Climate Scientists sound the alarm in “Code Red” IPCC Report and WMO Atlas of mortality and economic damage

Alongside the continuing disaster of North America’s heat, drought, and wildfires has come Hurricane Ida on the Gulf Coast, U.S. Northeast, even as far as Quebec.  Only 4% of broadcast media in the U.S. linked Hurricane Ida to climate change – preferring to report on the flooding, storm surge, resulting power losses, evacuations, oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, death and destruction.  Yet with less media attention, scientists worldwide have published recent studies unequivocally linking such weather extremes with climate change and human activity. Notable examples over the summer : 1.  Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, the first installment of the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I, 2. The WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970–2019) released by the World Meteorological Organization on  August 31, and 3. The WMO Air Quality and Climate Bulletin , launched on September 1.

The world’s scientists issue a Code Red warning in the IPCC 6th Assessment

At almost 4,000 pages, the full IPCC report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, is a comprehensive compilation and assessment of the latest research  by the world’s scientists. More readable and less technical: the  Summary for Policymakers , or the official Fact Sheet .  The U.N. press release announcement was accompanied by warnings of the “Code Red”   situation:  irreversible climate-related damage is already underway across the world, and immediate, strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are urgently needed. The report was summarized widely: for example, in “Global Climate Panel’s Report: No Part of the Planet Will be Spared”  (Inside Climate News, Aug. 9); by Carbon Brief here ;  or by The Guardian here .  

An  analysis of coverage by 17  international newspapers found that Canadian news outlets, with the exception of the Toronto Star, were particularly poor at explaining the IPCC report – as summarized in “When Dire Climate News Came, Canada’s Front Pages Crumpled “ in (The Tyee, Aug. 19).  However, outside of the mainstream media, here are some noteworthy examples of Canadian news coverage:

Climate scientist John Fyfe explains why new IPCC report shows ‘there’s no going back’” (The Narwhal, Aug. 12)

It’s Code Red  for the Climate. Will BC Do Anything about It?” (The Tyee, Aug. 10)

Two blogs by David Suzuki in Rabble.caClimate report shows world pushed to the brink by fossil fuels”  and “IPCC report could be a legal game-changer for climate“(Sept. 1)

“IPCC warns of climate breakdown, politicians warn of each other” (National Observer, Aug. 9)

“U.N. Climate Report scapegoats “human activity” rather than fossil-fuel capitalism”  (Breach Media), which states: “We should welcome the latest IPCC Report for its scientific insight. But we should also understand it as an ideological document that obscures the crucial systemic causes of climate change. For advice on what social forces could push forward climate solutions, readers will have to look beyond the thousands of pages generated by the IPCC.”

Extreme weather disasters caused US$ 3.64 trillion, 2 million deaths between 1970 and 2019

A second new international scientific report is The WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970–2019), released on  August 31 by the World Meteorological Organization. It aggregates and analyses statistics on world disasters, with continent-level breakdowns. It reports that there were more than 11,000 disasters attributed to weather, climate and water-related hazards between 1970 and 2019, accounting for just over 2 million deaths and US$ 3.64 trillion in economic losses. This represents  50% of all recorded disasters, 45% of related deaths and 74% of related economic losses over the last 50 years. Food for thought for those who say that fighting climate change is too expensive!  

The WMO Atlas includes an extensive discussion of current and new statistical disaster databases, and how they can be used to reduce loss and damage.  It also includes a brief explanation of “attribution research”, which seeks to determine whether disasters are human-caused. ( A recent article in Inside Climate News is more informative on the issue of attribution science, highlighting the research of the World Weather Attribution network, which has already published its findings about the German flooding in July 2021).

Finally, on September 3, the WMO also published the first issue of its  Air Quality and Climate Bulletin ,  highlighting the main factors that influence air quality patterns in 2020 – including a section titled “The impact of Covid-19 on air quality.”   The Bulletin concludes that there is “an intimate connection between air quality and climate change. While human-caused emissions of air pollutants fell during the COVID-19 economic turndown, meteorological extremes fuelled by climate and environmental change triggered unprecedented sand and dust storms and wildfires that affected air quality…. This trend is continuing in 2021. Devastating wildfires in North America, Europe and Siberia have affected air quality for millions, and sand and dust storms have blanketed many regions and travelled across continents.” 

In another section, “Global mortality estimates for ambient and household air pollution”  the new Bulletin states that global mortality increased from 2.3 million in 1990 to 4.5 million in 2019 (92% due to particulate matter, 8% due to ozone). Regionally, present-day total mortality is greatest in the super-region of Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania, with 1.8 million total deaths.

GHG emissions rising as governments fail to “Build back better”

Analysis released by the International Energy Agency on July 20 warns that 2023 is now on track to see the highest levels of carbon dioxide output in human history, equalling or surpassing the record set in 2018. Why? According to analysis based on the new IEA Sustainable Recovery Tracker , more than US$16 trillion has been spent on the COVID-19 recovery, but only 2% is going to clean energy investments. The report calls for first world countries and agencies such as the IMF to provide more sustainable financing so that emerging economies can improve their clean energy investment performance.  The IEA Sustainable Recovery Tracker provides an exhaustive list of the green recovery programs for countries around the world, including Canada.  

Also in July, Vivid Economics also released the sixth and final Report of their Greenness of Stimulus Index (GSI), which analyses the G20 countries plus ten other countries. Covid economic stimulus spending had a negative environmental impact in 20 of the 30 countries surveyed, and of the  $17.2 trillion spent, only 10% had been spent on projects which could be considered green.  Denmark ranked first, Russia ranked last, and Canada outperformed the U.S. in terms of positive environmental impact of the economic stimulus.   The Vivid report is  summarized by The Guardian here .

Others tracking the “greenness” of economic recovery, include Carbon Brief, and the U.K. Trades Union Congress, which published Ranking G7 Green Recovery Plans and Jobs in June 2021. That report includes Canada and the other G7 countries as comparators to U.K. spending, with a focus on the job impacts.

An early study from researchers at Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, was the influential academic paper in May 2020 : “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?”

Global vaccine justice seen as a test of climate justice at G7 meetings in June 2021

G7 finance ministers and the global financial elite issued an important Communique  on June 5, and while the mainstream media (and Finance Canada’s own press release ) focused mainly on a 15% minimum global tax rate for corporations, the Communique made ambitious statements regarding international climate finance too, with calls which seem to acknowledge the importance and inequity of climate risk to the global financial order. “G7 Ministers Recommit to Climate Finance, Leave Details for Later” in The Energy Mix summarizes the general reaction that the Communique is too vague and “unambitious”. The article states that the scale of global climate investment (both public and private) is estimated at $100 billion per year, and that Canada’s fair share would be US$4 billion per year.

The issue of global climate finance is seen as crucial to the success of the upcoming G7 meetings of world leaders in the U.K. on June 11-13. “As leaders gather for G-7, a key question: Will rich countries help poor ones grapple with climate change?” in The Washington Post (June 7) describes how global climate finance and the issue of global vaccine disparity are being conflated, for example in a quote from a senior advisor to Climate Action Network International:  “The G-7 meeting will be a test for international solidarity. This implies solidarity on both ensuring equitable and rapid access to vaccines globally, as well as on finance and support for the climate crisis”.  “World Climate Deal Could Fail unless G7 Solves Vaccine Disparities” (June 8, The Energy Mix)  quotes the head of the international Chamber of Commerce: “We can’t have global solidarity and trust around tackling climate change if we do not show solidarity around vaccines.”   The Guardian writes: “Share vaccines or the climate deal will fail rich countries are told” (June 5) – which points out that “Canada has the highest number of procured doses per head, with a total of 381 million procured vaccine doses for a population of just over 37 million.”  – and contrasts Canada with the low vaccine availability in such countries as Columbia, Indonesia, South Africa, and Pakistan.

Climate Change is one of the priorities of the G7 meetings. Reports released in anticipation of the G7 meeting include:

Ranking G7 Green Recovery Plans and Jobs  published by the U.K.’s Trades Union Congress, which shows that the U.S. had the highest level of green jobs and recovery investment per person, followed by Italy and then Canada. The U.K. ranks sixth, with Japan 7th.  The report critiques specific U.K. policies and makes recommendations for improvements.

Oxfam International posted analysis on June 7 which estimates that the economies of G7 nations contracted by about 4.2 per cent on average in the pandemic, and compares that to the greater economic impacts which will result from extreme weather, the effects on agricultural productivity, and heat stress and health.  The report includes estimates of GDP losses by 2050, assuming 2.6°C of warming, using the modelling of the Swiss Re Insurance Economics of Climate Change Index , and predicts the worst affected countries will be  India, Australia, South Africa, South Korea, The Phillipines (with a 35% loss of GDP), and Columbia. Canada’s GDP loss is estimated at 6.9%.  The report is summarized in  “Covid shrunk the economy but climate change will be much worse” (The Guardian, reposted in The National Observer, June 8) and also in  “Climate inaction will cost G7 countries ‘billions’” in  Deutsche Welle .

The official G7 Ministers meeting website is here and will post official documents/news.  The Resist G7 Coalition will present different information, and aims to coordinate protests on their Facebook page and their website.  A Reuters article states that police will number 6,500, and Extinction Rebellion alone estimates 1,000 protestors will be present. 

How phasing out fossil fuel subsidies can contribute to Canada’s green recovery

Recovery Through Reform is a new series by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, assessing Canada’s green recovery spending from COVID-19 with a focus on the issue of fossil fuel subsidy reform, and an eye on the upcoming federal Budget 2021 consultations. The first of three Briefs,  Assessing the climate compatibility of Canada’s COVID-19 response in 2020 evaluates energy-related spending in Canada in 2020 – specifically federal government commitments for electric vehicles, public transit, building retrofits, hydrogen, and fossil fuels. Using data from the global Energy Policy Tracker, the Brief quantifies federal government recovery spending, noting that transparency is a problem – especially in the case of the financing provided by Export Development Canada and the Business Development Bank of Canada. Spending trends in Canada are compared to flagship policies France, Germany, and the United Kingdom – including a discussion of the financial support for fossil fuels. The Brief concludes with recommendations – including a call “to apply the  principles from the IISD report Green Strings: Principles and Conditions for a Green Recovery From COVID-19 (2020), including transparency and inclusion of support for just transition for workers and communities.  Other recommendations are to end fossil fuel subsidies, and to measure recovery ambition against international standards rather than “domestic precedence”.

The second Brief in the Recovery through Reform series is Advancing a Hydrogen Economy. This report examines the question of promoting and incentivizing hydrogen, and calls for the government to ensure that any subsidies for hydrogen are in line with the government’s commitments to phase out “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025” and meet net-zero by 2050.  “Based on IISD’s analysis, subsidies for hydrogen based on natural gas without significant levels of carbon capture and storage (CCS) should not be eligible for government assistance. Subsidies for blue hydrogen should only occur if blue hydrogen can meet the same level of environmental performance (including emission intensity) and is at or below the cost of green hydrogen.”  (a more thorough discussion appears in a January 2021  blog from IISD: Should Governments Subsidize Hydrogen? ). 

The third report in the Recovery through Reform series is Export Development Canada’s role in fossil fuel subsidy reform, which argues that despite EDC’s well-known history as a supporter of the oil and gas industry, it could be an important actor in Canada’s green recovery.   The Brief documents the existing situation of poor transparency and dirty investments, stating: the EDC “provides an average of over CAD 13.2 billion in support for oil and gas every year, representing over 12% of finance committed by the institution.”  It also notes: “So far, EDC has provided over CAD 10 billion in loans for the Trans Mountain Pipeline and expansion via the Canada Development Investment Corporation.” Further, “When it comes to fossil fuel support, EDC is one of the worst-performing export credit agencies in the world, as it has provided more oil and gas finance than any other G20 export credit agency.”  Despite this track record, the Brief calls on the EDC to change its ways by matching the performance of other international financial institutions, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, and setting clear targets for climate action-related investments.  

Fall Economic Statement paves the way for a Green Recovery: energy efficiency, care economy, electric vehicle infrastructure, and nature-based solutions

On November 30, Canada’s  Finance Minister Chrystia Freedland presented the government’s Fall Economic Statement to the House of Commons, Supporting Canadians and Fighting COVID-19.  At over 200 pages, it is the fullest statement to date of how the government intends to finance a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, but Canadians must still wait for a full  climate change strategy, promised “soon”.

The government press release summarizes the spending for health and economic measures, including, for employers, extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy Canada, the  Emergency Rent Subsidy and Lockdown Support , and new funding for the  tourism and hospitality sectors through the new Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program.  In Chapter 3, Building Back Better,  the Economic Statement addresses the impacts of Covid-19 on the labour market and employment. It includes promises to create one million jobs, invest in skills training, reduce inequality, attack systemic racism, support families through early learning and child care, support youth, and build a competitive green economy.  Most budget allocations will be channeled through existing programs, but new initiatives include “the creation of a task force of diverse experts to help develop “an Action Plan for Women in the Economy”;  launch of “Canada’s first-ever Black Entrepreneurship Program”;  and a task force on modernizing the Employment Equity Act to promote equity in federally-regulated workplaces.  Under the heading, “Better working conditions for the care Economy” comes a pledge: “To support personal support workers, homecare workers and essential workers involved in senior care, the government will work with labour and healthcare unions, among others, to seek solutions to improve retention, recruitment and retirement savings options for low- and modest-income workers, particularly those without existing workplace pension coverage.”

Climate change provisions and a Green Recovery:

Another section in Chapter 3 is entitled A Competitive, Green Economy, which  reiterates the government’s commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and reiterates the importance of the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, currently before Parliament. Funding of  $2.6 billion over 7 years was announced to go towards grants of up to $5000 for homeowners to make energy-efficient improvements to their homes, and to recruit and train EnerGuide energy auditors. A further $150 million over 3 years was announced for charging and refuelling stations for zero-emissions vehicles, and  $25 million for “ predevelopment work for large-scale transmission projects. Building strategic interties will support Canada’s coal phase-out.

Under the heading of Nature-based solutions, proposed investments address the goal of 2 billion trees planted with a pledge of  $3.19 billion over 10 years, starting in 2021-22.  A further $631 million over 10 years is pledged for ecosystem restoration and wildlife protection, and $98.4 million over 10 years, starting in 2021-22, to establish a new “Natural Climate Solutions for Agriculture” Fund.

Reactions from unions, think tanks:

Among those reacting quickly to the Economic Statement, the Canadian Labour Congress  stated generally  “While today’s commitments on key priorities remain modest and reflect past promises, the government has signalled it will make further investments as the recovery begins to take shape.” Unifor issued two press releases, the first stating “This fiscal update shows that Canada’s workers are being heard, and must continue to advocate for the lasting changes required to secure a fair, resilient and inclusive economic recovery”, but a second complains “Canada’s fiscal update fails to support all airline workers .  The Canadian Union of Public Employees similarly issued two statements on December 1:  “Liberals’ economic update offers more delay and disappointment”  and “Canada’s flight attendants union disappointed by the federal economic update” .

