Saskatchewan’s new Climate Strategy maintains old positions: No to carbon tax, yes to Carbon Capture and Storage

Prairie Resilience: A Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy was released by the government of Saskatchewan on December 4,  maintaining the province’s  position outside the Pan-Canadian Framework  agreement  with this introductory statement:    “A federal carbon tax is ineffective and will impair Saskatchewan’s ability to respond to climate change.”  A summary of all the strategy commitments appears as  a “Backgrounder” from this link.  An Opinion column in the Regina Leader Post newspaper summarizes it as  a “repackaging” of past policies, and “oil over the environment”.

The provincial government defends their plan as “broader and bolder than a single policy such as a carbon tax and will achieve better and more meaningful outcomes over the long term” by encouraging innovation and investment – and yes, that Prairie spirit of independent resilience.  The strategy includes provisions re protecting communities through physical infrastructure investment,  water system management, energy efficiency for buildings and freight, and disaster management.   It commits to “maintain and enhance partnerships with First Nations and Métis communities to address and adapt to a changing climate through actions that are guided by traditional ecological knowledge.”   In the electricity sector, which at 19% is the third largest source of emissions, it proposes  to introduce regulations governing emissions from electricity generation by SaskPower and Independent Power Producers; meet a previous commitment of up to 50 per cent electricity capacity from renewables; and “determine the viability of extending carbon capture use and storage technology to remaining coal power plants while continuing to work with partners on the potential application for  CCUS technology globally.”    The Strategy is still open to consultation on the regulatory standards and implementation details, with a goal of implementation on January 1, 2019.  Consultation is likely to reflect the state of public opinion on climate change issues as revealed by the Corporate Mapping Project  in Climate Politics in the Patch: Engaging Saskatchewan’s Oil-Producing Communities on Climate Change Issues. The participants in that  study “were largely dismissive over concerns about climate change, were antagonistic towards people they understood as urban environmentalists and Eastern politicians, and believed that the oil industry was already a leader in terms of adopting environmentally sound practices.”      The oil and gas industry is Saskatchewan’s largest emitter, at 32% of emissions in 2015.

sask-power-boundary-damOn the issue of carbon capture and storage:  The Climate Strategy document released on December 4 states a commitment to:  “determine the viability of extending carbon capture use and storage technology to remaining coal power plants while continuing to work with partners on the potential application for  CCUS technology globally.” On December 1, CBC reported that Saskatchewan had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming  to “share knowledge, policy and regulatory expertise in carbon dioxide capture, transportation, storage and applications such as enhanced oil recovery.”  By late 2017 or early 2018, SaskPower is required to make its recommendation on whether  two units at the Boundary Dam will be retired, or retrofitted to capture carbon and storage (CCS) by 2020.  As reported by the CBC , the research of economist Brett Dolter at the University of Regina has found  that conversion to natural gas power generation would cost about 16% of the cost of continuing with CCS ($2.7 billion to replace all remaining coal-fired plants with natural gas plants, compared to  $17 billion to retrofit all coal-fired plants with carbon capture and storage.)  The final decision will need to  consider the economic implications for approximately 1,100 Saskatchewan coal workers, and isn’t expected until a replacement for Premier Brad Wall  has been chosen after his retirement in late January 2018.

For more details:  “Saskatchewan, 3 U.S. states sign agreement on carbon capture, storage” at CBC News (Dec. 1) ; “SaskPower’s carbon capture future hangs in the balance” at CBC News (Nov 23)  , and  “Saskatchewan Faces Tough Decision on Costly Boundary Dam CCS Plant” in The Energy Mix (Nov. 28).

Despite another oil spill, Keystone XL pipeline is approved in Nebraska. Resistance is strong and resolute

