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) .

$17.6 Billion announced for Green Recovery in Canada’s new Budget- but still not enough to meet the Climate Emergency – updated

On April 19, the federal government tabled its much-anticipated 2021 Budget, titled A Recovery Plan for Jobs, Growth, and Resilience, announcing $30 billion over five years and $8.3 billion a year afterward to create and maintain early learning and child-care programs – stating:  “It is the care work that is the backbone of our economy. Just as roads and transit support our economic growth, so too does child care”. COVID-19 wage subsidy, rent subsidy and lockdown support programs will be extended until September, depending on how long the crisis continues, the maximum sickness benefit period for Employment Insurance will be extended from 12 to 26 weeks, and a new Canada Recovery Hiring Program will provide employers with funding to hire new workers between June 6, 2021 and November 20, 2021.  A new $15 federal minimum wage will apply in federally regulated private businesses.

Green Recovery and the Climate Emergency: The Budget still falls short

In an article in Policy Options in March, Mitchell Beer laid out the challenge: Chrystia Freeland must pick a lane with next budget – climate change or oil and gas? Climate activists laid out what they were looking for in Investing for Tomorrow, Today: How Canada’s Budget 2021 can enable critical climate action and a green recovery , published on March 29 and endorsed by nine of Canada’s leading environmental organizations: Pembina Institute, Nature Canada, Climate Action Network Canada, Environmental Defence, Équiterre, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Ecology Action Centre, Leadnow, and Wilderness Committee. 

Yet it appears that the federal Budget is still trying to maintain one foot on the oil and gas pedal, while talking about GHG emissions and clean technologies. The reactions below indicate such concerning elements – incentives on the unproven technologies of carbon capture and storage and hydrogen, no signs of an end to fossil fuel subsidies, no mention of a Just Transition Act, and, despite hopes that the Prime Minister would announce an ambitious target at the U.S. Climate Summit convened by President Biden, a weak new GHG reduction target increasing to only 36 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The Budget summary announces “$17.6 billion in a green recovery that will help Canada to reach its target to conserve 25 per cent of Canada’s lands and oceans by 2025, exceed its Paris climate targets and reduce emissions by 36 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and move forward on a path to reach net-zero emission by 2050.” This  Backgrounder summarizes some of the Green Recovery highlights, which include :

  • $4.4 billion to support retrofitting through interest-free loans to homeowners, up to $40,000
  • $14.9 billion over eight years for a new, permanent public transit fund
  • $5 billion over seven years, to support business ventures through the Net Zero Accelerator program – which aims to decarbonize large emitters in key sectors, including steel, aluminum, cement—and to accelerate the adoption of clean technology. Examples given are aerospace and automobile manufacture industry.
  • $319 million over seven years “to support research and development that would improve the commercial viability of carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies.” This would be in the form of an investment tax credit, with the goal of reducing emissions by at least 15 megatonnes of CO2 annually.
  • a temporary reduction by half in corporate income tax rates for qualifying zero-emission technology manufacturers, such as solar and wind energy equipment, electric vehicle charging systems, hydrogen refuelling stations for vehicles, manufacturing of equipment used for the production of hydrogen by electrolysis of water, production of hydrogen by electrolysis of water and others
  • $63.8 million over three years, starting in 2021-22, to Natural Resources Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Public Safety Canada to work with provinces and territories to complete flood maps for higher-risk areas.
  • $2.3 billion over five years to conserve up to 1 million square kilometers more land and inland waters, and an additional $200 million to build natural infrastructure like parks, green spaces, ravines, waterfronts, and wetlands.

Reactions

Watershed moment for child care, long-term care: Budget 2021: But pharmacare, tax reform and climate change remain in limbo”, from CCPA states: “Budget 2021 delivers on a number of previously-announced emission reduction initiatives and green infrastructure projects, including $14.9 billion over eight years for a new, permanent public transit fund…….Unfortunately, while the budget makes big strides toward a greener economy, it fails once again to tackle Canada’s dependence on fossil fuel production. Without a clear plan and timeline for winding down oil and gas extraction we simply cannot meet our net zero emission target.”

