Green New Deal Victoria hosts picnic in the park

July 6 event in Beacon Hill Park will focus on environmental sustainability


Green New Deal Victoria will host a picnic on July 6 in Beacon Hill Park. (Black Press File Photo)

Environmental sustainability will be on the menu at an upcoming potluck-picnic in Beacon Hill Park. The People’s Picnic for a Green New Deal will take place on Saturday, July 6 from 2 to 6 p.m.

The event is hosted by Green New Deal Victoria — a coalition of local grassroots groups, two unions, a church and individual residents who are passionate about the vision of the Green New Deal. The goal of the picnic is to help build community and bring awareness to the Green New Deal, explains Emily Thiessen, one of the organizers.

Picnic attendees will also be invited to participate in canvasing training, says Thiessen.

She hopes to get people excited about canvassing to spread the message and “grow the movement to historical levels.”

The canvassing will take place door-to-door and thourgh events, she says. Thiessen admits that canvassing is outside her comfort zone, but she knows how important it is. MORE

London Climate Action Week: International criminal law and the environment – considering a law of ‘ecocide’

“…whilst this has highlighted our collective responsibility to protect our planet, it is without doubt that any significant change can only be born from a collective political will to address the issue.”

United Kingdom, July 3, 2019

Image result for polly higginsIn April 2019, Polly Higgins, a British barrister, passed away after devoting ten years of her life to a campaign for a new law of ‘ecocide’ – a law that would make corporate executives and government ministers criminally liable for the damage they cause to the environment. In this blog, we consider the current framework for punishing environmental crime at international level, and what the proposed crime of ecocide might look like.

In the 1970s, on the back of an emerging trend of ‘earth law’ and jurisprudence, consideration was first given as to whether or not to include the crime of ecocide in the Rome Statute, which governs the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (“ICC”). One of the key developments in the move towards the recognition of ‘earth law’ was the identification by the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”) of a category of international obligations owed by states to the international community as a whole (erga omnes obligations) – including those relating to the environment. However, in 1996 the framers of the Rome Statute decided to exclude ecocide from its scope, thereby limiting the ICC’s jurisdiction to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Current international law

The ability of the ICC to prosecute environmental criminal offences is limited to those acts which fall within the definition of Article 8(2)(b)(iv) of the Rome Statute, where environmental damage is listed as an example of a war crime. Specifically, the war crime of environmental damage is defined as the:

intentional [launch of] an attack in the knowledge that such an attack will cause…widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would clearly be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated”.

The requirement for the damage to be “widespread, long-term and severe” sets the criminality threshold very high, and it is therefore unsurprising that no individual has yet been prosecuted under this provision. Further, the reference to environmental damage as a war crime limits the ICC’s jurisdiction of environmental offences to those committed during times of war. As currently drafted, the Rome Statute contains no provisions to protect non-human inhabitants of a given territory, indigenous or cultural rights, and nor does it cover environmental loss, damage or destruction to the environment during times of peace

Other international agreements, such as the Paris Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals, collectively set ambitious targets to combat climate change. However, none of these agreements are reinforced by international criminal law. They do not prohibit ecocide or impose any legal responsibilities on states, corporates or individuals. Rather, they are dependent on the cooperation and good faith of those states who are party to the agreements.

Introducing an international crime of ecocide would impose criminal liability on those individuals said to be responsible. The ‘Eradicating Ecocide’ website provides the following definition of ‘ecocide’, which campaigners would like to see adopted:

an act or omission committed in times of peace or conflict, by any senior person within the course of State, corporate or any other entity’s activity which cause, contribute to, or may be expected to cause or contribute to serious ecological, climate or cultural loss or damage to or destruction of ecosystems or a given territory, such that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants has been or will be severely diminished”.

Under this definition, a perpetrator must have had, or ought to have had, knowledge of the likelihood of the harm. Significantly, the definition also seeks to criminalise omissions, which would have the practical effect of incentivising individuals to take positive action to preserve the environment. Introducing criminal liability for omissions would significantly broaden the scope of the definition of ecocide from that considered in 1996, whilst at the same time placing a duty on governments and businesses to ensure that industry does not cause large scale damage to the environment.

