Public sector pension administrators are recognizing climate risk, protecting pensions of public employees in Ontario and New York City

OPTrust administers the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU ) Pension Plan, with almost 87,000 members and retirees.  On January 31, it became a leader in Canadian pension plan administration by releasing two documents:   Climate Change: Delivering on Disclosure, a position paper, and OPTrust: Portfolio Climate Risk Assessment, a report by Mercer consultants, which provides an assessment and analysis of the fund’s climate risk exposure .  The  OPTrust  press release  states: “For pension funds, climate change presents a number of complex and long-term risks. In Canada alone, pension funds manage well over $1.5 trillion in assets, which brings a real responsibility to collectively seek innovative approaches to modeling carbon exposure and its impact across portfolios.”   The position paper, Delivering on Disclosure, includes a call for collaboration amongst other financial actors to develop standardized measures for carbon disclosure.  It is noteworthy that OPTrust is governed by a 10-member Board of Trustees, five of whom are appointed by the union,  OPSEU,  and five by the employer, the Government of Ontario.

In a February 2 press release  affecting  the pension plans of New York’s public employees, teachers, firefighters and police,  the Office of the Controller of New York City announced:  “the Trustees of the New York City Pension Funds … will conduct the first-ever carbon footprint analysis of their portfolios and determine how to best manage their investments with an eye toward climate change. In the 21st century, companies must transition to a low-carbon economy, and a failure to adapt to the realities of global warming could present potential investment risks.”  The  New York City pension system  has been a leader in addressing climate change risks, including an initiative called the Boardroom Accountability Project  , which began in 2014 to give investors the ability to ensure boards are diverse and “climate-competent”.

On this point, a January 2017 report from Vancouver-based Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE) found that   “… companies in Canada’s most carbon-intensive sectors are not demonstrating ‘climate competency’ in the boardroom.”   The report, Taking Climate on Board: Are Canadian energy and utilities company boards equipped to address climate change? urges greater transparency from boards at publicly-traded corporations, stating “Investors need boards to demonstrate that they are “climate-competent” – that they understand and prioritize climate change risks to long-term value, including the physical, legal, reputational, stranded asset and regulatory risks related to climate change.”   The report is based on a  review of the public disclosures from 52 companies across Canada’s energy and utilities sectors,  using 3 measures: board skills and experience, oversight, and risk disclosure. It concludes that “more companies are starting to talk about climate change in their reporting, but only three boards disclosed any expertise amongst their members on the issue, and no board included climate change knowledge in its board competency matrix.” The full report is here.  (On another note, SHARE has walked the walk by filing shareholder resolutions with Enbridge Inc., and met with TD Bank regarding their environmental and social aspects of their investments  in  the Dakota Access Pipeline. See “The Dakota Access Pipeline and Indigenous Rights.” )

Is the Dakota Access Pipeline the next Keystone Pipeline battle within U.S. Labour?

“Standing Rock Solid with the  Frackers: Are the Trades Putting Labor’s Head in the Gas Oven? is a new article by Sean Sweeney,  examining the divisions in the U.S. labour movement over the Dakota Access Pipeline.  The  article , originally published in New Labor Forum and re-posted and updated on the website of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy on October  14 , describes the pro-pipeline statements of the North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU) , and, like Jeremy Brecher’s article  on the same issue , Sweeney sees NABTU as the driving force behind the AFL-CIO’s energy positions.  Likening the current dispute to the internal division over the Keystone XL Pipeline, Sweeney states that  “The DAPL fight suggests that the split in labor is deepening.” Sweeney pays particular attention to (and promises a future article about ) the Laborers’ International Union (LIUNA)’s  Clean Power Progress campaign,  launched in June 2016 to support natural gas as a clean, bridging fuel – with the  glaring omission of any mention of  the emissions of fracking.   The article concludes: “For now, having waged a successful putsch, NABTU is the voice of the AFL-CIO regarding a big chunk of labor’s energy policy. The Federation’s reputation is now so low that it seems to be no longer concerned about ‘reputational damage.’ By linking arms with Standing Rock Sioux, progressive labor is keeping alive the best traditions of labor environmentalism pioneered by Tony Mazzocchi and the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers in the 1970s.”