“Federal Budget React: Canadian Civil Society Responds” compiles reactions from Canada’s major climate advocacy groups, including Climate Action Network’s own statement: “…. Some investments made by budget 2021 are extremely helpful – particularly investments in clean transportation, energy efficient homes, resilient agriculture, and Canada’s first green bonds. Some investments made by budget 2021 are extremely worrisome – investments in carbon capture and storage risk perpetuating our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels, and some of the forestry investments perpetuate a transactional relationship with nature that treats it like a commodity we can trade. Yet the big take away is this: we are in a time of changing norms, and Budget 2021 does not present a vision for climate-safe transformational change” 

Budget 2021 is a healthy dose for the clean economy, but climate measures lack potency” from the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, which points out “There is no way to reach our near-term or net zero targets without retrofitting practically all of Canada’s homes and buildings.  That’s why the lack of mention of energy efficiency and deep retrofits for buildings beyond single-family homes is surprising … There is no mention in the budget of strategic incentives or financing for municipalities or developers to ensure new construction is near-zero construction.”

The Canadian Labour Congress press release, Canada’s unions welcome ‘crucial’ funding for child care, skills training and $15 federal minimum wage doesn’t mention any of the green recovery elements. The CLC later released a Summary and Analysis of the Budget, here.

From NUPGE: Federal Budget 2021: Lofty ambitions need details , which follows NUPGE President Larry Brown’s letter to Environment and Climate Change Minister Wilkinson, titled No more delays on climate action, justice.  

Federal Budget Leaves Out Transit Workers and Riders as Operational Transit Funding Completely Left Out, Says ATU Canada” from the Amalgamated Transit Union  

If not now, when?” Liberals waste another shot at equitable recovery with Budget 2021 from Canadian Union of Public Employees

And from the National Observer: “Critics throw shade at federal budget cash for home retrofits”  and  “Will Trudeau’s wager on carbon capture help or hurt the environment? “.

Sierra Club green recovery plan calls for “ironclad labor and equity standards”

The Sierra Club U.S. report How to Build Back Better: A 10-year Plan for Economic Renewal  is a blueprint for economic renewal – in which the environmental advocacy group continues to demonstrate clear support for the needs of workers.  Released in March, this report includes a call for public investments which “must come with ironclad labor and equity standards to curb racial, economic, and gender inequity instead of reinforcing the unjust status quo.”  To support the job quality theme, the Sierra Club also released a 1-pager titled Cross-cutting environmental, labor and equity standards and  a 3-page summary titled Why Standards Matter, an overview of job quality issues .


Briefly, the Sierra Club recommends a pandemic recovery plan which would create over 15 million good jobs, based on public investment of $1 trillion per year for ten years. Investments would go to many sectors including infrastructure and clean manufacturing, but also the care sector and the public sector. In addition to job creation, the plan addresses systemic racism, supports public health, and cuts climate pollution nearly in half by 2030. The economic renewal plan is based on the THRIVE Agenda, which is itself based on job projections and modelling by academics at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), led by Robert Pollin. Their latest analysis was published by PERI as Employment Impacts of Proposed U.S. Economic Stimulus Programs (March 2021).  Sierra Club released a  3-page summary of  job projections; an interactive Jobs Calculator ; and Fact Sheets for each of the sectors considered: regenerative agriculture, clean energy, care and public sector, transportation, manufacturing, buildings, and clean water for all, and pollution-free communities. All these accompanying documents, along with the full report, are available here.

THRIVE stands for “Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy” and is summarized in the Sierra Club press release of  March 25. The coalition has grown out of the Green New Deal Network, itself a coalition of 15 U.S. organizations that are focused on combating social inequity and environmental destruction through political action. 

Only 18% of global Recovery spending in 2020 was green

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released Are We Building Back Better? Evidence from 2020 and Pathways for Inclusive Green Recovery Spending,    on March 10.  It estimates that in 2020, the world’s fifty largest economies announced USD14.6tn in fiscal measures to address the pandemic economic crisis, and states: …. “Excluding currently uncertain packages from the European Commission, 18.0% of recovery spending, and only 2.5% of total spending, is expected to enhance sustainability. The vast majority of green spending has come from a small set of high-income nations” with France, Germany and South Korea highlighted for their relatively high percentage of green recovery spending.  Canada’s spending is small, with only brief references which state that we have focused on “cleaning dirty energy assets”, and have made fossil fuel investment. (no details or examples given).  It is notable that the report covers 2020, so that U.S. spending is also low, though hope is expressed for the Biden/Harris administration.  Notably, the report looks to the future: “….. the largest window for green spending is only now opening, as nations shift attention from short-term rescue measures to recovery. Using examples from 2020 spending, we highlight five major green investment opportunities to be prioritised in 2021: green energy, green transport, green building upgrades & energy efficiency, natural capital, and green research and development.”    

