New website launched to promote greener international trade agreements

GreenNewTrade.org is a new website aimed at climate justice activists and the general public, describing past and current trade challenges to “Green New Deal–type policies”, and calling for changes to trade rules. For Canadians, the most famous such international trade dispute occurred when Japan and the EU challenged the domestic content provisions in Ontario’s Green Energy Act – and in 2013,  the World Trade Organization ruled against Ontario. There have also been numerous challenges under the investor–state dispute settlement (ISDS) rules of NAFTA and the successor United States Canada Mexico Trade Agreement (USMCA) – the website gives the example of US coal mining company Westmoreland, which in 2018 challenged Alberta’s planned phaseout of coal-fired power plants.   

For an introduction to the issues, see Beyond NAFTA 2.0: A Trade Agenda for People and Planet,  a report released in 2019 by some of the same groups behind this new website: the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives,  the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,  Institute for Policy Studies,  and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung–New York.   A blog post at the Business and Human Rights Resources website describes GreenNewTrade.org .

Natural gas drives GHG emissions increase for Toronto region and Ontario

The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) is home to 7.4 million people in six municipalities: the City of Toronto, City of Hamilton, Halton, Peel, York and Durham regions. According to a new report released by The Atmospheric Fund (TAF),  the region produces  44 per cent of  total carbon emissions in the province of Ontario.   Top level findings from the report, Reality Check: Carbon Emissions Inventory for the GTHA: “Total carbon emissions in the GTHA increased 5.2% in 2018, reaching 55.5 Mt. . …. showing that since the completion of the coal phase out, emissions are slowly increasing across all regions and nearly all sources.” The report zeroes in on each municipality, and also on sectors, showing that buildings (42.8%), transportation (34.3%), and industry (18.9%) are the most significant sources of emissions in the region.

The key take-away from the report:  “Natural gas is a fossil fuel (methane) and it is the most significant source of emissions in the GTHA and Ontario. In 2018 natural gas increased about 10.6%, or 2Mt CO2 eq. Achieving net zero by 2050 will require phasing out virtually all natural gas from both heating and power production.”  An associated blog , “Toronto has an embarrassing gas problem”  (Feb.18) states: “the City’s latest emissions inventory showed an increase of 68% from natural gas from 2017 to 2018, and plans are afoot to increase gas-fired electricity which will make emissions skyrocket by over 300%. …. Toronto cannot meet its 2030 climate goals or the council-approved TransformTO plan if Ontario’s electricity is increasingly generated with fossil gas.”

Based on this analysis, TAF makes policy recommendations for all three levels of government, calling for near zero emissions standards for new building, acceleration of deeper retrofits for existing buildings, and electrification of heating and transportation while decarbonizing electricity production.  Detailed recommendations regarding retrofitting measures are provided in TAF’s submission to the Federal Budget 2021, and summarized in “Four ways the government should boost the retrofit market” (Feb. 23).  At the municipal level,  TAF is supporting one City of Toronto Councillor’s motion which calls for the provincial government to phaseout all gas-fired electricity generation as soon as possible.  The City of Toronto deferred a vote on that motion, and voted in February on a budget which appears to downgrade the priority for climate initiatives.  “’We can’t afford to lose a year’: Worries abound over Toronto’s plan to reduce climate funding” (CBC, Feb. 18)  provides details.

Jobs in Renewable Energy: the importance of Community Ownership, and the growth of good union jobs under California’s policies

At the end of June, the Toronto Renewable Energy Co-operative (TREC) released a report outlining the environmental, social, and economic benefits of locally owned and operated renewable power. The Power of Community  calculates the direct and indirect economic impacts of a solar FIT community project and  SolarShare power projects in Ontario since the Green Energy and Green Economy Act, and emphasizes the superior results when projects involve community ownership and participation. The TREC report cites a 2016 report published by the Community Energy Association, QUEST, and Sustainable Prosperity.  Community Energy Planning: The Value Proposition — Environmental, Health and Economic Benefits   reported that, for every $1 million invested in building energy efficiency retrofits, over 9 person-years of permanent employment would be created within the province of Ontario.  The  TREC  report also cites a 2014 study by Institute for Local Self Reliance, Advantage Local: Why Local Energy Ownership Matters,  which states that community owned projects in the U.S. generally generate twice the number of jobs as commercially-run projects.

The Link Between Good Jobs and a Low Carbon Future ,  released in June by the Don Vial Center on the Green Economy at Berkeley’s Labor Center , examines large-scale clean energy construction projects in California.  The key finding of the report is that these projects are creating high-paying, long-lasting blue-collar jobs, the majority of which are unionized.  The report provides data measuring the quantity of job creation, but also pension and health insurance contributions as well as apprenticeship enrollments for the period 2002 – 2015. The situation is credited  to California’s unique Renewables Portfolio Standard, which allows for  Project Labor Agreements ( PLA’s) between employers and building trades unions.  Read the summary here .

