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The justice and equity implications of the clean energy transition

By Sanya Carley and David Konisky - Nature Energy, August 2020

The transition to lower-carbon sources of energy will inevitably produce and, in many cases, perpetuate pre-existing sets of winners and losers. The winners are those that will benefit from cleaner sources of energy, reduced emissions from the removal of fossil fuels, and the employment and innovation opportunities that accompany this transition. The losers are those that will bear the burdens, or lack access to the opportunities. Here we review the current state of understanding—based on a rapidly growing body of academic and policy literature—about the potential adverse consequences of the energy transition for specific communities and socio-economic groups on the frontlines of the transition. We review evidence about just transition policies and programmes, primarily from cases in the Global North, and draw conclusions about what insights are still needed to understand the justice and equity dimensions of the transition, and to ensure that no one is left behind.

Read the text (PDF).

Transition from Crisis

By staff - Victorian Trades Hall Council, August 2020

With workers and unions leading the transformation of the economy, we will not only help to avoid the worst effects of climate change, it will lead to a more just society in which workers have a much greater share of the wealth they create. This is a moment in time in which we can reduce inequality, increase control over our own working lives, and have our economy work in the interests of everyday people. Without workers and unions playing this leading role, we risk either climate and economic breakdown or a transformation that is authoritarian, gives priority to the interests of capital over workers, and replicates the economic, social and political injustices that characterise the world today.

There are few more important issues facing workers in Victoria than how our economy is restructured and rebuilt in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis to reduce the risks of climate change and to manage the effects of the warming that is already locked in to the climate system.

Climate change affects all workers, but in different ways. Health professionals like nurses, and emergency services workers like fire fighters and paramedics, are on the frontlines of the response to extreme weather and disasters and at the same time managing the pressures of other crises, like COVID-19. Public sector workers must manage everything from fire reconstruction work to welfare support to coordinating pandemic responses, often after years of federal funding cuts. In drought-affected communities, local workers can be hurt by the economic decline caused by lack of water, which has also led to closures of businesses such as dairy farming. Construction workers and farm workers must deal with the increasing number of hot days, often resulting in a downturn in industry productivity.

COVID-19 and its economic fallout have demonstrated that in times of crisis it is far too often women who disproportionally bear the brunt, both in job losses and also as frontline workers acting in response. It has also shown us that crises – whether climate or health related - exacerbate existing inequities, meaning those in insecure work, the low-paid, the disabled, migrant workers and First Nations communities are disproportionately affected. For instance, the link between insecure employment and the spread of the virus is now acknowledged by health authorities and the Victorian Government: workers without paid sick leave are more likely to go to work while sick. This tells us that in preparing for the challenges and likely crises of the future, including those climate-related, the elimination of these inequities and inequalities must be given high priority.

All of us will have to learn how to cope with a changing climate. But managing the economic restructuring that will be necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change will be particularly important for workers and unions. Workers and their unions know only too well what happens when individual firms or industries are restructured without workers or unions having a proper say: it’s workers who pay the price.

Read the text (PDF).

Forward Together: A Good Jobs and Climate Action Budget

By staff - Canadian Labour Congress, August 2020

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) believes that saving lives, protecting public health, and containing the coronavirus outbreak must remain the federal government’s overriding priority. In the near term, this includes continued income support for individuals unable to work due to COVID-19, as well as proper personal protective equipment, workplace health and safety precautions, and training for workers.

As public health measures permit, fiscal policy measures responding to the recession and unemployment crisis will need to prioritize helping Canadians return to decent jobs. The economic crisis has disproportionately affected low-paid, vulnerable workers in precarious employment, especially women, young workers, newcomers, workers of colour, and workers with disabilities. Accordingly, the plan for economic recovery must be gendered, inclusive, inequality-reducing, and sustainable.

Read the report (PDF).

Frontlines Climate Justice Executive Action Platform

By staff - Demos, July 22, 2020

As communities across the country, as well as countless people all over the world, face accelerating impacts and risks of climate change, federal, state, and local leadership in the United States is critically important for advancing immediate and aggressive climate action in public policy.

The science shows we no longer have the luxury to act incrementally. We must rapidly transform every sector of society if we are to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But urgent action on climate change cannot come at a price of expedience and further sacrifice for frontline communities. Frontline communities are primarily communities of color, indigenous communities, and struggling working-class communities most impacted by fossil fuel pollution and climate change—which are all the more vulnerable due to historic and continuing racism, segregation, and socioeconomic inequity.

In tackling the urgency of the climate crisis, prioritizing the most impacted communities for the protections and benefits of an economy-wide renewable energy transition is a moral imperative. This is, in large part, the meaning of a “just transition.” The economic transition we need to reverse the climate crisis must not leave behind impacted communities and workers. Racial and economic equity must be at the core of all climate solutions.