Bruce Campbell reacted in The Conversation (Dec. 7)  that “The pace of government action to date does not align with the urgency of the twin climate and inequality crises. Nothing it has done so far is threatening to the corporate plutocracy and its hold on power.”   Several experts from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives contributed to a blog,  A fiscal update for hard times: Is it enough?”, with the answer from Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood re the climate change provisions : “Planting trees, retrofitting buildings and increasing ZEV uptake doesn’t go far enough without a clear timeline for winding down oil and gas production.”  Climate Action Network-Canada agrees with Mertins-Kirkwood when it states: “ today’s update includes a summary of new and existing spending that we hope will provide an important foundation for Canada’s new national climate plan that we expect in the coming weeks.  ….As part of a larger package, along with Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, and the pending new national climate plan, today’s fiscal update provides the backbone to guide Canada through some of the most important global transitions in generations.”

Other reactions:  “Feds’ fall economic statement shortchanges climate” (Corporate Knights, Dec. 2) quotes one observer who calls it  a “meek” effort, and offers a comparison of  the allocations in the Fall statement with earlier proposals from Corporate Knights  and the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery in September . The Energy Mix also cites the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery in its analysis of  the energy efficiency provisions of the Economic Statement , stating, : “the  recommended by C$2.6 billion allocated for a seven-year program raises questions about how seriously the Trudeau government is prepared to confront the climate crisis. In mid-September, the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery called for a $26.9-billion program over five years.”

2020 Lancet Countdown report on Health and Climate Change finds Canadians most at risk from extreme heat and air pollution

The Lancet Countdown Report on Health and Climate Change has been a landmark report since its first edition in 2015 (earlier reports are here ) .Compiled by an international team from more than 35 institutions including the World Health Organization and the World Bank, it documents the health impacts of climate change, and discusses the health and economic implications of climate policies. The global  2020 Countdown Report was released on December 2. Along with troubling statistics comes one core message:

“The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change represent converging crises. Wildfires and tropical storms in 2020 have tragically shown us that we don’t have the luxury of tackling one crisis alone. At the same time, climate change and infectious disease share common drivers. Responding to climate change today will bring about cleaner skies, healthier diets, and safer places to live–as well as reduce the risk factors of future infectious diseases.”

The Countdown project produces country-specific reports , with the Canada Briefing written by Drs. Claudel Pétrin-Desrosiers and Finola Hackett, and endorsed by the Canadian Medical Association.  The Canadian briefing presents updated information on two major issues: extreme heat and air pollution. Some highlights:

  • a record 2,700 heat-related deaths occurred among people over the age of 65 in Canada in 2018;
  • there were 7,200 premature deaths related to fine particulate air pollution from human-caused sources in Canada in 2018;
  • the work hours lost due to exposure to extreme heat was 81% higher in 2015-2019 than in 1990-1994 in Canada, with an average of 7.1 million extra work hours lost per year.

Although previous Canadian reports have called for carbon pricing, the 2020 report offers six recommendations which prioritize retrofitting and energy efficiency policies, along with funding for low-emissions transportation and active transportation.  The report also calls for: “…a recovery from COVID-19 that is aligned with a just transition to a carbon-neutral society, considering health and equity impacts of all proposed policies to address the climate and COVID-19 dual crises, directly including and prioritizing the disproportionately affected, including Indigenous peoples, older persons, women, racialized people, and those with low income.”

Courtney Howard, past president  of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment writes “COVID-19 recovery is an opportunity to tackle worsening climate crisis: New report”  (The Conversation, Dec. 3).  The Canadian Medical Association announcement of the report is here ; and the CMA also released a recent survey  of its members, showing that 95% of respondents recognized the impacts of climate change, and 89% felt that  health professionals have a responsibility to bring the health effects of climate change to the attention of policy-makers . The World Health Organization sponsored the survey as part of a global initiative –  the Canadian results will be included  in a global WHO report scheduled for release in January 2021.

Wind and solar PV will surpass coal and natural gas by 2024, according to latest IEA forecast

The International Energy Agency released another of its flagship reports in November: Renewables 2020: Analysis and Forecast to 2025.  This comprehensive report focuses in turn on each of: renewable electricity, renewable heat, solar pv, wind, Hydropower, bioenergy, CSP and geothermal, and transport bioenergy.  Overall, the report forecasts global energy demand is set to decline by 5% in 2020, and although all other fuels will decline, overall renewable energy demand will increase by 1%, and renewables used for generating electricity will grow by almost 7% in 2020.  The report provides statistics and comments on the impacts of Covid recovery policies.

Some highlights:   “The renewables industry has adapted quickly to the challenges of the Covid crisis…. Supply chain disruptions and construction delays slowed the progress of renewable energy projects in the first six months of 2020. However, construction of plants and manufacturing activity ramped up again quickly, and logistical challenges have been mostly resolved with the easing of cross-border restrictions since mid-May.” As a result, the IEA has revised its May 2020 forecast of global renewable capacity additions upwards, and forecasts a record expansion of nearly 10% in 2021 for new renewable capacity, led by India and the EU.  Other eye-catching statements:  “ Solar PV and onshore wind are already the cheapest ways of adding new electricity-generating plants in most countries today… Overall, renewables are set to account for 95% of the net increase in global power capacity through 2025…..Total installed wind and solar PV capacity is on course to surpass natural gas in 2023 and coal in 2024. Solar PV alone accounts for 60% of all renewable capacity additions through 2025, and wind provides another 30%. Driven by further cost declines, annual offshore wind additions are set to surge, accounting for one-fifth of the total wind annual market in 2025.”

The Renewables 2020 website is here ; a 9-page Executive Summary is here .

Covid recovery clouds World Energy Outlook, but IEA calls for unprecedented changes to avoid lock-in to 1.65 degree temperatures

The IEA World Energy Outlook 2020 , the flagship publication of the International Energy Agency, was released on October 12, stating, “The Covid-19 pandemic has caused more disruption to the energy sector than any other event in recent history, leaving impacts that will be felt for years to come.” The report is a comprehensive discussion and  analysis of those impacts, and attempts to model the crucial next  10 years of recovery. Modelling is provided for all energy sources – fossil fuels, renewables, nuclear –  under four different scenarios, including a longer-than-expected Covid recovery and a Sustainable Development Scenario. Key highlights:

Solar is “king”: In 2020,  global energy demand is forecast to fall by 5% overall:  8% in oil, 7% in coal and 3% in natural gas demand. Under the heading “Solar becomes the new King of electricity” , the report states: “Renewables grow rapidly in all our scenarios, with solar at the centre of this new constellation of electricity generation technologies. Supportive policies and maturing technologies are enabling very cheap access to capital in leading markets. With sharp cost reductions over the past decade, solar PV is consistently cheaper than new coal- or gasfired power plants in most countries, and solar projects now offer some of the lowest cost electricity ever seen.”  

Questionable future for new Liquified Natural Gas projects: For natural gas, “different policy contexts produce strong variations”. For the first time, the business as usual scenario for advanced economies shows a slight decline in gas demand by 2040. And “An uncertain economic recovery also raises questions about the future prospects of the record amount of new liquefied natural gas export facilities approved in 2019.”  In certain scenarios, “the challenge for the gas industry is to retool itself for a different energy future. This can come via demonstrable progress with methane abatement, via alternative gases such as biomethane and low-carbon hydrogen, and technologies like carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS).”

Peak oil within sight despite growing importance of plastics manufacturing: The era of growth in global oil demand comes to an end within ten years, but the shape of the economic recovery is a key uncertainty. The report notes “The longer the  (Covid) disruption, the more some changes that eat into oil consumption become engrained, such as working from home or avoiding air travel. However, not all the shifts in consumer behaviour disadvantage oil. It benefits from a near-term aversion to public transport, the continued popularity of SUVs and the delayed replacement of older, inefficient vehicles.”  The analysis also considers the impact of plastics manufacturing on oil demand.

Inequities will persist or be made worse.  “Reversing several years of progress, our analysis shows that the number of people without access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa is set to rise in 2020. Around 580 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lacked access to electricity in 2019….and in addition, “a rise in poverty levels worldwide in 2020 may have made basic electricity services unaffordable for more than 100 million people who already had electricity connections”.

Structural change, not Covid, will bring lasting CO2 emissions decline: The economic downturn related to Covid has brought a temporary decline of 2.4 gigatonnes in annual CO2 emissions, although an accompanying decline in methane emissions is not clear.  And emissions are expected to rebound. “The pandemic and its aftermath can suppress emissions, but low economic growth is not a low-emissions strategy. Only an acceleration in structural changes to the way the world produces and consumes energy can break the emissions trend for good.”….  “ if today’s energy infrastructure continues to operate as it has in the past, it would lock in by itself a temperature rise of 1.65 °C.”

Finally, the report concludes by advocating a future path built on its Sustainable Development Scenario  , calling for “unprecedented” actions, not just from government and business, but from individuals.

“Reaching net zero globally by 2050…. would demand a set of dramatic additional actions over the next ten years. Bringing about a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 requires, for example, that low-emissions sources provide nearly 75% of global electricity generation in 2030 (up from less than 40% in 2019), and that more than 50% of passenger cars sold worldwide in 2030 are electric (from 2.5% in 2019). Electrification, massive efficiency gains and behavioural changes all play roles, as does accelerated innovation across a wide range of technologies from hydrogen electrolysers to small modular nuclear reactors. No part of the energy economy can lag behind, as it is unlikely that any other part would be able to move at an even faster rate to make up the difference.

To reach net-zero emissions, governments, energy companies, investors and citizens all need to be on board – and will all have unprecedented contributions to make. The changes that deliver the emissions reduction in the SDS are far greater than many realise and need to happen at a time when the world is trying to recover from Covid-19.”

The full World Energy Outlook 2020 is only available for purchase. An overview, FAQ’s, and related reports including modelling details and a methane tracker are all available here .

Working from home: health and safety concerns but no clear environmental benefit

Working from home has become a necessity for many during the pandemic, and the popular press has documented many examples of the trend  – recently, for example “Twitter’s plans to work from home indefinitely have prompted a wave of copycats.” (Washington Post , October 1) . It is a complex issue which raises questions about the climate change potential of a permanent shift in working arrangements for knowledge workers, as well as the equity impacts and the health and safety impacts .

Researchers study the complexities and trade-offs, find little improvement in GHG’s

An October article by engineering professors O’Brien and Yazdani Aliabadi of Carleton University in Ottawa updates the state of research about:  “Does telecommuting save energy? A critical review of quantitative studies and their research methods” (published in Energy and Buildings in October) .The authors consider the complexity of simultaneous analysis of “home office energy use, the Internet, long-term consumer choices, and other so-called rebound effects” on GHG emissions.  They conclude that: “current datasets and methods are generally inadequate for fully answering the research question. While most studies indicate some benefit, several suggest teleworking increases energy use – even for the domain that is thought to benefit most: transportation.” The authors point to the need for future research which considers the impact of energy-saving trends already under way, including urban design, building energy efficiency,  and electric vehicles for community.

Unions see workplace impacts, including lack of health and safety protections

In July, Canada’s National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) published Working from Home: Considerations for Unions, a 23-page overview to make unions aware of the important issues, including climate change impacts: using these headings: Use of technology ; Impacts on productivity ; Work-life balance ; Accessibility and equity ; Cost savings ; Environmental impact ; Health and safety ; Worker and community solidarity. The report, which uses the acronym “WFH” throughout, includes a useful bibliography of Canadian-focused articles. In October, NUPGE followed up with a detailed report,  Workers’ Health and Safety Protections and Working from Home , which “ considers how OHS and Workers’ Compensation (WC) laws apply to WFH and identifies potential legal gaps. By surveying Canadian legislation, case law, government guidelines, and analogous examples, this paper seeks to help workers and unions identify potential areas of concern for workers’ health and safety protection in WFH arrangements.”  It highlights the situation in Ontario, where section 3(1) of the  Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) specifically excludes telework, and contrasts Ontario with British Columbia, which offers more protection in its Workers’ Compensation Act by  defining “workplace” broadly,  as “any place where a worker is or is likely to be engaged in any work and include[s] any vessel, vehicle or mobile equipment used by a worker in work.”  NUPGE’s report also includes a thorough bibliography, and concludes by referring to the recommendations of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety online Fact Sheet, which recommends “the employer and the teleworker should have a written agreement to avoid complications, to ensure that both parties know who is responsible for what, and to ensure that the worker’s health and safety protections are not reduced.”

Another union-led discussion of this issue appeared on October 1, when the International Trade Union Confederation  (ITUC) published a Legal Guide to Telework which briefly outlines the threats, and states: “To guarantee that such arrangements reconcile the need for flexibility (for both workers and employers) and safeguarding of labour rights and protections, the introduction and implementation of teleworking arrangements should be accompanied by key principles outlined in this discussion guide.” Regulation and collective bargaining protections are seen as key. Specifically, the Guide calls for voluntary arrangements for employees, with an option of a physical space for workers who prefer it; regulation of working hours and  the “right to disconnect” (already legislated in France and Italy) ; work equipment and costs should be the responsibility of the employer; safeguards for worker privacy; and respect for the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining for teleworkers.

Related articles: Work and Climate Change Report previously reported on articles related to the workers’ perspective in “Canadians report mixed feelings about working from home – but is it good for the environment? for workers?” . Tanguay and Lachapelle from Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) provide the Canadian context using data from the 2017 Statistics Canada General Social Survey in “Remote work worsens inequality by mostly helping high-income earners”  (The Conversation, May 10 ), and a U.S. update appears in  “Telework mostly benefits white, affluent Americans – and offers few climate benefits”  ( The Conversation, July 2020) .   In  Working from Home: Post-Coronavirus Will Give Bosses Greater Control of Workers’ Lives ( Jacobin,  June 4) author Luke Savage cites examples of Canadian workplace policies from the Bank of Montreal and Shopify, and sums up the dangers of a permanent shift to working from home:   “With every home an office and every office a home, the residual boundaries between work and private life will be gone for good. Still worse, the whole or even partial demise of the physical office space could become a catalyst for a deeper precarization of work wherein many workers are effectively remote contractors, their homes operating like quasi-franchises over which employers can exercise discretionary control with minimal restriction…. Socialists have long argued that bosses and markets exert far too much power and control over our time, our private lives, and our individual autonomy. Unless we resist the burgeoning shift to remote work, both are about to devour an even bigger share of all three.”

Canada’s Speech from the Throne sketches out its plans for Covid recovery in pale green

The Liberal government opened the new session of Parliament on September 23 with a Speech from the Throne titled A Stronger and More Resilient Canada.  Acknowledging the perilous moment of history in which it was delivered, Catherine Abreu of Climate Action Network Canada states: “Today the Government of Canada delivered the most progressive speech from the throne heard in a generation. The promises made acknowledged the inequalities and vulnerabilities that have been laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic and spoke to the scale of action needed to confront them. Of course, we’ve heard similar promises before from this government. It is the policy and investment decisions made in the coming months that will determine whether the spirit articulated in this historic speech is turned into meaningful action.”

