A sodium-ion (Na-ion) battery that is claimed to be able to store as much energy as commonplace lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, but with a much-reduced environmental cost, has been developed by researchers.
A team from Washington State University (WSU) and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) reported one of the best results to date for a sodium-ion battery, with a design that holds more than 80 per cent of its charge after 1,000 cycles.
This is a key metric that makes it more appealing than other touted next-gen battery technologies, such as lithium-sulphur which starts to lose its capacity after just a few recharge cycles.
“This is a major development for sodium-ion batteries,” said Dr. Imre Gyuk, who works for the US Department of Energy. “There is great interest around the potential for replacing Li-ion batteries with Na-ion in many applications.”
Li-ion batteries have become the de facto choice for electronic gadgets, electric cars and even the mass storage of renewable electricity on the grid.
However, these batteries are made from materials such as cobalt and lithium that are rare, expensive and mostly found outside the US. In 2018, German researchers warned that shortages of these metals are expected by 2050, with demand expected to rise exponentially over the coming years.
Sodium-ion batteries could solve the issue as they are made from cheap, abundant and sustainable sodium from the earth’s oceans or crust. Up until now, this technology has been hampered by having a lower storage capacity and short lifespans.
A key problem for some of the most promising cathode materials is that a layer of inactive sodium crystals builds up at the surface of the cathode, stopping the flow of sodium ions and, consequently, killing the battery.
“The key challenge is for the battery to have both high energy density and a good cycle life,” said Junhua Song, lead author on the paper.
As part of the work, the research team created a layered metal oxide cathode and a liquid electrolyte that included extra sodium ions, creating a saltier soup that had a better interaction with their cathode. Their cathode design and electrolyte system allowed for continued movement of sodium ions, preventing inactive surface crystal build-up and allowing for unimpeded electricity generation.
“Our research revealed the essential correlation between cathode structure evolution and surface interaction with the electrolyte,” Lin said. “These are the best results ever reported for a sodium-ion battery with a layered cathode, showing that this is a viable technology that can be comparable to lithium-ion batteries.”
The researchers are now working to better understand the important interaction between their electrolyte and the cathode, so they can work with different materials for improved battery design. They also want to design a battery that doesn’t use cobalt, another relatively expensive and rare metal.
“This work paves the way toward practical sodium-ion batteries and the fundamental insights we gained about the cathode-electrolyte interaction shed light on how we might develop future cobalt-free or low-cobalt cathode materials in sodium-ion batteries, as well as in other types of battery chemistries,” Song said. “If we can find viable alternatives to both lithium and cobalt, the sodium-ion battery could truly be competitive with lithium-ion batteries”.
The Sumatran rhino is among the rarest mammals on Earth. Photo: Getty
A new study finds further evidence that humans are driving the world’s sixth mass extinction. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday, this research focuses on terrestrial vertebrates—amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles—and found that more than 500 species are “on the brink of extinction,” per the paper.
The extinction of vertebrates isn’t just about losing beautiful creatures to admire. Each and every species plays some type of ecological function. The loss of a single one can have a cascading effect on the rest of the species within its ecosystem, effects that can impact humans as well.
“The current extinction crisis is one of the more urgent global environmental problems and the only one [that is] truly irreversible,” author Gerardo Ceballos, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Institute of Ecology, told Earther in an email. “Once a species is gone, there is no way to bring it back. Our paper indicates that is vastly speeding up.”
The paper authors rely on datasets compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which tracks endangered species. They looked at 29,400 terrestrial vertebrate species and used their population size to map the most at-risk. That is, those with population sizes fewer than 1,000 individuals. The authors also looked at species with population sizes smaller than 5,000 individuals to highlight what species may be next on the chopping block.
At least 1.7 percent of terrestrial vertebrate species have fewer than 1,000 individuals left. This includes species like the Sumatran rhino and the Española giant tortoise. Most of those species are located in South America and in the tropics at-large. Birds make up the highest proportion of those impacted. That’s in line with previousresearch that shows birds, in particular, are suffering from the pressures of deforestation and climate change, which can throw their migratory rhythms out of synch.
While this data set looks at species with fewer than 1,000 individuals, the scientists found that many of these species’ numbers are much lower than that. More than half of these species are estimated to have population sizes of 250 individuals or fewer. That’s especially true among mammals and amphibians. Previous research has indicated that amphibians—including those we haven’t even discovered yet—are being lost at a staggering rate. There are 903 species of vertebrates with under 5,000 individuals left, indicating those already pushed to the edge could have more company soon.
