Business think tank calls for Low-carbon policies for Canada

The Conference Board of Canada acknowledged that Canada must institute a carbon tax and decarbonize its electricity system in its September report, The Cost of a Cleaner Future: Examining the Economic Impacts of Reducing GHG Emissions (free, registration required).  The report presents a range of economic scenarios, relying on modelling from the Trottier Energy Futures project, and focusing on three issues:  carbon pricing; eliminating oil and natural gas from electricity generation; and the investment of trillions of dollars in green technology. On the impact of carbon pricing, one scenario assumes a carbon tax of $80 per tonne in 2025, yielding an average annual cost to Canadian household of approximately $2,000, shrinking the economy by only 1.8%, and cutting employment by 0.1%.  The total economic impact is forecast to be small, assuming that carbon tax revenues are reinvested in the economy in the form of corporate and personal income tax cuts and additional public spending on infrastructure. Industries most likely to suffer from reduced competitiveness are chemicals, mining and smelting, and pulp and paper; and  “industries with a domestic focus and sensitivity to price changes, such as residential construction, will be hard hit”.

Negative press coverage of the report appeared in  “Carbon tax to shrink economy by $3 billion, hurt loonie, study warns” in the Financial Post. The Globe and Mail was more optimistic, with “Canada urged to bite the bullet on shift to low carbon economy” and an OpEd “Can Canada remain an energy superpower?”.   In the OpEd , Glenn  Hodgson of the Conference Board recommends public policy support for a low-carbon energy strategy so that Canada can become North America’s most efficient, low-carbon source of oil and gas, while building up the country’s expertise in a range of other energy services, including carbon capture and storage, nuclear, and energy storage technologies. Such an outlook coincides with two other Conference Board publications over the summer: Clean Trade: Global Opportunities in Climate-Friendly Technologies  and Canadian Green Trade and Value Chains: Defining the Opportunities (both free with registration).  These new reports are the product of the new  Low-Carbon Growth Economy Centre at the Conference Board of Canada.

Review of Australia’s Electricity future seeks political compromise; unions see some hints of Just Transition

Flag_of_Australia.svgThe Final Report of the Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market  was submitted to the Australian government  by  its Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, on June 9 – the government press release is here  . Given that Australia currently obtains approximately two-thirds of its electricity from coal-fired generating units, it is controversial territory.  The Finkel Review seeks compromise ground: it doesn’t  recommend a return to Australia’s previous emissions trading scheme , nor a carbon tax – instead,  it recommends a “clean energy target”, where cleaner power generators would get financial rewards relative to the amount of CO2 emitted per megawatt hour.   In “Australia: New climate policy same old politics”, Climate Home states:  A “major review of Australian climate policy has been compromised by the malignant politics that has sent Australia to the back of the international pack”.  Even more critical is  “Alan Finkel’s emissions target breaks Australia’s Paris commitments”     in The Guardian (June 9), which states that the Finkel recommendations would result in emissions levels 28% below 2005 levels by 2030 for the electricity sector – less than needed, and less than called for in a 2016 report by the Climate Change Authority,  Policy options for Australia’s electricity supply sectorThe Guardian also published “Finkel review anticipates lower power prices, but weak electricity emissions target“, with detail of the recommendations and the political response.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) response to the Finkel report is muted, and focused less on the strength of the emission targets and more on the recommendations for an orderly transition of the sector, and a three year notice period before generator withdrawal. From the ACTU press release: “it is immediately clear that the report states the need for an orderly transition that includes workforce preparedness….The report also recommends a three year notice period before generator withdrawal, which would provide some notice for workers and communities.”  The ACTU has previously recommended the establishment of the Energy Transition Authority to navigate the transition to a clean energy economy.