Stating that “this is not the time for austerity”, the Speech emphasizes measures to deal with the impact of Covid-19.  General summaries by the CBC here and the Toronto Star are here;  Trish Hennessy of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives summarizes and critiques the speech with a focus on inequality, the workplace, and health care.  The Canadian Union of Public Employees response appears in  “Promises are good Proof is better”. The Canadian Labour Congress reaction  is supportive of the Speech and highlights provisions of greatest impact to workers, including the government’s promise to create one million jobs through  “direct investments in the social sector and infrastructure, immediate training to quickly skill up workers, and incentives for employers to hire and retain workers.”  Other key promises: the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy will be extended through to summer 2021; modernization of the Employment Insurance system will address the growth of the self-employed and gig workers; and yet again, “significant, long-term, sustained investment to create a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system “.

From the Speech from the Throne:  The section titled, Taking action on extreme risks from climate change” :

“….Climate action will be a cornerstone of our plan to support and create a million jobs across the country….. The Government will immediately bring forward a plan to exceed Canada’s 2030 climate goal. The Government will also legislate Canada’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

As part of its plan, the Government will:

Create thousands of jobs retrofitting homes and buildings, cutting energy costs for Canadian families and businesses;

Invest in reducing the impact of climate-related disasters, like floods and wildfires, to make communities safer and more resilient;

Help deliver more transit and active transit options;

And make zero-emissions vehicles more affordable while investing in more charging stations across the country.

The Government will launch a new fund to attract investments in making zero-emissions products and cut the corporate tax rate in half for these companies to create jobs and make Canada a world leader in clean technology. The Government will ensure Canada is the most competitive jurisdiction in the world for clean technology companies.

Additionally, the Government will:

Transform how we power our economy and communities by moving forward with the Clean Power Fund, including with projects like the Atlantic Loop that will connect surplus clean power to regions transitioning away from coal;

And support investments in renewable energy and next-generation clean energy and technology solutions.

Canada cannot reach net zero without the know-how of the energy sector, and the innovative ideas of all Canadians, including people in places like British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Government will:

Support manufacturing, natural resource, and energy sectors as they work to transform to meet a net zero future, creating good-paying and long-lasting jobs;

And recognize farmers, foresters, and ranchers as key partners in the fight against climate change, supporting their efforts to reduce emissions and build resilience.

The Government will continue its policy of putting a price on pollution, while putting that money back in the pockets of Canadians. It cannot be free to pollute.

This pandemic has reminded Canadians of the importance of nature. The Government will work with municipalities as part of a new commitment to expand urban parks, so that everyone has access to green space. This will be done while protecting a quarter of Canada’s land and a quarter of Canada’s oceans in five years, and using nature-based solutions to fight climate change, including by planting two billion trees.

The Government will ban harmful single-use plastics next year and ensure more plastic is recycled. And the Government will also modernize the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

When the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration was closed by a previous government, Canada lost an important tool to manage its waters. The Government will create a new Canada Water Agency to keep our water safe, clean, and well-managed. The Government will also identify opportunities to build more resilient water and irrigation infrastructure.

At the same time, the Government will look at continuing to grow Canada’s ocean economy to create opportunities for fishers and coastal communities, while advancing reconciliation and conservation objectives. Investing in the Blue Economy will help Canada prosper.”

Reaction to climate change provisions:

From The Tyee ,“What’s in This Throne Speech Stew? Straight from the pandemic cookbook, it’s light on green garnishes. No election on the menu.”  Reporters at The National Observer agree in “Liberal throne speech targets COVID-19 over climate” (Sept. 23), stating: “Though the Trudeau Liberals promised an “ambitious green agenda” ahead of the throne speech, the vision for the coming months unveiled Wednesday focused more on COVID-19 and its economic fallout.”  Their compilation of reaction from green groups echoes the cautious optimism in a Greenpeace Canada statement  and from West Coast Environmental Law  – which commends “promising signals” but asks “how the climate goals set out in the Throne Speech tally with the federal government’s continued support for climate-destructive projects such as the Trans Mountain pipeline and tankers project.”

In the lead up to the Throne Speech, many green groups had lobbied with their specific proposals : a few examples include an Open Letter to Ministers coordinated by the Climate Action Network; the One Earth One Voice campaign;  and the Draft Throne Speech offered by Greenpeace Canada.

The National Observer highlighted the proposals of the Smart Prosperity Institute in an  Opinion Piece by Mike Moffatt and John McNally ,  “ Want a green, inclusive recovery? You can’t rush that” (Sept. 24).  They condense the arguments from an earlier blog post, ” Making a green recovery inclusive for all Canadians which lays out specific green recovery proposals but warns that a “full recovery” cannot begin until Covid-19 has been brought under control: “The risks of infection from bringing people together, potentially leading to future lockdowns, are too great.”

Update: Summer Proposals for Canada’s Green Recovery focus on public infrastructure, retrofitting

With the mainstream press zeroing in on the implications of Mark Carney’s return to Ottawa policy circles, and rumours of a “deepening rift” between Prime Minister Trudeau and Finance Minister Morneau over covid-recovery plans, perhaps the moment for a Green Recovery has arrived.  Here are highlights of some proposals made since the last  WCR compilation in a June 17 post.

Proposals from the  labour movement:

Unifor released its  #Build Back Better campaign in June, detailed in a 58-page document, Unifor’s Road Map for a Fair, Inclusive and Resilient Economic Recovery. There are five core recommendations, with detailed discussion of each: 1. Build Income Security Programs that Protect All Workers;  2. Rebuild the Economy through Green Jobs and Decarbonization;  3. Expand and Build Critical Infrastructure  4. Rebuild Domestic Industrial Capacity;  and  5. Strong, Enforceable Conditions on Corporate Support Packages.  Recommendation #2  “Rebuild the Economy through Green Jobs and Decarbonization”, understandably advocates for the sectors which Unifor represents – auto manufacturing, energy, forestry, transit etc. and calls for, among other things, targeted industry support programs, and a federal Just Transition fund (for example, for orphan well clean up and methane reduction initiatives and  expansion of the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund. On the issue of transit, Unifor also calls for the federal government to convene  special committee, bringing together municipalities, labour unions, private and public transit agencies, academics, urban planners and transit rider groups to develop a National Public Transit Strategy. The Road Map also calls for a National Auto Strategy to support zero-emission electric vehicle manufacturing,  a national charging infrastructure, and a call to develop a joint government-union accredited green jobs training system.  Unifor calls on the government to institute a tripartite model for advisory groups and oversight bodies so that labour unions are involved in any initiatives to develop climate/green transition policy frameworks.

#Build Back Better also addresses issues affecting all workers, such as income security, equity, and pension security. Key to these appear in Recommendation #5. “Strong, Enforceable Conditions on Corporate Support Packages”, which states: “ Government must require an environmental sustainability plan, restrict wage reductions for non-executive workers and establish job protection guarantees to prevent layoffs due to restructuring and offshoring. Any capital investment enabled by government support must include Canadian content when equipment is purchased or capital investments are made. Support packages must include a union neutrality clause and prevent recipients from accessing employee pensions for short-term liquidity.”

Rebuilding our Economy for All  describes the priorities of the British Columbia Federation of Labour, as submitted to the provincial Economic Recovery Task Force in May. The sixth of eight priorities states: “We must make up for lost time in addressing the climate crisis, with an accelerated and inclusive path to a green economy”, but doesn’t suggest any specifics beyond the existing Clean BC program . Priority 7, “Use public investment to restart the economy”  translates into mid-term goals  to electrify the transit fleet, launch conservation programs and habitat restoration projects; undertake remediation of industrial sites; replace all government vehicles at end of life with e-vehicles; develop and install zero-emission vehicle infrastructure throughout BC.; and continue to expand public, commercial, and residential building retrofits.

The Ontario Federation of Labour also produced an economic recovery plan in June, The New Normal: Building an Ontario for All   – Submission to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs.  The document calls for investment in public infrastructure, but  makes only one brief mention of climate, calling for the government to : “Develop, support, and resource a climate action plan that focuses on green jobs, carbon emission reductions, and the impact on equity-seeking communities – with clear mandates for industry.”

The Canadian Labour Congress released Labour’s Vision for an Economic Recovery  in May, which with an emphasis on health and safety, and job and income security. It touched on climate-related priorities by calling  for “Green industrial policy and sector strategies, anchored in union-management dialogue”, and endorsed the Just Recovery for All principles.  On July 17,  the CLC issued  a statement of support for the  ‘Safe Restart’  agreement reached between the federal, provincial and territorial governments,  commending the provision of sick leave entitlements so that every worker can take time off when they are sick and need to self-isolate. Also in July, the CLC made six recommendations for reforms  to the Employment Insurance system  to ensure a smooth transition from CERB to EI benefits.

Labour and Green Groups pulling together

It is worth noting that the environmental movement has included job and worker concerns in its proposals for Green Recovery, beginning with the Just Recovery for All campaign in May . Other examples:   Green Strings: Principles and Conditions for a Green Recovery from COVID-19 in Canada , published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)  in June lists seven “strings”: Support only companies that agree to plan for net-zero emissions by 2050; Make sure funds go towards jobs and stability, not executives and shareholders; Support a just transition that prepares workers for green jobs; Build up the sectors and infrastructure of tomorrow; Strengthen and protect environmental policies during recovery; Be transparent and accountable to Canadians.

Green-Green Budget-Coalitions-Preliminary-Recommendations-The Green Budget Coalition, representing twenty-four leading Canadian environmental organizations, presented a Discussion Paper for their pre-Budget recommendations at the end of June, with their final submission promised for September.  Their focus: 1) Stimulus investments for clean transportation industries; 2) Building retrofit jobs 3) Nature-based climate solutions 4) Conservation and Protected Areas, including Indigenous Protected Areas and Guardian programs.

The David Suzuki Foundation has included “Transform the Economy”   as one of the three pillars of its Green and Just Recovery campaign .  Blog posts with accompanying online petitions have been published on “Pandemic and climate crises unmask inequalities” in May, and “Four Day Workweek can spur necessary Transformation” in August .

Other Proposals of Note, with a  focus on Retrofitting:

ccpa alternative fed budget recovery planThe Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released its Alternative Federal Budget Recovery Plan  in July, stating: “The AFB Recovery Plan is a collective blueprint for how Canada can get through this crisis in the short, medium, and long term. It closes the chapter on the old normal.”….. “COVID-19 exposed the impossibility of a healthy economy without a healthy society. The status quo is no longer an option. This is our chance to bend the curve of public policy toward justice, well-being, solidarity, equity, resilience, and sustainability….”.  The CCPA calls for  “immediate action to  implement universal public child care so people can get back to work, reform employment insurance, strengthen safeguards for public health, decarbonize the economy, and tackle the gender, racial, and income inequality that COVID-19 has further exposed.”  Within this broad framework there is a section titled Climate Change, Just Transition and Industrial Strategy” (pages 50 – 54), which points out that “Governments at all levels have taken unprecedented action to respond to COVID-19 and that same level of ambition and speed must also be applied to the zero-carbon transition…A just recovery from COVID-19 will not be a return to the status quo of an exploitative fossil fuel-based economy.” In the short-term, the Recovery Plan repeats calls for a Just Transition Act for displaced workers and affected communities, (first announced in 2019 ),  a Just Transition Commission, a Strategic Training Fund and a Just Transition Transfer. Furthermore, the Recovery Plan calls for a clear regulatory phase-out of oil and gas production for fuel by 2040 (modeled on the national phase-out of coal power by 2030), beginning immediately so that  recovery funds are not invested into the stranded assets of the oil and gas industry.  In the medium term, the Recovery Plan calls again for a  National Decarbonization Strategy to achieve a net zero-carbon economy through public investments in industries such as electricity generation, public transit, forestry and building and home retrofitting, especially in Canada’s North. This Decarbonization Strategy would allow for $250 million per year to establish a new Strategic Training Fund; $10 billion per year to establish a youth Green Jobs Corps. Amongst the long-term recommendations for rebuilding: high impact green infrastructure projects under direct public ownership, with social enterprises and other forms of cooperative, community-based ownership also encouraged.

On July 22,  the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery released  its Interim Report ,  costing out five key policy directions for the next five years, with a total price tag of just under $50 billion.  The Task Force lists key actions and actors to achieve five broad goals:  “Invest in climate resilient and energy efficient buildings; Jumpstart Canada’s production and adoption of zero-emission vehicles; Go big on growing Canada’s clean energy sectors; Invest in the nature that protects and sustains us; Grow clean competitiveness and jobs across the Canadian economy .   As part of #1, investment in climate resilient and energy efficient buildings, the Task Force calls for “investing $1.25 billion in workforce development for energy efficiency and climate resiliency, including for enhancing access to training programs and for developing new approaches.”  Under the policy goal of investing in nature, the Task Force includes a call for  $400 million investment “to connect unemployed and underemployed Canadians with opportunities in the nature economy, and to boost the planning and implementation capacity of local governments, Indigenous groups, conservation agencies, forestry and agriculture operations, NGOs and tourism bodies.”  The Task Force Final report is promised for September 2020.

The Labour Council of Toronto and York Region, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 353, and the Carpenters District Council of Ontario have signed on as foundation partners in a new coalition of employers, educators, and unions, formed to fast-track green building as an economic and jobs solution to re-start the economy. The Atmospheric Fund (TAF) is the seed funder for the coalition, called Workforce 2030 . It is based on the recommendations of the Canada Green Building Council, Ready, Set, Grow: How the green building industry can re-ignite Canada’s economy , published in May. The TAF proposals are outlined in their submission to the government, here.

Efficiency Canada, another founding partner of the Workforce 2030 coalition, released its Pre-budget Submission to the government on August 5. It calls for $1.5 billion to expand green building workforce training,  $10.4 billion over three years to expand provincial and municipal energy efficiency portfolios, $13 billion to capitalize a building retrofit finance platform implemented through the Canada Infrastructure Bank, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation; $2 billion for large-scale building retrofit demonstration projects; and additional incentives to provinces that adopt higher energy performance tiers of the 2020 model national building codes, with a plan to achieve a 90% compliance rate.

International Energy Agency roadmap for a sustainable recovery forecasts job growth led by retrofitting and electricity

The International Energy Agency, in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, released a roadmap which would require global investment by governments of USD 1 trillion annually between 2021 and 2023 to create jobs and accelerate the deployment of clean energy technologies and infrastructure.  The World Energy Outlook Special Report: Sustainable Recovery , released on June 18th states:  “Through detailed assessments of more than 30 specific energy policy measures to be carried out over the next three years, this report considers the circumstances of individual countries as well as existing pipelines of energy projects and current market conditions.” The report data and analysis will form the basis for the IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit on July 9 2020, where decision-makers in government, industry and the investment community will meet to discuss policy options for economic recovery post Covid-19.

From the report: ” Our new IEA energy employment database shows that in 2019, the energy industry – including electricity, oil, gas, coal and biofuels – directly employed around 40 million people globally. Our analysis estimates that 3 million of those jobs have been lost or are at risk due to the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis, with another 3 million jobs lost or under threat in related areas such as vehicles, buildings and industry. “ The recommendations promise to save or create approximately 9 million jobs per year, with the greatest number in building retrofitting for energy efficiency, and in the electricity sector.  The Sustainable Recovery Plan also seeks to avoid the kind of rebound effect which occurred after the 2008/2009 recession, claiming that it would stimulate economic growth while achieving annual energy-related greenhouse gas emissions which “would be 4.5 billion tonnes lower in 2023 than they would be otherwise”,  decreasing air pollution emissions by 5%, and thus reducing global health risks.