“By focusing on the species of wildlife that humans care most about, including mammals and birds that are down to less than 1,000 individuals, these scientists point out that extinction is accelerating, and this is undermining the life-support systems humanity depends on,” Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity who was not involved in this paper, told Earther in an email. “They are stating clearly that the very survival of humanity is at stake here. We are no longer looking at the loss of obscure species that most people aren’t interested in. We are looking at biological annihilation.”
Data on some wildlife species is pretty limited, which means this destruction may be a lot worse than the numbers tell. Ceballos fully expects that there are more species on the brink than those outlined in the new study. Until scientists can gather data on their population sizes, just how many are at-risk remain a mystery.
The thing is, we’re running out of time to take action to save these species. A landmark report released last year found that we could see a million species go extinct over the next few decades, all due to humans. Habitat destruction, the wildlife trade, and climate change are all putting pressure on the natural world. Today’s extinction rates are hundreds or thousands of times faster than the rates we’ve seen during previous extinction events. To put this in context, in the last 100 years, Ceballos said we’ve lost as many species as would historically have been lost over 10,000 years if humans weren’t altering the environment so radically.
That also means we’re running out of time to save ourselves. We need the natural world as intact as possible because it provides ecological services humans take for granted. Those services include filtering freshwater, protecting shores from storm surge, and pollination for crops among countless others. Until we can create sufficient measures to protect habitats and end the illegal wildlife trade that fuels this crisis, this extinction event will continue to unfurl. There will be no one to blame besides us.
“There have been five previous mass extinctions,” Ceballos told Earther. “This is the only one caused by humans. And it is very different for that. We are the cause. But our survival is at stake because of this massive loss of species.”
Temperature checks, desk shields and no public transit: The guidelines would remake office life. Some may decide it’s easier to keep employees at home.
Offices at the University of California, Irvine’s infection prevention division last month, which has installed sneeze guards separating cubicles and encourages mask-wearing and hand-sanitizing. Credit. Alex Welsh for The New York Times
Upon arriving at work, employees should get a temperature and symptom check.
Inside the office, desks should be six feet apart. If that isn’t possible, employers should consider erecting plastic shields around desks.
If followed, the guidelines would lead to a far-reaching remaking of the corporate work experience. They even upend years of advice on commuting, urging people to drive to work by themselves, instead of taking mass transportation or car-pooling, to avoid potential exposure to the virus.
The recommendations run from technical advice on ventilation systems (more open windows are most desirable) to suggested abolition of communal perks like latte makers and snack bins.
“Replace high-touch communal items, such as coffee pots, water coolers, and bulk snacks, with alternatives such as prepackaged, single-serving items,” the guidelines say.
And some border on the impractical, if not near impossible: “Limit use and occupancy of elevators to maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet.”
The C.D.C., the nation’s top public health agency, posted the guidelines on its website as states are beginning to lift their most stringent lockdown orders. Shops, restaurants, beaches and parks are reopening in phases. But white-collar office employees at all levels mostly continue to work from home, able to function effectively with laptops, video conferencing and Slack.
Some of the measures are in keeping with what some employers are already planning, but other employers may simply decide it’s easier to keep employees working from home.
“Companies, surprisingly, don’t want to go back to work,” said Russell Hancock, president and CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a nonprofit think tank that studies the region. “You will not see the drum beat and hue and cry and rush to get back to the office.”
Citing extreme examples like Twitter, which has said it may never return to corporate office space, Mr. Hancock said that he has heard similar things from both Silicon Valley companies and those outside the region. Many are planning to stay safe by thinning who is required to come to work, along with making plans consistent with the C.D.C. guidelines.
“Incessant disinfecting of surfaces, cleansing out your HVAC,” he said, referring to the ventilation system, “opening windows, ventilation, all of those things.”
Tracy Wymer, vice president of workplace for Knoll, Inc., a large office-furniture company, who has been in discussions with numerous companies about the safest way to reopen, said he agreed with much of what the C.D.C. was advising but he added that a big part of successful reopening would involve employee compliance.
“The biggest factor is on the work force and the personal responsibility they must take in making this reality work,” he said.
The C.D.C. addressed that part too, reiterating what has become a kind of national mantra: regular hand washing of at least 20 seconds; no fist bumps or handshakes; no face touching.
