Merkel backs Macron’s call for G7 talks on Amazon fires

Angela Merkel has backed Emmanuel Macron’s call to put the fires in the Amazon on the agenda at this weekend’s G7 summit, after the French president said the situation amounted to an international crisis.

Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for the German chancellor, told journalists in Berlin on Friday: “The extent of the fires in the Amazon area is shocking and threatening, not only for Brazil and the other affected countries, but also for the whole world.

“When the G7 comes together this weekend, then the chancellor is convinced that this acute emergency in the Amazon rainforest belongs on the agenda.”

…But  international concern continued to be expressed over the scale of the fires. The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said he was deeply concerned: “In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity.”

London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, tweeted that the fires were being “aided and abetted by the Brazilian government”. The burning of the rainforest was “an act of shocking environmental vandalism with global consequences”. MORE


How Alberta’s biggest oil companies are still raking in billions

Suncor Energy Fort McMurray

The Narwhal dug into the financial statements of the five biggest oil companies operating in Alberta to get a sense of how they’re really faring. Despite the ‘tough times,’ their CEOs are still taking home millions annually — including generous bonuses

Albertans have heard it time and time again: it’s a tough time for the province’s oil and gas industry.

There are the suggestions from the prime minister that Alberta is in “crisis” as a result of low energy prices. The country’s natural resources minister has weighed in too, noting that “Alberta hurts.” There are headlines declaring “tough times” for oil producers and warning that the Alberta government is on a path toward “fiscal disaster.”

With so many gloomy headlines, one would be forgiven for thinking that the major oil companies operating in the province — the so-called ‘Big Five’ — are hurting, too.

But are they?

In November, the Edmonton-based Parkland Institute released a reportthat suggested the opposite.

The Big Five, which the report says control 79.3 per cent of Canada’s productive capacity of bitumen, are still posting profits, and in some cases they’re sizeable — with profit margins of upward of 13 per cent, according to the Parkland Institute.

In Canada, the Big Five are Suncor Energy, CNRL, Cenovus, Imperial Oil and Husky Energy.

Suncor Energy Centre building in Calgary

Suncor Energy Centre building in Calgary, Alta. Suncor has the most assets, highest revenue and most employees of the Big Five, according to the Parkland Institute. Photo: Bernard Spragg / Flickr

The report compares the Big Five’s gross profits with the government of Alberta’s income for 2017, which was $47.3 billion. According to Parkland’s analysis, the Big Five, taken together, brought in almost the same amount in aggregate profits in 2017 — $46.6 billion.

Alberta’s income for the whole province is roughly equivalent to the total profits of the five largest energy companies, according to Parkland’s calculations.

The Parkland report pointed out that, “in 2016, the average profit margin for all industries in Canada was 7.8 per cent. Three of the Big Five — Suncor, Cenovus and CNRL — had net profit rates above 13.5 per cent in 2017, and Cenovus’s profit margin was an impressive 19.4%.”

Parkland suggests that the profit margins for some of the country’s largest energy companies far exceed that of the majority of other businesses. MORE


Climate change a ‘serious concern’ for Canadians, poll finds — even if Albertans don’t feel the same

Environmentalist group objects to finalized impact assessment regulations

Base Mine Lake with Syncrude’s Mildred Lake mine in the background north of Fort McMurray, Alta., on Thursday, September 13, 2018. (Codie McLachlan/Star Metro Edmonton)

The Trudeau government is wrong to exclude major industrial activities like the construction of new cement plants and in-situ oilsands projects from requiring federal review under new impact assessment legislation, an environmentalist group said Wednesday.

Environmental Defence says omitting these high-carbon activities from the so-called project list is not congruent with the Liberals’ commitment to fight climate change and ‘green’ the Canadian economy.

“We are dismayed that today’s new regulations leave high carbon projects off the list of what needs to undergo a federal impact assessment,” Julia Levin, climate and energy program manager with Environmental Defence, said in a statement.

