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?”

 

 

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.

New York marks Superstorm Sandy 5-year Anniversary in a big way: Climate Jobs Summit, Clean Energy Jobs Report, and expansion of New York’s Green Bank

Hurricane Sandy Oct 29 2012

Hurricane Sandy Oct 29 2012 – photo from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The Climate Jobs Now! Summit was  held on October 27, in partnership with the Office of New York Governor Cuomo, Climate Jobs NY , and the Workers Institute, ILR Cornell University.  The event was built around the theme, Reversing Inequality and Combatting Climate Change: A New Era for States and Regions, with participants and speakers from New York labour unions, government, and climate advocates. The Closing Panel, “Fulfilling the Promise of a Just Transition for All New Yorkers through Clean Energy and Community Resilience” included John Cartwright, President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council.   Video of some presentations is available .

Also on October 27, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) released the 2017 Clean Energy Industry Report , which found that clean energy jobs employed 146,000 New Yorkers at the end of 2016, distributed as follows:  110,000 jobs in energy efficiency; 22,000 renewable electric power generation; 8,400 alternative transportation;  2,900 renewable fuels, and 1,400 in grid modernization and storage.  Employment growth in clean energy surpassed the economy as a whole, at  3.4% from December 2015 to December 2016, with projected growth to double again to 7% by the end of 2017.    The report also states that the demand exceeds the supply of clean energy workers, with employers reporting  the most difficult positions to fill are  engineers, installers or technicians, and sales representatives.   (In June, Governor Cuomo announced funding for  Workforce Development & Training Programs at campuses of the State University of New York).  

Finally on October 27, a press release  from the Governor’s office announced that the New York Green Bank is seeking to raise at least an additional $1 billion in private-sector funds to expand the availability of financing for clean energy projects. According to the press release, the Green Bank has had  strong interest “from third-party entities like pension funds and insurance companies seeking to use it as an investment vehicle for sustainable infrastructure projects”.  The additional capital  can be invested in projects across the U.S., and the Green Bank is prepared work with other states and NGO’s to establish their own Green Banks.

$1.5 billion will buy new renewable energy projects, good green jobs, and environmental justice in New York State

On  June 2, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that his state would invest $1.5 billion in renewable energy projects through the Clean Climate Careers Initiative.  The program has three elements:  “supercharge” clean energy technologies, create up to 40,000 clean energy jobs by 2020, and  achieve environmental justice and Just Transition for underserved communities. Both the Governor’s press release and one from the Worker Institute at Cornell University Industrial and Labor Relations School attribute the inspiration for the new renewable energy initiative to the  “Labor Leading on Climate” program at the Worker Institute.

The  Institute has just published Reversing Inequality, Combatting Climate Change: A Climate Jobs Program for New York State (June 2017),  in which Lara Skinner and  co-author J. Mijin Cha argue for an “audicious”  job creation plan which would create decent green jobs in the building, energy, and transport sectors.  The report provides case studies and specific proposals to reduce GHG emissions – for example, to retrofit all public schools in the state to reach 100 percent of their energy efficiency potential by 2025, reduce energy use in all public buildings by 40 percent by 2025, install 7.5 GW of offshore wind by 2050,  rehabilitate New York City public transit, and construct and improve the existing high-speed passenger rail corridor between Albany and Buffalo, and between New York City and Montreal.  The report also includes a recommendation to establish a Just Transition Task Force – a recommendation incorporated in Governor Cuomo’s plan.

In the plan announced  by Governor Cuomo, $15 million has been committed “to educators and trainers that partner with the clean energy industry and unions to offer training and apprenticeship opportunities, with funding distributed to the most innovative and far-reaching apprenticeship, training programs and partnerships.  ”  The state is also committed to the use of a Project Labor Agreement framework for the construction of public works projects associated with the initiative.

A Working Group on Environmental Justice and Just Transition has been appointed and staffed, with a first meeting scheduled for June.  It will advise the administration on the integration of environmental justice principles into all agency policies, and to shape existing environmental justice programs.  The press release includes endorsements from the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance and unions, including: Greater New York Building Construction Trades Council, New York State AFL-CIO, New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, IBEW Local 3, Transport Workers Union, Utility Workers Union Local 1-2,  United Association Plumbers & Pipefitters, and the past Secretary Treasurer of Service Employees International Union.

Governor Cuomo’s  Renewable Energy initiative was announced one day after Donald Trump’s  withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, and after the Governor had signed an Executive Order  reaffirming New York’s  commitment to the Paris goals, and had launched a Climate Alliance with the states of California and Washington.

In Case you missed it: Some policy landmarks over the summer

Ontario, Quebec and Mexico agree to promote carbon markets in North America: On August 31, at the 2016 Climate Summit of the Americas , the three jurisdictions announced   a joint declaration  which states: “The Partners are determined to jointly promote the expansion of carbon market instruments for greenhouse gas emissions reduction in North America.”   See the Globe and Mail summary here .

