Canadian government commits to a Just Transition Act, but COP25 deemed a failure

COP25 entranceThe 25th gathering of the UN Conference of the Parties (COP25) took place from December 2 to 15 in Madrid, and despite official UN press releases and statements (curated by IIDS here ),  a general feeling of frustration was present almost immediately. Early on, Greta Thunberg labelled the meetings “clever accounting and creative PR” in her speech to delegates  . Demonstrations and discontent by youth, Indigenous, and other civil society activists  on December 11 are described by Common Dreams ;  an article in The Guardian newspaper  describes the “unfortunate  security incident” on December 11 when civil society demonstrators were expelled by COP security guards. The article quotes #FridaysForFuture member Angela Valenzuela, who stated that the rough treatment was typical of  the treatment of women, Indigenous people, and workers in a COP process dominated by government officials and corporate cop25 reject teckvested interests. “The doors closed in our faces were a very powerful metaphor for what is happening here and what has happened for the last 25 years”.  Reinforcing this theme, Common Dreams highlights new research  by Corporate Accountability,  The Big Polluters Bankrolling COP25, which names the corporations sponsoring and lobbying COP25 and concludes: “Enough is enough — we cannot let corporations use the climate talks as a marketing campaign to greenwash without accountability.”

In the end, after the longest sessions in COP’s long history, the final result achieved nothing regarding the main purpose: international carbon markets and greater ambition for national emissions reductions targets.  The Canadian government official press release casts a positive light on the results, and general reaction and summary appears in The Guardian in  “The UN climate talks are over for another year – was anything achieved?”.  Good COP Bad COP   by Kate Aronoff and David Adler was published by Data for Progress on December 11, with a detailed summary of the proceedings from a U.S. point of view.  Inside Climate News explains the carbon markets discussion in  UN Climate Talks Stymied by Carbon Markets’ ‘Ghost from the Past’ .

Canadian headlines reflect strong disappointment: 

Even mainstream Toronto Globe and Mail states: “Madrid climate talks end in near failure as crucial decisions are bumped into 2020” (Dec. 15). In The National Observer  Chris Hatch and Barry Saxifrage ask  “Global climate summit. COP or Cop-out?” on Dec. 12 , followed by  “UN climate negotiations end in ‘demoralizing, enraging’ failure” on Dec. 15.   In The Energy Mix:  “U.S. Declared ‘Climate Criminal’ as ‘Stalemated’ COP 25 Limps to a Close” (Dec. 13) and  “Disgraceful COP 25 Shows Big Emitters ‘Betraying People Across the World’ in The Energy Mix (Dec. 16).

Climate Action Network Canada compiled  statements from some of its member organizations on December 15 under this headline: “COP25 derailed as polluters prioritized over people and planet” . Among the statements:

from Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of Climate Action Network Canada : On every issue of significance, COP25 has delivered a mediocre or non -outcome that betrays the millions of people around the world calling for real climate action. While Canadian negotiators were largely constructive on the ground, Canada has a lot of work to do at home to address the gap between its climate goals and its ongoing commitment to expand the fossil fuel industry, which got a lot of international attention here in Madrid. Minister Wilkinson must increase Canada’s climate finance contributions and deliver on his government’s election promise to bring a new, more ambitious Paris pledge to COP26 in 2020.”

Dale Marshall, National Climate Program Manager, Environmental Defence Canada
“It wasn’t just that the COP25 outcome was a disaster. It was also demoralizing and enraging to see countries erase human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples, not only in the text but in reality, and erode the environmental integrity of the Paris Agreement. It will be up to people in Canada and around the world to continue to mobilize and push governments to take real climate action.”

 Denis Bolduc, secretary general of the FTQ (Quebec Federation of Workers)
“We see once again the lack of ambition of States to respond to the climate emergency. The Quebec Federation of Workers (FTQ) demands that the voices of billions of people be heard. …. We demand a robust framework in which the Just Transition can take place. Workers and their communities must be at the heart of the solutions. Only a social dialogue where everyone has an equal voice will allow us to get out of this crisis. Although the states failed to answer the call, the FTQ joins all the groups of civil society to implement a real energy transition. What we want is a Just Transition and there will be no Just Transition without the workers.”

Julee Sanderson, 1st National Vice-President, Canadian Union of Postal Workers
“… Stuck in the past and unwilling to act on ambitions, governments that have aligned themselves with industry and capital have shown once again how simple it is to sidestep responsibility. In the face of all humanity and on a global stage it appears marching orders have come from the petroleum industry lobbyists rather than the millions watching from around the globe. Governments have managed to commit only to infinite growth and colonialism models. It is evident the message of civil society, its workers, its youth, its scientists, human rights groups, and Indigenous land, water, and air protectors have been inconvenient afterthoughts. Civil society must redouble its efforts on the front lines. There can be no ambition without human rights and a sustainable just transition for everyone.”

