Davos elites protect the fossil fuel industry, not the climate

Opening of the World Economic Forum in 2017. Image: US Embassy Bern, Switzerland/Flickr

The annual conclave of the rich and powerful in Davos, Switzerland, January 21-24 masquerades as a conference.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is in reality a lobbying opportunity for the corporate elite, who attend because they are looking for special considerations from academic experts, and privileged treatment from powerful government officials, who both imagine they have been invited as panelists. In fact they are merely prey for high powered lobbyists.

Re-election contributions, promises of material support, plus contracts or junkets for corporate enablers in the media and universities are the currency of socializing. Big oil is a prime mover behind the scenes.

To an outsider, the agenda for the billionaire-friendly Davos gathering looks like it was put together by the founders of the civil society-driven World Social Forum, which met from 2001 to 2018. Themes for the WEF discussion include “How to Save the Planet” and “Free to be LGBT.” Climate activist Greta Thunberg is even the headliner this year, pictured above President Donald Trump on the WEF website.

The Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2019 was “climate emergency,” and the WEF has prepared a Global Risks Report 2020 for the “stakeholders” who make up their constituency.

The fossil fuel industry has been making news.

In 2015, International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Christine Lagarde (now head of the European Central Bank) released a report estimating subsidies to coal, oil and gas production to be about $5.3 trillion US. In the same year, Lagarde announced the IMF would take “impact on climate change” into account in calculating its World Economic Outlook forecasts, released on the eve of Davos.

Recently BlackRock, the worlds largest money manager — in charge of US$7 trillion in private sector assets — warned of dangers ahead for fossil fuel investors, without, however, committing to a zero-carbon asset portfolio.

Amazingly, the words “fossil fuels,” or their components — coal, oil or gas — were not mentioned in statements from the annual United Nations Conference of the Parties events held since 1995 — including in the Paris Accord of COP21 — despite the fact that two-thirds of green house gas emissions result from the production of fossil fuels.

Successful fossil fuel lobbying has turned the attention of governments to cap and trade, or carbon taxes (or in the case of the International Energy Agency, to “negative emissions” technology) to reduce carbon emissions.

Governments seemingly ignore that such measures are favored by fossil fuel producers, because these measures allow the industry to expand production of coal, oil and gas while pushing the immediate costs on to others — while only paying lip service to climate change.

As Climate Home News explains, fossil fuel producers have from the outset had access to discussions held under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Obviously business as usual for coal, oil and gas producers is helped along when their activities (mining for coal, and drilling for oil and gas) are never named in climate accords, which was the case until the recent COP25 in Madrid.

Lobbying successes help to explain why we now face a climate emergency. Keeping world economic power in the hands of Davos stakeholders protects the fossil fuel industry, not the climate.

The status quo is not about to be overturned by governments that favor “moderation” and continue to subsidize and authorize fossil fuel production.

In Canada, the culprits include all the provincial governments, plus the federal Liberals.

Doug Ford’s Ontario Conservatives are busy ripping out charging stations for electric vehicles. Jason Kenney has committed $120 million over four years to publicly fund a government climate change denial agency that he calls a “war room.”

According to the Oil and Gas Network, planned investments in new fossil fuel extraction over the next four years total US$1.4 trillion.

Fully 85 per cent of new production will take place in the U.S. and Canada, which should be headline news — except that vigorous corporate lobbying by big oil, and outfits like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) bury it.

When major financial, industrial and government players talk about the dangers of climate change, they need to be screened using the climate emergency test. Have they acted to limit the expansion of fossil fuel production directly?

When the answer revealed by the actions of the Davos stakeholders and governments is a resounding no, it is a denial of climate emergency. SOURCE

Trump Moves to Limit Environmental Reviews, Erase Climate Change from NEPA Considerations

Critics say he’s undermining a bedrock environmental protection law that established government’s duty as ‘trustee of the environment for succeeding generations.’

President Donald Trump was flanked by officials from construction and other industries on Jan. 9, 2020, as he announced changes to how the National Environmental Policy Act is implemented. Credit: Andrew Angerer/Getty Images

President Donald Trump was flanked by officials from construction and other industries and his economic advisers on Jan. 9, 2020, as he announced changes to how the National Environmental Policy Act is implemented. Credit: Andrew Angerer/Getty Images

President Donald Trump on Thursday proposed sharply limiting environmental reviews of pipelines and other major federally permitted infrastructure projects, a move that would sweep away a hurdle slowing his agenda for unfettered fossil fuel development.

The new guidance would curb federal agencies from considering climate impacts by specifying that agencies are only required to analyze impacts that are immediate, local and direct. The administration’s proposed rule, which will be open for public comment before being finalized, also would relieve agencies of any duty to consider cumulative environmental impacts.

“Many of America’s most critical infrastructure projects have been tied up and bogged down by an outrageously burdensome federal approval process,” Trump said in an address from the Roosevelt Room of the White House. “From day one, my administration has made fixing this regulatory nightmare a top priority. For the first time in 40 years, we’re going to completely overhaul the dysfunctional bureaucratic system that has created these massive obstructions.”

But critics argue that the president is proposing changes that would undermine the bedrock environmental protection law, which establishes the duty of the federal government to act “as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations.” They vowed to fight the effort.

“While our world is burning, President Trump is adding fuel to the fire by taking away our right to be informed and to protect ourselves from irreparable harm,” said Gina McCarthy, the new president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). McCarthy, who served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Obama administration, added: “We will use every tool in our toolbox to stop this dangerous move and safeguard our children’s future.”

