Canadian government climate priorities detailed in Mandate Letters to Ministers

The government’s priorities for all Ministries are set out in a series of Mandate Letters, released to the public on December 16, and available here.  Each letter is introduced with a general statement of priorities, which includes: “Building a cleaner, greener future will require a sustained and collaborative effort from all of us. As Minister, I expect you to seek opportunities within your portfolio to support our whole-of-government effort to reduce emissions, create clean jobs and address the climate-related challenges communities are already facing.”

Most specifically related to the tasks of climate change adaptation and mitigation are the Mandate Letters to the Ministers of Environment and Climate Change; Natural Resources; and  Labour – the latter two charged with advancing legislation for the promised Just Transition for workers and communities.  

To the Minister of Environment and Climate Change: (Steven Guilbeault) a long, detailed and challenging list of initiatives, highlighted as: “You will also set out by the end of March 2022, how we will meet our legislated 2030 climate goals. This will include new measures related to capping and cutting oil and gas sector emissions, further reducing methane emissions across the economy, mandating the sale of zero-emissions vehicles and setting us on a path to achieve an electricity grid with net-zero emissions by 2035. You will also work with your colleagues and crown corporations to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2023.”  Some specifics from the letter:

  • With the support of the Minister of Natural Resources, introduce a Clean Electricity Standard to achieve a net-zero clean electricity grid by 2035 and achieve a 100 per cent net-zero emitting electricity future.
  • Enact a strengthened Canadian Environmental Protection Act to protect everyone, including people most vulnerable to harm from toxic substances and those living in communities where exposure is high.
  • Identify, and prioritize the clean-up of, contaminated sites in areas where Indigenous Peoples, racialized and low- income Canadians live.
  • Recognize the “right to a healthy environment” in federal law and introduce legislation to require the development of an environmental justice strategy and the examination of the link between race, socio-economic status and exposure to environmental risk.
  • Work with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, and with the support of the Minister of Natural Resources, to accelerate our G20 commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies from 2025 to 2023, and develop a plan to phase out public financing of the fossil fuel sector, including by federal Crown corporations.
  • With the support of the Minister of Natural Resources, cap oil and gas sector emissions at current levels and ensure that the sector makes an ambitious and achievable contribution to meeting the country’s 2030 climate goals. This effort will take into account the advice of the Net-Zero Advisory Body and others, including provinces and territories, Indigenous Peoples, industry and civil society, and require the oil and gas sector to reduce emissions at a pace and on a scale needed to align with the achievement of net-zero emissions by 2050, with five-year targets to stay on track.
  • Make progress on methane emission reductions by developing a plan to reduce emissions across the broader Canadian economy consistent with the Global Methane Pledge and require through regulations the reduction of oil and gas methane emissions in Canada by at least 75 per cent below 2012 levels by 2030.
  • In collaboration with the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and the Minister of Indigenous Services, continue to work in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation to address climate change and its impacts, and chart collaborative strategies.
  • Work with the Minister of Natural Resources to help protect old growth forests, notably in British Columbia, by reaching a nature agreement with B.C., establishing a $50 million B.C. Old Growth Nature Fund, and ensuring First Nations, local communities and workers are partners in shaping the path forward for nature protection.

The Minister of the Environment and Climate Change had already issued a press release announcing that discussion papers on many of these issues would be issued before the end of 2021, to enable consultations in 2022. On December 16, the first of these was released, regarding zero emission vehicles. The Ministry also tabled its Reports to Parliament on December 13.

The Mandate Letter to the Minister of Natural Resources, (John Wilkinson) includes this  summary statement: “As Minister of Natural Resources, you will prioritize moving forward with legislation and comprehensive action to achieve a Just Transition, ensuring support for communities to create more economic opportunities for workers and families into the future and in all regions of the country. You will work with partners to develop and implement strategies to decarbonize regional electricity systems, grow the market for clean fuels and transform Canada’s building stock for the climate era. You will likewise move early to launch a Critical Minerals Strategy, ensuring that Canada’s natural resources are developed sustainably, competitively and inclusively.”  

Specifically, the Minister is given the lead on the Just Transition file with this statement:   

To support the future and livelihood of workers and their communities in the transition to a low carbon economy:

Work with the Minister of Labour in moving forward with legislation and comprehensive action to achieve a Just Transition. This work will be guided by consultations with workers, unions, Indigenous Peoples, employers, communities and provinces and territories. You will be supported by the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion and Ministers responsible for Regional Development Agencies;

Continue to deliver on investments to train workers and create opportunities for green jobs; and

Natural Resources is also charged with:

  • Increase inclusion in the clean energy workforce by creating more opportunities for women, LGBTQ2 and other under-represented people in the energy sector.
  • Work with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry to develop a sustainable battery innovation and industrial ecosystem in Canada, including to establish Canada as a global leader in battery manufacturing, recycling and reuse. In support of these efforts, you will work with stakeholders to identify new strategic priorities, including future battery types, ways to optimize batteries for cold weather performance and long-duration storage, and applications in heavy-duty transportation, and launch a Canada-U.S. Battery Alliance for stakeholders in both countries to identify shared priorities and create environmental requirements.
  • Reduce pollution from transportation by adding 50,000 new electric vehicle chargers and hydrogen stations to Canada’s network and supporting the installation of charging stations in existing buildings, and by making investments to retrofit large trucks currently on the road, and supporting the production, distribution and use of clean fuels, including low or zero carbon hydrogen.
  • Work with provinces and territories, communities and Indigenous Peoples to develop and implement a National Net-Zero Emissions Building Strategy to achieve net-zero emissions from buildings by 2050, with interim milestones, that include accelerating net-zero emissions new builds and deep retrofits of existing buildings through codes and incentives, requiring EnerGuide labeling of homes at the time of sale, transitioning away from fossil-fuel home heating systems, and launching a community level net-zero emissions homes initiative.
  • Work with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry on the development of model building codes, including publishing a net-zero emissions building code and model retrofit code by the end of 2024 that align with national climate objectives and provide a standard for climate-resilient buildings. You will also work to amend the National Building Code of Canada to specify firefighter and first responder safety as a core objective. To ensure effective implementation of these performance standards, work with partners to develop strategies around incentives, training programs and pilot initiatives.
  • Help Canadians improve the energy efficiency and resiliency of their homes by providing grants of up to $5,000 for home retrofits through the Canada Greener Homes Grants Program and creating a Climate Adaptation Home Rating Program as a companion to the EnerGuide home energy audits to protect homeowners from the impacts of climate change.
  • Work with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to help protect old growth forests, notably in British Columbia, by advancing a nature agreement with B.C., establishing a $50 million B.C. Old Growth Nature Fund, and ensuring First Nations and Métis, local communities and workers are partners in shaping the path forward on nature protection.