The C.D.C. recommended that the isolation for employees should begin before they get to work — on their commute. In a stark change from public policy guidelines in the recent past, the agency said individuals should drive to work — alone.
Employers should support this effort, the agency said: “Offer employees incentives to use forms of transportation that minimize close contact with others, such as offering reimbursement for parking for commuting to work alone or single-occupancy rides.”
Smaller companies also have already been discussing how to reopen, some with the kinds of ideas the C.D.C. is recommending. But there are distinctive challenges in many offices. For instance, those that do not have windows that open to the outside, permitting ventilation; have little or no access to outdoor space; or are small and open, with floor plans that were de rigueur just six months ago and now are verboten.
Peter Kimmel, the publisher of FMLink, a publication serving the facilities management industry, said that the C.D.C. guidelines are “a good checklist of what needs to be done.”
But they also raise numerous questions, he said, including how social distancing will work. “This means many fewer workplaces per floor, reducing the density considerably. Where will the remaining workers be housed? Will the furniture work in the new layout?” he asked.
“While there are many solutions, these often require substantial thought and a budget that likely doesn’t exist,” he said.
Mobify, a Vancouver-based company with 40 employees that helps build digital storefronts for major retailers, moved back into its office last week and has already made a number of the changes recommended by the C.D.C. The building’s landlord now requires mask use in the elevator. Other changes the company made on its own.
“One person per table. We put arrows on the floor so people will go to the restroom one direction and come out the other,” said Igor Faletski, the company’s chief executive. “No more shared food. Sanitation stations with wipes.”
At the same time, he said, there may be a larger force at work: the impulses of the workers themselves.
“Since we opened up last week, only five employees have come in,” he said. “Because the office is quite big, there was room for people to sit in different corners.”
Matt Richtel is a best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter based in San Francisco. He joined The Times staff in 2000, and his work has focused on science, technology, business and narrative-driven storytelling around these issues. @mrichtel
As provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said, employees should not be penalized for staying home, yet that’s exactly what happens to workers who don’t have access to paid sick leave.
Vancouver Coastal Health declared a COVID-19 outbreak at the United Poultry Co.Google Maps
Workers in B.C. without a union collective agreement have no paid sick leave rights under the Employment Standards Act — the provincial legislation that contains the minimum conditions of employment for all workers, such as minimum wage and statutory holidays with pay.
On March 23, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government made two changes to the Employment Standards Act:
• provision for job-protected leave in the event that workers are unable to work for reasons directly relating to COVID-19;
• provision for up to three days of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for workers who cannot work due to other illness or injury.
However, recent events such as the discovery that 28 employees of United Poultry in Vancouver tested positive for the virus because employees who felt sick were worried about losing pay if they called in sick, demonstrate that the Employment Standards Act is still inadequate to provide vulnerable workers with appropriate rights and protections in the face of this crisis.
Responding to questions about the COVID-19 outbreak at United Poultry on April 22, Premier John Horgan stated that provincial benefits needed to be beefed up for sick employees, and that under the circumstances it was irresponsible for employees to report for work sick. But it is unfair to accuse sick workers of being irresponsible when they stand to lose income by not reporting for work in such circumstances. As provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said, employees should not be penalized for staying home, yet that is exactly what happens to workers who don’t have access to paid sick leave.
To date, there has been no government action on this issue. Clearly, the Employment Standards Act is inadequate to address the pressing need of providing all workers with a right to job-protected paid sick leave as a minimum condition of employment.
In addition, Employment Insurance sick leave benefit provisions are inadequate to discourage workers in low-paid precarious employment from reporting for work sick because of the restrictive eligibility requirements, low level of benefits and bureaucratic claims process. To be eligible for EI sick leave benefits, employees must have had 600 insured hours of employment in the 52 weeks prior to a claim, their normal weekly earnings reduced by 40 per cent, and provide proof of illness or injury by producing a medical certificate. And even if they qualify for the EI sick leave benefit, it amounts to only 55 per cent of their earnings, to a maximum of $573 a week, which is vastly inadequate for low-wage workers.
And while the new temporary Canada Emergency Response Benefit is nominally available to workers who are quarantined or sick due to COVID-19, it only covers those who miss so much work due to sickness that they earn $1,000 or less in a four-week benefit period. CERB does not cover lost pay for workers who stay home when they feel ill but it turns out to not be COVID-19 and they are able to return to work within a week or so, which is why we continue to see people reporting to work ill.
