Large areas of London to go ‘car-free’ as Mayor plots green Covid-19 recovery

Cars are to be banned from large areas of Central London this summer

Transport for London says it is ‘determined’ to keep gains seen for air pollution and safer streets over past two months after lockdown measures ease

Sadiq Khan has today announced plans to transform parts of central London into “one of the largest car-free zones in any capital city in the world”, as part of a sweeping set of measures to support safer walking and cycling for workers as the battle against coronavirus continues.

The Mayor of London said the plans would create more space for social distancing to assist people returning to work in the centre of the city, with some streets restricted to walking and cycling only, and others limited to buses as well as pedestrians in order to boost “safe and sustainable travel”.

Work on the road closures is set to begin immediately and is expected to be completed within six weeks, City Hall said.

“If we want to make transport in London safe, and keep London globally competitive, then we have no choice but to rapidly repurpose London’s streets for people,” said Khan. “By ensuring our city’s recovery is green, we will also tackle our toxic air which is vital to make sure we don’t replace one public health crisis with another. I urge all boroughs to work with us to make this possible.”

Transport for London (TfL) has already added around 5,000 square metre of extra space on footpaths across London, but now cars may be banned altogether from Waterloo Bridge, London Bridge, and streets in Shoreditch, Euston, Old Street and Holborn, it said.

TfL added that it was looking into providing zero emission capable taxis with access to both London Bridge and Waterloo Bridge, as well as other areas where traffic is restricted, with the Mayor keen to capitalise on the significant improvement in the city’s air quality since the lockdown began.

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Open letter: Canada does not deserve a seat on the UN Security Council

The UN Security Council chamber from the vantage point of the president of the council. Image: United Nations Photo/Flickr​

This petition will be delivered to United Nations member states prior to the vote for the Security Council seat in June, during the 74th session of the UN General Assembly.

Despite its peaceful reputation, Canada is not acting as a benevolent player on the international stage.

Rather, Canada ranks among the 12 largest arms exporters and its weapons have fueled conflicts across the globe, including the devastating war in Yemen.

In a disappointing move, Canada refused to join 122 countries represented at the 2017 UN Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination.

Ottawa has also been an aggressive proponent of the nuclear-armed NATO alliance, and currently leads coalition missions in Latvia and Iraq.

Echoing Trump’s foreign policy, Canada has backed reactionary forces in the Americas. The Trudeau government has led efforts to unseat Venezuela’s UN-recognized government, while propping up repressive, corrupt and illegitimate governments in Haiti and Honduras. Canada also lent its support to the economic elites and Christian extremists who recently overthrew the democratically elected Indigenous president of Bolivia.

In the Middle East, Canada has sided with Israel on almost every issue of importance. Since coming to power the Trudeau government has voted against more than 50 UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights backed by the overwhelming majority of member states. The Canadian government has refused to abide by 2016 UN Security Council Resolution 2334, calling on member states to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied in 1967.” On the contrary, Ottawa extends economic and trade assistance to Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise. Should it win a seat on the UNSC, Ottawa has stated that it will act as an “asset for Israel” on the council.

Canadian mining companies are responsible for countless ecological and human rights abuses around the globe. Still, Ottawa defends the most controversial mining firms and refuses to restrict public support for companies responsible for abuses. The chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights criticized the Trudeau government for refusing to rein in mining abuses while the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes has decried the “double standard” applied to Canadian mining practices domestically versus internationally.

Falling short of its responsibilities as a global citizen, Canada continues to oppose the Basel Ban Amendment on the export of waste from rich to poor countries, which became binding in late 2019 after ratification by 97 countries. Ottawa also failed to ratify the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Ottawa has refused to ratify more than 50 International Labour Organization conventions. In November 2019, Canada once again refused to back a widely supported UN resolution on “Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

Violating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Trudeau government sent militarized police into unceded Wet’suwet’en Nation territory to push through a pipeline. The UN Human Rights Committee recently documented various ways Canada is failing to live up to its obligations towards Indigenous people under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Ignoring front-line victims, Ottawa refuses to keep Canada’s dirty oil in the ground. Canada is on pace to emit significantly more greenhouse gases than it agreed to in the 2015 Paris Agreement and previous climate accords. Already among the world’s highest per capita emitters, the Canadian government is subsidizing further growth of heavy emitting tar sands at the expense of impoverished nations who’ve contributed little to the climate crisis but bear the brunt of its impacts.

The international community should not reward bad behaviour. Please vote against Canada’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.

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8 things you need to know as Alberta suspends even more environmental monitoring of oil and gas industry

The Alberta Energy Regulator has extended a waiver of many monitoring requirements to the entire industry, in what NDP Leader Rachel Notley is calling a ‘cynical’ use of the coronavirus pandemic

Environmental monitoring, such as groundwater sampling, has been suspended for Alberta’s oil and gas industry against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Sergey Mironov / Shutterstock

In the latest rollback in environmental monitoring in Alberta, the province’s energy regulator announced late Wednesday it was extending its suspension of many environmental requirements to the entire oil and gas industry.

Citing concerns about worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alberta Energy Regulator suspended environmental monitoring requirements across the entire oilpatch, from groundwater sampling to wildlife research to tailings ponds monitoring.

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley called the move “an utterly idiotic decision and an idiotic rationale,” describing it on Twitter as a “cynical and exploitative use of this pandemic.”

Writing in an op-ed in the Edmonton Journal, Archie Waquan, Chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, noted that “environmental monitoring is not simply a cost imposed on industry; it is a key mechanism to protect the environment and the health of communities.”

