Strong community advocacy brings landmark climate legislation to New York State

New YorK RenewsOn June 18, the New York State Assembly passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act   – what the New York Times calls  “one of the world’s most ambitious carbon plans” (June 18) . Originally tabled in 2016 as the Climate and Community Protection Act , the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act calls for the state to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and economy-wide, net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  The final legislation was a compromise – stripped of measures on prevailing wages, apprenticeship programs, preferences for women- and minority-owned businesses, and investment for disadvantaged communities. The NY Renews coalition, comprised of  unions, community and environmental groups issued a statement  which reads, in part: “Ultimately, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is a partial victory for New Yorkers. The fight for true climate justice demands transformative change, and we will bring that fight until our communities win…We stand strong knowing that as recently as last week, the Governor dismissed any funding for frontline communities, and in his Climate Leadership Act, refused to set a timeline for economy-wide emission reductions. This new legislation does both, and that is a direct result of years of tireless organizing by the members of the NY Renews coalition.”

New York Is About to Pass One of the Most Ambitious Climate Bills in the Land” in The Nation (June 19)  describes the political battles and compromises involved, and states “the real heroes of the fight for the CCPA are the hundreds of protesters who stormed the state Capitol on a recent Tuesday in June, and the dozens who staged a “die-in” outside the governor’s office to illustrate the consequences of failing to pass climate legislation.”  An article by David Roberts in Vox (June 20) also summarizes the nitty gritty of the bill and its evolution.

Planning under the new legislation will be led by a 22-member Climate Action Council, composed of the heads of various New York state agencies, along with members appointed by the governor, the Senate, and the Assembly. The Council will convene advisory panels on, for example, transportation, land use and local government, and will also convene working groups on Just Transition and Climate Justice.

Climate policy progress in Canada suffers from an overemphasis on carbon pricing, an absence of supply-side energy policies

heating up backing downcoverHeating up, Backing Down  by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood was released on June 13, updating the author’s previous 2017 report Tracking Progress: Evaluating government plans and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.   It analyzes emissions data and policy announcements in the last two years to assess federal, provincial and territorial governments’ progress toward Canada’s domestic and international greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets.  The report identifies and discusses two new important issues in the Canadian climate policy discussion: an overemphasis on carbon pricing and an absence of supply-side energy policies. These are in addition to the three key obstacles to effective climate policy identified in the 2017 report, and still considered relevant: (1) an ambition gap between government policies and official targets; (2) Canada’s  deep economic dependence on fossil fuels, and; (3) an under-appreciation of the need to support workers in the transition to a cleaner economy.

Following a succinct overview of policy developments and emissions statistics for each province, the author concludes that positive progress in British Columbia and Quebec is outweighed by backsliding in the rest of Canada, and future progress is further threatened by the legislative reversals enacted by the recently-elected conservative governments in Alberta and Ontario, which are Canada’s two biggest carbon polluting provinces.

Heating up, Backing Down is co-published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change research program (ACW) .

U.K. Parliament declares climate emergency; Government committee calls for Net Zero Emissions by 2050

extinction rebellion signThe government of the United Kingdom became the first national government to declare an environment and climate emergency. on May 1 when it passed a motion by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (and Ireland followed suit with its own vote in Parliament on May 10) . Many agree with the headline from Common Dreams, “Activism works: UK Parliament makes history in declaring climate emergency”, reflecting on the huge impact made by the April demonstrations of the School Strikes and Extinction Rebellion in the U.K.

UK net-zero-coverOn the heels of the symbolic victory of the climate emergency declaration, on May 2 the U.K. government’s Committee on Climate Change delivered its long-awaited landmark report, requested by the U.K., Scottish and Welsh Governments in 2018.  Net Zero: the U.K.’s contribution to stopping Global Warming  calls for net zero emissions by 2050, with Scotland to target net-zero by 2045 and Wales to target a 95 per cent reduction by 2050 relative to 1990.  The net-zero target would cover all greenhouse gases, including international aviation and shipping, and allow for the use of emissions credits. The Committee estimates the cost at equivalent to 1-2% of GDP each year, made possible by the rapidly falling cost of new technologies – and balanced by the benefits of a cleaner environment and improved health. In calling for more ambitious targets than the existing one of 80% emissions cut by 2050 (set out in the 2008 Climate Change Act), the Committee states that “Current policy is insufficient for even the existing targets”, and calls for “clear, stable and well-designed policies to reduce emissions … across the economy without delay”.

Links to the research reports supporting the Committee’s report are here .  The Guardian released a brief overview in “‘This report will change your life’: what zero emissions means for UK . More substantial reactions come from:  Carbon Brief, with a detailed summary; and from The Grantham Institute “What is Net Zero?” , and a political wish list in “Urgent response needed from U.K. government on Net Zero Emissions”  .