Individual or corporate liability?

Notably, one of the key purposes of ecocide is to criminalise those of ‘superior responsibility’, including CEOs and government ministers. This emphasises the enhanced responsibility of those at the head of corporations which have a significant environmental impact.

Interestingly, the current wording of the definition does not impose responsibility on corporate entities themselves. In fact, nowhere in the Rome Statute is there any provision by which to hold corporates to account for international crimes. But with the recent publication of the International Law Commission’s draft Convention on Crimes Against Humanity, which includes a provision for imposing responsibility on corporate entities, there is perhaps space to argue that this could be extended to the crime of ecocide. However, bearing in mind the range of theories of corporate liability across domestic legal systems, agreeing a common basis of corporate liability in the context of international criminal law would be a significant achievement. MORE

B.C. government quietly posts response to expert fracking report

Province avoids investigation of human health impacts of fracking, despite independent scientific review warning of unknown risks to air and water

Image result for the narwhal: B.C. government quietly posts response to expert fracking report
A fracking well head connected to fracking pumps. B.C.’s northeast is going to see a fracking boom to support the LNG Canada natural gas export terminal. Photo: Shutterstock

The B.C. government has quietly released its response to an independent scientific panel’s report on hydraulic fracturing as it ushers in a fracking boom to supply the LNG Canada project with unconventional gas.

Notably absent from the government’s news release — posted on its website Thursday but strangely not sent out to media — is any commitment to investigate the human health impacts of fracking in the province’s northeast.

The issue was flagged by Dawson Creek doctors as a potential cause for concern after they saw patients with symptoms they could not explain, including nosebleeds, respiratory illnesses and rare cancers, as well as a surprising number of gioblastomas, a malignant brain cancer.

The independent scientific review did not include an examination of the public health implications of fracking, in keeping with the government’s quiet assurance to the industry lobby group Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers that the hot button issue would not be included in the panel’s mandate.

Even so, the panel found that fracking entails numerous unknown risks to human health and the environment.

Panel members cautioned the severity of those risks is unknown due to a lack of data, noting they were not aware of any health-related studies being conducted in northeast B.C., which is already covered with thousands of fracking wells, including in the middle of communities and on farmland.

‘Highly toxic compounds’

Image result for Sonia Furstenau
Sonia Furstenau, MLA Cowichan Valley for the BC Green Party.

B.C. Green Party environment critic Sonia Furstenau pointed out that other jurisdictions around the world have identified human health impacts as a reason for banning fracking.

“We know that the mix of chemicals being used and being pumped into the ground include highly toxic compounds and we should absolutely be determining what any impacts are to human health,” Furstenau told The Narwhal.

“There’s no way these kinds of things should be proceeding without that information.”

The government’s decision to proceed with fracking and liquefied natural gas development is “deeply troubling,” Furstenau said.

The fracked gas will be shipped through TransCanada’s new Coastal GasLink pipeline to Kitimat, where it will be cooled in massive compressors to minus 162 degrees Celsius, the point at which gas turns into liquid and becomes easier to transport in ocean tankers. LNG Canada will burn its own natural gas for the energy-intensive compression process, resulting in substantial greenhouse gas pollution.

The LNG Canada project will emit 3.45 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, according to the provincial government, which promised the cleanest LNG in the world even though claims of “clean LNG” have been thoroughly debunked. MORE

Canada unveils new measures to nudge polluters toward clean tech


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks to a news conference in Ottawa on June 18, 2019, flanked by his staffers and bodyguards. File photo by Andrew Meade

Canada is proposing new market-based incentives to support clean-tech companies as part of a suite of new policies announced on Friday that include a crackdown on pollution from large industrial facilities.

The policies add some new meat on the bones of the Trudeau government’s strategy to tackle the global climate crisis. Canada’s new proposal also opens the door to allowing companies to get credit for reducing emissions by spending money on projects overseas.