Labour achieves public promise of a Just Transition Act from  Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change 

cop25 just transitionThe Canadian Labour Congress Twitter feed  has been active in posting –  especially December 11 events regarding the Workshop on Just Transition. Sharing the stage with CLC’s Tara Peel, Canada’s New Minister of Environment and Climate Change publicly committed to the election promise of federal legislation: a Just Transition Act at that event.

CLC Twitter feed also highlights the Powering Past Coal Just Transition Task Force, launched in July 2019 with these Terms of Reference  . This is an international group, unrelated to the Government of Canada’s Just Transition Task Force which has already reported. Members include academics, including Linda Clarke, (ProBE, University of Westminster and Co-Director, ACW) and Lori Thorlakson (University of Alberta)  as well as unionists, including Hassan Yussuff, (president of the Canadian Labour Congress), Samantha Smith ( ITUC Just Transition Centre), Bill Adams ( Trades Union Congress), Suzanne Jeffreys (One Million Climate Jobs/Campaign against Climate Change).

During COP25, the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) released a new series of three Backgrounders with the theme:  We must all be part of the solution on climate change  .  The series consists of: Governments must take ActionThe Public Sector will be Part of the Solution , and The National Union will be Part of the Solution , the union’s commitment for its own action, as presented at the 2019 Triennial NUPGE Convention in June 2019.

ituc logoInternationally, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) maintained a COP25 blog .  Going into the meetings, the ITUC Topline Demands for COP25 were published as a  Frontline Briefing. They consist of “1. Greater ambition for Just Transition, with greater ambition in the new government climate plans, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that are due in 2020;  2. Governments must sign on to the “Climate Action and Jobs Initiative”   launched at the September 2019 Climate Action Summit in New York in September 2019; 3. Commit to financing for the most vulnerable: governments must live up to their promise to mobilise US $100 billion annually by 2020.”

From the ITUC Frontline Briefing:

“Our message for all country leaders: we have just 10 years. Talking is no longer enough – ambition and Just Transition plans are urgent to secure the trust of people in every nation. • Stop the delaying measures, increase ambition in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) • Start implementing the social dialogue vital for agreements that deliver Just Transition for all. • Legislate for climate action including procurement rules. • Green New Deals must mean a new social contract in every country with labour rights, climate ambition and Just Transition at the core.”

How to communicate “Just Transition” to union members and communities

Climate Outreach, a U.K.-based organization of  social scientists and communication specialists, has published new research, summarized in the handbook for a general audience, How to Have Conversations about Climate Change, released on December 5.  An earlier handbook released in September was aimed at NGO’s, policymakers and academics who seek to communicate better about Just Transition. Broadening engagement with Just Transition: Opportunities and Challenges is an 18-page handbook with practical recommendations for the language and imagery which reaches people across the political and economic spectrum – with very specific attention to union members. It is based from experience since 2010, including 55 workshops in Alberta in 2017 (7 of which were with oil workers), and interviews with UK union leaders about just transition in 2019. The full reports concerning the Alberta Narratives project is here.

Recommendations from Broadening engagement with Just Transition include:

…..The idea of just transition prompts negative reactions amongst some union representatives, who see it as a conversation about job losses, with little realistic chance of recompense.

…. In previous testing, the imagery and language of ‘justice’ has not resonated well across the political spectrum with centre-right audiences, suggesting that ‘just transition’ may prompt the same response. The subtly different framing of ‘fairness’ may work better with people who hold these values. Fairness is about doing right by everyone involved; justice, by contrast, may imply wrongdoing in the past that must be atoned for.

…People’s sense of identity is often closely bound up with the work they do. Extractive industries like coal mining are often, for example, closely associated with pride and a strong sense of place. Demonstrating gratitude and respect for the contribution of fossil fuels can create a strong basis for mutual discussion in the future – with renewables and natural resources as an extension of that pride.

….When people feel criticised and devalued, they are much less likely to engage. Approaching a conversation without a sense of blame is an important part of a productive dialogue.

….Many communities are turned off by the imagery and stereotypes associated with environmentalism, and will speak more openly with trusted members of their own community. In successful communications, trust between all parties is essential.

A good Canadian example of some of these principles  recently appeared on the CBC website in the form of  an OpEd by Rylan Higgins, now a professor at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, but formerly an oil worker.  He writes about his experiences in the oil fields in   “‘It’s pretty brutal, pretty unforgiving’: Why the West should move beyond an oilpatch economy” (Nov. 15), and  argues that the fossil industry has “long been one based on inequality, bootstrap individualism, and high-octane opportunism.” Importantly, he urges those working to transition Canada into the green economy “to consider the workers and families in the industry as we do so.” He adds that “the next economic arrangement should put workers [to whom he “tips his hard hat”], families, and the environment first—and investors and corporate bigwigs last.”