The regulator says the decisions pose a “low risk” to the environment and public health and notes that not all monitoring will be suspended. Meanwhile, critics are asking why Albertans can enjoy beers on a patio but not count birds on tailings ponds.

Wondering what this all means? Read on.

1) I thought Alberta had already rolled back environmental monitoring requirements. Does this go further?

As The Narwhal previously reported, this all started with a series of ministerial orders from Alberta Environment and Parks and Alberta Energy at the end of March.

Those orders declared numerous parts of Alberta’s legislation related to the environment were “not in the public interest” during the pandemic.

As a result, a large number of environmental reporting requirements were put on hold — from reporting water use in fracking to sulphur dioxide emissions — but companies were still asked to do the actual monitoring.

That was just the beginning.

Then came a series of announcements from the Alberta Energy Regulator at the beginning of May, just as Alberta was reopening golf courses and services at provincial parks, declaring companies operating in the oilsands would not have to complete a long list of environmental monitoring activities.

For some experts watching the developments closely, the list of suspended activities read like a “wish list” circulated by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Now, the suspension goes further.

Much further.

These latest decisions remove some of those requirements to do environmental monitoring to the entire oil patch.

From soil and groundwater to wildlife and tailings ponds monitoring, the oil and gas industry now has an indefinite hiatus, with the regulator saying many monitoring programs are “difficult for workers to perform safely” during the pandemic.

2) But, didn’t Alberta just start its “relaunch”?

Alberta officially began “stage 1” of its relaunch strategy last week, on May 14, including allowing for the reopening of barber shops, art galleries, museums, daycares and retail businesses. Restaurants and pubs were also allowed to open, at 50 per cent capacity.

Six days later though, the Alberta Energy Regulator released a blanket announcement suspending the requirement for many environmental monitoring activities because they are “incompatible with the operators’ compliance with the COVID-19 orders and guidelines.”

This has led to much head scratching by critics.

“So, people can get haircuts in most of the province right now, but we can’t test the water supply for cancer-causing agents?” former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley asked on Twitter.

Asked about the seeming incongruence at a press conference, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the regulator acted independently and that he was “not exactly aware” of the specific difficulties companies would have in complying with public health guidelines while completing environmental monitoring.

3) Wait, so is all environmental monitoring suspended?

No.

The regulator has suspended environmental monitoring it considers “low-risk.”

This includes all groundwater sampling unless it is near a water well, volatile organic compound monitoring, fugitive emissions surveys carried out by third-party contractors and all soil monitoring.

“Oil and gas facilities typically have established baseline conditions and contamination spreads slowly and reducing monitoring to one event per year is considered low risk,” the regulator said in an online explanation. Other monitoring, which the regulator dubs “necessary to protect human health and ecological receptors” will continue.

But the most recent decision is extremely broad in its application, applying to the entire oil and gas industry.

The announcement applies across the industry, stating “it is not practical to name all of the operators individually that are affected by this decision because of the large number of operators.”

4) So, why is monitoring suspended?

Shawn Roth, a spokesperson for the Alberta Energy Regulator, sent The Narwhal an emailed statement about the suspensions, saying the decisions were made “to enable reasonable compliance with the COVID-19 orders issued under the Public Health Act, including guidelines issued by the Chief Medical Officer of Health.”

“While some monitoring and reporting requirements have been temporarily suspended, protecting the environment and public safety remains our highest priority,” he wrote by email.

“Monitoring and reporting requirements that are difficult for workers to perform safely while complying with the current public health orders have been suspended.”

“We have only provided temporary measures that are supported by technical experts, do not impact the [regulator’s] ability to fulfil its mandate, and are a low risk to have short- or long-term impacts.”

5) What’s so dangerous about environmental monitoring work?

Even before the relaunch, “environmental” work was officially considered to be essential by the Government of Alberta.

There is a long list of “petroleum, natural gas and coal” jobs considered to be essential services in Alberta. “Environmental services for agriculture, mining, oil and gas,” were also deemed to be essential services.

When monitoring in the oilsands was suspended, oilsands giants like Syncrude cited concerns about having contractors come on site from outside of the local area, or from out of province.

Others, like environmental consultant Charlotte Clarke, told The Narwhal they feared for their safety if they had to stay at an oilsands camp, saying it’s “like a school cafeteria.”

But others questioned why facilities would be allowed to operate, while environmental monitoring was waived, leading to questions about the safety of operations being further compromised.

“The logic behind the actions doesn’t add up,” Waquan, Chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, wrote in the Edmonton Journal. “Halting the use of remote monitoring equipment doesn’t protect health. And monitoring is even more critical to protecting human health when companies reduce personnel and alter operations at facilities in response to the COVID-19 crisis, increasing the potential for incidents.”

6) Why is environmental monitoring deemed unsafe, but other work can go ahead?

David Spink, a retired Government of Alberta employee and former director of air and water approvals, told The Narwhal he questioned the idea that monitoring work couldn’t be done safely when it came to oilsands projects.

“I find it somewhat hard to accept that we can have construction workers doing work on an expansion to our condo building but the oilsands industry can’t have contractors come in and do some of the monitoring that is required,” he said.

“Having done and seen some of this monitoring it can be done very safely in the context of social distancing and minimal interactions,” he added.

Others, like Shaun Fluker, an associate professor of law at the University of Calgary, pointed to a perceived disconnect between these announcements and decisions made in other parts of the province.

