Newly-elected government in Canada outlines its climate priorities; faces first major test in the Frontier mine decision

Canada’s minority government is back in session after the October 2019 election, launched by the Speech from the Throne on December 5.  The Throne Speech traditionally is used to outline government priorities, and signals that Justin Trudeau and his Liberal party will try to stay in power by balancing the demands of the oil and gas proponents in Alberta against the environmental concerns of the rest of the country. The Toronto Star parsed the speech in “What does it mean? The Throne Speech Interpreted “.

On the issue of climate change, here are the actual words of the Throne Speech:

“In this election, Parliamentarians received a mandate from the people of Canada which Ministers will carry out. It is a mandate to fight climate change, strengthen the middle class, walk the road of reconciliation, keep Canadians safe and healthy, and position Canada for success in an uncertain world.”… A clear majority of Canadians voted for ambitious climate action now. And that is what the Government will deliver. It will continue to protect the environment and preserve Canada’s natural legacy. And it will do so in a way that grows the economy and makes life more affordable.

The Government will set a target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This goal is ambitious, but necessary – for both environmental protection and economic growth.

The Government will continue to lead in ensuring a price on pollution everywhere in this country, working with partners to further reduce emissions.

The Government will also:

help to make energy efficient homes more affordable, and introduce measures to build clean, efficient, and affordable communities;

make it easier for people to choose zero-emission vehicles;

work to make clean, affordable power available in every Canadian community;

work with businesses to make Canada the best place to start and grow a clean technology company; and

provide help for people displaced by climate-related disasters.

The Government will also act to preserve Canada’s natural legacy, protecting 25 percent of Canada’s land and 25 percent of Canada’s oceans by 2025. Further, it will continue efforts to reduce plastic pollution, and use nature-based solutions to fight climate change – including planting two billion trees to clean the air and make our communities greener.

And while the Government takes strong action to fight climate change, it will also work just as hard to get Canadian resources to new markets, and offer unwavering support to the hardworking women and men in Canada’s natural resources sectors, many of whom have faced tough times recently.”

 

Reaction from environmentalists and Opposition party leaders appeared in the National Observer, in  “Liberals commit to carbon-pollution target of net-zero by 2050”   (Dec. 5); and in “Throne speech climate commitments dwarfed by spending on Trans Mountain” by the Dogwood Institute .

The Canadian Labour Congress reacted with this generally supportive statement:  “We need bold targets to fight climate change, we owe that to our children …. “We also owe the next generation good jobs and commitments to minimize the impact on workers. Today’s commitments move us towards a greener economy.”   In advance of the Throne Speech, the Green Economy Network, a union network of which the CLC is one member, had made  a harder-hitting statement: “The GEN is demanding that the Prime Minister make climate job creation a priority through investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and green buildings, public transit and higher speed rail transit.”

Also in advance of the Throne Speech, a group led by the Smart Prosperity Initiative  delivered an Open Letter outlining detailed demands for clean economy initiatives. The twenty-six signatories include leaders from business, environmental advocacy groups, and the United Steelworkers and BlueGreen Canada.

One of the first major tests for the minority government, should it last that long, will be the decision required by the end of February on whether to approve the application by Teck Resources for the massive Frontier oil sands project – a $20-billion, 260,000-barrel-per-day open-pit petroleum-mining project near Fort McKay in northern Alberta. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency website provides official documentation, including the July 2019 Joint Review Panel Report , which includes discussion of the  economic and employment impacts of the project (beginning page 883).  Critiques of the Joint Review Panel approval were published in July by The Narwhal here  and the Pembina Institute here .

And now, as Parliament reconvenes and the COP25 meetings are underway, the Frontier mine is becoming the  litmus test of Canada’s climate change policy, as laid out in  “Trudeau will fuel the fires of our climate crisis if he approves Canada’s mega mine”, an Opinion piece by Tzeporah Berman which appeared in The Guardian on December 10.  Also on December 10, Greta Thunberg and fourteen other young people released an Open Letter to government leaders of Canada and Norway, calling on them to block any new oil and gas projects and quickly phase out existing ones. The National Observer explains in  “Greta Thunberg and other youth call on Trudeau to ditch fossil fuels” (Dec.9) .

298,000 workers in Canada’s clean energy sector in 2017 according to new Navius report

missing the bigger pictureReleased on May 23, Missing the Bigger Picture: Tracking the Energy Revolution 2019  summarizes research commissioned by Clean Energy Canada and conducted by Navius Research.  The report emphasizes the healthy growth of Canada’s clean energy sector – which employed 298,000 people in 2017, representing 2% of Canadian employment.  Between 2010 and 2017, the number of clean energy jobs grew by 2.2% a year, economic value grew by  4.8% per year (compared to 3.6% for the economy as a whole), and investment in the sector went up by 70%.  The 15-page report calls the clean energy sector “the mountain in our midst”, emphasizing that it includes many industries, all provinces, and defining it broadly as “companies and jobs that help to reduce carbon pollution— whether by creating clean energy, helping move it, reducing energy consumption, or making low-carbon technologies.”  The findings report includes “sector spotlights” for:  electric vehicles, batteries and energy storage, wind power, and building control and HVAC systems.

