Canada, the World Bank and International Confederation of Trade Unions announce a partnership to promote Just Transition in the phase-out of coal-fired electricity

One-Planet-Summit-sign2-1024x605Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister is back on the  international stage at the One Planet Summit in Paris, which is focusing on climate change financing – notably phasing out  fossil fuel subsidies, and aid to developing countries.  In a press release on December 12,  Canada announced a partnership with the World Bank Group to accelerate the transition from coal-fired electricity to clean sources in developing countries, stating: “This work also includes sharing best practices on how to ensure a just transition for displaced workers and their communities to minimize hardships and help workers and communities benefit from new clean growth opportunities. The transition to a low-carbon economy should be inclusive, progressive and good for business. We will work together with the International Trade Union Confederation in this regard.”   The World Bank Group announcement was briefer : “Canada and the World Bank will work together to accelerate the energy transition in developing countries and, together with the International Trade Union Confederation, will provide analysis to support efforts towards a just transition away from coal.”  The ITUC Just Transition Centre hadn’t posted any announcement as of December 13.

Other Canadian partnerships announced in a general press release: a Canada-France Climate Partnership to promote the implementation of the Paris Agreement through  carbon pricing, coal phase-out, sustainable development and emission reductions in the marine and aviation sectors; Canada was selected as one of five countries for a new partnership with the Breakthrough Energy Coalition led by Bill Gates; and Canada , along with five Canadian provinces, two U.S. states, and Mexico, Costa Rica and Chile, signed on to the Declaration on Carbon Markets in the Americas, to strengthen  international and regional cooperation on carbon pricing.

The World Bank, one of the organizers of the One Planet Summit, made numerous other announcements – including that it will no longer finance upstream oil and gas developments after 2019, and as of 2018, it  will report greenhouse gas emissions from the investment projects it finances in key emissions-producing sectors, such as energy. Such moves may be seen as a response to the demands of the Big Shift Global campaign of Oil Change International, which  released a new briefing called “The Dirty Dozen: How Public Finance Drives the Climate Crisis through Oil, Gas, and Coal Expansion  on the eve of the One Planet Summit.  Over 200 civil society groups also issued an Open Letter   calling on G20 governments and multilateral development banks to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and public finance for fossil fuels as soon as possible, and no later than 2020.  Signatories include Oil Change International, Les Amis de la Terre – Friends of the Earth France, Christian Aid, Greenpeace, Reseau Action Climat – Climate Action Network France, WWF International, BankTrack, Climate Action Network International, Global Witness, 350.org, Germanwatch, Natural Resources Defense Council, CIDSE, and the Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development.

In Canada, Environmental Defence is collecting signatures in a campaign to stop fossil fuel subsidies , stating  “ Together, federal and provincial governments hand out $3.3 billion in subsidies every year for oil and gas exploration and development. In 2016, Export Development Canada, a crown corporation, spent an additional $12 billion in public money to finance fossil fuel projects.”

First year progress report on the Pan-Canadian Framework lacks any mention of Just Transition

pan-canadian framework on clean growth coverOn December 9th, the Governments of Canada and British Columbia jointly announced the first annual progress report on the implementation of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change – officially titled,  the First Annual Synthesis Report on the Status of Implementation – December 2017 (English version)  and Premier rapport annuel du cadre pancanadien sur la croissance propre et les changements climatiques (French version).     The report summarizes the year’s policy developments at the federal and provincial/territorial  level – under the headings pricing carbon pollution ; complementary actions to reduce emissions;  adaptation and climate change resilience ; clean technology, innovation and jobs; reporting and oversight; and looking ahead.  It is striking that the report is up to date enough to include mention of the Saskatchewan climate change strategy, released on December 4, as well as the Powering Past Coal global alliance launched by Canada and Great Britain in November at the Bonn climate talks – yet in the section on “Looking Ahead”, there is no mention of another important outcome of the Bonn talks: a Just Transition Task Force in Canada.  As reported by the Canadian Labour Congress in “Unions applaud Canada’s commitment to a just transition for coal workers”,  “Minister McKenna also announced her government’s intention to work directly with the Canadian Labour Congress to launch a task force that will develop a national framework on Just Transition for workers affected by the coal phase-out. The work of this task force is slated to begin early in the new year.”  No  mention of that, nor in fact, any use of the term “Just Transition” anywhere in the government’s progress report.

Environment Canada touts ‘good progress’ on climate after scathing audit” appeared in the National Oberserver (Dec. 11), summarizing some of the progress report highlights and pointing out that not everyone agrees with the government’s self-assessment that “While good progress has been made to date, much work remains”. Recent criticism has come from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development in her October report ; from Marc Lee at the Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis in “Canada is still a rogue state on climate change”  (Dec.11) ; and from the Pembina Institute in  State of the Framework: Tracking implementation of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change .  The Pembina Institute report calls on the federal government to speed up on all policy fronts, with specific recommendations including: “extend the pan-Canadian carbon price up to $130 per tonne of pollution by 2030, implement Canada-wide zero emission vehicle legislation, ban the sale of internal combustion engines, and establish long-term energy efficiency targets.”