To the Minister of Labour   (Seamus O’Regan):

“Work with the Minister of Natural Resources in moving forward with legislation and comprehensive action to achieve a Just Transition. This work will be guided by consultations with workers, unions, Indigenous Peoples, employers, communities, and provinces and territories to support the future and livelihood of workers and their communities in the transition to a low carbon economy. You will be supported by the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion and Ministers responsible for Regional Development Agencies.”

Labour unions, pension funds and divestment: resolutions from Alberta, Ontario conventions and a U.S. report from Stand.earth

Labour Confronts the Climate Crisis” appeared in the November issue of Our Times magazine, written by James Hutt of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). He highlights the notable speakers from the November convention of the Ontario Federation of Labour, but states that the main discussion at the convention focused on if and how unions can fight climate change through divestment, ethical investing, and active involvement in their pension fund management.

From the article :  

“  Many speakers underlined that divestment may have limited financial impact but can be very effective as a political tool. Democratic institutions, in particular unions, can use it to make a powerful statement and undermine the social legitimacy of the fossil fuel industry…

…. speakers concluded that there are a number of important actions unions should take regarding their pension funds, including demanding transparency and input into how funds are being invested. Unions can also advocate for investing in community-led renewable initiatives, and they can help these initiatives scale up.

The final panel recognized that while pensions do have a role to play, ultimately our true power lies elsewhere. As workers and unions engaged in the climate fight, it’s clear that we must go beyond pension-board tables and the confines of capital markets.”

At its annual convention held in early December, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE)  passed three environmental resolutions, announced and summarized in a press release (Dec. 4).  These included calls for 1.  just transition for workers,  2. a green new deal that includes providing union jobs through an expanded public sector,  modernizes public infrastructure , recognizes Indigenous rights and treaties; and builds a just society, and 3. a  call for the  Alberta Investment Management Corp.  (AIMCo) to “quantify the climate risks of its investments and adopt a path to net zero” in the pension funds it manages.  Response from AIMCo is presented in an article in Benefits Canada , which notes that AUPE members have a seat on the AIMCo sponsors’ Board through their membership in the Local Authorities Pension Plan.   

AUPE members are right to be concerned with the performance of AIMCo – as described in the report published on December 15 by the Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta. Can AIMCo be Fixed?  traces the controversial moves by the UCP government to take control of public sector pensions, as well as AIMCo’s risky volatility trading strategy (VOLTS), which led to a $2 billion loss in 2020.  The authors at Parkland conclude that “A thorough rethink of AIMCo’s board of directors and ownership structure is required in light of the troubling actions by the UCP government, AIMCo’s poor performance as an investment manager in recent years, and the serious structural weaknesses of AIMCo”.  The report makes five policy recommendations for change, none of which relate to its management of climate risks, but focus on the ownership and governance structure, including: Eliminate the Crown’s sole ownership of AIMCo and “Implement a new ownership structure with the government holding a minority position to prevent governments using AIMCo funds for their own political purposes”.

The Parkland report is the latest of several which have condemned the Alberta pension manager for its bias to oil and gas investments, described in a previous WCR article when it invested in the Coastal GasLink pipeline in 2020, and in the 2019 report from Progress Alberta, Alberta’s Failed Oil and Gas Bailout .

From the U.S., a new report released by Stand.earth and the Climate Safe Pensions Network argues for the importance of divestment.  The Quiet Culprit: Pension Funds Bankrolling the Climate Crisis  details the fossil fuel exposure of 14 public pension funds, revealing that  $81.6 billion is invested in coal, oil, and gas. The report notes, for example, that nine of the fourteen funds  have invested over $281 million in TC Energy, the company behind the controversial Coastal GasLink pipeline violating Indigenous rights in Wet’suwet’en land. The pension funds also have over $3.24 billion invested in big tar sands miners Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus, ConocoPhillips, Exxon and Suncor.  The conclusion?  “With over $46 trillion in assets worldwide, pension funds are among the largest institutional investors in fossil fuels. These investments have dangerously underperformed the rest of the market, making public pensions’ fossil fuels investments inherently risky….The fastest way for pensions to address climate change is to divest fossil fuel holdings and invest in just and equitable climate solutions.”

Surveys of oil and gas workers show their willingness to retrain and move to clean energy jobs

International recruitment firm Brunel International and Oilandgasjobsearch.com released the latest version of their annual survey on November 30, showing key employment trends such as recruitment challenges, compensation, energy transition, job engagement, and retention in the global energy sector.  Energy Outlook Report 2021-2022  is summarized with key highlights here , including that more than half of the oil and gas workers surveyed want to work in the renewable energy sector – a sentiment stronger amongst workers ages 25 – 29 years old.   The survey also highlights a high degree of “job volatility” in the wider energy and extraction sector, with 44% of workers in oil and gas, 42% each in mining, power, and renewables, and 39% in nuclear saying they were looking for a career change in the next five years.   The full survey is available for download here.

Although not as widely reported, a Canadian survey in the summer of 2021 showed a similar appetite for career change. Iron and Earth, the Canadian organization of fossil fuel workers whose mission is “to empower fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to build and implement climate solutions” , commissioned Abacus Data to conduct a survey of 300 Canadians working in the oil, gas or coal industry. The survey report probed general attitudes to a net zero economy, but more particularly asked about attitudes and motivations to skills training and retraining, with breakdowns by age, gender, Indigenous/minority status, and region.  The  top level finding:  69% of all the workers surveyed were very interested or somewhat interested in  “making a career switch to, or expanding your work involvement in, a job in the net-zero economy”.   These findings are consistent with an anecdotal report “Workers Pick Job Stability Over Higher Wages as Oil Rig Operator Scrambles for Crews” (The Energy Mix, Sept. 14), which reports on the recruitment difficulties of the oil and gas industry. The article quotes the head of the Canadian Association of Energy Contractors, who speaks of shift in the industry, “citing the premium many younger workers place on work-life balance, along with the federal government’s talk about just transition legislation.”

That same Canadian Association of Energy Contractors released their industry forecast for 2022 in November.  It reports that  drilling activity for oil and gas wells has “bounced back” from an all-time low in June 2020, and “total jobs in 2021 were up 54 per cent year-over-year from 2020, with an increase of 9,734 jobs. In 2022, CAOEC expects another increase of approximately 7,280 total jobs to 34,925, a 26 per cent increase year-over-year.” However, clearly oil and gas workers are right to be concerned about job stability, as the CAOEC continues: “In comparison to 2014, we anticipate total jobs will still be a loss of 56 per cent from the peak of 78,793 total jobs in 2014.”