Flanked by men in hard hats and orange construction vests, industry officials and members of his economic team, Trump stressed his aim to speed the building of highways, roads and bridges. But the NEPA impact that has proved most nettlesome to the administration has been stalling the oil and gas pipelines and coal leasing Trump’s administration has sought to push.

Trump’s move follows a series of federal court rulings that have stymied his efforts to spur fossil fuel projects—most notably the high-profile Keystone XL pipeline to expand U.S. imports of carbon-intensive Canadian tar sands oil. Trump had signed an executive order within days of taking office to reverse President Barack Obama’s decision to halt the project over climate concerns. But Keystone XL has been tied up in litigation since then, with a federal judge ruling last August that federal agencies “cannot escape their responsibility” to evaluate alternatives under NEPA.

Amid the Trump administration’s all-out effort to ease the regulatory burden on the fossil energy industry, federal courts have repeatedly ruled that agencies were failing to live up to their duties under NEPA. Courts slowed construction of a major natural gas pipeline in the Southeast, and expansion of coal mining in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming and on Navajo land in Arizona. The federal Bureau of Land Management’s Utah office in September voluntarily suspended 130 oil and gas leases under the threat of NEPA lawsuits.

Trump’s Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt, a former oil industry lobbyist now in charge of agencies that oversee oil, gas and coal leasing on federal lands and coastlines, called the NEPA plan “a really, really big proposal” that “affects virtually every significant decision made by the federal government that affects the environment.”

Turning from the podium to Trump, Bernhardt said, “I believe it will be the most significant deregulatory proposal you ultimately implement.”

Avoiding Consideration of Climate Change

The fossil fuel industry and its allies have long railed against NEPA, especially over the past decade, when courts began ruling that NEPA required that both direct and indirect climate impacts be assessed. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) led an effort to amend NEPA to bar consideration of global warming impacts, but it never garnered sufficient support to advance in Congress.

From the start, Trump took up the cause of NEPA reform with all the enthusiasm of a real estate developer who saw his own projects derailed over environmental concerns.

His administration has issued and proposed five other pieces of guidance to circumscribe NEPA reviews, including a plan floated last summer to limit consideration of greenhouse gas emissions in planning for federal projects. But in the new proposal, the White House said it determined it was “not appropriate” to address a single category of impacts in regulations. Instead, the proposal seeks to limit the scope of all NEPA reviews in a way that appears to rule out consideration of climate change.

The only environmental effects that federal agencies would be required to consider are those that are “reasonably foreseeable and have a reasonably close causal relationship to the proposed action or alternatives.”

“Effects should not be considered significant if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the product of a lengthy causal chain,” the proposal says. It also specifies that environmental reviews are not required under NEPA for non-discretionary decisions or for those with minimal federal funding or involvement—giving many developers an opportunity to elude the environmental review process altogether. The proposal sets a time limit of two years for detailed environmental reviews.

Vickie Patton, general counsel of the Environmental Defense Fund, said the proposal would “punch loopholes into long-standing protections under the National Environmental Policy Act and would put communities at risk and worsen climate change.”

Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, called it “one of the most egregious actions the Trump administration has taken to limit the federal government’s response to climate change yet.”

Trump’s Red Tape Claims vs. White House Data

The proposal, in essence, would fulfill a wish list delivered to the White House last fall by 33 industry groups, led by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who complained of “unreasonable costs and long project delays” caused by NEPA.

API President and CEO Mike Sommers praised the proposal in a prepared statement: “Reforming the NEPA process is a critical step toward meeting growing demand for cleaner energy and unlocking job-creating infrastructure projects currently stuck in a maze of red tape.”

Trump’s description of the NEPA process—”It takes 20 years, 30 years, it takes numbers nobody would even believe”—is at odds with reality for the vast majority of projects. The White House Council on Environmental Quality’s own statistics show that 95 percent of the more than 50,000 actions subject to NEPA each year are already exempt from detailed environmental review.

Environmental groups argue that the subset of actions that require a detailed review—like the Keystone XL Pipeline—warrant the scrutiny, pointing to the spill of thousands of gallons of oil from the Keystone system in North Dakota this past October.

Responsibilities as ‘Trustee of the Environment’

NEPA, among the first environmental laws passed by Congress and signed by President Richard Nixon, requires comprehensive studies into the potential environmental impacts of “major” federal actions or projects—with an analysis of alternatives. The sweeping language of the statute asserts the federal government’s duty to “use all practical means. … To fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations.”

“As a global multigenerational problem that affects all of humanity and natural resources, climate change would seem to fit precisely within what the statute has in mind,” said Michael Gerrard, founder and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

Gerrard, who spent many years as a litigator, said that if he were representing a project applicant he would want consideration of climate change included in the environmental impact analysis even if Trump succeeds in his NEPA overhaul.

“There’s a good chance the courts will … say it needs to be considered and an [environmental impact statement] could well be struck down for failure to consider it regardless of what this guidance says,” Gerrard said. “Rational planning involves looking at foreseeable conditions, and arguably it’s malpractice for an architect or engineer to ignore foreseeable considerations when designing a project.”

The overhaul of NEPA guidance is just the latest of dozens of actions by the Trump administration to throw open the doors to unfettered fossil energy development and abandon even recognition of the threat of climate change. Just this week, the Trump administration released the federal government’s latest annual National Preparedness Report, which for the first time in the eight-year history of the accounting of threats and hazards failed to mention climate change, drought or sea-level rise.

There will be a 60-day public comment period on the NEPA proposal, with public hearings scheduled in Denver and in Washington, D.C., in February. SOURCE

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Why many Alberta oil and gas companies aren’t paying their taxes

The Rural Municipalities Association recently announced the outstanding tax debt they’re owed by oil and gas companies has doubled, to nearly $175 million in less than a year

Image result for the narwhal: Why many Alberta oil and gas companies aren’t paying their taxes

The Rural Municipalities of Alberta — the organization representing Alberta’s rural counties and municipal districts — has announced it’s facing what it calls a “massive increase” in unpaid taxes owed to small rural governments by oil and gas companies.

