Export Development Canada continues to undermine climate change goals, using Covid-19 recovery to fund Coastal GasLink pipeline

Reforming Export Development Canada:  Climate-Related Risk Management and the Low Carbon Transition  is an important new report released on June 9,  commissioned by advocacy groups Above Ground and Oil Change International.  The report analysis was conducted by consultancy Horizon Advisors, who calculate that the crown corporation Export Development Canada (EDC) has provided roughly $45 billion in support for the oil and gas sector since 2016, compared to $7 billion for clean technology. “These investments not only undermine Canada’s international climate efforts but also increase EDC’s exposure to carbon risks.”  The report recommends that the government amend the Export Development Act to bar EDC from supporting any fossil fuel energy projects, including new fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines, and that the agency should “stress-test its investment decisions against Canada’s climate targets.”

The Reforming Export Development Canada report is not the first time EDC has been examined for its fossil-friendly investment strategy  and criticized for undermining Canada’s climate change progress. Oil Change International and Above Ground published  Risking it All: How Export Development Canada’s Support for Fossil Fuels Drives Climate Change in 2018,  which documents investments of more than $10 billion a year to oil and gas between 2012 and 2017 ( twelve times more support than it offered for clean technologies).

Fossil fuel companies cashing in on Covid-19 Recovery Funds in Canada and worldwide

RiskingItAllcoverDianne Saxe, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, cited the 2018 Risking it All report in her April 2020 Opinion piece in the National Observer, reacting to the federal $750 million Emissions Reduction  funding as part of the Covid-19 Recovery stimulus.  Environmental Defence voiced similar suspicions in their April response :  “… hidden inside this new law were changes that will make it easier for Canada’s export credit agency, Export Development Canada, to funnel billions more towards domestic oil and gas operations — without public scrutiny.”

And sure enough, following the recovery stimulus announcement,  in May EDC signed an agreement to loan up to $500 million to Coastal GasLink pipeline  – the same pipeline project which Wet’suwe’ten First Nations had blockaded, causing RCMP arrests which triggered Canada-wide solidarity  protests and crippling rail blockades  in Ontario and Quebec in the winter of 2020.  (And despite objections from the Wet’suwe’ten  Hereditary chiefs, reported in the Toronto Star ). “Meet Export Development Canada , the secretive crown agency financing the big oil bailout” (May 27) is a blog by Environmental Defense Canada, calling  out EDC investments and calling for greater transparency.

Oil Change International and Friends of the Earth U.S. address this ongoing issue Still-Digging-Cover-Image-pdf in  Still Digging: G20 Governments Continue to Finance the Climate Crisis , released on May 27.  From the Oil Change International Press release: “G20 countries have provided at least $77 billion a year in public finance to oil, gas and coal projects since the Paris Climate Agreement was reached. This government-backed support to fossil fuels from export credit agencies, development finance institutions, and multilateral development banks is more than three times what they are providing to clean energy. China, Japan, Canada, and South Korea are the largest providers of public finance to oil, gas, and coal, together making up over two-thirds of the G20 total.” The report is endorsed by Environmental Defense Canada and Climate Action Network Canada , among many others.

From Still Digging, a warning:

“with the health and livelihoods of billions at immediate risk from Covid-19, governments around the world are preparing public spending packages of a magnitude they previously deemed unthinkable.…. The fossil fuel sector was showing long-term signs of systemic decline before Covid-19 and has been quick to seize on this crisis with requests for massive subsidies and bailouts. We cannot afford for the wave of public finance that is being prepared for relief and recovery efforts to prop up the fossil fuel industry as it has in the past. Business as usual would exacerbate the next crisis—the climate crisis—that is already on our doorstep.”

EU €750 billion Recovery Plan announced to mixed reaction

In a speech before the European Parliament on May 27, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced an updated seven-year €1 trillion budget proposal and a €750 billion recovery plan for the European Union, focused on a green and digital economy.  Europe’s moment: Repair and Prepare for the next generation describes the major structure of the plan,  accompanied by  a 5-page Fact Sheet  which highlights “Next Generation EU”, the new recovery instrument.

The EU recovery strategy affirms a commitment to a European Green Deal and promises:

  • “A massive renovation wave of our buildings and infrastructure and a more circular economy, bringing local jobs;
  • Rolling out renewable energy projects, especially wind, solar and kick-starting a clean hydrogen economy in Europe;
  • Cleaner transport and logistics, including the installation of one million charging points for electric vehicles and a boost for rail travel and clean mobility in our cities and regions;
  • Strengthening the Just Transition Fund to support re-skilling, helping businesses create new economic opportunities.
  • Also, recovery goals include a short-term European Unemployment Reinsurance Scheme (SURE) will provide €100 billion to support workers and businesses;
  • A Skills Agenda for Europe and a Digital Education Action Plan will ensure digital skills for all EU citizens;
  • Fair minimum wages and binding pay transparency measures will help vulnerable workers, particularly women”;

Some European reactions to the proposals are compiled in the summary article “‘Do no harm’: EU recovery fund has green strings attached ” in Euractiv . More negative views come from  Climate Action Network Europe, which  calls the proposals “greenwashing” and in a more detailed press release  states:  “Despite repeated commitments by the European Commission to make the European Green Deal the blueprint of the recovery, the proposal still allows for money to be spent on supporting fossil fuels and is lifting climate spending targets in regional development funding, while the climate emergency would need a rapid phase-out of these polluting fuels and strong climate earmarking.”  

Friends of the Earth Europe had earlier released their own proposals for a European recovery plan, here ,  and reacted to the EU announcement on May 27 with  EU Recovery Package falls short of Building Back Better – which states:

“today’s package would not prevent investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure nor put conditions on bailing out polluting industries like airlines – leaving a gaping hole in achieving the aims of the European Green Deal. Nor are there conditions related to compliance with human rights, not paying out dividends, or buy-back of shares for companies that receive funding. …… The plan gives significant political support to the development of hydrogen, without stipulating that this comes from renewable electricity alone. This could open the door to more climate-damaging fossil fuels in our energy system. The Commission will direct welcome financial support to renovating buildings, creating jobs and cutting carbon; this will need to be backed by legislation to reduce energy poverty and ensure every home in Europe meets minimum efficiency standards. Friends of the Earth welcomes an increase in funds for the Just Transition Fund, and the focus on jobs and skills.”

In  “’Defining moment’ as EU executive pushes for €500bn in grants (May 27) The Guardian summarizes the proposals and focuses on the political fight ahead amongst EU members: For example, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, (a group called the “frugal four”), who want recovery funding to take the form of loans, not grants.  The potential financial and political wrangling is also the focus of the New York Times article, ” A €750 Billion Virus Recovery Plan Thrusts Europe Into a New Frontier” .  The Energy Mix  reported on North American reaction to a version of the EU proposals leaked by Bloomberg, in “EU’S massive green recovery plan includes 15-GW renewables tender, support for green hydrogen” (May 24).

Proposals for Canada’s Covid-19 recovery promised from a Task Force for a Resilient Recovery

A press release on May 19 announced the launch of a Task Force for a Resilient Recovery,  funded by private foundations and led by two research organizations: the Smart Prosperity Institute and the International Institute for Sustainable Development .  The Task Force promises to develop “actionable recommendations on how governments can help get Canadians back to work while also building a low-carbon and resilient economy” and will release their final report at the end of July 2020.

