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Steady Path: How a Transition to a Fossil-Free Canada is in Reach for Workers and Their Communities

By staff - Environmental Defense, January 2021

This brief investigates the actual state of employment in Canada’s fossil fuel industry. It explains why the clean economy transition is manageable for workers in fossil fuel industries and should start now. And it provides ten principles that we should be following to make this transition fair and effective.

This brief summarizes the findings of Employment Transitions and the Phase-Out of Fossil Fuels, a report authored by economist Jim Stanford at the Centre for Future Work.

Read the text (PDF).

The Biden Climate Plan: Part 2: An Arena of Struggle

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustinability, December 8, 2020

The climate plan released by Joe Biden in August presents a wide-ranging program for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The previous commentary, “The Biden Climate Plan: What it Proposes–Part 1” summarizes that plan. This commentary identifies the points of conflict on climate policy and related social policies that are likely to emerge within a Biden administration. It concludes by assessing how advocates of a Green New Deal can take advantage of the Biden program to fight for a climate-safe, worker-friendly, socially-just outcome. To read this commentary, please visit: this page.

Labour and Environmental Sustainability

By Juan Escribano Gutiérrez, in collaboration with Paolo Tomassetti - Adapt, December 2020

There is consensus that the separation between labour and the environment, as well as that between the legal disciplines that regulate both domains, is meaningless and outdated. Since business activities affect the health and the environment of workers and human beings, synergies between the two spheres have to be created. Yet there is still a long way to go in order to bring together labour and environmental regulation.

In all the selected countries (France, the Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain) the legal systems regulating salaried work, on the one hand, and the environment, on the other hand, remain disconnected, although no formal obstacles exist to their integration. With regard to the scope for collective bargaining to become a means to integrate both spheres, no legal restrictions apply in any of the framework considered, although explicit references to workers and employers (or their representatives) to bargain over environmental aspects are far less evident.

It is up to the social partners to promote environmental sustainability as a goal for collective bargaining or to continue with the traditional inertia that divides labour and environmental regulation. Despite research shows how the social partners, especially trade unions, are more and more willing to negotiate environmental aspects, the narrative on the trade-off between labour and the environment is still evident, especially in the Hungarian context. Collective agreements could take a leading role in driving the just transition towards a low-carbon economy, but in practice they do not regard this mission as a priority. Environmental clauses in collective agreements are still exceptional and lack momentum.

One explanation is that the legal mechanisms in place to limit the impact of business activity on the environment (i.e. environmental law) legitimize firms to consider environmental aspects as their own prerogative. For this reason, in some legal systems, employers tend to discuss environmental commitments outside collective bargaining, including them into corporate social responsibility (CSR) mechanisms. By doing so, the company avoids enforceability, limiting the effectiveness of the tools to regulate environmental issues.

Read the text (Link).

The Biden Climate Plan: Part 1: What It Proposes

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustinability, December 1, 2020

This commentary by Jeremy Brecher analyzes Joe Biden’s “Plan for Climate Change and Environmental Justice” released in August. The following commentary, “The Biden Climate Plan: Part 2: An Arena of Struggle,” will consider the struggles that are likely to emerge over what parts of the plan can and should be implemented. To read this commentary, please visit: this page.

Letter to Contra Costa County, California on Just Transition from Fossil Fuels

By staff - Sunflower Alliance, November 20, 2020

Just weeks after Contra Costa County’s Board of Supervisors declared a climate emergency, a diverse group of environmental, labor, and public health advocates sent a letter to the Board calling for a planned and equitable transition away from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy, in what many are calling a “just transition” that supports refinery workers and frontline communities.

“We applaud your recent Declaration of a Climate Emergency in Contra Costa County, which underlines the need to ‘plan for a ‘just transition’ away from a fossil-fuel dependent economy.’  In furtherance of this goal, we seek your immediate action to ensure just transitions for workers and communities threatened with sudden abandonment by refineries located in the County.  We believe climate protection must go hand in hand with environmental and economic justice,”  reads the letter’s opening paragraph.  See the full letter here.

