Union conference focus: fighting climate change with innovative campaigns

LNS convergence meetingLabour and climate activists gathered to exchange experiences and plan for future action at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate event, held on September 23-24, under the banner “Building Worker Power to Confront Climate Change.”  The meeting was hosted by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), which  recently released a report on the meetings  summarizing the impressive initiatives and projects,  including:  the Canadian Postal Workers Union proposal Delivering Community Power,  which envisions expansion and re-purposing of the postal station network to provide electric vehicle charging stations, farm-to-table food delivery, and  community banking ; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters described the San Francisco Zero Waste program that now diverts 80% of municipal waste from landfills into recycling and composting and provides union jobs; Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199  described their environmental and climate justice programs, resulting from the impact of disasters  like Superstorm Sandy;  worker training programs at the Net-Zero Energy training facility built by the  International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 595 in partnership with the Northern California National Electrical Contractors Association; the United Food and Commercial Workers described their experience with the  Good Food Purchasing Policy as a tool for protecting and enhancing labor standards for workers in the food industry and advancing climate justice; and the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen profiled their successful Green Diesel campaign to win cleaner fuel engines and a visionary strategy called  “Solutionary Rail” ,  profiled in “How we can turn railroads into a climate solution”  in Grist (March 2017) and in “ Electric Trains everywhere – A Solution to crumbling roads and climate crisis”  in  YES Magazine (May 2017).

Participants at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate included over 130 people –  labour union leaders, organizers, and rank and file activists from 17 unions, 3 state federations/central labor councils and 6 labor support organizations,  as well as environmental and economic justice activists.

A closer look at electric vehicle growth: impact on pollution, and labour conditions in the mines supplying raw materials

solar-power-1020194_1920The summer started with several “good news” stories about the surge of electric vehicles, such as “Starting in 2019, Volvo will use electricity to power every new model” from the Washington Post (July 5) , quoting Volvo’s CEO :  “This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car.”  Bloomberg Business Week, summarizing the findings of its latest New Energy forecast,  stated on July 7, “in just eight years, electric cars will be as cheap as gasoline vehicles, pushing the global fleet to 530 million vehicles by 2040″, and “Electric cars will outsell fossil-fuel powered vehicles within two decades as battery prices plunge, turning the global auto industry upside down and signaling economic turmoil for oil-exporting countries” .  On July 6,  France announced   it would end the sale of gas and diesel cars by 2040 ,  and on July 26 the U.K. released its Clean Air Plan, which included  a ban on the sale of new diesel and gas cars after 2040, with only electric vehicles available after that.

Response to the U.K. announcement is mixed.  In “Electric cars are not the solution to air pollution” Professor Frank Kelly, a professor of environmental health at King’s College London and chair of the government’s  Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants states that “The government’s plan does not go nearly far enough,” “Our cities need fewer cars, not just cleaner cars.”  In his role as a member of  the Centre for London’s commission on the future of the capital’s roads and streets  ,    Professor Kelly provides more detail about the problem of particle pollution and states:  “London should lead in showing electric cars will not tackle air pollution”  in The Guardian (August 4).  His conclusion: “The safe and efficient movement of people around the city can only be achieved through a clean and expanded mass transit system served by buses, overground trains and the underground system – and as much active transport in the form of walking and cycling as is feasibly possible.”

Others are raising issues about electric vehicles on other grounds, specifically the environmental costs  and labour conditions of producing the lithium ion batteries that power them.  These are not new concerns:  Carla Lipsig Mumme and Caleb Goods raised the flag in June 2015 with “The battery revolution is exciting, but remember they pollute too”   in The Conversation.   In January 2016, Amnesty International published a detailed documentation of the hazardous working conditions and the use of child labour in cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in  This is what we die for: Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo power the global trade in cobalt  . (Cobalt is also used in mobile phones, laptop computers, and other portable electronic devices). The report  is available in English, French and Chinese from this link .

More recently,  “Politically charged: do you know where your batteries come from? ” appeared in The Conversation (July 26),   providing an overview of the geography , politics, and environmental impact of  lithium-ion battery raw materials. Briefly, the current major producers of lithium are Australia, Chile, Argentina and China, with Australia and Chile accounting for about 75% of the total. The main environmental concern, especially in Chile, is that the extraction can impact water supply in desert areas.  The article also looks at supply chain issues and states : “With almost half of the world’s cobalt ore reserves concentrated in Democratic Republic of Congo for the foreseeable future, and with a large proportion of refining capacity located in China, the supply chain could be more vulnerable.”  Not to mention the vulnerability of the miners Amnesty International has documented.