B.C.’s Employment Standards Act is years behind other developed countries that have legislated paid sick leave. At least 145 countries provide paid sick leave for short- or long-term illness. Many high-income economies require employers to provide paid sick days upwards of 10 days. In the U.S., there is a trend toward paid sick time, with 12 states now having adopted guaranteed paid sick days, including our neighbours on the West Coast — Washington, Oregon and California.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the Employment Standards Act should provide for up to 21 days of job-protected paid sick leave for the duration of this public health emergency. Thereafter, permanent paid sick leave provision should be legislated so that workers accrue credits in a paid sick leave bank based on their annual hours worked, similar to that provided in Washington State.
It is now abundantly evident, as never before, that the universal right of workers to paid sick leave is an essential element of a comprehensive public health protection program.
David Fairey is a labour economist, research associate at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, B.C. Office, and co-chair of the B.C. Employment Standards Coalition.
When traditional power structures are threatened, fear is one byproduct. Opportunity for real change is another
An anti-racism demonstration in Montreal on Oct. 7, 2018. ‘We must accept that the hate crimes and interpersonal racism we are witnessing are part of much larger systems of racism.’ Photo by Graham Hughes, the Canadian Press.
When the first reports of a new virus emerged from China, it was like hearing the first fizzle of a lit fuse. When COVID-19 exploded, wreaking havoc on our habits and ways of life, melting down the economy as we know it and heightening anxieties and fears, the boom reverberated around the world.
Through the dust and the smoke, fear is manifesting in racism, violence and discrimination. In many crises we see the same pattern — violence occurs when and where power and control are threatened. We can see this phenomenon not only in the rash of racist violence in our communities, but also in the spikes of domestic violence within our homes.
Indeed, the pandemic does threaten entrenched power, both individual and systemic. It has made many of us much more aware of the inherent fallibility of our bodies, our habits, our social structures. The fear has some of us falling back on old racist tropes— the hallmarks of human hierarchy.
While this moment has created a flashpoint for anti-Asian racism in our communities, it is not new. Racism — specifically anti-Chinese and anti-Asian racism — has a long history in Canada. From the Chinese head tax to the Chinese exclusion tax, anti-Chinese racism has been embedded in the power structures of our country for generations.
If we are to successfully challenge its manifestations, we must accept that the hate crimes and interpersonal racism we are witnessing are part of much larger systems of racism. We must understand these incidents of hate within the context of power and marginalization that are deeply entrenched in Canadian society. When we recognize these incidents as embedded in bigger structures, we can see that the solutions must be transformative of those very structures.
This can feel like an insurmountable task. The rash of racist violence sweeping British Columbia has left so many of us — myself included — at times afraid, infuriated, or both. As B.C.’s human rights commissioner, I have more responsibility and more tools than most to fight the rising tide of hate, and yet I find myself at times immobilized in the face of such senseless violence.
But I also believe that transformative, disruptive change is more possible now than it has been in my lifetime, because there is a flip side to the chaos of disruption at this scale. When our traditional structures of power are threatened, fear is one byproduct and opportunity for real change is another.
Much of what this crisis has brought has been painful but there is also been a groundswell of collective caring and courageous action. People are buying groceries for their elderly neighbours and running errands for people they’ve only just met through social media connections.
Governments at all levels have swiftly enacted programs to support those affected by the pandemic including housing the homeless, getting financial aid to those who need it, and delivering public health initiatives in new and innovative ways. What we are accomplishing together right now is showing us all what we are truly capable of. I believe the same transformative change is called for in response to the rise in racism that we are witnessing.
The boom we heard when this crisis began may well have marked the end of the world as we know it. Despite the fear, or maybe because of it, we are left with pivotal questions: How much is possible when we find ourselves in a moment where nothing operates as usual? What opportunities does this crisis give us to make transformational change to the structures of racism and white supremacy that underpin these incidents? Can our shared human fragility ultimately make us stronger as a society?
Canada protests police violence, racism in shadow of U.S. tumult
Black Lives Matter – Toronto co-founder Sandy Hudson (centre) with Jordan Monroe (left) and Pascale Diverlus (right) outside Toronto police headquarters at a protest in 2016. Photo by Paige Gallette
Protests against police brutality spread from the United States to Canada over the weekend, sparked in part by last week’s death of a young Black woman in Toronto, as critics argue that systemic racism festers just as deeply here.
Thousands of people took to Toronto’s streets on Saturday, while similar events took place in Montreal, Vancouver and other Canadian cities this weekend, and more are planned.