The Resilient Recovery website is available in English and French.  The websites already include the proposals of the two research organizations:  from the Smart Prosperity Institute – a 25-page “manual”   which provides a Framework  based on nine criteria, clustered in three categories: 1.  does the measure stimulate timely, lasting economic benefits and jobs? 2.  does the measure help the environment and support clean competitiveness? 3. is the measure equitable, implementable and feasible?

From the International Institute for Sustainable Development , a discussion which endorses the May 4  report from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University,  Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?. 

Who is involved in this Task Force? 

Members are listed at the website . In addition to Stewart Elgie of the Smart Prosperity Institute and Richard Florizone of the IISD,  there are fourteen, including Elizabeth Beale, former President and CEO of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council; Barbara Zvan, former Chief Risk & Strategy Officer for the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan; Don Forgeron, President and CEO of the Insurance Board of Canada;  Bruce Lourie, President, Ivey Foundation; James Meadowcroft, Professor, Carleton University; and Merran Smith, Executive Director, Clean Energy Canada.  The initiative is funded by the Jarislowsky Foundation, Ivey Foundation,  McConnell Foundation, Schad Foundation, and the Echo Foundation.

Notably, this Task Force is unrelated to the May 11 statement  which appeared in The Hill (May 11) from Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff and Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty. Describing their co-operative efforts in the Covid-19 crisis, they continue:  “we are calling on the federal government to strike a task force to develop recommendations on how to reboot the economy. The sheer scale of these decisions requires a variety of perspectives, not least of which will be accommodating the varied needs of the vastly diverse sectors. When it comes time for recovery, we will need broad engagement with governments, labour, businesses both large and small across sectors, public health experts, Indigenous groups, non-profits and academics.”

Disaster capitalism in Alberta – oil and gas producers exempted from emissions reporting, testing for methane leaks

Although the Green Party of Canada has stirred up the hornet’s nest of oil politics in Canada by the “Oil is Dead” statement in May,  Alberta Premier Jason Kenney  continues to reject that idea, in word and deed.  Since the onset of Covid-19,  Alberta environmental rollbacks have been described as a textbook case of “disaster capitalism” and the government has been accused of “out-Trumping Trump . In April, the Alberta government made amendments to the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, Water Act, Public Lands Act and the newly implemented Technology Innovation and Emissions Regulations  – providing exemptions to oil and gas operators from reporting air quality emissions from smokestacks, tailings ponds, transportation and dust until Dec. 31, 2020.  Amendments to the Oil and Gas Conservation Act and the Pipeline Act could allow the Orphan Well Association to use federal and provincial emergency relief funds to  produce and sell oil from abandoned wells and operate abandoned pipelines.  Professor Saun Fluker summarizes the changes in a University of Calgary Faculty of Law blog post, “COVID-19 and the Suspension of Energy Reporting and Well Suspension Requirements in Alberta” (April 10). A broader analysis by two academics from the University of Guelph appears in “Disaster capitalism: Coronavirus crisis brings bailouts, tax breaks and lax environmental rules to oilsands”  (April 29, The Conversation), and Sharon Riley has written an  in-depth article , “8 environmental responsibilities Alberta can skip”  (The Narwhal, April 27).  Randy Christensen of Ecojustice has also written a brief article, “Warning: disaster capitalism”, which argues that “the governments of Alberta and Ontario have now made moves that are more far-reaching and potentially riskier”  than the Trump EPA roll-backs announced in March.  The reference to Ontario is based on the Ontario government’s April 1 regulation which temporarily suspends public consultation under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights. And Newfoundland could also be considered for the list, according to “Newfoundland offshore drilling: a case of bending environmental impact rules” (National Observer, April 3) .

On May 6, the Edmonton Journal  and the Toronto Star  reported further exemptions by the Alberta government:  from the Star:   “A decision by the Alberta Energy Regulator in May, means that Imperial Oil, Suncor, Syncrude and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. don’t have to perform much of the testing and monitoring originally required in their licences – including monitoring of  most ground and surface water; most wildlife and bird monitoring, and a reduction of air quality monitoring – with the suspension of testing for methane leaks.”    The Star article argues that many of the changes correspond closely to the demands made  by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) in March in a 13-page letter sent to federal ministers: Covid-19 Crisis Response – Actions Required regarding federal Policy and  Regulations .  Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada is quoted in The Star,  saying he “isn’t aware of any other jurisdiction in the world that has gone as far as Alberta to roll back environmental protections during the pandemic, including the United States under President Donald Trump.”

On May 7, Vice  published “What the hell is going on in Alberta?”, with this opening statement: “It’s safe to say Alberta is in crisis.”

B.C.’s Covid-19 economic recovery plans, and safety, WCB coverage for workers

“What Kind of Recovery Economy Is BC Planning to Build?” appeared in The Tyee (May 6)  discussing the British Columbia Economic Recovery Task Force, appointed in early April.  The article points out that the 19-member Task Force lacks any representation from environmental advocacy groups – although Laird Cronk, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour was appointed, along with the leaders of major business and community organizations, in addition to the Premier, cabinet ministers, and senior BC emerging economies taks forcecivil servants. The province also consults with their Climate Solutions Advisory Council, and on May 11, released the Final Report of the  Emerging Economies Task Force, appointed in 2018.  The press release affirms that it “will also be a valuable resource to help inform the province’s COVID-19 pandemic economic recovery”, despite the fact that it was submitted to the government in March 2020, and so pre-dates the Covid-19 crisis.  One of its five strategic priorities  of the Emerging Economies report is titled “Leveraging B.C.’s Green Economy”.

Worker safety as the economy re-opens

On May 6, Premier Horgan announced  Phase 2 , a cautious re-opening the economy. Responsibility for the safe opening and operation of workplaces is delegated to WorkSafe B.C., whose media release states: “As employers prepare to resume operations, they will need to have a safety plan in place that assesses the risk of COVID-19 transmission in their workplace, and develops measures to reduce these risks. This planning process must involve workers as much as possible to ensure their concerns are heard and addressed — this includes frontline workers, supervisors, Joint Health and Safety Committees, and/or worker representatives.” WorkSafeB.C. will issue industry-specific guidance and promises consultation with workers and employers; their general resources for Covid-19 return to work is here

The B.C. Federation of Labour  reacted on May 11 to the announcement that the Workers Compensation Board will add COVID-19 to Schedule 1 of the Workers Compensation Act, thereby granting “presumptive coverage” and expediting workers’ claims.  According to the B.C. Fed, there were  317 COVID-19-related WCB claims in B.C. as of April 29. The B.C. Fed had advocated for the enhanced WCB protection, as well as for the enhanced sick leave protections and $1,000 tax-free provincial Emergency Benefit for Workers, announced in March.

