The Fossil fuel industry in Alberta: public opinion, and mapping ownership

Parkland provincesapart_coverIn Provinces Apart? Comparing Citizen Views in Alberta and British Columbia,  released by the Parkland Institute on October 25, the authors re-visit the data from a survey conducted in February – March 2017, and conclude that what differences exist between citizens of Alberta and British Columbia are attributable more to their political self-identification than to their province, age, or educational status. While the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion was certainly an active issue at the time, the survey pre-dated the bitter political battle and subsequent media attention which ensued from the federal government’s purchase of the project, and the Court decision which suspended construction. After a brief review the political events of the most recent Trans Mountain controversy, the authors conclude “the governing and opposition parties in both provinces have exacerbated this partisan divide.”

In those calmer days when the survey was conducted, citizens’ views on political influence, the fossil fuel industry, climate change, and the role of protests in a democracy were not as divergent as stereotypes tell us.   Findings of particular interest: 53% of respondents in Alberta and  69% in B.C. agreed that “we need to move away from using fossil fuels;” 76% in Alberta and 68% in B.C. thought the petroleum industry has too much influence over governments, (fewer than one-third said the same about either environmentalists, labour unions or Indigenous groups).

Parkland 2018 who_owns_fossil fuel coverThe Parkland Institute also published Who Owns Canada’s Fossil-Fuel Sector? Mapping the Network of Ownership & Control   in October, as part of the Corporate Mapping Project, in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. and Saskatchewan, and the University of Victoria.  The analysis covers the period from 2010 to 2015, and demonstrates that the production, ownership and control of the fossil fuel industry is highly concentrated: “The top 25 owners together account for more than 40 per cent of overall revenues during this period.”  At 16%, foreign corporations are the largest type of majority owners (led by ExxonMobil) ; asset managers and investment funds are the 2nd largest; banks and life insurers are the third-largest type of owner (approximately 12% of revenues), with the big five Canadian banks (RBC, TD, Scotiabank, BMO and CIBC) among the top investors. The federal Canadian government, combined with provincial governments, own 2%.  The report provides a wealth of information, including names and ranks of specific companies in the network of ownership and control, points out the importance of divestment campaigns, and “identifies the need to shift from fossil-fuel oligarchy to energy democracy, in which control of economic decisions shifts to people and communities, such as through public ownership of renewables and much greater democratic participation in energy policy.”

For more insight into Alberta and its energy economy, the Parkland Institute is hosting a conference, Alberta 2019: Forces of Change   from November 16 – 18. Presentations include: Opening Keynote, “In the Eye of the Storm”, by Lynne Fernandez (Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives- Manitoba); “The Alberta Economy in Context” by Angella MacEwen; “Just Transitions in the Belly of the Beast” by Emily Eaton ( University of Regina); and “Boom, Bust, and Consolidation: Corporate Restructuring in the Alberta Oil Sands” by Ian Hussey (Research Manager at Parkland Institute).

bluegreen alberta 2018Also from Alberta:  the 2018 event from BlueGreen Canada,  Just Transition and Good Jobs for Alberta 2018 was held in Edmonton on October 22 and 23, with active participation and sponsorship of USW, Unifor, and the Alberta Federation of Labour.  This is the third annual event –  summaries from 2017  and 2016  are here.

Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung releases studies of “radical realism” for climate justice

Radical realismIn September, the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung of Berlin  released a  compilation of eight reports, titled Radical Realism for Climate Justice   – “ a civil society response to the challenge of limiting global warming to 1.5°C while also paving the way for climate justice. Because it’s is neither ‘naïve’ nor ‘politically unfeasible’, it is radically realistic.”  Individual chapters, each available from this link , are written by a variety of international organizations and individuals.  Of particular interest are the two from Canadian authors:  System Change on a Deadline. Organizing Lessons from Canada’s Leap Manifesto and  Modelling 1.5°C-Compliant Mitigation Scenarios without Carbon Dioxide Removal,  by Christian Holz of Carleton University in  Ottawa.  Also of especial relevance for Canadians:  A Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production : The Paris Goals Require No New Expansion and a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production   by Oil Change International,  and Another Energy is Possible by Sean Sweeney.

In Chapter 5,  System Change on a Deadline. Organizing Lessons from Canada’s Leap Manifesto  authors Avi Lewis, Katie McKenna and Rajiv Sicora provide a broad-brush summary of the history and growth of The Leap movement, beginning with its launch in Toronto in 2015, tracing the need for coalition building, and concluding with a statement of its international potential, and its application in Los Angeles.