The protests come amid a week of tense confrontations in cities across the United States, sparked by the death of George Floyd, who spent the last eight minutes of his life pleading with a Minneapolis police officer to take his knee off Floyd’s neck.
In Toronto, protesters marched to the headquarters of the city’s police force to demand answers after 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet fell to her death from her 24th storey apartment while alone inside with police officers on Wednesday evening.
As global investors pull away, RBC, CIBC, TD Bank and other giants double down.
Toronto’s banking district extends a crucial lifeline to Alberta’s oil patch as its financial health rapidly declines. Photo: Shutterstock.
Last November, a Calgary business crowd paid up to $110 a ticket to attend a lunchtime speech given by one of the Alberta oil patch’s most powerful allies. The event, hosted by the Economic Club of Canada, was entitled “The importance of Canada’s energy sector,” and the speaker that day was Victor Dodig, head of the Toronto-based bank CIBC, which has nearly $652 billion in assets.
With Canadian and Alberta flags draped behind the podium, Alex Pourbaix, president and CEO of the oilsands producer Cenovus, provided a brief and gushing introduction. “Victor and CIBC have been consistently strong supporters of the Canadian oil and gas industry,” he said. “I would say it actually goes beyond just being a supporter of the industry to being a defender of this industry.”
Pourbaix told the room that it’s “incredibly important” to have defenders like Dodig, because the oilsands are facing a “barrage of attacks” from environmental groups and politicians worried about climate change. He brought up the time in 2018 when Whistler’s mayor demanded that oilsands companies pay for climate damage linked to their business model and CIBC responded by cancelling an oil and gas investors conference in the town. Pourbaix expressed his “sincere” gratitude to Dodig for “defending our industry.”
Dodig took the stage urging the crowd to feel proud and patriotic about oil. “The energy sector in particular is a critical aspect of our national economy and a critical aspect of our national identity,” said the CIBC president and CEO. “It’s been that way for generations.” Dodig said to keep the sector strong Canada must immediately build the Trans Mountain pipeline. “This is a project that’s got to get done without any further debate,” he said.
And though Dodig acknowledged that an increasing number of large financial institutions are divesting from oil and gas, decisions made because of the industry’s high carbon emissions and mounting financial risks, he ended his half-hour speech by suggesting the oilsands industry has nothing to worry about from Canadian banks. “I can assure that the CIBC team will be here to address the challenges and the opportunities that no doubt will lie ahead,” he said.
Recent events have proven that promise to be genuine. As oil prices crater in the wake of COVID-19, shuttering nearly two million barrels of bitumen production per day, Dodig is now committing CIBC to doing all it can to ensure that oilsands companies “have the financial strength to deal with this very unique challenge.” His fellow banking executives appear to be taking the same approach, despite growing fears among investors about oil producers being unable to make good on tens of billions of dollars’ worth of loans.
Whether that strategy is financially wise or not, oil executives like Pourbaix are grateful. “I do want to give a bit of an appreciation to the Canadian banks,” he told an investor call not long before Cenovus announced a massive $1.8-billion quarterly loss. “In all my discussions with them, I think to an institution, they see the importance of this industry, and they have been very, very strong and standing behind the industry and working with the industry to provide liquidity.”
The business case for oilsands has never been weaker. So why are major Canadian banks committed to keeping the industry alive?
Dodig is not the only Canadian bank CEO to make the case for aggressive oilsands expansion. “We need roads, rail and pipelines to continue to harness our natural resources, which pay for much of what we take for granted and connect our country together,” RBC president and CEO Dave McKay said last year.
Scotiabank president and CEO Brian Porter has meanwhile called for “desperately needed pipelines, processing and export facilities.” And echoing Rebel News founder Ezra Levant’s “Ethical Oil” argument, TD Bank Group president and CEO Bharat Marani has asked “would you rather have this energy supplied by companies and entities in North America, where you have strict standards, strict regulation, strict enforcement? Or do you want the world [oil] demand to come from places where they may not have a similar kind of protocol?”
The support of these banking executives appears unwavering even as the oil industry’s financial health rapidly declines. Canada’s largest banks began the year with nearly $60 billion in loans to energy companies. But by April, roughly half of those energy companies had junk credit ratings, meaning they’re at a high risk of defaulting, which led BNN Bloomberg to report that “for Canadian banks, lending to energy producers is a riskier bet than ever.” Some oilsands investors, it noted, “have lost money with breathtaking speed.”
