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Work and Climate Change Report

Tidal wave of climate litigation: cases and trends examined in new report

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 2, 2021

On January 26 the United Nations Environment Programme and the Sabin Center at Columbia University published Global Climate Litigation Report: 2020 Status Review , revealing a “growing tidal wave of climate cases” which show “how climate litigation is compelling governments and corporate actors to purse more ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation goals.”

The report states that as of July 1, 2020, at least 1,550 climate change cases have been filed in 38 countries around the world – nearly double the number of cases in the previous report published in 2017, which had documented 884 cases brought in 24 countries. The report summarizes key trends in cases – “ ongoing and increasing numbers of cases relying on fundamental and human rights enshrined in international law and national constitutions to compel climate action; challenging domestic enforcement (and non-enforcement) of climate-related laws and policies; seeking to keep fossil fuels in the ground; claiming corporate liability and responsibility for climate harms; addressing failures to adapt and the impacts of adaptation; and advocating for greater climate disclosures and an end to corporate greenwashing on the subject of climate change and the energy transition.” The report also notes emerging issues in the next five years, including increased attention to attribution studies, and highlights significant and precedent-setting cases throughout.

Global Climate Litigation Report: 2020 Status Review is current to July 1, 2020. Since then, at least three more important cases have been decided: 1. in December 2020, a U.K. coroner ruled that “Air pollution a cause in girl’s death, coroner rules in landmark case” (The Guardian, January 2021); 2. an Appeals court in France overturned an expulsion order against an asthmatic man because he would face “a worsening of his respiratory pathology due to air pollution” in Bangladesh, his home country (the significance described in The Guardian in “Air pollution will lead to mass migration, say experts after landmark ruling” , with more details here). And 3. on January 29, 2021, a Dutch Appeals court brought an end to a case begun in 2008, when it upheld a decision against Royal Dutch Shell petroleum, finding it responsible for multiple oil spills and leaks which poisoned farmland in the Niger Delta. A Reuters report  quotes Friends of the Earth, saying “the ruling exceeded all expectations and marked the first time a multinational had been instructed by a Dutch court to uphold a duty of care for foreign operations.” The case is also summarized in “After 13 years, Justice: Dutch court orders Shell to pay for harm done to Nigerian farmers and in Deutsche Welle in “Dutch Court rules Shell liable for Niger Delta oil spills.

And in the United States, a potentially landmark case of climate liability is underway as of January 2021. According to a summary at NPR the city of Baltimore is presenting its claim for the cost of climate-related damages against more than a dozen major oil and gas companies including BP, ExxonMobil and Shell. According to NPR: “The Supreme Court will announce its decision later this year on the narrow question of whether the Baltimore case should be considered in state or federal court. If the justices decide in favor of the companies and the case proceeds in federal court, it’s possible that the lawsuit will be eventually dismissed without a trial. However, if the justices decide in favor of Baltimore, it is likely that the case will proceed in Maryland state court, which could require the companies in the case to turn over vast troves of documents about their businesses and marketing practices over the decades.” A multitude of legal documents have been compiled since the case began in 2018, and are available at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law here.

Canadian steel, concrete, aluminum and wood: low carbon solutions for public infrastructure

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 2, 2021

In a February 1 press release, Ken Neumann, National Director for Canada of the United Steelworkers says, “We need our governments to support the creation and retention of good jobs by strengthening Canadian industrial and manufacturing capacities in ways that support the low-carbon transition of the economy”. To support that point, Blue Green Canada has released a new report, Buy Clean: How Public Construction Dollars can create jobs and cut pollution . Buy Clean calls for the use of Canadian-made building products in infrastructure in order to reap the dual benefit of reducing carbon emissions and supporting local industry and jobs. The USW press release continues: “Buy Clean makes sense for Canada because it leverages our carbon advantage. Whether its steel, aluminum, cement or wood, building materials sourced from within Canada are typically lower carbon than imported materials” – thanks largely to our low-emissions energy supply and reduced transportation costs. The report recommends that all levels of government continue and expand the use of Buy Clean policies for procurement. The report also calls for an Industrial Decarbonization Strategy to encourage technological innovation in the manufacture of steel, aluminum, concrete and wood , and for a “Clean Infrastructure Challenge Fund” , to act as a demonstration fund modelled on the Low Carbon Economy Challenge, but available only for public infrastructure projects, not to private industry.