Audit of coal workers’ transition promised in 2022; audit of green recovery funds finds job retention not measured

The federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development  tabled several reports in the House of Commons on November 25, including  Report 5—Lessons Learned from Canada’s Record on Climate Change. Well-documented and concise, it summarizes the history of climate policies and international agreements over the last 30 years, and concludes: “Repeated commitments, strategies, and action plans to reduce emissions in Canada have not yielded results…..Despite progress in some areas, such as public electricity and heat generation, Canadian emissions have actually increased by more than 20% since 1990.” The report identifies the central flaw of “policy incoherence”, highlighting the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the Onshore Emissions Reduction Fund as examples.  Eight “lessons” are discussed, with accompanying opportunities for the future, with an overarching lesson which calls  for greater leadership and coordination amongst all levels of government . Lesson 2 states that “Canada’s economy is still dependent on emission‑intensive sectors” and in a section entitled “Shielding workers and communities”,  the report highlights the findings of the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities. Most importantly, the Commissioner promises a performance audit to Parliament in 2022,  “examining Canada’s just transition for coal workers.”  In the discussion about the need for a national energy policy, and report  poses  “Considerations for parliamentarians” which include:  “How much financial support does Canada provide to the oil and gas industry? Could this support be reallocated to workers?” and “How can the federal government identify and assist communities and workers most affected by the transition to a low‑carbon economy?”

Also of interest: The Commissioner’s Report #4:  Emissions Reductions Fund – Natural Resources Canada, which is a scathing rebuke to the department and a catalogue of poor, hasty design and inaccurate measurement of the impacts of the Onshore Emissions Reduction Fund. The Fund, launched in 2020 as part of the federal Covid-19 Economic Response Plan, offered $675 million in the form of interest-free loans and non-repayable grants with the stated goals of helping land-based oil and gas companies attract investment, retain jobs, and reduce emissions. Amongst the failings:  Natural Resources Canada failed to use recognized GHG accounting principles to measure the GHG reductions, and awarded maximum grants to all applicants without assessing value for tax-payers money.  Further,   “Natural Resources Canada indicated that one of the rationales for the Onshore Program was to help maintain jobs in the oil and gas sector. However, we found that the department did not include job retention as a feature in the program’s design. For example, it did not list job retention as an eligibility condition or an assessment criterion for funding decisions. The department also did not include job retention or creation in the oil and gas sector as a performance indicator for the Onshore Program. However, it planned to request this information from funded companies as part of the contribution agreements’ reporting requirements.”  Natural Resources Canada has accepted this criticism and promises to  “provide annual and periodic reporting on greenhouse gas emission reductions and jobs (direct and indirect) from ERF‑funded projects, as new information becomes available.”   The new Minister of Natural Resources , Jonathan Wilkinson, announced a review of the program on November 26  

Labour and climate activists make recommendations for fossil fuel workers in new joint report

At a press conference on October 13, representatives of Climate Action Network Canada , Blue Green Canada, United Steelworkers, and Unifor launched a new report,  Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers in Canada’s Energy and Labour Transitions.  The report considers the challenges to the fossil fuel industry, including automation, and projects that 56,000 alternative jobs will need to be created for current Canadian oil and gas workers in the next decade. The report offers seven recommendations for a Just Transition, building on policy proposals from Canada’s Just Transition Task Force for Coal Workers and Communities, the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, and Unifor (whose most recent statement is their submission to the Just Transition consultation process here. ) Key recommendations include: “Recognizing the expertise of workers, through consultation with workers and communities, Canada must create Just Transition policy / legislation that holds the government accountable to developing transition strategies. Similar policy / legislation should be adopted by all provinces with an emphasis on the oil and gas producing provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador.” Funding is seen to come from Covid recovery funds and the Infrastructure Bank, with another recommendation: “Tie public investments to employers meeting conditions on job quality, including pay, access to training, job security, union access and representation through mandatory joint committees.”

Summaries of Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future appear in the press release from Climate Action Network, and in “With Canadian fossil fuel jobs about to be cut in half, it’s time to talk about a just transition” (National Observer, Oct. 15).  The latter article highlights the enhanced impact of the bringing labour unions and climate activists together, and also emphasizes that workers must be included in all transition plans, using the cautionary tale of Algoma Steel. As explained in “Why Mike Da Prat boycotted the prime minister’s Algoma Steel announcement” (Soo Today, July 6 2021) the union was not adequately consulted on transition planning when the government awarded $420 million in July 2021 to help Algoma Steel transition from coal to greener, electric-arc furnace production.

Fossil fuel unions in Texas sign on to a climate jobs plan

A July report from the Workers’ Institute at Cornell University Industrial Relations School examines the state of play in Texas and  makes a series of recommendations  “that can help Texas simultaneously combat climate change, create high-quality jobs, and build more equitable and resilient communities.”  Combatting Climate Change, Reversing Inequality: A Climate Jobs Program for Texas identifies the current challenges : a COVID-19 public health pandemic and ensuing economic crisis; a growing crisis of inequality of income, wealth, race and power; and the worsening climate crisis, which has brought weather disasters to the state.   

Texas is an interesting case study: it is the state with the most  greenhouse gas emissions and pollution in the U.S., with 42.4% of emissions from its well-established oil and gas industry.  Oil and gas (including extraction, refining, petrochemical production)  employs over 450,000 Texans, with a state-wide unionization rate of 4.8%.  But Texas also leads the states in wind power installations and has wind power manufacturing facilities. Into this mix, the researchers crafted a series of  concrete recommendations for jobs-driven strategies to achieve a low-carbon, more equitable economy.  These include targets for the installation of wind, solar and geothermal energy, along  with an upgraded electricity grid to handle renewables;  a target of 2040 to electrify school buses and  State and Local government vehicle fleets ; construction of a High-Speed Rail Network between the five largest cities in Texas; a target to reduce energy use in existing buildings by 30% by 2035, and a mandate for Net-Zero Emissions for new construction by 2050; and the creation of a multi-stakeholder Just Transition Commission. The report also applies many of these recommendations for the cities of Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.  

Each of these state-wide recommendations is described in detail, with  costing, GHG emissions reductions estimates, and job creation estimates by sector.  Total direct jobs created over a range from 10 to 25 years is estimated at 1,140,186, with another 1,125,434 indirect and 913,981 induced jobs.

The report was written by Professors  Lara Skinner and  J. Mijin Cha, with research assistance from Hunter Moskowitz and  Matt Phillips, in consultation with 27 Texas labour unions. It accompanies the launch of the Texas Climate Jobs Project , an offshoot of the Texas AFL-CIO.  Lara Skinner describes the report and the Climate Jobs Project in “Why Texas Fossil Fuel unions  signed onto a climate plan” (Grist, July 30). A press release from Texas AFL-CIO includes a summary of recommendations and endorsements from various unions.

California unions endorse a plan for Green Recovery and fossil fuel phase-out

A Program for Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition in California, released in June, is the ninth in a series of reports titled Green Economy Transition Programs for U.S. States, published by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), and written by researchers led by Robert Pollin. In this latest report, the authors address the challenge of economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and contend that it is possible to achieve California’s  official CO2 emissions reduction targets—a 50 percent emissions cut by 2030 and zero emissions by 2045— and at the same time create over 1 million jobs.  The investment programs they propose are based on the proposed national THRIVE Agenda, (introduced into the U.S. Congress in February 2021), and rely on private and public investment to energy efficiency, clean renewable energy, public infrastructure, land restoration and agriculture. The report discusses these sectors, as well as the manufacturing sector, and also includes a detailed just transition program for workers and communities in the fossil fuel industry.