The Greener Jobs Alliance , a coalition of U.K. unionists and environmentalists, also summarizes what the new report may mean, acknowledging that “The 2050 target date for zero emissions will disappoint many demonstrating across the UK.”, but focusing especially on the breakthrough of the Committee’s call for Just Transition. The GJA states: “It should now reinforce this message by setting up a Just Transition Advisory Group, with union representation from the industrial, energy, public and voluntary sectors….” and “….the absence of a strategic advisory role for unions in the work of the committee is no longer tenable.”

Below is the GJA overview of what the Net Zero report will mean for workers, as published in their news release:

  • Up to one in five jobs across the UK will be affected by a Zero Carbon Britain strategy.
  • Major moves away from fossil fuels – with job losses across oil and gas extraction, power and heating industries, as well as job losses in supply chains for these sectors.
  • Some gas fired power stations could be needed, but they will need to run using hydrogen or Carbon Capture & Storage. All coal-fired stations close.
  • Huge job growth is expected in sectors like renewables, electric vehicles, home insulation and domestic heating.
  • Employment in offshore wind, for example, is predicted to quadruple to 27,000 jobs by 2030. The big prize comes when all three main parts of a wind turbine – the tower, the cell at the top and the blades – are made in the UK. The UK is currently a big importer of renewable technology. The UK has to develop full supply chains across the renewable energy sector.
  • By 2025 at the latest all new cars and vans should be electric, or use a low- carbon alternative such as hydrogen. The automotive industry must transition to electric vehicles, with major implications for jobs, skills and investment.
  • No new homes should be connected to the gas grid after 2025.
  • Retrofitting homes with energy efficiency measures and installing low-carbon heat into new and existing homes will require new skills. This programme could generate many more high-skilled jobs in the installation and construction industries.

Canada’s record on climate change, and the global failure to meet Paris emissions targets

trudeau-notley-20161129An analysis of the evolution of Justin Trudeau’s  climate change policies is  summarized in “The Rise and Fall of Trudeau’s ‘Grand Bargain’ on Climate”,  published in The Tyee (Nov. 14). The article is a summary by author Donald Gutstein of his new book,  The Big Stall: How Big Oil and Think Tanks Are Blocking Action on Climate Change in Canada , which the publisher describes this way: “The Big Stall traces the origins of the government’s climate change plan back to the energy sector itself — in particular Big Oil. It shows how, in the last fifteen years, Big Oil has infiltrated provincial and federal governments, academia, media and the non-profit sector to sway government and public opinion on the realities of climate change and what needs to be done about it.” (Interesting companion reading to this argument: an October report from the Parkland Institute and the Corporate Mapping Project, Who Owns Canada’s Fossil-Fuel Sector? Mapping the Network of Ownership & Control.)  The Big Stall  concludes that by framing the challenge as an opportunity for economic growth through clean technology, the government has failed to address climate change effectively.

UN2018bridging gap coverRecent studies continue to support the assessment that the world, including Canada,  has not done enough to meet its climate change goals, let alone the urgent need to decarbonize. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will release its annual Emissions Gap Report 2018  in November, but in a pre-release chapter released at the Global Climate Action Summit in September, the UNEP asserted that national governments are not meeting their Paris Agreement targets, and that non-state actors and sub-national governments are crucially important in closing the gap.

Time to Get on with It: The LCEI 2018: Tracking the Progress G20 Countries Have Made to Decarbonize Their Economies  was released in early October by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) consultants.  Their Low Carbon Economy Index (LCEI) report states that in 2017, no country was on track with the decarbonization rate needed to achieve the Paris Agreement temperature goal, and ranks Canada as 14th out of 20.

brown to green 2018The Brown to Green Report 2018  released by Climate Transparency in November rates all the G20 nations on 80 indicators regarding decarbonisation, climate policies, finance and vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.  No G20 countries are on track to meet their targets ( Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Russia are ranked as worst ).The 15-page Canada Country Report  finds that Canada’s GHG emissions per capita are the highest of any G20 country at  22 (compared to a G20 country average of 8 ). Despite encouraging coal phase-out policies, “Canada’s NDC is not consistent with the Paris Agreement’s temperature limit but would lead to a warming between 3°C and 4°C. ”

Finally, for an academic treatment of this issue: “Warming assessment of the bottom-up Paris Agreement emissions pledges”  appeared in Nature Communications on November 16. It states that India is the only country close to being on track to meet a 2 degree target, and singles out Saudi Arabia, Russia, Canada and China as laggards.