The amount owed in taxes has more than doubled since last year, to $173 million, according to a recent survey of Rural Municipalities of Alberta members.

This loss of revenue, the Rural Municipalities of Alberta said in a press release, means “many rural municipalities will struggle to remain viable.”

You might be wondering why, and how, oil and gas companies can simply not pay their taxes. After all, the local government will certainly make sure to collect your property tax. And we’re all well aware that the Canada Revenue Agency is keeping tabs on our income tax.

But the situation is a little different with the taxes owed by oil and gas companies to the small communities they operate in.

What kinds of taxes are oil and gas companies supposed to pay to rural communities?

Oil and gas companies are supposed to pay property taxes, not unlike home and landowners, when they install oil and gas infrastructure.

These taxes are assessed based on a model set by the provincial government — and there are rumblings that this model could soon be “updated” (more on that later).

Why aren’t these companies paying?

Though rural municipalities have long voiced empathy for oil and gas companies facing low energy prices, they are increasingly alleging that companies are choosing not to pay their municipal taxes because the companies know there are few consequences.

According to the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, companies are increasingly “unable or unwilling to pay.”

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has previously suggested that rural municipalities “place a disproportionate fiscal burden on industrial property.”

Ron Govenlock, mayor of Woodlands County, told The Narwhal last fall that it’s not reasonable to think that property taxes are the reason companies are struggling.

“There’s a multitude of factors that go into any business in terms of its operational cost,” he said. “So to suggest that it’s the tax burden — that’s been consistent for the past 20 years — that is now going to be targeted as the reason that their profit margin is tighter?”

“I don’t buy that.”

Amber Bracken Valleyview Alberta Fox Creek

Oilfield rentals in Fox Creek, Alta. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal

So, what happens if companies don’t pay these taxes?

Not a whole lot, when it comes to enforcement.

According to the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, local governments “have no ability to take action to recover owed taxes on this type of infrastructure.”

With other types of tax debts, whether from individuals or businesses, counties may seize assets or post them for sale.

The situation gets even trickier if a company declares bankruptcy.

Counties “have little recourse to recover unpaid taxes from companies that have declared bankruptcy,” according to the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, as they are near the bottom of the list of creditors who would receive any leftover funds following insolvency.

How much does this matter to these communities?

lot. In some cases, rural municipalities rely on tax revenue from oil and gas companies for more than 90 per cent of their annual budgets.

An investigation by The Narwhal last fall found that in at least 20 counties, local governments were relying on these payments for more than half of tax revenue.

Losing that cash flow has led counties to consider cutting back on road maintenance, property tax hikes for residents and hiring freezes.

Others dipped into emergency funds to bridge what they hoped was a temporary shortfall.

Has this happened before?

When the Rural Municipalities of Alberta announced last year that communities across the province were facing an $81-million shortfall in unpaid taxes from oil and gas companies, they labelled it “unprecedented” and noted it was “worsening at an alarming pace.”

Govenlock told The Narwhal last year that the sudden drop in income left his county “blind-sided.”

What’s the provincial government doing about this?

Last summer, the provincial government announced a program that would seek to cut the taxes paid by some gas producers, under their shallow gas relief program.

That program meant eligible companies received a 35 per cent cut on local taxes on shallow gas wells and pipelines for the 2019 tax year.

In turn, local governments received less tax revenue, so the provincial government promised to reduce the amount of another tax, the education tax, that rural municipalities have to pay by the amount forfeited in gas tax.

When it announced the program, the provincial government estimated it would indirectly foot the bill for $20 million in taxes for eligible shallow gas companies.

The program was estimated to only be applicable to about 15 counties, of the approximately 60 spread across the province. An estimated 70,000 wells and pipelines are eligible under the shallow gas relief program.

Amber Bracken Valleyview Alberta Fox Creek

A campground where workers live year round in Fox Creek, Alta. on July 24, 2018. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal

Why shallow gas wells?

“Shallow gas” includes conventional wells, and associated pipelines, that are not drilled deep beneath the surface like many fracked sites.

According to the Government of Alberta, shallow gas wells are “defined as wells less than 1,500 metres in depth, producing only gas … [and draw] from formations that are younger than 98.5 million years.”

“There’s many of these wells but they don’t produce a lot,” Tristan Goodman, president and CEO of the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, told the Calgary Herald last summer.

At the same time, natural gas prices have been low for some time.

“Some days we are almost giving this product away for free,” associate natural gas minister Dale Nally said last summer. Government officials have said they are concerned shallow gas producers are paying too much in property taxes.

Not everyone agrees, including Rural Municipalities of Alberta president Al Kemmere, who said in a press release that the “taxation model for shallow gas infrastructure is not the cause of” the industry’s challenges.

Did the shallow gas relief program solve the problem?

Not according to the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, which said in a press release that the government’s program “is not solving the problem of unpaid taxes and industry struggles, but is rather providing many companies with 35 per cent forgiveness on their taxes while the rest remain unpaid.”

That program didn’t sit well with the local government officials The Narwhal spoke to last fall, either.

Bruce Beattie, the reeve of Mountain View, told The Narwhal it didn’t seem fair to give a tax break to some companies while still expecting local governments to maintain the same services.

Under the shallow gas relief program, he said, “everyone else will pay and the shallow gas guys won’t. They’ll get the services but they’ll be paying less.”

