Federal budget gets high marks for conservation initiatives but disappoints on green economy spending

Budget 2018, Equality + Growth: A Strong Middle Class   was tabled by the federal government on February 27.  The Globe and Mail published a concise overview in  “Federal budget highlights: Twelve things you need to know” .  A compilation of reaction and analysis from the Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis is here , including statements from CCPA partner organizations such as the United Steelworkers   and the Canadian Labour Congress.

budget_analysis 2018The section of the Budget which relates most to a low carbon economy is in Chapter 4: Advancement .  The Budget commits an unprecedented $1.3 billion over 5 years for conservation partnerships and the protection of lands, waters, and species at risk – prompting the Pew Trust in the U.S. to call the biodiversity targets “an example to the world” in  “With earth in peril, Canada steps up” .  Responses from the 19 environmental advocacy members of the Green Budget Coalition are compiled here , applauding the  “historic” and “landmark” investments in the Budget.  DeSmog Canada summarizes the provisions, which aim to protect 17 per cent of land and 10 per cent of oceans by 2020 under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, and commit to recognizing  Indigenous leadership.

But on the climate change front?

The National Observer writes: “Budget delivers new conservation fund but avoids climate commitments” (Feb. 27) , highlighting the Budget allocations announced for the  the  $2.6 Billion Low Carbon Economy Fund  (announced in 2016) : $420 million will go to Ontario, for retrofitting houses and reducing emissions from farms;  $260 million will go to  Quebec for farming and forestry best practices, as well as energy retrofitting, and incentives for industry;  $162 million will go to British Columbia, partly for reforestation of public forests; $150 million will go to Alberta for energy efficiency programs for farmers and ranchers, for  renewable energy in Indigenous communities, and for restoring forests after wildfires;  $51 million is going to New Brunswick and $56 million to Nova Scotia for energy retrofitting. Allocations for Manitoba will be announced later, and for Saskatchewan if it signs on to the Pan-Canadian Framework.

The Pembina Institute reaction is also fairly positive in  “Budget 2018 builds on last year’s commitment to climate change” . “We are pleased to see that Budget 2018 allocates $109 million over five years to develop, implement, administer, and enforce the federal carbon pollution pricing system. …Another $20 million over five years is allocated to fulfill the PCF’s (Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change) commitment to assess the effectiveness of its measures and identify best practices. ”

Less positive reaction:  “Council of Canadians disappointed by Trudeau government’s budget 2018” (Feb.27), which  points out that the government has allocated $600 million to host the G7 summit in June 2018 in Quebec,  yet the Budget fails to phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, as it committed to at the G20 meetings and in the October 2015 election.  Elizabeth May of the Green Party also “laments squandered opportunities” and points out that “Budget 2018 does not touch subsidies to fossil fuels in the oil patch and for fracked natural gas”.

In advance of Budget 2018, the Canadian Labour Congress published “What Canada’s unions would like to see in the federal budget” – a broad perspective which included a call for “a  bold green economic program of targeted investments over the next five years for renewable energy development and infrastructure” … and “ the establishment of Just Transition training and adjustment funds for workers affected by climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy, automation, the digitisation of work, and job losses caused by trade agreements like CETA.” The CLC response  to the actual Budget emphasizes the positive  developments on issues like pharmacare and pay equity, but is silent on the green economy issues. Canadian Union of Public Employees’ reaction is similar.


Low-carbon technologies to the rescue: Solar PV, Electric Vehicles, CCS, and a replacement for cement

cover-expect-the-unexpected-300x225Expect the Unexpected: The Disruptive Power of Low-carbon Technology  is a new report by the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London and the Carbon Tracker Initiative. The report models energy demand by combining up-to-date solar PV and electric vehicle cost projections with climate policies based on the UNFCC Nationally Determined Contributions statements. The results are contrasted with the current “Business as Usual” scenarios of the major fossil fuel companies, and demonstrate how Big Oil underestimates the impact of solar and EV technologies. Expect the Unexpected forecasts peak oil and gas by 2020, with electric vehicles accounting for over two-thirds of the road transport market by 2050, and states that  Solar PV  “could supply 23% of global power generation in 2040 and 29% by 2050, entirely phasing out coal and leaving natural gas with just a 1% market share.”

The report and addresses the question, “What contribution can accelerated solar PV and EV penetration make to achieving a 2°C target?”   It  provides various scenarios, but concludes that decarbonisation of heavy industry (specifically iron and steel, cement, chemcials)  will  also be required and essential.  On this front, the report states that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is unlikely to be financially viable in power generation, but “ In non-power sectors such as heavy industry, however, CCS is likely to have a much more important role because there are currently few viable low-carbon alternatives for achieving deep decarbonisation. Furthermore, if CO2 can be utilised in other industrial processes, this added value will serve to improve the viability of CCS.”

One such low-carbon alternative for cement production – albeit one which is still in development – is reported in a  recent article by University of Victoria’s Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions .  Based on the premise that most of the CO2 produced in cement manufacture is not in the kiln-heating process, but rather by the chemical reaction of turning limestone into quicklime, researchers at McGill University in Montreal  have developed a building product called Carbicrete, which  replaces Portland cement with steel slag (a waste product) as its main binding agent.   Read details in “Solving the Thorny problem of Cement Emissions”   (Feb. 1).