The accompanying, 118-page report by Navius Consulting explains the methodology and presents the details of employment, economic value, and investment.  Quantifying Canada’s Clean Energy Economy: An assessment of clean energy investment, value added and jobs  ranks “Clean transport” as the largest employer, with 171,000 jobs in 2017 – 111,000 of those in transit. Jobs in renewable and alternative energy supply grew from 54,000 to 60,000 between 2010 and 2017.   The report also states that the clean buildings sector employed only 19,000 people in 2017, mostly  in green architecture and construction services.

Eco Canada Energy-Efficiency coverDefinitions are clearly important to this issue. The Navius technical report provides details about its definitions and methodology, including the use of the gTech energy economy model.  This will no doubt be required reading in order to compare these findings with those of  Energy Efficiency Employment in Canada, the April report from Eco Canada, which estimated that Canada’s energy efficiency goods and services sector directly employed an estimated 436,000 permanent workers in 2018 (summarized by WCR here ).

 

 

Green New Deal Resolution introduced in U.S. House of Representatives

ocasio cortezOn February 7, 2019, freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in partnership with Ed Markey, tabled a Resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives,  titled, “Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal”. Here is the statement of goals (cut and pasted by WCR from the OAC version):   “Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that  (1) it is the duty of the Federal Government to  create a Green New Deal— (A) to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas  emissions through a fair and just transition for  all communities and workers; (B) to create millions of good, high-wage  jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States;  (C) to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet  the challenges of the 21st century; (D) to secure for all people of the United  States for generations to come—(i) clean air and water; (ii) climate and community resiliency; (iii) healthy food; (iv) access to nature; and  (v) a sustainable environment; and  (E) to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with  disabilities, and youth (referred to in this resolution as ‘‘frontline and vulnerable communities’’)” .

David Roberts in his article in Vox, states:  “The resolution consists of a preamble, five goals, 12 projects, and 15 requirements. The preamble establishes that there are two crises, a climate crisis and an economic crisis of wage stagnation and growing inequality, and that the GND can address both. The goals — achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, creating jobs, providing for a just transition, securing clean air and water — are broadly popular. The projects — things like decarbonizing electricity, transportation, and industry, restoring ecosystems, upgrading buildings and electricity grids — are necessary and sensible (if also extremely ambitious).”  Roberts emphasizes the progressive, social justice core of the proposals, including that “the Green New Deal now involves a federal job guarantee, the right to unionize, liberal trade and monopoly policies, and universal housing and health care.” 

Media coverage began immediately :  “Democrats Formally Call for a Green New Deal, Giving Substance to a Rallying Cry” in the New York Times ; articles also appear in the Washington Post    and The Guardian , and Politico  compiles general reactions in “Green New Deal lands in the Capitol“. From Jake Johnson of Common Dreams, “‘This Is What Hope Feels Like’: Green New Deal Resolution Hailed as ‘Watershed Moment’ for New Era of Climate Action” .

By February 8, the Washington Post analysis appeared:   “No ‘unanimity’ on Green New Deal, says key House Democrat” , which discusses the political odds of success for the Green New Deal – and cites the satirical headline which appeared in The Onion: “Nancy Pelosi Signals Support For Environmental Causes By Placing Green New Deal Directly Into Recycling Bin.” Politico also discusses the political opposition in “The Impossible Green Dream of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez” , referencing the “green dream” label given the plan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.     

As of February 8, the AFL-CIO hadn’t posted a reaction. The Labor Network for Sustainability has been strongly in favour of the Green New Deal: see, for example, their post,  Twelve Reasons Labour should demand a Green New Deal , written before the proposal was tabled in the House of Representatives.   

sunrise movementOn February 11, the Sunrise Movement, the key mover behind the Green New Deal, posted their reaction on Common Dreams , pledging to assemble an “unprecedented coalition” , which already includes  Justice Democrats, 32BJ SEIU, Green for All, 1199SEIU, Center for Popular Democracy, People’s Action, Working Families Party, Dream Corps, Presente.org, Demos, Sierra Club, 350.org, CREDO, Bold, Organic Consumers Association, Honor the Earth, Seeding Sovereignty, American Sustainable Business Council President, and NextGen.  From Sunrise: “We’re planning over 600 Congressional office visits this week to kick start our campaign to build the political and public support for the Green New Deal, which will include getting thousands of organizations signed on to back the resolution.”