Ontario’s Green Energy Act: A job creation success

An Environmental Defence report Getting Fit: How Ontario Became A Green Energy Leader and Why It Needs to Stay the Course  counts the Green Energy Act of 2009 as an overall success, estimating that it has created 91,000 direct and indirect solar sector jobs and 89,000 direct and indirect wind sector jobs.  The report also provides results of an April 2016 opinion poll  commissioned by Environmental Defence, showing that 81 per cent of Ontarians support further development of renewable energy; 56 per cent see renewable energy as having a positive impact on the provincial economy, with only 19 per cent believing green energy will harm economic growth. The report also relies on calculations done by Power Advisory LLC to refute the frequent complaint about green energy policies: it states that new renewable energy additions accounted for just 9 per cent of the average resi­dential power bill in 2014, and that other generation sources (nuclear in particular) and costs for upgrading and expanding the province’s power transmission system represent a far larger proportion of the average monthly power bill.

Is Emissions Intensity, not Green Job Creation, the Best Metric of Greening Economies?

A research paper released in October by the University of Calgary provides yet another discussion of the difficulties of defining “green jobs”. The authors provide an up to date summary of studies which define or measure green jobs, and the cost of green job creation in Canada and the U.S., with special attention to Ontario’s Green Energy Act. The authors propose an alternative in the green job discussion: “We avoid the issue of “what is a green job” by considering dirty inputs (energy) and dirty outputs (greenhouse gas emissions) to evaluate the relative “greenness” of Canadian industries.” Their calculations rank the three most energy-intensive industries as 1) “Utilities”, 2) “Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting”, and 3) “Mining and Oil and Gas Extraction”. They conclude that, given the decrease in emission-intensity of these highly polluting industries, “it is highly likely that the utilities sector created far more green jobs than many of the other Canadian sectors.” It follows, in their analysis, that measuring and monitoring the greening of economies can be best accomplished by using the metric of greenhouse gas emission intensity.

LINK

Green Jobs Fantasy: Why the Economic and Environmental Reality can Never Live up to the Political Promise (Volume 6, Issue 31 of the University of Calgary School of Public Policy Research Paper Series) is at: http://www.policyschool.ucalgary.ca/?q=content/green-jobs-fantasy-why-economic-and-environmental-reality-can-never-live-political-promise

Ontario Green Energy Act Loses Final Appeal at WTO

The World Trade Organization has upheld its original decision and ruled that the domestic content regulations of Ontario’s Green Energy Act violate international trade law.  Existing contracts signed under the Act will continue, but the WTO decision calls for the Green Energy Act to be amended to remove the requirement for local production in future renewable energy contracts.   “Ontario loses final WTO appeal on Green Energy Act” by Shawn McCarthy, Globe and Mail (May 6) is at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/ontario-loses-final-wto-appeal-on-green-energy-act/article11731010/  .

A summary of the WTO proceedings, including a link to the review decision (file #WT/DS412), in English and French is available from the WTO at http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dispu_e/cases_e/ds412_e.htm  . The Council of Canadians reaction is at “Ontario urged to defy unreasonable WTO ruling against Green Energy Act” at http://www.canadians.org/media/trade/2013/06-May-13-2.html , and the United Steelworkers union also urges Ontario to continue to fight, stating that “This is just the latest example of trade agreements being used to override our sovereignty and our freedom to implement environmental and economic development initiatives.” (see press release at http://www.newswire.ca/en/story/1159683/wto-ruling-must-not-end-fight-for-green-jobs-steelworkers ).

The Ontario Ministry of Energy has not yet made a formal response to the decision; however, in a related announcement on May 6th, it announced a 6-month review of the regional energy planning process to be more inclusive of municipal and local input.  (See http://news.ontario.ca/mei/en/2013/05/new-ontario-government-strengthens-energy-planning.html ).

Fraser Institute Analysis Pans Ontario’s Green Energy Act

A Report released on April 11 by Canada’s Fraser Institute analyses Ontario’s Green Energy Act and finds no redeeming features. The report concludes that “Overall, GEA-related energy cost increases will yield a net loss of investment and employment in Ontario, in pursuit of environmental benefits that could have been obtained at a fraction of the cost.” The report was released by the Fraser Institute, whose defining goal is “a free and prosperous world through choice, markets and responsibility”. Read Environmental and Economic Consequences of Ontario’s Green Energy Act at: http://www.fraserinstitute.org/uploadedFiles/fraser-ca/Content/research-news/research/publications/environmental-and-economic-consequences-ontarios-green-energy-act.pdf