In Chapter 6, “Contraction of California’s Fossil Fuel Industries and Just Transition for Fossil Fuel Workers”, the authors note that only 0.6% of California’s workforce was employed in fossil fuel-based industries in 2019 – approx.112,000 workers. They model two patterns for the industry contraction between 2021-2030:  steady contraction, in which employment losses proceed evenly, by about 5,800 jobs per year; and episodic contraction, in which 12,500 job losses occur in just three separate years, 2021, 2026, and 2030.  After developing transition programs for both scenarios, they estimate that the average annual costs of episodic contraction would be 80% higher ($830 million per year) than the costs of steady contraction  ($470 million per year). As with previous PERI reports, the authors emphasize the importance of the quality of jobs to which workers relocate:  “It is critical that all of these workers receive pension guarantees, health care coverage, re-employment guarantees along with wage subsidies to insure they will not experience income losses, along with retraining and relocation support, as needed. Enacting a generous just transition program for the displaced fossil fuel-based industry workers is especially important. At present, average compensation for these workers is around $130,000. This pay level is well above the roughly $85,000 received by workers in California’s current clean energy sectors.”  Relief Programs for Displaced Oil & Gas Workers Elements of an Equitable Transition for California’s Fossil Fuel Workers  is a 2-page Fact Sheet summarizing the chapter.

The report was commissioned by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, the California Federation of Teachers, and the United Steelworkers Local 675, which represents workers in the oil and chemical industry.  The report has been endorsed by nineteen labour unions – not only those who commissioned it, but also the Alameda Labor Council, Communication Workers of America District 9 ;  International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21 ; various locals of the  Service Employees International Union ; two locals of the  United Auto Workers; UNITE HERE Local 30 ; United Steelworkers Local 5 ; and the  University Professional and Technical Employees—Communications Workers of America 9119.  

Lead author Robert Pollin is interviewed about the report in two articles: “Labor Unions Rally Behind California’s Zero-Emissions Climate Plan“ (Truthout, June 10) and  “A Green Transition for California”  (American Prospect, June 11), which includes a video of the interview.

Oil well clean-up can create jobs – but not the way Alberta spent Green Recovery funding

The Big Cleanup: How enforcing the Polluter Pay principle can unlock Alberta’s next great jobs boom was released in June by the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project . It makes thirteen recommendations, including the creation of an independent, non-profit Reclamation Trust to wind down end-of-life companies and use their remaining revenue to fund the cleanup of their wells. The report states that implementing all its recommendations will create 10,400 jobs and generate $750 million in wages, and contribute nearly $2 billion  Alberta’s Gross Domestic Product annually for the next 25 years.  The report also includes new calculations and analysis on the growing crisis of Alberta’s oil and gas well liabilities, stating that the average projected cost of cleaning up Alberta’s over 300,000 unreclaimed oil and gas wells is $55 billion dollars, with the top 20 Alberta municipalities alone facing $34 billion in cleanup liabilities in their boundaries.  

In April 2020, the government of Canada announced its Covid-19 Economic Response Plan, including  $1.72 billion  directed toward the cleanup of inactive and abandoned oil and gas infrastructure across the western provinces. $1 billion of this funding was directed to Alberta. Dianne Saxe, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, had been one of the early critics of this program, for example in “Canada’s murky bail-out deal for oil and gas will cost us all”  ( National Observer, April 21).   In early July, a further evaluation was published by Oxfam Canada, the Parkland Institute, and the Corporate Mapping Project : Not Well Spent: A review of $1-billion federal funding to clean up Alberta’s inactive oil and gas wells .  The report finds some alarming failures on many fronts – including that the program is not tracking methane emissions, so it is impossible to determine the emissions reduction impact.  Author Megan Egler also cautiously argues that the public funds were used to accomplish what industry should have been responsible for, according to a polluter pays principle.   

One of the stated goals of Alberta’s $1 Billion Site Rehabilitation Program (SRP) was to create 5,300 jobs. However, Not Well Spent states: “ If this is met, funding of $1billion will create 5,300 jobs at $188,680 per job. This is $41,800 more per job than money injected into the industry through the Orphaned Well Association to do similar work in 2018. There has been no clear explanation from the Government of Alberta why the public dollars to create one job are higher in the SRP program.” The report also notes that 23% of the total amount of funds disbursed went to only five companies out of the 363; only 10% was allocated to clean-ups on Indigenous lands.  The author makes recommendations for improvement in future funding, to ensure better accountability and transparency, which would be more consistent with a “polluter pays” objective.

69% of Canada’s fossil fuel workers willing to move to clean energy jobs, says new poll

On July 14, Iron and Earth Canada released the results of online poll done on their behalf by Abacus Data , surveying 300 Canadians who currently work in the oil, gas, or coal sectors. The survey showed that  61% agreed with the statement:  “Canada should pivot towards a net-zero emissions economy by 2050 to remain a competitive global economy”, and 69% answered “yes” to “Would you consider making a career switch to, or expanding your work involvement in, a job in the net-zero economy?”.  The survey also measured workers’ interest in skills training and development for jobs in the net-zero economy, with 88% interested for themselves, and 80% supporting a National Upskilling Initiative . 

Although workers reported a high degree of optimism for the future (58% agreed that “ I will likely thrive in a Canadian economy that transitions to net-zero emissions by 2050”), workers also expressed their concerns – with 79% of workers under age 45 worried about reduced wages, and 77% of workers under 45 worried about losing their job.  44% of all workers would not consider taking a clean economy job if it resulted in a wage cut.

The full survey results are here , with breakdowns by age, sex, province, occupation, and Indigenous vs. Non-Indigenous.   Articles summarizing the survey appeared in The National Observer, The Narwhal , and The Energy Mix.

On a related note: many younger people are not attracted to a future in the fossil fuel industry, as described in the recent CBC News article “University of Calgary hits pause on bachelor’s program in oil and gas engineering” (July 8), and “U of C sees ‘remarkable’ drop in undergrads focusing on oilpatch engineering and geology “ (Oct. 6 2020).

Job growth in clean energy will more than offset fossil fuel losses

Clean Energy Canada released a new report on June 17,  projecting that Canada’s clean energy sector will grow by almost 50% (over 200,000 jobs) by 2030, to reach 639,200 jobs. The report states that this will far exceed the 125,800 jobs expected to be lost in fossil fuels.  Surprisingly, the province with the greatest increase in clean energy jobs will be Alberta – forecast  to increase by 164% by 2030.  As the introduction concludes: “Oil and gas may have dominated Canada’s energy past, but it’s Canada’s clean energy sector that will define its new reality.”