Related Note: On May 7, the Vancouver Just Recovery Coalition  released a statement signed by community, advocacy groups and unions, stating:   “As our federal, provincial and municipal governments begin to strategize on their post-COVID recovery and rebuilding strategies, we need to prioritize those most impacted, ensuring that our economic recovery lessens existing inequalities, respects Indigenous rights, and tackles the climate emergency. The pre-COVID status quo was failing too many people. ”

 

Canadian academics, experts describe plans for a Green Recovery after Covid-19

An April 28 Opinion piece in the New York Times makes an eloquent statement which summarizes global calls for a green recovery from the pandemic.   In “A Time to Save the Sick and Rescue the Planet”  António Guterres,  Secretary General of the United Nations, writes: “ Addressing climate change and Covid-19 simultaneously and at enough scale requires a response stronger than any seen before to safeguard lives and livelihoods. A recovery from the coronavirus crisis must not take us just back to where we were last summer. It is an opportunity to build more sustainable and inclusive economies and societies — a more resilient and prosperous world.” He proposes a 6-point plan, stating:  “As we spend trillions to recover from Covid-19, we must deliver new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition. Investments must accelerate the decarbonization of all aspects of our economy….Where taxpayers’ money rescues businesses, it must be creating green jobs and sustainable and inclusive growth. It must not be bailing out outdated polluting, carbon-intensive industries….Fiscal firepower must shift economies from gray to green, making societies and people more resilient through a transition that is fair to all and leaves no one behind……Looking forward, public funds should invest in the future, by flowing to sustainable sectors and projects that help the environment and climate. Fossil fuel subsidies must end and polluters must pay for their pollution.”

Calls for a Green Recovery in Canada

The state of the federal government’s Green Recovery planning is described in an article in La PresseTrudeau misera sur une «relance verte» après la crise” (April 22, French only), summarized in English by the Energy Mix as “Guilbeault, McKenna and Wilkinson assigned to chart post-Covid green recovery” (April 26). It states that “planning for the “green reboot” is still in its earliest stages” – giving experts time to weigh in on strategies.

One of the latest Green Recovery visions came on May 7, when a group of 50 academics sent an Open Letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and three ministers, called “Springing Canada Forward”. It sets out key principles “to guide investments that can future-proof our economies against climate catastrophe. Investments should link job creation and green infrastructure. They should include funding for both initial capital and long-term operations. COVID-19 has acutely highlighted that social inequalities threaten Canada’s resilience. Thus, investments should include principles of equity, diversity and inclusion and be consistent with Indigenous rights. Finally, to support an evidence-based approach, pilot projects, experimentation, rigorous testing and evaluation should be built into all major post-COVID investments.”   Specifically, the Open Letter calls for leveraging the existing programs of the Infrastructure Canada (with its formal “climate lens”) and the national Housing Strategy,  thus calling for  a transition to low-carbon energy, green infrastructure investment, and a national program of whole house energy retrofits.

In a surprisingly detailed statement regarding workers’ issues, the Open Letter states:

 “Facilitating the development of a climate-literate construction workforce should be a key part of Canada’s recovery investments en route to a low-carbon economy. High-quality, low-carbon construction requires a workplace culture that emphasizes reducing energy consumption. Major investments in developing new and upgraded climate-related construction skills is a key opportunity to expand equity, diversity and inclusion in the workforce while promoting greener practices and technologies. If climate literacy is an integral part of workers’ training, the industry can establish new skill requirements to ensure that newly trained workers can find the good quality jobs they expect and have the capacity to effectively contribute to Canada’s climate objectives. Upskilling workforces must address violence against women and open the road to take advantage of the important contributions that Indigenous workers and women can make to the green new economy.”

The Open Letter is summarized by  the National Observer in “Use pandemic to ‘future-proof’ against climate crisis, academic group urges”  (May 8).

Other Expert statements on Canada’s Green Recovery

The Institute for Climate Choices is publishing articles in  an ongoing COVID-19 Recovery series, beginning with “Climate policy in the long shadow of Covid-19”  by Dave Sawyer . Other articles include:  “Well and good” ( a reaction to the federal relief funding for orphan well clean-up in the oil sands);  “When Disasters collide”  (Apr. 8) and “When Disasters Collide: the Sequel” (Apr. 14) .

The journal Policy Options is publishing articles under the category,  The Coronavirus pandemic: Canada’s Response  . A few examples from the dozens of articles:  “Economy and climate need more than stimulus” written by Brendan Haley,  published in Policy Options (April 27) , which states: “…  the clean economy sector requires patient, long-term capital focused on earning returns from productivity improvements and environmental benefits. For a real recovery, capital needs to be funnelled towards building things instead of short-term speculation.” Haley reiterates Jim Stanford’s April call in “We’re Going to need a Marshall Plan to rebuild after Covid-19(April 2)  and continues: “… The Canada Infrastructure Bank could lead a national clean energy investment strategy. But it would need to take a more transformative view of green infrastructure, which includes zero-carbon buildings and other decentralized energy technologies. If the Infrastructure Bank is not the right vehicle, policy-makers should create new institutions, …. Expending the policy effort to create a Canadian climate investment bank makes good sense if the objective is to lay the foundation for the next decades of economic prosperity rather than solely providing short-term stimulus.” Most recently, “A Deep Retrofit of Homes and Buildings is the megaproject Canada needs”  by Tom-Pierre Frappé-Sénéclauze  (May 8).

The Canada we want: How a green recovery can help us bounce back stronger” in Corporate Knights (April 15) introduces their “Build Back Stronger” series of articles which will be published from April 22 to June 3, here . Among them,  “Building Back Better with a green renovation wave” – a roadmap for retrofitting policy, by Ralph Torrie and Celine Bak ; “To invest in a green power infrastructure, we’ll need to re-boot Canada’s electricity markets” by Pierre-Olivier Pineau.

Dan Woynillowicz  lays out a framework for  “How Canada can build back better” (April 17) at the Clean Energy Canada website, envisioning three stages: 1. our current relief stage, 2. a stimulus stage (with the goal is to kickstart the economy), and 3.  a recovery stage (characterized by “continued government efforts to rebuild the economy, building on and expanding stimulus efforts to ensure sustained and sustainable economic activity.”) He concludes:

“The COVID-19 pandemic, like climate change, isn’t a “black swan” event but a “gray rhino”  (“highly obvious, highly probable, but still neglected dangers”). Risk expert Michele Wucker, who came up with the “gray rhino” metaphor, notes that “it matters immensely that decision-makers view risks as gray rhinos instead of obsess in vain about black swans, because we can see gray rhinos in front of us, but black swans by definition only appear in the rearview window. That means we have a chance to do something about gray rhinos. And, in fact, most so-called black swans happen because people ignored the gray rhinos.

The gray rhino of climate change clearly stands before us.”

U.K. proposals for a green recovery after Covid-19

A widely-reported study by economists at Oxford University seeks to identify fiscal policies which will best lead the world to post-Covid economic recovery, while also leading to a net-zero economy.  Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?  was published on May 4 as a Working Paper by the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University, (forthcoming as an article in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy). Lead authors Cameron Hepburn and Brian O’Callaghan are joined by economic heavy-weights such as Nicholas Stern and Joseph Stiglitz, among others. The paper states: “The climate emergency is like the COVID-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver. Both involve market failures, externalities, international cooperation, complex science, questions of system resilience, political leadership, and action that hinges on public support. Decisive state interventions are also required to stabilise the climate, by tipping energy and industrial systems towards newer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper modes of production that become impossible to outcompete.”