Buy Clean: How Public Construction Dollars can create jobs and cut pollution is also available in a French-language version, Acheter Propre: Créer des emplois et réduire la pollution par une utilisation judicieuse des fonds publics en construction . The report includes appendices for each of the sectors, providing brief but specific summaries of how Canadian industry has already achieved lower carbon processes than their competitors – particularly in steel and aluminum, and what further decarbonization opportunities remain.

The Buy Clean message seems closely related to the Stand Up for Steel national campaign by the United Steelworkers, which also calls for the use of Canadian-made steel in infrastructure projects. After the disruptive tariffs levied by the previous U.S. administration, the Stand up for Steel Action Plan also calls for the right for unions to initiate trade cases; for expanding the definition of ‘material injury’ in trade cases; and for a carbon border adjustment on imported steel.

President Biden’s Executive Orders and Keystone XL cancellation: what impact on Canada?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 1, 2021

Incoming U.S. President Biden exceeded expectations with the climate change initiatives announced in week 1 of his term, and many have important repercussions for Canada. The most obvious came on Day 1, January 20, with an Executive Order cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline and taking the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement. Also of potential impact for the Canadian clean tech and auto industries – the Buy American policies outlined in Executive Order on Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers (Jan. 25). On January 27 ( “Climate Day ”), the Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at home and abroad (explained in this Fact Sheet ) announced a further series of initiatives, including a pause on oil and gas leases on federal lands, a goal to convert the federal government’s vehicle fleet to electric vehicles, and initiatives towards environmental justice and science-based policies. Essential to the “whole of government” approach, the Executive Order establishes the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy to coordinate policies, and a National Climate Task Force composed of leaders from across 21 federal agencies and departments. It also establishes the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, “to be co-chaired by the National Climate Advisor and the Director of the National Economic Council, and directs federal agencies to coordinate investments and other efforts to assist coal, oil and natural gas, and power plant communities.”

The New York Times summarized the Jan. 27 Orders as “a sweeping series of executive actions …. while casting the moves as much about job creation as the climate crisis.” A sampling of resulting summaries and reactions: ‘We Need to Be Bold,’ Biden Says, Taking the First Steps in a Major Shift in Climate Policy” in Inside Climate News (Jan. 28); “Fossils ‘stunned’, ‘aghast’ after Biden pauses new oil and gas leases” in The Energy Mix (Feb. 1); “Biden’s “all of government” plan for climate, explained” in Vox (updated Jan. 27) ; “Biden’s Pause of New Federal Oil and Gas Leases May Not Reduce Production, but It Signals a Reckoning With Fossil Fuels” (Jan. 27) ; “Biden is canceling fossil fuel subsidies. But he can’t end them all” (Grist, Jan. 28); “Activists See Biden’s Day One Focus on Environmental Justice as a Critical Campaign Promise Kept” and “Climate Groups Begin Vying for Power in the Biden Era as Pressure for Unity Fades” (Jan 21) in The Intercept , which outlines the key policy differences between the BlueGreen Alliance (which includes the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and the United Steelworkers in the U.S.) and the Climate Justice Alliance, a national coalition of environmental justice groups.

Survey of oil and gas workers shows little knowledge of energy transition

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 20, 2021

A report commissioned by international union coalition Industriall examines the geopolitics of fossil fuel producing countries (mainly, the United States, China, Europe and Russia) and the investments and performance of the Oil Majors (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Total, as well as nationally-owned PetroChina, Gazprom and Equinor). Energy transition, national strategies, and oil companies: what are the impacts for workers? was published in November 2020, with the research updated to reflect the impacts of Covid-19. 

In addition to a thorough examination of state and corporate actions, the report asked union representatives from four oil companies about how workers understand the energy transformation and its impact on their own jobs, and whether the concept of Just Transition has become part of their union’s agenda.