Ottawa’s carbon pricing system is composed of two main parts: a federal charge on fossil fuels, which has received the lion’s share of attention, and a related system for large industrial polluters called the Output-Based Pricing System.

That system establishes a trading market to crack down on carbon emissions. It requires big facilities like factories that emit more than 50,000 tonnes of carbon pollution per year to record their emissions against a “performance standard” for the sector to which the facility belongs.

If they pollute less than the standard, they receive credits; if they pollute more, they have the option of either paying the federal government directly using its carbon tax rate, submitting “surplus credits” bought from others or saved up, or submitting “offset credits” earned from projects that reduce emissions.

The idea is that each offset credit represents one tonne of carbon dioxide that won’t go into the atmosphere, heating the planet and worsening climate change, compared to what would have happened under business as usual.

Ottawa says this will create market opportunities for clean-tech businesses in agriculture, waste and forestry. On Friday, it proposed a series of guidelines for how this system might work.

Projects must be based in Canada, and the emissions they are eliminating must be covered in Canada’s national inventory report that is submitted to the United Nations.

They must also be “specific and identifiable” and result in a net reduction of carbon pollution “that can be demonstrated to have been implemented.”

The project type must be federally approved, the reductions must be “quantified in a transparent and repeatable manner” and reductions must go beyond what would normally occur from that business.

Credits can’t be double-counted and the project must be monitored and documented to allow a verification body full access.

Ottawa is soliciting public feedback on this offset system proposal through Aug. 30.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters in Ottawa on June 18 as Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna look on. File photo by Andrew Meade

Canada is proposing new market-based incentives to support clean-tech companies as part of a suite of new policies announced on Friday that include a crackdown on pollution from large industrial facilities.

The policies add some new meat on the bones of the Trudeau government’s strategy to tackle the global climate crisis. Canada’s new proposal also opens the door to allowing companies to get credit for reducing emissions by spending money on projects overseas.

Ottawa’s carbon pricing system is composed of two main parts: a federal charge on fossil fuels, which has received the lion’s share of attention, and a related system for large industrial polluters called the Output-Based Pricing System.

That system establishes a trading market to crack down on carbon emissions. It requires big facilities like factories that emit more than 50,000 tonnes of carbon pollution per year to record their emissions against a “performance standard” for the sector to which the facility belongs.

If they pollute less than the standard, they receive credits; if they pollute more, they have the option of either paying the federal government directly using its carbon tax rate, submitting “surplus credits” bought from others or saved up, or submitting “offset credits” earned from projects that reduce emissions.

The idea is that each offset credit represents one tonne of carbon dioxide that won’t go into the atmosphere, heating the planet and worsening climate change, compared to what would have happened under business as usual.

Ottawa says this will create market opportunities for clean-tech businesses in agriculture, waste and forestry. On Friday, it proposeda series of guidelines for how this system might work.

Projects must be based in Canada, and the emissions they are eliminating must be covered in Canada’s national inventory report that is submitted to the United Nations.

They must also be “specific and identifiable” and result in a net reduction of carbon pollution “that can be demonstrated to have been implemented.”

The project type must be federally approved, the reductions must be “quantified in a transparent and repeatable manner” and reductions must go beyond what would normally occur from that business.

Credits can’t be double-counted and the project must be monitored and documented to allow a verification body full access.

Ottawa is soliciting public feedback on this offset system proposal through Aug. 30.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters in Ottawa on June 18 as Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna look on. File photo by Andrew Meade

The Liberal government has said the revenues from carbon pricing will be reinvested in the province or territory that the money came from. For provinces and territories with their own carbon pricing plans, the federal government will give them direct proceeds.

In the regions without their own pricing plans, it gets more complicated. With the fossil fuel tax, the government is rebating households directly through income tax returns. For the large-polluter program, however, it still needs to figure out how this will work.

Estimating revenue from that program is much harder, federal officials said Friday, given that polluters could use credits to meet their obligations instead of paying the carbon tax directly.

