Business looks at climate change: Davos publications include auto manufacturing, electronic waste

The overall theme of the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos Switzerland in 2019 was the 4th Industrial Revolution. Climate change issues were top of mind in discussions, as the annual  Global Risks Report for 2019  had ranked the top global risks to the world as  extreme weather and climate-change policy failures.  Discussions, speeches, blogs and reports are compiled on the themes of The Future of the Environment and Natural Resource Security and Climate Change   .  Highlights include : “6 things we learned about the Environment at Davos” , an overview which highlights Japan’s pledge to  use its G20 Presidency to reduce plastic ocean pollution; the launch of a new organization called Voice for the Planet  to showcase the youth climate activist movement: and  a pledge by 10 global companies have to take back the electronic waste from their products.  Also of interest, the speech by Greta Thunberg, who is at the centre of the new youth climate activism – “Our House is on Fire” ; and “Why income inequality is bad for the climate”,  a blog by the President of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation.

WEF Reports of interest: Improving Traceability in Food Value Chains through Technology Innovations, which offers technology as a means to make the current industrial food system safer (and possibly more sustainable).   Shaping the Sustainability of Production Systems: Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies for competitiveness and sustainable growth  discusses the coming world of manufacturing, focussing on the electronics and automotive industries of  Andhra Pradesh, India and the automotive industry in Michigan U.S.A., including a discussion of Cobotics 2.0 (collaborative robots) , Metal 3D printing, and “augmented workforce”.

new circular vision for electronics - 2019 reportThe circular economy was also discussed, with a spotlight on electronic waste, which is estimated at 50 million tonnes of produced each year currently.   A New Circular Vision for Electronics Time for a Global Reboot  was released by the E-waste Coalition, which includes  the International Telecommunication Union (a UN organization), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and others.  The report, summarized here,  is an overview of  e-waste production and recycling, and includes a brief discussion of labour conditions, calling for upgrading and formalization of the recycling industry as a “major opportunity”. It states:  “the total number of people working informally in the global e-waste sector is unknown. However, as an indication, according to the ILO in Nigeria up 100,000 people are thought to be working in the informal e-waste sector, while in China that number is thought to be 690,000.” As for the dangers… “using basic recycling techniques to burn the plastic from electronic goods leaving the valuable metals (melting down lead in open pots, or dissolving circuit boards in acid) lead to adult and child workers, as well as their families, exposed to many toxic substances. In many countries, women and children make up to 30% of the workforce in informal, crude e-waste processing and are therefore particularly vulnerable.”  According to the report, the International Labour Organization is scheduled to release a new report in March 2019, to be titled  Decent work in the management of electrical and electronic waste.

On its 20th Anniversary, Criticism of NAFTA for Environmental, Economic Damage

A new report from the Sierra Club, the Council of Canadians and others, condemns the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for failing to improve economic and environmental conditions for most Canadian, American, and Mexican citizens.

According to the report, exports from Canada to the U.S. increased by 200 percent from 1994 to 2008, yet wages stagnated. Further, NAFTA contract obligations for oil encouraged development of the oil sands, while alternative energy sectors suffered, and NAFTA restricted Canada’s ability to regulate oil sands emissions. Pollution increased in the U.S. due to growth in dirtier manufacturing sectors, although employment in American manufacturing dropped overall.

In Mexico, small farmers were unable to compete with large-scale, export-oriented intensive agriculture. Many failed in attempts to improve profits by converting carbon-sequestering forest to arable land. While the mining industry in Mexico did enjoy a boom, smallholders lost out to associated industrial pollution. Wages in the maquila manufacturing sector near the U.S. border simultaneously stagnated, even as operations and pollution levels grew.

Other environmental impacts noted by the report include a significant jump in North American greenhouse gas emissions, unsustainable water use, and the rippling effects of NAFTA clauses that provide corporations with legal avenues to challenge environmental regulations, such as Lone Pine Resources’ ongoing lawsuit against Canada over the Québec fracking moratorium (see our previous report at: https://workandclimatechangereport.org/2013/11/22/fracking-company-suing-for-lost-profits-in-quebec/).

See NAFTA: 20 Years of Costs to Communities and the Environment at: http://www.sierraclub.ca/en/main-page/new-report-reveals-environmental-costs-north-american-free-trade-agreement-environmental-d, and “NAFTA Report Warns of Trade Deal Environmental Disasters” from the Huffington Post at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/11/nafta-environment_n_4938556.html.

Canada Caught in a “Staples Trap” and a “Carbon Trap” by Current Pace of Oil Development

The authors of a new report released jointly by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Polaris Institute reject the polarizing framework of “economic interests vs. environmental interests”, or “East vs. West”, and call for a public debate of the social, economic and environmental complexities of Canada’s current “bitumen path”. They argue that Canada’s current “gold rush” approach is creating a double threat to the country: a “staples trap,” which is making our economy less diversified, productive and resilient, and a “carbon trap,” which will make the inevitable day of reckoning for climate adaptation much more expensive and difficult. The report discusses employment impacts, income distribution, international trade, currency effects, and “Dutch Disease” and the Canadian manufacturing sector. An alternate policy approach is recommended, which uses tighter regulation to slow the pace of bitumen extraction and to boost Canadian content in the upstream and downstream supply chains. At the same time, Canada’s economy needs to encourage more balanced, innovative and low-carbon industries.

 

LINK

The Bitumen Cliff: Lessons and Challenges of Bitumen Mega-Developments for Canada’s Economy in an Age of Climate Change by Tony Clarke, Jim Stanford, Diana Gibson, and Brendan Haleyis available at: http://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office/2013/02/Bitumen%20Cliff.pdf