Some highlights of the responses:

  • “the union members interviewed showed little knowledge about either the risks that the current transition process can generate for the industrial employee, or about the union discussion that seeks to equate the concern with the decarbonisation of the economy with the notions of equity and social justice. In some cases, even the term “Just Transition” was not known to respondents.”
  • Their lack of knowledge regarding the Just Transition can be justified by the fact that they do not believe that there will be any significant change in the energy mix of these companies.
  • Regarding information about energy transitions within the companies, “Managers are included, but the bottom of the work chain is not”
  • Lacking corporate policies or support, some employees feel compelled to take responsibility for their own re-training

Echoing results of a similar survey of North Sea oil workers in the summer of 2020, published in Offshore: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition, one European respondent is quoted saying: “In the end, everyone is looking for job security, good wages and healthy conditions. It doesn’t matter so much if the job is in another area, as long as it is in good working conditions”.

The researchers conclude that: “Far from being just a statement of how disconnected workers are from environmental issues, these researches reveal a window of opportunity for union movements to act in a better communication strategy with their union members, drawing their attention to the climate issue and transforming their hopes for job stability and better working conditions into an ecologically sustainable political agenda.”

The report was commissioned by Industriall and conducted by the Institute of Strategic Studies of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (Ineep), a research organization created by Brazil’s United Federation of Oil and Gas Workers (FUP).

A Manual of Arguments to be used to promote a fair and ecological society

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 20, 2021

A Manual of Arguments for a Fair and Ecological Society is a new communication tool aimed at a European and Eastern European audience, and at “social democrats working in the context of social-ecological transformation”. According to the manual, it “scrutinizes the seven most important topic areas in which social and environmental concerns are—mistakenly—often played out against each other” – including Decarbonization of the Economy and the Future of Jobs; Socially Just Energy Transformation; and Socially Just Mobility Transformation. It then provides summaries of these issues to be used in discussion.

 Although the exact examples used in A Manual of Arguments are specific to Europe, the language and the framing follows well-established principles in the psychology of climate communication, making it a model which could be adapted in other countries. “We know that it will take more to combat climate crises than just stating the facts. We need to think strategically about our messaging if we want to reach our audience and avoid potential resistance or reactance, which may end up defeating our original purpose.” A Manual of Arguments for a Fair and Ecological Society was published by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Berlin Germany, and offers brief summaries of each topic here, with a version of the complete Manual here.

How “clean” are clean energy and electric vehicles?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 19, 2021

Several articles and reports published recently have re-visited the question: how “clean” is “clean energy”? Here is a selection, beginning in October 2020 with a multi-part series titled Recycling Clean Energy Technologies , from the Union of Concerned Scientists. It includes: “Wind Turbine blades don’t have to end up in landfill”; “Cracking the code on recycling energy storage batteries“; and “Solar Panel Recycling: Let’s Make It Happen” .

The glaring problem with Canada’s solar sector and how to fix it” (National Observer, Nov. 2020) states that “While solar is heralded as a clean, green source of renewable energy, this is only true if the panels are manufactured sustainably and can be recycled and kept out of landfills.” Yet right now, Canada has no capacity to recycle the 350 tonnes of solar pv waste produced in 2016 alone, let alone the 650,000 tonnes Canada is expected to produce by 2050. The author points the finger of responsibility at Canadian provinces and territories, which are responsible for waste management and extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations. A description of solar recycling and waste management systems in Europe and the U.S. points to better practices.

No ‘green halo’ for renewables: First Solar, Veolia, others tackle wind and solar environmental impacts” appeared in Utility Drive (Dec. 14) as a “long read” discussion of progress to uphold environmental and health and safety standards in both the production and disposal of solar panels and wind turbine blades. The article points to examples of industry standards and third-party certification of consumer goods, such as The Green Electronics Council (GEC) and NSF International. The article also quotes experts such as University of California professor Dustin Mulvaney, author of Solar Power: Innovation, Sustainability, and Environmental Justice (2019) and numerous other articles which have tracked the environmental impact, and labour standards, of the solar energy industry.

