Paths forward for decarbonization in Canada: two new reports

TopAsksCover-600x777In June, the Columbia Institute’s Centre for Civic Governance released the first annual progress report  on the  18 federal and 24 provincial/territorial policies that it had identified in its 2016 report, Top Asks for Climate Action: Ramping Up Low Carbon Communities . The 2016 report focuses on local government issues and the policy support they  need from the federal, provincial and territorial governments in the areas of  capacity building, funding, buildings, transportation and smart growth.  The 2017 Report Card  credits the federal government for some accomplishments – such as establishing a national price on carbon – and highlights nine  key areas where “room for improvement” remains.  These are: 1) establishing scientific GHG targets that will meet Paris Agreement commitments; 2)Establishing a mechanism that will guarantee new infrastructure spending that won’t lock Canadians into a high carbon path; 3) Moving faster on eliminating fossil fuel subsidies; 4)Providing more robust tools for retrofitting homes and commercial buildings; 5)Providing all communities with energy, emissions and natural capital baseline data; 6) Prioritizing transit and active transportation over auto-only infrastructure; 7) Giving priority to community and Indigenous -owned renewable energy projects to advance energy democracy in Canada;  8) Developing a national thermal energy strategy; 9) Helping local governments transition to low carbon fleets.  A June 5  article in the National Observer summarizes the report, and provides response from the federal government.

A second  new report, Re-Energizing Canada: Pathways to a Low-Carbon Future , takes a more academic approach, but includes many of the same issues.  The report, published by Sustainable Canada Dialogues, is the product of  input from Canadian academics and First Nations, establishes a framework of our energy system, and examines the important issues in Canadian energy policy with statistics and analysis.  The report identifies governance issues as central to a successful low-carbon energy transition, and states: “we believe that the key barriers to accelerating the low-carbon energy transition are social, political and organizational.” Many of its recommendations relate to governance structures needed for policy harmonization.   Re-energizing Canada was Commissioned by Natural Resources Canada in Fall 2016, and published by  Sustainable Canada Dialogues,   a Canada-wide network of over 80 scholars from engineering, sciences and social sciences. It is an initiative of the UNESCO-McGill Chair for Dialogues on Sustainability and is housed in Montreal.

Bold recommendations from the Expert Panel on Modernization of the National Energy Board – but experts call for more

NEB_banner1-eIn November 2016, Canada’s  Minister of Natural Resources commissioned an  5-person Expert Panel on the Modernization of the National Energy Board , mandated “ to position the NEB as a modern, efficient, and effective energy regulator and regain public trust”. After public hearings and submissions, the results are in, in the form of 26 recommendations released on May 15, in their report:  Forward,Together: Enabling Canada’s Clean, Safe, and Secure Energy Future .   Chief among the recommendations:  replace the current Board  with a new organization called the Canadian Energy Transmission Commission, to be based in Ottawa rather than Calgary, with radically increased scale and scope of stakeholder engagement, and especially with an increased role for Indigenous people.  The report also calls for a new, independent Canadian Energy Information Agency to provide energy data, information, and analysis. The Panel lays out a detailed vision of a new process, based on 5 core principles of: Living the Nation-to-Nation Relationship with Indigenous Peoples; Alignment of Regulatory Activities to National Policy Goals; Transparency of Decision-Making & Restoring Confidence ; Public Engagement Throughout the Lifecycle; and Regulatory Efficiency and Effectiveness.

For summaries and a range of immediate  response to the Panel’s recommendations, see : “Trudeau- appointed panel recommends replacement of the National Energy Board” in the National Observer , which provides summary, reaction, and background based on its ground-breaking, sustained investigations into the NEB process;  “Scrap NEB and replace it with 2 separate agencies, expert panel recommends” from CBC Calgary, with a sense of Alberta’s reaction; “National Energy Board needs major overhaul, Panel says”   in the Globe and Mail, which seems to greet the news with a yawn. 

For substantive response, see “NEB Modernization Panel report: The good, the workable and the ugly”   from West Coast Environmental Law, which states: “environmental lawyers say that the report completely misses the mark when it comes to how projects like oil pipelines should be assessed, and disagree with the Panel’s approach to determining whether individual energy projects are in the national interest.”

The “Statement by Environmental Defence’s Patrick DeRochie on the report from the Expert Panel on National Energy Board Modernization”   says:   “the Panel’s proposal for the Federal Cabinet to determine whether a project is in the national interest before it undergoes an environmental assessment is problematic. Responsibility for environmental assessments must be removed from the energy regulator and be completed before a Cabinet decision.” Environmental Defence also states that the NEB’s review of the Energy East pipeline must be put on hold until NEB modernization is complete.

