Amnesty International campaign calls for better mining, manufacture, and disposal of electric vehicle batteries

golf electricWhile the Nordic EV Summit   in March 2019 showcased progress on the adoption of electric vehicles, Amnesty International used that backdrop to  issue a challenge to leaders in the electric vehicle industry –  to produce the world’s first completely ethical battery, free of human rights abuses within its supply chain, within five years.

It is not news that the mining of  cobalt and lithium, the two key minerals in batteries, has been linked to human rights abuses, environmental pollution, ecosystem destruction and indigenous rights violations.   Amnesty was amongst the first to document the child labour and human rights abuses with a report This is what we die for   in 2016,  updated in  2017 by an article,  “The Dark Side of Electric Cars: Exploitative Labor Practices”.  More recently, “Indigenous people’s livelihoods at risk in scramble for lithium, the new white goldappeared in The Ethical Corporation  (April 9), describing the human rights situation in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, which hold 60% of the world’s lithium reserves. The environmental impacts of deep-sea mining are also of concern.

In addition to the mining of raw materials, battery manufacturing has a high carbon footprint, with most of the current manufacturing concentrated in China, South Korea and Japan, where electricity generation remains dependent on coal and other polluting sources of power.

Finally, the issue of electronic waste, including batteries, has been the subject of several  reports:  From  the International Labour Organization :  in 2012,  Global Impact of E-waste: Addressing the Challenge and more recently,  Decent work in the management of electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) , an Issues paper produced for a Global Dialogue Forum on Decent Work in the Management of Electrical and Electronic Waste in April 2019.  The 2019  report provides estimates of the workforce involved in some countries – led by China, with an estimated 690,000 workers in 2007, followed by up to 100,000 in Nigeria , followed by 60,000 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  The report deals mainly with occupational health and safety issues and includes an overview of international  e-waste regulation, as well as case studies of  the U.S., Argentina, China, India, Japan, Nigeria.  Similar discussions appear in  A New Circular Vision for Electronics Time for a Global Reboot , released by the E-waste Coalition at the 2019 World Economic Forum, and in a blog, Dead Batteries deserve a Second Life published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development on April 9.evcobalt-lithium-V2_1-supply-chain

Clearly, there are labour and environmental problems related to lithium-ion batteries and the green vehicles and electronic devices they power.  Recognizing  all these concerns, the new Amnesty International campaign is calling for:  improvement in human rights practices in mining, and  a prohibition on commercial deep-sea mining; disclosure and accounting for carbon in manufacturing, and for legal protection and enforcement of workplace rights such as health, equality and non-discrimination; finally for products to be designed and regulated to encourage re-use and penalize waste, with prevention of  illegal or dangerous export and dumping of batteries.

Canadian-made Pacifica van priced out of Electric Vehicle incentives in Budget 2019-Update: layoffs announced at Windsor van plant

Hybrid Pacifica 2019 modelUpdated March 29 re associated layoffs at Windsor plant

Canada’s federal Budget 2019 delivered on March 19, included a number of policies  aimed at speeding  up EV adoption: a 2040 deadline to phase out new internal combustion vehicle sales, $130 million over the next five years  to build electric vehicle charging stations,  and consumer rebates for purchases of electric and hybrid vehicles ($5000 for purchases under $45K).  On March 22, CTV Windsor reported on a protest rally by Unifor Local 444  and local  NDP politicans, who are  infuriated that the EV consumer incentives program carries a price limit set at $45K  – which excludes the Canadian-built Pacifica Hybrid, priced at $54,000.  The  CBC also reported  “Federal rebate on electric cars will push consumers to buy American, NDP says” .

Brian Masse, NDP Member of Parliament for Windsor-West is promoting a petition demanding to have all Canadian-built hybrids, including the Pacifica Hybrid, added to the list of incentive-eligible vehicles.

Update:  On March 28, the Windsor Star reported  “FCA Canada to stop third shift at Windsor Assembly Plant, cutting 1,500 jobs”.  The article quotes a company email which states: “In order to better align production with global demand at its Windsor Assembly Plant, FCA notified Unifor today that it intends to return the plant to a traditional two-shift operation, beginning Sept. 30, 2019….Retirement packages will be offered to eligible employees. The Company will make every effort to place indefinitely laid off hourly employees in open full-time positions as they become available based on seniority.”  The plant will also be on shutdown for the weeks of April 8 and 15.  Although Premier Ford is quoted as saying that the government will “fight tooth and nail” for the workers, there is no mention of restoring the electric vehicle purchase incentives which the Ford government discontinued in Summer 2018.