Amber Bracken Valleyview Alberta Fox Creek

The Fox Creek Greenview Multiplex in Fox Creek, Alta, is sponsored in part by Shell. The Fox Creek Greenview Multiplex in Fox Creek, Alta, is sponsored in part by Shell. Funds from industry taxes are also relied upon to provide services to the public in many rural municipalities in Alberta, creating a string of social consequences if companies do not pay their bills. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal

Is the provincial government continuing its support for municipalities?

Nope.

Despite the fact that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta found that some municipalities attributed up to 98 per cent of unpaid taxes to the shallow gas industry, the provincial government is not continuing its credits for the shallow gas relief program in 2020.

In 2020, according to the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, “municipalities will no longer receive a corresponding credit, and instead must absorb the 35 per cent loss in assessment on these properties.”

What’s next?

There are indications the Government of Alberta is looking to “update” the way property taxes are assessed for oil and gas companies.

The current assessment model, according to a government publication, “does not reflect the circumstances faced by many shallow gas producers with older, lower productivity assets.”

Essentially, the government appears concerned that companies are being taxed too much, in an environment where they’re reaping less profits from their wells.

This, the government says, “has required the province take action.”

This has led to speculation the government will move to reduce the amount of property tax owed to local governments — at least on some types of wells — meaning counties could find themselves struggling even more.  SOURCE

Charting Our Course: Bringing clarity to Canada’s climate policy choices on the journey to 2050.

Executive Summary

Picture Canada as a ship, and climate change a storm barreling toward us. Already, the seas are becoming treacherous, and the winds threaten to drive us into the shoals. The gathering storm will reshape not just our climate, but also global markets in profound and unpredictable ways. To weather the storm, we must make deliberate choices that lead to cleaner and more inclusive growth, and a resilient and prosperous future for Canada.

Discussion about how to prepare for Canada’s future in the face of climate change is dynamic and ongoing. Canada has joined an increasing number of countries, states, municipalities, and firms setting a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. Some Canadian provinces, territories, and municipalities are establishing their own governance and policy frameworks for long-term emissions reductions.

Yet reducing emissions is just one element of a pathway for Canada to a thriving and prosperous 2050. Yes, Canada must transition to a low-carbon economy alongside the rest of the world. We must also make our communities and infrastructure more resilient to the inevitable impacts of a changing climate, such as more extreme weather and recurring natural disasters. And we must grow the prosperity of Canadians across all regions, all communities, and all socio-economic circumstances.

While these aspirations are clear, the course to that future is not. For many Canadians, climate change remains complex, confusing, and potentially paralyzing. Debates around some climate policy choices—for example, putting a price on carbon pollution—are highly polarized. Debates around others—such as policies that will help us adapt to a changing climate—have received inadequate attention, given the practical benefits it could deliver.

This report tries to bring more clarity to what climate change means for Canada, and the choices we will face. It is a starting point for a deeper, broader, and more constructive conversation about how we can chart a course as a country—through the profound changes ahead—to a resilient and prosperous future with cleaner and more inclusive growth.


Mapping Uncharted Waters

First, the report brings more clarity as to the nature of the challenges and opportunities that climate change presents for Canada. What are the main hazards and conditions on the way to 2050?

Canada faces risk from the physical impacts of a changing climate, including floods, heatwaves, wildfires, and sea-level rise. By 2050, under current trends, the impacts of climate change are expected to reduce global GDP by three percent, or US$7.9 trillion, according to a recent estimate by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Canada will not be immune. Our coastal cities will be swamped by rising seas, threatening property and infrastructure. In the face of more frequent and more severe fire and floods, insurance premiums are poised to rise dramatically, making home insurance unaffordable for many Canadians. Extreme heat puts Canadians’ health at risk, especially for children, elderly, and other vulnerable populations. Impacts in Canada’s North are particularly severe, including the accelerated loss of local food sources and compromised infrastructure from thawing permafrost. The impacts of climate change internationally will also affect Canada—disrupting supply chains, putting stress on the global economy, and even driving mass migration. Parts of Canada may benefit temporarily from a warmer climate but, if we are unprepared, these benefits will be quickly overshadowed by mounting loss and hardship, particularly for the most vulnerable.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world has begun to respond to the threat of a changing climate by implementing new policies. If this trend accelerates, the implications for global markets—and a small trading state such as Canada—will be dramatic. The faster the world reduces emissions, the faster markets and investors shift away from carbon-intensive goods and services.

That transition poses a different set of risks for Canada. Much of Canada’s economy—and the prosperity it generates—depends on sectors that export emissions- intensive products and commodities, such as oil and gas and cement. If the rest of the world transitions quickly, sharp declines in global demand for fossil fuels would depress the price of oil and lead to lower levels of investment in Canada’s oil and gas sectors. Other sectors face similar risks: Canada’s automotive industry, for example, could see plants close as a result of decreasing demand for gasoline-powered SUVs and light trucks, with vehicle manufacturing shifting to foreign plants that produce electric vehicles.

Yet it also presents opportunities. The World Bank estimates that climate commitments in emerging economies alone will create $23 trillion in investment opportunities between 2016 and 2030. If Canada is prepared, its growing cleantech sector could become a significant source of investment, innovation, and employment. Surging domestic and global markets would create demand for low-carbon innovation, and technologies, goods, and services that reduce emissions. Meanwhile, conventional sectors, such as mining and forestry, could benefit from an unprecedented increase in global demand for raw materials.

Looking ahead, Canada has choices to make about how—and how much—to reduce emissions, adapt to the changes around us, and invest in future economic opportunities. We are a big, northern country with a dispersed population, warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. We are also a small, trade-dependent economy susceptible to global economic downturns, supply chain disruptions, and fluctuating commodity prices. How we choose to navigate the threats and opportunities presented by those two realities will have profound implications for the next generation of Canadians.