 

Transform TO will reduce Toronto’s emissions by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050 – Recommendations passed on July 4th

Toronto large

Old and new Toronto City Hall from Flickr

John Cartwright, President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, wrote  an Opinion piece “How Toronto could lead the climate change charge in Canadian cities” , which appeared in the National Observer on June 15.  The focus of Cartwright’s article is the  Transform TO   plan currently being debated  in Toronto City Council after two years of public engagement, expert input and in-depth analysis . Cartwright is  member of the cross-sectoral Modelling Advisory Group that informed the Transform TO project.  The  target is to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.  Given that half of the Toronto’s carbon emissions come from buildings, 41 per cent from transportation and 11 per cent from waste,  key Transform TO recommendations are:  100% of new buildings to be designed and built to be near zero GHG emissions by 2030; 100% of transportation options- including public transit and personal vehicles – to use low or zero-carbon energy sources, and active transportation to account  for 75% of trips under 5 km city-wide by 2050; and 95% of waste to be diverted by 2050  in all sectors – residential, institutional, commercial and industrial.

Details of the plan are presented in Staff Report #1, approved by City Council in December 2016, and Staff Report #2  , approved by the Environment and Parks committee in May, and slated for a Council vote in early July. Technical reports  are here .

UPDATE:  See this CBC report summarizing the Council vote on July 4th, where the recommendations were passed, but with financial concerns.

An overview is available in 2050 Pathway to a Low-Carbon Toronto Report 2: Highlights of the City of Toronto Staff Report .  Report #2  highlights that Transform TO will provide significant community  benefits, such as improved public health, lower operating costs for buildings, and local job creation and training opportunities for communities that have traditionally faced barriers to employment – with an estimate that the planned building retrofits alone would create 80,000 person years of employment.

Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are members of  C40 ,  a network whose goal is to act on climate change and reduce emissions.   In cooperation with Sustania and Realdania  , C40 compiled case studies from 100 cities (including Toronto and Vancouver) , meant to showcase innovative programs. Their most recent blog, “Mayors lead the global response to Trump’s pull out of the Paris Agreement” is a blunt rebuke to Trump and a determination to continue to work at local solutions.   Similarly, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre repeated  that the mayors of the world would honour the Paris Agreement, as he welcomed more than 140 mayors and 1,000 international and local delegates gathered to the annual Metropolis World Congress from  June 19 to 22.

Reaction from Canada, California as Trump attacks Obama fuel emissions standards

solar-power-1020194_1920The rest of the world is driving towards new technologies, but U.S. state governments are rolling back EV incentives   and  on March 15,  Donald Trump took the U.S. a further  step away from reducing  transportation emissions.  Following pressure from U.S. auto companies, and in the name of creating American jobs and reviving American manufacturing,  the White House announced that the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will re-open the evaluation of the  Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) standards for light-duty vehicles manufactured in 2022- 2025 .  Never mind that the EPA, in the waning days of the Obama presidency in January 2017, had already issued its official  Determination  to leave the standards in place, stating that they  “are projected to reduce oil consumption by 50 billion gallons and to save U.S. consumers nearly $92 billion in fuel cost over the lifetime of MY2022-2025 vehicles”, with minimal employment impacts.  The New York Times   compiles some of the U.S. reaction to the announcement, quoting Harvard’s Robert Stavins, who states that rolling back the Obama-level regulations would make it  impossible for the United States to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement.   A sample of  U.S. concerns appear in:   “Trump Fuel economy rollback would kill jobs and cost each car-buyer $1650 per year “ by Joe Romm in  Think Progress ; DeSmog BlogTrump Takes Aim at Fuel Efficiency Requirements, Prompting Concern US Automakers Will Lag on Innovation”   ; and the Detroit Free Press,  reporting on a lead-up Trump speech in Ypsilanti, Michigan ,  “Trump visit puts UAW politics in crosshairs”  http://www.freep.com/story/money/business/2017/03/14/trump-visit-puts-uaw-politics-crosshairs/99165906/    (March 14). The Detroit Free Press  states that autoworkers were bused in to the Trump event by their employers, with Fiat Chrysler and General Motors offering their workers a day’s pay as well.  No immediate reaction to the announcement came from the United Autoworkers union, although  the DFP article states: “UAW President Dennis Williams has repeatedly said he disagrees with Trump on health care, immigration, the environment and most other major issues. But Williams supports Trump’s desire to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) …..”

