Nova Scotia legislation targets “boldest” GHG emissions reduction targets in Canada

bay of fundy tidal turbine

Tidal turbine in the Bay of Fundy NS

Nova Scotia’s Premier Stephen McNeil issued an October 30th press release  to mark the end of the legislative session, stating: “We began the sitting by introducing a ban on single-use plastic bags at retail checkouts and calling for an emergency debate on climate change. We ended by bringing in the boldest greenhouse gas emission reduction target in the country and some of the strongest environmental legislation in North America.” The “boldest” GHG emissions reduction target referred to is stated in Bill 213, the Sustainable Development Goals Act  passed on Oct.30, calling for GHG emissions reduction of 53 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.  The Act recognizes the urgency of a global climate emergency, and states that the goal of sustainable prosperity must include the elements of sustainable development, a circular economy, an inclusive economy, and “Netukulimk”, which is defined as a Mi’kmaq First Nation concept: “the use of the natural bounty provided by the Creator for the self-support and well-being of the individual and the community by achieving adequate standards of community nutrition and economic well-being without jeopardizing the integrity, diversity or productivity of the environment”.

 

A press release from the Ecology Action Centre of Halifax welcomes the new legislation;   a more detailed EAC Backgrounder   discusses the level of GHG emissions called for, and concludes: “….. A legislated target of 53% below 2005 levels by 2030, for Nova Scotia … sets us on track to overshoot 2 degree C of global warming and it is not based on our differentiated responsibility and capability. For this reason, the EAC continues to advocate for a legislated target of 50% below 1990 levels by 2030 (equivalent to 58% below 2005 levels by 2030).”

Other initiatives introduced in the Sustainable Development Goals Act  include:  an extensive public consultation process to update the province’s climate strategy, to be called Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth and to released by the end of 2020, and a Sustainable Communities Challenge Fund to help communities with mitigation and adaptation. Summaries of the legislation are provided by articles in the National Observer  and the CBC.  

Environmental injustice for Canada’s First Nations – updated

Syncrude_mildred_lake_plantAn overview of the state of environmental injustice in Canada appears in The Statement of United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, issued following his visit in May/June 2019. The full report will be presented to the United Nations in Fall 2020.  The preliminary information presented in  the Statement identifies “a pervasive trend of inaction of the Canadian Government in the face of existing health threats from decades of historical and current environmental injustices and the cumulative impacts of toxic exposures by indigenous peoples. ” The Statement commented on the specific cases of the oil sands (Fort McMurray, Fort MacKay and Fort Chipewyan), Sarnia, Muskrat Falls, and mining sites such as Elk Valley.  He noted that Canada has “the second highest number of known mining accidents from 2007-2017, increasing significantly from previous years.”

The Special Rapporteur concluded: “It was clear during the course of my visit that many communities in Canada continue to be exploited by toxic exposures.  Some key concerns include: (1) the limited degree of protection of human health and ecosystems under various legislation; (2) the lack of environmental information and monitoring in areas of high risk; (3) long delays or absence of health impact assessment for affected communities; (4) the inadequate compliance with and enforcement of laws and policies; (5) systemic obstacles to access to justice, in particular for cases of health impacts due to chronic exposures; and (6) the recalcitrance to ensure that victims can realize their right to an effective remedy.   The situation of affected communities outside Canada is of equal concern in many of these regards, including the inordinate power imbalance faced by communities in low- and middle-income countries relative to Canadian corporations.”

The Special Rapporteur visited Sarnia’s “Chemical Valley” and highlighted it in his Statement. This area has been identified as a “pollution hot spot”, and the Aamjiwnaang   First Nation have long fought for redress – including a legal challenge under the Environmental Bill of Rights in 2007.  More recently, on October 9, the Toronto Star published “Whistleblower alleges province failing to protect First Nations community in ‘Chemical Valley’ from ‘dangerous’ air pollutants” , a senior engineer employed by the provincial Ministry of the Environment  alleges that ministry executives withheld technical and scientific information about sulphur dioxide impacts,  failed to properly consult the Aamjiwnaang First Nation representatives, and that he was subject to workplace reprisals for raising the issues. His grievance, filed with the labour board, details his accusations and asks for $186,000 to compensate for the reprisals, and for the ministry to begin discussions with him and Aamjiwnaang representatives “with the goal of providing capacity funding and to develop a program” that would transfer authority from the ministry  to the Aamjiwnaang to enforce Ontario air pollution requirements that impact their territory.