The New Reality report is the latest in the “Tracking the Energy Transition” series, updating the 2019 report.  It is based on modelling by Navius Research – presented in a technical report here. Employment and GDP numbers are considered under two policy scenarios: the Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Growth and Climate Change (the Liberal government’s previous policy) , and the Healthy Environment, Healthy Economy policy, unveiled in December 2020.  The definition of “clean energy jobs” is broad, and forecasting breaks down into industry sectors – for example, stating that  jobs in electric vehicle technology are on track to grow 39% per year, with 184,000 people set to be employed in the industry in 2030—a 26-fold increase over 2020. The report also highlights specific examples of the pioneering clean energy companies in Canada.

Updated: Agreement reached to save Terra Nova offshore oil and gas field in Newfoundland

UPDATE: As reported by CBC News on June 16 in “New hope for Terra Nova as Suncor announces tentative deal to save N.L. oilfield” , and by a Unifor press release, an agreement in principle has been reached to restructure ownership of the Terra Nova oil fields, offering a path forward which may save the jobs of the workers. Details are not yet available, but Suncor will increase its equity stake and previous owners may participate in the new structure, contingent on the province honouring its commitment to provide $205 million from the oil industry recovery fund, and some $300 million in royalty relief .

Workers demonstrated outside the Newfoundland legislature on June 14 and 15 , as politicians debated inside about the fate of the Terra Nova oil field and an ultimatum from Suncor Energy, asking for the government to buy the assets of the Terra Nova FPSO, an offshore production and storage platform which employed nearly 1,000 workers in 2019, which is the last time oil was produced. Suncor is the last company remaining in the consortium which owned the oil field.  The complexity of the situation is described in several CBC articles, including:  “Talks to save Terra Nova oilfield collapse after N.L. government rules out equity stake” (June 10), and  “As deadline for Terra Nova approaches, pressure mounts to save troubled oilfield” (June 11). To date, the government has refused to buy the asset, saying that the risks are too great because the oilfield is estimated to be 85% depleted. Instead, it has agreed to provide about $500 million in cash and incentives to the company.  As of June 16, Suncor Energy has still not announced a decision, as reported by CBC in “Terra Nova deadline comes — and goes — without word of its fate” .

Unifor Local 2121 represents the workers at Terra Nova, and organized the demonstrations at the legislature.   Unifor describes the rally here, and in this press release asserts that the Terra Nova decision is a harbinger of the future of the Newfoundland oil and gas industry.

Canadian oil companies rely on carbon capture technology in their new net zero alliance

On June 9, five Canadian oil companies –  Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus Energy, Imperial, MEG Energy and Suncor Energy – announced their alliance in the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero initiative, whose goal is to achieve net zero GHG emissions from their operations in Alberta’s oil sands by 2050 (but not including the emissions created from the oil consumption after it is extracted).  Importantly, the companies still forecast a global demand for oil, so they do not discuss reducing production, but rather they will rely on a Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) trunkline running from the Fort McMurray and Cold Lake regions to a carbon sequestration hub near Cold Lake Alberta. Other means to reduce GHG’s will include existing technologies at oil sands operations, including “CCUS technology, clean hydrogen, process improvements, energy efficiency, fuel switching and electrification”, as well as  “potential emerging emissions-reducing technologies including direct air capture, next-generation recovery technologies and small modular nuclear reactors.”   

The companies are aided in developing these new technologies by the federal government, which announced a $750-million Emissions Reduction Fund in October 2020 , providing loans to promote investment in greener extractive technologies. It is hardly surprising then that the new alliance calls for “ Collaboration between industry and government” , and in case that wasn’t clear enough, the press release continues: “In addition to collaborating and investing together with industry, it is essential for governments to develop enabling policies, fiscal programs and regulations to provide certainty for this type of long-term, large-scale investment. This includes dependable access to carbon sequestration rights, emissions reduction credits and ongoing investment tax credits. We look forward to continued collaboration with both the federal and Alberta governments to create the regulatory and policy certainty and fiscal framework needed to ensure the economic viability of this initiative.”  

Professors Kathryn Harrison,  Martin Olszynski, and Patrick McCurdy offer guidance on how to read the Alliance goals, in “Why you should take oilsands giants’ net-zero pledge with a barrel of skepticism” in The National Observer (June 10). “Alberta is gambling its future on carbon capture” (The National Observer,  June 11) compiles reaction (mostly skeptical) from Environmental Defence and the Pembina Institute. The Energy Mix reacted with: “Fossils’ ‘Net-Zero’ Alliance has no Phaseout Plan, Relies on Shaky Carbon Capture Technology”, which surveys a broader range of reaction and quotes Pembina Institute’s Alberta regional director, Chris Severson-Baker, at length.  

Canada’s oil and gas industry provides Canada with declining royalty revenues, jobs

Earth scientist David Hughes argues that Canada cannot possibly meet its national GHG emissions targets while expanding exports in the oil and gas industry, building pipelines, and developing liquified natural gas in a new report, Canada’s Energy Sector: Status, evolution, revenue, employment, production forecasts, emissions and implications for emissions reduction, released on June 1.   Hughes documents the declining health and importance of the sector with economic statistics: “The energy sector’s contribution to Canada’s GDP, currently at 9 per cent, has declined over the past two decades, and government revenues from royalties and taxes have dropped precipitously. Despite record production levels, royalty revenue is down 45 per cent since 2000, and tax revenues from the oil and gas sector, which totalled over 14 per cent of all industry taxes as recently as 2009, declined to less than 4 per cent in 2018. Direct employment, which peaked at over 226,000 workers in 2014, was down by 53,000 in 2019 although production was at an all-time high due to efficiencies adopted by the industry.”

Combining statistics from the Petroleum Labour Market Information office with industry projections from the federal Canada Energy Regulator, Hughes concludes that energy jobs have peaked and previous levels of employment are unlikely to return.

“Jobs are often cited by industry proponents as a reason to support expansion of oil and gas production. Yet despite record production levels, jobs in the oil and gas sector are down from their peak in 2014 by 23 per cent …..Thanks to technological advances, the sector has become more efficient and is able to increase production using fewer workers….This jobs scenario is particularly true in the oil sands, where much of the production growth is expected. Oil sands production per employee is 70 per cent higher than it was in 2011 (production per employee has increased by 37 per cent in conventional oil and gas and by 50 per cent in the sector overall since 2011). In Canada’s overall employment picture, the oil and gas sector accounted for only 1 per cent of direct employment in 2019 (5.5 per cent in Alberta).”

At the same time, oil and gas production accounts for the largest portion of GHG emissions in Canada, at 26 per cent of the total – and Canada‘s GHG emissions have actually increased by 3.3 per cent since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016 – the highest increase of any G7 country.  With such limited benefits and such serious negative consequences, Hughes argues against expansion of oil and gas exports – especially LNG in British Columbia and the TransMountain pipeline expansion, and Line 3.

Canada’s Energy Sector: Status, evolution, revenue, employment, production forecasts, emissions and implications for emissions reduction is summarized by the National Observer, here. Author David Hughes has written substantive reports previously, for example: A Clear Look at B.C. LNG (2015); Can Canada increase oil and gas production, build pipelines and meet its climate commitments? ( 2016); B.C’s Carbon Conundrum: Why LNG exports doom emissions-reduction targets and compromise Canada’s long-term energy security (2020); and Reassessment of Need for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion: Project Production forecasts, economics and environmental considerations (2020).