Just transition for the Coal and Car Industries – a period of “revolutionary” change in Europe

coal-cars-and-the-world-of-work coverTowards a just transition: Coal, cars and the world of work  is a new and unique report edited by Béla Galgóczi, senior researcher at the European Trade Union Institute, a member of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) research project , and the author of several previous reports on Just Transition, including  Phasing out Coal – A Just Transition approach (2019) and  Greening Industries and Creating Jobs (2012).

In his introduction, he states:

” ‘Just transition’ has become the main concept and strategy tool for managing the transformation towards a net zero-carbon economy in a way that is both balanced and fair, but it is also clear that this concept is developing in a too broad and general, and often even over-stretched, manner. In order to discuss it meaningfully, we need to turn to specific case studies. Coal-based energy generation on the one hand and the automobile industry on the other do not only represent two sectors that are responsible for a large part of total GHG emissions, they also illustrate what is really meant by the different contexts of just transition.”

The report chapters, available individually for download here, are written by European experts, and will provide English-speaking readers with access to some of the research written in the European languages.

Part 1 updates the well-researched decarbonization of the coal industry, in Poland, Germany, France and Italy.

Part 2 breaks newer ground, as it “delivers an account of the revolutionary change taking place in the automobile industry, proceeding from a European overview (chapter 6) to insights both from France (chapter 7) and from Germany, the latter with its central eastern European supply chains (chapter 8). Chapter 9 then gives the view of IG Metall, a trade union which has a key role in managing change in the automobile industry in an active and forward-looking way.”   Regarding the automobile industry, the introduction states: “With digitalisation and decarbonisation, the industry faces unprecedented challenges in the near future that will re-write its entire business model, redefine work and redraw its value chains. Managing this change requires innovative approaches from the main actors and new forms of relationships between the actors.”  Germany’s social partnership bargaining structure is the framework for the innovative initiatives described at the EU, federal, regional and plant level.

The report is summarized by Mr. Galgóczi  in “Why should just transition be an integral part of the European Green Deal?”,  which appeared in Social Europe on December 4.

Alberta coal phase-out experience as a blueprint for just transition

Parkland alberta coal_phaseout_coverOn November 20, the Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta released a new report: Alberta’s Coal Phase-out: A Just Transition? .  Acknowledging that there is no single approach to just transition, co-authors Ian Hussey and Emma Jackson consider some common values and approaches expressed in the just transition literature: support for re-employment or alternative employment, income and benefit support, pension bridging and early retirement assistance, and retraining and educational programs for workers.  The press release quotes Ian Hussey: “While far from perfect, the Alberta transition programs provide a blueprint that will become increasingly important in the coming decades as the world makes the shift away from fossil fuels.”

The report evaluates the real-world experience of the coal phase-out in Alberta, which began in 2012 under the federal Conservative Harper government, and accelerated after 2015 under the provincial policies of the New Democratic Party. It describes in detail the events and context of the provincial transition policies, and uses case studies of three companies – TransAlta, ATCO, and Capital Power- as well as  a community case study of Parkland County.  The report concludes with an analytic discussion, evaluating the government’s transition programs for workers and for coal communities.  The full report is here ; an Executive Summary is here .

The report is a joint publication of the Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta, and the Corporate Mapping Project,  a joint initiative led by the University of Victoria, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives BC and Saskatchewan Offices, and the Parkland Institute.

Success stories from Appalachian coal mining communities

appalachiaA new report was released on October 31 by the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, a group which seeks to spur coal mine reclamation projects throughout Central Appalachia.  A New Horizon: Innovative Reclamation for a Just Transition profiles 19 projects in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia, including data centres, a YMCA Wellness Centre, as well as many ecotourism projects.  Although much is specific to the U.S. funding opportunities, the case studies offer instructive descriptions of the challenges and obstacles faced by the communities, and also attempt to quantify the economic impacts of each project.

The press release describes the progressive approach used to create a “new horizon”: “In the past, efforts to reuse old mine sites too often resulted in sparse, lasting economic activity. Surface mined areas near population centers became shopping centers, hospitals and other standard uses, but more remote sites were either completely abandoned, converted to low-productivity cattle grazing lands, or developed into speculatively built industrial parks or golf courses at great taxpayer expense. Those “if you build it, they will come” projects now largely sit empty. To break from this unsuccessful approach to coal site reclamation, the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition established six guiding principles to identify optimal repurposing projects, including ensuring they are appropriate to the place in which they are occurring, that they include non-traditional stakeholders in decision-making, and are environmentally sustainable and financially viable long-term.”

The report was published as part of the launch of a new website, ReclaimingAppalachia.org, by the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, which consists of organizations in four states — Appalachian Voices in Virginia, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Kentucky, Coalfield Development Corporation in West Virginia, and Rural Action in Ohio — and a regional technical expert, Downstream Strategies, based in West Virginia. The website as a whole is intended as an information and education resource , providing best practices and information about potential U.S. funding sources.