Other examples are described by reporters at The National Observer – for example, “How Alberta kept Fort McKay First Nation in the dark about a toxic cloud from the oilsands” (April 2019)  and “Alberta officials are signalling they have no idea how to clean up toxic oilsands tailings ponds” (Nov. 2018) .  The Narwhal maintains an archive of articles concerning Canadian mining examples, including the Mount Polley and Taesko mines. One example, “‘This is not Canada’: inside the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s battle against Taseko Mines” (August 2019) .  The APTN News article “Amnesty uses World Water Day to highlight environmental racism in Canada” provides an overview of First Nations actions as of March 2019.

grassy narrows warningAnother example of long-standing concern, mercury pollution at Grassy Narrows, has emerged as an election issue, with the Chief of Grassy Narrows running for the NDP in the riding of Kenora.  Dozens of other Indigenous leaders are running in the current election to bring attention to their own areas, according to a CBC report : for the NDP, 10 candidates; for the Liberals, 12; for the Conservatives, 7, and for the Greens, 6.

Related reading:

The Alberta Environmental Law Centre published a blog in September, Access to Environmental Justice: Costs and scientific uncertainty raise barriers to protecting communities .  This brief blog acts an introduction to the issue of environmental injustice by providing brief overviews (with links to further readings) of case studies which illustrate the barriers to legal action experienced by Alberta First Nations. The  specific cases described are Kearl Oil Sands Environmental Assessment (2007), Fort McKay (2016) and the Beaver Lake Cree Nation.  Looking beyond Alberta, the blog also notes examples of Sarnia Ontario’s Chemical Valley, and Africville Nova Scotia, and briefly discusses the concept of climate justice.

 

Equity for marginalized workers needed in Canada’s Just Transition policies

mertins kirkwood2019 who is includedA new discussion of Just Transition in Canada was released in August 2019, Who is included in a Just Transition? Considering social equity in Canada’s shift to a zero-carbon economy.    Co-authors Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood, senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives,  and Zaee Deshpande provide this introduction:  “After establishing a conceptual framework for just transition, including a distinction between reactive and proactive approaches, we analyze Canada’s existing transition policies to determine who is benefiting from them and who is excluded. We specifically consider gender identity, Indigenous status, racialized identity and immigrant status in our analysis of coal communities covered by the transition. We find that the main beneficiaries of present just transition policies are Canadian-born white men, which reflects their disproportionate presence in the coal workforce. However, many socially and economically marginalized people also face costs and risks from the same climate policies but do not share in the benefits of transition policies, which means these policies may lead to further marginalization.”  The conclusions are supported by the labour market analysis based on Statistics Canada employment data, combined with a synthesis of federal and Alberta Just Transition policies currently in place for the coal industry.  The paper makes a series of policy recommendations including targeted training, apprenticeship and education for people from marginalized groups.

The August report was co-published by  the Canadian Centre for Policy and  Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change project (ACW), as was a 2018 report by  Mertins-Kirkwood, Making decarbonization work for workers: Policies for a just transition to a zero-carbon economy in Canada,  in which he sets out the distinctions between “reactive” and “proactive” Just Transition policies.  In November 2019, a related article by Mertins-Kirkwood and Ian Hussey, “A top-down transition: A critical account of Canada’s government-led phase-out of the coal sector,” will appear in the forthcoming international book Just transition(s): social justice in the shift towards a low-carbon world, to be published by Pluto Press .

First Nations, environmentalists file court challenges to Trans Mountain pipeline

orcas against Vancouver skylineOn June 18, as described in an earlier  WCR post, Government gives the go- ahead to Trans Mountain pipeline despite declaring a climate emergency.   By July 8, two court challenges have been filed against the decision.  Six First Nations, led by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation , filed a court challenge on the grounds that the federal government failed in the requirement to adequately consult them.  More details are described in  First Nations launch new court challenge to Trans Mountain pipeline at the CBC (July 9), and  First Nations renew court battle to stop Trudeau and Trans Mountain   in the National Observer.

Another separate appeal was also filed on July 8 by EcoJustice on behalf of Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Living Oceans Society, on grounds that the government decision doesn’t comply with the responsibility to protect endangered southern resident killer whales, whose survival would be threatened by increased tanker traffic. CBC reports here,  the National Observer also reports  in “Conservationists file legal challenge to Trans Mountain reapproval over whales.” 

Government gives the go- ahead to Trans Mountain pipeline despite declaring a climate emergency

climate emergencyOn June 18, in a controversial but expected move, the federal cabinet approved the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would triple the capacity of the existing pipeline, and allow up to 890,000 barrels per day of bitumen to travel from the Alberta oil sands to a marine terminal in Burnaby, British Columbia.  The approval was described by The Energy Mix as “the height of cynicism” because the House of Commons had only 24 hours previously approved a government resolution declaring a climate emergency.  Although the government put on a positive face by predicting that “shovels will be in the ground” by September, the project still has to satisfy conditions set out by the National Energy Board,  including negotiated approval from First Nations.  As described in  “Why we’ll be talking about the Trans Mountain pipeline for a long while yet” in The Narwhal: “The embattled oilsands pipeline has become a proxy battle, pitting the urgency of the climate crisis against near-term economic concerns”.

