UK: Devolution and the Green New Deal

Decarbonisation will require intervention at all levels of government – from London to Edinburgh and beyond.

Image: Scottish Government, CC BY-NC 2.0

We are currently 109 days into the ‘Climate Emergency’ declared by Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on 28 April 2019 — while 106 days have elapsed since the UK Parliament followed suit on 01 May.

That the rhetoric of national emergency was never going to result in any tangible change may not be surprising. In both Edinburgh and London, the gulf between words and action is a vivid demonstration of how a lack of agency, fed by a diet of market-centric solutions, has framed our entire experience of the climate crisis to date. As Naomi Klein persuasively puts it, ‘we collectively lack many of the tools that built and sustained the transformative movements of the past.’

But the question of what the state once did, and might do again, has a distinct political resonance in Scotland. As BBC journalist Alan Little has argued, the decline of an interventionist British state from 1979 onwards — which once created ‘bedrocks of British identity’ in working class communities — opened up a vacuum that a reasserted Scottishness seemed destined to fill.

The decline of totemic heavy industries that once dominated the Scottish economy — defined in the national memory by historic conflicts from the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in in 1971, to the closure of Ravenscraig steel works in 1992 — were faced off as existential threats, not just to Scotland’s economy, but in a deeper sense, to its identity too. As a result, although largely muted today, Scottish nationalism once spoke explicitly in terms of resistance to neoliberal orthodoxy.

With emissions currently around half 1990 levels — no doubt aided by the closure of Ravenscraig itself (once the largest facility of its kind in Western Europe) — the SNP are keen to project climate change as an issue where Scotland can pursue ‘world leading’ ambition.

But, with a new climate change act on its way through Holyrood, the historic depletion of Scotland’s industrial base, and the capacity and willingness of the state to play a bigger role in the economy, is likely to become increasingly significant in determining whether an ambitious net-zero target can be met. This is what I investigate in my recent report for Common Wealth on Green New Deal devolution.

The cosy neoliberal consensus in economic affairs (exemplified in the SNP’s 2018 Sustainable Growth Commission) that has held sway since the advent of devolution, is already having to confront the cold hard reality of delivering on these major commitments in a post-industrial society. This is partly due to the fact that many of the easiest steps have already been taken — such as the closure of the massive coal-fired Longannet power station. Over the coming years, the challenges involved in decarbonising transport, heating, agriculture and land will require a step-change and levels of state intervention on a scale not yet seen in the devolution era.

The extent of these deep-rooted challenges recently found expression in the Fife – Ready for Renewalcampaign led by the Scottish Trade Union Congress. The campaign has called for greater planning and intervention in response to the current boom in offshore wind deployment — which has not delivered anticipated job numbers onshore. While recently rescued Fife firm Bi-Fab has picked up a contract to build a small number of jackets for the new Neart na Gaoithe wind farm, there has been outcry that the bulk of this work has gone to a firm based in Indonesia. This new multi-billion pound installation will be conspicuously visible from the string of post-industrial towns along the Fife coast, with their numerous areas of multiple deprivation.

The SNP government points out that systematic change can only be delivered with the full powers of statehood. As recent volatile exchanges within the Labour Party have shown, a significant faction within the party feel that any form of collaboration with Nicola Sturgeon’s MPs at Westminster can only give succour to separatism.

However, a UK-wide Green New Deal Programme should be a natural area for practical collaboration. MORE


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Doug Ford orders ‘wind down’ of non-essential conservation authority programs

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks with media in a partially flooded area of Constance Bay northwest of Ottawa on April 26, 2019. Photo by Kamara Morozuk


The Doug Ford government has, without warning or consultation, ordered the authorities that protect Ontario’s watersheds to “wind down” unnecessary programs.

National Observer has learned that conservation authorities and municipalities received letters addressed from Environment and Conservation Minister Jeff Yurek on Aug. 16 ordering them to shut down programs that do not relate to their “core mandate” without specifying what this mandate is.

In light of this memo, environmentalists are now concerned this leaves the province without the necessary protections from increasingly severe floods.

The letter came without warning or consultation, according to Kim Gavine, general manager of Conservation Ontario, the authority that represents Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities.

“I was surprised and then disappointed because I thought we were working in good faith with the province… to identify what the non-core programs would be and that we had time to figure that out,”Gavine said in an interview.

Gavine said conservation authorities were in discussions for months “in good faith” to see the government’s proposed regulation to figure out what programs the government wanted them to discontinue in consultation with their member municipalities and partner groups. They had met with the municipal affairs minister, natural resources minister and Yurek’s predecessor, Rod Phillips (who was appointed as finance minister after a cabinet shuffle).