The full report was published by the Corporate Mapping Project, a project of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in British Columbia and the Parkland Institute in Alberta. The report was co-published with Stand.earth, West Coast Environmental Law, and 350.org.

For Alberta oil workers facing a future of industry volatility- policy options include Just Transition, green tax reform

In Search of Prosperity: The role of oil in the future of Alberta and Canada  was released on May 26, that cataclysmic day of bad news for the oil and gas industry when the Dutch courts ordered Royal Dutch Shell to reduce its emissions immediately, and shareholders at Exxon and Chevron defied management to press for climate-friendly policies. The future of the oil and gas industry is also grim in Canada, according to In Search of Prosperity, published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Using economic models, it concludes that “the volatility of the industry poses a much greater threat than low prices to the Alberta economy – more than five times worse than the effect of just low prices.” And further: “….. unless there are innovations in the uses of oil for non-combustion, also known as “bitumen beyond combustion,” the oil sector will contribute less and less to Alberta’s prosperity.” According to the modelling, employment in the oil sector will potentially decrease byan average 24,300 full-time jobs per year toward 2050 ( accompanied by a potential 43% drop in royalties to the Alberta government). 

How to cope with those upcoming job losses? Another report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), also released on May 26, suggests the EU Just Transition Mechanism as one of its model strategies for the future. 10 Ways to Win the Global Race to Net-Zero: Global insights to inform Canadian climate competitiveness offers an overview of the global policy literature and describes successful case studies, including the innovation of green steel in Sweden; hydrogen policy in Germany; collaboration in the form of the European Battery Alliance and the European Transition Commission; the Biden “all of government” approach to governance in the U.S.; New Zealand’s consultation with and inclusion of the indigenous Maori; and the EU’s Just Transition Mechanism as part of the European Green New Deal. The report’s conclusion offers five strategies, including that the Canadian government must take action as a “top priority” on its promised Just Transition Act.

The discussion of Just Transition in 10 Ways to Win provides a brief, clear summary of the complexity of the EU Just Transition Mechanism, and states that the EU approach is consistent with the recent report,  Employment Transitions and the Phase-Out of Fossil Fuels by Jim Stanford, published by the Centre for Future Work in January 2021. Stanford argues that a gradual transition from fossil fuels is possible without involuntary layoffs, given a “clear timetable for phase-out, combined with generous supports for retirement, redeployment, and regional diversification”.

The IISD also recently published Achieving a Fossil Free Recovery (May 17), an international policy discussion with a focus on ending subsidies and preferential tax treatments for the fossil fuel industry. The report concludes with a brief section on Just Transition as the predominant framework for the transition to a clean energy economy, and calls for a social dialogue approach. As in previous IISD reports (for example, Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform and the Just Transition in 2017), the authors argue that dollars spent to support and subsidize the fossil fuel industry could be better spent in encouraging clean energy industries.  This argument also relates to an April 2021 IISD report, Nordic Environmental Fiscal Reform, which offers case studies of the success of environmental taxes – for example, in the use of tax revenue to support the Danish wind energy industry which now employs 33,000 workers.

Canada’s banks continue to finance oil and gas

A report released at the end of April examines the performance and the links between Canada’s oil companies and the big banks which form Canada’s “comfortable oligopoly”: Royal Bank (RBC), Toronto-Dominion Bank ,Bank of Nova Scotia, Bank of Montreal, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and the National Bank of Canada. Fossilized Finance: How Canada’s banks enable oil and gas production  is written by Donald Gutstein and published by by the B.C. Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives as part of its Corporate Mapping Project. The report outlines the bank presence in the Canadian energy sector since the collapse of oil prices in 2014 – lending, underwriting, advising and investing. It also examines interlocking directorates, executive transfer, industry conference sponsorships and industry association memberships.This reveals different details than the international report, Banking on Climate Chaos, published by BankTrack in late March.

While acknowledging that the banks have begun to invest in some renewable energy projects, Fossilized Finance shows that this leopard has not changed its spots:

“In contrast to the need to reduce financing of fossil fuels, banks actually increased their lending and commitments to the industry by more than 50 per cent—to $137 billion—between 2014 and 2020. Toronto-Dominion, in particular, upped its lending by 160 per cent over the seven-year period, to nearly $33 billion in 2020. As well, banks have invested tens of billions of dollars in fossil fuel and pipeline company shares. Here, Royal Bank leads the pack with nearly $21 billion invested in the top 15 fossil fuel and pipeline companies as of November 2019. Banks continue to underwrite fossil fuel company stock and bond issues, and they continue to provide key advice on mergers, acquisitions and other corporate moves.”  

Many of the researchers involved in the CCPA/Corporate Mapping Project have written chapters in Regime of Obstruction: How Corporate Power blocks Energy Democracy, a book edited by William Carroll and published by Athabasca University Press. Readers of the WCR may be particularly interested in Chapter 15, “From Clean Growth to Climate Justice” by Marc Lee, but all the excellent chapters are available for free download here.  The publisher’s summary states: “Anchored in sociological and political theory, this comprehensive volume provides hard data and empirical research that traces the power and influence of the fossil fuel industry through economics, politics, media, and higher education. Contributors demonstrate how corporations secure popular consent, and coopt, disorganize, or marginalize dissenting perspectives to position the fossil fuel industry as a national public good. They also investigate the difficult position of Indigenous communities who, while suffering the worst environmental and health impacts from carbon extraction, must fight for their land or participate in fossil capitalism to secure income and jobs. The volume concludes with a look at emergent forms of activism and resistance, spurred by the fact that a just energy transition is still feasible. This book provides essential context to the climate crisis and will transform discussions of energy democracy.”    

If you are outraged by what these researchers reveal, a personal option to switch banks is now made easier through the Bank Green website, launched in April in association with BankTrack. So far, Bank.Green covers more than 300 banks globally, including only two “ethical banks” in Canada:  Vancity, and Duca Credit Union. The website provides information for customers and encourages them to switch banks and divest from fossil fuels.

Two new reports call for end to subsidies and phase-out of Canada’s oil and gas industry

Two new reports expose Canada’s continuing financial support of the fossil fuel industry and call for a phase-out. These appeared in the same week as the federal government reported Canada’s latest National Inventory of Emissions to the United Nations’ UNFCC, showing that the oil and gas industry is the top source of carbon emissions in Canada.