“Exempting oil and gas projects from environmental review is like saying you’re going to study the environmental impacts of road vehicles and then giving a free pass to SUVs and transport trucks.”

READ MORE: Proposed impact assessment regulations draw ire of environmental groups

The project list, published earlier this month in the Canada Gazette, sets out the types of industrial and energy activities that must undergo review under the Liberals’ Impact Assessment Act, a major part of Bill C-69, which was passed against the wishes of the oil and gas industry and many Conservative politicians in June. MORE

Among the activities included in the list are oilsands mines and major nuclear and hydro projects.

Environmental groups first raised concerns in May when the draft project list and related regulations were submitted for public comment.

At the time, the West Coast Environmental Law Association also objected to the omission of a “trigger” that would mandate assessments based on a project’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmental Defence said a greenhouse gas trigger, absent as well in the final regulations, would have “ensured fairness in Canada’s plan to take an economy-wide approach” to reducing emissions by ensuring that any large carbon project, regardless of sector, would receive an assessment.

A spokesperson for Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said during public consultations, the government heard from Canadians that the project list should be maintained as is, without the threshold trigger.

“As such, we maintained an approach that indicates a project list, not a threshold list,” Sabrina Kim told iPolitics in a statement, noting that the Liberals are also proceeding with methane regulations, pricing carbon pollution, a clean fuel standard and phasing out coal by 2030, among other measures to reduce emissions.

Environmental Defence also argued that every class of project in the finalized regulations, including pipelines, mines, coal mines, nuclear reactors, highways, has seen the size thresholds to require review increased from previous rules. For example, coal mines have to be 60 per cent larger to warrant a review than previous regulations, according to Environmental Defence.

“The decisions we make today with regards to our energy infrastructure will have consequences for generations to come. The wrong decisions will lead to emissions being locked in for decades,” Levin warned.  MORE

Ford’s senior officials hoped to keep mandate letters away from public view ‘as long as possible’

CBC News plans to continue fight for marching orders to ministers as Ontario looks to keep them secret

Premier Doug Ford’s government has gone to court to fight an order to release mandate letters to his cabinet ministers. (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)

Senior officials inside the Ford government planned to keep letters to cabinet members about their mandates secret as long as they could, a CBC News freedom of information request reveals.

CBC News first filed a request for copies of the mandate letters sent by Ontario Premier Doug Ford to all of Ontario’s 22 ministries and two non-portfolio responsibilities in July 2018. Mandate letters are a premier’s overall marching orders to cabinet ministers.

The request was denied by the cabinet office, which claimed disclosing the records would “reveal the substance of the executive council or its committees.”

But in an email dated July 31, 2018 obtained by CBC News, the executive director of policy to the premier suggests it was the government’s position to keep the letters from public view.

“Here’s the letters. As I said, the intention is to keep them to ourselves as long as possible,” Greg Harrington said in the email to the chief of staff’s senior policy adviser, Derek O’Toole.

O’Toole’s response: “Thanks Greg ! Understood 😊. ”

Exemption doesn’t apply: privacy commissioner

The revelation comes after Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner Brian Beamish disclosed the government plans to go to court to prevent the release of the letters to CBC News.

I ordered their release because Ontarians have a right to know what the government’s policy priorities are.– Brian Beamish, information and privacy commissioner

“There is no persuasive evidence or argument before me that disclosure (of the letters) would give rise to a chilling effect on cabinet deliberations …To a great extent, the mandate letters bear a close resemblance to the detailed policy platforms often produced by political parties during election campaigns,” Beamish said in his ruling.

In a blog posted Wednesday, Beamish explained that after reviewing the mandate letters, he determined they did not reveal government deliberations, the substance of any meetings or discussions by the premier’s office.

“The purpose of our freedom of information law is to support the public’s ‘right to know.’ Unless government records are exempt, they should be disclosed to the public. In this case, the mandate letters do not qualify for exemption as cabinet documents,” he said, adding he directed the cabinet office to disclose the letters by Aug. 16.