Seeking Safe Passage

Accordingly, this report aims to clarify what it would mean to thrive through climate change. What are the essential elements of safe passage, given the complexities of the risks and opportunities ahead?

Effectively addressing and responding to climate change goes beyond reducing emissions. It’s about affordability. It’s about jobs. It’s about our health and wellness. It’s about protecting wildlife, ecosystems and our drinking water. It’s about preserving the places and things Canadians value today, and the aspects of life in Canada we want to be able to pass on to our kids and grandkids.

The figure below lays out a more comprehensive vision for addressing climate change in a way that contributes to a resilient and prosperous future for Canada with cleaner and more inclusive growth. Put another way, safely navigating the storm ahead requires a healthy and strong crew (thriving Canadians). We need a sturdy and nimble ship (economic prosperity). And we also need to do what we can to calm the waters, working internationally to collectively drive down emissions and dampen the economic and societal shocks of climate change (global action).

Pursuing these goals leads us down a different path than the traditional siloed approach to developing and implementing climate policy. It provides a new, integrated framework for not just weathering the storm, but thriving through the turbulence it brings.

The framework puts the health and wellness of Canadians front-and-centre. This means identifying and proactively addressing health risks. It means supporting and empowering those that are most affected by climate and transition risks, including Indigenous Peoples in Canada. It means preserving the foundation of human life and our economic prosperity by protecting and restoring nature. And it means considering the concerns and needs of youth and future generations when evaluating trade-offs and potential outcomes.

FIGURE EX1:
A New, Integrated Framework of Climate Change Goals and Objectives

The framework also recognizes that the well-being of Canadians is inextricably linked to the strength of Canada’s economy. Economic growth generates jobs and wealth. To maintain economic prosperity through the storm of climate change, the Canadian economy must be well-positioned to compete in shifting global markets. Canadian communities must also be prepared to brace for the direct and indirect risks of a changing climate. Making smart, forward-looking policy choices can achieve these goals at low costs.

Finally, the framework illustrates what we can do to calm the storm. Canada is not powerless to affect the direction or magnitude of global change. We can punch above our weight in influencing global action; indeed, doing so is in our own self-interest. We can leverage Canada’s efforts to reduce emissions and press other countries to do the same. We can also develop good policies at home and share our experiences internationally. And we can develop innovations that make it easier and less costly for others to transition, reducing climate risk for Canada and the world, but also creating opportunities for our most innovative companies.


Steering Through the Storm

Next, the report provides more clarity as to the range of policy choices ahead. What choices can Canada’s municipal, provincial and territorial, and federal governments make to steer and accelerate Canada toward a resilient and prosperous future with cleaner and more inclusive growth?

To start, we can build on successes here at home. For instance, Canada stands out as a global leader in phasing out coal-fired electricity. A combination of federal and provincial regulations will phase out conventional coal-fired power generation by 2030. Ontario led the way through its phase-out, which closed coal plants in the province by 2014. The phase-out has also improved air quality and reduced health risks for people living in the province, increasing the net benefits of the policy beyond strictly environmental outcomes.

Federalism can complicate policy choices, but it also creates opportunities for innovation. Similar to the coal phase-out, many policy innovations in Canada originated at the sub-national level. Saskatchewan was the first to implement carbon capture and storage on a coal-fired power plant. Alberta was the first to implement an output-based pricing system for large industrial emitters. British Columbia was the first to implement an economy-wide carbon tax, Quebec was the first to implement a cross-border cap-and-trade system, and Manitoba was the first to set legislated, five-year carbon budgets. In adapting to a changing climate, the Government of Nunavut has initiated risk mapping and new infrastructure standards to reduce the impacts of permafrost thaw. The Governments of the Yukon and Northwest Territories are collaborating to develop community clean air shelters to reduce health impacts from wildfire smoke. And Atlantic provinces are working together to provide communities with online tools to support rural coastal adaptation.

Municipalities also have a clear role to play. Montreal, for example, tracks heat-related deaths. This tracking has allowed the city to identify correlations between deaths and low-income neighbourhoods as well as areas that lacked tree cover and greenery. This information has been critical in developing an integrated plan to address risk. In 2019, Montreal committed to extend the hours of pools, libraries, community centres and homeless shelters during heatwaves. Fire safety workers also go door-to-door to check on people flagged as vulnerable, hand out water bottles to the homeless, and encourage citizens to stay cool and hydrated. In addition, the city is planting more trees to help reduce the urban heat island effect.

We can also learn from best practices internationally. Melbourne, Australia, for example, uses a series of lagoons to treat half of the city’s sewage. The plant eliminates greenhouse gas emissions by using lagoon covers that collect biogas for electricity production. At the same time, it creates other ecological and economic benefits. The natural plant produces 40 billion litres of recycled water a year and is energy self-sufficient. It is also an internationally significant wetland for waterfowl, with over 280 bird species identified at the plant.

We must increase the overall ambition of our collection of policies beyond current levels to navigate the course to 2050. Although Canadian governments have made progress, the scope of policies—in terms of the sectors, regions and issues covered—has been far too limited. Too few Canadians, for example, have access to clear flood risk maps that would help them prepare for emergencies and plan their investments. Action to protect and restore wetlands has also tended to be localised and ad hoc, rather than part of a broader strategy or plan. And we still have work to do to achieve our national emissions-reduction targets.


Charting Our Course

Change brings risk. But it also brings new opportunities— if we are prepared to seize them. The choices we make today will shape our future. That should give us hope: our actions can directly influence how climate change ultimately affects our children, our communities, and our country.