Chapter 8 , Modelling 1.5°C-Compliant Mitigation Scenarios without Carbon Dioxide Removal,  is by Christian Holz, a post-doctoral fellow in Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University. His chapter  reviews the recent technical studies about Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and Bioenergy combined with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technologies, which some see as the route to  achieving the  1.5°C global warming target. Holz’ assessment is that 1.5°C  can be achieved without relying on on these technologies, “if national climate pledges are increased substantially in all countries immediately, international support for climate action in developing countries is scaled up, and mitigation options not commonly included in mainstream climate models are pursued.”

Chapter 1, A Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production : The Paris Goals Require No New Expansion and a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production   by Oil Change International is an update of its 2016 publication, The Sky’s the Limit , which makes the “keep it in the ground” case. For Canadians still reeling from the federal government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline, this new report is a timely reminder of the dangers of continued investment in exploration and expansion of oil, coal and gas and the need for Just Transition policies.

Another Energy is Possible by Sean Sweeney of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is a tight summary of his assessment that current energy policies are allowing energy consumption to continue to grow. Sweeney calls for  a two-pronged solution: “ a shift in policy towards a «public-goods» approach that can liberate climate and energy policy from the chains of the current investor-focused neoliberal dogma, where the private sector must lead….  and … a shift towards social ownership and management so that energy systems can be restructured and reconfigured to serve social and ecological needs.”  Sweeney states: ” The next energy system must operate within an economic paradigm that is truly needs-based and sustainable.”

The other worthy chapters of Radical Realism for Climate Justice  are:  Zero Waste Circular Economy: A Systemic Game-Changer to Climate Change by Mariel Vilella of Zero Waste Europe;  Degrowth – A Sober Vision of Limiting Warming to 1.5°C by Mladen Domazet of the Institute for Political Ecology in Zagreb, Croatia; La Via Campesina in Action for Climate Justice by the international peasants movement La Via Campesina, and Re-Greening the Earth: Protecting the Climate through Ecosystem Restoration by Christoph Thies of Greenpeace Germany.

Government campaign claims Trans Mountain pipeline is a “bridge to a greener tomorrow” – economists and citizens disagree

keepcanada working

#keepcanaddaworking social media campaign

Now that the government of Canada has bought the Trans Mountain pipeline project from Texas-based Kinder Morgan,  the governments of Alberta and Canada have launched a public relations campaign to “sell” the deal to Canadians.  The  Keep Canada Working television and  social media campaign  promotes the familiar Liberal government message that  “Developing the economy and protecting the environment are two things that can happen side by side – without choosing one over the other”, and argues that “The Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion funds green investments, shifts the transportation of oil away from more carbon intensive methods like rail or truck, and provides a bridge to a greener tomorrow.”   The full “Climate Action” defense is here .

The “Jobs and the Economy” claims are here, including endorsements by politicians and includes a quote from Stephen Hunt, Director of the United Steelworkers District 3: “Members of the United Steelworkers are proud that the pipeline will be using Canadian-made USW-built pipe.”  The other positive job arguments are sourced from an April 2018 Globe and Mail article by the CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the corporate website of  Trans Mountain, which are in turn based on an unnamed  Conference Board of Canada report .

What do other economists say about the benefits of the Trans Mountain pipeline?   In February 2018, the Parkland Institute summarized and critiqued the economic arguments in a still-useful  blog “Let’s share the actual facts about the Trans Mountain Pipeline” , and Canadian economist Robyn Allan has written numerous articles critical of the Trans Mountain project for the National Observer, most recently “Premier Notley’s claimed $15 billion annual benefit from Trans Mountain exposed as false by her own budget”  (June 7 2018). Other more detailed publications since the May 2018 purchase by the government:  “Canada’s Folly: Government Purchase of Trans Mountain Pipeline Risks an Increase in National Budget Deficit by 36%, Ensures a 637% Gain by Kinder Morgan”, published by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, describes the fiscal and financial risks and calls for more public disclosure of those details before the Purchase Agreement is finalized in August.  Similarly,  The view from Taxpayer Mountain  (June 2018) from the West Coast Environmental Law Association links to  the actual Purchase Agreement and reviews Canada’s obligations and risks.  On June 26, Greenpeace USA has published  Tar Sands Tanker Superhighway Threatens Pacific Coast Waters  highlighting the dangers of a potential oil spill on the environment,  and on coastal economies.  At risk: the $60 billion coastal economy of Washington, Oregon and California, which  currently supports over 150,000 jobs in commercial fishing and over 525,000 jobs in coastal tourism, and in the British Columbia Lower Mainland, Greenpeace estimates there are  320,000 workers in industries that rely on a clean coastline.