A sampling of  Reaction and Analysis:

An Angus Reid poll, Shovels in the Ground was released on June 21.  It reports that 56% of Canadians agree with the government’s  approval of  TMX, compared with 24% who disagree. The primary concerns for Canadians, both those who support and oppose the TMX, are the possibility of a tanker spill due to increased traffic in the Burrard Inlet (68%) and the increased burning of fossil fuels from pipeline expansion (66%).

Canada approves Trans Mountain pipeline expansion for second time”  in the National Observer (June 18).  This general overview of the decision is part of the ongoing Special Report on Trans Mountain by the National Observer.

Trans Mountain approval makes mockery of climate emergency declaration” press release from the Council of Canadians.

“Cognitive Dissonance: Canada declares a national climate emergency and approves a pipeline” by Warren Mabee of Queen’s University  in The Conversation (June 20).

“Trudeau Declared a Climate Crisis, then Backed Trans Mountain Again” in The Tyee (June 18), which summarizes reactions from British Columbia, and states that B.C. will  take its case to the Supreme Court of Canada as it seeks the legal right to regulate the shipment of materials (including oil and gas)  within the province.

“Transmountain  pipeline approval triggers lawsuits leaves fossils unsatisfied”    in The Energy Mix (June 19).

“Business leaders welcome pipeline approval but fear it may not be completed”  in The National Observer. The article states:  “Mark Scholz, CEO of the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors, who said in a statement the pipeline approval is “trivial” and will do little to help a suffering western Canadian drilling sector. Approval doesn’t make up for the federal government’s pursuit of Bills C-69 and C-48, bills reviled by the industry to revamp the regulatory system for resource projects and impose an oil tanker ban on the B.C. coast, he said.”

Minister Morneau in Calgary to talk about the Trans Mountain Expansion project and the future of Canada’s Energy Sector “ (June 19)  a press release that lays out  the government’s best case for Albertans, and states that: “Every dollar the federal government earns from the project will be invested in Canada’s clean energy transition. The Department of Finance estimates that additional corporate tax revenues could be around $500 million per year once the project is online. These funds and any profits earned from the sale of the pipeline will be invested in the clean energy projects that power our homes, businesses and communities for years to come.”

billion-dollar-buyout LaxerA substantial analysis from a different viewpoint, Billion Dollar Buyout: How Canadian taxpayers bought a climate-killing pipeline  was just published by the Council of Canadians. Written by Gordon Laxer, professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, the report summarizes the long history of the Trans Mountain project, with a special interest in how it fits in to the United States Mexico Canada trade agreement (USMCA) and the energy goal of integrating Canadian oil and natural gas into the U.S. market.  Laxer also authored an OpEd in the Toronto Star on June 12, Don’t waste any more money on the Trans Mountain pipeline  .

Not all First Nations Oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline:  The National Observer summarizes First Nations opposition in “As Trans Mountain gets shovels ready for pipeline, First Nations vow to protect territory” (June 19), which  states that the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Squamish Nation will use “all legal tools” available to challenge the TMX approval.  The Tsleil-Waututh Nation has commissioned an independent environmental assessment and an economic study which estimates that TMX expansion will cost Canada $11.8 billion, in addition to the environmental costs. It also predicts lower demand than the government has anticipated and unused capacity. The 127-page economic study, Public Interest Evaluation of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is dated June 2019 and was written by Thomas Gunton, a professor at the  School of Resource and Environmental Management at  Simon Fraser University, and by Chris Joseph, a B.C. consultant.

Project Reconciliation  is an Indigenous-led coalition which aims to buy part of the pipeline and direct any profits to a Sovereign Wealth and Reconciliation Fund.  Their press release on June 18 applauds the government’s TMX decision.  A January 2019 article by CBC gives background on the group.  The Indian Resource Council is another group, composed of 134 First Nations bands most of whom are also interested in the economic benefits of  pipelines. CBC describes their meeting in  “More than 100 First Nations could purchase the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline” (Jan. 2019).  More recently, in June, the Iron Coalition  launched – “an Alberta-based Indigenous-driven organization with the sole purpose of achieving ownership in the Trans Mountain Pipeline (TMX).”  Iron Coalition leaders are from the Nakota Sioux Nation, the Papaschase First Nation and the Fort McKay Métis, and state that “all profits generated by Iron Coalition will be directed back to each member community to bring lasting economic benefit to Métis and First Nations in Alberta.”