On November 16, TransCanada Pipeline shut down the existing Keystone Pipeline to contain a spill in South Dakota, estimated at 210,000 gallons– the third in the area since operations began in 2010.  Reports include “South Dakota Warns It Could Revoke Keystone Pipeline Permit Over Oil Spill”  in Inside Climate News .   On November 20, the Nebraska Public Service Commission granted approval to Keystone  – but an approval which Anthony Swift at NRDC describes as a “pyrrhic victory” because the original proposed route through Nebraska was rejected, and the new alternative route approved – the Keystone Mainline Alternative route –  must now undergo new state and federal environmental approval processes .  Official intervenors may also file an appeal  in the Nebraska courts within 30 days and may petition the Public Service Commission for a rehearing within ten days.  Even TransCanada seems to wonder if the Keystone will ever get built – the official press release  states:  “As a result of today’s decision, we will conduct a careful review of the Public Service Commission’s ruling while assessing how the decision would impact the cost and schedule of the project. ”   Other reaction to the news of the approval: from The National Observer  ;  Alberta’s Calgary HeraldCouncil of Canadians ; Bold Nebraska (an alliance of landowners, environmental groups and First Nations), and  from Common Dreams, ” ‘This Fight Is Far From Over’ Groups Declare as Nebraska Clears Path for Keystone XL Construction”  – summarizing the responses of 350.org and the Sierra Club.

As for strong and resolute opposition: In May 2017, CBC reported that leaders of the Blackfoot Confederacy in Canada, the Great Sioux Nation (U.S.) and the Ponca tribe (U.S.)  signed a joint declaration of opposition to Keystone XL . In a broader coalition,  First Nations, along with non-native groups such as 350.org and Greenpeace USA, have now launched  the Promise to Protect campaign which states:We will make a series of stands along the route – nonviolent but resolute displays of our continued opposition to a project that endangers us all. Join native and non-native communities in the Promise to Protect the land, water, and climate. ”  In light of the resolute and deep resistance, it is important to note an article in The Intercept   “Nebraska approves Keystone XL Pipeline as opponents face criminalization of protests”   (Nov. 20), which reported:  “In anticipation of the Keystone XL’s construction, legislation was passed in South Dakota in March that allows the governor or a local sheriff to prohibit groups numbering more than 20 from gathering on public land or in schools, and also allows the Department of Transportation to limit access to highways by prohibiting stopping or parking in designated areas.”  The South Dakota Senate Bill 176 is here.

 

Progress at COP23 as Canada’s Minister pledges to include the CLC in a new Just Transition Task Force

cop23An article in the Energy Mix reflects a widely-stated assessment of the recently concluded Conference of the Parties in Bonn: “COP23 Ends with solid progress on Paris Rules, Process to Push for Faster Climate Action” :  “It was an incremental, largely administrative conclusion for a conference that was never expected to deliver transformative results, but was still an essential step on the road to a more decisive “moment” at next year’s conference in Katowice, Poland.”  A concise summary of outcomes  was compiled by  the  International Institute for Environment and Development, including a link to the main outcome document of the COP23 meetings – the Fiji Momentum for Implementation .  Germany’s Heinrich Böll Institute also issued a checklist and assessment titled  We will not drown, we are here to fight  . The UNFCCC provides a comprehensive list of initiatives and documents in its closing press release on November 17. And from the only Canadian press outlet which attended COP23 in person, the National Observer: “Trump didn’t blow up the climate summit: what did happen in Bonn?” .

What was the union assessment of COP23? The International Trade Union Confederation expressed concern for the slow progress in Bonn, but stated: “The support for Just Transition policies is now visible and robust among all climate stakeholders: from environmental groups to businesses, from regional governments to national ones. The importance of a social pact as a driver to low-carbon economics means we can grow ambition faster, in line with what science tells us. ”  The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) also expressed disappointment, reiterating the demands in its October  ETUC Resolution and views on COP 23  , and calling for a “Katowice plan of action for Just Transition”  in advance of the COP24 meetings next year in Katowice, Poland.

The biggest winner on Just Transition was the Canadian Labour Congress, who pressed the Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change outside of formal negotiations at Bonn and received her pledge for federal support for the newly-announced Just Transition Plan for Alberta’s Coal Workers –  including flexibility on federal  Employment Insurance benefits,  and a pledge that  Western Economic Diversification Canada will  support coal communities.   Importantly, “Minister McKenna also announced her government’s intention to work directly with the Canadian Labour Congress to launch a task force that will develop a national framework on Just Transition for workers affected by the coal phase-out. The work of this task force is slated to begin early in the new year”, according to the CLC press release “  Unions applaud Canada’s commitment to a just transition for coal workers” .  The background story to this under-reported breakthrough  is in the National Observer coverage of the Canada-UK Powering Past Coal initiative, on November 15 and November 16.  Unifor’s take on the Task Force is here .