The letter highlights concerns over recent news regarding changes to traditional refinery operations in Contra Costa County—including Marathon’s announcement of a permanent end to crude oil processing at its Martinez refinery, and Phillips 66’s notice of an impending partial closure of its San Francisco Refinery facilities in Rodeo, Franklin Canyon, and Arroyo Grande.

Both companies have proposed changes that would significantly decrease the production of non-petroleum fuels, which will involve shuttering large portions of the refinery.  Neither company has identified plans for full cleanups of their industrial sites, nor have they made adequate commitments to support the wages, health care, or pensions of workers whose jobs are threatened by these changes.

“The large oil companies who have for so long made their profits in Contra Costa County’s local communities ought to be the ones to pay the steep cost associated with their departure,”  the letter states.

The letter also identifies how the communities facing shuttered refinery operations are ultimately at risk for future prospects for environmentally healthy and economically sustainable development.

After the Hazelwood coal fired power station closure: Latrobe Valley regional transition policies and outcomes 2017-2020

By John Wiseman, Annabelle Workman, Sebastian Fastenrath, and Frank Jotzo - Crawford School of Public Policy, November 2020

This paper reviews and evaluates key policy initiatives and strategies designed to strengthen regional economic, social and environmental outcomes in the Latrobe Valley (Victoria, Australia) in the three years following the closure of the Hazelwood power station. Prior to its sudden closure in March 2017, Hazelwood was the most carbon-intensive electricity generator in Australia. The debate over the future of Hazelwood became an icon in the nation’s ongoing political struggle over climate and energy policy.

Employment and economic outcomes in the three years since closure indicate promising initial progress in creating the foundations required to facilitate an equitable transition to a more prosperous and sustainable regional economy. The Hazelwood case study provides support for a number of propositions about successful regional energy transition including that well managed, just transitions to a prosperous zero-carbon economy are likely to be strengthened by proactive, well integrated industry policy and regional renewal strategies; respectful and inclusive engagement with workers and communities; and adequately funded, well-coordinated public investment in economic and community strategies, tailored to regional strengths and informed by local experience.

Read the text (PDF).

Transition Time?: Energy Attitudes in Southern Saskatchewan

By Andrea Olive, Emily Eaton, Randy Besco, Nathan Olmstead, and Catherine Moez - Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Fall 2020

If you woke up in southern Saskatchewan today, chances are it is windy, and the sun is shining. Regina and Saskatoon are among the sunniest cities in all of Canada, and southern Saskatchewan has some of the highest solar photovoltaic potential in North America (Government of Canada nd). It also has some of the highest wind energy potential on the continent (Saskwind nd). Yet there is little solar or wind energy production occurring in the province — indeed, at present, wind contributes 5% and solar contributes less than 3% of energy consumed. Instead, Saskatchewan is known as an oil and gas economy with a dependence on coal for electricity and a deep opposition to carbon pricing. While high oil prices and a shale oil revolution initially led to a “Saskaboom,” the tides have quickly turned. With the collapse in oil prices in 2014 and the COVID-19 crisis of 2019-2020, boom has turned to bust, and oil and gas communities are hurting.

The problems with a steady reliance on fossil fuels are twofold: economic and environmental. For starters, an oil and gas economy is a volatile economy. As COVID disruptions revealed, any shock to the system can devastate the industry. When demand fell — as airlines cancelled flights and people lived under lock-down — oil prices tumbled to $3.50 USD a barrel in April. Pumps across Saskatchewan went idle. Similar slumps were felt during the 2008 global recession and the 2014 global drop in oil prices. When government revenues are closely tied to oil and gas production the fear of the next bust is always — and rightfully — around the corner.

The environmental externalities of fossil fuels are also ever present. Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal are the leading cause of climate change, including unpredictable weather patterns, such as extreme heat, droughts, and flooding. In 2017, Saskatchewan’s emissions were 75% higher than they were in 1990. Today, the province’s emissions per capita are the highest in Canada and among the highest in the world (UCS 2018).

Read the text (PDF).