Fluker pointed to other activities deemed essential and the hazards facing workers. “The province is OK with letting Cargill operate,” he said, alluding to the largest single outbreak of COVID-19 in Canada, in a meat-packing facility in High River, Alta.

Meanwhile, he said, bird monitoring was suspended in tailings ponds at Alberta’s oilsands.

“There’s a real divergence there and it’s hard to reconcile.”

7) Is this going to matter in the long run?

The Alberta Energy Regulator doesn’t think so.

For example, monitoring of birds landing at tailings ponds in the oilsands has been suspended. The regulator says in a bulletin posted online that “the loss of one season of data is considered low risk.”

Similarly, for groundwater sampling, it says “missing one sampling event is considered low risk.”

Mandy Olsgard, a risk assessment specialist and former senior environmental toxicologist with the Alberta Energy Regulator, wasn’t so sure. She told The Narwhal she was concerned that while temporarily stopping some monitoring may not pose a huge issue in the long run, other data is critically important to assessing risk to public health and the environment.

“It will affect the quality of the monitoring data sets for this year,” she said.

Others, like Barry Robinson, a Calgary-based lawyer with Ecojustice, previously told The Narwhal that, without many monitoring programs, there’s no way of telling what’s going on.

“You just won’t know what’s happening,” he said.

8) What’s the rest of North America doing?

According to Randy Christensen with Ecojustice, Alberta’s measures were even more sweeping than the rollbacks seen in the United States under President Trump — and that was before the latest announcements.

What’s happening in Alberta, he said, was “more far reaching than what happened in the U.S.”

“It certainly creates an opportunity for companies to get away with a lot of stuff,” he added.

Similarly, Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada told CBC he wasn’t aware of any other jurisdiction in the world that has gone as far as Alberta to roll back environmental monitoring during the pandemic.

Even so, the Alberta Energy Regulator maintains that the environmental monitoring suspensions won’t lead to issues for the environment and public health in the province.

“The [regulator’s] mandate is to protect public safety and the environment — and we continue to fulfil this mandate throughout these unprecedented times,” Roth said by email.

That still leaves some, like Robinson, wondering why environmental monitoring has been reduced while industry has been largely encouraged to continue full steam ahead.

“If the operation is running, the monitoring should be running,” he said.

SOURCE

 

Canadian oilfield services sector facing ‘immense amount of pain’

Pumpjacks pump crude oil near Halkirk, Alta., on June 20, 2007. File photo by The Canadian Press/Larry MacDougal

Canada’s oilfield services sector is in for “an immense amount of pain” over at least the next year thanks to low North American oil and gas exploration activity amid a worldwide glut of cheap crude, according to a report from CIBC.

Drilling and well completion companies stand to suffer the most as producers will be reluctant to reverse cuts in spending and production linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and its affect on fuel demand, the analysts warn.

“There is no way to sugarcoat it. The oilfield services sector is in for an immense amount of pain over the balance of 2020 and into 2021,” the report says.

“This will be felt across the sector and while some sub-segments will be more impacted than others (i.e. drilling/completion services lines), no one will be immune, especially with the broad-based shut-ins of existing production.”

On Thursday, Calgary-based STEP Energy Services Ltd. was the latest oilfield service provider to report a series of measures to deal with sharply lower demand that began in mid-March.

The measures include job cuts, wage rollbacks, parked equipment and reduced capital spending in its hydraulic fracturing and coiled tubing well service operations in Canada and the U.S.

It is also seeking relief from its lenders because it could potentially breach its debt-to-adjusted-earnings covenants within the next two quarters, triggering a possible demand for immediate repayment of all amounts due.

“Volatile market conditions have created uncertainty for our clients and they have responded by announcing material reductions in capital expenditures and cancelled work programs,” said STEP in a statement.

“Natural gas prices have strengthened of late which could support additional work later in the year; however, this is not expected to offset the decline in demand for services from oil-directed work.”

In a note, analyst Ian Gillies of Stifle FirstEnergy said STEP’s results were in line with expectations, but the bank covenant warning is worrying for investors.

“The outlook for North American hydraulic fracturing remains extremely challenging due to the material uncertainty surrounding the global economy and crude prices,” he said.

‘Immense amount of pain’ predicted for Canadian oilfield services sector

The authors of the CIBC report said the services sector downturn is made worse by expectations of “a prolonged trough” in activity as demand for new oil and gas production is delayed by the need to draw down crude storage and as idled wells are reactivated.

It said shares in the services companies it covers are down between 15 and 70 per cent since early March, some of which is justified by the cost of challenges to come, but some due to “indiscriminate selling” by spooked investors.

Ongoing equipment retirements are expected to allow the North American services sector to eventually match capacity with demand, it said.

At STEP, adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization fell by 12 per cent to $22.8 million in the three months ended March 31, despite a 10 per cent increase in consolidated revenue to $194 million.

It attributed the decrease to a $2.5 million provision for bad debt and $1.9 million in severance for unspecified workforce reductions in Canada and the United States.

Despite a recent rise in U.S. benchmark oil prices to above US$30 per barrel, STEP says it has further reduced its 2020 capital program to $15.5 million, down from $24 million previously and its initial plan of $47 million.

It reported a first-quarter net loss of $52.2 million, compared with a net loss of $600,000 for the same period in 2019, mainly due to $58.8 million in non-cash impairment charges against its Canadian well-fracturing assets.

Earlier this month, the PetroLMI Division of Energy Safety Canada reported more than 7,700 oil and gas sector jobs were lost in April compared with March, with 6,500 of the lost jobs from the oilfield services sector. SOURCE

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2020.