Even in the face of global changes beyond our control, Canada’s climate choices matter. Yet successfully navigating the turbulent waters ahead will rely on strong leadership, openness to new ideas, willingness to collaborate, and innovative thinking. Below, we propose four broad next steps for Canadian policy makers on climate change to set us on course.


Recommendation #1:

Canadian governments should broaden objectives for climate policy

Historically, governments have focused on relatively narrow objectives (achieving emissions-reduction targets, managing specific climate risks). Yet we have often failed to deliver on these objectives, and we remain largely unprepared for future challenges. A broader perspective on policy design—looking beyond the narrow lenses of mitigation, adaptation, and clean growth—can help to clarify what governments are trying to achieve, embed climate change objectives in all policy choices, and guide more innovative policy solutions. By linking objectives more directly to the welfare of Canadians, this approach can also build a broader coalition of support for action.

Canadian governments—at all levels—have roles to play in delivering a future Canada that is resilient to the changes ahead, for our climate and our economy.

Recommendation #2:

Canadian governments should embrace Canada’s role in global outcomes

Canada has the potential to influence global change, rather than merely respond to it. We are among the largest economies in the world and have a seat at the table of global leadership through organizations such as the United Nations, G7 and G20. We are also one of the world’s largest emitters. We should think strategically about what we can do to drive the action needed to produce better global outcomes. For example, we can demonstrate global leadership through our own actions, we can work internationally to help solve policy challenges that are driving global risks, and we can develop technologies and products that make transition easier and more cost- effective—while realizing economic benefits and new opportunities for Canadian businesses and workers.

Recommendation #3:

Canadian governments should expand the scope, scale, and pace of climate policies

It is not enough to just develop policies aimed at addressing climate change. The policies must also have sufficient ambition. This means expanding the coverage of policies across regions, issues, and sectors, ramping up the magnitude of change, and tightening the timeframe for achieving results. We need to think about where we want to be in 2050 and beyond,
and work backwards to determine optimal pathways and choices. Decisions made today should lay the groundwork for long-term success. Canada has made considerable progress in the last decade, but overall action has not been commensurate with the scale of the challenges ahead.

Recommendation #4:

Those analysing and developing policy options should seek out integrated solutions that drive multiple benefits

The complexity and multi-dimensional nature of climate change, combined with the need for greater ambition, demands a more integrated and comprehensive approach to finding solutions. The most effective policies will achieve multiple benefits across a range of climate change and other policy objectives. But the best way to identify and develop these policies is by breaking down traditional policy silos and bringing people with different expertise, backgrounds, and perspectives together.

Charting a course to a resilient and prosperous future for Canada with cleaner and more inclusive growth is possible. To do so, we need more clarity on the nature of the challenges and opportunity along the way. We need clarity as to how we measure our progress along the course. And we need clarity about the choices—and their implications—that we can make to steer toward better outcomes for Canada.

Ultimately, however, charting a course is only a first step. Research organizations such as the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices can support Canada’s journey to 2050 and beyond by bringing together top experts from a range of disciplines to analyse pathways, evaluate policy options, and point to solutions that serve the best interests of current and future generations of Canadians

While this report frames important new policy and research questions, answering those questions, and putting practical solutions into action will require hard work from a broad group of Canadians and governments at all levels. It will require all hands on deck.

READ THE REPORT

 

Newly-formed Canadian Institute for Climate Choices calls on Canada to prepare for change

Ontario Premier Doug Ford helps with filling sandbags near Ottawa on April 26, 2019. Contaminated water from flooding is one risk identified by the new Canadian Institute for Climate Choices. Photo by Kamara Morozuk

Canada must prepare both for a low-carbon world and for one in which the international community spurns climate action; otherwise, it will suffer job losses and social disruption, according to a new federally funded institute.

The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices opened its doors Tuesday, and marked the occasion by releasing an 80-page report examining the consequences of climate actions that Canada might take under different global pollution scenarios.

No one knows how quickly the world is going to cut carbon pollution, CEO Kathy Bardswick said in an interview, and Canada must make decisions that account for the uncertainty, rather than be paralyzed by it.

In either a high-carbon or low-carbon future, “there’s a substantial impact on the country,” Bardswick said. “What we’re trying to say is, ‘Yes, we agree there’s uncertainty, and we agree that these scenarios can play out quite differently, and the implications can be quite dramatic. But that doesn’t mean that we wait and see — we’ve got to be able to plan within that context.’”

The institute is operating on funding from the Trudeau government to the tune of $20 million over five years. There is an annual financial accountability process where spending is reviewed to see whether it aligns with stated outcomes.

But the government does not tell it what to research: the directors and expert panels decide the agenda, strategic plan and content and sign off on its priorities.

Don’t get caught in ‘continual cycle’ of recovery

Drawing on extensive economic and scientific research, the report sketches out two broad scenarios, with two possible outcomes in each one.

In the first scenario, a massive economic metamorphosis has occurred. Nations around the world cut their pollution severely over the next 10 years, reaching the Paris Agreement goal. Global demand for fossil fuels has plummeted, and proven reserves are left in the ground. A majority of electricity comes from renewables like solar, wind and bioenergy, while nuclear capacity triples and heavy industry is largely decarbonized.

If Canada chooses to approach this world by sticking with the current economy, which is largely integrated with emissions-intensive exports like oil and gas, and the financial sector that holds over $50 billion worth of loans to the sector, then the global transition, “coupled with inadequate preparation domestically, creates large-scale disruption and job loss in Canada.”

The oilpatch is wallopped, leading to knock-on effects in construction, retail, real estate and the financial sector. Other Canadian sectors like gasoline vehicle manufacturing are caught off guard. The risk of “widespread social disruption” increases as social assistance programs are put under pressure. Governments see shrinking budgets that impact health and education spending.