This global alliance is the biggest COP23 news story for Canadians, coming near the end of meetings. Canada, along with the U.K. and the Marshall Islands, announced the “Powering Past Coal” global alliance to phase out dirty coal power plants around the world.  See the government press release for Canada  and the U.K. , and see the Official Declaration, which states:

  • “Government partners commit to phasing out existing traditional coal power in their jurisdictions, and to a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage within their jurisdictions.
  • Business and other non-government partners commit to powering their operations without coal.
  • All partners commit to supporting clean power through their policies (whether public or corporate, as appropriate) and investments, and to restricting financing for traditional coal power without carbon capture and storage.”

Amongst the 20-some jurisdictions already signed up to the alliance are Canada , the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, the city of Vancouver, and the states of Washington and Oregon.  Noticeably absent so far are the major coal polluters – the U.S., Germany, China and India. The stated goal is to grow the alliance to 50 members jurisdictions.  The Energy Mix provides a summary and related interviews;   Climate Action Network-Canada reacted with “Powering Past Coal Announcement Shows Rise of International Collective Action; Domestic Implementation will Bring it Home” (Nov. 16);  DeSmog UK calls the alliance the “start of a journey” ;  German news source DW provides an international viewpoint of the alliance, especially focused on the politically-charged debate about coal in Germany.

There were other breakthoughs at COP23, including on  Gender Equality, Indigenous Rights, and Agriculture.   Delegates adopted the first Gender Action Plan  .  As reported in “To combat climate change, increase women’s participation”  in DW  (Nov. 20), for the first time,  there is a plan which  sets out specific activities, with a timeline for implementation, and allocation of responsibilities.  National governments are responsible for reporting back on progress on these activities in 2019.

COP23-It takes roots Indigenous NetworkThe Guardian reported “Indigenous groups win greater climate recognition at Bonn summit”   (Nov. 15) citing the improved language from the 2015 Paris Agreement.  ” The technical document approved at COP23 states:  countries “should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.”  In response, the Indigenous Environmental Network states: “… while progress has been made on the UNFCCC traditional knowledge Platform for engagement of local communities and Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Peoples’ rights are not fully recognized in the final platform document of COP 23. The burden of implementation falls on local communities and indigenous peoples.”  News and reports released by It Takes Roots, the Indigenous Environmental Network COP23 delegation, are here, including their report in opposition to carbon pricing: Carbon Pricing: A Critical Perspective for Community Resistancereleased at COP23.

Finally, regarding agriculture:   As reported by the  International Institute for Environment and Development  “After years of fraught negotiations on this issue, the COP23 decision on agriculture  requests the subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC to simultaneously address vulnerabilities of agriculture to climate change and approaches to tackle food security. Breaking the deadlock on issues connecting agriculture and climate change was a big win for COP23.”

 

First Nations, Renewable Energy, and the benefits of community-owned energy projects

“These are exciting times in British Columbia for those interested in building sustainable, just and climate-friendly energy systems.” So begins the October 12 featured commentary, “BC First Nations are poised to lead the renewable energy transition”, published by the Corporate Mapping Project, a research project led by the University of Victoria, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (BC and Saskatchewan Offices) and Parkland Institute. The commentary summarizes the results of a survey conducted for the B.C. First Nations Clean Energy Working Group  by academics at the University of Victoria , published in April 2017 . The survey reveals that 98% of First Nations respondents were either interested in, or already participating in a renewable energy projects – 78 operational projects, 48 in the planning or construction phase, and 250 further projects under consideration in B.C. alone.  The responses reveal a growing interest in solar photovoltaic (PV), solar thermal, biomass and micro-hydro projects under development—compared to already-operational projects, 61% of which are run-of-river hydroelectricity. Survey respondents identified three primary barriers to their involvement in renewable energy projects: limited opportunities to sell power to the grid via BC Hydro – (mostly because of the proposed Site C hydro project), difficulties obtaining financing, and a lack of community readiness.

Although the discussion focuses specifically on B.C.’s  First Nations, the article holds up the model of community-level energy projects beyond First Nations : “Instead of proceeding with Site C, BC has an opportunity to produce what new power will be needed through a model of energy system development that takes advantage of emerging cost effective technologies and public ownership at a community scale. Doing so would enable an energy system that can be scaled up incrementally as demand projections increase. It would also ensure the benefits energy projects are channelled to communities impacted by their development, and help respond to past injustices of energy development in our province….Choosing this path would result in a more distributed energy system, more resilient and empowered communities, a more diverse economy and a more just path towards climate change mitigation.”