Political will and urgent action required to save our planet, IPCC Report warns

IPCC 2018reportThe world’s climate science experts have spoken in the landmark report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on October 8.  The full title is: Global Warming of 1.5 °C: an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty . That dry title doesn’t reflect the importance and impact of this report –  the first time that the UN body has modeled the difference between the impacts of the Paris agreement goals of 2°C and 1.5 °C, and an urgent, unanimous challenge by 91 scientists to the policy makers and politicians of the world to act on the solutions outlined in their models .  An IPCC official  quoted in a CBC report strikes the hopeful tone the report tries to achieve: “We have a monumental task in front of us, but it is not impossible… This is our chance to decide what the world is going to look like.”

The official report, commonly called  Global Warming 1.5  runs over 700 pages. The official press release  states:  “The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air….Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes”.  A 34-page Summary for Policymakers and a 3-page Headline Statements provide official summaries. Climate Home News offers  “37 Things you need to know about 1.5 global warming”  and  The Guardian offers summary and context in  “We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero or face more floods”  by Nicholas Stern and “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN”  (also republished in The National Observer) .

CAN CANADIANS EXPECT URGENT ACTION? :  A thorough CBC summary of the report appears in “UN Report on global warming carries life- or- death warning” , and the Globe and Mail published “UN Report on Climate Change calls for urgent action to avert catastrophic climate change”    (Oct 8) – yet no official reaction has been released by the federal government of Canada. “Trudeau’s Big Oil-friendly decisions mean climate chaos”  from Rabble.ca contrasts the IPCC report with a brief summary of Canada’s recent policy failures. “No change to Canada’s climate plans as UN report warns of losing battle” appeared in the National Observer (Oct. 8).  The National Observer also posted “We challenge every Federal and provincial leader to read the IPCC report and tell us what you plan to do” on October 9, characterizing Canada’s current divisions over a national carbon tax as representative of the world’s dilemma – the failure of political will to act on known scientific facts.  350.org Canada also addresses the issue of political will with  an online petition   calling for an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Canada’s plan to limit climate change, in light of the IPCC report.

Opinion Pieces are still being written, including:  “To avoid catastrophic climate change, we need carbon pricing” by Dale Beugin and Chris Ragan of the Ecofiscal Commission in the Globe and Mail  (Oct. 9) which argues that  “The best that economics has to offer is telling us we have a key solution right under our noses. Carbon pricing is now a Nobel Prize-winning idea. ”

On Climate, Our Choice Is Now Catastrophe or Mere Disaster ” by Crawford Kilian in The Tyee  . ….” modern governments and most of their voters are sleepwalking into catastrophe. If anyone or anything can wake them up, we might have a chance. And if we don’t work hard to turn that catastrophe into a mere disaster, we won’t be able to say nobody warned us. ”

“Canada’s carbon-tax plan is collapsing just as the planet runs out of time” in the Washington Post (Oct. 9)…. ” Today, Canadians should take a minute to write to their elected officials provincially and federally and demand that we get the carbon tax done. Every elected official should take a moment to decide how they would like to be remembered. That is, assuming there will be anyone around to remember.”

WELL-INFORMED GLOBAL SUMMARIES :IPCC: Radical Energy Transformation Needed to Avoid 1.5 Degrees Global Warming”   and “Not Just CO2: These Climate Pollutants Also Must Be Cut to Keep Global Warming to 1.5 Degrees”appeared  in Inside Climate News. The World Resources Institute published “8 Things You Need to Know About the IPCC 1.5˚C Report” , accompanied by a  blog and infographic which  explains the consequential difference between 1.5 and 2.0 global warming levels. Climate Action International monitored the discussions leading up to the release of the report: here is their summary and a compilation of global reactions . A compilation of reactions from the academics at Imperial College and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (LSE) is here.

A brief Comment was already issued by the policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, which calls the report a “conservative assessment” because it omits discussion of some of the largest risks and their impacts – notably  population displacements, migration and possibly conflict, as well as  potential climate  ‘tipping points’, such as disruption to the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic and shifts in the monsoon in Africa and Asia.

Another key issue: the controversial role of geoengineering, such as carbon capture and storage or “carbon dioxide removal technologies”(CDR) .  “Negative Emissions technologies in the new report on limiting global warming” was posted at Legal Planet (Oct. 8) , pointing out how important geoengineering is in the report’s models. The author argues that ”  …. The text of the relevant chapter is honest about large-scale negative emissions, when it states:  “Most CDR  technologies remain largely unproven to date and raise substantial concerns about adverse side-effects on environmental and social sustainability. ” But the author argues that the message was deliberately watered down  in the executive summaries and in the Summary for Policymakers.

On October 4, just before the release of Global Warming 1.5, 110 organizations and social movements, led by Friends of the Earth International, released their Hands Off Mother Earth! Manifesto, which opposes any geoengineering solutions, including carbon capture and storage.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this report, and it will draw more and more discussion as the UNFCCC meetings in Katowice, Poland approach in December 2018.