In further critiques of the electric vehicle incentive package:  Almost immediately, critics pointed out  that there were no sales mandates for auto manufacturers, despite previous findings that car dealers were failing to meet a high consumer  demand- for example, in Batteries Not Included (2018).

Stalled: why North American lags as China and Europe lead the way on electric vehiclesis an Opinion piece by Will Dubitsky in the National Observer (March 20), which calls the EV purchase incentives “a halfway measure offering less than the consumer rebate programs elsewhere,” and judging the $130 million over five years  for charging and refuelling stations “mediocre” compared to equivalent commitments in California and the EU.

Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood calls the incentives “modest” in his overall analysis of Budget 2019, “Budget fiddles while climate crisis burns” (March 20).

Budget 2019 provides modest funding for climate change improvements – Just Transition, electric vehicles, energy efficiency

budget2019Updated March 25, 2019 with reactions.

No clean economy vision is evident in the  pre-election budget , Investing in the Middle Class, delivered by Canada’s Finance Minister on March 19.  The National Observer has a Special Report on Budget 2019 , composed of  twelve focused articles covering the range of notable provisions. Mitchell Beer provides a good summary of the Budget’s climate-related provisions, in “Morneau’s Pre-Election Budget Boosts ZEVs and Energy Retrofits, Extends New Fossil Subsidy”  in the Energy Mix (March 20).  Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party is quoted in that article, and says that the climate provisions are “pathetic” – a similar reaction to that of Environmental Defence,which states more diplomatically that “funding for climate change in this budget does not match the scale of the challenge”. Similarly, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reaction judges the climate provisions as “modest efforts to move forward on greening the economy”, although calls the just transition plan “an important precedent.”  The Canadian Labour Congress reaction is a lengthly commentary on many worker-related initiatives  – including the issue of Just Transition.

UPDATED: Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood weighed  in with his overall analysis, in “Budget fiddles while climate crisis burns” (March 20), judging the initiatives as modest and inadequate to the urgent task – with the greatest disappointment being the ongoing support to the oil and gas industry.  Similarly, Climate Action Network Canada  states that “business as usual policy is no longer acceptable to respond to the climate crisis and the level of climate action that citizens, students, workers and communities are urgently demanding.”

On the issue of Just Transition:  The Budget plan text on Just Transition reiterates the previous Budget’s pledge of $35 million over five years for Just Transition of coal workers.  In its reaction, the Canadian Labour Congress  acknowledges the new pledge of  $150 million in infrastructure funding to directly assist resource-based municipalities, but quotes Hassan Yussuff, Co-Chair of Canada’s Task Force on Just Transition: “… Canada’s unions are looking forward to working with the Minister of Natural Resources as the newly named lead minister, but are disappointed to see that the government has not addressed key Task Force recommendations to support workers, in terms of income, training and reemployment needs. Without this, workers will be left behind.”

More details appear in  “Coal workers get cash in budget but lack of details risks ‘major blowback”  in the National Observer (March 19), including that the  $150 million infrastructure funding will not flow until the 2020-2021 fiscal year.  Funds  will be delivered by Western Economic Diversification Canada at a rate of $21 million a year over 4 years,  and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency , at a rate of $9 million a year for 4 year.

On the issue of fossil fuel subsidies:  The government  reaffirmed its long-standing (and unfulfilled) commitments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies , and pledged to establish an expert committee to examine the issue. Here is the reaction from the Stop Funding Fossils Initiative: “This year marks the tenth anniversary of Canada’s G20 commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. Yet, despite moderate progress in the 2017 budget, Canada remains the largest provider of fiscal support to oil and gas production in the G7 relative to the size of its economy…. the Government of Canada has doubled down on fossil fuels by introducing billions of dollars in new subsidies in the past year. Budget 2019 allocates a further $100 million over four years to the Strategic Innovation Fund, aiming to help the oil and gas industry reduce emissions. ”