Under the heading of “Opportunities in technology innovation”, the report examines four specific technologies: “hydrogen technologies, which have a potentially important role in a wide range of sectors; batteries, which are very important for electrification of road transport and the integration of renewables in power markets; small modular nuclear reactors, which have technology attributes that make them scalable as an important low-carbon option in the power sector; and carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), which could play a critical role in the energy sector reaching net-zero emissions. We also compare the near-term job creation potential of some of these measures.” The IEA is preparing an Energy Technology Perspectives Special Report on Clean Energy Technology Innovation, which will be released in early July 2020.

Global reports call for renewables to lead a green recovery from Covid-19

Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2019 was released on June 2 by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), showing that “more than half of the renewable capacity added in 2019 achieved lower power costs than the cheapest new coal plants.” The analysis spans around 17,000 renewable power generation projects from around the world, and includes discussion of job impacts in the industry. A statistical dashboard is searchable by country  , including Canada, and by jobs statistics.

The report emphasizes the importance of renewables in a global economic recovery strategy, stating:

“Renewables offer a way to align short-term policy action with medium- and long-term energy and climate goals.  Renewables must be the backbone of national efforts to restart economies in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. With the right policies in place, falling renewable power costs, can shift markets and contribute greatly towards a green recovery.”

On June 10, the Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report was released by the U.N. Environment Programme, with a press release  with a similar message:  “As COVID-19 hits the fossil fuel industry, the GTR 2020 shows that renewable energy is more cost-effective than ever – providing an opportunity to prioritize clean energy in economic recovery packages and bring the world closer to meeting the Paris Agreement goals. ….. In 2019, the amount of new renewable power capacity added (excluding large hydro) was the highest ever, at 184 gigawatts, 20GW more than in 2018.” The 80-page Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment  is an annual report commissioned by the UN Environment Programme in cooperation with Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance, produced in collaboration with Bloomberg NEF, and supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety.

The argument for the cost advantage of clean energy is demonstrated with detailed modelling for the United States by researchers at the University of California Berkeley Goldman School of  Public Policy. Their new report,  2035: The Report: Plummeting solar, wind and battery costs can accelerate our clean electricity future  “uses the latest renewable energy and battery cost data to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of achieving 90% clean (carbon-free) electricity in the United States by 2035. “The 90% Clean case avoids over $1.2 trillion in health and environmental costs, including 85,000 avoided premature deaths, through 2050”… and “ supports a total of 29 million job-years cumulatively during 2020–2035. ….These jobs include direct, indirect, and induced jobs related to construction, manufacturing, operations and maintenance, and the supply chain. Overall, the 90% Clean case supports over 500,000 more jobs each year compared to the No New Policy case.”

renewables 2020Another report,  Renewables 2020 Global Status Report   was released by REN21 on June 16, with a  36-page summary of Key Findings . The report provides detailed global statistics re capacity and investment trends, and  also discusses the considerable impact of the coronavirus. There is much good news – for example, over 27% of global electricity now comes from renewables, up from 19% in 2010…. The share of solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind power has grown more than five times since 2009” .  But there is also an urgent call to end fossil fuel subsidies and for other policy actions under the heading: “Momentum in renewable power hides a profound lag in the heating, cooling and transport sectors”.  The report states:

“It would be short-sighted to celebrate advances in the power sector without acknowledging the alarmingly low shares and slow uptake of renewables in the heating, cooling and transport sectors. …. Renewable shares in heating and cooling are low (10.1%) and struggle to increase, even as the sector accounts for more than half of total energy demand. Similarly, energy demand in transport – which accounts for a third of total energy demand – is growing the fastest by far, yet renewable shares barely exceed 3.3%. Ongoing dependence on fossil fuels for heating, cooling and transport is related to a lack of policy support for renewables in these sectors. There is still no level playing field. Many countries continue to uphold fossil fuel subsidies, which in 2018 increased 30% from the year before. Global fossil fuel subsidies totalled USD 400 billion, more than double the amount that governments spent on renewable power. ….. The massive support for fossil fuels hinders the already difficult task of reducing emissions and must be brought to a halt. “ In 2019, a record 200 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power capacity was added, more than three times the level of fossil fuel and nuclear capacity. Over 27% of global electricity now comes from renewables, up from 19% in 2010.– a remarkable rise attributed largely to continued cost declines for these technologies.”

On  June 11, the U.S.  Solar Energy Industry Association released its Solar Market Insight Report for the 2nd Quarter of 2020, forecasting a 31% drop in solar installations in 2020 over 2019, mostly  as result of Covid-19.   The SEIA  press release estimates that 72,000 workers in the U.S. have lost their jobs .  The Executive Summary  discusses the impact of the coronavirus extensively; only the Executive Summary is available for free. The report analysis is done by Wood MacKenzie consultants, and the full report is pricey.

Returning to work after Covid-19 – by transit or by cycling?

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) in Canada reported on May 12 that a Probe Research poll found that 78% of Canadian respondents support $5 billion in emergency government funding for public transit services, and 91% agree that governments have a responsibility to ensure access to safe, reliable, and affordable public transit.  Yet when asked whether they would use public transport after Covid-19, city-dwellers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K. and the Brussels metropolitan area, expressed “lukewarm enthusiasm for public transport, due to a fear of the risk of infection”. The European survey also was conducted in mid-May,  by YouGov poll, and according to an article in Politico Europe,  preference was for “active transportation” such as walking and cycling, with a majority supporting new zero-emissions zones, banning cars from urban areas,  and maintaining the gains in  road space dedicated to bikes and pedestrians that were implemented during the Covid-19 crisis.

In Canada, the cycling issue is explored in “Bike lanes installed on urgent basis across Canada during COVID-19 pandemic”  by CBC (June 7), highlighting a movement to establish permanent, protected cycling lanes – which is one of the demands of the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities, a statement championed by Jennifer Keesmaat, former City of Toronto Chief Planner. (a list of over 100 signatories is here ). Other proposals from the Declaration include a moratorium on the construction and reconstruction of urban expressways; congestion pricing policies, with 100% of the revenues dedicated to public transportation expansion, and electrification of the public transit fleet.

Catching the Bus : How Smart Policy Can Accelerate Electric Buses Across Canada   is a policy report released by Clean Energy Canada on June 11,  but unfortunately researched before the transformational impacts of Covid-19.  In an updated introduction, Clean Energy Canada argues that emergency financial relief for transit agencies should be the government’s top priority, but points out that transit procurement cycles run approximately 12 to 18 years, so that “investment decisions today will last for decades.” According to a blog by the Amalgamated Transit Union , the pandemic has resulted in a 75-85% decrease in ridership, with over 3,000 layoffs announced by mid-May and more expected.  The ATU has called on the federal government to provide a $5 billion stimulus investment just to stave off the bankruptcy of transit agencies  – the ATU position on electrification is stated in a February blog here .

Clearing the Air: How electric vehicles and cleaner trucks can reduce pollution, improve health and save lives in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area was released on June 3, a joint project by Environmental Defence ,  the Ontario Public Health Association,  and the University of Toronto’s Transportation and Air Quality Research Group. The report considers the impact of electrification of passenger cars, urban buses, and freight trucks, with the main purpose of demonstrating the considerable health effects of lower pollution.  Policy prescriptions for buses are scanty, though the report estimates that  electrifying all public transit buses in Canada would provide social benefits of up to $1.1 billion per year.  The report and a series of interactive maps of the region are here .

Of these recent reports, only the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities addresses the issue of transit equity, so evident in the pandemic world as low-wage and essential workers may not have the luxury of replacing their transit commute with a passenger car. Work and Climate Change Report summarized Canadian initiatives pre-Covid in “Transit Equity and Free Transit: addressing social justice, climate justice and workplace justice (Feb.10) . Also pre-Covid in November 2019, an interview with University of Toronto professor Steven Farber discusses how transit policy is a social justice issue.  Farber also spoke at the ATU  Transit Equity Summit in December 2019  .

Updating Job proposals for a Green Recovery: Canada, U.S., Europe

Green Recovery proposals in Canada:

The Work and Climate Change Report  has previously highlighted  proposals for a Green Recovery from Covid-19, including   Labour’s Vision for Economic Recovery by the Canadian Labour Congress, the Just Recovery for All  coalition campaign and the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery  .  Another very focused campaign is  Inclusive Recovery , which states that Canada’s federal government is planning to invest over $187 billion dollars on infrastructure projects over the next ten years as part of its Green Recovery funding.  The Inclusive Recovery campaign, organized by the Toronto Community Benefits Network, Toronto & York Region Labour Council, the Labour Education Centre, and other unions and social service agencies,  is seeking support and endorsement of a joint letter to the Federal government calling on them  “to integrate and expand community benefit expectations in publicly funded infrastructure projects”.

On June 4,  Corporate Knights magazine  published “Building Back Better: A roadmap to the Canada we want ” , which consolidates the already-published articles and roundtable discussions from its Green Recovery series.   The resulting “roadmap” , written by consultants Ralph Torrie and Céline Bak, with Toby Heaps, argues that “ By 2030, Canada could create more than five million quality job-years of employment by greening the power grid, electrifying transport and upgrading our homes and workplaces to be more comfortable and flood resilient.” In estimating the cost, that job-creation number goes even higher: “the federal investment in the programs we have proposed would total $106 billion, crowding in an additional $730 billion in private and other sector investment, creating 6.7 million years of employment – more than twice the jobs that have been lost due to COVID-19”, and continues: “These investments would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 237 million tonnes from 2018 levels. That would meet our Paris Climate Agreement commitments and put us on a path to a carbon-free economy within a generation.”   In a postscript, the authors state: “The best chance we have for the green economy to prevail is by marrying the green economy movement with social justice movements, which on a practical level means Building Back Better with vastly enhanced supports for eldercare, childcare and living wages, and as we’ve noted repeatedly throughout the series, by supporting thriving Indigenous communities.”

Green recovery studies: United States

The Sierra Club in the U.S. released a new report in June, Millions of Green Jobs:  A Plan for Economic Revival . It lays out estimates and a policy options for  the “multiple, mutually reinforcing crises” of Covid-19 , economic inequality, and global heating, and importantly, states that “All investments in this economic renewal plan must uphold the following environmental, labor, and equity standards”  – which include Buy America and domestic procurement policies to stimulate manufacturing.   Also included:  “All construction and related contracts should require community benefit agreements; a mandatory “ban the box” policy to ensure fair employment opportunities for all; hiring preferences for low-income workers, people of color, people with disabilities, and returning citizens; and contracting preferences for businesses led by women and people of color.”  Using job creation estimates produced by Robert Pollin, the report argues for “family-sustaining jobs for over 9 million people every year for the next 10 years while building an economy that fosters cleaner air and water, higher wages, healthier communities, greater equity, and a more stable climate. That includes supporting over 1 million manufacturing jobs each year.”  The report offers a  sectoral breakdown of the 9 million jobs per year, in  infrastructure for clean water, clean transportation, and clean energy; renewable energy;  energy efficiency; and  regenerative agriculture.

Millions of Green Jobs:  A Plan for Economic Revival is based on a technical report released in May 2020: Job Creation Estimates Through Proposed Economic Stimulus Measures:  Modeling Proposals by Various U.S. Civil Society Groups; Macro-Level and Detailed Program-by-Program Job Creation Estimates  , written by Robert Pollin and Shouvik Chakraborty at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Another data-driven report from researchers at the University of California Berkeley Goldman School of  Public Policy is  2035: The Report:  Plummeting solar, wind and battery costs can accelerate our clean electricity future . It  “uses the latest renewable energy and battery cost data to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of achieving 90% clean (carbon-free) electricity in the United States by 2035.” Two central cases are simulated using state-of-the-art capacity expansion and production-cost models from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.  “The 90% Clean case avoids over $1.2 trillion in health and environmental costs, including 85,000 avoided premature deaths, through 2050”… and “supports a total of 29 million job-years cumulatively during 2020–2035. Employment related to the energy sector increases by approximately 8.5 million net job years, as increased employment from expanding renewable energy and battery storage more than replaces lost employment related to declining fossil fuel generation. The “No New Policy” case requires one-third fewer jobs, for a total of 20 million job-years over the study period. These jobs include direct, indirect, and induced jobs related to construction, manufacturing, operations and maintenance, and the supply chain. Overall, the 90% Clean case supports over 500,000 more jobs each year compared to the No New Policy case.”

A dedicated website  offers downloads of the report and an interactive “Data Explorer” which includes  a jobs component.

Green Recovery plans: Europe

Influential consultants McKinsey published “How a post-pandemic stimulus can both create jobs and help the climate” on May 27 , written by  McKinsey partners from  Frankfurt, London, Paris, Stockholm, as well as San Francisco.  The report focuses on 12 potential stimulus measures with a strong emphasis on European experience, and estimates the jobs created per Euro spent, as well as total jobs created, for each of its twelve low-carbon strategies. The McKinsey report highlights the  2017 econometric study of the U.S.,  “Green vs. Brown” by Heidi Garrett-Pelletier, which concluded that “on average, 2.65 full-time-equivalent (FTE) jobs are created from $1 million spending in fossil fuels, while that same amount of spending would create 7.49 or 7.72 FTE jobs in renewables or energy efficiency. Thus each $1 million shifted from brown to green energy will create a net increase of 5 jobs.”

In the U.K.,  the Local Government Authority released Local green jobs – accelerating a sustainable economic recovery, on June 11 . It predicts that “”Soaring demand for green jobs will require a diverse range of skills and expertise to roll-out clean technologies”. Specifically, the report forecasts that by 2030,  an estimated 693,628 low-carbon jobs  and “between 2030 and 2050, the low-carbon workforce in England could increase by a further 488,569, taking the total level of jobs to more than 1.18 million by 2050.”

In its own interest, the LGA argues for increased funding at the local level, to “ fast-track green jobs” with concentrated action to introduce national skills programmes for training and retraining.  Local Green Jobs is supplemented by an interactive regional breakdown of statistics by local authority , and a supportive policy framework document .

Environmental rollbacks during Covid-19 in Canada and the U.S.

This post was updated on June 17 to include new developments in Alberta and Ontario. 

On June 3, Canadian journalist Emma McIntosh compiled and published a Canadian list of environmental rollbacks, and continues to update it as changes continue in almost every province.  “Here’s every environmental protection in Canada that has been suspended, delayed and cancelled during COVID-19” in the National Observer, is a compilation built by scouring news reports and legislative websites.  Although it includes all Canadian provinces, the Alberta and Ontario governments are highlighted as the worst offenders, including changes to Alberta’s environmental monitoring in the oil sands and weakening of air quality monitoring .  The inventory was updated to include Bill 22, The Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act , which passed first reading in the Alberta legislature on June 11. A 14-point omnibus bill, Bill 22 eliminates the need for cabinet approval for oil and gas projects, and dissolves the Energy Efficiency Alberta agency, begun in 2017. Alberta’s Environment Minister has said it  will be wound down by September and most staff re-assigned to the Emissions Reduction Alberta agency, which focuses on the oil and gas industry. Efficiency Canada reacted with a critical press release on June 12, titled “Alberta cuts successful job-creation engine in the midst of recession” – which states that “The agency created more than 4,300 private-sector jobs between 2017 and 2019”.

