GHG emissions rising as governments fail to “Build back better”

Analysis released by the International Energy Agency on July 20 warns that 2023 is now on track to see the highest levels of carbon dioxide output in human history, equalling or surpassing the record set in 2018. Why? According to analysis based on the new IEA Sustainable Recovery Tracker , more than US$16 trillion has been spent on the COVID-19 recovery, but only 2% is going to clean energy investments. The report calls for first world countries and agencies such as the IMF to provide more sustainable financing so that emerging economies can improve their clean energy investment performance.  The IEA Sustainable Recovery Tracker provides an exhaustive list of the green recovery programs for countries around the world, including Canada.  

Also in July, Vivid Economics also released the sixth and final Report of their Greenness of Stimulus Index (GSI), which analyses the G20 countries plus ten other countries. Covid economic stimulus spending had a negative environmental impact in 20 of the 30 countries surveyed, and of the  $17.2 trillion spent, only 10% had been spent on projects which could be considered green.  Denmark ranked first, Russia ranked last, and Canada outperformed the U.S. in terms of positive environmental impact of the economic stimulus.   The Vivid report is  summarized by The Guardian here .

Others tracking the “greenness” of economic recovery, include Carbon Brief, and the U.K. Trades Union Congress, which published Ranking G7 Green Recovery Plans and Jobs in June 2021. That report includes Canada and the other G7 countries as comparators to U.K. spending, with a focus on the job impacts.

An early study from researchers at Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, was the influential academic paper in May 2020 : “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?”

Oil well clean-up can create jobs – but not the way Alberta spent Green Recovery funding

The Big Cleanup: How enforcing the Polluter Pay principle can unlock Alberta’s next great jobs boom was released in June by the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project . It makes thirteen recommendations, including the creation of an independent, non-profit Reclamation Trust to wind down end-of-life companies and use their remaining revenue to fund the cleanup of their wells. The report states that implementing all its recommendations will create 10,400 jobs and generate $750 million in wages, and contribute nearly $2 billion  Alberta’s Gross Domestic Product annually for the next 25 years.  The report also includes new calculations and analysis on the growing crisis of Alberta’s oil and gas well liabilities, stating that the average projected cost of cleaning up Alberta’s over 300,000 unreclaimed oil and gas wells is $55 billion dollars, with the top 20 Alberta municipalities alone facing $34 billion in cleanup liabilities in their boundaries.  

In April 2020, the government of Canada announced its Covid-19 Economic Response Plan, including  $1.72 billion  directed toward the cleanup of inactive and abandoned oil and gas infrastructure across the western provinces. $1 billion of this funding was directed to Alberta. Dianne Saxe, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, had been one of the early critics of this program, for example in “Canada’s murky bail-out deal for oil and gas will cost us all”  ( National Observer, April 21).   In early July, a further evaluation was published by Oxfam Canada, the Parkland Institute, and the Corporate Mapping Project : Not Well Spent: A review of $1-billion federal funding to clean up Alberta’s inactive oil and gas wells .  The report finds some alarming failures on many fronts – including that the program is not tracking methane emissions, so it is impossible to determine the emissions reduction impact.  Author Megan Egler also cautiously argues that the public funds were used to accomplish what industry should have been responsible for, according to a polluter pays principle.   

One of the stated goals of Alberta’s $1 Billion Site Rehabilitation Program (SRP) was to create 5,300 jobs. However, Not Well Spent states: “ If this is met, funding of $1billion will create 5,300 jobs at $188,680 per job. This is $41,800 more per job than money injected into the industry through the Orphaned Well Association to do similar work in 2018. There has been no clear explanation from the Government of Alberta why the public dollars to create one job are higher in the SRP program.” The report also notes that 23% of the total amount of funds disbursed went to only five companies out of the 363; only 10% was allocated to clean-ups on Indigenous lands.  The author makes recommendations for improvement in future funding, to ensure better accountability and transparency, which would be more consistent with a “polluter pays” objective.

Telecommuting holds promise for decarbonizing Canada’s economy

Connecting Canada on the Road to 2030  is a report released by the Pembina Institute on June 16, with the subtitle: Exploring the climate benefits and impacts of teleworking. The report states that in 2020, the pandemic resulted in a global GHG emissions drop of 3.9% – and in Canada, GHG emissions dropped by 7% compared to 2019.  By August 31, 2020, 27% of Canadians were teleworking full-time (up from 18% in March 2020). The report attributes the greatest proportion of emissions reduction to reduced transportation, but given that the research was commissioned by TELUS Canada, the main focus of the report is to examine the GHG impacts of greater use of the internet.

Using U.S. data when Canadian data is not available, the report states that the increase in residential emissions by employees was outweighed by the decrease in emissions from transportation and commercial buildings, indicating that there is the potential for decarbonization through telework. Residential emissions from internet use are primarily attributed to the energy demand of access devices, such as phones, laptops, and TVs, and the emissions intensity of the electricity grid that powers them – and the report discusses the differences and complexities of renewable energy by Canada’s ICT sector. The attention to the differences in rural and urban Canada is key aspect of this report – both in terms of commuting distances and installed broadband internet capacity.  The report concludes that: “governments must recognize the environmental value of connecting homes in rural and underserved areas to broadband, coupled with investments from government and industry in clean energy to ensure all possible emissions reductions are achieved.”  It makes clear that Canada requires further research into the GHG emissions of internet use.