Banks have responded, however, by extending credit, relaxing payback requirements and helping oil companies restructure — whatever they can do to “be there for them,” in the words of TD’s Masrani. One analyst quoted by Bloomberg explained that “we have no reason to believe that Canadian banks will make any wholesale exit out of Canadian energy, and we assume that support [that] was there in 2015 and 2016 [oil downturns] will remain in place.”
CIBC, RBC, TD and Bank of Montreal didn’t respond to The Tyee’s request for comment. A spokesperson for Scotiabank wrote “Unfortunately [we] will pass on the opportunity to comment.”
The financial assistance provided by these banks is crucial for the oil industry’s ability to survive this crisis — and potentially recover. “The banks are supporting these oilsands companies every step of the way,” said Alison Kirsch, climate and energy researcher for the Rainforest Action Network, a watchdog group that’s tracked the relationship between Canadian banks and oilsands. “They’re supporting them in good times and in bad, and that’s what’s enabling them to dig up this dirty oil and get it to market.”
Partly that relationship is built on the ability of RBC, CIBC, TD, Scotiabank and BMO to make quick profits from bitumen expansion. Just days after Alberta premier Jason Kenney announced $7.5 billion in taxpayer support for the Keystone XL pipeline, Canadian banks led a $2-billion bond issuance that helped raise money for the project. The ratings agency Moody’s had warned that Keystone XL was unlikely to actually be built, but the banks didn’t appear concerned about that longer-term risk.
Leading the bond issuance resulted in “almost instantaneous profit and instantaneous pocketing of the fees” for those banks, explained Jason Disterhoft with Rainforest Action Network. If Keystone XL is cancelled it’ll be Alberta taxpayers, not the banks, on the hook, he said.
But the relationship between Canadian banks and oil goes deeper than just profits. They have a shared history that stretches back a century. “CIBC was the first charted bank to open a branch in Calgary more than 100 years ago, in the 1950s we were the first bank to create a resource development department to help support the emerging oil patch, we were here from the start, we’ve been here through good times and bad, we know your industry,” Dodig said during his Calgary speech last November.
That history has contributed to a shared corporate culture. The former president and CEO of Cenovus Brian Ferguson now sits on the board of directors of TD Bank. And former RBC executive George Lewis is currently on the board of Cenovus. “There’s a revolving door,” Gutstein said.
Does this help explain the assistance banks are offering distressed oilsands companies during the pandemic? In the U.S., financial institutions have shown much less sympathy towards shale oil producers devastated by the oil price crash, threatening in some cases to seize assets if loans aren’t repaid.
And as Canadian banks double down on the oilsands, financial institutions in Europe and the U.S. are pulling away. The latest, a late May announcement from Norway’s sovereign wealth fund to divest from four oilsands companies caused shares in Suncor, CNRL, Imperial Oil and Cenovus to fall up to seven per cent. That decision was motivated by concerns about climate change, as was the oilsands divestment announced earlier this year by BlackRock, a $7.3-trillion asset manager based in New York.
Shareholders in JP Morgan narrowly defeated a resolution in May calling for the Wall Street giant to pay greater attention to climate risks.
In Canada, meanwhile, top banks are increasing their lending to oil companies over the last year at higher than average rates even as bad loans and losses mounted. Now, with the oilsands facing possibly its worst ever crisis, the banks show no signs of pulling their support. “To stop doing certain things we do today undermines the stability of energy, the stability of our economy,” RBC CEO McKay said earlier this year.
The news: The United Nations is endorsing a computer simulation tool that it believes will help governments tackle the world’s biggest problems, from gender inequality to climate change.
Global challenges: In 2015, UN member states signed up for a set of 17 sustainable-development goals that are due to be reached by 2030. They include things like “zero poverty,” “no hunger,” and “affordable and clean energy.” Ambitious is an understatement.
How could the tool help? Called Policy Priority Inference (PPI), the software uses agent-based modeling to predict what would happen if policymakers spent money on one project rather than another.
This makes it easier for governments to choose which policies to prioritize, according to the UN and the Alan Turing Institute in London, which is also supporting the project. The tool is being tested by authorities in Mexico and Uruguay, with Colombia next in line. The UK’s Department for International Development is interested too.