Further updates on the DAPL front:  Protests and arrests  continue as recently as October 22.   But in what is seen as a victory victory for freedom of the press,  on October 18  a judge dismissed trespassing and riot charges against reporter Amy Goodman, the  reporter for Democracy Now whose video ignited support for  the Standing Rock  Sioux Nation protest.   Read the transcript of Amy Goodman’s reaction here   , and complete Democracy Now coverage of the DAPL protests here . For a summary of the judge’s decision,  see the New York Times report  .

Why has the Dakota Access Pipeline become a divisive issue for U.S. Labour?

Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota are continuing, according to Democracy Now on October 7.  On October 5, three U.S. federal judges heard arguments  over whether to stop the construction, but they are not expected to make a ruling for three or four months.  Meanwhile, Jeremy Brecher of the Labor Network for Sustainability released a new post , Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor,  which asks “Why has this become a divisive issue within labor, and can it have a silver lining for a troubled labor movement?”  The article discusses the AFL-CIO’s  statement  in support of the pipeline, and points to the growing influence of the North America’s Building Trades Unions’ within the AFL-CIO through their campaign of “stealth disaffiliation”.  It also cites an “ unprecedented decision” by the Labor Coalition for Community Action,  an official constituency group of the AFL-CIO , to issue their own statement in support of the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in direct opposition to the main AFL-CIO position. The Climate Justice Alliance, an environmental justice group of 40 organizations, has also written to the AFL-CIO in an attempt to begin discussions.  Brecher’s article concludes that the allies and activist members of the AFL-CIO are exerting increasing pressure, and asks “Isn’t it time?” for a dialogue which will shift direction and build a new fossil-free infrastructure which  will also create jobs in the U.S.    For unions interested in supporting the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, a sample resolution for local unions is available from the Climate Workers website.

Standing Rock Sioux Nation protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline: A turning point for Indigenous solidarity

Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline have been underway since August; the Standing Rock Sioux Nation through whose land the pipeline would pass say that it would damage the Missouri River,  their water supply, as well as sacred sites. Environmentalists object to its capacity of 570,000-barrels-per-day of oil from  North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation, representing GHG emissions equivalent to 29.5 coal plants. For a chronology and  in-depth coverage of the issue, go to Democracy Now   , whose reporter Amy Goodman brought the world’s attention to the protests with her video report on September 6 ,  showing security personnel  attacking protestors with mace and dogs. The Indigenous Environment Network  also offers frequent updates.  On September 9, a U.S. court denied the Sioux Nation’s request for an emergency restraining order against the project; hours later, the White House intervened to order a halt on the disputed section, and the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior issued a Joint Statement   withdrawing the Army’s authorization for construction until it can determine whether it needs to revisit  any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site .  Furthermore,  from the Joint Statement:  “ this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.  Therefore, this fall, we will invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations on two questions:  (1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals. ”  Even before the White House intervention, the Washington Post acknowledged the importance of this dispute in  “Showdown over oil pipeline becomes a national movement for Native Americans”   (Sept. 7); for a more up-to-date appraisal see an article at Think Progress  which acknowledges the long legal road ahead, but calls the DAPL a turning point.

On September 22,  in ceremonies in Vancouver and Montreal , at least 50 First Nations from Canada and the U.S. (including the Standing Rock Sioux) signed on to the Treaty Alliance against Oils Sands Expansion, which pledges coordinated opposition to projects that will expand the production of the Alberta Tar Sands, including the transport of oil sands products by pipeline, rail or tanker. That includes “all five current tar sands pipeline and tanker project proposals – Kinder Morgan, Energy East, Line 3, Northern Gateway and Keystone XL.  The Treaty, as well as the background to it, is available here  .

In the U.S., the “jobs vs. the environment”  controversy has surfaced again over the DAPL. See the August press release from the Laborers’ International Union which states:  “Today, the General Presidents of four skilled craft unions, Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), and United Association (UA), sent a letter to the North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple encouraging him to use the power of his office to protect the jobs of thousands of American workers who are lawfully constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline.”   On September 15,  the AFL-CIO issued a statement   calling on the Obama administration to allow construction to continue, saying “it is fundamentally unfair to hold union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay. The Dakota Access Pipeline is providing over 4,500 high-quality, family supporting jobs.”    Other U.S. unions, including the National Nurses Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, and United Electrical Workers,  are supporting the DAPL protests:  see Portside coverage here (Sept 17), here   (Sept. 19), and see analysis at “As Tribes Fight Pipeline, Internal AFL-CIO Letter Exposes ‘Very Real Split’”  in  Common Dreams (Sept. 22).