A  Canadian viewpoint on  the issue of supply:   “Clean Energy Spurs Lithium Rush, Demands Response to ‘Dirty Mining’” in the  Energy Mix (August 8). In the article, Financial Post columnist Peter Tertzakian states: “ it takes the equivalent of 15,000 cell phone batteries to make one battery for an electric car,” and “ramping up raw material inputs to build millions of car batteries a year fills the back of the envelope with scalability issues.” These supply issues may lead to a growth of “dirty mining” practices.  Will Canada be affected by the push for clean energy raw materials?  We do not currently produce lithium, although the article states that  engineers are trying to isolate it from tar sand/oil sand waste. We are a minor producer of other battery components,  graphite and cobalt, and the 3rd largest  producer of  nickel in the world.  According to Bloomberg News in August, the growth of electric vehicles will drive a doubling of demand for nickel by 2050. However, Bloomberg reports that  mining giant  BHP Bilton will invest in Australia to make it the world’s largest producer of nickel for electric vehicle batteries.

A final troubling issue with electric vehicles: disposal.  “The rise of electric cars could leave us with a big battery waste problem ”   according to The Guardian (August 10) , which cites the International Energy Agency estimates of  140m electric cars globally by 2030, resulting in a possible  11 million tonnes of spent lithium-ion batteries in need of recycling.  Two solutions are profiled in the article: recycling and reuse. The recycling profile features the CEO of  Canadian battery recycling start-up company, Li-Cycle, which is pioneering a  wet chemistry process which would  retrieve all of the important metals from batteries. The  proponents of the re-use solution include Aceleron and carmaker Nissan, which has patented a process for re-use. The article states that  car batteries can still have up to 70% of their capacity when they stop being good enough to power electric vehicles, so that they can be broken down, tested and re-packaged for functions such as home energy storage.

 

 

 

2 million electric vehicles globally, and less than 30,000 in Canada. How best to encourage more?

Electric vehicles Wikimedia Commons 768x512.jpg

From Wikimedia Commons

The latest edition of the Global EV Outlook 2017 was released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in June, reporting that the global electric car stock, (mainly Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)), surpassed 2 million units in 2016 – an increase of 60% from 2015. China is the leader with the most vehicles, at 648,770 units, followed by the U.S. at 563,710.  China is also the leader in other electrified modes – with over 300,000 electric buses.  In terms of market share, Norway, with its its small population of 5.25 million  is the leader: its 133,260 units represent a 28.76% market share. Canada, with its population of 36.5 million people,  is well behind the pack with an electric vehicle stock of 29,270 units, representing a market share of 0.57%, according to the IEA.   (Perhaps not so bad, considering that electric vehicles still only represent 0.2% of all passenger cars worldwide) . Besides tabulating national statistics and trends regarding vehicle stock and charging stations, the report includes a substantial discussion of supportive policies amongst the member countries.

Canada committed to developing a national strategy to increase the number of zero-emission vehicles on Canadian roads by 2018  in the Pan-Canadian Framework agreement,  and the policy process is currently under review – as summarized in an article in the National Observer .  On May 26, the Minister of Transport announced that:  “ a national Advisory Group has been established to contribute to developing options for addressing the key barriers for greater deployment of these technologies in five areas: vehicle supply, cost and benefits of ownership, infrastructure readiness, public awareness, and clean growth and clean jobs.  The Advisory Group includes representatives from governments, industry, consumer and non-government organizations and academia. ”  One of the members of the Advisory Group is the non-profit Équiterre , which at the end of May released a new report :   Accelerating the transition to electric mobility in Canada .  The report modelled three scenarios for ZEV adoption and concluded that only “the scenario with a legal mandate to sell a certain number of electric vehicles resulted in the market share necessary to drive down greenhouse gas emissions in line with international targets.”

Another new report, from the Ecofiscal Commission, Supporting Carbon Pricing:  How to identify policies that genuinely complement an economy-wide carbon price , provides a detailed case study on electric vehicle subsidies  in Quebec, including a consideration of how they interact with other emissions regulations.  The Ecofiscal report suggests that the current subsidy system  results in a high cost for emissions reduction, and that flexible regulations “might be a more cost-effective approach to increasing ZEV uptake” than a supply-side mandate .   Currently, Quebec is the only Canadian jurisdiction with such supply-side regulation; under Bill 104, passed in October 2016, 3.5 % of the total number of vehicles sold or leased by car manufacturers in Quebec must be zero emissions vehicles starting in 2018,  and by 2020, the standard will  rise to 15.5 %. For an overview of the issue and support for the rebate policy option, see Clare Demerse’  article in Policy Options, “Rebates should be part of electric car strategy”  (June 9) .

Canada has signed on to a new international campaign, EV 30@30, which was announced on June 8 at the 8th Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM8) held in Beijing .  The press release  for the campaign states a target of  at least 30 percent new electric vehicle sales by 2030, and: “The campaign will support the market for electric passenger cars, light commercial vans, buses and trucks (including battery-electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell vehicle types). It will also work towards the deployment of charging infrastructure to supply sufficient power to the vehicles deployed.”   A large part of the implementation will be through efforts to increase public and private sector commitments for EV fleet procurement and deployment. The program will also establish a Global EV Pilot City program to reach 100 electric vehicle-friendly cities around the World over five years, and encourage research into all aspects of deployment.  Full explanation of the 30@30 campaign is here .