“We have this memo, but we hadn’t had the discussion,” she said. “We don’t know what ‘core mandate’ means for the government. Is water quality and monitoring considered core? Are flood programs core?

Conservation authorities’ provincial funding for natural hazards was reduced by 50 per cent earlier this year. Following that, an omnibus bill about housing indicated that changes would be forthcoming to the regulations guiding conservation authorities. These changes included a broad list of programs and services that Yurek also referenced in his letter, which was shared with National Observer.

Yurek recommended that the authorities “re-focus their efforts on the delivery of programs and services” related only to the following five issues:

  • Risk of natural hazards
  • Conservation and management of land owned or controlled by conservation authorities
  • Drinking-water source protection
  • Protection of the Lake Simcoe watershed
  • Other programs or services as prescribed by regulation
Jeff Yurek
Jeff Yurek shakes hands with Ontario Premier Doug Ford as he is sworn in as environment, conservation and parks minister during a cabinet shuffle at Queen’s Park in Toronto on June 20, 2019. Photo by Cole Burston

Andrew Buttigieg, a spokesman for Yurek, told National Observer in an email that the Ford government “is working to improve public transparency and consistency.”

“Bringing conservation authorities back to their core mandate will allow for municipalities to better manage conservation authority budgets and programs. The legislative changes we’ve made ensure conservation authorities focus on delivering core services and programs that protect communities from natural hazards and flooding while using taxpayer dollars efficiently and effectively,”Buttigieg wrote.

“Over the years, conservation authorities have expanded past their core mandate into activities such as ziplining, maple syrup festivals and photography and wedding permits. We are giving municipalities greater control and the ability to enter into agreements with conservation authorities to fund any programs and services outside of the core mandate if they chose,” Yurek’s spokesman said.

But Gavine said conservation authorities do more than that. These bodies provide a wide variety of watershed-management programs in partnership with all levels of government. These programs help to reduce or prevent the costly and devastating damages of flooding, protect water resources, help to reduce pollution from getting to the Great Lakes and support healthy watersheds. They also used data collected through environmental monitoring programs to produce report cards to indicate where the health of a watershed is good and where it’s poor, to better help the province understand where climate priorities lie.

All this could be under threat, one expert who works with an Ottawa-area conservation authority, and who chose to remain anonymous, told National Observer. Future evidence of water pollution could be lost, as could many jobs including: stewardship jobs, fieldworkers, technicians that collect data and report on it and anyone else whose job it to synthesize the data. MORE

Andrew Coyne: The deception in the SNC affair is the most troubling aspect of all

Image result for snc-lavalin

It is the element of deception that raises the conduct described in the ethics commissioner’s report from the merely unlawful to the potentially criminal.

Until now what we had thought we were dealing with was only a sustained and mounting campaign, by the prime minister and by those acting at his direction, to pressure the former attorney general of Canada to set aside the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, a company with a long history of corruption and even longer history of contributing to the Liberal party, for reasons that explicitly included considerations of partisan advantage.

All of this was vastly improper on its own. Prosecutorial independence is one of the bedrock principles of our system of law, as fundamental as judicial independence. It is settled law that the attorney general, in consideration of a particular prosecution, may not be pressured by anyone, least of all the prime minister, for any reason, least of all partisan gain. Yet Jody Wilson-Raybould was, repeatedly, to the point of being threatened with dismissal if she did not capitulate.

Still, if unethical and contrary to law, this was relatively above board, in so far as the pressure on the attorney general was direct and undisguised: a scandal, to be sure, and grounds for more resignations than those submitted to date, but not, as the cliche has it, a crime. That, of course, is not the standard we should expect of public office holders — that they should merely avoid committing crimes — but it is at least a standard.

Whereas the conduct unearthed by the ethics commissioner may have fallen below even that line. What we have learned is that senior government officials were not just pressuring the former attorney general to interfere in a criminal proceeding, by the unprecedented means of overturning a decision of the independent director of public prosecutions: they were deceiving her.

Everyone involved in this black farce should be ashamed of themselves

They did so not only by keeping important information from her, but by providing her with misleading information. They acted, not only in concert with each other, but with officials at SNC-Lavalin, and they carried on this conspiracy to, in the commissioner’s words, “circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit” the authority of the attorney general even as the company’s appeal of the DPP’s ruling was before Federal Court — a proceeding to which the attorney general, via the DPP, was a party.

It was known before how ferociously the company had lobbied various ministers and public officials, even after it had been charged, to insert a provision in the Criminal Code allowing it to escape prosecution: the famous remediation agreements. It was not known until now that it had been at the company’s suggestion that this was inserted in the 2018 budget implementation bill, the better to ensure that it could not be voted upon separately or even examined by the competent parliamentary committee.