(Coincidentally, the 2019 Annual Fossil Fuel Report Card  was released on March 20, revealing  that global banks have invested nearly US$2 trillion in fossil projects since the Paris Agreement was signed, and Canada’s Bank of Montreal, RBC, ScotiaBank and CIBC  are amongst the worst offenders. )

On the issue of electric vehicles: Budget 2019 included a number of policies  aimed at speeding  up EV adoption, including a  2040 deadline to phase out new internal combustion vehicle sales, and consumer rebates for purchases of electric and hybrid vehicles ($5000 for purchases under $45K).  Despite recent reports that EV supply is restricting purchases, the government did not institute a mandatory sales mandate for car manufacturers. Businesses will be allowed to deduct the full value of a new ZEVehicle  worth up to $55,000 in the year they purchase it.  The government also pledged $130 million over the next five years  to build electric vehicle charging stations – specifically including workplaces in the named locations.  The National Observer summarizes these proposals in “Canada proposes rebates for electric cars, voluntary sales mandate”. 

UPDATED:  Unionists and local politicians staged a protest rally at the Windsor plant which manufactures the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid on March 22. CTV Windsor  reported  that leaders of Unifor Local 444 and local  NDP politicans are  infuriated that the consumer incentives carry a price limit set at $45K  – excluding the Canadian-built Pacifica Hybrid, priced at $54,000.  The  CBC also reported  “Federal rebate on electric cars will push consumers to buy American, NDP says” .  And an Opinion piece by Will Dubitsky,  “Stalled: why North American lags as China and Europe lead the way on electric vehicles”  in the  National Observer (March 20)  calls the EV purchase incentives “a halfway measure offering less than the consumer rebate programs elsewhere,” and judging the $130 million over five years  for charging and refuelling stations “mediocre” compared to equivalent commitments in California and the EU.

On the issue of infrastructure and the built environment:  The text of the government’s announcement relating to energy efficiency is here , and a Backgrounder: Strong Communities, Affordable Electricity and a Clean Economy  is also relevant.     Initiatives include $1.01 billion in funding, immediately, to increase energy efficiency in residential, commercial and multi-unit buildings – in the form of financing and grants to retrofit community buildings, financing for municipal initiatives to support home retrofits, and financing to improve energy efficiency and support on-site energy generation in affordable housing developments .  Funds will be administered through the Green Municipal Fund of  the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.   Macleans magazine summarizes this, as well as infrastructure funding, in “Cities are billion-dollar winners in Budget 2019”   which states that “the biggest single new spending item in the budget is a $2.2 billion “one-time transfer” through the federal Gas Tax Fund. That money doubles the usual federal-municipal transfer through that mechanism. The windfall is intended to address “serious infrastructure deficits” in municipalities and First Nations communities.”

 

U.S. energy employment report shows job growth in oil and gas, energy efficiency; decline in solar jobs

US energy jobs report 2019The U.S. Energy and Employment Report 2019 edition  (USEER) was released by the National Association of State Energy Officials and the think tank Energy Futures Initiative on March 6 , providing  detailed statistics about the energy workforce and the industrial sectors in which they work.  The 2019 USEER reports on the “Traditional Energy Sector” (composed of fuels; electric power generation; and electric power transmission, distribution and storage) as well as the energy efficiency sector. Those four sectors combined to employ approximately 6.7 million Americans, or 4.6 percent of the  workforce, with an employment growth rate of almost 7 percent in 2018, outpacing the economy as a whole.  The report also includes statistics on the motor vehicle and parts industry, (excluding automobile dealerships and retailers) – which grew at a rate of 3%, employing over 2.53 million workers. Of these, almost 254,000 employees worked with alternative fuels vehicles, including natural gas, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, all-electric, and fuel cell/hydrogen vehicles, an increase of nearly 34,000 jobs.

Noteworthy trends:  the number of jobs in solar decreased by 4.2% in 2018 (the latest Solar Foundation Census reported a decrease of  3.2% for 2017- 2018);  Oil and natural gas employers added the most new jobs in the fuel sector, nearly 51,000, most of which were in  mining and extraction; the energy efficiency sector  produced the most new jobs of any energy sector—over 76,000—with 2,324,866 jobs in total, and an anticipated growth rate of approximately 8%.