Global vaccine justice seen as a test of climate justice at G7 meetings in June 2021

G7 finance ministers and the global financial elite issued an important Communique  on June 5, and while the mainstream media (and Finance Canada’s own press release ) focused mainly on a 15% minimum global tax rate for corporations, the Communique made ambitious statements regarding international climate finance too, with calls which seem to acknowledge the importance and inequity of climate risk to the global financial order. “G7 Ministers Recommit to Climate Finance, Leave Details for Later” in The Energy Mix summarizes the general reaction that the Communique is too vague and “unambitious”. The article states that the scale of global climate investment (both public and private) is estimated at $100 billion per year, and that Canada’s fair share would be US$4 billion per year.

The issue of global climate finance is seen as crucial to the success of the upcoming G7 meetings of world leaders in the U.K. on June 11-13. “As leaders gather for G-7, a key question: Will rich countries help poor ones grapple with climate change?” in The Washington Post (June 7) describes how global climate finance and the issue of global vaccine disparity are being conflated, for example in a quote from a senior advisor to Climate Action Network International:  “The G-7 meeting will be a test for international solidarity. This implies solidarity on both ensuring equitable and rapid access to vaccines globally, as well as on finance and support for the climate crisis”.  “World Climate Deal Could Fail unless G7 Solves Vaccine Disparities” (June 8, The Energy Mix)  quotes the head of the international Chamber of Commerce: “We can’t have global solidarity and trust around tackling climate change if we do not show solidarity around vaccines.”   The Guardian writes: “Share vaccines or the climate deal will fail rich countries are told” (June 5) – which points out that “Canada has the highest number of procured doses per head, with a total of 381 million procured vaccine doses for a population of just over 37 million.”  – and contrasts Canada with the low vaccine availability in such countries as Columbia, Indonesia, South Africa, and Pakistan.

Climate Change is one of the priorities of the G7 meetings. Reports released in anticipation of the G7 meeting include:

Ranking G7 Green Recovery Plans and Jobs  published by the U.K.’s Trades Union Congress, which shows that the U.S. had the highest level of green jobs and recovery investment per person, followed by Italy and then Canada. The U.K. ranks sixth, with Japan 7th.  The report critiques specific U.K. policies and makes recommendations for improvements.

Oxfam International posted analysis on June 7 which estimates that the economies of G7 nations contracted by about 4.2 per cent on average in the pandemic, and compares that to the greater economic impacts which will result from extreme weather, the effects on agricultural productivity, and heat stress and health.  The report includes estimates of GDP losses by 2050, assuming 2.6°C of warming, using the modelling of the Swiss Re Insurance Economics of Climate Change Index , and predicts the worst affected countries will be  India, Australia, South Africa, South Korea, The Phillipines (with a 35% loss of GDP), and Columbia. Canada’s GDP loss is estimated at 6.9%.  The report is summarized in  “Covid shrunk the economy but climate change will be much worse” (The Guardian, reposted in The National Observer, June 8) and also in  “Climate inaction will cost G7 countries ‘billions’” in  Deutsche Welle .

The official G7 Ministers meeting website is here and will post official documents/news.  The Resist G7 Coalition will present different information, and aims to coordinate protests on their Facebook page and their website.  A Reuters article states that police will number 6,500, and Extinction Rebellion alone estimates 1,000 protestors will be present. 

Status quo B.C. Budget 2021 neglects old growth forests

The government of British Columbia tabled its 2021 Budget on April 20, including topical Backgrounders such as Preparing B.C. for a Greener Recovery, which states that “Budget 2021 investments brings the total funding for CleanBC to nearly $2.2 billion over five years.”  Also highly relevant, “Investing in B.C. Now for a Stronger  Economic Recovery”, which summarizes skills training, infrastructure, and youth employment investments. Reaction to the Budget from climate advocates could be described as general disappointment- for example, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. Office reacting with “BC Budget 2021: Stay-the-course budget misses the mark on key areas of urgency outside health”; The Pembina Institute with “B.C. budget takes small steps toward clean economy goals”, and Clean Energy Canada with “B.C. budget builds on its climate and economic plan, but could do more to seize net-zero opportunity” . The Tyee provides a good summary and compiles reactions from environmental groups and labour unions here.

The greatest disappointment of all in the B.C. Budget relates to lack of action to protect Old Growth Forests, summarized by The Tyee in  “No New Money for Old Growth Protection in BC’s Budget”. The spokesperson from the Wilderness Committee is quoted as saying that the Budget “absolutely shatters” any  hopes that province is taking changes to forest industry seriously. (Budget allocation to the Ministry of Forests is actually cut). This, despite the active blockade on at Fairy Creek, Vancouver Island, recent expert reports, and a Vancouver Sun Opinion piece by co-authors Andrea Inness (a campaigner at the Ancient Forest Alliance) and Gary Fiege ( president of the Public and Private Workers of Canada, formerly the Pulp and Paper Workers of Canada) who wrote, “We can protect old growth forests and forestry jobs at the same time”.  They call for the government to live up to their promise to implement the recommendations of their own Strategic Review

Forest management has a long history of conflict in British Columbia – with the CCPA’s Ben Parfitt a long-standing expert voice who continues to document the issues – most recently in “Burning our Way to a new Climate”. Another good overview appears in a 2018 article in The Narwhal, “25 Years after the War in the Woods: Why B.C.’s forests are still in crisis“. The WCR summarized the recent situation in March. For more on the current Old Growth protests:  An Explainer by Capital Daily in Victoria details the Fairy Creek Blockade, underway since the Summer of 2020 and continuing despite an injunction against the protestors upheld by the B.C. Supreme Court on April 1. The Tyee also produced a special report, The Blockaders on March 25, which compares the current Fairy Creek Blockade to the 1993 protests in the Clayoquot Sound, where 900 people were arrested in one of Canada’s largest acts of civil disobedience- known as the “War in the Woods”.  (This updates an September 2020 3-part series about that history, Part 1 ; Part 2;  and Part 3) .