Rebuild the economy with green innovation, cleantech companies urge

A group of cleantech companies is calling for Canadian governments to invest in green innovation as the country recovers economically from COVID-19. File photo by Cole Burston

After the Great Recession struck in 2008, then-U.S. president Barack Obama threw US$112 billion into green-energy-focused economic-recovery measures.

The investment boosted renewable energies, created jobs for laid-off workers and cut pollution levels.

Now, with COVID-19 grinding the economy to a halt and governments making historic injections of public money to prevent a total collapse, green-technology companies are hoping the Canadian government will make a similar bet. More than 200 organizations representing more than 2,000 green companies have signed onto Resilient Recovery, a campaign launched last week that aims to push Canadian governments to invest in clean technology, or cleantech, as the country recovers from its virus-related shutdown.

“Done right, stimulus and recovery efforts can achieve multiple things,” said Sarah Petrevan, a policy director at Clean Energy Canada, a think tank based out of Simon Fraser University that is co-leading the campaign.

“We have to look at this through a climate lens.”

Since widespread COVID-19 shutdowns took hold across Canada in March, the federal government has unveiled a series of stimulus packages aimed at helping businesses ride out the pandemic.

Though there hasn’t been a package aimed specifically at cleantech, the government did earmark $250 million for innovative startups, which could help some smaller cleantech companies. Larger companies may get some help in the form of wage subsidies and access to credit.

Those measures are mostly aimed at helping businesses survive the emergency rather than driving an economic recovery ⁠— which makes sense, as Canada is still in the thick of the pandemic, Petrevan said. But the government has also signalled climate will be a central focus of its economic rebuild when the time comes.

“When the recovery begins, Canada can build a stronger and more resilient economy by investing in a cleaner and healthier future for everyone,” Moira Kelly, a spokeswoman for Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, told the Canadian Press.

Other countries, including Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom and South Korea have already announced their intent to invest in green measures as part of their economic recoveries.

Resilient Recovery penned an open letter earlier this month, urging Ottawa and the provinces to focus on the climate as Canada starts to talk about what reopening will look like. Not only can financial support help cleantech companies survive the current economic shock, it can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut pollution that causes health problems and create much-needed jobs, the letter says.

Over 200 organizations representing more than 2,000 green companies have signed on to Resilient Recovery, a campaign pushing for government investments in cleantech during the recovery from COVID-19.

Resilient Recovery also points to the idea of creating a new normal, one that’s cleaner and better for the climate. Signatories to the letter include a range of companies, from small startups to established companies like Siemens.

“Solving the climate crisis is going to take a whole bunch of different kinds of solutions,” Petrevan said.

“Whoever comes up with those solutions will lead in the transition of the economy and how economies around the world adapt … Canada should look at cleantech as an important thing it can export.”

Sarah Petrevan of Clean Energy Canada says that if done well, Canada’s economic recovery after COVID-19 can also boost green industry and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Photo courtesy Sarah Petrevan

‘These types of companies have a bright future’

In 2008, prosperity in Canada’s oil and gas sector helped the country recover from the Great Recession. But a lot has changed since then, and we are now in the midst of a climate crisis, Petrevan said.

The drivers of the COVID-19 recession are also completely different. In 2008, the crisis was driven by financial markets tanking. What’s happening now is a much larger economic pause, Petrevan said.

The oil and gas industry is currently suffering from a double-pronged problem that has driven the sector into global collapse. A drop in demand due to the pandemic, combined with the effects of a price war plunged Canadian crude prices to near-zero levels last month.

This time around, Canada’s economic recovery should be driven by zero- or low-emissions companies that are sustainable, said Michel Letellier, president and CEO of Innergex, a renewable-energy company that has signed onto Resilient Recovery.

“Cleantech and renewable energy is a much better proposal than depleting resources that will eventually be gone,” he added.

The cleantech sector may face opposition on that front: the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), an extraordinarily powerful and well-funded lobby group representing oil and gas companies operating in Canada, is also pushing Ottawa hard for help, arguing that oil and gas is a major driver of Canada’s economy.

So far, oil and gas companies have received $1.7 billion in federal stimulus funds to speed the cleanup of aging wells and $750 million to reduce methane emissions.

Resilient Recovery isn’t engaging in lobbying the same way CAPP does, although some individual companies do that on their own on a smaller scale. But Letellier said his company signed onto the campaign because cleantech companies can more effectively advocate for themselves as a group.

“By ourselves, we can do our little part,” he said. “But for Canada, seeing this tremendous force behind all these companies … These types of companies have a bright future.” SOURCE

Loved ones in long-term care adrift in jurisdictional limboland

Canadians with loved ones living in long-term-care share a painful awareness of chronic underfunding, understaffing and deregulation. Photo courtesy of Kat Cizek

On May 12, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took another hard pass on solving the sorry state of long-term care facilities across the country, continuing to call the matter a provincial affair. Meanwhile, the premiers of Ontario and Quebec — where most of the grievous long-term care COVID deaths and neglect have occurred — have simply not done enough to avert these tragedies.

Their public promises translate into uneven action on the ground. The fact remains, over 80 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in this country have been linked to long-term care facilities (LTCs) and seniors’ homes, the highest documented rate of its kind in the world.