The authors identified over 700 fiscal stimulus policies used since the 2008 financial crisis – both climate-friendly and not – and distilled these down to 25 archetypal policies. They then  surveyed the reactions of 231 senior economists and financial experts from over 50 countries to these archetypal policies, and identified the  five “with high potential on both economic multiplier and climate impact metrics: clean physical infrastructure, building efficiency retrofits, investment in education and training, natural capital investment, and clean R&D. In lower- and middle income countries (LMICs) rural support spending is of particular value while clean R&D is less important.”

An informal summary of this report, written by the two lead authors, appears as Leading economists: Green coronavirus recovery also better for economy” at Carbon Brief (May 5). Other coverage includes “Green Stimulus can repair global economy and climate, study says”  (The Guardian, May 5);

Also on May 4, the Smith School released a companion Working Paper  “A net-zero emissions economic recovery from COVID-19”  which discusses the differences between the 2008 financial crisis and the economic damage of the  Covid-19 pandemic. It  builds on the paper by Hepburn et al., and makes 10 specific recommendations for a U.K. green stimulus package, with strategies clustered around:

  1.  Large-scale investment (including Transforming energy generation, storage and distribution; transforming industrial energy usage, especially  in the energy-intensive industrial sectors (steel, cement, ceramics, chemicals, pulp and paper) ; high-speed broadband internet connectivity to embed working from home practices ; investment in nature-based solutions for disaster resiliency.
  2.  Accelerate investment in high-sustainability impact technologies
  3.  Incentivize individual-level change – in transportation, home energy efficiency, and job training for green economy jobs
  4. Make Bailouts conditional on a legal commitment and a pathway and timeline to net-zero emissions, particularly for fossil fuel intensive industries such as airlines.

The paper concludes with proposals for institutional structures to implement these policies, including a Climate Change Emergency Committee and a Net Zero Delivery Body in the U.K. , and perhaps most remarkably, proposes an international Sustainable Recovery Alliance (SRA) to be launched at COP 26. The purpose: to act  “As a flexible “coalition of the willing” outside of the UNFCCC architecture, the group would promote a shared vision of a sustainable recovery.”

committee on climate change

And on May 6, the existing U.K. Committee on Climate Change issued a press release announcing its Letter to the Prime Minister, setting out six key principles to for a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The principles call for fairness to be embedded as a core principle,  a shift to new behaviours such as cycling and working from home, the possibility of raising carbon taxes, and,  “Support for carbon-intensive sectors should be contingent on them taking real and lasting action on climate change, and all new investments need to be resilient to future climate risks.”

Blue skies from locked-down economies are fleeting – we still need strong policies to reduce carbon emissions

A statement from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on Earth Day estimates that the pandemic will result in a six per cent drop in carbon emissions in 2020 , but warned “COVID-19 may result in a temporary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but it is not a substitute for sustained climate action”.  The full WMO Statement on Global Climate Change continues …. “We need to show the same determination and unity against climate change as against COVID-19. We need to act together in the interests of the health and welfare of humanity not just for the coming weeks and months, but for many generations ahead.”

Scientists are speaking out against the “good news” approach of highlighting clear skies as a silver lining in the Covid crisis. Kate Marvel, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University, writes “I am a mad scientist” , calling for bolder climate change action, and stating  :

“I’m angry at the very idea that there might be a silver lining in all this. There is not. Carbon dioxide is so long-lived in the atmosphere that a small decrease in emissions will not register against the overwhelming increase since the start of the Industrial Revolution. All this suffering will not make the planet any cooler. If the air quality is better now, if fewer people die from breathing in pollution, this is not a welcome development so much as an indictment of the way things were before. “

U.K. financial consultants MSCI express similar thoughts from an economic viewpoint in “Will coronavirus reduce emissions long term? .  “This modeled decline in 2020 emissions does not necessarily indicate a structural change to our current world economy. The estimated emission levels are still comparable to those observed over the past five years, and the economy could readily rebound, returning emissions to prior levels. China already increased its industrial output when their quarantine began to slowly lift. Once Europe and the U.S. lift lockdowns and reopen borders, travel, commuting and economic output could return to “normal” levels. Thus, the projected decrease in global emissions could be short-lived. If so, the risk climate change poses to countries, companies and investors has not dissipated. A much more visible and immediate crisis has simply overshadowed it.”

Researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute are interviewed in “COVID-19 pandemic raises new questions about the health impacts of air pollution”  and explain how  encouraging pictures of blue skies do not reflect the complexities of air pollution. The article, importantly, also seeks to counter the mis-impression that reduced economic activity is necessary to reduce air pollution, by pointing to the more important policy measures in many countries, including Canada, which have been improved air quality and human health without compromising economic growth.

Criticism of oil and gas stimulus funds in Canada’s Covid Economic Response Plan

Canadians were generally relieved and positive when Prime Minister Trudeau announced the energy-related provisions of the federal Covid-19 Economic Response Plan  on April 17,  with this statement: “Just because we’re in a health crisis, doesn’t mean we can neglect the environmental crisis.”  The economic stimulus included $1.72 billion to clean up orphan or inactive wells in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, which the government claims “ will help maintain approximately 5,200 jobs in Alberta alone.” The second initiative is $750 million to create an “Emissions Reduction Fund” to help oil and gas companies meet federal methane-reduction standards.  The announcement is summarized in a CBC report  and an article in the National Observer , which also summarizes some of the generally positive reactions from environmental groups. Press releases by  Stand.earth and Clean Energy Canada reflect that generally-held relief that the government had resisted the extensive lobbying from Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) – as outlined in a memo leaked by  Environmental Defence Canada –  and appeared to have listened to the voices of Canada’s clean energy advocates.

An April 17 press release from Climate Action Network Canada embodies a more cautious reaction:

“While we acknowledge and appreciate what this cash infusion achieves – stimulating the economy through well-paying work, while repairing ecosystems damaged by oil and gas operations – we expect to see the federal government hold companies accountable by making enforcement of existing regulations meant to require those companies to clean up orphaned materials and restore land and waterways a condition of its support to the government of Alberta. We will be watching how fiscal measures available through Export Development Canada (EDC) and Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) will further support the government’s stated commitment to using COVID-relief public money  to move Canada further along its path to a more sustainable and resilient net-zero economic future.”

Many of these same concerns appear in an Opinion piece by Dianne Saxe, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, “Canada’s murky bail-out deal for oil and gas will cost us all”  (in the National Observer, April 21) . Saxe begins with: “it is shameful that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using your tax dollars to bail out the oil and gas exploration and production industry, perhaps the wealthiest and most polluting industry in human history.”  She credits the “one good program” to be the $200 million loan to Alberta’s Orphan Well Association because it is structured as a loan, to be repaid under the oversight of a special committee which will include local and Indigenous representatives. As for the $750 million Emissions Reduction  funding, Saxe criticizes the terms as unclear, and objects to the roles of the Alberta government, the Export Development Corporation and the Business Development Bank of Canada whose previous oil-friendly financial record she documents.