Likewise, it was known that, after the DPP had ruled the company was ineligible, under the terms of the same legislation, for such an agreement, the company had swarmed the government to have her decision overturned. It was not known how fully, indeed eagerly, representatives of the prime minister, the finance minister, and the clerk of the privy council had participated in this campaign — in support, that is, of a private company, charged with serious crimes under the law, against the offices of government responsible for applying the law. MORE


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The Price of Oil, CNRL, sour gas, hydrogen sulfide, helicopter pilot The Price of Oil Coverups and lies ‘a systemic cancer’ in the world of oilpatch health and safety breaches: whistleblowers

Image result for national observer:  Matthew Linnitt

The words may not have been explicit, but oilpatch contractor Matthew Linnitt says he read between the lines: lie on official documents about an incident that could have killed him, or someone would be fired.

The tacit threat, he alleges, was handed down by his supervisor at Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) after a close call with hydrogen sulfide on a northwestern Alberta well site on May 2, 2016.

Hydrogen sulfide, also known as H2S or sour gas, is a toxic substance that can be fatal in high concentrations, and is sometimes leaked from the wellheads, pump jacks, pipes, tanks and flare stacks of oilfields.

At the time, Linnitt considered himself lucky to have escaped with his life — he was working alone on a remote site in Karr Creek, Alta., when a geyser of fluids and poisonous sour gas erupted from its depths. A valve hadn’t been properly shut down.

He searched for the site’s emergency breathing equipment, only to find that the workers who had improperly sealed the valve had also taken the air packs off site. Without cell service, Linnitt ran far away from the fumes and stayed away until his air monitor told him the sour gas levels no longer posed a threat.

He later faced a difficult choice: he could report what happened and risk being fired for revealing that CNRL had violated safety protocols, or he could lie to save his job.

Linnitt said he decided to lie in his incident report to the company, writing that he used the site’s emergency breathing equipment after the spill.

He is no longer willing to live with that lie.

“The reality was that I could have died where that incident occurred, and to sweep something like that under the rug… the next guy was just going to die,” he explained in an interview from Victoria.

Linnitt now lives in Cumberland, B.C., where he works in trucking.

In that incident report, obtained by National Observer and Global News, Linnitt was applauded by his CNRL supervisor, a foreman, for “excellent safety practice” for using the air packs. But a conversation Linnitt secretly recorded after the paperwork was filed reveals the foreman knew the emergency air packs weren’t on site.

A foreman typically oversees extraction operations, and in this case, filled out parts of the incident report alongside Linnitt.

CNRL declined to comment on this investigation in an emailed statement, and did not respond to multiple requests for interviews.

According to Linnitt, lying on official paperwork to the benefit of industry employers is a transgression rarely caught, but part of a “systemic problem” of oilpatch rule-breaking, in which “good people are incentivized to lie” to keep their jobs.

In that incident report, obtained by National Observer and Global News, Linnitt was applauded by his CNRL supervisor, a foreman, for “excellent safety practice” for using the air packs. But a conversation Linnitt secretly recorded after the paperwork was filed reveals the foreman knew the emergency air packs weren’t on site. MORE


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David Attenborough, the voice of Our Planet: “Things are going to get worse”

The voice of some of the most stunning nature documentaries ever made is pessimistic about the future of wildlife on earth.

“Unless we act within the next 10 years, we are in real trouble,” Attenborough told Vox. Shannon Finney/Getty Images

David Attenborough is the most famous nature storyteller on television. The 92-year-old producer, narrator, and documentarian essentially invented the genre of television nature documentaries in his decades-long career at the BBC. Programs like Life on Earth, Blue Planet, and Planet Earth have brought the wild world into the homes of urban dwellers for decades.

These series focused on the wonderful grandness and diversity of life on earth, conjuring up images of a world that is seemingly untouched by humans. But these also, at times, skirted around the ecological crises threatening life on the planet — which are caused by humans.

Now, Attenborough is coming into a slightly different role: advocate for fleeting biodiversity and ecosystems.

His latest venture is narrating the Netflix documentary Our Planet, which injects wildlife conservation advocacy into every episode much more deliberately than previous series. The producers hope to reach a billion people with the series and its accompanying website, with the goal of educating people about the natural world. And they’ve sent Attenborough on a press tour that includes advocating on behalf of disappearing wildlife and ecosystems at institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Attenborough has also recently lent his voice to a BBC documentary called Climate Change: The Facts, which explains the science and grim statistics fueling the climate change threat.

“I find it hard to exaggerate the peril,” Attenborough said at the IMF earlier in April, according to the Guardian. “This is the new extinction and we are half way through it. We are in terrible, terrible trouble and the longer we wait to do something about it the worse it is going to get.” MORE