Alberta government backtracks, promising public consultations on coal mining policy

The province of Alberta cancelled its own long-standing regulations regarding coal mining exploration, leases and development in May 2020,  but the government was forced to reverse course – as stated in a press release in February 8, Alberta’s 1976 coal policy reinstated .  The policy was not only reinstated, but the government promises “we will implement further protections and consult with Albertans on a new, modern coal policy.” The Narwhal provides an overview of events and the political miscalculations in  “How a public uprising forced a province built on fossil fuels to reverse course on coal mining”   – quoting a political science professor at the University of Alberta who calls the public pressure “unprecedented” –  “The government simply did not imagine that this kind of mobilization could happen” .  The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society website has monitored the issue in a series of news releases and hosts an online campaign against coal development, still expressing concern about the government’s intentions.  The article in The Narwhal implies that the current Kenny government is out of touch with the diversity of opinion in Alberta – a diversity reflected in a poll released by Pembina Institute in February, showing  Albertan attitudes to the oil and gas industry and to the goal of net-zero emissions.

In the interim before the consultation is launched, the National Observer published “There is no such thing as a contamination-free coal mine, top scientist warns Albertans” (Feb. 16)  –  summarizing a 2019 evaluation of the Benga Mining proposal for an open-pit coal mine at Grassy Mountain near the Crowsnest Pass in the Rockies, which concluded: “The Grassy Mountain Coal Project will create a ticking environmental time-bomb resulting from selenium pollution of high quality, high value aquatic habitats and culminate in poisoning of provincially and federally protected fish.”

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 .

$50 million Forestry Transition Fund to retrain and support workers following closure of Nova Scotia’s polluting Northern Pulp plant – Updated

This blog has been updated on January 10 to reflect the company announcement that a new environmental assessment process may yet keep the mill alive. It also expands on Unifor’s position in supporting the mill and the opposition by environmental groups and First Nations. 

After years of controversy, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced on December 20 that the province will enforce a January 31 2020 deadline for B.C.-owned Northern Pulp plant to stop pumping effluent in Boat Harbour, near Pictou Landing First Nation.  The deadline had been set by legislation in 2015, and will not be extended, despite the company’s threat to shut down the mill.  Acknowledging the job loss and economic hardship which will result from the decision, the Premier’s announcement  included a $50-million transition fund for forestry sector workers and businesses “to support displaced workers across the province, small contractors and all those whose livelihoods will be affected. The transition fund will be used for retraining and education, and for emergency funding to help those in immediate need.” On January 3, the Premier’s Office announced the composition of the Forestry Transition Team. A previous announcement had designated the provincial deputy minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Trade as the team lead; members announced on January 3 include more government representatives as well as industry management – noticeably absent, any worker representation.

After the first meeting of the Forestry Transition Team,CBC reports that the government has  fired an industry member. The Premier has announced  $7 million to assist silviculture and forest road building operations  in the central and western regions of the province .  The January 10 article in the National Observer also states that the Premier  is working to ensure the stability and accessibility  of the mill’s pension plan .

Company enters new environmental assessment process which may yet keep the mill alive

On  January 10 , an article in the National Observer   reported on a statement by Paper Excellence Canada , the owner of the Northern Pulp mill:   … “Our team is currently focused on supporting our employees, developing plans for a safe and environmentally responsible hibernation, and working with the government of Nova Scotia and stakeholders to determine next steps.” Plant closure has been at least temporarily averted as the company has informed the government that it will continue the environmental assessment process for its proposed effluent treatment plant.  In response,  the Nova Scotia Environment Ministry released draft Terms of Reference for that assessment on January 8, giving the public and government reviewers 30 days to comment on the draft.  Following a period for company response, the terms of reference will be provided  by early April, and the company will be given another two years to complete the environmental assessment report.  The government  webpage dedicated to the environmental assessment is here , providing the new draft terms of reference, how to make a submission, and an archive of past documentation in this long-running project.