Finally, Saxe objects to the lost opportunity – suggesting other, more impactful ways to spend the economic funds, and stating:

“These multi-billion dollar bailouts …. are one of the most expensive and polluting ways of protecting jobs. As well as their mountain of debt, the oil and gas extraction industry creates a puny 2.7 jobs per million dollars of output, while pumping out 704 tonnes of greenhouse gases for each full-time job.”

This job creation estimate is based on research by Eric Miller, in an unpublished presentation: The Pandemic from an Ecological Economics perspective: Assessing consequences and appraising policy options (March 31 2020). More related resources are here  .

Communicating climate change in the world of Covid-19 – strategies from social scientists, and the role of journalism

As stated in an editorial, “The Guardian view on the climate and coronavirus: global warnings” ( April 12) ,  “Could the renewed shock of human vulnerability in the face of Covid-19 make way for an increased willingness to face other perils, climate chaos among them?  Impossible to say at this stage, perhaps. …. But with the postponement of crucial UN biodiversity and climate conferences, it has never been more important to keep up the pressure. There is no exit strategy from our planet.”

What do the social scientists recommend?

Much attention has been focused on the pivot which climate activists must make to replace protests with virtual organizing – for example, in “How To Be A Climate Activist During The Coronavirus Pandemic” (HuffPost Mar. 20).  But does the messaging also need to change?   “Communicating climate change during the coronavirus crisis – what the evidence says” ( April 14) offers advice in a blog  based on extensive social science research into climate change communication, conducted by Climate Outreach,

“A few things are clear: a key starting point must be emphasising communal values of compassion and mutual support. It’s also critically important to challenge assumptions about what we think we know, and to ensure climate advocates don’t open themselves up to ‘ambulance chasing’ accusations.”

Although moments of life-changing shift (such as the “shock of human vulnerability” cited in The Guardian editorial) have proven make people more open to changing behaviours, Climate Outreach notes that after traumatic events, people also have a need to get back to normal. With a clear possibility that human society may be entering a period of months and years of disruption on many fronts – health, economy, and even food supply – the blog argues that two futures are possible: an increased emphasis on communal values and the public good, or  a society accepting of authoritarian values which erect barriers against perceived threats.  The conclusion:  “This points ever more strongly to the importance that climate campaigners emphasise the communal values of compassion and mutual support in a time of crisis.”

Climate Outreach plans to publish a practical, evidence-based guide on how to communicate about climate change during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis by the end of May, using the model of their previous guides, such as their #Talking Climate Handbook  (Dec. 2019).

A recent review of the research on behavioural adaptation to climate change also identifies the importance of collective behaviours over individual action – the original article,  “From incremental to transformative adaptation in individual responses to climate-exacerbated hazards” , appears in  Nature Climate Change (Feb. 2020); a brief summary appears here.  The authors, from Ohio State University, found that that most academic studies have examined coping strategies of individuals or households in the face of isolated hazards such as floods or fires.  Lead author Robyn Wilson is quoted here, saying “If we want to really adapt to climate change, we’re talking about transformational change that will truly allow society to be resilient in the face of these increasing hazards. We’re focused on the wrong things and solving the wrong problems.”

 

Climate change media amid the Covid-19 crisis

covering climate now2As he does regularly as part of the Covering Climate Now  global initiative, author Mark Hertsgaard, executive director of CCN,  compiles major climate change stories. On March 25, he wrote “COVID-19 and the media’s climate coverage capabilities” , which states: “the media’s snapping to attention on coronavirus throws its coverage of the climate crisis into sharp relief. The press has never treated the climate story with anywhere near this level of attention or urgency.”   On April 8, he continued his critique in  “Silence of the climate watchdogs” which states :

“The solution is not for newsrooms to stop covering the coronavirus story. It is to expand their definition of what qualifies as a coronavirus story to include profiteering from the pandemic, whether financially or politically. That’s exactly the kind of impropriety the press’s watchdog function is supposed to expose and inhibit, and there are plenty of dogs capable of fulfilling that function. It’s high time more of them start barking.”

The Columbia Journalism Review hosts the Covering Climate Now global initiative. Its  Spring issue  is titled The Story of Our Time , written principally by and for journalists. It provides insights into the state of climate journalism, and also reflects their personal and professional experiences– for example, “Good Grief” by Emily Atkin, who recounts how  her own frustrations in the mainstream media led her to start her own independent news outlet, Heated  in 2019, with the byline ”for those who are pissed off about climate change” .

The introduction to The Story of Our Time  sums up the recurring themes throughout all the articles and reflects the militancy of a growing number of climate journalists:

“We have reached a turning point for journalism and the planet. Old ideas that had dampened our attention to climate change—that the subject was too polarizing or too complicated or a money-loser—have been proven wrong. Old forms of storytelling—fast, without helping readers draw crucial connections—are not what’s needed to confront the crisis we face. We owe it to our audience, and our conscience, to be more thoughtful. Climate change is the story of our time. Journalism will be judged by how it chronicles the devastating reality.”

New European and global alliances launch, calling for Just Recovery economic plans after Covid-19

In an Open Letter  signed in the first week of April,  the environment and climate change Ministers of eleven European Union countries call for the European Green New Deal to be central to the post-pandemic economic recovery plans of the EU.  By April 14, that initiative was boosted by the launch of a larger Green Recovery Alliance, including over 70 Members of the European Parliament and civil society groups, including  CEO’s, business associations, NGO’s, think tanks, and the European Trade Union Confederation.  In its 4-page Green Recovery Call to Action, the Alliance acknowledges the urgency of the Covid-19 health crisis,  and states:

 “After the crisis, the time will come to rebuild. This moment of recovery will be an opportunity to rethink our society and develop a new model of prosperity. This new model will have to answer to our needs and priorities.These massive investments must trigger a new European economic model: more resilient, more protective,more sovereign and more inclusive. All these requirements lie in an economy built around Green principles. Indeed, the transition to a climate-neutral economy, the protection of biodiversity and the transformation of agri-food systems have the potential to rapidly deliver jobs, growth and improve the way of life of all citizens worldwide, and to contribute to building more resilient societies…… “Projects such as the European Green Deal, and other national zero carbon development plans have a huge potential to build back our economy and contribute to creating a new prosperity model. We therefore consider that we need to prepare Europe for the future, and design recovery plans, both at the local, national and at the EU level, enshrining the fight against climate change as the core of the economic strategy. The time has come to turn these plans into actions and investments that will change the life of citizens and contribute to the quick recovery of our economies and our societies.”  [emphasis by the WCR editor].

This European initiative is consistent with a worldwide movement for a Just Recovery from Covid-19, co-ordinated by 350.org.  In the U.S., this is allied with the People’s Bailout movementdescribed in a previous WCR post  , and sharing the same five principles.   The #Just Recovery Open Letter states:

“ We, the undersigned organisations, call for a global response to COVID-19 to contribute to a just recovery. Responses at every level must uphold these five principles:

  1. Put people’s health first, no exceptions.
  2. Provide economic relief directly to the people.
  3. Help our workers and communities, not corporate executives.
  4. Create resilience for future crises.
  5. Build solidarity and community across borders – do not empower authoritarians.”