Use this link to view The Expect the Unexpected main report, a technical report, and an interactive dashboard allowing readers to manipulate elements of climate policy, technology price, and energy demand are available here.


Investment in Canadian Clean Energy Mirrors Global Trend to Solar Pre-Eminence

Two new reports on investment in clean energy were released in March/April, both showing a global decline in investment levels, and that investment in solar now exceeds wind investment. A report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) shows a 14% decrease in global investment in renewables in 2013, but even so, renewables attracted $192 billion for new capacity and comprised 43.6% of newly installed generation capacity in 2013. The U.S. continues to rank first among developed economies for investment in renewable energy with $33.9 billion in 2013 – although this represents a 10% decrease, largely attributable to the uncertainty over the continuation of the Wind Tax Credit. Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom were the only G-20 countries in which investment increased. Canada ranked 6th amongst the G-20 countries with $6.4 billion investment, largely in wind energy ($3.6 billion) and solar energy ($2.5 billion) in 2013. See “Six Canadian companies shaping the future of clean energy” (March 27) in Globe and Mail Report on Business Magazine at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-magazine/six-canadian-clean-energy-companies/article17685931/?page=4. To read the Global survey, see Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2014, produced jointly by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) at: http://www.unep.org/newscentre/Default.aspx?DocumentID=2787&ArticleID=10824&l=en.

A related report was issued by the Pew Charitable Trusts, also utilizing Bloomberg data. Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race? 2013 Edition contrasts a 16% decline in renewables investment in developed markets of G-20 countries (led by the U.S. and EU) with a growth of 15% in non G-20 countries, led by such countries as Chile and Uruguay. Pew ranks China as the top destination for investors; solar capacity in China increased fourfold in 2013. See Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race? At: http://www.pewenvironment.org/news-room/press-releases/pew-report-finds-that-global-clean-energy-investment-declined-in-2013-85899543052. See also the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s April 2014 Electricity Monthly Update which shows that U.S. solar capactiy also increased by 418% between 2010 and 2014, as described at: http://cleantechnica.com/2014/04/24/us-solar-energy-capacity-grew-an-astounding-418-from-2010-2014/.

UN Climate Chief Urges Institutional Investors to Move to Low-Carbon Assets

According to CERES, a non-profit advocacy coalition, “Since 2003, the biennial Investor Summit on Climate Risk at the United Nations has been the pre-eminent forum for leading institutional investors in North America, Europe and the rest of the world to discuss the implications of climate change for capital markets and their portfolios.” At this year’s summit on January 15, Christine Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told the audience of 500 global leaders: “The pensions, life insurances and nest eggs of billions of ordinary people depend on the long-term security and stability of institutional investment funds. Climate change increasingly poses one of the biggest long-term threats to those investments and the wealth of the global economy.” She urged investors to move out of high-carbon assets and into assets built on renewable energy, energy efficiency and more sustainable ways of business that green global supply chains.

A related report by CERES, Investing in the Clean Trillion: Closing the Clean Energy Investment Gap, was released at the Summit. It provides recommendations for investors, companies and policymakers to increase annual global investment in clean energy to at least $1 trillion by 2030- up from a current investment level of approximately $300 billion. A related report by Cleantech Group pegs the level of worldwide global investment in cleantech venture companies at $6.8 billion in 2013.


2014 Investor Summit on Climate Risk website is at http://www.ceres.org/investor-network/investor-summit

UNFCC press release regarding Christine Figueres’ statement is at: http://unfccc.int/files/press/press_releases_advisories/application/pdf/pr20140115_ceres_final1.pdf. Watch a 2-minute video of an interview with Ms. Figueres’ at: http://climatedesk.org/2014/01/un-climate-chief-calls-for-tripling-of-clean-energy-investment/

To download the CERES Report: Investing in the Clean Trillion: Closing the Clean Energy Investment Gap, or the Executive Summary go to: http://www.ceres.org/resources/reports/investing-in-the-clean-trillion-closing-the-clean-energy-investment-gap/view – registration required.

Summary of the Cleantech Groups Investment report is at http://www.cleantech.com/2014/01/08/i3-quarterly-investment-monitor-reports-6-8-billion-cleantech-venture-investment-2013/

Carbon Markets the Best Route to Low-Carbon Global Economies

In a new report, Climate and Carbon: Aligning Prices and Policies, the OECD condemns fossil fuel subsidies and tax exemptions, and posits carbon markets as most effective mechanism for transitioning to a low-carbon economy and tackling climate change. The report, drawing on evidence from 15 countries (but not including Canada), points out that “carbon markets are more than 16 times cheaper at cutting greenhouse gases than renewable subsidies paid to power producers”. However, carbon markets worldwide are being undermined by a lack of coherence in government approaches to carbon pricing and financial support for fossil fuels. According to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, limiting global temperature increase to 2ºC requires sending consistent carbon price signals to consumers, producers and investors alike.Climate and Carbon: Aligning Prices and Policies is available at:http://www.oecd.org/environment/climate-carbon.htm