Alberta appoints an Oil Sands Advisory Group:  On July 14, Alberta appointed a 15-member Oil Sands Advisory Group   to provide expert advice on how to implement its 100 megatonne per year carbon emissions limit for the oil sands industry, and on “a pathway to 2050, including responding to federal and other initiatives that may affect the oil sands after 2030.”  Co-chairs appointed are: Climate and energy advocate Tzeporah Berman,   Melody Lepine of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, and Dave Collyer, former president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

New Brunswick Climate Action Committee: The government’s Select Committee on Climate Change   held public hearings and accepted submissions over the summer.  In July, New Brunswick’s  Conservation Council produced its  “Climate Action Plan for New Brunswick”. It  proposes to reduce GHG  emissions through investments in retrofitting, starting with social and low-income housing; expand renewable energy ; provide incentives for electric and energy efficient vehicles; modernize industry and manufacturing to reduce waste and pollution, and accelerate installation of the Energy Internet (Smart Grid telecommunications) to manage a more distributed electricity load. These investments would help NB Power phase coal out of electricity production over the next 15 years.

U.S. and China formally join the Paris Agreement: On September 3, the eve of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou China, the two countries responsible for almost  40% of the world’s GHG emissions announced that they will formally ratify the Paris Accord.  See coverage in The Guardian ;  “U.S. and China formally join historic Paris climate agreement; Canada not yet ready”  in the Globe and Mail;  “Landmark China-U.S. climate breakthrough elicits tepid response” from Weekly Climate Review.  Check the Climate Analytics website  for their “ratification tracker”, which on September 9 states “ it is estimated that at least 58 countries are likely to have ratified the Paris Agreement by the end of 2016, accounting for 59.88% of global emissions. Under this scenario, the Paris Agreement will entry into force by the end of the year.”  The website has details country-by-country.

New U.S.  fuel standards for heavy-duty vehicles after model year 2018:  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency   and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration jointly finalized standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, to improve fuel efficiency and cut carbon pollution.  Heavy duty vehicles include:combination tractors (semi trucks), heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, and vocational vehicles (including buses and garbage or utility trucks). The new rule and an archive of related documents is available at the EPA website . The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy   applauds the new rules; as does the trucking industry, according to the New York Times coverage .  Canada is expected to follow suit, based on the  the Joint Leaders’ statement from the Three Amigos Summit, June 29,  :  “Canada, the U.S., and Mexico commit to reduce GHG emissions from light- and heavy-duty vehicles by aligning fuel efficiency and/or GHG emission standards by 2025 and 2027, respectively. We also commit to reduce air pollutant emissions by aligning air pollutant emission standards for light- and heavy-duty vehicles and corresponding low-sulphur fuel standards beginning in 2018. In addition, we will encourage greener freight transportation throughout North America by expanding the SmartWay program to Mexico.” Canada last updated its emission standards for heavy-duty trucks in 2013, covering up to model year 2018.

California continues to lead with landmark legislation:  California legislation (SB32) was passed in late August, and signed by Governor Jerry Brown on September 8,  requiring the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 .   An economic analysis by consulting firm Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2)  was released during the public debate  around SB32, claiming that thousands of jobs had been created in every District of the state by the predecesor Global Warming Solutions Act. See the press release here.  And the 8th annual edition of California’s Green Innovation Index  by Next10 quantifies a booming clean energy economy, with solar generation increased by 1,378 percent in the past 5 years.  “California’s Historic Climate Legislation becomes Law” from Think Progress is typical of the superlatives throughout the news coverage.

As evidence of California’s important leadership role:  on August 1, New York’s Public Service Commission approved the Clean Energy Standard   which mandates that 50 percent of the New York state’s electricity will come from renewable, clean energy sources by 2030 .   California had passed legislation in 2015 to mandate utilities to provide 50 percent of their electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030, and require a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings by 2030.

Minority Report challenges Australia’s Climate Change policies:  Australia’s Cimate Change Authority released a report at the end of August:  Towards a climate policy toolkit: Special Review of Australia’s climate goals and policies  .  Authority experts David Karoly and Clive Hamilton so disagreed with the majority report that they issued their own Minority Report   (see the press release here  ) .  Clive Hamilton stated  “The majority report gives the impression that Australia has plenty of time to implement measures to bring Australia’s emissions sharply down.  This is untrue and dangerous”.

Shift in Climate Change policy in the U.K. government:  The new post-Brexit government of Theresa May has made “ a stupid and deeply worrying” decision according to The Independent ,    by moving the work of the  Department for Environment and Climate Change to a new  “Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.”    Reassurance from the June adoption of  a world-leading GHG emissions reduction target, as reported in The Guardian  here and here , has been challenged. The BBC reported that  “Just days after the United Kingdom committed  to cut greenhouse gas emissions 57% from 1990 levels by 2032, the country’s grid operator reported this morning that the country will miss its existing EU long-term targets for 2020,  unless it adopts more aggressive clean energy policies.”