Along with Canada, other countries signing on to the EV30@30 campaign include China, Finland, France, India, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.  (The U.S., U.K., Korea and South Africa are members of the CEM Electric Vehicle Initiative, but did not sign on to the 30@30 initiative).  In addition to participant countries, the following groups support the campaign:  C40, the FIA Foundation, the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI), the Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC), the Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT), The Climate Group, UN Environment, UN Habitat, and the International Zero Emission Vehicle Alliance (ZEV Alliance).

Catching up to the transportation revolution: Canada will have a national electric vehicle strategy by 2018

Electric vehicles Wikimedia Commons 768x512On May 26, Canada’s Minister of Transportation announced  that Canada will develop  a national electric vehicle strategy by 2018 in consultation with provincial and territorial governments, as promised in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change agreement.  A national Advisory Group has already been established to develop options in five areas: vehicle supply, cost and benefits of ownership, infrastructure readiness, public awareness, and clean growth and clean jobs.  The Advisory Group includes representatives from governments, industry, consumer and non-government organizations and academia.  In November 2016, the Minister had released a vision document,   Transportation 2030: A Strategic Plan for the Future of Transportation in Canada , which included all modes of transportation – air, ships, trucks and trains, as well as  a section on Green and Innovative Transport . According to the government press release on May 26 , transportation accounts for about 24 percent of Canada’s emissions, mostly from cars and trucks.  The Pembina Institute states that there are only 21,000 electric cars on the road in Canada in 2017.

Relevant views of the future:    Expect the Unexpected  , a report from Carbon Tracker Initiative in February 2017,  forecasts that electric vehicles will account for over two-thirds of the road transport market worldwide by 2050.  “The Transportation Revolution is Closer Than You Think” , a May 22 blog  from Climate Works Foundation summarizes several recent studies.    And a new report, Three Revolutions in Urban Transportation  envisions three scenarios up to 2050, and states:  “ The world is on the cusp of three revolutions in transportation: vehicle electrification, automation, and widespread shared mobility (sharing of vehicle trips). Separately or together, these revolutions will fundamentally change urban transportation around the world over the next three decades.”    …Our central finding is that while vehicle electrification and automation may produce potentially important benefits, without a corresponding shift toward shared mobility and greater use of transit and active transport, these two revolutions could significantly increase congestion and urban sprawl, while also increasing the likelihood of missing climate change targets. In contrast, by encouraging a large increase in trip sharing, transit use, and active transport through policies that support compact, mixed use development, cities worldwide could save an estimated $5 trillion annually by 2050 while improving livability and increasing the likelihood of meeting climate change targets.”  Three Revolutions was published by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways at UC Davis.

3 revolutions in transportation Infographic_itdp

Ontario investing in transit, vehicle R & D

GO transit stationOn March 31, the Government of Ontario announced  that it will invest  $13.5 billion in the GO Regional Express Rail  project – expanding the existing GO commuter rail system in the Toronto-Hamilton area by building 12 new stations and  increasing  the frequency of service. This expansion will also include  creating a “transportation hub” at  the western terminus of the Toronto subway, according to a subsequent announcement on April 3 .  The goal is to increase the number of weekly trips across the GO train network from 1,500 today to roughly 6,000 by 2025.   The federal government will also contribute more than $1.8 billion to the GO Transit Regional Express rail project, using  funds from the Harper-era  New Building Canada Fund – Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Component.   A further $200 million has been committed to 312 projects across Ontario through the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund  . Click here  for a list of Ontario projects. Click here for the corporate explanation of the Regional Express Rail project.

Newmarket – a bedroom community of the Toronto area – announced  on March 27 that it will be part of  the Pan-Ontario Electric Bus Demonstration and Integration Trial, joining another GTA suburb, Brampton, already enrolled.  Newmarket will purchase six electric powered heavy-duty transit buses – four  from New Flyer Industries of Winnipeg, Manitoba and two more from Nova Bus, of St. Eustache, Quebec. Overhead-charging stations will be designed and manufactured by Siemens and ABBGroup. The local utility,  Newmarket-TayPower Distribution Limited, will  purchase and operate an on-route charging station.  The initiative is the result of a partnership between the municipality, the utility, and the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC)  , incorporated in August 2014 to support industry-academic collaborations to develop next generation technologies for Canadian transit and transportation systems.

In another press release , the government of Ontario announced a joint partnership with the federal government and Ford Motor Company of Canada, providing Ford with a conditional grant of up to $102.4 million to establish an advanced manufacturing program at its Windsor plant. According to the press release, “the investment will create 300 new jobs at Ford operations in Ontario and protect hundreds more.”  Ford will also establish a Research and Engineering Centre in Ottawa, employing engineers and scientists  to focus on infotainment, in-vehicle modems, gateway modules, driver-assist features and autonomous vehicles.