In Ontario, early on, the government suspended part two of the provincial Environmental Bill of Rights, excusing the government from notifying or consulting the public on environment-related projects, changes or regulations.  Changes were also made to zoning requirements, to speed the development approval process. Unexpectedly,  the government restored the protections on June , although it has been vague about its reasoning, and more importantly, has not revealed what projects were approved during the suspension period.  “Doug Ford government restores environmental protections it suspended amid COVID-19” (June 15). The article notes that since Premier Doug Ford took office in  2017, “Ontario has cancelled 227 clean energy projects, wound down conservation programs, weakened endangered species protections and has taken away powers from the province’s environmental commissioner.”

In Newfoundland

Although it is not noted in the National Observer inventory yet (updating is ongoing) – Newfoundland joined the ranks of major actors on June 4, when the government press release announced  a “New Regional Assessment Process Protects the Environment and Shortens Timelines for Exploration Drilling Program Approval”. This action reverses a 2010 decision and places authority for exploration approval back with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB), rather than the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA). Calling the drilling of offshore exploration wells a “low impact activity”, the press release promises a faster approval process which “allows the province to become more globally competitive while maintaining a strong and effective environmental regulatory regime.”  A June 4 press release from the federal government endorses the move, according to their press release:  “The Government of Canada announces new regulatory measure to improve review process for exploratory drilling projects in the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador offshore” .  

It is notable that the Just Recovery for All campaign launched in Canada on May 25  calls for a fair and just recovery from COVID-19 through relief and stimulus packages, and includes as one of its six principles:

“Bailout packages must not encourage unqualified handouts, regulatory rollbacks, or regressive subsidies that enrich shareholders or CEOs, particularly those who take advantage of tax havens. These programs must support a just transition away from fossil fuels that creates decent work and leaves no one behind.”

In the United States

Donald Trump’s environmental rollbacks during the Covid-19 pandemic have been well-reported, with the New York Times maintaining  an ongoing register in “The Trump Administration Is Reversing 100 Environmental Rules. Here’s the Full List” (last updated on May 20) and more recently, on June 4,  “ Trump, Citing Pandemic, Moves to Weaken Two Key Environmental Protections”. This article notes his Executive Order allowing agencies to waive required environmental reviews of infrastructure projects, and a new rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency which weakens air pollution controls under the  Clean Air Act regulations.

Greenpeace USA issued a response highlighting the racist intent of these changes, and DeSmog Blog published a blog “Trump EPA’s Refusal to Strengthen Air Quality Standards Most Likely to Harm Communities of Color, Experts Say“.

 

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Canadians report mixed feelings about working from home – but is it good for the environment? for workers?

The Angus Reid Institute is a Canadian non-profit public opinion research foundation Their recent survey of Covid-related experiences is summarized at their June 11 press release, with the full 11-page report was released under the title  So long, office space? Two-thirds of Canadians who work from home expect it to continue after pandemic  .

Of the 30% of Canadians who have been working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, only 36 % expect to return full-time to their workplace after the pandemic subsides – others expect to split working time between workplace and home, and 20% expect to work primarily from home.  The survey measured productivity and mental health impacts of working from home, showing mixed results re mental health: 15% said it had been “terrible”, 16% said it had been “great”, and 68% ranking it as “okay” – notably, 20% of women 18 to 34 years old rank it as “awful”.  The survey also reports on the job loss experiences of respondents since the March beginning of lockdown, with a high of 31% experiencing job loss in May, and 28% in June. Responses concerning job loss, economic outlook, and incidence and attitudes to government financial assistance are available by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics.

Is working from home good for the planet? or for workers?

An earlier WCR post in May, “Working from home may not save as much energy as we think” summarizes an article from Environmental Research Letters which found little empirical evidence that working from home benefits the environment or climate change. Initially some environmentalists saw a possible (though temporary) upside in a reduction of GHG emissions from commuting, and the concept is being embraced by corporate management – for its own reasons.  The complexity of the issue is discussed in  “Office work will never be the same” in Vox (May 27), which argues that flexibility may benefit the privileged white collar workers who can work from home, but also opens the door to increased workplace surveillance with its greater dependence on technology (not to mention the equity question for those who don’t have the option).   In “Working from Home: Post-Coronavirus Will Give Bosses Greater Control of Workers’ Lives” ( June 4) in Jacobin, author Luke Savage cites examples of Canadian workplace policies from the Bank of Montreal and Shopify, and quotes an unnamed Canadian unionist . Savage concludes with this warning:

“With every home an office and every office a home, the residual boundaries between work and private life will be gone for good. Still worse, the whole or even partial demise of the physical office space could become a catalyst for a deeper precarization of work wherein many workers are effectively remote contractors, their homes operating like quasi-franchises over which employers can exercise discretionary control with minimal restriction.

Socialists have long argued that bosses and markets exert far too much power and control over our time, our private lives, and our individual autonomy. Unless we resist the burgeoning shift to remote work, both are about to devour an even bigger share of all three.”

 

Export Development Canada continues to undermine climate change goals, using Covid-19 recovery to fund Coastal GasLink pipeline

Reforming Export Development Canada:  Climate-Related Risk Management and the Low Carbon Transition  is an important new report released on June 9,  commissioned by advocacy groups Above Ground and Oil Change International.  The report analysis was conducted by consultancy Horizon Advisors, who calculate that the crown corporation Export Development Canada (EDC) has provided roughly $45 billion in support for the oil and gas sector since 2016, compared to $7 billion for clean technology. “These investments not only undermine Canada’s international climate efforts but also increase EDC’s exposure to carbon risks.”  The report recommends that the government amend the Export Development Act to bar EDC from supporting any fossil fuel energy projects, including new fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines, and that the agency should “stress-test its investment decisions against Canada’s climate targets.”

The Reforming Export Development Canada report is not the first time EDC has been examined for its fossil-friendly investment strategy  and criticized for undermining Canada’s climate change progress. Oil Change International and Above Ground published  Risking it All: How Export Development Canada’s Support for Fossil Fuels Drives Climate Change in 2018,  which documents investments of more than $10 billion a year to oil and gas between 2012 and 2017 ( twelve times more support than it offered for clean technologies).

Fossil fuel companies cashing in on Covid-19 Recovery Funds in Canada and worldwide

RiskingItAllcoverDianne Saxe, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, cited the 2018 Risking it All report in her April 2020 Opinion piece in the National Observer, reacting to the federal $750 million Emissions Reduction  funding as part of the Covid-19 Recovery stimulus.  Environmental Defence voiced similar suspicions in their April response :  “… hidden inside this new law were changes that will make it easier for Canada’s export credit agency, Export Development Canada, to funnel billions more towards domestic oil and gas operations — without public scrutiny.”

And sure enough, following the recovery stimulus announcement,  in May EDC signed an agreement to loan up to $500 million to Coastal GasLink pipeline  – the same pipeline project which Wet’suwe’ten First Nations had blockaded, causing RCMP arrests which triggered Canada-wide solidarity  protests and crippling rail blockades  in Ontario and Quebec in the winter of 2020.  (And despite objections from the Wet’suwe’ten  Hereditary chiefs, reported in the Toronto Star ). “Meet Export Development Canada , the secretive crown agency financing the big oil bailout” (May 27) is a blog by Environmental Defense Canada, calling  out EDC investments and calling for greater transparency.

Oil Change International and Friends of the Earth U.S. address this ongoing issue Still-Digging-Cover-Image-pdf in  Still Digging: G20 Governments Continue to Finance the Climate Crisis , released on May 27.  From the Oil Change International Press release: “G20 countries have provided at least $77 billion a year in public finance to oil, gas and coal projects since the Paris Climate Agreement was reached. This government-backed support to fossil fuels from export credit agencies, development finance institutions, and multilateral development banks is more than three times what they are providing to clean energy. China, Japan, Canada, and South Korea are the largest providers of public finance to oil, gas, and coal, together making up over two-thirds of the G20 total.” The report is endorsed by Environmental Defense Canada and Climate Action Network Canada , among many others.

From Still Digging, a warning:

“with the health and livelihoods of billions at immediate risk from Covid-19, governments around the world are preparing public spending packages of a magnitude they previously deemed unthinkable.…. The fossil fuel sector was showing long-term signs of systemic decline before Covid-19 and has been quick to seize on this crisis with requests for massive subsidies and bailouts. We cannot afford for the wave of public finance that is being prepared for relief and recovery efforts to prop up the fossil fuel industry as it has in the past. Business as usual would exacerbate the next crisis—the climate crisis—that is already on our doorstep.”

Proposals for Canada’s Covid-19 recovery promised from a Task Force for a Resilient Recovery

A press release on May 19 announced the launch of a Task Force for a Resilient Recovery,  funded by private foundations and led by two research organizations: the Smart Prosperity Institute and the International Institute for Sustainable Development .  The Task Force promises to develop “actionable recommendations on how governments can help get Canadians back to work while also building a low-carbon and resilient economy” and will release their final report at the end of July 2020.

The Resilient Recovery website is available in English and French.  The websites already include the proposals of the two research organizations:  from the Smart Prosperity Institute – a 25-page “manual”   which provides a Framework  based on nine criteria, clustered in three categories: 1.  does the measure stimulate timely, lasting economic benefits and jobs? 2.  does the measure help the environment and support clean competitiveness? 3. is the measure equitable, implementable and feasible?

From the International Institute for Sustainable Development , a discussion which endorses the May 4  report from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University,  Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?. 

Who is involved in this Task Force? 

Members are listed at the website . In addition to Stewart Elgie of the Smart Prosperity Institute and Richard Florizone of the IISD,  there are fourteen, including Elizabeth Beale, former President and CEO of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council; Barbara Zvan, former Chief Risk & Strategy Officer for the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan; Don Forgeron, President and CEO of the Insurance Board of Canada;  Bruce Lourie, President, Ivey Foundation; James Meadowcroft, Professor, Carleton University; and Merran Smith, Executive Director, Clean Energy Canada.  The initiative is funded by the Jarislowsky Foundation, Ivey Foundation,  McConnell Foundation, Schad Foundation, and the Echo Foundation.

Notably, this Task Force is unrelated to the May 11 statement  which appeared in The Hill (May 11) from Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff and Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty. Describing their co-operative efforts in the Covid-19 crisis, they continue:  “we are calling on the federal government to strike a task force to develop recommendations on how to reboot the economy. The sheer scale of these decisions requires a variety of perspectives, not least of which will be accommodating the varied needs of the vastly diverse sectors. When it comes time for recovery, we will need broad engagement with governments, labour, businesses both large and small across sectors, public health experts, Indigenous groups, non-profits and academics.”

Disaster capitalism in Alberta – oil and gas producers exempted from emissions reporting, testing for methane leaks

Although the Green Party of Canada has stirred up the hornet’s nest of oil politics in Canada by the “Oil is Dead” statement in May,  Alberta Premier Jason Kenney  continues to reject that idea, in word and deed.  Since the onset of Covid-19,  Alberta environmental rollbacks have been described as a textbook case of “disaster capitalism” and the government has been accused of “out-Trumping Trump . In April, the Alberta government made amendments to the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, Water Act, Public Lands Act and the newly implemented Technology Innovation and Emissions Regulations  – providing exemptions to oil and gas operators from reporting air quality emissions from smokestacks, tailings ponds, transportation and dust until Dec. 31, 2020.  Amendments to the Oil and Gas Conservation Act and the Pipeline Act could allow the Orphan Well Association to use federal and provincial emergency relief funds to  produce and sell oil from abandoned wells and operate abandoned pipelines.  Professor Saun Fluker summarizes the changes in a University of Calgary Faculty of Law blog post, “COVID-19 and the Suspension of Energy Reporting and Well Suspension Requirements in Alberta” (April 10). A broader analysis by two academics from the University of Guelph appears in “Disaster capitalism: Coronavirus crisis brings bailouts, tax breaks and lax environmental rules to oilsands”  (April 29, The Conversation), and Sharon Riley has written an  in-depth article , “8 environmental responsibilities Alberta can skip”  (The Narwhal, April 27).  Randy Christensen of Ecojustice has also written a brief article, “Warning: disaster capitalism”, which argues that “the governments of Alberta and Ontario have now made moves that are more far-reaching and potentially riskier”  than the Trump EPA roll-backs announced in March.  The reference to Ontario is based on the Ontario government’s April 1 regulation which temporarily suspends public consultation under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights. And Newfoundland could also be considered for the list, according to “Newfoundland offshore drilling: a case of bending environmental impact rules” (National Observer, April 3) .

On May 6, the Edmonton Journal  and the Toronto Star  reported further exemptions by the Alberta government:  from the Star:   “A decision by the Alberta Energy Regulator in May, means that Imperial Oil, Suncor, Syncrude and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. don’t have to perform much of the testing and monitoring originally required in their licences – including monitoring of  most ground and surface water; most wildlife and bird monitoring, and a reduction of air quality monitoring – with the suspension of testing for methane leaks.”    The Star article argues that many of the changes correspond closely to the demands made  by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) in March in a 13-page letter sent to federal ministers: Covid-19 Crisis Response – Actions Required regarding federal Policy and  Regulations .  Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada is quoted in The Star,  saying he “isn’t aware of any other jurisdiction in the world that has gone as far as Alberta to roll back environmental protections during the pandemic, including the United States under President Donald Trump.”

On May 7, Vice  published “What the hell is going on in Alberta?”, with this opening statement: “It’s safe to say Alberta is in crisis.”

Only 24% of Canadians willing to give up flying to fight climate change – compared to 41% globally

On Earth Day, public opinion polling company Ipsos Global Advisor released a survey  titled, How does the world view climate change and Covid-19? . The survey was conducted during March and April and so includes Covid-19 questions, along with measuring the top environmental concerns of respondents, and their willingness to act to combat climate change.   Top-line results show that:  71% globally agree that climate change is as serious a crisis as Covid-19 and 65% globally support a ‘green’ economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. Sadly, however, there has been no increase since the 2014 survey in the number of people willing to make sacrifices to combat climate change, and the changes they are willing to make are mostly low effort and low impact.

How do Canadian opinions compare to other countries?

Only 64% of Canadians agree with the statement that “In the long term, climate change is as serious a crisis as Covid-19 is” – compared to a 71% global agreement, and 87% in the highest country, China. Only Australia and the United States have a lower  rate than Canada.  Similarly, only 61% of Canadians supported the statement: “In the economic recovery after Covid-19, it’s important that government actions prioritize climate change”, compared to  81% in India and 65% globally.