Both the European and Global movements are described in “Pairing ‘Green Deal’ With ‘Just Recovery’ in EU, Groups Embrace Tackling COVID-19 and Climate Emergency in Tandem”  in Common Dreams (April 10).  The newsletter Euractiv describes the European initiative in ‘Green recovery alliance’ launched in European Parliament (April 14) .

Clean energy can drive Canada’s economic recovery

The oil and gas industry is in an unprecedented crisis, as explained in an April 1 blog by the International Energy Agency: “The global oil industry is experiencing a shock like no other in its history” .  Yet on March 31, in what Common Dreams calls “a shameful new  low”,  the Alberta government announced a $1.5 Billion cash infusion to “kickstart” the Keystone XL Pipeline. Ian Hussey of the Parkland Institute reacted with “Alberta’s Keystone XL investment benefits oil companies more than Albertans” (April 2).  Bill McKibben reacted with outrage in “In the Midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Construction Is Set to Resume on the Keystone Pipeline”  in The New Yorker .  McKibben subsequently surveys the situation in Canada and the U.S. in “Will the Coronavirus Kill the Oil Industry?” in the New Yorker .

As the Canadian federal government continues to formulate its economic recovery plan Covid-19, loud calls are coming to invest in clean energy, not oil and gas

The International Energy Agency provides factual rationale for the push for a cleaner recovery,  in “Put clean energy at the heart of stimulus plans to counter the coronavirus crisis”.  On April 3,  an Open Letter from Canada’s clean energy sector associations was sent to the federal government, calling for a “Resilient Recovery”, and emphasizing the job creation potential of the clean economy sector – (estimated pre-Pandemic as employing  559,400 Canadians by 2030) . 

Also on April 3, a virtual rally of  56,000 people was organized by Stand.earth as part of a Bail out People not Polluters campaignsummarized by the Energy Mix.  Quotes published by Stand.earth sum up the arguments:

“… Canadians will not accept a sweetheart deal for oil company execs and shareholders to protect Big Oil’s bottom line, and prop up a sunset industry. We need every single public dollar available to save lives, support communities and rebuild a cleaner, more resilient future….Because that other crisis—climate change—hasn’t gone anywhere. In this moment, when the global economy has been shuttered in humanity’s collective battle against COVID-19, governments must seize the opportunity to change course when it starts back up again. To put people back to work building massive solar and wind farms, not pipelines. To invest in the jobs of the future, not the jobs of the past.”

Earlier Canadian “No Bailout” voices are summarized in a previous WCR article , which highlights the Open Letters sent to the federal government by civil society groups and academics.   A selection of more recent calls include:  “Morneau, provinces must apply climate lens to COVID-19 recovery efforts” in iPolitics (April 9); “Pandemic response should mobilize around low carbon solutions” by Mitchell Beer in Policy Options (Mar. 26)  ;  “Let’s come out of COVID-19 with a new economy” an Opinion piece by Merran Smith and  Dan Woynillowicz in The National Observer (April 8) ; “Green stimulus offers Canada a way forward for escaping the next recession” (March 26) and “Ottawa’s bail-outs need to help airline and oil and gas sectors grow greener” (April 8),  both by Sustainable Prosperity.

Last word to Jim Stanford, in  “We’re going to need a Marshall Plan to rebuild after Covid-19 ”  in Policy Options (April 2):

“…. With the price of Western Canada Select oil falling to close to zero … it is clear that fossil fuel developments will never lead Canadian growth again. Politicians and their “war rooms” can rage at this state of affairs, but they can’t change it: they might as well pray for a revival in prices for beaver pelts or other bygone Canadian staple exports. However, the other side of this gloomy coin is the enormous investment and employment opportunity associated with building out renewable energy systems and networks (which are now the cheapest energy option anyway). This effort must be led by forceful, consistent government policy, including direct regulation and public investment (in addition to carbon pricing). Another big job creator, already identified by Ottawa and Alberta, will be investment in remediation of former petroleum and mining sites.”

New climate change research network launches, saying climate won’t wait for the pandemic to end

A new network of university researchers launched on April 2: the International Universities Climate Alliance (IUCA) .  The  network will  showcase climate change research from 40 universities in 18 countries , with a wide range of disciplinary expertise, including engineering, economics, law, social science and planning, as well as climate science.

With a website tag line, “Collaborating for Climate Impact”, the IUCA states in its  official press release :

“Alliance members are to work together to identify the most effective ways to communicate research-based facts related to climate change to the public. Members will engage in work across climate change science, impact, mitigation strategies and adaptation.”

The network is spearheaded by the University of New South Wales,Sydney, and also includes the California Institute of Technology, Cornell University, the University of Edinburgh, King’s College London, the Sorbonne, and from Australia, University of Melbourne and Monash University as well as the UNSW. From Canada, only McGill University in Montreal is included so far in the full list of member universities, here .  A deliberate strategy was to include universities from emerging economies in the group.

The decision to launch now, amidst the “information saturation” of Covid-19 was explained in a press release from the University of New South Wales:

“This new platform is needed now more than ever as the world grapples with providing a coordinated approach to tackling climate change. …Notwithstanding current urgencies around the COVID-19 pandemic, the alliance members decided not to delay the formation of the alliance due to the pressing and ongoing need to accelerate climate change mitigation and improve decision making.”

That theme is expanded in  a related  press release on April 1, titled simply: Climate change mitigation can’t wait for Covid-19 to play out.

An expanding role for experts

The experts in the new International Universities Climate Alliance (IUCA) may benefit from the important and highly visible role of scientific experts in the fight against the pandemic.  Lesson #1 in Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood’s blog,  6 lessons for climate action from Canada’s COVID-19 response is “Listen to scientists.”  He argues: “At every stage of this pandemic, the public narrative and the associated policy response has largely been guided by epidemiologists and public health officials. ….Yet climate scientists are still sidelined in the public discourse and climate policy is still guided more by short-term political considerations than physical evidence. The climate crisis demands a more central role for climate science.”

Another  recent comment  in After the Coronavirus, Two Sharply Divergent Paths on Climate”  from Yale350 (April 7)  states: “Some policy experts are optimistic that victory over the coronavirus will instill greater appreciation for what government, science, and business can do to tackle climate change. But others believe the economic damage caused by the virus will set back climate efforts for years to come.” The article outlines the two approaches, with a general view that the politics of the U.S. may continue to conspire against informed fight against climate change, while the EU will continue to follow a more evidence-driven path. 

Labour’s role in pandemic response – now and in the future 

As the world reacts to the urgent and terrible demands of the global pandemic, the labour movement is also on crisis footing as it fights for health and income protection for workers in the short term.   An earlier WCR post describes the Covid-19 Resource Centre maintained by the Canadian Labour Congress, which compiles links and documents by Canadian unions – much of it focused on the immediate information needed by individual workers. Unions are also advocating at the national and provincial levels for improved income supports, employment insurance, guaranteed sick leave for the short term crisis, as well as for sustainable long term economic solutions. The Covid19HELP_Demands_ftWorkers’ Action Centre and the Fight for $15 and Fairness in Ontario issued a press  release on March 26,  in response to the federal benefits announcement . The complete statement of demands appears in Covid-19: Health Emergency Labour Protections: Urgent comprehensive action is needed to protect workers, communities . Such lobbying and organizing has resulted in a number of emergency-related changes to legislated employment standards across Canada, as described by  Michael Fitzgibbon in  “The Right to Refuse in a COVID-19 World” in the Canadian Law of Work Forum (March 27) .