Each of those topics is analyzed, with some exemplary policies highlighted. Some overarching issues: “Of particular note, despite continuing high global unemployment and widespread damage to human capital, spending on worker retraining in 2020 was small and almost exclusively non-green. Nations transitioning to a low-carbon economy must invest in human capital to enable and match future growth priorities. Structural changes in major sectors, including energy, agriculture, transport, and construction, require shifts in the structure and capabilities of the domestic labour force.”

Also, regarding “green strings”: “Although some dirty rescue-type expenditure may have been necessary to ensure that lives and livelihoods were saved, many of the largest of these policies could have included positive green attributes. For instance, airline bailouts in nations all over the world, including South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States could have included green conditions. Green conditions tied to liquidity support, like requirements to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or mandates to increase sustainable fuel use, can ensure short term relief while also promoting investment in long-term technological development and acting as a strong guide in national efforts to meet climate targets.”

The report is supported by the United Nations UNEP, the International Monetary Fund and GIZ through the Green Fiscal Policy Network (GFPN). The data was collected by the Oxford University Economic Recovery Project and is now available through the Global Recovery Observatory, a new database which will be updated regularly (most recently at the end of February).

The report cites many other studies and reports, notably: “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?” by Cameron Hepburn, Brian O’Callaghan, Nicholas Stern, Joseph Stiglitz, and Dimitri Zenghelis, which appeared in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy in May 2020.    .

Green Recovery includes proposals for Green Apprenticeships, Opportunity Guarantees for youth

In the midst of rampant youth unemployment in the U.K., An Emergency Plan on Green Jobs for Young People was released on March 1, commissioned by Friends of the Earth U.K. and prepared by Transition Economics consultants. The report puts flesh on the bones of a youth jobs guarantee – discussing the many issues, identifying green jobs and skills related to infrastructure, and estimating the level of funding required. That level of funding is compared to the cost of youth unemployment – the “wage scarring”.  Individual scarring is estimated at a loss of £42,000 – £133,000 in future wages over the next 20 years for an 18-20 year old who experiences one year of unemployment. The economic loss to the U.K. as a whole, if all currently unemployed youth stayed unemployed for 1 year, is estimated at £32 – £39 billion.

The solution proposed in the  Emergency Plan is the creation of 250,000 green apprenticeships in infrastructure-related jobs, rapidly rolled-out in England and Wales at an estimated cost of £6.2 – £10.6 billion over 5 years – a “tiny” cost compared to the burden of wage scarring. The report calls for “a green opportunity guarantee” that commits to ensure that all young people are offered a job, an apprenticeship, or training, and estimates that  “A government funded £40 billion-a-year green infrastructure programme would create over 1 million jobs, and deliver significant co-benefits.”   The report further calls for apprentice pay rates above the minimum wage, negotiated nationally with U.K. trade unions.

The idea of a green opportunity guarantee has also been advanced in Canada – notably in July 2020 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in its  Alternative Federal Budget Green Recovery Plan . The CCPA proposed a  National Decarbonization Strategy with public investments in electricity generation, public transit, forestry and building and home retrofitting; part of the Strategy included “a Green Jobs Corps at a cost of $10 billion per year to create good green jobs that advance Canada’s decarbonization agenda. Among the corps’ priorities will be climate adaptation and environmental reclamation projects identified under the National Decarbonization Strategy. All youth under the age of 25 in Canada will be guaranteed either a job in the corps or access to subsidized training through the Strategic Training Fund.”

Similarly, a Submission by the Canadian Labour Congress in August stated:  “Following the experience of the European Union, the federal, provincial and territorial governments should establish a guarantee that all young people under the age of 25 will receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. This could include a focus on providing decent jobs in land remediation and restoration, climate adaptation, and energy efficiency. It should also include green skills training and learning opportunities through partnerships with public education and training providers, with an emphasis on women, marginalized, low-income and at-risk youth.”  A similar proposal was made by the Smart Prosperity Institute, calling for the creation of  a Conservation and Adaptation corps as part of its Green Recovery proposals.  Smart Prosperity stated that the federal government funded 900 green internships in 2020 through the Science Horizons Youth Internship Program for STEM students, and calls on the government to go further with a youth  Conservation and Adaptation corps which “would offer the workforce needed to meet a number of environmental targets, including planting 2 billion trees, and could build the infrastructure needed to improve community resilience to climate impacts from flooding, fires and sea level rise.”