We are four citizens with loved ones living in long-term-care in different parts of the country, and we share a painful awareness of the vulnerability of Canada’s LTC population due to chronic underfunding, poor infrastructure, understaffing and deregulation. In early April, we came together, extremely worried for the lives of our loved ones, other residents and the workers in these facilities. Within days, we launched a nationwide, citizen-led petition proposing to protect people in LTCs with concrete measures to help avoid the disaster unfolding before our eyes.

Our urgent appeal has resonated right across the country and has now garnered 57,000-plus signatures from every province and territory. Many signatories have included testimonials of how this system has failed them and their loved ones.

Prominent Canadians have signed and shared the petition, including Mary Walsh, Naomi Klein, Francine Pelletier, Sarah Polley, Eleanor Wachtel, Jesse Wente, André Bélisle and Margie Gillis. Our petition calls for emergency funds and a national co-ordinated strategy to address the tragedies continuing to unfold in LTCs and centres d’hébergement et de soins de longue durées (CHLSDs) across Canada.

Tolstoy lamented that every family is unhappy in its own way. So, too, in Canada, where long-term care facilities are each dysfunctional in their own unique way, cast adrift in jurisdictional limboland. Each province and territory has their own “way of doing things” for historically legitimate reasons.

But the current free-for-all, as we are learning, has also been designed for the convenience of the profiteers who, for decades, have benefited from government subsidies and made billions on the backs of paying residents and underpaid workers. For example, Revera, one of the larger corporations involved in seniors’ care, is 100 per cent owned by a federal Crown corporation. Two former Ontario premiers Mike Harris and Bill Davis, have personally profited from their roles on the boards of private companies in this sector.

Further, each region has its own public health approach. Some better than others, especially in times of infection control. Finally, each building has its own ownership and management structure: some are for-profit, some non-profit, many mixed private-public and some are municipally owned.

A mess. Why such disparity? At whose advantage?

There has been one common feature at many of these facilities, and that’s gross negligence. Residents and staff have been denied basic consideration, dignity and protection.

As the nation prepared for the oncoming onslaught, our country’s resources went to protect hospitals, while long-term care facilities were excluded from critical planning. LTCs are not, by current definition, considered hospitals. They are “in-community,” according to policy in Ontario. So since the beginning of this pandemic, if a resident became infected with COVID-19, they were to just “stay at home” and self-isolate.

“There has been one common feature at many of these long-term care facilities, and that’s gross negligence. Residents and staff have been denied basic consideration, dignity and protection.” 

Except an LTC resident couldn’t self-isolate with hundreds of other vulnerable co-residents alongside staff in often outdated, open wards plagued with decades of underfunding, understaffing, and regulatory neglect. As universities cleared out their student residences en masse to avoid super spreads of the virus, LTCs were shut down, locked in and left to their own devices. Gear, training, and protection were often categorically denied to dwindling LTC staff across the country. Inside, $5 masks, gloves, and basic gear were rationed as if they were $300,000 ventilators.

And shockingly, at all costs, COVID-19 patients were not to be transferred out of LTCs to hospital. The firewall was up.

What happened next was a tragedy that was not inevitable. Yet over 4,000 people have now died in LTCs. A number have died abandoned and alone in utterly abject and horrifying circumstances. COVID-19 has ravaged through these “forgotten densities,” aptly named by Jay Pitter, a leading urbanist.

Meanwhile, families with loved ones in LTC were deemed vectors of transmissions and denied access. The only advice we were given by some of our nation’s top geriatricians was to take family members out of long-term care if we could. That was bad advice, because most of us realistically couldn’t do that. The complex care involved in keeping our families and friends safe was the reason we had chosen long-term care, and now taking them home was too much, especially during a pandemic.

Betwixt and between, residents and workers struggled to manage. As COVID-19 came in, some of these places went into complete system collapse: residents and staff got sick, management and staff stopped showing up. People wasted away in their beds, calling for help for days before dying. Workers, often low-income and immigrant, took the virus back to their families and their communities.

In some places, paramedics, and coroners went in to clean up, and even the military was called in — which, in normal times, would be considered an unacceptable jurisdictional creep.

Meanwhile, British Columbia has taken rapid, strong measures in long-term care, and have had very few deaths in the province as a result. In Kingston, Ont., early regional public health intervention also kept the city’s LTCs safe. In Windsor, the regional hospital is supporting LTCs through a field hospital for COVID-19 patients and protects the LTC buildings from further spread.

There is precedent to protect LTCs. Why don’t we make it nationwide? Why hasn’t the federal government acted? It hasn’t hit yet in the other provinces and territories, but If they are not allowed to prepare, the same thing can happen. There is no excuse for knowing what we know now. The federal government has crossed every jurisdictional boundary to solve crises in almost every other sector. Why not LTCs?

Canada desperately needs a coherent strategy and emergency funds to address this national tragedy. We need long-term national solutions to long-term care, bringing these liminal, forgotten densities back into the fold of the basic laws of our country, including the Canada Health Act.

Residents and workers in LTC deserve basic human rights protection, basic medical access, and connection to family and loved ones. This neglect holds a mirror to our collective consciousness in how our country treats our old and vulnerable, not to mention the people who care for them. It’s time for us as a country to step up. Whose interests are the premiers and prime minister truly protecting? It’s certainly not the residents’ and workers’ in long-term care.

Families with loved ones in long term care call for long term national solutions to our system for residents in facilities plagued by lack of funding and services. Photo courtesy of Kit Cizek.SOURCE

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Parliament focuses on COVID-19 and women, but ignores nursing homes

 

Bruce Power ordered to reveal prices

Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Bruce Beamish

The Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner has ruled that Bruce Power and the Ontario Government must come clean on the cost of power from rebuilt reactors noting that “the public has a right to know what the electricity cost will be from the multi-billion Bruce NGS [Nuclear Generating Station] project as they are paying for it and will be locked into paying for it for almost 50 years.”