Regarding the recycling of wind turbine blades: A press release on December 8 2020 describes a new agreement between GE Renewable Energy and Veolia, whereby Veolia will recycle blades removed from its U.S.-based onshore wind turbines by shredding them at a processing facility in Missouri, so that they can be used as a replacement for coal, sand and clay in cement manufacturing. A broader article appeared in Grist, “Today’s wind turbine blades could become tomorrow’s bridges” (Jan. 8 2021) which notes the GE- Veoli initiative and describes other emerging and creative ways to deal with blade waste, such as the Re-Wind project. Re-Wind is a partnership involving universities in the U.S., Ireland, and Northern Ireland who are engineering ways to repurpose the blades for electrical transmission towers, bridges, and more. The article also quotes a senior wind technology engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the U.S. who is experimenting with production materials to find more recyclable materials from which to build wind turbine blades in the first place. He states: “Today, recyclability is something that is near the top of the list of concerns” for wind energy companies and blade manufacturers alike …. All of these companies are saying, ‘We need to change what we’re doing, number one because it’s the right thing to do, number two because regulations might be coming down the road. Number three, because we’re a green industry and we want to remain a green industry.’”

These are concerns also top of mind regarding the electric vehicle industry, where both production and recycling of batteries can be detrimental to the planet. The Battery Paradox: How the electric vehicle boom is draining communities and the planet is a December 2020 report by the Dutch Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO). It reviews the social and environmental impacts of the whole battery value chain, (mining, production, and recycling) and the mining of key minerals used in Lithium-ion batteries (lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite and manganese). The report concludes that standardization of battery cells, modules and packs would increase recycling rates and efficiency, but ultimately, “To relieve the pressure on the planet, …. any energy transition strategy should prioritize reducing demand for batteries and cars… Strategies proposed include ride-sharing, car-sharing and smaller vehicles.”

Principles and best practices for a Just Transition for Canada’s fossil fuel workers

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 19, 2021

Economist Jim Stanford has written a timely new report which should be required reading for politicians setting their hair on fire about Joe Biden’s stated intention to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project on Day one of his presidency. Employment Transitions and the Phase-Out of Fossil Fuels, released on January 18, argues that “the actual number of fossil fuel jobs and the number of communities reliant on the industry is small enough that a just and equitable transition plan for workers is very feasible” – and the key is timing.

Stanford’s report begins by setting out the statistics regarding fossil fuel employment in Canada: “under 1% of total payroll employment in Canada (or about 160,000 jobs) is located in seven industrial sectors which together comprise most of the composite fossil fuel industry. “ Using 2016 Census data, the report discusses the distribution of fossil fuel jobs by province and community, showing that Alberta accounts for 75% of fossil-related jobs in 2016, but even there, only it accounts for 7% of all provincial employment. 18 fossil fuel-dependent communities are named, where fossil fuel jobs account for 9.5% of employment – including two well-known examples, Wood Buffalo/Fort McMurray in Alberta and Estevan in Saskatchewan. The report continues to compare employment in the fossil fuel industry and in the health care sector, Canada’s largest employer. The aim is not to diminish the importance of fossil fuel employment, but to illustrate that employment possibilities exist in other sectors, even within fossil fuel-reliant communities.

Stanford looks ahead and states: “given weakening global demand for fossil fuels, depressed prices, continued infrastructure constraints, and aggressive cost-cutting by fossil fuel employers (shedding labour to protect profits despite lower energy prices), fossil fuel industries will see continued downsizing of their employment footprint.” He summarizes the employment transitions of other sectors in Canada’s history, notably fisheries, auto manufacturing, manufacturing – as well as other sectors currently transitioning, including retail, transportation, and newspapers and media, and documents the overall dynamics which are always churning labour markets. All these arguments build to the report’s final section, which is to outline the principles and best practices for planning effective employment and community transitions for the inevitable decline of fossil fuels. 

GM and Unifor agreement brings production of electric commercial vans to Ingersoll Ontario

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 19, 2021

The 1,900 workers at the CAMI auto plant in Ingersoll Ontario had been facing an uncertain future, as production of the Chevrolet Equinox was due to be phased out in 2023. Yet on January 18, 91% of Unifor Local 88 members voted to ratify a new agreement with General Motors , and as a result, GM will invest in the large scale production of EV600’s, a zero-emissions, battery-powered commercial van said to be the cornerstone of a new GM business unit called BrightDrop, itself only just unveiled in January at the Computer and Electronics (CES) Trade Show.