Decommissioning California Refineries and Beyond Workshop

The End of Oil? Pandemic Adds to Fossil Fuel Glut, But COVID-19 Relief Money Flows to Oil Industry

Antonia Juhasz interviewed by Amy Goodman- Democracy Now, September 2, 2020

AMY GOODMAN: Longtime Massachusetts senator and Green New Deal champion Ed Markey won his primary against challenger Congressmember Joe Kennedy III Tuesday, marking a victory for progressives and the first time a Kennedy has lost an election in the state of Massachusetts. Senator Markey secured 54% of the vote in a primary race seen by many as a showdown between the Democratic establishment and its new and growing progressive wing. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed Kennedy, while Markey had the support of New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the youth-led Sunrise Movement. The Sunrise Movement tweeted in response to the victory, quote, “After winning elections across the country, you think we’re gonna stop now? They wish. We will protest outside the halls of Congress while our allies on the inside negotiate the Green New Deal,” they said.

This comes as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said he would not ban fracking during a speech in Pittsburgh. A group of 145 organizations, including Sunrise Movement and Greenpeace, have released a letter calling on Biden to ban fossil fuel interests from his campaign and administration, if he wins. The letter reads, quote, “To advance environmental justice, you must stand up to fossil fuel CEOs, stop the expansion of oil, gas and coal production, and rapidly transition us away from fossil fuels,” unquote.

This comes as the global oil industry is in crisis with falling demand and crashing prices exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Despite this, fossil fuel companies continue to pump out an excess of oil, much of it stored on tankers in the ocean. In May, as 390 million barrels of oil and gas sat in storage on the world’s oceans, Greenpeace activists sailed out along the San Francisco Bay, unfurling a banner saying “Oil Is Over! The Future Is Up to You.”

GREENPEACE ACTIVIST: I’m here in San Francisco Bay, where floating oil storage tankers are now idling, storing oil that no one wants and where we have nowhere to put.

AMY GOODMAN: Despite this, Congress has poured billions of dollars of COVID relief funds into bailing out the fossil fuel industry.

We go now to Boulder, Colorado, where we’re joined by Antonia Juhasz, an oil and energy reporter, a Bertha fellow in investigative journalism. And her recent cover story for Sierra magazine is “The End of Oil Is Near,” along with another report, “Bailout: Billions of Dollars of Federal COVID-19 Relief Money Flow to the Oil Industry.” She’s the author of several books, most recently, Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill.

CalPERS Continues to Invest in Coal

By Robert Dam and Vanessa Warheit - Fossil Free California, September 2020

This 14-page report shows that CalPERS continues to hold millions in coal producers that make the majority of their revenue from thermal coal. In fact, CalPERS even increased its investments in Exxaro, a company that qualified for divestment in 2017 but was retained by CalPERS because they said they were investing more in green energy. But Exxaro’s modest clean energy initiatives are dwarfed by its current coal operations in South Africa, and by its intent to seek permits for a six-fold expansion of its coal mining, which could be a tipping point for the climate.

In recognition of coal’s outsized contribution to human-caused climate change, in 2015 California passed a law – SB 185 – requiring CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest from companies making 50% or more of their revenue from the mining of thermal coal.  A 50% share of revenue sets a very high bar that can be reached by only the small number of “pure-play” coal mining companies that remain in business.  Many investors, including BlackRock and the State of New York, define a “coal company” with a much lower threshold of 25% or even 10%.

If CalPERS coal holdings are analyzed more broadly, using the criteria of the Global Coal Exit List, it’s clear that CalPERS holds billions in coal – coal mining companies, coal-fired utilities, coal distribution and services, and large diversified companies with substantial coal operations. Instead of winding down its investments in coal, which was the intent of SB 185, CalPERS actually increased investments in coal by $1.5 billion dollars between 2018 and 2019, for a total of $6.5 billion throughout the whole coal value chain. 

CalPERS’ coal exclusion policy is weak compared to those of many other institutional investors. By failing to set a strong coal exclusion policy, CalPERS has already lost billions in absolute value on its coal investments, and the sector continues to decline. As New York State’s Tom DiNapoli said when he decided to divest 22 thermal coal companies, “After a thorough assessment, the fund has divested from 22 thermal coal mining companies that are not prepared to thrive, or even survive, in the low-carbon economy.”

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