In her response to an appeal by Bruce Power of an earlier decision, Adjudicator Diane Smith acknowledged that the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) has the power to suppress this information, but ruled that the public right to know trumped this authority.

In ruling that the pricing information should be released, the Adjudicator reasoned that “the annual price of the Bruce NGS electricity options… would allow the public to assess and potentially advocate for alternative energy sources, such as conservation, demand response, hydro power imports from Quebec, renewable generation, and energy storage. Environmental advocates need the annual price of the nuclear option as soon as possible to advocate for alternatives that may take up to 10 years to implement.”

Bruce Nuclear StationFurther, the Adjudicator found the IESO and Bruce Power rationale for suppressing information about the price of power from rebuilt Bruce reactors to be without substance. She noted that contrary to the IESO’s assertions, “I find that the amount of information already disclosed is not adequate to address the public interest considerations.” She also found Bruce Power’s assertion that disclosing the information would somehow raise electricity prices rather baffling, noting “neither the IESO nor Bruce Power provided particulars that support their concerns about this.”

It’s important to note that pricing information for all renewable energy projects in Ontario is fully public and there is no need for citizens or environmental organizations to undertake long and costly Freedom of Information appeals to see this information. Similarly, Ontario Power Generation must publicly disclose all its costing information through the Ontario Energy Board. Only Bruce Power has had the special privilege of keeping all its pricing information firmly under wraps – until now.

Thanks to the Privacy Commissioner we are optimistic we will soon see just what kind of deal Bruce Power is really offering the people of Ontario. The nuclear industry loves to talk about how it supplies “low cost power” though the numbers tell a very different tale.

This matter should never have required a multi-year effort by an environmental NGO. If the Ontario government was serious about reducing hydro costs, it would have long since ordered this information be made public to allow a real comparison of the cost of different energy options. We cannot have an informed debate about the best options for Ontario when one powerful entity and our electricity system manager cling to secrecy.

-Angela Bischoff, Director, Ontario Clean Air Alliance

Alberta rescinds decades-old policy that banned open-pit coal mines in Rockies and Foothills

Province says 1976 policy was redundant, environmental group calls that ‘misleading’

File photos of coal mining operations in Wyoming, left, and Sparwood, B.C., right. Alberta is cancelling a policy that had been in place since 1976 prohibiting open-pit coal mining in wide swaths of land throughout the western side of the province. (Matthew Brown/Associated Press, Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Alberta is cancelling blanket environmental protections that have been in place since the 1970s and making it easier to develop open-pit coal mines in some of the province’s most ecologically sensitive areas.

For decades, wide swaths of the province’s Foothills and Rocky Mountains were off-limits to this type of mining, under what was dubbed the “Coal Policy” of 1976.

The provincial government says the policy is outdated and redundant and eliminating it will encourage substantial new investment. Environmentalists say the move will create a high-level regulatory void, as the policy provided a holistic approach to protecting ecosystems, wildlife and Alberta’s headwaters.

“Without this, we don’t really have a system in place that is enforceable and has evidence-based limits on total land disturbance from industrial operations,” said Nissa Petterson with the Alberta Wilderness Association.

The Coal Policy governed coal leasing, exploration and development across four categories of land that encompass most of the western portion of the province.

It is now set to expire on June 1.

Government says some restrictions no longer needed

The government says similar protections will remain in place in former “Category 1” lands — indicated in yellow in the map below — which include most but not all of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains.

It says the restrictions in the other three land categories — indicated in blue, pink and purple — are no longer needed.

“When these categories were created, land use planning hadn’t yet been completed, supporting infrastructure was lacking and there were environmental concerns that the existing regulatory processes weren’t equipped to address,” the province says on its website.

These maps show the four categories of land protected under Alberta’s 1976 Coal Policy, overlaid with markings indicating caribou ranges and grizzly bear habitat. (Alberta Wilderness Association)

 

Environment Minister Jason Nixon says the government will continue to protect “critical watersheds and biodiversity along the eastern slopes of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains” through other means.

“Through this approach we are striking the balance of ensuring strong environmental protection with providing industry with incentive to increase investment,” Nixon said in a news release announcing the policy change, which was sent out last Friday afternoon, before the May long weekend.

Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon said ‘we are striking the balance of ensuring strong environmental protection with providing industry with incentive to increase investment.’ (CBC)

 

Petterson says the announcement came out of the blue, with no indication such a change had been in the works and no public consultation.

“That doesn’t really seem like an open conversation for a resource that’s owned by Albertans,” she said.

“Albertans should have a say and, unfortunately, this government hasn’t demonstrated a lot of consideration towards consulting the public on some of the decisions that they’ve made related to the environment.”

New mine proposals to go to regulator

Once the Coal Policy is rescinded, proposals for new mines will go directly to the Alberta Energy Regulator, without the previous restrictions.

Alberta Energy spokesman Kavi Bal says the regulator will still consider the same environmental concerns.

But Petterson says it’s “misleading” to say the Coal Policy is redundant with newer regulations.

She says the decades-long policy “operated at a higher level” and helped Alberta “effectively manage cumulative-effect impacts on watersheds and wildlife and our wild spaces.”