This is the second edition of the USEER Report to be published by the National Association of State Energy Officials and Energy Futures Initiative, and as before, it uses same the survey instrument and underlying methodology as was used when the U.S. Department of Energy was responsible, so that data is compatible for year-over-year comparisons. The survey was administered to over 30,000 employers across 53 different energy technologies in late 2018.  Data shows:  Employment numbers and trends; Employer hiring expectations for the next 12 months; Hiring difficulty by technology and industrial classification; High demand jobs and skills gaps; Workforce demographics by race, ethnicity, gender, and veteran’s status; highly detailed geographic location by state, county, congressional and legislative districts. A separate report on energy wage data is scheduled for release later in 2019.  Reports are available in several formats:   a  Full Report, Executive Summary, and reports by State, as well as individual sections for Fuels; Electric Power Generation Transmission, Distribution, and Storage; Energy Efficiency; and Motor Vehicles & Component Parts.

Reports on the future of Ontario’s auto industry: one by experts, one by the Ontario government

future of auto industryIn The Future of Canada’s Auto Industry , released on February 26, co-authors Charlotte Yates and John Holmes assess  the sector’s current state – focusing on trade agreements and technological innovation –  and recommend a suite of policies to boost competitiveness and avoid plant closures, especially timely in the aftermath of the “shocking” closure announcement of GM Oshawa.  Although concentrated in Ontario, the industry is important nationally: “The automotive industry contributes significantly to Canada’s economic prosperity through investment, employment and technological innovation. Currently, it is Canada’s second largest manufacturing industry, adding $18.28 billion a year to GDP, $86.58 billion a year to Canadian exports (17% of total merchandise exports), and employing over 126,000 people directly and half a million people indirectly.”

The authors acknowledge the importance of the future trend to electric and autonomous vehicles, and propose a green industrial policy with targeted supports for companies that commit to building green vehicles sustainably. They point out current  shortages of skilled workers and the aging workforce in the industry, and call for   a workforce development plan that will invest in engineering, technical and data analytic skills, including trades and apprenticeships and income supports for skills retraining towards a just transition for workers.  They acknowledge the challenges of global competitiveness and the need for research and development, and call for financial incentives, including tax credits and grants, and better access to capital for small- and medium-sized Canadian technology companies, as well as more focused R & D investments. In general, they call for deep collaboration between the federal and Ontario government, rising above bureaucratic and jurisdictional interests.  Flagged as the most important condition for future success for the industry:  “government policy needs to prioritize the North American automotive platform centered on the Great Lakes. Canada–U.S. auto production and trade could be further integrated to create even greater competitive advantages of efficiency associated with a larger regional production footprint. Canada continues to need preferential tariff access to the American market for finished goods for this model to succeed.”

The Future of Canada’s Auto Industry was published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.  A summary article which appeared in the Toronto Star on February 26,   “Electric, driverless vehicles key to survival of Canada’s auto industry ” gives short shrift to the trade relationships and the complex global dynamics of the auto industry, which figure more prominently in the actual report.  The authors, John Holmes and Charlotte Yates, are both members of Canada’s Automotive Policy Research Centre (APRC), with long and deep knowledge of Canada’s  auto industry.

autostrategy_2019Ontario government discussion paper recommends less red tape and “pro-jobs labour reforms”: 

In a second report, the same issues are discussed but with much different emphasis and level of analysis.  The Ontario government’s  discussion paper, Driving Prosperity: the Future of Ontario’s Automotive Sector  was released in February under the “Open for Business” mandate.  The government describes the paper as:  “… a 10-year vision for how industry, the research and education sector, and all three levels of government, can work together to strengthen the auto sector’s competitiveness and bring new jobs to the province.”  In the introduction, the government states “We are driving prosperity in the industry and creating a pro-jobs environment by cutting red tape, eliminating the cap-and-trade carbon tax, allowing businesses to write off job-creating capital investments faster, and
embracing pro-jobs labour reforms.”

Although the government report acknowledges technological disruption and trade issues as challenges, there is no direct mention of the GM Oshawa plant closing – and in fact, most of the statistics provided are from 2017.   The issue of retraining and skills upgrading is raised in the general context of changing technologies, stating: “ We also want to minimize the disruption caused to workers and their families by technology and production mandate changes. We need to find new ways to respond to complex challenges. We need to establish new relationships with government partners in labour and academia to help Ontarians find faster and smarter training solutions.”