In Canada, where Unifor represents autoworkers,  president Jerry Dias spoke out  in “ Auto workers union takes aim at Trump’s examination of fuel standards ” in the Globe and Mail (March 16), and in a CTV News report . He  states that “ he would fight any attempt to roll back environmentally friendly regulations in the auto industry following Trump’s announcement”. Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change was in Washington on March 15th,  meeting with EPA head Scott Pruitt, but her reaction was guarded and diplomatic,  as reported in “As Trump eyes reprieve for gas guzzlers, Canada looks to China  ”  in the National Observer and in “Trump targets fuel-efficiency standards” in the Globe and Mail  (March 16).  Traditionally, Canadian  fuel emissions standards have been harmonized with the U.S. , as a result of the strongly integrated auto industry.  For example, at the end of February, Canada released  its proposed regulations for heavy-duty vehicles, and according to the International Council on Clean Transportation, Canada continued to follow the  U.S. model.  Similarly,  Ontario announced a Memorandum of Understanding on auto manufacturing with the state of  Michigan on March 13, pledging cooperation on regulatory standards as well as technology  and supply chain management.

Harmonization will be more difficult after Trump’s announcement on March 15, just as Canada and Ontario are reviewing their own revisions to fuel emissions regulation . Ontario reacted to the Trump  announcement with a  pledge to continue to cooperate with California and Quebec in the Western Climate Initiative – read “Ontario plans to team up with California against Trump on climate change” in the National Observer (March 16). California won the right to set its own fuel emission standards in the 1970’s, and today, fifteen other states voluntarily follow  California’s tougher standards, including Georgia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and the New York metropolitan area – translating into more than 40% of the U.S. population.  “The Coming Clean-Air war between Trump and California” in The Atlantic surveys this  latest conflict between California and the Trump administration .  A press release from Governor Gerry Brown called the fuel standards  announcement  “a cynical ploy” that puts politics ahead of science, and pledged that California will fight it in court.

Just Transition policies lacking in federal and provincial climate policies in Canada

In February, the Adapting Work and Workplaces (ACW) project released three  preliminary working papers in a series  called Evaluating government plans and actions to reduce GHG emissions in Canada . The first report,  Federal progress through June 2016 (July 2016)  and the second,  Provincial and territorial progress through October 2016 (November 2016)    provide specific summaries of climate policies in their respective jurisdictions since November 2015, and in general, they conclude that  “Despite missteps, oversights and political backtracking, Canada’s climate policy has evolved to be relatively comprehensive and broadly supported”.  Significantly, the papers point out that “a large ambition gap remains between governments’ GHG targets and their actual emission reduction policies. …. the emissions-intensive production of oil and gas resources has largely escaped stringent, targeted GHG mitigation measures. Indeed, through direct and indirect subsidies, Canadian governments continue to promote oil and gas expansion despite its incompatibility with those same governments’ climate objectives.”

Just Transition policies is the focus of the third preliminary working paper in the ACW series. It  springs from the idea that just transition policy is a crucial and urgent, but under-developed, aspect of Canadian governments’ climate plans.  It characterizes “just transition” as a concept developed by the labour movement. “It is a social justice framework for facilitating the low-carbon transition in a way that minimizes negative employment impacts and ensures equitable outcomes for worker.” In defining “just transition”, the paper differentiates it from “climate justice”, stating, “A just transition is one of the goals of climate justice advocates, but the two concepts are distinct. Climate justice goes beyond workers, for example, to demand the poor are not disproportionately hurt by policies such as carbon pricing.”

The report reviews the latest climate plans published by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, discovering and describing:  1. Policies that provide income supports to laid-off workers; 2. Policies that provide skills training and re-training for the low-carbon economy, and 3. Policies that directly create new jobs, especially in the communities and regions adversely affected by climate policies.  The conclusion:  all Canadian jurisdictions “get a failing grade” on all three subjects. The paper calls for improved income support programs, since policy seems to favour training and retraining over income support in the existing federal unemployment insurance program, as well as in provincial climate policies which allow for reinvestment of carbon revenue, such as Alberta and Ontario. Workforce development policies seem to receive the most attention – while still lacking in most provinces. Finally, job creation policy is judged to be “hands-off”, with governments assuming that new investment in clean energy industries will be sufficient.

All three preliminary reports were authored by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood,  in association with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.  A final, consolidated report is anticipated by Spring 2017.