Beamish learned of court challenge Aug. 14

In a blog posted Wednesday, Ontario privacy commissioner Brian Beamish explained that after reviewing the mandate letters, he determined they did not reveal government deliberations, the substance of any meetings or discussions by the premier’s office. (CBC)

“I ordered their release because Ontarians have a right to know what the government’s policy priorities are,” he said.

Instead, on Aug. 14, Beamish said, he learned the government planned to take his office to court to prevent the letters from being released.

Mandate letters are commonly used by provincial governments across the country. Every other premier who issues them not only makes the letters public as a matter of course, they also publish them online as a deliberate way to allow the public to understand what the government plans to accomplish during its term.



Ford government sues privacy commissioner to block release of cabinet letters

Corporate America lays out a green(er) agenda

CBC business columnist Don Pittis examines the sincerity of a recent pact from a group representing U.S. corporations that would see it take a more active role in protecting the environment.

As part of a plan to distance themselves from a single-minded focus on short-term shareholder value, nearly 200 corporate leaders from the Business Roundtable, an association that advocates for large U.S. corporations, have added the environment to their list of concerns.

Business luminaries such as Apple’s Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, General Motors honcho Mary Barra and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase (above), were among those who signed the new document.

“We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses,” said part of the new Statement of Purpose of a Corporation formulated by the group.

The green portions of the statement fly in the face of the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has consistently eroded environmental regulations, expressed support for coal mining and withdrawn his country from the Paris climate accord. 

This list of new, non-binding principles represents a departure for a business organization that since 1997 has emphasized shareholder primacy.

“It affirms the essential role corporations can play in improving our society when CEOs are truly committed to meeting the needs of all stakeholders,” said Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson.

In the past, the Business Roundtable has offered what has been described as qualified support for action on climate change. But the sweeping new statement seems to take broad social responsibility well beyond the group’s traditional focus on the bottom line. Of course, these executives still see market forces as the way to attain that goal.

“We believe the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all,” declares the new statement of purpose.

Perhaps with all the talk of socialism and a Green New Deal, corporate leaders worry they will be forced to shake up their profitable strategies to save the world.

The apparent move leftward has been criticized from both sides, with one business commentator calling it “pious bunk,” saying that corporations can’t do their job of making money while organizing society at the same time.

Indeed, the new principles conflict with the somewhat cynical North American capitalist model, where companies concentrate on doing anything legal to maximize profits, and governments, guided by the popular will, decide what is legal. MORE

After 15 years, final Yukon agreement signed to protect the Peel watershed

Long-awaited regional plan completed with involvement from 5 governments

The Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan was signed Thursday afternoon on the bank of the Stewart River in Mayo, Yukon. (Steve Silva/CBC)

It has taken more than 15 years of consultations, protests, court battles and more consultations — and now a final plan for the future of the vast expanse of Yukon wilderness known as the Peel Watershed has been set.

The Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan was signed Thursday afternoon on the bank of the Stewart River in Mayo, Yukon. It was signed by the Yukon government and the Yukon First Nations of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, Tr’ondek Hwëch’in and Vuntut Gwitchin, as well as the Gwich’in Tribal Council of the Northwest Territories.

According to a news release, the plan guides the future use of land and resources of 67,431 square kilometres of “ecologically sensitive” land in northern Yukon. That amounts to about 16 per cent of the territory.

“The way it finally worked out, to have the interests of the Yukon people and the interests of First Nations in this plan — to have that accepted and prevail — is fantastic,” said David Loeks, who chaired the Peel Planning Commission, the independent body that handled the initial consultation and recommendations.

“To have this legacy of this large landscape well protected is equally wonderful.”

Hikers relax in the alpine terrain above the Hart River in the Peel Watershed Region. Thursday’s agreement covers future use of land and resources in about 16 per cent of the territory. (Juri Peepre)

The region is divided into 16 land management units, each of which will have specific recommendations around land use, conservation and monitoring. The units will be include:

  • 55 per cent: special management area
  • 25 per cent: wilderness area
  • 17 per cent: integrated management area
  • Three per cent: wilderness area — Boreal caribou

The wilderness area — Boreal caribou is a new designation to address Yukon’s obligations to protect the caribou’s habitat.