A grizzly bear is seen in this file photo from the Foothills Research Institute. (fRI Research)

 

She worries about former Category 2 lands, in particular, which cover 1.4 million hectares of territory that she described as having moderate to high environmental sensitivity. The previous policy prohibited open-pit mines on those lands and allowed only underground operations “where surface effects of the operation are deemed to be environmentally acceptable.”

Kevin van Tighem, a spokesman for landowners in one of the affected areas in the Foothills, says the region already exceeds what are supposed to be development limits.

He says the Foothills are also home to threatened species and are crucial to water supplies for the southern Prairies all the way into Saskatchewan.

‘Coal’s not going away’

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage says the province’s move was a “common-sense” decision aimed at creating “certainty and flexibility for industry.”

“Rescinding the outdated Coal Policy in favour of modern oversight will help attract new investment for an important industry and protect jobs for Albertans,” she said in a release.

Robin Campbell is a former Alberta environment minister and current president of the Coal Association of Canada. He says everyone in the industry that he has spoken with has been “quite pleased” by the province’s move.

He says Alberta has vast deposits of high-quality coal — especially steel-making coal that is in high demand in Japan, China and South Korea.

He says it was possible for companies to apply for an exemption to the Coal Policy’s restrictions in the past but that it was cumbersome and rescinding the policy removes a major hurdle to investment.

“For example, around Rocky Mountain House, we have a couple of projects that were on Category 2 lands. This now allows them to move forward. It allows them to go out and raise money in the international community. And it allows them to start building an operation, which is going to create jobs.”

Former Environment Minister Robin Campbell, seen here in a file photo, now serves as president of the Coal Association of Canada. (Erin Collins/CBC)

 

The coal industry “is very beneficial to rural communities,” Campbell said, and “there are very stringent regulatory obligations that companies have to meet before they can start construction.”

“You’re looking at a lot of money to build a mine — somewhere in the $750 million to $1 billion range — so people who are going to invest in the coal industry want some certainty,” he added.

Campbell estimates there are “at least a half a dozen” companies currently looking at developing mines on lands where it would have been previously prohibited and “there will be more.”

“Coal’s not going away,” he said, “as much as some people like to think it is.” SOURCE


With files from The Canadian Press

Let your lawn grow longer — to help the bees

(York University)

Like the hair on our heads during the coronavirus lockdown, conservationists are encouraging people to let their lawns grow a little wilder than usual this month.

That’s the idea behind the burgeoning No Mow May movement, which, as you might have guessed, is calling on homeowners to park their lawn mowers this month for the sake of local bees and other pollinators.

Organizers say doing so will help introduce much-needed biodiversity and more native flowering plants, both of which are sorely lacking but essential for healthy urban bee populations.

The U.K.-based conservation charity Plantlife, which is spearheading the initiative, says mowing your lawn just once a month can lead to a 10-fold increase in the number of bees pollinating the area.

“The sheer quantity of flowers and nectar production on lawns mown once a month can be astonishing,” said Trevor Dines, a botanical specialist at Plantlife.

The argument is backed up by a 2019 paper published by scientists at the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières, which found that “intensively managed” lawns have been shown to have “clear negative ecological effects,” especially in urban areas.

And while Canadians with more time on their hands might be itching to do some yard work as the weather improves, conservationists say wildlife would indeed benefit from a more widespread “no mow” philosophy.

“Trying to increase the diversity of your lawn is actually a great idea because it really is one of the largest areas of vegetation that’s within most of our urban areas,” said Dan Kraus, a senior conservation biologist at the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Kraus said reduced mowing, fertilization and irrigation could eventually help introduce native species, such as wild strawberries, wild blue violets and trout lilies to more lawns.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada has previously led campaigns to stop people raking leaves in the fall for similar biodiversity purposes.

There’s hope that wider availability of native flowering plants could help local bee populations recover after what has been a decades-long decline for some species.

“Sadly, probably about at least a third of our species have disappeared or drastically declined,” said Victoria MacPhail, an environmental studies PhD student at York University in Toronto who specializes in bumblebees.

MacPhail helps run the citizen science project Bumble Bee Watch, where people around Canada can submit photos of bees to help scientists learn more about local populations.

She listed several species that were once common but are now rarely seen, if ever, in the Toronto area. The list includes the yellow-banded bumblebee, American bumblebee, yellow bumblebee and cuckoo bumblebee.

The rusty-patched bumblebee, once among the top five most common species, has essentially disappeared from the region.

While MacPhail acknowledged the critical role that homeowners can play in revitalizing some of those species, she added that truly helping bee populations will require more than just letting the grass get long.

“I really encourage people, if they want to help pollinators, to actually create habitat for them,” she said. SOURCE


— Nick Boisvert

Energy Transition Index 2020: from crisis to rebound

The world’s energy transition has made slow and steady progress over the past five years, but the COVID-19 crisis risks derailing long-term progress. Will recovery and the shifting global energy order shape new opportunities for picking up the pace?

Why benchmark energy systems?

The Energy Transition Index (ETI) is a fact-based ranking intended to enable policy-makers and businesses to plot the course for a successful energy transition.

The benchmarking of energy systems is carried out annually across countries. Part of the World Economic Forum’s Fostering Effective Energy Transition initiative, it builds on its predecessor, the Energy Architecture Performance Index. The ETI does not only benchmark countries on their current energy system performance, but also provides a forward‑looking lens as it measures their readiness for the energy transition.

The cascading effects of COVID-19

The transformation of the energy system over the past decade, although slower than required to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, has been unprecedented. But this hard‑earned momentum now risks being lost, as the ongoing COVID‑19 pandemic continues to cause economic and social damage.