Globally, the top-ranked environmental concerns reported are global warming/climate change; air pollution; waste; deforestation; water pollution; depletion of natural resources. For Canadians, when asked “what are the top environmental issues you feel should receive the greatest attention from your local leaders?”, 44% responded “global warming/climate change” – the third highest response in the world after Japan and South Korea.  A similarly high concern (44%) was recorded for the amount of waste we generate.  Other concerns ranked surprisingly low – for example, air pollution (23%);  water pollution (22%); future energy sources and supplies (20%); emissions (16%); depletion of natural resources (15%); deforestation (15%) ;  flooding (7%).

air canadaThe final section of the report reports on understanding of climate change and what changes respondents are willing to make to combat climate change. Globally, people are most willing to 1.avoid products which have a lot of packaging; 2. Avoid buying new goods in favour of mending or buying used; and 3. Conserve energy at home.   The three behaviour changes least favoured:  1. Not flying; 2. Eating less meat; 3. Eating fewer dairy products.  Canadians are the least likely in the world to give up flying, with only 24% willing to make that change – well below the global average of 41%. Similarly, only 28% are willing to eat less meat (28% – only 1% more than Australians and Americans) and 22% to  eat less dairy.

The Ipsos summary and press release are here.

B.C.’s Covid-19 economic recovery plans, and safety, WCB coverage for workers

“What Kind of Recovery Economy Is BC Planning to Build?” appeared in The Tyee (May 6)  discussing the British Columbia Economic Recovery Task Force, appointed in early April.  The article points out that the 19-member Task Force lacks any representation from environmental advocacy groups – although Laird Cronk, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour was appointed, along with the leaders of major business and community organizations, in addition to the Premier, cabinet ministers, and senior BC emerging economies taks forcecivil servants. The province also consults with their Climate Solutions Advisory Council, and on May 11, released the Final Report of the  Emerging Economies Task Force, appointed in 2018.  The press release affirms that it “will also be a valuable resource to help inform the province’s COVID-19 pandemic economic recovery”, despite the fact that it was submitted to the government in March 2020, and so pre-dates the Covid-19 crisis.  One of its five strategic priorities  of the Emerging Economies report is titled “Leveraging B.C.’s Green Economy”.

Worker safety as the economy re-opens

On May 6, Premier Horgan announced  Phase 2 , a cautious re-opening the economy. Responsibility for the safe opening and operation of workplaces is delegated to WorkSafe B.C., whose media release states: “As employers prepare to resume operations, they will need to have a safety plan in place that assesses the risk of COVID-19 transmission in their workplace, and develops measures to reduce these risks. This planning process must involve workers as much as possible to ensure their concerns are heard and addressed — this includes frontline workers, supervisors, Joint Health and Safety Committees, and/or worker representatives.” WorkSafeB.C. will issue industry-specific guidance and promises consultation with workers and employers; their general resources for Covid-19 return to work is here

The B.C. Federation of Labour  reacted on May 11 to the announcement that the Workers Compensation Board will add COVID-19 to Schedule 1 of the Workers Compensation Act, thereby granting “presumptive coverage” and expediting workers’ claims.  According to the B.C. Fed, there were  317 COVID-19-related WCB claims in B.C. as of April 29. The B.C. Fed had advocated for the enhanced WCB protection, as well as for the enhanced sick leave protections and $1,000 tax-free provincial Emergency Benefit for Workers, announced in March.

Related Note: On May 7, the Vancouver Just Recovery Coalition  released a statement signed by community, advocacy groups and unions, stating:   “As our federal, provincial and municipal governments begin to strategize on their post-COVID recovery and rebuilding strategies, we need to prioritize those most impacted, ensuring that our economic recovery lessens existing inequalities, respects Indigenous rights, and tackles the climate emergency. The pre-COVID status quo was failing too many people. ”

 

Canadian academics, experts describe plans for a Green Recovery after Covid-19

An April 28 Opinion piece in the New York Times makes an eloquent statement which summarizes global calls for a green recovery from the pandemic.   In “A Time to Save the Sick and Rescue the Planet”  António Guterres,  Secretary General of the United Nations, writes: “ Addressing climate change and Covid-19 simultaneously and at enough scale requires a response stronger than any seen before to safeguard lives and livelihoods. A recovery from the coronavirus crisis must not take us just back to where we were last summer. It is an opportunity to build more sustainable and inclusive economies and societies — a more resilient and prosperous world.” He proposes a 6-point plan, stating:  “As we spend trillions to recover from Covid-19, we must deliver new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition. Investments must accelerate the decarbonization of all aspects of our economy….Where taxpayers’ money rescues businesses, it must be creating green jobs and sustainable and inclusive growth. It must not be bailing out outdated polluting, carbon-intensive industries….Fiscal firepower must shift economies from gray to green, making societies and people more resilient through a transition that is fair to all and leaves no one behind……Looking forward, public funds should invest in the future, by flowing to sustainable sectors and projects that help the environment and climate. Fossil fuel subsidies must end and polluters must pay for their pollution.”

Calls for a Green Recovery in Canada

The state of the federal government’s Green Recovery planning is described in an article in La PresseTrudeau misera sur une «relance verte» après la crise” (April 22, French only), summarized in English by the Energy Mix as “Guilbeault, McKenna and Wilkinson assigned to chart post-Covid green recovery” (April 26). It states that “planning for the “green reboot” is still in its earliest stages” – giving experts time to weigh in on strategies.

One of the latest Green Recovery visions came on May 7, when a group of 50 academics sent an Open Letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and three ministers, called “Springing Canada Forward”. It sets out key principles “to guide investments that can future-proof our economies against climate catastrophe. Investments should link job creation and green infrastructure. They should include funding for both initial capital and long-term operations. COVID-19 has acutely highlighted that social inequalities threaten Canada’s resilience. Thus, investments should include principles of equity, diversity and inclusion and be consistent with Indigenous rights. Finally, to support an evidence-based approach, pilot projects, experimentation, rigorous testing and evaluation should be built into all major post-COVID investments.”   Specifically, the Open Letter calls for leveraging the existing programs of the Infrastructure Canada (with its formal “climate lens”) and the national Housing Strategy,  thus calling for  a transition to low-carbon energy, green infrastructure investment, and a national program of whole house energy retrofits.

In a surprisingly detailed statement regarding workers’ issues, the Open Letter states:

 “Facilitating the development of a climate-literate construction workforce should be a key part of Canada’s recovery investments en route to a low-carbon economy. High-quality, low-carbon construction requires a workplace culture that emphasizes reducing energy consumption. Major investments in developing new and upgraded climate-related construction skills is a key opportunity to expand equity, diversity and inclusion in the workforce while promoting greener practices and technologies. If climate literacy is an integral part of workers’ training, the industry can establish new skill requirements to ensure that newly trained workers can find the good quality jobs they expect and have the capacity to effectively contribute to Canada’s climate objectives. Upskilling workforces must address violence against women and open the road to take advantage of the important contributions that Indigenous workers and women can make to the green new economy.”

The Open Letter is summarized by  the National Observer in “Use pandemic to ‘future-proof’ against climate crisis, academic group urges”  (May 8).

Other Expert statements on Canada’s Green Recovery

The Institute for Climate Choices is publishing articles in  an ongoing COVID-19 Recovery series, beginning with “Climate policy in the long shadow of Covid-19”  by Dave Sawyer . Other articles include:  “Well and good” ( a reaction to the federal relief funding for orphan well clean-up in the oil sands);  “When Disasters collide”  (Apr. 8) and “When Disasters Collide: the Sequel” (Apr. 14) .

The journal Policy Options is publishing articles under the category,  The Coronavirus pandemic: Canada’s Response  . A few examples from the dozens of articles:  “Economy and climate need more than stimulus” written by Brendan Haley,  published in Policy Options (April 27) , which states: “…  the clean economy sector requires patient, long-term capital focused on earning returns from productivity improvements and environmental benefits. For a real recovery, capital needs to be funnelled towards building things instead of short-term speculation.” Haley reiterates Jim Stanford’s April call in “We’re Going to need a Marshall Plan to rebuild after Covid-19(April 2)  and continues: “… The Canada Infrastructure Bank could lead a national clean energy investment strategy. But it would need to take a more transformative view of green infrastructure, which includes zero-carbon buildings and other decentralized energy technologies. If the Infrastructure Bank is not the right vehicle, policy-makers should create new institutions, …. Expending the policy effort to create a Canadian climate investment bank makes good sense if the objective is to lay the foundation for the next decades of economic prosperity rather than solely providing short-term stimulus.” Most recently, “A Deep Retrofit of Homes and Buildings is the megaproject Canada needs”  by Tom-Pierre Frappé-Sénéclauze  (May 8).

The Canada we want: How a green recovery can help us bounce back stronger” in Corporate Knights (April 15) introduces their “Build Back Stronger” series of articles which will be published from April 22 to June 3, here . Among them,  “Building Back Better with a green renovation wave” – a roadmap for retrofitting policy, by Ralph Torrie and Celine Bak ; “To invest in a green power infrastructure, we’ll need to re-boot Canada’s electricity markets” by Pierre-Olivier Pineau.

Dan Woynillowicz  lays out a framework for  “How Canada can build back better” (April 17) at the Clean Energy Canada website, envisioning three stages: 1. our current relief stage, 2. a stimulus stage (with the goal is to kickstart the economy), and 3.  a recovery stage (characterized by “continued government efforts to rebuild the economy, building on and expanding stimulus efforts to ensure sustained and sustainable economic activity.”) He concludes:

“The COVID-19 pandemic, like climate change, isn’t a “black swan” event but a “gray rhino”  (“highly obvious, highly probable, but still neglected dangers”). Risk expert Michele Wucker, who came up with the “gray rhino” metaphor, notes that “it matters immensely that decision-makers view risks as gray rhinos instead of obsess in vain about black swans, because we can see gray rhinos in front of us, but black swans by definition only appear in the rearview window. That means we have a chance to do something about gray rhinos. And, in fact, most so-called black swans happen because people ignored the gray rhinos.

The gray rhino of climate change clearly stands before us.”

U.K. proposals for a green recovery after Covid-19

A widely-reported study by economists at Oxford University seeks to identify fiscal policies which will best lead the world to post-Covid economic recovery, while also leading to a net-zero economy.  Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?  was published on May 4 as a Working Paper by the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University, (forthcoming as an article in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy). Lead authors Cameron Hepburn and Brian O’Callaghan are joined by economic heavy-weights such as Nicholas Stern and Joseph Stiglitz, among others. The paper states: “The climate emergency is like the COVID-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver. Both involve market failures, externalities, international cooperation, complex science, questions of system resilience, political leadership, and action that hinges on public support. Decisive state interventions are also required to stabilise the climate, by tipping energy and industrial systems towards newer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper modes of production that become impossible to outcompete.”

The authors identified over 700 fiscal stimulus policies used since the 2008 financial crisis – both climate-friendly and not – and distilled these down to 25 archetypal policies. They then  surveyed the reactions of 231 senior economists and financial experts from over 50 countries to these archetypal policies, and identified the  five “with high potential on both economic multiplier and climate impact metrics: clean physical infrastructure, building efficiency retrofits, investment in education and training, natural capital investment, and clean R&D. In lower- and middle income countries (LMICs) rural support spending is of particular value while clean R&D is less important.”

An informal summary of this report, written by the two lead authors, appears as Leading economists: Green coronavirus recovery also better for economy” at Carbon Brief (May 5). Other coverage includes “Green Stimulus can repair global economy and climate, study says”  (The Guardian, May 5);

Also on May 4, the Smith School released a companion Working Paper  “A net-zero emissions economic recovery from COVID-19”  which discusses the differences between the 2008 financial crisis and the economic damage of the  Covid-19 pandemic. It  builds on the paper by Hepburn et al., and makes 10 specific recommendations for a U.K. green stimulus package, with strategies clustered around:

  1.  Large-scale investment (including Transforming energy generation, storage and distribution; transforming industrial energy usage, especially  in the energy-intensive industrial sectors (steel, cement, ceramics, chemicals, pulp and paper) ; high-speed broadband internet connectivity to embed working from home practices ; investment in nature-based solutions for disaster resiliency.
  2.  Accelerate investment in high-sustainability impact technologies
  3.  Incentivize individual-level change – in transportation, home energy efficiency, and job training for green economy jobs
  4. Make Bailouts conditional on a legal commitment and a pathway and timeline to net-zero emissions, particularly for fossil fuel intensive industries such as airlines.

The paper concludes with proposals for institutional structures to implement these policies, including a Climate Change Emergency Committee and a Net Zero Delivery Body in the U.K. , and perhaps most remarkably, proposes an international Sustainable Recovery Alliance (SRA) to be launched at COP 26. The purpose: to act  “As a flexible “coalition of the willing” outside of the UNFCCC architecture, the group would promote a shared vision of a sustainable recovery.”

committee on climate change

And on May 6, the existing U.K. Committee on Climate Change issued a press release announcing its Letter to the Prime Minister, setting out six key principles to for a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The principles call for fairness to be embedded as a core principle,  a shift to new behaviours such as cycling and working from home, the possibility of raising carbon taxes, and,  “Support for carbon-intensive sectors should be contingent on them taking real and lasting action on climate change, and all new investments need to be resilient to future climate risks.”

“Staggering” decline of fossil fuels reported by International Energy Agency

The complexity of the global energy landscape has been changed profoundly, according to the  International Energy Association’s flagship publication, the Global Energy Review , released on April 30.  It forecasts a minimum 6% decline in global energy demand for 2020, (9% in the United States and 11% in the European Union),  stating, “The projected 6% decline would be more than seven times the impact of the 2008 financial crisis on global energy demand, reversing the growth of global energy demand over the last five years. The absolute decline in global energy demand in 2020 is without precedent, and relative declines of this order are without precedent for the last 70 years.”   The accompanying press release describes the decline of fossil fuels as  an “historic shock to the entire energy world” and “staggering”, especially for coal, oil and gas. The IEA forecasts that renewables will be the only energy source to grow in 2020.

Here are a few of the many recent news articles which sum up the dire impacts on oil and gas in Canada:

In “For oil and its dependents, it’s code blue” (The Tyee, April 18), Andrew Nikoforuk predicts that the “great price collapse of 2020 will topple companies and transform states”.

Fossils Expect Permanent Losses, Renewables Keep Growing As Pandemic Crashes Global Energy Demand”  in The Energy Mix (May 3);

What rock-bottom natural gas prices mean for Canada’s aspiring LNG industry” in The Narwhal (May 1);

“‘We are in crisis mode’: Newfoundland calls on Ottawa to fund oil and gas exploration” in the Globe and Mail (April 29);

And Canadian Press stories reprinted by the National Observer on May 1 include:  “Precision Drilling down almost 3000 employees due to oil and gas downturn” (May 1);  “Oil and gas drilling forecast revised to 49-year low”; “Teck Resources leaves energy group CAPP citing cost cutting” ; and “Alberta oil and gas company reports include a loss of $1.3 billion for Vermillion Energy” (April 29) .

Fatih Birol, Director of the International Energy Agency has promoted clean energy in several public statements, including  a March 14 commentary: “Put clean energy at the heart of stimulus plans to counter the coronavirus crisis”, which states, “Governments are drawing up stimulus plans in an effort to counter the economic damage from the crisis. These stimulus packages offer an excellent opportunity to ensure that the essential task of building a secure and sustainable energy future doesn’t get lost amid the flurry of immediate priorities ”   The IEA promises a World Energy Outlook special report in June “that will quantify how clean energy policies and investments can create jobs, support economic recoveries and achieve emissions reductions. The report’s findings and recommendations will inform the high-level discussions at the IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit on 9 July.”