A just clean energy transition for New York state – proposals include protection of pension benefits for displaced workers

On November 13,  the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts published a new study by authors Robert Pollin, Heidi Garrett-Peltier and Jeannette Wicks-Lim, all well-established experts on the job creation benefits of renewable energy.  Clean Energy Investments for New York State: An Economic Framework for Promoting Climate Stabilization and Expanding Good Job Opportunities    examines the benefits of large-scale investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency for New York State, and proposes a Just Transition policy framework to support such clean energy investments. Their analysis is based on an estimate of a 40 percent decline  in production activity and employment in fossil fuel industries in New York State as of 2030. They examine the labour market and present detailed statistics about the compensation and benefits, unionization, educational qualifications, gender and race of the small percentage (0.15 percent) of the total state workforce who worked in fossil fuel dependent industries in 2014.

In Chapter 8, they  propose a Just Transition program guaranteeing pensions and reemployment, as well as providing income, training and relocation support for workers. They also propose support for fossil-fuel dependent communities, primarily through channeling new clean energy investments to the affected communities.  The report cites the model of the Worker and Community Transition program that operated through the U.S. Department of Energy from 1994 – 2004.

Because of the level of detail in the report, (including information about the unfunded pension liabilities of the relevant companies), the authors are able to make very specific policy recommendations and also provide cost estimates. For example, they call on the State government to mandate full funding of pensions via state law, or through coordination with the federal Pen­sion Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), to the extent that companies could be prohibited from paying dividends or financing share buybacks,  or the state (in cooperation with PBGC) could place liens on company assets when pension funds are underfunded.

The report estimates a total cost of approximately $18 million per year to fund 100 percent compensation insurance for five years,  retraining for 2 years, and relocation support for workers. This is based on an average of  $270,000 – $300,000 per worker per year, for  the estimated  67 displaced workers likely to be eligible.

Interesting context for this report appears in an interview with Robert Pollin in the  Albany Times Union, “N.Y. must try harder to become a clean energy beacon.

Progress at COP23 as Canada’s Minister pledges to include the CLC in a new Just Transition Task Force

cop23An article in the Energy Mix reflects a widely-stated assessment of the recently concluded Conference of the Parties in Bonn: “COP23 Ends with solid progress on Paris Rules, Process to Push for Faster Climate Action” :  “It was an incremental, largely administrative conclusion for a conference that was never expected to deliver transformative results, but was still an essential step on the road to a more decisive “moment” at next year’s conference in Katowice, Poland.”  A concise summary of outcomes  was compiled by  the  International Institute for Environment and Development, including a link to the main outcome document of the COP23 meetings – the Fiji Momentum for Implementation .  Germany’s Heinrich Böll Institute also issued a checklist and assessment titled  We will not drown, we are here to fight  . The UNFCCC provides a comprehensive list of initiatives and documents in its closing press release on November 17. And from the only Canadian press outlet which attended COP23 in person, the National Observer: “Trump didn’t blow up the climate summit: what did happen in Bonn?” .

What was the union assessment of COP23? The International Trade Union Confederation expressed concern for the slow progress in Bonn, but stated: “The support for Just Transition policies is now visible and robust among all climate stakeholders: from environmental groups to businesses, from regional governments to national ones. The importance of a social pact as a driver to low-carbon economics means we can grow ambition faster, in line with what science tells us. ”  The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) also expressed disappointment, reiterating the demands in its October  ETUC Resolution and views on COP 23  , and calling for a “Katowice plan of action for Just Transition”  in advance of the COP24 meetings next year in Katowice, Poland.

The biggest winner on Just Transition was the Canadian Labour Congress, who pressed the Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change outside of formal negotiations at Bonn and received her pledge for federal support for the newly-announced Just Transition Plan for Alberta’s Coal Workers –  including flexibility on federal  Employment Insurance benefits,  and a pledge that  Western Economic Diversification Canada will  support coal communities.   Importantly, “Minister McKenna also announced her government’s intention to work directly with the Canadian Labour Congress to launch a task force that will develop a national framework on Just Transition for workers affected by the coal phase-out. The work of this task force is slated to begin early in the new year”, according to the CLC press release “  Unions applaud Canada’s commitment to a just transition for coal workers” .  The background story to this under-reported breakthrough  is in the National Observer coverage of the Canada-UK Powering Past Coal initiative, on November 15 and November 16.  Unifor’s take on the Task Force is here .

This global alliance is the biggest COP23 news story for Canadians, coming near the end of meetings. Canada, along with the U.K. and the Marshall Islands, announced the “Powering Past Coal” global alliance to phase out dirty coal power plants around the world.  See the government press release for Canada  and the U.K. , and see the Official Declaration, which states:

  • “Government partners commit to phasing out existing traditional coal power in their jurisdictions, and to a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage within their jurisdictions.
  • Business and other non-government partners commit to powering their operations without coal.
  • All partners commit to supporting clean power through their policies (whether public or corporate, as appropriate) and investments, and to restricting financing for traditional coal power without carbon capture and storage.”