The first report, by Environmental Defence, is Paying Polluters: Federal Financial Support to Oil and Gas in 2020 , released on April 15. It estimates that the government has provided or promised at least $18 billion to the oil and gas sector in 2020 alone, including  $3.28 billion in direct subsidy programs and $13.47 billion in public financing. Paying Polluters decries the lack of transparency – especially for funding through Export Development Canada  – but nevertheless attempts to list the tax subsidies and direct spending programs, in an Appendix at the end of the report. In addition to obvious subsidies, the tally includes loans for pipeline construction, research into new technologies for cleaner processes, job subsidies for reclamation of oil wells, and even policing costs for pipeline construction – think $13 million taxpayer dollars paid to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to protect the construction site of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Environmental Defence concludes with five recommendations, including a call for greater transparency, and for “a roadmap to achieve Canada’s commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies before 2025, and shift these investments and public finance towards supporting a path to resilient, equitable zero-carbon societies.” It should be noted that the government first pledged to phase out these subsidies in 2009. The report is summarized, with reactions, by Sarah Cox in The Narwhal, on April 16.  

A second report, Correcting Canada’s “One-eye shut” Climate Policy, was released on April 16 by the Cascade Institute. It summarizes Canada’s history of fossil fuel production, and refutes those who argue that we are a small country whose emissions don’t compare to those of China or the U.S. Calling on Canada to accept its global responsibility, the authors state that “Canada’s 2021-2050 oil and gas production would exhaust about 16 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget. Canada is indeed a “carbon bomb” of global significance.”  This is the first of many hard-hitting, frank statements in the report, including a highly critical discussion of the “fool’s gambit” of hydrogen production, and an assessment that “A highly resourced and well-organized “regime of obstruction” has developed in Canada to block effective climate action and ensure increased fossil fuel extraction.”

Correcting Canada’s “One-eye shut” Climate Policy references the Environmental Defence  Paying Polluters report, agreeing with the call for a phase-out of government support and subsidies. It also offers more information about subsidies – for example, an estimate that the provincial supports, including royalty credits, constitute an additional estimated $4.2 billion a year. Other less-than-obvious examples of support for oil and gas:  subsidies that encourage fossil fuel consumption, like aviation or mobility investments,  and over $250 million  directed to four oil sands major companies under Canada’s Emergency Wage Subsidy during Covid-19.  The report states that Imperial Oil alone received $120 million in wage support while concurrently issuing $320 million in dividends. Yet on the issue of oil and gas jobs, the authors state that in 2019, the oil and gas sector represented just 1 percent of direct employment in Canada, and 5.5 percent in Alberta. “To save costs, the industry has aggressively cut jobs, by 23 percent over the 2014 to 2019 period, even as oil and gas production increased by 24 percent, reaching record highs, over that same period.”

The One-Eye Shut report goes further, offering specific policy options within the federal jurisdiction to phase out the industry, including: “prohibiting the leasing of federal lands and waters for fossil fuel production and infrastructure; implementing a “climate test” on all new fossil fuel projects and removing federal impact review exemptions; canceling the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline; divesting federal public investment funds from fossil fuel production; and removing federal subsidies and public financing that supports fossil fuel exploration, production, or transportation, including federal funding for technologies that delay a transition away from oil and gas.”

Correcting Canada’s “One-eye shut” Climate Policy: Meeting Canada’s climate commitments requires ending supports for, and beginning a gradual phase out of, oil and gas production  is a Technical Paper written by University of Waterloo professor Angela Carter and PhD. Student Truzaar Dordi, and published by the Cascade Institute.   Participating Institutions include the Corporate Mapping Project, University of Waterloo, Royal Roads University, and the McConnell Foundation.

72% of surveyed oil and gas workers in Canada want career transition – with many willing to accept wage reduction

A survey of over 2,000 respondents from across Canada who had previously worked in the oil and gas industry found that 72% indicated that their career priority was to make a career transition. Of that 72%, “35% indicated their desired employment situation was in a different role or industry; 14% were seeking a different work arrangement such as self-employment; and 12% planned to seek employment after additional training.” The survey results are summarized in two blogs on March 30, Untapped Talent: Opportunity to Transition, and Untapped Talent, Transitioning Opportunity , from Canada’s oil and gas labour market organization, PetroLMI. The survey was conducted from October 2019 to December 2020.

While a resistance to lower wages is frequently cited as a barrier to Just Transition, the PetroLMI survey showed that: “the wage expectations of respondents were not out of line given their education, experience and skills. When asked about their salary expectations, 61% indicated a salary of less than $100,000, and 28% were willing to take a reduction in their salary for stable employment. In Alberta more than 35% of respondents said they were willing to take a salary reduction.”  42% of respondents were over the age of 55; 77% had over 15 years of experience; 86% had post-secondary education  –  in Alberta, most held a university, while in the rest of Canada, trade certification was most cited.

From the industry point of view: “While layoffs rarely have a silver lining, these workforce reductions mean there is a robust pool of talent available for hire.” “The layoffs that occurred among respondents were broad and impacted a wide range of job families and occupations from trades, truck drivers, technologists and technicians to geoscientists, engineers and information technologists. The talent pool also included occupations that tended to be transferable across industries including finance, accounting, human resources, health and safety, sales, marketing and business development. They also included field operations and drilling workers with transferable skills such as working in safety-sensitive workplaces, critical thinking and problem-solving. As a result, construction and renewable energy companies have begun hiring from this talent pool.”

Canada’s Petroleum Labour Market Institute (PetroLMI- formerly the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada)  produces ongoing labour market analysis, recently stating: “The cumulative impacts of a six-year economic downturn, lower demand due to COVID-19 health restrictions, and structural shifts in the oil and gas industry, mean there is a smaller oil and gas workforce in Canada – down 26%, or 58,700 jobs from its peak in 2014.” Their latest detailed labour market data, sourced from Statistics Canada, is here.  Analytical reports are compiled here,  including a four-part series titled “The Impact of COVID-19 on Canada’s Energy Workforce: A four-part series on work practices, productivity and opportunities”. On that topic, Norwegian consultancy Rystad Energy ranks Canada, U.S. and Australia as hardest hit in “Covid-19 job toll: Top O&G employer China resilient, US takes larger hit than European peers” , a March 9 newsletter.  (The Canadian Energy Research Institute also published Economic Recovery Pathways for Canada’s Energy Industry: Part 2 – Canadian Crude Oil and Natural Gas in September 2020, modelling employment and economic impacts) .

Fast Fashion reliance on fossil fuels is eating up global carbon budgets and polluting our water

It turns out that recycling all those plastic water bottles into fleece isn’t enough to solve the problems of “fast fashion”.  An eye-opening report released on February 3 documents the scope of the environmental damages caused by the global fashion industry, and makes recommendations for government regulation and consumer action.

Fossil Fashion: The hidden reliance of fast fashion on fossil fuels lays out the scale of the problem:

“The global fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Research from the European Environment Agency has highlighted that textiles are the fourth largest cause of environmental pressure after food, housing and transport. The fashion industry is responsible for a significant share of global water pollution, consumes more energy than shipping and aviation combined, and by 2050 is anticipated to be responsible for 25% of the world’s remaining carbon budget. Furthermore, our clothes release half a million tonnes of microfibres into the ocean every year, equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles.”….. “Without prompt and radical legislative action and a considerable slowdown, fast fashion’s quest for cheap clothing will create untenable volumes of waste and toxic microfibres, and emit more carbon than the planet can handle.”