As a result, Ottawa also wants to hear from the public on how it should return the direct proceeds it collects, and will also accept feedback on that through the end of August. MORE

Climate pollution from US military and Alberta’s oilsands industry: reports

The Alberta Tar Sands ecocide is by any measure a criminal assault on Earth. This devastation is actively promoted by Conservative and Liberal governments and by the previous Alberta NDP government. 

Photo credit: US  Navy (left) and Pembina Institute (right)

The United States military is one of the world’s largest climate polluters — emitting more than entire European countries like Sweden or Norway. That’s according to a new report that estimates the U.S. Department of Defence’s worldwide emissions at nearly 60 million tonnes (MtCO2).

Here in Canada, Alberta’s oilsands industry emits even more climate pollution than that.

I’ve put together a few charts to illustrate both the scale and emissions trends from these two enormous climate polluters.

Current climate pollution

U.S. military

A new report out of Brown University, “Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change, and the Costs of War”, digs into the climate pollution from the U.S. Department of Defence (DOD). This includes the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and other defence agencies.

The report highlights just how massive and globe-spanning the U.S. military is: “The United States spends more on the military than any other country in the world, certainly much more than the combined military spending of its major rivals, Russia and China. Authorized at over $700 billion [per year].”

The report calculates that the worldwide emissions from the sprawling U.S. military were 59 MtCO2 in 2017. That’s the black bar in my chart below. It includes emissions from fighting wars and other “overseas contingency operations.”

Climate pollution from US military and Alberta oilsands

 

Around a third of its emissions come from roughly 500 military installations, which include more than half a million buildings around the globe.

The lion’s share of its emissions, however, come from the energy used to carry out its operations. As the report notes: “With an armed force of more than two million people … and the most advanced military aircraft the DOD is the world’s largest institutional user of petroleum.”

All told, the U.S. military currently burns 100 million barrels a year. That’s roughly two million litres every hour.

Around 70 per cent is jet fuel for bombers, jet fighters, cargo planes and other support aircraft. These aircraft burn gallons of this fossil fuel per mile.

Much of the rest is diesel for vehicles. In just one example, the report notes that the U.S. Army alone has around 60,000 HUMVEEs that burn one gallon every four to eight miles.

Alberta oilsands industry

Now let’s look at the climate pollution from Alberta’s oilsands industry. That’s the orange bar on the chart. This one part of this one province’s oil and gas sector emitted 78 MtCO2.

There are more than 160 countries that emit less climate pollution than Alberta’s oilsands industry.

As you can see, that is one third more than the emissions from the entire U.S. military. In fact, there are more than 160 countries that emit less climate pollution than Alberta’s oilsands industry.

The oilsands emissions data comes from Canada’s most recent National Inventory Report (NIR). The NIR shows that roughly half of these emissions came from burning fossil methane (aka “natural”) gas to generate the heat needed to extract bitumen via the “in situ” process. The other half of emissions was split between mining bitumen and upgrading it.

So far, we’ve looked at current emissions. The long-term trends that got each to this point are just as eye-opening.

My next chart tells that tale.

Climate pollution from US military and Alberta oilsands 1990 to 2017

MORE

The youth climate strike movement in Canada

The youth climate strike in Canada. Image: Used with permission of Sustainabiliteens Vancouver.
Image: Used with permission of Sustainabiliteens Vancouver.

 

Emma Lim is 18 years old and is a high school student in London, Ontario. Rebecca Hamilton is 17 years old and also a high school student, and she lives in Vancouver, BC. They are organizers with Climate Strike Canada at both the local and national levels. Scott Neigh interviews them about what they are doing to build the Canadian wing of the international movement of young people periodically striking from school to demand meaningful action on the climate crisis.

Growing up in the 21st century means that the only reality you have ever known is life in the context of the growing climate crisis. Today’s guests — both born since the turn of the century — don’t remember a moment of learning, hey, there’s this thing called climate change and it’s a big deal. For them, it has always been there.

