Responses to Climate change-related weather disasters in 2017

Photo from B.C. Wildfire Service

The summer of 2017 has seen unprecedented forest fires, heat waves, floods and hurricanes around the world, with flooding and forest fires in Canada.  In response, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced the launch of an advisory Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience on August 29, to be chaired by Dr. Blair Feltmate, Head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo. The Expert Panel will be composed of  academic, private sector, government, non-government, and Indigenous representatives. CBC summarizes the initiative here .

On September 1, the Insurance Bureau of Canada issued a press release that estimated more than $223 million in insured damage from two storm and flooding events in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec in May. An Internal Review of the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements, released in the Spring of 2017, states that the average annual federal share of provincial/territorial response and recovery costs has increased from C$10 million from 1970 to 1995, to $100 million from 1996 to 2010, to $360 million from 2011 to 2016, with the majority of costs caused by flooding.

Before either Hurricanes Harvey or Irma, the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric  Administration (NOAA) stated, “In 2017 (as of July 7), there have been 9 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States. These events included 2 flooding events, 1 freeze event, and 6 severe storm events. Overall, these events resulted in the deaths of 57 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted.”

At the end of August, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce released a report which states:  “The average natural disaster costs the economy C$130 billion and lowers GDP by approximately 2%….. On average, it is estimated that natural disasters increase public budget deficits by 25%.”   Building Better: Setting the 2017 Ontario Infrastructure Plan up for success urges significant investment, stating:  “Research shows that investment in infrastructure, such as roads, transportation, communication, utilities and more, have resulted in lowered business costs and increased labour productivity. It is estimated that for every $1 billion in infrastructure spending, 16,700 jobs are supported for one year and the GDP sees a $1.14 billion increase.”

In June, the City of  Toronto appointed its first Chief Resilience Officer, whose job it is to prepare for catastrophic events and other stresses, with a focus on social issues such as housing and transit, building on existing programs under the city’s climate resilience and TransformTO initiatives.  The Chief Resilience Officer position is funded by  100 Resilient Cities, an international network whose website houses a collection of Urban Resilience plans from around the world.

And for the last word on this catastrophic summer, read Bill McKibben’s opinion in The Guardian, “Stop Talking Right Now about the threat of Climate Change. It’s Here; It’s Happening“.

Scrap the Infrastructure Bank, says CUPE

GO transit stationThe federal government first announced its plans for an Infrastructure Bank in the Fall 2016 Economic Statement, and fleshed out an implementation schedule and funding in the Budget released in March 2017   .  The  Infrastructure Bank website here  describes: “If approved by Parliament, the Bank would invest $35 billion from the federal government into transformative infrastructure projects.  $15 billion would be sourced from the over $180 billion Investing in Canada infrastructure plan, including: $5 billion for public transit systems; $5 billion for trade and transportation corridors; and, $5 billion for green infrastructure projects, including those that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, deliver clean air and safe water systems, and promote renewable power.”  It will function as an arms-length Crown corporation “and would work with provincial, territorial, municipal, Indigenous, and private sector investment partners to attract pension funds and other institutional investors to new revenue-generating infrastructure projects that are in the public interest.”  A May 13 press release from the responsible Minister of Infrastructure and Communities announces that the selection process for senior management positions has begun, and the goal is to launch the Bank in 2017. The enabling legislation is buried deep in the enormous Bill C-44, the Budget Implementation Act  (as Division 18 of Part 4) . Bill C-44 is now in 2nd reading in the House of Commons, and the Finance Committee began a clause-by-clause review of the legislation in the week of May 29.

There is no shortage of criticism and critics of the Infrastructure Bank, from across the political spectrum.  In “Where Were They Going Without Ever Knowing the Way? Assessing the Risks and Opportunities of the Canada Infrastructure Bank”,  (May 4) economists at the University of Ottawa Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy argue that the case for the infrastructure bank is weak since Canada doesn’t yet have a comprehensive inventory of the status of existing infrastructure. (The May 18 report  submitted to Canada’s Climate Change Adaptation platform may answer some of those objections) .