The official Unifor CAMI Agreement Summary provides details of the terms of the three-year CAMI agreement , and includes a GM Product and Investment Commitment Letter. It states: “the investments described below underscore GM’s commitment to our customers and employees; and are conditional on stable demand, business and market conditions; the ability to continue producing profitably; and the full execution of GMS. Subject to ratification of a tentative 2021 labour agreement reached with Unifor and confirmation of government support, General Motors plans to bring production of its recently announced BrightDrop electric light commercial vehicle (EV600) to CAMI Assembly. In addition, there are other variants of the electric light commercial vehicle program which are currently under study. This investment at CAMI Assembly will enable General Motors to start work immediately and begin production at the plant in 2021, making this the first large scale production of electric vehicles by a major automotive company in Canada. This will support jobs and transform work at the plant over the life of this agreement from the current two shifts of Chevrolet Equinox production to a new focus on the production of the all new EV600 to serve the growing North American market for electric delivery solutions.” GM pledges a total of C$1.0 Billion capital investments for facilities, tools, M&E and supplier tooling. It also states: “…….This investment is contingent upon full acceptance of all elements contained within this Settlement Agreement and the Competitive Operating Agreement.” (which has not been made public).

The GM Canada press release summarizes the recent progress at other GM locations: “C$1.3 billion Oshawa Assembly Pickup investments; a C$109 million product and C$28 million Renewable Energy Cogeneration project at St. Catharines; a C$170 million investment in an after-market parts operation in Oshawa; expansion of GM’s Canadian Technology Centre including investments in the new 55-acre CTC McLaughlin Advanced Technology Track” in Oshawa. As previously reported in the WCR , Unifor has also negotiated historic agreements to produce electric vehicles in the 2020 Big Three Round of Bargaining. As Heather Scoffield wrote in an Opinion piece in the Toronto Star on January 18, “Never mind pipelines: Ontario automakers are showing us a greener way to create jobs now”.

What’s ahead for Canadian climate and energy policy in 2021?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 18, 2021

The Canadian government has a full climate change agenda ahead when it reconvenes Parliament on January 25, not the least of which will be the debate and passage of Bill C-12, the Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act , analyzed by the Climate Action Network here. After its introduction in November, C-12 was criticized for lacking urgency and specific plans – for example, in an article by Warren Mabee in The Conversation which calls for three per cent to four per cent GHG reductions “every year, starting now.”

On December 11, the government released its latest climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, previously discussed in the WCR and noted primarily for its proposed carbon tax hike to $170 per tonne by 2050. According to “The good, the bad and the ugly in Canada’s 2030 climate plan” (The National Observer, Jan. 18): “The good news is that …The government’s recently announced A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy plan contains enough new climate policy proposals that, if implemented, will allow Canada to reach its 2030 target. The bad news is….Climate laws enacted by Canadian politicians to date don’t come anywhere close to meeting our 2030 target. With time running out and a gigantic emissions gap to close, Canada needs to enact climate laws now.”

Over 400,000 Clean Energy jobs lost in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 18, 2021

U.S. government employment figures for December 2020 show that the U.S. clean energy sector added 16,900 jobs in December. However, analysis released on January 13 reveals that the recovery is slow, and the industry now has its lowest number of workers since 2015, having suffered a loss of over 400,000 jobs (12%) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Clean Energy Employment Initial Impacts from the COVID-19 Economic Crisis, December 2020 was prepared by BW Research Partnership, commissioned by industry groups E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), E4TheFuture, and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) . The 17-page report provides data by state and by technology, with energy efficiency leading the losses with 302,164 total jobs lost nationally between February and December 2020. California was the hardest hit state. 

This is the latest in a monthly series of reports tracking the impact of Covid-19 on clean energy jobs – the series is available at the E2 website here. These reports document the dramatic shift in clean energy employment in the U.S; the E2 Clean Jobs America 2020 annual report outlines the industry’s policy recommendations for recovery as of April 2020.

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