From DeSmog Canada, “Trudeau promised to fix the National Energy Board. Here’s what his Panel Recommends” summarizes the contents.  In “Will a Repackaged National Energy Board Be Able to Meet Canada’s 21st Century Challenges? ”  Chris Tollefson of the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation  frames the report in its larger context, and states: “What the Expert Panel fails to address, however, is the need fundamentally to reform the assessment that major energy projects must undergo before we, as a society, allow them to proceed. These assessments must be capable of supporting informed, transparent and defensible social choices about future development.  This is quite different from regulatory processes that are principally aimed at mitigating anticipated harms. …. where this Expert Panel has failed, and where the CEAA, 2012 Expert Report adds enduring value, is in confronting the legitimacy crisis that pervades decision making around fossil fuel infrastructure development. ”

From the Pembina Institute:  “NEB Expert Panel report two steps forward, one step back on climate” :  “The Expert Panel’s recommendations are only as good as the federal government’s next steps. It’s up to Prime Minister Trudeau and his Cabinet to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform Canada’s energy project review landscape by ensuring NEB modernization works in sync with other elements of the federal environmental law reform process. … now is the time to outline a credible pathway that builds upon recommendations from the EA and NEB expert panels to ensure this outcome is achieved.”

A  public comment period on the Expert Panel report is open until June 14th; click here to participate in French or English. You can read research reports and position papers already submitted to the Expert Panel here.  The submissions already received are not available – only Panel-generated summaries of the engagement sessions, which are here.

What next for the recommendations of this Expert Panel, and the other regulatory reviews in process (for example, the Report of the Expert Panel on Environmental Assessment , released on April 5 )?  According to the Natural Resources Canada press release: “Over the next few months, the Government of Canada will review the expert panel’s report in depth along with the reports from the other three environmental and regulatory reviews to inform the development of next steps.”

Another federal government consultation: Canada’s Energy Future

Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources quietly launched a new consultation process on April 21, called Generation Energy, building on the previous engagement on clean technology in the natural resources sector . ( The report from the clean technology process was released in December 2016 ).  Now, Canadians are being invited to share their ideas about how Canada should make, move, and use energy in the future – a very broad scope.  Participation is through a web portal at http://www.generationenergy.ca/ which accepts submissions and allows comments, with a Forum of experts and stakeholders to discuss the  ideas and themes generated in October.

Opposition to Trump’s Executive Order targeting the Clean Power Plan

The Labor Network for Sustainability in the U.S.  released a new paper,  “Trump’s Energy Plan: A Brighter Future for America’s Workers? , which urges the labour movement to “unwrap the package” and examine the proposals in Trump’s America First Energy Policy , released on the first day after his  Inauguration.  LNS reviews and refutes the major planks in that policy, including the “bring back the coal industry” claim, and states, “Our hard-hit coal miners and communities deserve a plan that will enable them to find decent livelihoods in the future, not one that lures them with illusions that it will bring the coal industry back.”  LNS has previously published its plan,  The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs, Saving Money , written by Synapse Economics .

trumphardhatThe most recent installment of the America First Energy Policy was released on March 28: the  Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth , replete with the illusory promise to bring back coal jobs.  Summaries and explanations are easy to find: from the Office of the White House Press Secretary ;  the Brookings Institute  ;  “The Giant Trump Order is Here. What it is, what it does”  in The Atlantic; “Trump just gutted U.S. policies to fight climate change”  from Think Progress . Dismay and outrage is also widespread, summed up by Vox :“This is it. The battle over the future of US climate policy is officially underway”.  Even the mainstream Washington Post brings out the battle imagery in its headlines:   “The standoff between Trump and green groups just boiled into war” (March 30)  ,  and “The assault on climate science is evil, and evil must be fought”   (March 31).

Although disguised in the language of job creation for coal miners, the Executive Order goes beyond the attack on the Clean Power Plan and coal-fired power plants  –  empowering the Cabinet to review and rollback  other Obama-era policies, including limits on methane leaks, a moratorium on federal coal leasing, and the use of the social cost of carbon to guide government actions. The Editorial Board of the New York Times sums up the scale of the attack:  “President Trump risks the Planet”  (March 28) .