On the issue of climate change impacts, a widely-cited discussion paper, Confronting Carbon lock-in: Canada’s oil sands (June 2018) from the Stockholm Environment Institute,  concludes that  “The continued expansion of Canada’s oil sands is likely to contribute to carbon lock-in and a long-term oversupply of oil, slowing the world’s transition to a low-carbon future.”  And still valuable reading: David Hughes’ Can Canada Expand Oil and Gas Production, Build Pipelines and Keep Its Climate Change Commitments? (June 2016) from the Corporate Mapping Project  , and from Jeff Rubin,  Evaluating the Need for
Pipelines: A False Narrative for the Canadian Economy  (September 2017).

Tanker Bridge BlockadeDemonstrations continue:   Vancouver housing activist Jean Swanson’s  argues that the billions spent on Kinder Morgan would be better used for social housing, job creation, and renewable energy in  “Why I got arrested protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline” in The Tyee, July 11.  Twelve Greenpeace activists mounted an “aerial blockade”  for Trans Mountain oil tankers by hanging from a bridge above the water on July 3 and 4.   And on July 11, CBC reported  “Secwepemc First Nation’s ‘Tiny House Warriors’ occupy provincial park in Trans Mountain protest” .  The Tiny House Warrior movement began in 2017, near Kamloops, to block the pipeline by  re-establishing village sites and asserting authority over Secwepemc First Nations unceded Territories.

 

 

Facts, not politics: Parkland Institute report plans for Canada’s transition from fossil fuels

Parkland canadas energy outlook_coverOn May 1, the Parkland Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives co-released the latest report for the Corporate Mapping Project. Canada’s Energy Outlook: Current Realities and Implications for a Carbon-constrained Future is described in the press release as “ a definitive guide to Canada’s current energy realities and their implications for a sustainable future, taking a detailed look at Canadian energy consumption, renewable and non-renewable energy supply, the state of Canada’s resources and revenues, and what it all means for emissions-reduction planning.”

The title of the press release is instructive: “Pipeline feud underscores need for evidence-based energy strategy” – Canada’s Energy Outlook is an attempt to inject facts into the  current emotion-charged debate about the TransMountain pipeline and the role of oil and gas in Canada; in doing so, it counters many of the pro-pipeline claims, including the job creation claims.  For example, Chapter 2, “Non-renewable energy supply, resources and revenue” states:  “Oil and gas jobs are a relatively minor overall component of the Canadian economy: 2.2% of Canada’s workforce was employed in oil, gas and coal production, distribution and construction in 2015. Of these jobs, 52% were involved in construction, most of which were of a temporary nature. In Alberta, 6.3% of jobs were involved in fossil fuel production and distribution, and a further 6.6% in related construction.”

A commentary titled “Politics versus the future: Canada’s Orwellian energy standoff” discusses the pro-pipeline arguments being made by Alberta and the federal government in light of their incompatibility with our emissions reductions targets, but acknowledges the insufficiency of our renewable energy supply as yet.  It concludes: “ Some environmental groups assert that it will be relatively easy to swap out fossil fuels for renewable energy – wind, solar, biomass, biofuels and geothermal energy. That is unlikely given the scale of such a transition. Renewable energy can certainly be scaled up a lot, along with geothermal energy for heating and cooling, but we will likely need fossil fuels for decades to come as we make the transition.”

The report was written by David Hughes, an earth scientist,well-known energy expert, and author of several related  reports, including Can Canada Expand Oil and Gas Production, Build Pipelines and Keep Its Climate Change Commitments? (2016).

Canada needs a mix of reactive and proactive Just Transition policies across the country

Hadrian Decarbonization coverMaking Decarbonization Work for Workers: Policies for a just transition to a zero-carbon economy”  was released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on January 25th.  In light of  the federal government’s pledge to launch a Task Force on Just Transition in 2018, this report makes a unique contribution by using census data to identify the regions in each province with the greatest reliance on fossil fuel jobs. While fossil fuel dependence is overwhelmingly concentrated in Alberta, with a few “hot spots” in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, the report identifies communities from other provinces where fossil fuel jobs represent a significant part of the local economy – for example, Bay Roberts, Newfoundland; Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; Saint John, New Brunswick; Sarnia, Ontario.  The report also makes the useful distinction between “reactive”  just transition policies, which are intended to minimize the harm to workers of decarbonization, and “pro-active” just transition policies, which are intended to maximize the benefits.   The author argues that, if the broad goal of a just transition is to ensure an equitable, productive outcome for all workers in the zero-carbon economy, a mix of reactive and proactive elements is necessary. Thus,  a national just transition strategy is required for fossil fuel-dependent communities, but workers in any industry facing job loss and retraining costs will also need support from enhanced social security programs.  In addition, governments must invest in workforce development programs to ensure there are enough skilled workers to fill the new jobs which will be created by the zero-carbon economy.

Making Decarbonization Work for Workers is  a co-publication by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change research program . The author is  CCPA researcher Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood.