New York City and State announce plans to divest pension funds; Canadian Public Pension fund holds on to coal

I love new yorkNew York City Mayor Bill diBlasio captured headlines on January 10 2018 for his announcement that New York City will divest from fossil fuels and will sue Exxon and other oil companies for the damages of Superstorm Sandy.   Yet  it was actually on December 19 that New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo  first announced separate proposals to freeze current fossil fuel investments, divest New York’s public pension funds from fossil fuels, and reinvest in renewable energy.    Common Dreams summarized the announcements in ” ‘Undeniable Victory’: Cheers Follow Proposals to Divest Massive New York Pensions From Fossil Fuels”Reaction from 350.org (Dec. 19)  emphasized the importance of five years of citizen activism , and quoted Bill McKibben, who emphasized the symbolic importance of New York’s announcement:  “Coming from the capital of world finance, this will resonate loud and clear all over the planet. It’s a crucial sign of how fast the financial pendulum is swinging away from fossil fuels.”   (As further proof, in November, administrators of Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund recommended no further investment in fossil fuels and  divestment from existing oil and gas shares , and in the U.K., legal changes are in the works to ease divestment for pension funds.)

At the state level,   Governor Cuomo’s press release  states:  “Governor Cuomo and Comptroller DiNapoli will work together to create an advisory committee of financial, economic, scientific, business and workforce representatives as a resource for the Common Retirement Fund to develop a de-carbonization roadmap to invest in opportunities to combat climate change and support the clean tech economy while assessing financial risks and protecting the Fund.” The New York Common Fund of the state manages approximately $200 billion in retirement assets for more than one million New Yorkers and is  heavily invested in fossil fuels, with nearly $1 billion invested in ExxonMobil alone.

At the city level, officials have set a goal of divesting the city’s  funds from fossil fuel companies within five years , according to the press release from the Office of the Comptroller,  which also highlights the complex process involved.  In February 2017,  the Office of the Comptroller had issued a  press release  stating,  “the Trustees of the New York City Pension Funds … will conduct the first-ever carbon footprint analysis of their portfolios and determine how to best manage their investments with an eye toward climate change. In the 21st century, companies must transition to a low-carbon economy, and a failure to adapt to the realities of global warming could present potential investment risks.”  The New York City pension fund includes municipal employees, teachers, firefighters and police.

Related reading re New York activism : The Divest NY website;  “How New Yorkers won fossil fuel divestment”  from the Indypendent (Jan. 12); and Noami Klein’s article in The Intercept (Jan. 11).

Contrast the New York divestment announcements with the continued fossil fuel investment of the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), revealed in two new reports.  In early December, Friends of the Earth Canada, as part of its ongoing campaign,  released  Canadian Coal Investment: Powering Past the Coal Alliance, and Urgewald, a German organization, released Investors vs. the Paris Agreement.  The two reports “present a compelling picture of entrenched investors holding onto the old dirty economy and its growing risks at a time when politicians are committing to the phase out of coal.” – specifically, the Powering Past Coal Alliance launched by Canada and Great Britain at COP23 in Bonn in 2017.  The Powering Past Coal Declaration commits governments to phasing out existing traditional coal power and placing a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage, and commits all partners to supporting clean power through their policies and investments, as well as restricting financing for traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage. In an October 2017  press release,  Friends of the Earth representatives asked, “Why is the CPPIB ignoring government policy and undermining Canada’s diplomatic efforts to lead a global phase-out of coal?” . To date, there has been no public statement adjusting  the Sustainable Investing position of the CPPIB to bring it in line with the Powering Past Coal Alliance Declaration.

Canadian Coal Investment: Powering Past the Coal Alliance calculates the CPPIB’s total investment in coal at $12.2 billion Cdn., with $267 million of that in new coal projects . In a global ranking in Investors vs. the Paris Agreement, Urgewald found that Canada is the 8th largest investor in new coal development, and names several Canadian institutions in its Top 100 Investors list, including SunLife  (ranked #31 with $895 million invested); Power Financial Corporation (#53 with $631 million invested); Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec ( #71 with $433 million invested); Royal Bank (#86 with $356 million invested); and Manulife Financial ( #98 with $282 million invested).