Disagreement between the Yukon government, conservationists and First Nations over how much of the watershed should be protected from industrial development went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The territorial government was found to have ignored its treaty obligations when, in 2012, it ignored the Peel Planning Commission’s recommendations to protect about 80 per cent of the region from development, and instead presented its own plan that would have seen roughly 30 per cent of the region protected.

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Chief Roberta Joseph speaks at the ceremony. She said in a statement that the plan ‘completes our journey to defend the integrity of our agreements.’ (Steve Silva/CBC)

The attempt to subvert the protection of the Peel kicked off a widespread grassroots protest and created a flashpoint for First Nations-government relations in Yukon.

In 2017, the Supreme Court ordered the territorial government restart the process and follow its obligations to meaningfully consult First Nations — and respect the recommendations of that consultation. By that time, an election had ousted the Yukon Party, which had brought forward the controversial plan.

“After 15 years of controversy that led all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, we have confirmed the integrity of our final agreements and the rights of our people to sit at the decision-making table when the fate of our ancestral lands is determined,” said Na-cho Nyäk Dun Chief Simon Mervyn.



Why environmentalists are taking their climate fight to Canadian courtrooms

Lawsuits against governments and oil companies are being used as tools to drive action

Youth engaged in a climate lawsuit against the federal government stand outside Montreal’s Palais de Justice on June 6. They have filed a class action on behalf of all young people in Quebec, alleging their right to a healthy environment is being violated. (Jean-Francois Benoit/CBC)

As a band of young environmental activists crowded into a courtroom at Montreal’s Palais de justice earlier this month, Zy St-Pierre-Bourdelais admitted to being nervous.

“It’s the first time in my life I’m going to court,” he said.

No stranger to climate activism, the 20-year-old college student is part of a Quebec environmental group asking the courts to declare that the Canadian government is violating the rights of an entire generation by depriving them of a right to a healthy environment.

“The justice system is supposed to be based on laws, on fact, on science,” says St-Pierre-Bourdelais.

“Climate change is based on science. Politics are not.”

The case is unprecedented in Canada, but it’s part of a growing wave of climate litigation worldwide. It’s led by environmentalists and communities aiming to force cuts to carbon emissions, and win damages to pay for the costs of adapting to climate change.

“If we had taken [climate] action when I was a kid, things would be much different than they are right now,” says 29-year-old Catherine Gauthier, executive director of ENvironnement JEUnesse, the non-profit behind the Quebec lawsuit.

“Perhaps we wouldn’t need legal actions to make sure our rights and the lives of future generations would not be at stake right now.”

Catherine Gauthier sits on a picnic table in Île Saint-Bernard in Chateauguay, Que. She says she’s tired of the lack of real action around climate change. (Jean-Francois Benoit/CBC)

A global movement

More than 1,000 climate-change-related lawsuits are winding through courts around the world, according to a database compiled by the Sabin Centre for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School in New York.

The flurry of cases follows a groundbreaking decision in the Netherlands in 2015, in which the government was found to be disregarding its constitutional duty to protect citizens from climate change. The decision forced the Dutch government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 per cent compared to 1990 levels.

Similar legal actions are underway in Belgium, Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland, Colombia, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

The courts are where politicians sometimes fear to tread. – Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist, Greenpeace, Canada

“The courts are where politicians sometimes fear to tread,” says Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada.

“Whether you’re looking at women’s rights, civil rights, equality in marriage, it was often the courts that pushed the politicians … the courts can blaze that path.”

Greenpeace Canada’s Keith Stewart is working with cities to explore climate litigation, including the City of Toronto, which announced in April that it will consider legal action against big emitters. (Jill English/CBC)

But it’s not only policy makers who are being held to account for lack of climate action.

In the U.S., the world’s most litigious country, lawsuits against fossil-fuel companies are also on the rise. MORE