Blue skies from locked-down economies are fleeting – we still need strong policies to reduce carbon emissions

A statement from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on Earth Day estimates that the pandemic will result in a six per cent drop in carbon emissions in 2020 , but warned “COVID-19 may result in a temporary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but it is not a substitute for sustained climate action”.  The full WMO Statement on Global Climate Change continues …. “We need to show the same determination and unity against climate change as against COVID-19. We need to act together in the interests of the health and welfare of humanity not just for the coming weeks and months, but for many generations ahead.”

Scientists are speaking out against the “good news” approach of highlighting clear skies as a silver lining in the Covid crisis. Kate Marvel, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University, writes “I am a mad scientist” , calling for bolder climate change action, and stating  :

“I’m angry at the very idea that there might be a silver lining in all this. There is not. Carbon dioxide is so long-lived in the atmosphere that a small decrease in emissions will not register against the overwhelming increase since the start of the Industrial Revolution. All this suffering will not make the planet any cooler. If the air quality is better now, if fewer people die from breathing in pollution, this is not a welcome development so much as an indictment of the way things were before. “

U.K. financial consultants MSCI express similar thoughts from an economic viewpoint in “Will coronavirus reduce emissions long term? .  “This modeled decline in 2020 emissions does not necessarily indicate a structural change to our current world economy. The estimated emission levels are still comparable to those observed over the past five years, and the economy could readily rebound, returning emissions to prior levels. China already increased its industrial output when their quarantine began to slowly lift. Once Europe and the U.S. lift lockdowns and reopen borders, travel, commuting and economic output could return to “normal” levels. Thus, the projected decrease in global emissions could be short-lived. If so, the risk climate change poses to countries, companies and investors has not dissipated. A much more visible and immediate crisis has simply overshadowed it.”

Researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute are interviewed in “COVID-19 pandemic raises new questions about the health impacts of air pollution”  and explain how  encouraging pictures of blue skies do not reflect the complexities of air pollution. The article, importantly, also seeks to counter the mis-impression that reduced economic activity is necessary to reduce air pollution, by pointing to the more important policy measures in many countries, including Canada, which have been improved air quality and human health without compromising economic growth.

Criticism of oil and gas stimulus funds in Canada’s Covid Economic Response Plan

Canadians were generally relieved and positive when Prime Minister Trudeau announced the energy-related provisions of the federal Covid-19 Economic Response Plan  on April 17,  with this statement: “Just because we’re in a health crisis, doesn’t mean we can neglect the environmental crisis.”  The economic stimulus included $1.72 billion to clean up orphan or inactive wells in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, which the government claims “ will help maintain approximately 5,200 jobs in Alberta alone.” The second initiative is $750 million to create an “Emissions Reduction Fund” to help oil and gas companies meet federal methane-reduction standards.  The announcement is summarized in a CBC report  and an article in the National Observer , which also summarizes some of the generally positive reactions from environmental groups. Press releases by  Stand.earth and Clean Energy Canada reflect that generally-held relief that the government had resisted the extensive lobbying from Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) – as outlined in a memo leaked by  Environmental Defence Canada –  and appeared to have listened to the voices of Canada’s clean energy advocates.

An April 17 press release from Climate Action Network Canada embodies a more cautious reaction:

“While we acknowledge and appreciate what this cash infusion achieves – stimulating the economy through well-paying work, while repairing ecosystems damaged by oil and gas operations – we expect to see the federal government hold companies accountable by making enforcement of existing regulations meant to require those companies to clean up orphaned materials and restore land and waterways a condition of its support to the government of Alberta. We will be watching how fiscal measures available through Export Development Canada (EDC) and Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) will further support the government’s stated commitment to using COVID-relief public money  to move Canada further along its path to a more sustainable and resilient net-zero economic future.”

Many of these same concerns appear in an Opinion piece by Dianne Saxe, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, “Canada’s murky bail-out deal for oil and gas will cost us all”  (in the National Observer, April 21) . Saxe begins with: “it is shameful that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using your tax dollars to bail out the oil and gas exploration and production industry, perhaps the wealthiest and most polluting industry in human history.”  She credits the “one good program” to be the $200 million loan to Alberta’s Orphan Well Association because it is structured as a loan, to be repaid under the oversight of a special committee which will include local and Indigenous representatives. As for the $750 million Emissions Reduction  funding, Saxe criticizes the terms as unclear, and objects to the roles of the Alberta government, the Export Development Corporation and the Business Development Bank of Canada whose previous oil-friendly financial record she documents.

Finally, Saxe objects to the lost opportunity – suggesting other, more impactful ways to spend the economic funds, and stating:

“These multi-billion dollar bailouts …. are one of the most expensive and polluting ways of protecting jobs. As well as their mountain of debt, the oil and gas extraction industry creates a puny 2.7 jobs per million dollars of output, while pumping out 704 tonnes of greenhouse gases for each full-time job.”

This job creation estimate is based on research by Eric Miller, in an unpublished presentation: The Pandemic from an Ecological Economics perspective: Assessing consequences and appraising policy options (March 31 2020). More related resources are here  .

Communicating climate change in the world of Covid-19 – strategies from social scientists, and the role of journalism

As stated in an editorial, “The Guardian view on the climate and coronavirus: global warnings” ( April 12) ,  “Could the renewed shock of human vulnerability in the face of Covid-19 make way for an increased willingness to face other perils, climate chaos among them?  Impossible to say at this stage, perhaps. …. But with the postponement of crucial UN biodiversity and climate conferences, it has never been more important to keep up the pressure. There is no exit strategy from our planet.”

What do the social scientists recommend?

Much attention has been focused on the pivot which climate activists must make to replace protests with virtual organizing – for example, in “How To Be A Climate Activist During The Coronavirus Pandemic” (HuffPost Mar. 20).  But does the messaging also need to change?   “Communicating climate change during the coronavirus crisis – what the evidence says” ( April 14) offers advice in a blog  based on extensive social science research into climate change communication, conducted by Climate Outreach,

“A few things are clear: a key starting point must be emphasising communal values of compassion and mutual support. It’s also critically important to challenge assumptions about what we think we know, and to ensure climate advocates don’t open themselves up to ‘ambulance chasing’ accusations.”

Although moments of life-changing shift (such as the “shock of human vulnerability” cited in The Guardian editorial) have proven make people more open to changing behaviours, Climate Outreach notes that after traumatic events, people also have a need to get back to normal. With a clear possibility that human society may be entering a period of months and years of disruption on many fronts – health, economy, and even food supply – the blog argues that two futures are possible: an increased emphasis on communal values and the public good, or  a society accepting of authoritarian values which erect barriers against perceived threats.  The conclusion:  “This points ever more strongly to the importance that climate campaigners emphasise the communal values of compassion and mutual support in a time of crisis.”

Climate Outreach plans to publish a practical, evidence-based guide on how to communicate about climate change during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis by the end of May, using the model of their previous guides, such as their #Talking Climate Handbook  (Dec. 2019).

A recent review of the research on behavioural adaptation to climate change also identifies the importance of collective behaviours over individual action – the original article,  “From incremental to transformative adaptation in individual responses to climate-exacerbated hazards” , appears in  Nature Climate Change (Feb. 2020); a brief summary appears here.  The authors, from Ohio State University, found that that most academic studies have examined coping strategies of individuals or households in the face of isolated hazards such as floods or fires.  Lead author Robyn Wilson is quoted here, saying “If we want to really adapt to climate change, we’re talking about transformational change that will truly allow society to be resilient in the face of these increasing hazards. We’re focused on the wrong things and solving the wrong problems.”

 

Climate change media amid the Covid-19 crisis

covering climate now2As he does regularly as part of the Covering Climate Now  global initiative, author Mark Hertsgaard, executive director of CCN,  compiles major climate change stories. On March 25, he wrote “COVID-19 and the media’s climate coverage capabilities” , which states: “the media’s snapping to attention on coronavirus throws its coverage of the climate crisis into sharp relief. The press has never treated the climate story with anywhere near this level of attention or urgency.”   On April 8, he continued his critique in  “Silence of the climate watchdogs” which states :

“The solution is not for newsrooms to stop covering the coronavirus story. It is to expand their definition of what qualifies as a coronavirus story to include profiteering from the pandemic, whether financially or politically. That’s exactly the kind of impropriety the press’s watchdog function is supposed to expose and inhibit, and there are plenty of dogs capable of fulfilling that function. It’s high time more of them start barking.”

The Columbia Journalism Review hosts the Covering Climate Now global initiative. Its  Spring issue  is titled The Story of Our Time , written principally by and for journalists. It provides insights into the state of climate journalism, and also reflects their personal and professional experiences– for example, “Good Grief” by Emily Atkin, who recounts how  her own frustrations in the mainstream media led her to start her own independent news outlet, Heated  in 2019, with the byline ”for those who are pissed off about climate change” .

The introduction to The Story of Our Time  sums up the recurring themes throughout all the articles and reflects the militancy of a growing number of climate journalists:

“We have reached a turning point for journalism and the planet. Old ideas that had dampened our attention to climate change—that the subject was too polarizing or too complicated or a money-loser—have been proven wrong. Old forms of storytelling—fast, without helping readers draw crucial connections—are not what’s needed to confront the crisis we face. We owe it to our audience, and our conscience, to be more thoughtful. Climate change is the story of our time. Journalism will be judged by how it chronicles the devastating reality.”

New European and global alliances launch, calling for Just Recovery economic plans after Covid-19

In an Open Letter  signed in the first week of April,  the environment and climate change Ministers of eleven European Union countries call for the European Green New Deal to be central to the post-pandemic economic recovery plans of the EU.  By April 14, that initiative was boosted by the launch of a larger Green Recovery Alliance, including over 70 Members of the European Parliament and civil society groups, including  CEO’s, business associations, NGO’s, think tanks, and the European Trade Union Confederation.  In its 4-page Green Recovery Call to Action, the Alliance acknowledges the urgency of the Covid-19 health crisis,  and states:

 “After the crisis, the time will come to rebuild. This moment of recovery will be an opportunity to rethink our society and develop a new model of prosperity. This new model will have to answer to our needs and priorities.These massive investments must trigger a new European economic model: more resilient, more protective,more sovereign and more inclusive. All these requirements lie in an economy built around Green principles. Indeed, the transition to a climate-neutral economy, the protection of biodiversity and the transformation of agri-food systems have the potential to rapidly deliver jobs, growth and improve the way of life of all citizens worldwide, and to contribute to building more resilient societies…… “Projects such as the European Green Deal, and other national zero carbon development plans have a huge potential to build back our economy and contribute to creating a new prosperity model. We therefore consider that we need to prepare Europe for the future, and design recovery plans, both at the local, national and at the EU level, enshrining the fight against climate change as the core of the economic strategy. The time has come to turn these plans into actions and investments that will change the life of citizens and contribute to the quick recovery of our economies and our societies.”  [emphasis by the WCR editor].

This European initiative is consistent with a worldwide movement for a Just Recovery from Covid-19, co-ordinated by 350.org.  In the U.S., this is allied with the People’s Bailout movementdescribed in a previous WCR post  , and sharing the same five principles.   The #Just Recovery Open Letter states:

“ We, the undersigned organisations, call for a global response to COVID-19 to contribute to a just recovery. Responses at every level must uphold these five principles:

  1. Put people’s health first, no exceptions.
  2. Provide economic relief directly to the people.
  3. Help our workers and communities, not corporate executives.
  4. Create resilience for future crises.
  5. Build solidarity and community across borders – do not empower authoritarians.”

Both the European and Global movements are described in “Pairing ‘Green Deal’ With ‘Just Recovery’ in EU, Groups Embrace Tackling COVID-19 and Climate Emergency in Tandem”  in Common Dreams (April 10).  The newsletter Euractiv describes the European initiative in ‘Green recovery alliance’ launched in European Parliament (April 14) .

Clean energy can drive Canada’s economic recovery

The oil and gas industry is in an unprecedented crisis, as explained in an April 1 blog by the International Energy Agency: “The global oil industry is experiencing a shock like no other in its history” .  Yet on March 31, in what Common Dreams calls “a shameful new  low”,  the Alberta government announced a $1.5 Billion cash infusion to “kickstart” the Keystone XL Pipeline. Ian Hussey of the Parkland Institute reacted with “Alberta’s Keystone XL investment benefits oil companies more than Albertans” (April 2).  Bill McKibben reacted with outrage in “In the Midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Construction Is Set to Resume on the Keystone Pipeline”  in The New Yorker .  McKibben subsequently surveys the situation in Canada and the U.S. in “Will the Coronavirus Kill the Oil Industry?” in the New Yorker .

As the Canadian federal government continues to formulate its economic recovery plan Covid-19, loud calls are coming to invest in clean energy, not oil and gas

The International Energy Agency provides factual rationale for the push for a cleaner recovery,  in “Put clean energy at the heart of stimulus plans to counter the coronavirus crisis”.  On April 3,  an Open Letter from Canada’s clean energy sector associations was sent to the federal government, calling for a “Resilient Recovery”, and emphasizing the job creation potential of the clean economy sector – (estimated pre-Pandemic as employing  559,400 Canadians by 2030) . 

Also on April 3, a virtual rally of  56,000 people was organized by Stand.earth as part of a Bail out People not Polluters campaignsummarized by the Energy Mix.  Quotes published by Stand.earth sum up the arguments:

“… Canadians will not accept a sweetheart deal for oil company execs and shareholders to protect Big Oil’s bottom line, and prop up a sunset industry. We need every single public dollar available to save lives, support communities and rebuild a cleaner, more resilient future….Because that other crisis—climate change—hasn’t gone anywhere. In this moment, when the global economy has been shuttered in humanity’s collective battle against COVID-19, governments must seize the opportunity to change course when it starts back up again. To put people back to work building massive solar and wind farms, not pipelines. To invest in the jobs of the future, not the jobs of the past.”

Earlier Canadian “No Bailout” voices are summarized in a previous WCR article , which highlights the Open Letters sent to the federal government by civil society groups and academics.   A selection of more recent calls include:  “Morneau, provinces must apply climate lens to COVID-19 recovery efforts” in iPolitics (April 9); “Pandemic response should mobilize around low carbon solutions” by Mitchell Beer in Policy Options (Mar. 26)  ;  “Let’s come out of COVID-19 with a new economy” an Opinion piece by Merran Smith and  Dan Woynillowicz in The National Observer (April 8) ; “Green stimulus offers Canada a way forward for escaping the next recession” (March 26) and “Ottawa’s bail-outs need to help airline and oil and gas sectors grow greener” (April 8),  both by Sustainable Prosperity.

Last word to Jim Stanford, in  “We’re going to need a Marshall Plan to rebuild after Covid-19 ”  in Policy Options (April 2):

“…. With the price of Western Canada Select oil falling to close to zero … it is clear that fossil fuel developments will never lead Canadian growth again. Politicians and their “war rooms” can rage at this state of affairs, but they can’t change it: they might as well pray for a revival in prices for beaver pelts or other bygone Canadian staple exports. However, the other side of this gloomy coin is the enormous investment and employment opportunity associated with building out renewable energy systems and networks (which are now the cheapest energy option anyway). This effort must be led by forceful, consistent government policy, including direct regulation and public investment (in addition to carbon pricing). Another big job creator, already identified by Ottawa and Alberta, will be investment in remediation of former petroleum and mining sites.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An expanding role for experts

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

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

Labour’s role in pandemic response – now and in the future 

As the world reacts to the urgent and terrible demands of the global pandemic, the labour movement is also on crisis footing as it fights for health and income protection for workers in the short term.   An earlier WCR post describes the Covid-19 Resource Centre maintained by the Canadian Labour Congress, which compiles links and documents by Canadian unions – much of it focused on the immediate information needed by individual workers. Unions are also advocating at the national and provincial levels for improved income supports, employment insurance, guaranteed sick leave for the short term crisis, as well as for sustainable long term economic solutions. The Covid19HELP_Demands_ftWorkers’ Action Centre and the Fight for $15 and Fairness in Ontario issued a press  release on March 26,  in response to the federal benefits announcement . The complete statement of demands appears in Covid-19: Health Emergency Labour Protections: Urgent comprehensive action is needed to protect workers, communities . Such lobbying and organizing has resulted in a number of emergency-related changes to legislated employment standards across Canada, as described by  Michael Fitzgibbon in  “The Right to Refuse in a COVID-19 World” in the Canadian Law of Work Forum (March 27) .

In the United States, the Labor Network for Sustainability provides information on rank and file reactions to Covid-19. On April 2,   Jeremy Brecher’s Strike column, ” Strike for your Life”  summarizes how U.S. and Italian workers are protesting and walking out due to lack of workplace protections.  Brecher’s column cites many U.S. examples, expanding on Steven Greenhouse’s article in the New York Times: “Is Your Grocery Delivery Worth a Worker’s Life? ” (Mar. 30). Brecher also summarizes and  cites “The Italian workers fighting like hell to shut down their workplaces” (Mar. 24) .  Other overviews of U.S. union actions are:  “Walkouts Spread as Workers Seek Coronavirus Protections” in Labor Notes (Mar. 26);  “The Strike Wave Is in Full Swing: Amazon, Whole Foods Workers Walk Off Job to Protest Unjust and Unsafe Labor Practices” in Common Dreams (Mar. 30); and “The New Labor Movement” (Axios, April 1). 

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)  has compiled Pandemic News from Unions around the world, including their own documents and those of international affiliates.  The ITUC  also  published 12 governments show the world how to protect lives,  jobs and incomes  (updated March 30), which ranks the policies of  Argentina, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and the UK on their pandemic policies related to paid sick leave, income support, wage support, mortgage, rent or loan relief, and free health care .

After the pandemic subsides

Larry Savage and Simon Black, professors at Brock University, are pessimistic that short term gains will survive a return to “business as usual” in Canada. In  “Coronavirus crisis poses risks and opportunities for unions” in The Conversation, they reference Naomi Klein’s theory in The Shock Doctrine to argue: “Moving forward, unions are likely to find it incredibly difficult to negotiate gains for their members who will be expected to “share the pain” of an economic recession not of their making” – even public sector workers such as health care workers.  To avoid being branded as selfish, Savage and Black urge unions to: “become champions of converting new temporary income supports, social protections and employment standards into permanent measures designed to rebuild Canada’s tattered social safety net…. oppose bailouts of big corporations that don’t also bail out workers and give employees more say over how industries deemed “too big to fail” are run…. continue to lead the resistance to service cuts and demands to privatize health-care services..”

Other recent articles also emphasize the importance of protecting the voice of workers in the post-pandemic world.  Thomas Kochan  , Professor and Co-Director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research  has written that  “By working together in these ways in this time of crisis, business and labor might just lay the groundwork for building a new social contract that fills the holes in the social safety net and forges relationships that will serve society well in the future.” His article,  “Workers left out of government and business response to the coronavirus” appeared in The Conversation (U.S. edition) (March 20).

The National Labor Leadership Initiative at the Cornell University ILR School convened an online forum titled  “Labor’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic “(Mar 31)  . The purpose of the forum, and a continuing initiative, is to facilitate the long-term vision of the labour movement.  The April   press release quotes participant Erica Smiley, Executive Director of Jobs with Justice  who states: “This is a moment for us to think about what the new normal is, because I frankly don’t want to get back to the old normal. It wasn’t working for most of us.”  The press release also reflects the immediate impacts of the current crisis on a range of workers in the U.S.: “Seven TWU members who work in the NYC public transit system have died from the virus, while their co-workers still go to work every day to keep the system running, without adequate assurances that they will be kept healthy and safe. The IATSE members whose work powers the entertainment and festival scene including Austin’s South by Southwest, one of the first major cancellations of the pandemic, are now out of work indefinitely. Teachers and paraprofessionals have rushed to transition their curricula to online formats, even while coping with the emotional impact of missing their students and the school environment. Nurses are on the frontlines and tending to patients without adequate PPE.”

The Global Stage

The ILO’s Bureau for Workers’Activities (ACTRAV) published “COVID-19: what role for workers’ organizations?  arguing that  ILO Recommendation 205 on Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience (R205) is an effective instrument for governments, employers and workers organizations to address the COVID-19 pandemic.  “This recommendation was adopted with an overwhelming majority of all – governments, employers and workers. It is an international law instrument and Governments are expected to respect its guidance: Workers Organisations can request that it is taken into account.”  The ILO maintains an ongoing collection of documents monitoring  Covid-19 and the World of Work .

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation takes up the theme of a social contract: “As many governments scramble to pay for sick leave, provide income support or other measures, they have found themselves putting in place the building blocks of a social contract. Let’s keep these in place.” (in “New Social Contract can rebuild our workplaces and economies after COVID-19 in The Medium, (March 18)) . To flesh out that objective, the ITUC will convene virtual and in-person meetings on 24 June, on the theme, “Climate and Employment Proof our Future — a vision for a post-pandemic world”.

In the meantime, the ITUC and the International Organisation of Employers have issued a  Joint Statement on COVID-19 which issues an urgent call for coordinated policies, including :

Business continuity, income security and solidarity are key to prevent the spread and protect lives and livelihoods and build resilient economies and societies.

We stress in the strongest terms the important role that social dialogue and social partners play in the control of the virus at the workplace and beyond, but also to avoid massive job losses in the short and medium term. Joint responsibility is needed for dialogue to foster stability.

 

 

Canadian unions providing Covid-19 Resources for members

Although unions are not unaware of the long-term perspective of the Covid-19 pandemic – as for example, in “New Social Contract can rebuild our workplaces and economies after COVID-19” by Sharan Burrow of the ITUC – the main focus for Canadian unions seems to be to actively respond with policy advocacy and practical information covid19 logoresources for their members. The Canadian Labour Congress has built a dedicated Covid-19 Resource Centre which includes policy positions and demands, as well as fact sheets useful for individuals – for example, regarding legislated sick leave provisions in each province, or community information regarding domestic violence resources.

The CLC has also compiled an exhaustive collection of links to the Covid-19 information of individual unions across Canada and the U.S., here . Although there are differences among unions, most are compiling and updating resources and links which provide specific information for their members, especially regarding their health and safety rights and the financial supports available in the crisis. Some examples:  Amalgamated Transit Union ;  Canadian Union of Postal Workers  ; Public Service Alliance of Canada ; United Steelworkers; and Unifor  .

Other unions such as NUPGE or the Vancouver District Labour Council   are focused on advocacy and demands for government action for front line workers.  Toronto and York Region Labour Council  and the B.C. Federation of Labour provide both. Check the complete listings at the CLC website for the wide range of information available, and also check the list of  advocacy and organizing resources at the Broadbent Institute, constantly updated by Dr. Jennifer Robson.

Covid19HELP_Demands_ftAnother important resource for frontline workers:  Ontario’s  Fight For $15& Fairness  campaign  for Health Emergency Labour Protections (HELP).  Their demands for emergency health leaves and reforms to EI requirements in the Covid-19 situation are outlined here and here in French

These demands are also endorsed by the Decent Work and Health Network  in their press release .  Like  Fight For $15& Fairness, the DWHN is sponsoring a petition, as well as organizing a Zoom-based webinar for health workers in COVID-19, on April 1.

 

Green stimulus, worker health and safety ignored as U.S. authorizes $2 Trillion in Coronavirus crisis

On March 27, the U.S. Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) – at $2 trillion, the largest stimulus in U.S. history.  For individual taxpayers, it offers a one-time  $1,200 payment, plus $500 more for each child under age 17; it also  expands unemployment insurance amounts and duration. Details of the provisions are summarized in FAQ’s from the New York Times  , and in Forbes . General reaction to what is clearly a compromise Bill appears in “ ‘Far More to Do,’ Say Progressives After House Approves and Trump Signs Corporate-Friendly Coronavirus Relief Act “(Mar. 28).  Pramila Jayapal , Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC),  issued a press release which states that Democrats are already formulating policies for the next legislative package, and gives a point-form summary of the CARES Act, describing  provisions related to  Worker-Centered Industry Assistance, the airline industry,  and transit industry:

“The bill requires businesses receiving federal assistance to maintain existing employment levels to the extent possible and prohibits stock buybacks or dividends for the length of any loan provided by the federal government plus one year and restricts any increases to executive compensation for two years. The bill also provides direct payroll payments to keep millions of airline workers on the job and receiving paychecks, while also prohibiting airline companies from stock buybacks and dividends for the entire life of a federal grant, plus one year.” Regarding Transit Agencies: “The bill provides $25 billion to transit agencies, which have all seen a drastic drop in revenues as social distancing has been implemented.  This funding is to be used to protect the jobs of the employees of the transit agencies, funding their paychecks during this public health emergency.”

 

Worker Health and Safety in the CARES Act

The  article in Common Dreams  quotes the president of the Economic Policy Institute, who states that the CARES Act “also egregiously fails to include explicit protections for worker safety during this epidemic in industries seeking federal relief.”  On this issue,  Labor Notes published a compilation of worker actions over health and safety concerns in “Walkouts Spread as Workers Seek Coronavirus Protections”(Mar. 26). Anxious and sick workers at food delivery service Instacart and at Amazon announced their plans to  strike over health and safety on March 30, as described in “Amazon and Instacart Workers Are Striking for COVID-19 Protections” in Slate, and also in ‘The Strike Wave Is in Full Swing’: Amazon, Whole Foods Workers Walk Off Job to Protest Unjust and Unsafe Labor Practices (Mar. 30).

Other workers are also walking out on March 30, as described in Vice : “General Electric Workers Launch Protest, Demand to Make Ventilators” , demanding that their idle plants be converted to the socially-useful work of making ventilators.

A selection of  notable readings about Covid-19, workers, and the climate crisis in the U.S.:

Jeremy Brecher, Research Director of Labor Network for Sustainability has written three articles so far in his new column, Strike.  Brecher offer his own views and commentary, but also links to important reports and statements from unions, advocacy groups, and such U.S.  press outlets as Vox, Grist, Politico, and the Washington Post, among others.  The first Commentary,  “In Coronavirus Fight, Workers Are Forging an Emergency Green New Deal” (Mar. 16) describes the impact and challenges of Covid 19 in workplaces, and the initiatives taken by many U.S. unions.  Article #2, “An Emergency Jobs Program for an Emergency Green New Deal” ( March 24) proposes what he calls  a “Green Work Program” (GWP) for the U.S. , based on the principles of a jobs guarantee: “A GWP will provide jobs for all who want them in their own communities performing socially useful work. It will be established by federal legislation, funded by the federal government, and run under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor or another federal agency. It will be primarily administered by local and municipal governments, nonprofits, social enterprises, and cooperatives. In contrast to the WPA, it is a permanent program, though its size can be expected to vary depending on economic conditions and social needs.”  Brecher’s #3 commentary is “Momentum Builds for Green New Deal Jobs”, which  appeared on March 30, summarizing major policy proposals for a Just Recovery.

Naomi Klein updates her thoughts about disaster capitalism in a new video  at The Intercept, explaining how  governments, especially the Trump administration in the U.S.,  are exploiting the the coronavirus outbreak “to push for no-strings-attached corporate bailouts and regulatory rollbacks.” The most egregious example of this regulatory rollback came on March 26 in an EPA press release “EPA Announces Enforcement Discretion Policy for COVID-19 Pandemic “,  critiqued by Inside Climate News in “Trump’s Move to Suspend Enforcement of Environmental Laws is a Lifeline to the Oil Industry” (Mar. 27) .  The Intercept‘s Coronavirus coverage emphasizes this aspect of the crisis.

David Roberts, “A just and sustainable economic response to coronavirus, explained” appeared in Vox (Mar. 25) .

Meehan Crist in “What the Coronavirus means for climate change” an Opinion piece in the New York Times  on March 27.

Bill McKibben now writes an Opinion series for the New Yorker magazine, emphasizing climate change connections.  Recent articles include: “If We’re Bailing out Corporations, they should bail out the planet” (Mar. 20), and “The Coronavirus and the Climate Movement  (Mar. 18) .

Progressives and climate activists: An Open Letter to Congress for a Green Stimulus Plan  appeared in Medium on Mar. 22 (with approximately 1200 signatures by Mar. 24).  Amongst the signatories are  high-profile activists such as 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben; former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy;  Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis, co-founders of The Leap, as well as prominent academics.  It is aligned with the 5 Principles for Just COVID-19 Relief and Stimulus  proposed by environmental, labour, and other progressive groups, including the Climate Justice Alliance(CJA).    In a March 24 press release, “Seven Congressional Leaders Join 500+ Progressive Organizations To Demand People’s Bailout In Response To Coronavirus Crisis”, CJA announces that  Senators Ed Markey and Tammy Duckworth, and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Pocan, Debbie Dingell, Pramila Jayapal, and Barbara Lee endorse joined their People’s Bailout campaign, based on the 5 Principles.

Thomas Hanna and Carlos Sandos Skandier :  “We can’t let this economic crisis go to waste” an Opinion Piece in Open Democracy (March 16), which argues ..”During this, or any future, economic crisis, public support and funding to stricken industries must be conditioned on public ownership and control within the overall perspective of a Green New Deal and a just transition for workers and communities affected by the required shifts to renewable energy and less carbon intensive modes of transportation and production. This means not simply injecting public money into banks, oil and gas companies, and airlines in order to stabilize and resurrect their existing business so they can continue financing, extracting, and burning fossil fuels at a pace that will blow our chances of keeping temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius by 2036.” ….

 “How to Make the Airline Bailout Work for Workers, Not Just CEOs” from Inequality.org (March 17) endorses the proposals from Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA , including direct payroll subsidies for airline workers.   The article in Inequality includes a table which shows how much the five biggest U.S. carriers spent on stock buybacks between 2010 and 2019 – including American Airlines, which spent $12.5 billion on buybacks, to increase the value of executive stock-based pay. Sara Nelson makes her case in an interview in In These Times (Mar.19) :  “Our Airline Relief Bill Is a Template for Rescuing Workers Instead of Bailing Out Execs” .  She concludes:

“This virus is a very clear metaphor for what we always say in the labor movement, which is “An injury to one is an injury to all.” It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, or where you come from. If a virus exists and we don’t do something about it, then we’re all at risk. “