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.