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is leading the union charge of criticism , mostly on the grounds that the infrastructure bank encourages and enables privatization of public projects. Even before the March budget was delivered, CUPE Economist Toby Sanger wrote  Creating a Canadian infrastructure bank in the public interest  , published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.  After the budget was delivered,  CUPE’s initial response  was published in April .  In May, CUPE compiled expert criticisms here   , and on May 29, the union issued the call to  “Scrap bank of privatization, build infrastructure for Canadians” . CUPE also presented a detailed brief  to government committees in May, with ten points of criticism and recommendations for change so that public bridges, roads and waterways remain under public control.

Canada’s Budget 2017: A closer look at what matters for a green economy

infrastructure from Budget 2017Canada’s federal budget statement, titled Skills, Innovation and Middle Class Jobs, was released on March 22, with a stated  commitment to the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, and support for already-announced climate initiatives .  Some specific allocations: $11.4 million over four years for a national coal phase-out, beginning in 2018; $17.2 million over five years for a national clean fuels standard, starting in 2017;  $5 billion to green infrastructure and an additional $5 billion for public transit infrastructure over 11 years.  Disappointingly, the Budget extends the Mineral Exploration Tax Credit for another year, thus failing to end fossil fuel subsidies.

Reflecting their own particular interests, most unions issued immediate reactions:  see the Canadian Labour Congress ; Canadian Union of Public Employees ; United SteelworkersUnifor . In the Toronto Star, Paul Wells called the Budget “a list of decisions to be made later”, and most commentators remarked on the many deferred deadlines.  A March 22 blog by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood of the CCPA provides a thorough summary of the provisions relating to climate change policy,  noting that the phrase “climate change” is used 50 times, but  “when it comes to putting Canada on a pathway to deep decarbonization, Budget 2017 comes up short. Significant investments in key areas, such as public transit and clean technology, should not be dismissed out of hand, but the funds are heavily backloaded and too small given the scale and urgency of the climate challenge.”  Mertins-Kirkwood also notes that there are no direct measures to support Just Transition programs, although provisions to improve skills training , workforce development, and small changes to the Employment Insurance program may indirectly contribute to that goal.

Two thoughtful  analyses of the Budget have since been released: on March 24, the Canadian Labour Congress released its Detailed Analysis of Budget 2017, providing an overall assessment, but including a substantial consideration of provisions relating to a green economy.  CLC Highlights: “The Canada Infrastructure Bank will be resourced with $2.8 billion over five years; legislation creating the Bank is anticipated in spring 2017. In the weeks and months following the budget, the Government of Canada will work on a framework to apply a green lens and an employment-based community benefit lens to infrastructure projects, which may become part of the bilateral infrastructure agreements.”  Regarding “Transition to a Green Economy”:  “In Budget 2017, investments in 2017-18 and 2018-19 under the $2 billion Low-Carbon Economy Fund …are scaled back and re-allocated for future years. Budget 2017 offers $2 billion for a Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, administered through Infrastructure Canada. The budget allocates $220 million to reduce the reliance of rural and remote communities on diesel fuel, and to support the use of more sustainable, renewable power solutions. An array of investments are made in order to support the development of the clean tech industry in Canada. In 2016, Canada joined other G-20 countries in re-committing to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies by 2025. The budget contains two modest proposals to scale back fossil fuel subsidies, but no specific concrete commitments are made to comply with the 2025 deadline.  Budget 2017 provides funds to accelerate the coal phase-out in Alberta, but it is unclear whether there will be funding to deal with the impacts on workers and communities. There is no explicit mention in Budget 2017 of just transition measures, or the government’s proposed just transition task force.”

On  March 27, the Pembina Institute released  Budget 2017: Ready, set implement  which offers its reaction and further suggestions on three issues.  Acknowledging the scale of investment and the importance of consultation, particularly with First Nations, Pembina declares, ” in our view, it’s not unreasonable that the $2 billion Low Carbon Economy Fund has been altered to extend over five years.”   Regarding “Next steps on the National Carbon Price”, Pembina applauds the details provided re the  national carbon price backstop — “set to begin at $10 per tonne of carbon pollution in 2018, and to escalate by $10 per year until 2022.”  Pembina also highlights the announcement of a federal government consultation paper with technical details of the national carbon price, promised in 2017. It urges that the national carbon benchmark price be linked to inflation, be subject to a review in 2020, and that the government design a fair and transparent framework for that review well in advance.