 

Economists debate decarbonization: optimistic and pessimistic scenarios

debate forum , Is Green Growth Possible? was hosted by the Institute for New Economic Thinking in December, consisting of papers by  economists debating whether catastrophic global warming can be stopped while maintaining current levels of economic growth. The arguments are summarized  for the non-economist in “The Case for ‘conditional optimism’ on climate change” by David Roberts in Vox (Dec. 31) .  Economists may be interested in the full papers, which  include “The Road to ‘Hothouse Earth’ is Paved with Good Intentions” and “Why Green Growth is an Illusion”, both by Enno Schröder and Servaas Storm.  The authors conclude that  “..  The world’s current economies are not capable of the emission reductions required to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees. If world leaders insist on maintaining historical rates of economic growth, and there are no step-change advances in technology, hitting that target requires a rate of reduction in carbon intensity for which there is simply no precedent. Despite all the recent hype about decoupling, there’s no historical evidence that current economies are decoupling at anything close to the rate required…. Without a concerted (global) policy shift to deep decarbonization, a rapid transition to renewable energy sources, structural change in production, consumption, and transportation, and a transformation of finance, … the decoupling will not even come close to what is needed.”

The Inconvenient Truth about Climate Change and the Economy”  by  Gregor Semieniuk, Lance Taylor, and Armon Rezai summarizes and analyzes the October 2018 IPCC report, Global Warming of 1.5 °C. ,  finding it overly optimistic about global productivity growth and fossil fuel energy use, and reiterating the argument that politics are holding back climate change solutions. They conclude that “a big mitigation push, perhaps financed by carbon taxes and/or reductions in subsidies, is possible macroeconomically even if the link between energy use and output is not severed. This, however, would require considerable modifications of countries’ macroeconomic arrangements. Needless to say, military establishments and recipients of energy subsidies wield political clout. Fossil fuel producers have at least as much. Whether national preferences will permit big shifts in the use of economic resources is the key question.”

Finally, in “Conditional Optimism: Economic Perspectives on Deep Decarbonization”, author Michael Grubb  takes issue with Schröder and Storm, saying that their papers rely on historical data and rates of change, and thus are characterized by a “pessimism about our ability to change what matters fast enough. ” Grubb states that this “may  be emblematic of a growing trend in energy-climate economics, of what we might term historical futures analysis.”  He lays out a  technical economic critique and suggests four fundamental principles for his own “conditional optimism”, which relies on analysis based on the rate of displacement of carbon intensive energy supply by the growth of alternate sources.

Can unions deliver good green jobs at Tesla?

tesla injury ratesThe “Driving a Fair Future” website has documented the complaints against Tesla for years – including an analysis of  Tesla injury rates between 2014 and 2017 at its Freemont California plant, which showed that injuries were 31% higher than industry standards.  In June 2018, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board  began to hear some of the workers’ complaints of safety violations and anti-union harassment, with the United Auto Workers representing them.  Two themes have emerged in the saga of Tesla’s bad labour relations:  1. how can the apparently “green jobs” become decent, good jobs?  and  2. would unionization at Tesla give a toehold at other precarious Silicon Valley workplaces such as Google, Amazon, and their like.

“Tesla’s Union Battle Is About the Future of Our Planet” (Oct. 9) in Medium describes the union drive at the Freemont California electric vehicle  manufacturing plant, in light of its environmental mission. The article contends : “ This case isn’t just about Tesla. It’s about the future of an industry that sees itself as key to addressing the climate crisis. Clean tech companies peddle a progressive vision of a low-carbon future, but Tesla’s anti-union fervor suggests that some in the industry have lost sight of their work’s bigger point.”

Workers from Tesla’s solar panel factory in Buffalo New York  expressed similar sentiments in interviews with the  local news organization . Taking pride in their green jobs, they are seeking better pay, benefits, and job security through a unionization drive announced in December.  The Tesla Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo received $750 million in taxpayer funding for the state-of-the-art solar production facility, promising new jobs in a high unemployment area; the unionization campaign involves about 300 production and maintenance employees in a partnership between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Steelworkers. The drive is endorsed by the Labor Network for Sustainability , which states: “We are hearing a lot about the need for a Green New Deal that will provide millions of good jobs helping protect the climate. These Tesla workers represent the Green New Deal in action.” Follow developments on the Facebook page of the Coalition for Economic Justice Buffalo.

Implications for High Tech workers: Why Elon Musk’s latest legal bout with the United Auto Workers may have ripple effects across Silicon Valley” is a thorough overview  about the UAW unionization drive at Tesla’s auto  manufacturing plant at Freemont California, from CNBC   in early December.  Similar themes appeared in  “What Tesla’s union-busting trial means for the rest of Silicon Valley” appeared in Verge in September 2018,  chronicling the arguments of the UAW and Tesla management – including Elon Musk and his tweets – during the NLRB hearings  in June 2018.   The article concludes that “Tesla’s case [is] a bellwether — particularly for Amazon. … Tesla might be a car company, but it’s also a tech company — and if its workers can unionize, tech workers elsewhere are bound to start getting ideas.”

What is life like for these high tech workers? A New Kind of Labor Movement in Silicon Valley” in The Atlantic (Sept. 4  )  gives a good overview, and introduces nascent groups as Silicon Valley Rising  and Tech Workers Coalition  .