In the United States, the Labor Network for Sustainability provides information on rank and file reactions to Covid-19. On April 2,   Jeremy Brecher’s Strike column, ” Strike for your Life”  summarizes how U.S. and Italian workers are protesting and walking out due to lack of workplace protections.  Brecher’s column cites many U.S. examples, expanding on Steven Greenhouse’s article in the New York Times: “Is Your Grocery Delivery Worth a Worker’s Life? ” (Mar. 30). Brecher also summarizes and  cites “The Italian workers fighting like hell to shut down their workplaces” (Mar. 24) .  Other overviews of U.S. union actions are:  “Walkouts Spread as Workers Seek Coronavirus Protections” in Labor Notes (Mar. 26);  “The Strike Wave Is in Full Swing: Amazon, Whole Foods Workers Walk Off Job to Protest Unjust and Unsafe Labor Practices” in Common Dreams (Mar. 30); and “The New Labor Movement” (Axios, April 1). 

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)  has compiled Pandemic News from Unions around the world, including their own documents and those of international affiliates.  The ITUC  also  published 12 governments show the world how to protect lives,  jobs and incomes  (updated March 30), which ranks the policies of  Argentina, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and the UK on their pandemic policies related to paid sick leave, income support, wage support, mortgage, rent or loan relief, and free health care .

After the pandemic subsides

Larry Savage and Simon Black, professors at Brock University, are pessimistic that short term gains will survive a return to “business as usual” in Canada. In  “Coronavirus crisis poses risks and opportunities for unions” in The Conversation, they reference Naomi Klein’s theory in The Shock Doctrine to argue: “Moving forward, unions are likely to find it incredibly difficult to negotiate gains for their members who will be expected to “share the pain” of an economic recession not of their making” – even public sector workers such as health care workers.  To avoid being branded as selfish, Savage and Black urge unions to: “become champions of converting new temporary income supports, social protections and employment standards into permanent measures designed to rebuild Canada’s tattered social safety net…. oppose bailouts of big corporations that don’t also bail out workers and give employees more say over how industries deemed “too big to fail” are run…. continue to lead the resistance to service cuts and demands to privatize health-care services..”

Other recent articles also emphasize the importance of protecting the voice of workers in the post-pandemic world.  Thomas Kochan  , Professor and Co-Director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research  has written that  “By working together in these ways in this time of crisis, business and labor might just lay the groundwork for building a new social contract that fills the holes in the social safety net and forges relationships that will serve society well in the future.” His article,  “Workers left out of government and business response to the coronavirus” appeared in The Conversation (U.S. edition) (March 20).

The National Labor Leadership Initiative at the Cornell University ILR School convened an online forum titled  “Labor’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic “(Mar 31)  . The purpose of the forum, and a continuing initiative, is to facilitate the long-term vision of the labour movement.  The April   press release quotes participant Erica Smiley, Executive Director of Jobs with Justice  who states: “This is a moment for us to think about what the new normal is, because I frankly don’t want to get back to the old normal. It wasn’t working for most of us.”  The press release also reflects the immediate impacts of the current crisis on a range of workers in the U.S.: “Seven TWU members who work in the NYC public transit system have died from the virus, while their co-workers still go to work every day to keep the system running, without adequate assurances that they will be kept healthy and safe. The IATSE members whose work powers the entertainment and festival scene including Austin’s South by Southwest, one of the first major cancellations of the pandemic, are now out of work indefinitely. Teachers and paraprofessionals have rushed to transition their curricula to online formats, even while coping with the emotional impact of missing their students and the school environment. Nurses are on the frontlines and tending to patients without adequate PPE.”

The Global Stage

The ILO’s Bureau for Workers’Activities (ACTRAV) published “COVID-19: what role for workers’ organizations?  arguing that  ILO Recommendation 205 on Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience (R205) is an effective instrument for governments, employers and workers organizations to address the COVID-19 pandemic.  “This recommendation was adopted with an overwhelming majority of all – governments, employers and workers. It is an international law instrument and Governments are expected to respect its guidance: Workers Organisations can request that it is taken into account.”  The ILO maintains an ongoing collection of documents monitoring  Covid-19 and the World of Work .

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation takes up the theme of a social contract: “As many governments scramble to pay for sick leave, provide income support or other measures, they have found themselves putting in place the building blocks of a social contract. Let’s keep these in place.” (in “New Social Contract can rebuild our workplaces and economies after COVID-19 in The Medium, (March 18)) . To flesh out that objective, the ITUC will convene virtual and in-person meetings on 24 June, on the theme, “Climate and Employment Proof our Future — a vision for a post-pandemic world”.

In the meantime, the ITUC and the International Organisation of Employers have issued a  Joint Statement on COVID-19 which issues an urgent call for coordinated policies, including :

Business continuity, income security and solidarity are key to prevent the spread and protect lives and livelihoods and build resilient economies and societies.

We stress in the strongest terms the important role that social dialogue and social partners play in the control of the virus at the workplace and beyond, but also to avoid massive job losses in the short and medium term. Joint responsibility is needed for dialogue to foster stability.

 

 

Canadian unions providing Covid-19 Resources for members

Although unions are not unaware of the long-term perspective of the Covid-19 pandemic – as for example, in “New Social Contract can rebuild our workplaces and economies after COVID-19” by Sharan Burrow of the ITUC – the main focus for Canadian unions seems to be to actively respond with policy advocacy and practical information covid19 logoresources for their members. The Canadian Labour Congress has built a dedicated Covid-19 Resource Centre which includes policy positions and demands, as well as fact sheets useful for individuals – for example, regarding legislated sick leave provisions in each province, or community information regarding domestic violence resources.

The CLC has also compiled an exhaustive collection of links to the Covid-19 information of individual unions across Canada and the U.S., here . Although there are differences among unions, most are compiling and updating resources and links which provide specific information for their members, especially regarding their health and safety rights and the financial supports available in the crisis. Some examples:  Amalgamated Transit Union ;  Canadian Union of Postal Workers  ; Public Service Alliance of Canada ; United Steelworkers; and Unifor  .

Other unions such as NUPGE or the Vancouver District Labour Council   are focused on advocacy and demands for government action for front line workers.  Toronto and York Region Labour Council  and the B.C. Federation of Labour provide both. Check the complete listings at the CLC website for the wide range of information available, and also check the list of  advocacy and organizing resources at the Broadbent Institute, constantly updated by Dr. Jennifer Robson.

Covid19HELP_Demands_ftAnother important resource for frontline workers:  Ontario’s  Fight For $15& Fairness  campaign  for Health Emergency Labour Protections (HELP).  Their demands for emergency health leaves and reforms to EI requirements in the Covid-19 situation are outlined here and here in French

These demands are also endorsed by the Decent Work and Health Network  in their press release .  Like  Fight For $15& Fairness, the DWHN is sponsoring a petition, as well as organizing a Zoom-based webinar for health workers in COVID-19, on April 1.

