productivity costs) between 2015 and 2035.  The Pembina Institute reacted to the government announcement, calling it “timely” and “necessary .  Clean Energy Canada responded with  Quitting coal will drive clean growth and cut pollution.   BlueGreen Canada, which includes the United Steelworkers union, recently published the  Job Growth in Clean Energy report, which recognizes the world-wide decline of the coal industry, and states that, “if properly supported now, Alberta’s renewable energy sector will create enough jobs to absorb the coal labour force”.

Proposals for Alberta: Job creation and a healthier environment

A new report from the Pembina Institute, in cooperation with Blue Green Canada and the Alberta Federation of Labour, discusses the employment potential for renewables in Alberta – and concludes that investing in renewable sources of electricity and energy efficiency would generate more jobs than would be lost through the retirement of coal power. Further jobs still could be created by additional investment in community energy, and further jobs again by investing in long-term infrastructure and electricity grids. Job Growth in Clean Energy – Employment in Alberta’s emerging renewables and energy efficiency sectors   provides detailed statistics and  includes a major section on methodology; Pembina’s job estimates are higher than those of the Alberta government, partly because Pembina’s modelling includes solar energy while the government’s estimates are understood to be based on extrapolating from Alberta’s historic experience with wind. The report makes policy recommendations relevant to the Climate Leadership Plan and the current Energy Diversification Advisory Committee and encourages a speed-up of the phase-out of coal-fired electricity.  (See also a related Pembina report, Canada and Coal at COP22: Tracking the global momentum to end coal-fired power –and why Canada should lead the way ).

A worker-generated  proposal for job creation and GHG reduction is described by Andrew Nikoforuk in “A Bold Clean-Up Plan for Alberta’s Giant Oil Industry Pollution Liabilities” in   The Tyee (Nov. 4)    . The author summarizes the RAFT plan proposed by two workers from Grande Prairie, Alberta.  Reclaiming Alberta’s Future Today (RAFT)   is “a plan for the unionized abandonment, decommissioning,and reclamation of Alberta’s aging and expired fossil fuel infrastructure over the next 50 years…” The Plan begins with a proposal for an expert analysis of the state of liabilities from inactive oil and gas wells and abandoned pipelines – including analysis of the health and environmental effects, and the existing mechanisms to address the problem.

U.S. Fossil fuel workers need early retirement, guaranteed pensions, and clean energy futures

A Just Transition program of income and pension-fund support for workers in fossil fuel–dependent communities could be provided for approximately $500 million per year, according to the Just Transition proposals by Robert Pollin and Brian Callaci. “A Just Transition for U.S. Fossil Fuel Industry Workers” was published in American Prospect in July and re-posted to Portside on July 11. It estimates the numbers of jobs at risk in the fossil fuel industry, contrasting coal and the oil and gas industry, and assumes  that displaced workers will be re-employed in a growing clean energy industry. The Just Transition proposals focus on: Retirements at age 64 with full compensation; Guaranteed fully-funded pensions; and Community transition.  For coal workers, pension funds are managed through the United Mine Workers of America Health and Retirement Funds, which is currently underfunded by $1.8 billion. The authors call for the federal government to  bridge that gap with funding from  companies and the government. In the oil industry, the authors call on the U.S.  Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation to use its legislated  power to prohibit the oil companies from paying dividends or financing share buybacks until the pension funds are fully funded, and to place liens on company assets if pension funds are underfunded.  Acknowledging that the decline of the fossil fuel industry, already underway, will bring hardships to entire communities, they point to past experience: the Worker and Community Transition program operated by the Department of Energy from 1994 to 2004 to cushion the impact of nuclear decommissioning. Once example from that program:  a successful economic diversification program in Nevada, which repurposed a nuclear test site to what is now a solar proving ground.  Another previous community assistance program, the Defense Reinvestment and Conversion Initiative,  is deemed less successful.  The authors conclude that a Just Transition program is eminently affordable at approximately  1 percent of the $50 billion in overall public spending needed to build a U.S. clean energy economy. And they state,  “ It is also an imperative—both a moral and strategic imperative.”

The Human Face of Displacement in the Oil, Coal Industries

A June 17  article in The Tyee, “Oil Sands Workers Fear Becoming Climate Change Casualties”   gives voice to a Unifor worker from Fort MacMurray, and his opinions about Just Transition.  Also from the Canadian oil sands, the workers’ organization  Iron and Earth has posted an online survey seeking such workers’ views;  the group  proposes a Workers Plan  with 3 main goals:   Build up Canada’s renewable energy workforce capacity; Build up Canadian manufacturing of renewable energy technologies, and  Position existing energy sector workers, developers, contractors, and unions within the renewable energy sector.  The  plight of coal workers is described  in “Alberta coal communities look at what future holds as age of coal comes to end”   in the  National Observer (June 22); so far,  the community stakes its hopes on promised “consultations”.   For  the U.S., see “As Wind Power Lifts Wyoming’s Fortunes, Coal Miners are left in the Dust”   in the New York Times (June 20), which puts a personal face on the plight of laid-off workers from the Peabody coal bankruptcy. Although a nascent wind industry is being encouraged in Wyoming, it is not forecast to replace all of the estimated 10,000 jobs to be lost in the coal industry.   And from Australia, a June paper from the Green Institute, The End of coal: How should the next government respond? states that rather than propping up the dying fossil fuel industry,.. “the most honest approach, and the one that will be best for people and the planet, is to immediately prepare for a staged transition, facilitate a dignified exit from the coal industry for workers and communities, and ensure that the corporations which have caused this mess cover the cost.” Further, the author proposes a trial of guaranteed basic income provided to coal workers in the worst affected coal areas.