CBC reported on another survey of First Nations – this one at a national level –  in “Indigenous communities embracing clean energy, creating thousands of jobs” ( October 11). The article focuses on First Nations renewable energy projects on a commercial scale, stating: “nearly one fifth of the country’s power is provided by facilities fully or partly owned and run by Indigenous communities”. The article links to case studies and numerous previous articles on the topic, but focuses on the job creation impacts of clean energy: “15,300 direct jobs for Indigenous workers who have earned $842 million in employment income in the last eight years.”

The CBC article summarizes a survey conducted by Lumos Energy , a consultancy which specializes in energy solutions, especially renewable energy, “for First Nations, Métis and Inuit leaders and communities”. Lumos Energy  leads the Indigenous Clean Energy Network ; its principal, Chris Henderson, has written the book Aboriginal Power: Clean Energy and the Future of Canada’s First Peoples (2013).

Proposals for a green transition that is just and inclusive in Ontario

decent_work_in_the_green_economy-coverDecent Work in the Green Economy, released on October 11 , combines research on green transitions worldwide with the reality of  labour market trends in Ontario, and includes economic modelling of  Ontario’s cap and trade program, conducted by EnviroEconomics and Navius Research.  The resulting analysis identifies which sectors are expected to grow strongly under a green transition (e.g. utilities and waste management and remediation),  which will see lower growth (e.g. petroleum refining and petrochemical production), and which will see a transformation of skills requirements (e.g. mining, manufacturing, and  forestry). Section 3 of the report discusses the impacts on job quality (including wages, benefits, unionization, and job permanence), as well as skills requirements.  The general discussion in Section 3 is supplemented by two detailed Appendices about the employment impacts by economic sector,  and by disadvantaged and equity-seeking groups (which includes racialized workers, Indigenous people, workers with disabilities, newcomers, women, and rural Ontarians.) A final  Appendix describes the modelling behind the analysis, which projects employment impacts of low carbon technologies by 2030.

The paper calls for a comprehensive Just Transition Strategy for Ontario, and proposes  six core elements illustrated by case study “success stories”.   These case studies include the Solar City Program in Halifax, Nova Scotia, (which uses local supply chains and accounted for local employment impacts), and the UK Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy (which incorporated diversity goals and explicit targets in workforce development and retraining initiatives).  An important element of the recommended Just Transition Strategy includes a dedicated Green Transitions Fund, to transfer funding for targeted programs to communities facing disproportionate job loss; to universities or colleges to provide specialized academic programs; to social enterprise or service providers to carry out re-training programs; to directly impacted companies to invest in their employees; and to individuals in transition (much like EI payments).

The authors also call for better data collection to measure and monitor the link between green economy policies and employment outcomes, and better mechanisms for regular, ongoing dialogue.  This call for ongoing dialogue seems intended to provide a role for workers (and unions, though they are less often mentioned). The authors state: “No effort to ensure decent work in the green economy will be successful without meaningfully engaging workers who are directly impacted by the transition, to understand where and how they might need support. Just as important will be the ongoing engagement with employers and industry to understand the changing employment landscape, and how workers can best prepare for it.” And, on page 39,  “Public policy will be a key driver in ensuring that this transition is just and equitable. …. Everyone has a role to play in this transition. Governments, employers, workers, unions and non-profit organizations alike must remember that if we fail to ensure that the green transition is just and inclusive, we will have missed a vital opportunity to address today’s most pressing challenges. But if we design policies and programs that facilitate this transition with decent work in mind, they have the potential to benefit all Ontarians.”

Decent Work in the Green Economy was published by the  Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto, in cooperation with the Smart Prosperity Institute at the University of Ottawa.  In addition to economic modelling, the analysis and policy discussion is based on an extensive literature review as well as expert interviews and input from government, industry, labour and social justice representatives. Part of the purpose of the report is to initiate discussion “between those actively supporting the transition to a green economy and those advocating for decent work” as defined by the ILO.  Further, the report states: “ Importantly, this conversation must address the need for equal opportunities among historically disadvantaged and equity-seeking groups who currently face barriers to accessing decent work.”