They have, of course, learned more about it as they’ve gotten older. As that learning has progressed and as the warnings from customarily understated and cautious scientists have taken on ever more apocalyptic dimensions, they have had moments of awakening to the true magnitude of what the crisis might mean for their lives, families, and communities.

Until recently, a lot of the most obvious options around them for taking action have consisted of standard school-based environmentalism, which mostly focuses on things like recycling and lifestyle change — in other words, on measures vastly inadequate to the scale of what we collectively face. And that meant that, in the autumn of 2018, when they started to hear about Greta Thunberg and youth in different places around the world going on regular strikes from school — walking out, taking to the streets, often gathering at some central point in their city — to demand climate action, they had another moment. It was a moment of, yes, finally, here we are being called to an action that might, if we draw in enough people, if enough people support us, begin to approach what is needed.

For Lim, she started out on her own — it was just her striking in London, by herself, with a sign. Hamilton — whose local climate strike organizing happens as part of Sustainabiliteens Vancouver — wasn’t quite on her own, but her first climate strike was a relatively small group of students who occupied the office of the B.C. minister of environment and Climate Change Strategy. And from there, both plunged themselves into organizing. They were constantly reaching out to other young people, having conversations about issues and logistics, making phone calls, holding meetings, and organizing more events — and, of course, more strikes.

Through the hard work of Lim, Hamilton, and many others, local organizing has grown and has coalesced into Climate Strike Canada. They have developed a common set of demands. School strike actions in recent months have involved hundreds of thousands of students in cities across Canada. As well, organizers have emphasized not only these periodic large-scale actions, but have intentionally built on the energy of those days to get growing numbers of youth going back into their schools and communities to engage in various forms of local climate action. For those at the centre of the organizing, like Lim and Hamilton, it has been an intense crash course in how to make a movement. MORE

For environmentalists and Lower Mainland First Nations, 76 reasons to oppose Trans Mountain

One researcher says biggest risk to whales may not be oil tankers


A female southern resident killer whale breaches in the calm blue waters of the Salish Sea between Washington State and British Columbia, Canada. (Monika Wieland/Shutterstock)

There are no new protections for endangered southern resident killer whales in Tuesday’s latest approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, say advocates, many of whom fear for the survival of the species.

“If the project goes forward as currently planned, it will further push the southern residents toward extinction,” said Margot Venton, a lawyer with environmental law firm Ecojustice.

“That’s what’s on the table.”

Last summer, the federal court of appeal struck down the proposed pipeline expansion project in part because the National Energy Board did not consider the impact that increased shipping from the project could have on the whales, which now number just 76 individuals in the wild, according to Orca Network.

The whales are protected by the federal Species At Risk Act, but their population has been in decline for years.

There are no new protections for endangered southern resident killer whales in Tuesday’s latest approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, say advocates, many of whom fear for the survival of the species.

“If the project goes forward as currently planned, it will further push the southern residents toward extinction,” said Margot Venton, a lawyer with environmental law firm Ecojustice.

“That’s what’s on the table.”

Last summer, the federal court of appeal struck down the proposed pipeline expansion project in part because the National Energy Board did not consider the impact that increased shipping from the project could have on the whales, which now number just 76 individuals in the wild, according to Orca Network.

The whales are protected by the federal Species At Risk Act, but their population has been in decline for years.Those groups accuse the federal government of using half-measures to keep the species from disappearing forever.


Vessel noise can interfere with killer whales’ ability to hunt, navigate and communicate with each other, so researchers are looking into what impact it will have on them. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Vessel noise has been found to interfere with their ability to hunt, and ship strikes can seriously injure or kill them. Environmentalists fear increased oil tanker traffic from an expanded Trans Mountain project could make these problems worse.

Canada’s fisheries minister says the federal government has acted to protect the whales, with a number of measures, including rules to reduce noise and traffic, but environmentalists and some First Nations are not convinced.

Those groups accuse the federal government of using half-measures to keep the species from disappearing forever. MORE