 

The report provides detail statistics related to production, recycling, and the environmental and pollution impacts, summarized by this overview:    “Production of polyester has grown ninefold in the past 50 years, and the fibre has been widely adopted in the fashion industry as a low-cost material that allows brands to churn out a never-ending variety of cheap items ….Polyester is cheap, costing half as much per kilo as cotton, and has cemented itself as the backbone of today’s throwaway fashion model. The trends speak for themselves, with the average consumer buying 60% more clothing compared to 15 years ago, yet wearing each item of clothing half as long. Polyester’s flexibility as a material has seen it creeping into other materials too, with blends such as cotton and polyester increasingly being used, creating another set of problems when it comes to waste management. ….Recycling will not solve fast fashion’s problems, nor will it curb the exponential growth in the use of synthetic fibres. Currently, less than 1% of clothes are recycled to make new clothes, and the share of recycled polyester is declining; while it accounted for 14% in 2019, this will in fact decrease to 7.9% of overall polyester production by 2030. Furthermore, virtually all recycled polyester in clothing comes not from recycled garments, but from recycled plastic bottles.”  …. Recycling also does nothing to solve a problem both microscopic and enormous: microfibres. These tiny fragments of plastic shed from our clothes when we wash them, wear them or throw them out, and leak into our bodies and the natural world. Microfibres are found throughout ocean ecosystems, with a recent study discovering that 73% of microfibre pollution in formerly pristine Arctic waters is from synthetic fibres that could be coming from textiles. Graver still, microplastics have even been found in the placentas of unborn babies, affecting the human body in ways that are not yet fully understood.”

The main recommendations in this report deal with environmental/sustainability/pollution regulation in the EU – coinciding with January 2021 EU consultations for a strategy “Roadmap” to “shift to a climate-neutral, circular economy where products are designed to be more durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable and energy-efficient” in the Covid-19 recovery.  Canada, like the EU, is mainly an importer of fast fashion, so the relevant recommendations from Fossil Fashion are those for the consumer. Relying on individual action and purchasing power, they call for people to stop compulsive shopping and buy only from brands which have made a clear and transparent commitment to sustainably sourced supply chains.  The report also calls for consumers to join in “raising awareness of the issues surrounding fast fashion, and use their voices to highlight issues such as greenwashing, exploitative practices, environmental harm and unsustainable consumption.”

Fossil Fashion was published by the Changing Markets Foundation, whose focus is  the environmental impacts of  the fashion industry. In November 2020, they also published Dirty Fashion: Crunch Time, which updates their 2018 campaign to evaluate and rank individual fashion brands.  Another advocacy group, the Clean Clothes Campaign,  collaborates with Changing Markets and focuses on human rights and working conditions in the global fashion industry. Their latest report was released in January 2021, with a focus on the EU:   Fashioning Justice: A call for mandatory and comprehensive human rights due diligence in the garment industry .

Survey of oil and gas workers shows little knowledge of energy transition

A report commissioned by international union coalition Industriall examines the geopolitics of fossil fuel producing countries (mainly, the United States, China, Europe and Russia) and the investments and performance of the Oil Majors (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Total, as well as nationally-owned PetroChina, Gazprom and Equinor).  Energy transition, national strategies, and oil companies: what are the impacts for workers? was published in November 2020, with the research updated to reflect the impacts of Covid-19. 

In addition to a thorough examination of state and corporate actions, the report asked union representatives from four oil companies about how workers understand the energy transformation and its impact on their own jobs, and whether the concept of Just Transition has become part of their union’s agenda.     

Some highlights of the responses:

  • “the union members interviewed showed little knowledge about either the risks that the current transition process can generate for the industrial employee, or about the union discussion that seeks to equate the concern with the decarbonisation of the economy with the notions of equity and social justice. In some cases, even the term “Just Transition” was not known to respondents.”
  • Their lack of knowledge regarding the Just Transition can be justified by the fact that they do not believe that there will be any significant change in the energy mix of these companies.
  • Regarding information about energy transitions within the companies, “Managers are included, but the bottom of the work chain is not”
  • Lacking corporate policies or support, some  employees feel compelled to take responsibility for their own re-training

Echoing results of a similar survey of North Sea oil workers in the summer of 2020, published in Offshore: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition, one European respondent is quoted saying: “In the end, everyone is looking for job security, good wages and healthy conditions. It doesn’t matter so much if the job is in another area, as long as it is in good working conditions”.

The researchers conclude that: “Far from being just a statement of how disconnected workers are from environmental issues, these researches reveal a window of opportunity for union movements to act in a better communication strategy with their union members, drawing their attention to the climate issue and transforming their hopes for job stability and better working conditions into an ecologically sustainable political agenda.”

The report was commissioned by Industriall and conducted by the Institute of Strategic Studies of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (Ineep), a research organization created by Brazil’s United Federation of Oil and Gas Workers (FUP). 

Newfoundland government primes the pump with funding for offshore oil ahead of February election

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey has called a  provincial election for February  13 –and according to a CBC report, one reason for the quick timing is to get ahead of the forthcoming Interim Report of the provincially-appointed Provincial Economic Recovery Team (PERT), scheduled for late February. The PERT is also called the Greene team for its chair, Dame Moya Greene, who brings a business background, having previously been head of Britain’s Royal Mail and Canada Post, as well as positions at TD Securities, CIBC and Bombardier. Another CBC article highlights that the economic report is going to be a controversial election issue, and discusses the January withdrawal from the team by Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. Shorthall called the exercise “window dressing” , and stated: “I can say that the lack of transparency, top-down approach, rushed timeline, lack of real collaboration and an overall feeling that not all perspectives were being considered, or appreciated, are the overarching themes for my decision”.  Shortall’s departure is also discussed in an article in The Independent .

Another key election issue is likely to be the role of the oil and gas industry in the Newfoundland economy. The election announcement was preceded by a series of provincial funding announcements: on January 14, a government pledge of  $175 million funding as well as royalty incentives to Suncor to prop up the Terra Nova Offshore oil field; $38 million  for the Hibernia offshore project in December 2020; and $41.5 million for Husky Energy’s  White Rose project – all of which are funded by $320 million of federal funds, announced in September 2020. (Note that Husky Energy laid off workers at one of the worksites just days after the funding was announced) .

On January 12, the  Environment and Climate Change Minister issued his decisions under the Impact Assessment Act, allowing Chevron Canada, Equinor Canada, and BHP Petroleum to drill exploratory wells offshore from St. John’s – although further permits will be required, as explained in this new “Toolkit” regarding the process from the East Coast Environmental Law .  Provincial approval is likely to be forthcoming, given the pro-industry views expressed by the provincial Oil and Gas Recovery Task Force appointed in October 2020 to distribute the federal funding. Reflecting this favourable environment, Equinor announced that it is consolidating its Canadian offices and moving staff from Calgary to St. John’s, according to a Financial Post report (Jan. 12) .