Finally, in “Accelerating decarbonization of goods movement”, Pembina notes the Budget’s commitments to new clean fuel standards and heavy-duty truck retrofit regulations, as well as the allocation of $2 billion over 11 years in a new National Trade Corridors Fund to address congestion and inefficiencies in rail and highway corridors, especially  around the Greater Toronto Area . They re-state their proposal for  North America’s first low-carbon highway between Windsor and Quebec City, based on  building out an “alternative fuelling infrastructure — like electric vehicle fast-charging, compressed natural gas or hydrogen stations — for personal and commercial transportation along the route.”

 

 

 

 

 

November 4: An historic day for climate action, but UNEP report calls for stronger IDNC targets

paris-agreement-into-force-nov-4As the Paris Climate Agreement enters legal force on November 4, 2016 , 100 Parties have ratified the agreement, representing 69.47% of the world’s emissions, according to the Paris Agreement Tracker at World Resources Institute.  Carbon Brief provides an “Explainer” of the Paris Agreement process , The Guardian summarizes the significance, and Environmental Defence sums it up with  Now comes the hard part for Canada .

To set the stage for  the world’s climate experts who are  gathering  in Marrakesh for COP22 from November 8 to 17, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)  released its annual Emissions Gap Report , the first assessment to calculate the emissions that will occur under all the pledges made in Paris.  It shows that, even under those reduction pledges, the world is heading to a temperature rise of 2.9 to 3.4oC this century. The UNEP underlines the urgency and seriousness in its press release: “If we don’t start taking additional action now, beginning with the upcoming climate meeting in Marrakesh, we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy. The growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver. The science shows that we need to move much faster.”  Understandably, the Emissions Gap report generated a lot of reaction: see Inside Climate News   , and from Carbon Brief, a warning about the reliance on negative emissions which are included in most scenarios for emissions reduction.

Will Canada heed the UNEP call to countries for stronger  IDNC targets for emissions reduction at into the COP 22 meetings at Marakkesh  ?  There has been no signal of that.  On the clean energy file, however,  the Liberal government  released its Fall Economic Statement  on November 1, including plans for more transit support and a new infrastructure bank with $35 billion of public and private sector money to support green initiatives such as electricity transmission lines and energy storage capacity . Clean Energy Canada commended the government  though few details are available yet.  The National Observer report emphasizes  that lack of detail to date.  The Minister of Transportation has released the Transportation 2030 Plan  , with a section related to  greener transport.  Finally, the federal government announced   on November 2  that it will reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 (with an aspirational goal of accomplishing that by 2025). This will be done  “by strategic investments in infrastructure and vehicle fleets, green procurement, and support for clean technology”. By 2030, the government will  source 100% of the electricity for its buildings and operations from renewable energy sources.  The release also notes that a new group is being established – the Centre for Greening Government – that will track emissions centrally, coordinate efforts across government and drive results to make sure these objectives are met.  See the  Greening Government Backgrounder  here .

Prime Minister Trudeau is scheduled to meet with the provincial and territorial  leaders in early December to advance the  pan- Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Meanwhile, all eyes are also watching the federal decision on the Kinder Morgan pipeline project, also due in December.

 

Federal Grants and loans to Municipalities for Green Projects

Speaking at a meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) on February 10, 2016, Environment and Climate Change Minister McKenna announced $31.5 million in funding for capital and planning expenses for green projects. The FCM Budget Submission makes specific proposals regarding housing, transit, infrastructure and public safety; it calls for an expansion in the $550 million federally-funded Green Municipal Fund, and a new Green Infrastructure Fund, with dedicated, predictable funding for projects designed to mitigate and adapt to climate change and make other green improvements related to drinking water, stormwater and wastewater infrastructure.