Opposing viewpoints in a long controversy

The Halifax Chronicle Herald has published many articles describing the long history and competing interests in this dispute, for example in a Timeline of the dispute ; “Nova Scotia sticks to Boat Harbour deadline; Northern Pulp confirms shutdown”;  and “Northern Pulp mill will close without extension to Boat Harbour Act, company says” (Dec. 19).

Unifor, which represents 230 workers at Northern Pulp in Local 444 , has maintained an  ongoing  Save Northern Pulp Jobs campaign , described in  WCR’s separate blog postAfter the government’s December 20 announcement, the union issued a press release, “Premier McNeil throws away 2,700 rural jobs in Nova Scotia” . Another press release on  January 3  is more detailed, reporting to members on subsequent interactions with government, and stating: “the best course of action for a viable and continued forest industry in the province is with Northern Pulp continuing to operate. We reiterated that the $50 million should be used to assist all workers in the industry through a temporary shutdown of the mill to facilitate the construction of Northern Pulp’s new effluent treatment facility (ETF)…. We also suggested the idea of a third-party expert who could serve as intermediary between government regulators and the company to establish a firm and fair process and timelines for the necessary approvals to take place for construction of the ETF.”

boat harbour rallyIn contast to Unifor’s support for the company’s proposal for an alternate effluent treatment plant, which was rejected in a provincial environmental assessment on December 17, it had been  widely opposed – by the Pictou Landing First Nation, as well as fishermen’s associations from all three Maritime provinces , tourism operators, cottagers, boaters and others whose livelihoods would be affected by the proposed dumping of treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait.

Environmental advocacy and First Nations groups also oppose the mill. “Northern Pulp decision validates rights, First Nations lawyer says”  summarizes the position of the Pictou Landing First Nations and praises the Premier’s courage in “righting an injustice spanning five decades.”  And while acknowledging the hardship ahead for forestry workers, the Ecology Action Centre of Nova Scotia calls the decision “courageous” and “forward-thinking”, saying : “For the first time in Nova Scotia’s history, a government has said no to a pulp mill’s coercive demands in defence of environmental protection, Indigenous rights and human health. It is a watershed moment — a turn away from the old ways of allowing mass extraction and the pollution of the air, land and water. This decision could mark the start of a new, cleaner future and a livable planet for our descendants.”

G7 Summit makes some progress on Just Transition, plastics pollution – but not on fossil fuel subsidies

G7 leaders 2018With the chaos emanating from Donald Trump’s performance at the G7 Summit   hosted by Canada on June 8 and 9,  it would be easy to miss the news about one of the five Summit themes :  Working Together on Climate Change, Oceans, and Clean Energy  . But according to a brief statement by Canada’s Climate Action Network,  G7 Stands it Ground : “The G7 should be congratulated for publicly acknowledging for the first time the need for a just transition…..Canada showed leadership by stickhandling this climate outcome as the G7 host. ”

In contrast to the Final Communique of 2017, which contained only one paragraph on climate change,  the 2018 Official Communique   includes four lengthly paragraphs (#23 – 27,  including #26 which is the independent statement of the United States).   Included:  “Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the European Union reaffirm their strong commitment to implement the Paris Agreement, through ambitious climate action; in particular through reducing emissions while stimulating innovation, enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening and financing resilience and reducing vulnerability; as well as ensuring a just transition, including increasing efforts to mobilize climate finance from a wide variety of sources. ….  Also, Recognizing that healthy oceans and seas directly support the livelihoods, food security and economic prosperity of billions of people, …. We endorse the Charlevoix Blueprint for Healthy Oceans, Seas and Resilient Coastal Communities, and will improve oceans knowledge, promote sustainable oceans and fisheries, support resilient coasts and coastal communities and address ocean plastic waste and marine litter. Recognizing that plastics play an important role in our economy and daily lives but that the current approach to producing, using, managing and disposing of plastics and poses a significant threat to the marine environment, to livelihoods and potentially to human health, we the Leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the European Union endorse the Ocean Plastics Charter.”

