Can the fight against COVID-19 help the climate change fight?

With the world reeling under the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, some are trying to make sense of our disrupted world, and find lessons and hope for the fight against climate change.

One thoughtful and useful article is  “Can COVID-19 create a turning point in the fight against climate change?”,  which appeared in Medium on March 13.  Acknowledging that the pandemic is distracting attention and resources from the climate fight, author Kaveh Madani  argues that “The COVID-19 crisis is teaching us some lessons and implementing some reforms that are essential for success in mitigating the climate crisis.” Specifically, economic and financial reforms; reduction of GHG emissions; the move to “virtual life”, including teleworking; reduction of aviation travel and consumerism; the importance of science; the interconnectedness of our global world, and conversely, the importance of individual action.

Another widely-cited article  appeared in Fast Company, “What would happen if the world reacted to climate change like it’s reacting to the coronavirus? . The article quotes May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, who finds hope in the fact that: “We’ve seen that governments can act, and people can change their behavior, in a very short amount of time… And that’s exactly what the climate movement has been asking governments and people to do for years in the face of a different kind of threat—the climate crisis.”  The downside? The response to the climate threat has not been as swift and strong, which she attributes to the perception that it is a “ somewhat distant problem, despite the growing number of climate-related disasters that happen every year”, and because “in the climate crisis, powerful companies have a lot to lose if the world acts decisively, and with the virus, though many people are losing money, there’s no similarly massive opposition to trying to address the problem.”

Two articles on March 15 in The Energy Mix explore how the Coronavirus has disrupted the oil and gas industry, and how that may help the climate fight.   “Coronavirus Triggers OPEC+ Breakup, Drives Deepest Oil Price Dive in 29 Years” (March 15)  summarizes the geopolitics and oil price collapse;  “Oil War and Covid-19 Create Risk, Opportunity for Clean Energy”  (March 15)  summarizes the opinions of several market analysts who argue that “It doesn’t make sense to reduce your investment in renewables if the oil price crashes …It’s more logical to reduce your investment in oil.”  Amongst possible benefits:  governments would reduce fossil fuel subsidies and redirect funding to health priorities, and  investment redirected to clean energy would strengthen that sector.

Finally, Avi Lewis of The Leap wrote a Globe and Mail Opinion piece, “In the midst of converging crises, the Green New Deal is the answer in which he argues: ” In the midst of all these terrifying and converging disasters, this is perhaps the greatest opportunity – to shatter the shackles of austerity thinking and see the potential for government to do big things, like actually lead a democratic and inclusive response to the climate emergency at the speed and scale that science and justice require.”

Just Transition is essential to a low carbon economy. How can unions contribute?

ILO 2018 JUST TRANSITIONOn October 22, the International Labour Organization (ILO) released   Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies  and Societies for All,  which argues for the importance of  just transition policies –  not as an “add-on”, but an integral part of the climate policy and sustainable development policy framework.  This Policy Brief, aimed at a labour union audience,  reviews the history and fundamental principles of the Just Transition concept, provides case studies which  form an impressive catalogue of how just transition has (and in some cases, hasn’t) worked around the world,  and concludes with recommendations of how trade unions and workers’ organizations can contribute to the goal of Just Transition to a low carbon economy .

The Just transition case studies are drawn from both from the global North and the global South – specifically, Alberta; Australia; Brazil; California; Chiapas State, Mexico; Europe; India; Indonesia; Phillipines, Ruhr Valley;  South Africa; and  Vietnam. They reflect interventions at the regional, country, and  sectoral level – most frequently the coal industry. In the end, the author concludes that,  while a coherent strategy with clear objectives and targets is essential, it can only work properly if supported by the main stakeholders. Cooperation of environmental and labour advocacy groups is extremely important, as is the input of Indigenous people. He further judges that “ 10-12 years seems to be a realistic framework which would also allow time to build up well-founded just transition plans.”

What can trade unions do?:  The author’s recommendations are:  Be proactive and build just transition strategies for the future; Be involved at all levels; Build coalitions; Manage labour market transitions; and Develop future-oriented innovative approaches. To help unions, the author provides information for “Capacity and network building” on page 10,  including the network and databases  provided by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW)  project : specifically, the Green Collective Agreements database     and the Education and Training materials database .

Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies  and Societies for All   was written by Béla Galgóczi, Senior Researcher at the European Trade Union Institute and an Associate of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW)  research project.   The new report is available in English  and in French , published by the ILO Bureau for Workers Activities (ACTRAV), which also publishes the International Journal of Labour Research.   In May 2018, the ILO Employment Policy Department issued an Employment Research Brief,  Green Growth,  Just Transition and Green Jobs: There’s a Lot we don’t know , which summarizes and links to the most recent international studies on these three topics.

 

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.

Coal transition case studies argue for anticipation and early action

coal transitions report sept 2018Implementing coal transitions:  Insights from case studies of major coal-consuming economies , published on September 5, brings together the main insights from the Coal Transitions project, the international research program led by IDDRI and Climate Strategies.  The report provides an overview of the drivers of coal transition across the world (with brief mention of the Powering Past Coal Alliance and Canada), and concludes that coal transition is already happening, and that it is technically feasible and affordable. The report then presents case studies of coal transition in six countries: China, India, Poland, Germany, Australia and South Africa.

The analysis concludes that there are multiple policy options which have proven effective for coal transition, but warns that the meaningful consultation and participation of stakeholders early on in the decision-making process is critical to success. In an explanatory blog,  lead author Oliver Sartor states that coal transition policies: “…. must be context-specific and agreed between the relevant parties. However, the crucial success factor is to anticipate rather than wait until the economics turns against coal. A good preparation can allow for younger eligible workers to be more easily placed into alternative jobs, for older workers to retire naturally, and for tailored worker reconversion and job-transfer programs for workers in the middle of their careers.”

In addition to the Synthesis report, national reports for each of the six countries are available from the IDDRI here.

Global Commission proposals for clean growth forecasts 65 million new low-carbon jobs in 2030

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate released its 2018 flagship report at the G20 meetings in Argentina  on September 5 . Under the title, Unlocking the Inclusive Growth Story of the 21st Century: Accelerating Climate Action in Urgent Times , the report acknowledges that all models are imperfect, but its extensive research and modelling predicts that its “bold climate action” prescription could deliver at least US$26 trillion in economic benefits through to 2030, and over 65 million new low-carbon jobs in 2030, as well as avoid over 700,000 premature deaths from air pollution.  As the final point in its action road map, it calls for Just Transition measures and a role for civil society and trade unions in their creation.

The report is structured around a sectoral approach, focused on energy, cities, food and land use, water, and industry. Across those economic sectors, every chapter hammers the theme of urgency, calling this the world’s “use it or lose it moment”. “The decisions we take over the next 2-3 years are crucial because of the urgency of a changing climate and the unique window of unprecedented structural changes already underway. The world is expected to invest about US$90 trillion on infrastructure in the period up to 2030, more than the entire current stock today. …. Investing it wisely will help drive innovation, deliver public health benefits, create a host of new jobs and go a long way to tackling the risks of runaway climate change. Getting it wrong, on the other hand, will lock us into a high-polluting, low productivity, and deeply unequal future. “

Unlocking the Inclusive Growth Story of the 21st Century  calls for the following urgent actions:

  1. “governments should put a price on carbon and move toward mandatory climate risk disclosure for major investors and companies.”  (Specifically, the carbon price for the G20 economies should be at least US$40-80 by 2020, with a predictable pricing pathway to around US$50-100 by 2030, accompanied by a phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies and harmful agricultural subsidies and tax-breaks by 2025);
  2. all economies should place much greater emphasis on investing in sustainable infrastructure as a central driver of the new growth approach;
  3. “ the full power of the private sector and innovation needs to be harnessed.” (Specifically, “ By 2020, all Fortune 500 companies should have science-based targets that align with the Paris Agreement.”  Governments need to change regulations, incentives and tax mechanisms that are a major barrier to implementing a low-carbon and more circular economy, and public-private partnerships should be encouraged.
  4. “a people-centred approach is needed to ensure lasting, equitable growth and a just transition. It is good economics and good politics.”….“All governments should establish clear Energy Transition Plans to reach net-zero energy systems, and work with energy companies, trade unions, and civil society to ensure a just transition for workers and communities. Successfully diversifying local economies as we shift away from coal and eventually other fossil fuels will require multi-stakeholder dialogue, strategic assistance, re-training, and targeted social protection.”

The Global Commission  is comprised of government leaders, academics, and business leaders, including Sharan Burrow of the ITUC, and Lord Nicholas Stern. Established in 2013, the Commission published its first, landmark report in the New Climate Economy initiative in 2014:  Better Growth, Better Climate , which established its position that there is no trade-off between growth and strong climate action. In addition to the annual policy document, international climate issues are published  in a Working Paper series, available here .