In the other scenario, carbon pollution continues to be pumped into the air unchecked, and the world fails to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal, leading to runaway climate change: collapse of ecosystems, accelerating global heating, coastlines that sink underwater, relentless extreme weather and mass societal unrest.

Canada must be prepared for that world, too, the report says, or it will become “caught in a continual cycle of impact and recovery.” People will be injured or killed, or suffer poor air quality and contaminated water, as insurance skyrockets and companies lay off workers. Food and water shortages drive war, conflict and humanitarian disasters, which reach Canada’s shores.

Even if parts of Canada try to capitalize on a high-carbon world (through longer growing seasons for example), the report concludes that “any benefits in a high-emissions scenario are likely temporary and short-lived.”

“Fewer deaths due to extreme cold are offset by more deaths from extreme heat. Savings in heating bills are offset by increased use of air-conditioners in the summer. Longer seasons for growing crops are offset by an increase in heatwaves, droughts, and flooding,” the report says.

‘Rigorous peer review process’ in place

When the new institute was first revealed in April 2019, originally named the Pan-Canadian Expert Collaboration, it was dismissed in comments to National Observer by the conservative Ford government in Ontario as a gathering of “elite economists” in ivory towers.

A staffer formerly in Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s office also asserted without evidence that the institute was not independent, but instead staffed with “puppets.” The Ontario government was engaged at the time in a fierce battle over the federal carbon pricing regime being imposed in the province, as a result of Ford’s decision to abandon the prior cap-and-trade system.

Bardswick said the institute is set up to follow a “rigorous peer review process” that will require “not only leveraging the expertise in our staff contingent, but also taking our work and sending it to external peer reviewers, so we have another independent set of eyes looking at the rigour of the research.”

Tuesday’s report was written by senior research associate Jonathan Arnold, vice-president of research Dale Beugin and clean growth director Rachel Samson, with support from six others inside and outside the institute.

It underwent an external peer review from 13 experts, such as Blair Feltmate, the head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo and Francis Zwiers, director of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at the University of Victoria.

The launch of the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices comes seven years after the demise of a previous non-partisan research organization focused on climate, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. That group was created by the former Mulroney government in 1988, but later defunded by the former Harper government in 2012. The foreign affairs minister at the time, John Baird, suggested taxpayers shouldn’t pay for pro-carbon tax reports.

The new institute’s 11-member board of directors includes Sandra Odendahl, a vice president at Scotiabank; former Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers president Dave Collyer and former clerk of the Privy Council, Mel Cappe, while there are 37 expert panel members including former TD Bank chief economist Don Drummond and Global Adaptation Commission co-director Christina Chan.

Bardswick said the institute has been forging connections with all levels of government — municipal, provincial, territorial and First Nations — so that it’s not just a federal exercise.

“The real next step is going to be based on this outreach and engagement process that will drive those priorities,” she said. SOURCE

BC Green Leader Crosses RCMP Checkpoint, Visits Wet’suwet’en Camps

Adam Olsen urges new approach to pipeline conflict, while Premier John Horgan visits LNG plant site.

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Green interim leader Adam Olsen passed through the RCMP checkpoint and met with Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Dsta’hyl. Photo by Dan Mesec.

It’s a blustery Saturday in northern B.C. and Green party interim leader Adam Olsen has just stepped off a plane in Smithers.

He is heading to the Office of the Wet’suwet’en and a meeting with the hereditary chiefs fighting the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their traditional territory.

Hereditary Chief Na’Moks shows Olsen around the boardroom and explains a map of clan and house group territories. He points out photos of hereditary chiefs who paved the way for the nation’s land claims, and photos of Wet’suwet’en children. They remind the chiefs of their responsibility, Na’Moks said.

“Long-term planning,” said Olsen, the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands who took over as interim party leader when Andrew Weaver stepped down in December.

Dominating the room is a table more than six metres long. It’s from the Smithers courtroom where the landmark Delgamuukw case was launched by the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en in Smithers more than 30 years ago. The case, ultimately decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997, was critical in establishing Indigenous rights to traditional territories.

Sitting at that table, Olsen said he doesn’t have any simple answers to resolve the pipeline conflict. He stressed the importance of starting a conversation.

“It really starts with humility and listening and spending time and building relationships and having those conversations. I’ve been honoured to have the invite to come up and do it,” Olsen said. “That invitation means something to me.”

Na’Moks welcomed Olsen’s visit.

“We’re actually quite honoured to have Mr. Olsen here, as the leader of the Green Party of British Columbia,” Na’Moks said. “Previously, we’ve had other leaders in here that would not stand behind their words when they talk to us. We expect better. I know we deserve better.”

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Green interim leader Adam Olsen presents Hereditary Chief Na’Moks and the Wet’suwet’en people with a drum from the Tsartlip First Nation. Photo by Dan Mesec.B.C. Premier John Horgan was also in the region on the weekend, with stops in Kitimat, Terrace, Fraser Lake, Vanderhoof, Quesnel and Prince George.

Horgan’s tour included a visit to the LNG Canada site in Kitimat that will use gas from the pipeline, but not a meeting with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who requested a meeting with him.

Tensions have been rising in the region since Dec. 31, when the B.C. Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink a permanent injunction allowing the company access to the pipeline route. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs responded by evicting CGL from the area on Jan. 4 and closing the Morice forestry road, which leads to the pipeline construction site.

On Jan. 13, the RCMP created a checkpoint on the Morice road and limited access to the area.

The same day, Horgan told media the provincial government would not respond to the Wet’suwet’en requests for a meeting.