Also of interest:  “Failure to Launch” in Corporate Knights  magazine (Jan. 15 2018), which provides a serious discussion of the problems of pension plan regulation as the answer to its tagline question: “Why are Canadian pension funds dragging their feet when it comes to climate change?”

 

 

Cities continue to fight climate change

The North American Climate Summit   held in Chicago from December 4 to 6, 2017  brought together the mayors of 50 cities from Canada, Mexico, France, and Tanzania, to reaffirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement and greenhouse gas emissions reduction.  The mayors signed the  Chicago Climate Charter , which is not legally binding but commits the municipalities to at least match the emissions reductions goals of their home countries, and sets out reporting mechanisms. The  Summit was also the setting for  the 5th annual 2017 C40 Cities Bloomberg Philanthropies Awards, which recognized exemplary city  programs from around the world (none of the winners was Canadian). The Summit was co-sponsored by the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.

U.S. cities in particular are keen to demonstrate their climate change-fighting resolve – many through the “We are Still In” coalition which formed after President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and which was very active at the COP23 meetings in Bonn.  Additionally, the Sierra Club has published  the Cities are Ready for 100 2017 Case Study Report , highlighting the U.S. cities which are committing to a 100% Renewable Energy target.   Disappointingly, on December 4, Bloomberg News reported that the Trump administration has terminated the Community Resilience Panel for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems, an interagency group created under President Obama to help municipalities protect their residents against extreme weather and natural disasters.

English_Bay,_Vancouver,_BCIn November, the City of Vancouver updated its Renewable City Strategy,  setting an interim 55% renewable energy target for 2030, which covers electricity, heating and cooling, and transport. For a discussion of Vancouver’s progress, see “Can Vancouver achieve 100% renewable energy?” in The Vancouver Sun (Nov. 5).

Transform TO will reduce Toronto’s emissions by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050 – Recommendations passed on July 4th

Toronto large

Old and new Toronto City Hall from Flickr

John Cartwright, President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, wrote  an Opinion piece “How Toronto could lead the climate change charge in Canadian cities” , which appeared in the National Observer on June 15.  The focus of Cartwright’s article is the  Transform TO   plan currently being debated  in Toronto City Council after two years of public engagement, expert input and in-depth analysis . Cartwright is  member of the cross-sectoral Modelling Advisory Group that informed the Transform TO project.  The  target is to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.  Given that half of the Toronto’s carbon emissions come from buildings, 41 per cent from transportation and 11 per cent from waste,  key Transform TO recommendations are:  100% of new buildings to be designed and built to be near zero GHG emissions by 2030; 100% of transportation options- including public transit and personal vehicles – to use low or zero-carbon energy sources, and active transportation to account  for 75% of trips under 5 km city-wide by 2050; and 95% of waste to be diverted by 2050  in all sectors – residential, institutional, commercial and industrial.

Details of the plan are presented in Staff Report #1, approved by City Council in December 2016, and Staff Report #2  , approved by the Environment and Parks committee in May, and slated for a Council vote in early July. Technical reports  are here .

UPDATE:  See this CBC report summarizing the Council vote on July 4th, where the recommendations were passed, but with financial concerns.

An overview is available in 2050 Pathway to a Low-Carbon Toronto Report 2: Highlights of the City of Toronto Staff Report .  Report #2  highlights that Transform TO will provide significant community  benefits, such as improved public health, lower operating costs for buildings, and local job creation and training opportunities for communities that have traditionally faced barriers to employment – with an estimate that the planned building retrofits alone would create 80,000 person years of employment.

Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are members of  C40 ,  a network whose goal is to act on climate change and reduce emissions.   In cooperation with Sustania and Realdania  , C40 compiled case studies from 100 cities (including Toronto and Vancouver) , meant to showcase innovative programs. Their most recent blog, “Mayors lead the global response to Trump’s pull out of the Paris Agreement” is a blunt rebuke to Trump and a determination to continue to work at local solutions.   Similarly, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre repeated  that the mayors of the world would honour the Paris Agreement, as he welcomed more than 140 mayors and 1,000 international and local delegates gathered to the annual Metropolis World Congress from  June 19 to 22.