 

Green stimulus, worker health and safety ignored as U.S. authorizes $2 Trillion in Coronavirus crisis

On March 27, the U.S. Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) – at $2 trillion, the largest stimulus in U.S. history.  For individual taxpayers, it offers a one-time  $1,200 payment, plus $500 more for each child under age 17; it also  expands unemployment insurance amounts and duration. Details of the provisions are summarized in FAQ’s from the New York Times  , and in Forbes . General reaction to what is clearly a compromise Bill appears in “ ‘Far More to Do,’ Say Progressives After House Approves and Trump Signs Corporate-Friendly Coronavirus Relief Act “(Mar. 28).  Pramila Jayapal , Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC),  issued a press release which states that Democrats are already formulating policies for the next legislative package, and gives a point-form summary of the CARES Act, describing  provisions related to  Worker-Centered Industry Assistance, the airline industry,  and transit industry:

“The bill requires businesses receiving federal assistance to maintain existing employment levels to the extent possible and prohibits stock buybacks or dividends for the length of any loan provided by the federal government plus one year and restricts any increases to executive compensation for two years. The bill also provides direct payroll payments to keep millions of airline workers on the job and receiving paychecks, while also prohibiting airline companies from stock buybacks and dividends for the entire life of a federal grant, plus one year.” Regarding Transit Agencies: “The bill provides $25 billion to transit agencies, which have all seen a drastic drop in revenues as social distancing has been implemented.  This funding is to be used to protect the jobs of the employees of the transit agencies, funding their paychecks during this public health emergency.”

 

Worker Health and Safety in the CARES Act

The  article in Common Dreams  quotes the president of the Economic Policy Institute, who states that the CARES Act “also egregiously fails to include explicit protections for worker safety during this epidemic in industries seeking federal relief.”  On this issue,  Labor Notes published a compilation of worker actions over health and safety concerns in “Walkouts Spread as Workers Seek Coronavirus Protections”(Mar. 26). Anxious and sick workers at food delivery service Instacart and at Amazon announced their plans to  strike over health and safety on March 30, as described in “Amazon and Instacart Workers Are Striking for COVID-19 Protections” in Slate, and also in ‘The Strike Wave Is in Full Swing’: Amazon, Whole Foods Workers Walk Off Job to Protest Unjust and Unsafe Labor Practices (Mar. 30).

Other workers are also walking out on March 30, as described in Vice : “General Electric Workers Launch Protest, Demand to Make Ventilators” , demanding that their idle plants be converted to the socially-useful work of making ventilators.

A selection of  notable readings about Covid-19, workers, and the climate crisis in the U.S.:

Jeremy Brecher, Research Director of Labor Network for Sustainability has written three articles so far in his new column, Strike.  Brecher offer his own views and commentary, but also links to important reports and statements from unions, advocacy groups, and such U.S.  press outlets as Vox, Grist, Politico, and the Washington Post, among others.  The first Commentary,  “In Coronavirus Fight, Workers Are Forging an Emergency Green New Deal” (Mar. 16) describes the impact and challenges of Covid 19 in workplaces, and the initiatives taken by many U.S. unions.  Article #2, “An Emergency Jobs Program for an Emergency Green New Deal” ( March 24) proposes what he calls  a “Green Work Program” (GWP) for the U.S. , based on the principles of a jobs guarantee: “A GWP will provide jobs for all who want them in their own communities performing socially useful work. It will be established by federal legislation, funded by the federal government, and run under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor or another federal agency. It will be primarily administered by local and municipal governments, nonprofits, social enterprises, and cooperatives. In contrast to the WPA, it is a permanent program, though its size can be expected to vary depending on economic conditions and social needs.”  Brecher’s #3 commentary is “Momentum Builds for Green New Deal Jobs”, which  appeared on March 30, summarizing major policy proposals for a Just Recovery.

Naomi Klein updates her thoughts about disaster capitalism in a new video  at The Intercept, explaining how  governments, especially the Trump administration in the U.S.,  are exploiting the the coronavirus outbreak “to push for no-strings-attached corporate bailouts and regulatory rollbacks.” The most egregious example of this regulatory rollback came on March 26 in an EPA press release “EPA Announces Enforcement Discretion Policy for COVID-19 Pandemic “,  critiqued by Inside Climate News in “Trump’s Move to Suspend Enforcement of Environmental Laws is a Lifeline to the Oil Industry” (Mar. 27) .  The Intercept‘s Coronavirus coverage emphasizes this aspect of the crisis.

David Roberts, “A just and sustainable economic response to coronavirus, explained” appeared in Vox (Mar. 25) .

Meehan Crist in “What the Coronavirus means for climate change” an Opinion piece in the New York Times  on March 27.

Bill McKibben now writes an Opinion series for the New Yorker magazine, emphasizing climate change connections.  Recent articles include: “If We’re Bailing out Corporations, they should bail out the planet” (Mar. 20), and “The Coronavirus and the Climate Movement  (Mar. 18) .

Progressives and climate activists: An Open Letter to Congress for a Green Stimulus Plan  appeared in Medium on Mar. 22 (with approximately 1200 signatures by Mar. 24).  Amongst the signatories are  high-profile activists such as 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben; former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy;  Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis, co-founders of The Leap, as well as prominent academics.  It is aligned with the 5 Principles for Just COVID-19 Relief and Stimulus  proposed by environmental, labour, and other progressive groups, including the Climate Justice Alliance(CJA).    In a March 24 press release, “Seven Congressional Leaders Join 500+ Progressive Organizations To Demand People’s Bailout In Response To Coronavirus Crisis”, CJA announces that  Senators Ed Markey and Tammy Duckworth, and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Pocan, Debbie Dingell, Pramila Jayapal, and Barbara Lee endorse joined their People’s Bailout campaign, based on the 5 Principles.

Thomas Hanna and Carlos Sandos Skandier :  “We can’t let this economic crisis go to waste” an Opinion Piece in Open Democracy (March 16), which argues ..”During this, or any future, economic crisis, public support and funding to stricken industries must be conditioned on public ownership and control within the overall perspective of a Green New Deal and a just transition for workers and communities affected by the required shifts to renewable energy and less carbon intensive modes of transportation and production. This means not simply injecting public money into banks, oil and gas companies, and airlines in order to stabilize and resurrect their existing business so they can continue financing, extracting, and burning fossil fuels at a pace that will blow our chances of keeping temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius by 2036.” ….

 “How to Make the Airline Bailout Work for Workers, Not Just CEOs” from Inequality.org (March 17) endorses the proposals from Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA , including direct payroll subsidies for airline workers.   The article in Inequality includes a table which shows how much the five biggest U.S. carriers spent on stock buybacks between 2010 and 2019 – including American Airlines, which spent $12.5 billion on buybacks, to increase the value of executive stock-based pay. Sara Nelson makes her case in an interview in In These Times (Mar.19) :  “Our Airline Relief Bill Is a Template for Rescuing Workers Instead of Bailing Out Execs” .  She concludes:

“This virus is a very clear metaphor for what we always say in the labor movement, which is “An injury to one is an injury to all.” It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, or where you come from. If a virus exists and we don’t do something about it, then we’re all at risk. “