“This project is proceeding, and the rule of law needs to prevail in B.C.,” he said.

Olsen said Horgan’s position is troubling, especially as in November the legislature unanimously passed Bill 41, which commits the government to accept the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. That includes recognition of the right to participate in any decision-making through their own procedures and law.

“It’s problematic when you refer to the rule of law and Indigenous law is excluded from that,” Olsen said. “I think it’s pretty clear that the Canadian court system has recognized Indigenous law as part of the broader legal context in this country and in this province. We’re sitting in territory where the court decisions reference and explain the very, very sophisticated order that this territory has been governed by since time immemorial.”

“It’s more complex than… I think a lot of people on many sides of this discussion would like it to be,” he said. “There’s this idea that the more simple we can make it, the easier it is that we’re going to find a resolution. And the reality is, the more simple we make it, the less likely it is that we find a resolution.”

“I am here because I believe that we absolutely can find — all of us, all British Columbians, all Canadians — can find peaceful resolutions when we sit down at the table together, get to know everyone, build off the foundation with mutual respect,” Olsen said.

“When you look at this table, this is a grand table. This table represents a very, very sacred representation of what’s been happening in this part of the country for a long time.”

Olsen said his trip is consistent with the BC Greens’ approach to Indigenous concerns.

Olsen, a member of the Tsartlip First Nation, noted the party’s 2017 platform included a commitment to “respecting court decisions, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and to the resolution of Aboriginal Rights and Title issues.”

After the meeting Olsen travelled to the Morice forestry road, an hour’s drive from Smithers. He stopped at kilometre 27, where about a dozen Wet’suwet’en supporters have hastily erected a new camp to provide shelter to visitors just before the RCMP checkpoint controlling access to the pipeline route.

Olsen then passed through the checkpoint and travelled to a Wet’suwet’en camp farther along the road. He’s greeted by a crackling fire, a group of Wet’suwet’en supporters and Hereditary Chief Dsta’hyl of the Likhts’amisyu clan.

Dsta’hyl and Olsen exchange thoughts on resource management.

“I appreciate your words,” Dsta’hyl tells Olsen. “Our elders, they used to say, we should not be raping the Earth, we should be nurturing the Earth. We’ve been telling the government that for years and they don’t hear us.”steward

Olsen met with RCMP at the Smithers detachment Sunday and requested a peaceful resolution to the conflict. He said that officers are “put in an unfortunate situation” of enforcing a complex issue.

He was joined by federal Green Party MP Paul Manly, who arrived in Smithers Sunday and leaves today. SOURCE

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UNDRIP Act Gives Horgan an Option in Wet’suwet’en Standoff. He Should Use It

Greenhouse gas 12,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide generated mainly in China and India is being released into the atmosphere at record levels, a new study claims

  • One tonne of HFC-23 emissions is equal to 12,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide
  • It is a by-product of cooling systems in developing nations like China and India
  • A 2017 report from those countries suggested it had been almost eliminated
  • The atmospheric readings from this study contradict those 2017 findings 

A greenhouse gas 12,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide and generated mainly in China and India is being released at record levels, a new study claims

A greenhouse gas 12,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide and generated mainly in China and India is being released at record levels, a new study claims

Scientists were expecting to see global emissions drop by almost 90 percent between 2015 and 2017 as a result of the India and China claims.

It is a particularly potent gas, with one tonne of its emissions equal to the release of more than 12,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, study authors say.

Over the last two decades, scientists have been keeping a close eye on the atmospheric concentration of a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gas due to its potency.

‘When we saw the reports of enormous emissions reductions from India and China, we were excited to take a close look at the data’, said Dr Matt Rigby, co-author.

‘This potent greenhouse gas has been growing rapidly in the atmosphere for decades now, and these reports suggested that the rise should have almost completely stopped in the space of two or three years.

‘This would have been a big win for climate.’

The fact that this reduction has not materialised, and that, instead, global emissions have actually risen, is a puzzle, he said.

In 2016 an amendment to the Montreal Protocol aimed to reduce the climate impact of HFCs whose emissions have grown due to them being used as replacement for ozone depleting substances.

Dr Kieran Stanley, the lead author of the study, said to be complaint with the ammendment countries who ratified the agreement had to destroy HFC-23 as far as possible before it enters the atmosphere.

‘Although China and India are not yet bound by the Amendment, their reported abatement would have put them on course to be consistent with it. However, it looks like there is still work to do’, Dr Stanley said.

‘Our study finds that it is very likely that China has not been as successful in reducing HFC-23 emissions as reported.

‘However, without additional measurements, we can’t be sure whether India has been able to implement its abatement programme.’

In 2016 an amendment to the Montreal Protocol aimed to reduce the climate impact of HFCs whose emissions have grown due to them being used as replacement for ozone depleting substances

Had the emissions reductions been as large as reported, the researchers estimate that the equivalent of a whole year of Spain’s CO2 emissions could have been avoided between 2015 and 2017.

‘The magnitude of the CO2-equivalent emissions shows just how potent this greenhouse gas is’, said Dr Rigby.

‘We now hope to work with other international groups to better quantify India and China’s individual emissions using regional, rather than global, data and models.’

Previous studies found that HFC-23 emissions declined between 2005 and 2010 as developed countries paid to remove it from developing countries factories.

The payment involved purchasing credits from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Clean Development Mechanism.

“In that case, the atmospheric data showed that emissions reductions matched the reports very well,’ said Dr Stanley.

However, the scheme was controversial as it was thought to create a perverse incentive for manufacturers to increase the amount of waste gas they generated in order to sell more credits.

The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

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WHAT IS HFC-23?