Buildings and Infrastructure: the state of Canadian adaptation to climate change

The National Infrastructure and Buildings Climate Change Adaptation State of Play Report  was released on May 18, providing a gold mine of detail about  the current Canadian system of climate change adaptation, and how it  affects water infrastructure, transportation systems, telecommunications, and buildings (both private housing and commercial and  multi-unit buildings such as hospitals and penitentiaries).

fort_mcmurray-fireReflecting  the strong influence of insurance concerns in the report, it provides a  catalogue, with damage estimates and many photographs, of recent natural disasters, including the Calgary and Toronto floods in 2013, the Fort McMurray fire, as far back as the Eastern Canada ice storms of 1998.  The report identifies a wide range of barriers and problems to adaptation progress, but also provides case studies of innovative initiatives, and compiles a list of 62 “opportunities or next steps”  for those identified as the key actors – all levels of government,  private companies, professional associations, and citizens.  Recommendations  reflect an understanding of the need for more climate change training and professional education for engineers, consultants, and the insurance industry, and calls on private companies to emphasize and “Better integrate climate change considerations into organizational planning, decision-making and risk management processes.”

Appendices include an extensive bibliography; a table of national and provincial standards and regulations (e.g. for stormwater management); climate risks, and others.  The final appendix presents case studies of innovative initiatives, including  Toronto Hydro Electrical Distribution Infrastructure Case Study ; British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Provincial Highway Infrastructure Case Study; City of Castlegar Stormwater Infrastructure Case Study (B.C.); Municipality of the District of Shelburne Wastewater Treatment Plant Case Study ; Elm Drive: Low Impact Development Demonstration Site Case Study (Toronto); Fraser Health’s Climate Resilience and Adaptation Program (B.C.); Linking Climate with Water Infrastructure and Social Vulnerabilities Credit Valley Conservation (Ontario).

The report was prepared by Amec Foster Wheeler Environment & Infrastructure of Burlington, Ontario, in collaboration with the Credit Valley Conservation Authority of Mississauga, for the  Infrastructure and Buildings Working Group (IBWG) – a joint enterprise of  the Institute for Catastrophic Loss and Engineers Canada.  It will be one of many inputs to the Infrastructure and Buildings Working Group of Canada’s Climate Change Adaptation Platform  in their discussions of their work plan for the next four years.

Despite strong Strategy, Vancouver needs fuel-switching policies to meet its ambitious renewable energy goals for 2050

English_Bay,_Vancouver,_BC

English Bay, Vancouver B.C.  Creative Commons License, originally posted to Flickkr by JamesZ_Flickr

Vancouver is a green policy leader amongst Canadian municipalities, but on March 14, a new report from researchers at Simon Fraser University Energy and Materials Research Group  asks  Can Cities Really Make a Difference? Case Study of Vancouver’s Renewable City Strategy  .  The report focuses on the building and transportation policies of the Renewable City Strategy , using CIMS, a hybrid energy-economy model which incorporates elements of consumer choice.  Applauding Vancouver  for its leadership to date, the authors conclude that current policies are likely to achieve only a 30 percent reduction on projected 2050 emissions, and fail to meet the Strategy’s target of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, an 80 percent reduction in GHG emissions  on 2007 levels.

The report calls for stronger, politically-challenging “fuel-switching” for buildings and vehicles as the necessary next stage in emissions reduction.  Amongst the specific actions suggested:  No fossil fuel heating installations after 2030 for all new build residential buildings – instead, electric-powered heat pumps, solar hot water, electric thermal heat, or other zero emissions equipment.  For vehicles, a gradual reduction of parking allocations for gasoline or diesel, starting  in 2025, with  no spaces  remaining on city land for conventional cars by 2040 .  Businesses would have to demonstrate exclusive use of renewably-powered fleet vehicles to qualify for a  business license after 2030.   Read the press release from Simon Fraser   for an excellent summary; also the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, one of the sponsors of the research  here .    As for  the Globe and Mail summary  , report co-author Marc Jaccard has tweeted that it “misses my main point”, that municipal government needs the support of other government levels.