Background: As usual, several reports and position statements were released in advance of the international meetings.  The Climate and Energy Working Group of the G7 Global Task Force, (a broad coalition of over 40 civil society organisations) released  their  Recommendations  on a full range of climate change issues, and a separate Brief titled It’s Time for G7 countries to commit to Just Transition , which concluding with this: “Canada, as President of the G7, and building on the work of the Task Force on the Just Transition for Canadian Coal-Power Workers and Communities has the opportunity to elevate this discussion, and promote mainstreaming of just transition principles across all G7 priorities and discussions for the upcoming years.”

Other position statements:  The Global Investor statement to G7 leaders, signed by 319 investors representing more than USD $28 trillion in assets , and a Statement from the We Mean Business Coalition  .  Both business-oriented groups affirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement and made recommendations.

g7 fossil fuel scorecard infographics_canadaAlso, from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Oil Change International (OCI), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI) : the G7 Fossil Fuel Subsidy Report Card , released on June 4 . It states that  G7 governments continue to provide at least $100 billion in subsidies to the production and use of coal, oil and gas, and ranks the G7 countries according to seven indicators: transparency; pledges and commitments; ending support for coal mining; ending support for exploration; ending support for oil and gas production; ending support for fossil fuel-based power; and ending support for fossil fuel use.  Using these categories,  Canada ranked 3rd out of the G7 countries overall, after France (1st) and Germany (2nd), followed by U.K., Italy, Japan, and the U.S. (7th).  This, against the backdrop of an Ekos Research  public opinion poll from March 2018 that shows Canadians want an end to fossil fuel subsidies in virtually every part of the country and across gender, age, region, education, and income. For a new discussion of the issue and the Scorecard report, see “Canada leads G7 in oil and gas subsidies” in The Narwhal.

The National Observer coverage of the entire G7 Summit is here, with a focus on the trade dispute, but including “G7 still negotiating as clock runs down on climate commitments and “McKenna praises IKEA move to ban single-use plastics by 2020” , which discusses the broader issue.

Reactions :  A compilation of reactions appears in “G7 Leaders isolate Trump on Climate” in The Energy Mix, and CAN-RAC  released a position paper in response  Shaping the Future: A new vision for civil society and the G7 .   Environmentalists, including Greenpeace,  called the Plastics Charter inadequate because it is voluntary,and focuses on recycling and repurposing, rather than reduction or an outright ban on single-use plastics.  The Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC) and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) released a statement of support of the Ocean Plastics Charter on June 10 , also stating that its members: ” had committed to goals of 100 per cent of plastics packaging being recyclable or recoverable by 2030 and 100 per cent of plastics packaging being reused, recycled, or recovered by 2040.”

 

 

 

Oil Sands Emissions – Even Greater than we Thought

From researchers at the University of Toronto, a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on February 3 finds that emissions of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) from tar sands operations may be two or three times higher than previously reported in official estimates if fumes coming from tailings ponds are included in measurements. A summary of the study is at the CBC website at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/oilsands-air-pollutants-underestimated-researchers-find-1.2521134. The full article, “Evaluating Officially Reported Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Emissions In The Athabasca Oil Sands Region With A Multimedia Fate Model” is available at: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/01/29/1319780111.

A second article published in Environmental Science and Technology, the journal of the American Chemical Society, uses new technology to measure and differentiate between naturally occurring pollution from bitumen deposits and pollution from oil sands processing. The authors conclude that “oil sands process-affected water (OSPW)” from tailings ponds is reaching the Athabasca River system. The research was conducted under Environment Canada’s regular research program – and not surprisingly, Environment Canada told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that it was unable to provide an interview with the report’s main author, Richard Frank.

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“Profiling Oil Sands Mixtures from Industrial Developments and Natural Groundwaters for Source Identification” appears in Environmental Science and Technology Article ASAP (Jan. 21, 2014); an abstract is available at: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es500131k (full text available for a $35 fee). The Edmonton Journal summary is at: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/health/Federal+study+confirms+oilsands+tailings+found/9530481/story.html.

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