How does it work? PPI draws on economics, behavioral science, and network theory to simulate a “government,” which allocates a pot of money, and “bureaucrats,” who spend what they are given on different projects. The model, which was built by economists in London and Mexico, takes in a range of data, such as government budgets, the impact spending has had on particular policies in the past, the effectiveness of a country’s legal system, estimated losses due to known inefficiencies, and so on. It then suggests which policies are worth investing in most.
The idea is that the tool will help policymakers anticipate the ripple effects of their decision-making. For example, investing in education may alleviate gender inequality, but investing in GDP growth may not be good for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
Will it make a difference? PPI should be a step up in terms of analyzing the potential effects of different policy choices. But it’s got limitations. Models are only as good as the data put into them, for example, and some governments will be more willing than others to provide it. Simulations also work with a massively simplified version of reality, which affects accuracy. But with a decade to go and huge gaps in progress on most of the UN’s goals, the agency—and the world—can use all the help it can get.
Canada has lavished at least C$13.8 billion per year in public financing on oil and gas projects since signing on to the Paris climate agreement, making it the fossil industry’s highest per capita source of public finance in the G20, and their second-largest overall benefactor after China, according to a blistering new report issued today by Oil Change International and Friends of the Earth U.S.
The funding is a large chunk of at least US$77 billion per year the G20 handed over to fossil projects between 2013 and 2018, OCI reports. The Canadian subsidies have been routed through Export Development Canada (EDC), the federal Crown corporation that has taken a lead in dispensing corporate relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As Canada prepares historic levels of public finance in response to COVID-19, much of which will flow through the EDC, the new report demonstrates that its public finance has to date been dramatically misaligned with what is needed to avoid the worst of climate change,” Oil Change says in a release.
“As the health and livelihoods of millions are at risk from the still unfolding COVID-19 crisis, it’s critical the federal government gets recovery spending right,” said report co-author Bronwen Tucker, OCI’s Edmonton-based research analyst.
“Right now, much of our stimulus money is flowing through Export Development Canada, and that’s alarming when it has such a deep bias towards oil and gas,” she added. “An institution that’s backed risky projects like the Coastal GasLink pipeline and the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline despite Indigenous rights violations and the climate crisis is not fit to finance a just recovery—at least not without serious reform.”
“Canada cannot claim to be a climate leader while it allows a Crown corporation to hand out over C$10 billion a year to oil and gas projects, while largely ignoring the clean energy sector,” agreed Julia Levin, climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence Canada. “Paired with Export Development Canada’s notorious lack of transparency and the recent legislative changes that increased its financing limits, we are very concerned that the agency will risk public money—without public scrutiny—on loans to oil and gas companies that were facing insolvency long before COVID-19 appeared.”
“For years we’ve been calling on Ottawa to end Export Development Canada’s support for fossil fuels, and our calls have been met with silence,” added Above Ground Program Officer Karen Hamilton. “With Canada’s per capita public financing of fossil fuels now the highest in the world, will the government finally acknowledge the need to align its public finance policies with its climate commitments?”
The report concludes that public finance for fossil fuels was essentially unchanged in the first three years after the Paris deal was finalized, landing at US$77 billion per year from 2016 to 2018 compared to $76.6 billion from 2013 to 2015. That finding was “alarming at a time when avoiding the worst of climate change means no new finance should flow to oil, gas, or coal,” Oil Change writes. The research also put EDC’s performance in context: “Export credit agencies (ECAs) were the worst public finance actors, providing nearly 14 times as much support for fossil fuels than clean energy, with US$40.1 billion a year for fossils and just $2.9 billion for clean,” the release states.
And “most of this finance flowed to wealthier countries. Eight of the top 15 recipients were high- or upper-middle-income countries by World Bank classifications. Six were lower-middle income, and only one low-income.”
The report calls on G20 countries and multilateral development banks to:
Support a global, just pandemic recovery to zero-carbon societies, “instead of further locking in fossil fuel production and use”;
Put an end to public finance for all oil, gas, and coal projects;
Rapidly scale up investment in “clean energy, energy efficiency, just transition plans, and universal energy access”;
Ensure timely, transparent reporting on all energy finance initiatives.
“At this point in the climate emergency, continued investment in fossil fuels creates risks across society,” OCI and Friends of the Earth state. “Private and public investors alike will face stranded assets as decarbonization efforts scale up (transition and legal risk), or overinvestment will result in severe climate impacts from excess carbon dioxide emissions that will bring about shocks to the entire economy (physical risk).