The claim of “bringing back coal jobs” has been disproved repeatedly and convincingly. Typical is the press release from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis , which sees “zero employment impact” from Trump’s measures, stating,  “Market forces overwhelmingly favor natural gas-fired electricity generation and renewable energy, and the trend away from coal will continue”…. Coal is simply being outpaced. It is an industry in decline, and the fundamentals are inescapable.”  “A simple way to see why Trump’s climate order won’t bring back many coal jobs”  in Vox refers to the Department of Energy  Annual Energy Outlook 2017 , which projected that without the Clean Power Plan,  U.S. coal consumption would rebound only as far as the  historically low levels of 2015, when there were approximately 63,000 coal miners in America.  Today, there are approximately 50,000.   Compare this to the solar workforce, which created 51,000  jobs in 2016 alone – to bring the total number to 260,077 U.S. solar workers, according to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census.  Even the CEO of Murray Energy, the largest privately-owned coal company in the U.S., acknowledged in a report in The Guardian, that coal jobs are not coming back.

What the Trump Executive Order could do, according to modelling by consulting firm the Rhodium Group,  is to limit U.S. greenhouse gas emission reduction to around 14 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 – a far cry from the Paris Agreement pledge of 26 %, and effectively ceding climate leadership to the European Union and China.  The Sierra Club USA provides a thorough discussion of the environmental impacts in  Donald Trump Orders EPA to Unwind Clean Power Plan in Setback for “Vitally Important” Clean Air   (March 28) .    The reaction of major environmental groups such as Environmental Defence Fund, Earthjustice, and  Natural Resources Defence Council is summarized in “Environmental groups vowing to fight Trump’s Climate Actions ”   in the  National Observer (March 29).

Is there any cause for hope?  Yes, according to analysis by  Inside Climate News in  “Hundreds of Clean Energy Bills Have Been Introduced in States Nationwide This Year”  (March 27).  This provides a state-by-state summary of bipartisan clean energy legislation, stating:  “At least eight states—California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York,  Pennsylvania and Vermont—are considering legislation to dramatically boost their reliance on clean power in the coming decades. These bills specifically call for increasing the mandate to obtain electricity from sources like wind and solar, a common form of escalating quota called a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Currently,  29 states in the nation, along with Washington, D.C., have them and eight others have voluntary targets.”

Voices of Business are also challenging the Trump agenda.  In  “Climate change is real: Companies challenge Trump”  in The Guardian  (March  29) , the CEO of the We Mean Business coalition calls  the transition to a low-carbon economy “inevitable”, and the Executive Order “regrettable “.  Further, he states: “This announcement undermines policies that stimulate economic competitiveness, job creation, infrastructure investment and public health.” Similar sentiments appear in the Business Backs Low Carbon USA statement signed in November 2016 by over 1000 companies and investors. The statement  calls for the U.S. economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy, and  re-affirms “our deep commitment to addressing climate change through the implementation of the historic Paris Climate Agreement.”   The list of over 1000 companies is here  .

Finally, and giving everyone a voice: the People’s Climate March  on Washington D.C. on April 29 , organized by the coalition which emerged from the  2014 March in New York City and around the world.  The Labor Network for Sustainability will be leading a labour contingent in Washington – see their Facebook page for information , and see the People’s Climate March website for  locations of sister marches.

climate march

 

Renewable Energy legislation in Massachusetts earmarks funds for Just Transition, Environmental Justice

We are used to looking to California for leadership in climate change policy – and the Senate bill SB58, California Renewables Portfolio Standard Program  continues that reputation. Although only in rough draft form as it was introduced in February, it proposes to accelerate the target for sourcing electricity from renewable energy to 50 per cent by 2025, and 100% by 2045.  Inside Climate News has a summary of the renewable energy legislation; for a detailed view of the importance of California as a standard-bearer for climate change action, read “In the Face of a Trump Environmental Rollback, California Stands in Defiance” (Feb. 21) in Yale Environment 360.

Massachusetts is less often recognized for its leadership, despite its commitment in the  Global Warming Solutions Act, 2008 to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050 .  In addition,  An Act to transition Massachusetts to 100 per cent renewable energy  (S.1849)  was  introduced into the legislature in January 2017, requiring  the state to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity generation by 2035, and phase out the use of fossil fuels across all sectors, including heating and transportation, by 2050. Advocacy group Environment Massachusetts provides a summary here . The text of the Act   calls for a  Council for Clean Energy Workforce Development, specifying that it include representatives from organized labour, as well as universities and community colleges, renewable energy businesses, occupational training organizations, economic development organizations, community development organizations, and “organizations serving Environmental Justice Populations”.   A Workforce Development Fund would also be authorized, with “At least half of the funds spent from the clean energy workforce development account on an annual basis shall be spent on programs and initiatives that primarily benefit (1) fossil fuel workers displaced in the transition to renewable energy, (2) residents of gateway municipalities …., or (3) residents of areas identified as Environmental Justice Populations under the Environmental Justice Policy of the executive office of energy and environmental affairs. “