Beyond the uncertainty over its long‑term consequences, COVID-19 has unleashed cascading effects in real time:

      • The erosion of almost a third of global energy demand
      • Unprecedented oil price volatilities and subsequent geopolitical implications
      • Delayed or stalled investments and projects
      • Uncertainties over the employment prospects of millions of energy‑sector workers

The crisis has forced the unthinkable. Society has had to relinquish valuable commodities and freedoms to collectively address the global outbreak. An effort of similar proportions is required for a successful energy transition.

“The new Earth 2.0 that will emerge after COVID‑19 will be a “new normal”, but many fundamental challenges will still exist. Chief among them is the imperative to collectively work towards an effective and inclusive energy transition.”

— Roberto Bocca, Head of Shaping the Future of Energy & Materials, World Economic Forum

And this year’s winners are…

What does an effective energy transition look like?

Effective energy transition is timely, inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure. It provides solutions to global energy-related challenges, while creating value for business and society, without compromising the balance of the energy triangle.

 

While a long-term vision and objectives are necessary, remaining flexible in a dynamic environment is also critical. Given the complexity and scale of the energy system, which includes different fuel sources, technologies for extraction and conversion, and end-use sectors, an effective energy transition needs to balance the priorities of diverse stakeholder groups.

The World Economic Forum’s initiative on “Fostering Effective Energy Transition” offers a platform to foster common understanding among all stakeholder groups on the destination of energy transition, necessary imperatives, market and policy enablers, and the resulting human impact.

Energy transition in numbers

    • 55.1%   Global average ETI score in 2020, an improvement of 2 percentage points since 2015
    • 94   Countries have improved their ETI score since 2015, representing 70% of the global population
    • 11   Countries have made steady progress each year since 2015
    • <1%   Increase in the average ETI score of countries in the top quartile since 2015
    • 2Of global population uses as much energy as the remaining 80%
    • 3%   Expected decline in coal power generation globally in 2019, according to Carbon Brief analysis
    • 70%   Of young people consider the speed of energy transition to be either stagnant or too slow, according to a World Economic Forum survey of the Global Shapers’ Community

The Energy Transition Index, a composite score of 40 indicators, benchmarks 115 countries on the current performance of their energy system, and their readiness for transition to a secure, sustainable, affordable, and inclusive future energy system.

The technical bit

Slow but steady progress

The global energy transition has been moving at a slow, but steady pace. Of the 115 countries benchmarked on the ETI, 94 corresponding to more than 70% of global CO2 emission have improved their scores since 2015. The gap between countries in the top quartile, and the rest of the countries seems to be narrowing – which highlights the emerging global consensus on the necessary priorities for energy transition, and increased sharing of best practices among countries.

COVID-19 has stress tested the energy system

The economic development and growth dimension of energy transition is currently being challenged by the cascading effects of COVID-19. There has nonetheless been unprecedented collaboration among leading Oil & Gas producing countries to provide stability to markets, but the recent price volatilities will be a stress test for the energy system.

Over the past five years, most countries have reduced the level of energy subsidies, reflecting the movement towards cost-reflective pricing. Cost of utility bills, already a sensitive issue in many countries, will exacerbate the affordability challenge as unemployment rises due to economic consequences.

The progress on environmental sustainability remains slow, but 2019 was a landmark year. Central banks recognized the systemic risks from uncoordinated and abrupt transition, world’s largest asset managers cited the importance of ESG considerations in investment, and many countries and companies announced net zero goals. COVID-19 might result in a shift in stakeholder priorities in the near term.

Given the temporary pause in international collaboration – such as the postponement of COP 26 – country-specific actions will be critical in ensuring the economic recovery from COVID-19 is environmentally sustainable.

Global average scores on energy access and security are highest among the three dimensions. Large gaps exist however, especially on access and quality of electricity supply. Building upon the progress on energy access over the past two decades, future programmes need to be designed to ensure access to different forms of energy-enabled services – including household, industrial and community services.

Importers vs exporters

Since 2015, fuel-importing countries have improved as a faster rate than fuel-exporting countries. Key points of differentiation are on environmental sustainability, capital and investment in new energy infrastructure, and the inertia from legacy energy system structure.

Sweden leads the overall rankings for the third consecutive year, followed by Switzerland and Finland. The performance of G20 countries is mixed. France and United Kingdom are the only G20 countries in the top 10. China, India, and Italy made consistent improvements on overall ETI score since 2015, while Russia, Japan, South Korea and Germany made moderate gains. Scores for United States, Canada, Brazil and Iran were either stagnant, or declining.

It’s a generational thing

Calls from youth surged in 2019, demanding fast and decisive action on climate change. The World Economic Forum conducted a survey of the Global Shapers’ community and an overwhelming 70% of the respondents said they feel the speed of energy transition in not fast enough. They are also more willing to pay for the increased costs associated with energy transition, and are more accepting of lifestyle changes required for energy transition.

Systems approach: building the fundamentals for energy transition

Energy transition readiness is captured by the stability of the policy environment and the level of political commitment, the investment climate and access to capital, the level of consumer engagement, the development and adoption of new technologies, etc. Some of these factors are beyond the scope of the energy system but nevertheless determine the effectiveness and future trajectory of energy transition in a country. Those countries that are most energy-ready have adopted diverse pathways to improve their readiness. They have simultaneously improved on multiple enablers, underscoring the importance of a systemic approach to energy transition. SOURCE

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