But with governments around the world “preparing public spending packages of a magnitude they previously deemed unthinkable,” the two organizations add, “the fossil fuel sector has been quick to opportunistically respond to this with requests for massive bailouts, new subsidies, regulatory rollbacks, and the postponement of climate measures.”
The report cites Canada as a country where “public outcry likely helped lessen the magnitude of fossil fuel bailouts initially proposed”. However, “early support in response to COVID-19 included a US$5.3-billion investment and loan guarantee in Keystone XL pipeline from the Government of Alberta, US$1.9 billion in aid for abandoned well clean-up and methane leaks without fixing the regulatory gaps that allow polluters to shirk these responsibilities, a multi-billion-dollar credit facility for small and medium oil and gas producers through Export Development Canada (EDC), and other public finance programs oil and gas producers are eligible for through EDC and the Canadian Development Investment Corporation.”
PUT PEOPLE FIRST, DEMAND OVER 150 CANADIAN ORGANIZATIONS WITH THE LAUNCH OF SIX PRINCIPLES FOR A JUST RECOVERY
Joint Media Release
Monday, May 25, 2020 – 13:00
As governments prepare recovery plans amidst the COVID-19 crisis, an informal alliance of over 150 civil society groups, representing collective memberships of millions in Canada, are demanding these plans move us toward a more equitable and sustainable future, with the release, today, of six Principles for a Just Recovery. United in support of the Principles, endorsing organizations span sectors and communities across the country, including the Canadian Labour Congress, Indigenous Climate Action, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec and the Canadian Health Coalition.
Their message for governments: recovery efforts must support the transition to a more equitable, sustainable and diversified economy, and not entrench outdated economic and social systems that jeopardize the health and wellbeing of people, worsen the climate crisis, or perpetuate the exploitation or oppression of people.
The COVID crisis has revealed the primary importance of the health and safety of all people, as a human rights and collective wellbeing issue. Relief efforts so far have shown that things we’ve been told aren’t possible, actually are once we prioritize them.
“The choices we make now about how to recover from this pandemic will shape not only our health and economic future, but also the future of human life on this planet. We need public investments to help meet our commitment to limit global warming, by developing renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency, supporting struggling public transit systems and ensuring a just transition for workers and their communities. We must prioritize investing in things that create much needed good jobs,” said Canadian Labour Congress President, Hassan Yussuff
The Principles, in brief, ask that recovery plans:
Put people’s health and wellbeing first, no exceptions.
Strengthen the social safety net and provide relief directly to people.
Prioritize the needs of workers and communities.
Build resilience to prevent future crises.
Build solidarity and equity across communities, generations, and borders
Uphold Indigenous Rights and Work in Partnership with Indigenous Peoples.
“Indigenous rights and sovereignty must be the foundation upon which every aspect of Just Recovery is built. Throughout the recovery process, Indigenous Peoples must be at the table, as should voices from all structurally oppressed communities,” said Lindsey Bacigal of Indigenous Climate Action. “Prior to the pandemic, Indigenous communities were already in crisis due to a lack of infrastructure, health and social services and the current situation will only deepen these inequalities. To address this historical injustice, it is essential that Indigenous Peoples have access to adequate resources that revitalize the health, well-being and sovereignty of our communities.”
Endorsing groups will pursue specific policy recommendations, aligned with the Principles.
“The huge collaborative effort that brought these principles to life over many weeks of rich, challenging discussions exemplifies the kind of action we expect of political leaders as we move through this crisis,” explained Catherine Abreu of Climate Action Network Canada. “It’s going to take a massive and diverse community of voices to encourage governments to be bold in the face of corporate lobbies, and to put people and communities first,” Abreu continued. “Our goal was to capture the immense amount of care work happening throughout Canadian civil society right now and present a vision of a Just Recovery that leaves no one behind. We know this is a vision the majority of Canadians support, and millions of people are ready to take action.”
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Canadians asked by EKOS Research earlier this month  supported a “broad transformation of our society” resulting from COVID-inspired reformations.
“We recognize the enormous challenge and responsibility facing governments. We also see a critical opportunity for leaders to seize the courage required to lead us through this moment to a better world. We’ll be doing our part to ensure the people are behind them,” said Claire Gallagher, from the independent citizens’ advocacy group, Leadnow.
Today’s launch marks the beginning of independent and collaborative efforts by participating organizations to urge all levels of government to deliver a transformational Just Recovery for all people. For a growing list of endorsers, please visitjustrecoveryforall.ca.