Amongst the 20-some jurisdictions already signed up to the alliance are Canada , the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, the city of Vancouver, and the states of Washington and Oregon.  Noticeably absent so far are the major coal polluters – the U.S., Germany, China and India. The stated goal is to grow the alliance to 50 members jurisdictions.  The Energy Mix provides a summary and related interviews;   Climate Action Network-Canada reacted with “Powering Past Coal Announcement Shows Rise of International Collective Action; Domestic Implementation will Bring it Home” (Nov. 16);  DeSmog UK calls the alliance the “start of a journey” ;  German news source DW provides an international viewpoint of the alliance, especially focused on the politically-charged debate about coal in Germany.

There were other breakthoughs at COP23, including on  Gender Equality, Indigenous Rights, and Agriculture.   Delegates adopted the first Gender Action Plan  .  As reported in “To combat climate change, increase women’s participation”  in DW  (Nov. 20), for the first time,  there is a plan which  sets out specific activities, with a timeline for implementation, and allocation of responsibilities.  National governments are responsible for reporting back on progress on these activities in 2019.

COP23-It takes roots Indigenous NetworkThe Guardian reported “Indigenous groups win greater climate recognition at Bonn summit”   (Nov. 15) citing the improved language from the 2015 Paris Agreement.  ” The technical document approved at COP23 states:  countries “should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.”  In response, the Indigenous Environmental Network states: “… while progress has been made on the UNFCCC traditional knowledge Platform for engagement of local communities and Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Peoples’ rights are not fully recognized in the final platform document of COP 23. The burden of implementation falls on local communities and indigenous peoples.”  News and reports released by It Takes Roots, the Indigenous Environmental Network COP23 delegation, are here, including their report in opposition to carbon pricing: Carbon Pricing: A Critical Perspective for Community Resistancereleased at COP23.

Finally, regarding agriculture:   As reported by the  International Institute for Environment and Development  “After years of fraught negotiations on this issue, the COP23 decision on agriculture  requests the subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC to simultaneously address vulnerabilities of agriculture to climate change and approaches to tackle food security. Breaking the deadlock on issues connecting agriculture and climate change was a big win for COP23.”

 

Alberta unveils its Just Transition plan for coal workers

On November 10, the government of  Alberta released the Recommendations of the Advisory Panel on Coal Communities – 35 recommendations to promote a just transition from coal-mining, necessitated  by the government’s Climate Leadership Plan to phase-out coal-fired electricity by 2030.  The Advisory Panel focuses on three areas: workers, communities and First Nations. The 18 recommendations regarding workers relate to income security and replacement, pension security, retraining and re-employment – and recommend a strong role for unions in planning and process.  Some examples:  … “Programs and training should be delivered, as much as possible, while workers are currently employed and should include accessible and flexible skills development models. This includes a role for employers to enable access to skills development during employment.”… “Employers and unions should play roles in facilitating the training or retraining of impacted workers. This could be reflected in employer cost sharing with government and union participation in planning and delivery of assistance.”… Where provisions are inadequate, facilitate the negotiation of severance provisions between employers and unions that represent workers at coal-fired facilities and associated coal mines. Similar negotiations should be facilitated for non-union employees. …Where provisions are inadequate, facilitate the negotiation of early retirement benefits between employers and unions that represent workers at coal-fired facilities and associated coal mines. Similar negotiations should be facilitated for non-union employees. …Immediately assess the direct impact of the transition on the funded status, solvency and operation of defined-benefit pension plans and take steps to ensure these plans are adequately funded. ”

In  a separate press release , the government announced more details about  a $40-million transition fund for workers and communities.  As described on the government website , benefits will include financial support for retraining (still under development), on-site employment counselling for individuals, and the provision of facilitators to  assist employers, employees and unions to establish a worker adjustment committee to develop a workplace transition plan, using labour market information or commissioned regional labour market studies.  In addition, Alberta is calling on the federal government to make changes to the Employment Insurance (EI) program immediately, so that the provincial  income support will not reduce their EI income,  and to also extend the duration of EI benefits for coal workers.

The Coal Transition Coalition project, an alliance of unions led by the Alberta Federation of Labour, had previously published its recommendations in  “Getting it Right: A Just Transition Strategy for Alberta’s Coal workers.  The AFL response to the government’s announcements on November 10  calls the Transition Plan “a step in the right direction” and credits the Advisory Panel with listening to workers’  input.  President Gil McGowan warns, however, that   “Offering bridging supports to workers on EI and extending the benefit period for workers close to retirement are important elements of the plan, but they depend on the federal government doing their part,” … “Many coal-fired units in Alberta are closing due to federal government regulatory changes. They have a responsibility to these workers to help ensure a just transition.”