The executive branch can set the stage for a transformative climate justice agenda by taking immediate action at this intersection of climate, racial justice, and economic transformation. The Frontlines Climate Justice Executive Action Platform speaks to this opportunity by identifying regulatory rulemakings and other executive actions to advance an equitable climate agenda from day one. While major legislation in many areas will ultimately be needed to advance a bold federal agenda of climate action, this platform proposes a set of actions the executive branch can take without new legislation, major new appropriations, or other Congressional authority. However, many of the proposed executive actions can be harmonized with, be complementary to, or set a direction for statutory advancement of transformative climate action when that becomes possible.

This platform identifies actions in 4 basic categories that speak to the policy work and movement-building that frontline leaders in the climate movement have developed over many years, as they have forged a clear vision of equitable and resilient social and economic transformation:

  1. Environmental Justice: Protecting frontline communities from continuing harms of fossil fuel, industrial, and built environment pollution.
  2. Just Recovery: Ensuring just and equitable recovery from, and resiliency against, climate disasters.
  3. Climate Equity Accountability: Elevating equity and stakeholder decision-making in federal climate rules and programmatic investments.
  4. Energy Democracy: Remaking the monopoly fossil fuel energy system as a clean, renewably-sourced, and democratically-controlled commons.

In each of these areas, the platform presents a policy outline of possible rulemakings, executive orders, or other presidential actions that, taken together, aim to put frontline needs and priorities at the center of climate policy, including empowering grassroots stakeholders to be decision-makers in the process.

Read the summary (PDF).

Read the text (PDF).

LNS Webinar Explores the Origins of ‘Just Transition’

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainabaility - July 22, 2020

“Just Transition” has become one of the most common—and most controversial—themes in the Labor-Climate movement. On July 22, the Labor Network for Sustainability helped illuminate the idea with a webinar on “Just Transition: Love It, Hate It – You’ve Heard the Term, Now Hear the Story.” It featured some of those who first originated and campaigned for a Just Transition for workers and communities. Watch and learn the backstory for this essential building block for a climate-safe, worker-friendly, socially-just future.

Defending Tomorrow: The climate crisis and threats against land and environmental defenders

By staff - Global Witness, July 2020

For years, land and environmental defenders have been the first line of defence against climate breakdown. Yet despite clearer evidence than ever of the crucial role they play, far too many businesses, financiers and governments fail to safeguard their vital and peaceful work. 

The climate crisis is arguably the greatest global and existential threat we face. As it escalates, it serves to exacerbate many of the other serious problems in our world today – from economic inequality to racial injustice and the spread of zoonotic diseases.

For years, land and environmental defenders have been the first line of defence against the causes and impacts of climate breakdown. Time after time, they have challenged those companies operating recklessly, rampaging unhampered through forests, skies, wetlands, oceans and biodiversity hotspots.

Yet despite clearer evidence than ever of the crucial role they play and the dangers they increasingly face, far too many businesses, financiers and governments fail to safeguard their vital and peaceful work. 

Our annual report into the killings of land and environmental defenders in 2019 shows the highest number yet have been murdered in a single year. 212 land and environmental defenders were killed in 2019 – an average of more than four people a week.

Read the text (PDF).

Pipe Dreams: Why Canada’s proposed pipelines don’t fit in a low carbon world

By Axel Dalman and Andrew Grant - Carbon Tracker - July 2020

Carbon Tracker’s modelling shows no new oil sands are needed in a low carbon world.

Prospective pipeline projects represent a significant expansion of capacity, with taxpayer support. However, new pipelines are surplus to requirements under Paris Agreement demand levels.

Canadian authorities face the challenge of trying to reconcile their natural resources development plans with their positioning on climate. Canada has previously having shown leadership on climate change issues, but its government support for pipelines – which are reliant on the failure of the Paris Agreement – risks damaging its credibility.

Key Findings:

Our research has previously shown that no new oil sands projects are needed in a low carbon world. All unsanctioned oil sands projects are uncompetitive under both the International Energy Agency’s 1.7-1.8°C Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) and c.1.6°C Beyond 2 Degrees Scenario (B2DS).

All proposed new pipelines from Western Canada, in particular Keystone XL and Trans Mountain expansion, are surplus to requirements in a Paris-compliant world. Pipeline capacity may have proved a constraint in recent years, but under SDS, all future oil supplies from Western Canada can be accommodated by upgrades and replacements to existing pipelines, local refining and limited rail freight.

Even if discounts for Canadian crude narrow, new oil sands projects remain uneconomic. Western Canadian heavy oil trades at a steep discount to international benchmarks due to quality and transport challenges, averaging $25 below Brent over the last decade. Even if greater pipeline capacity reduces this to $10 in the future, in line with levels seen during previous periods of unconstrained supply, new projects still remain uneconomic under the SDS. Indeed, even if Canadian heavy oil were to trade at parity with Brent, which is extremely unlikely due to its lower quality, there would still be no new oil sands production under the B2DS and just 120,000 bbl/d would enter the market in the SDS – a level which would be covered by existing rail capacity.

Investors in oil sands face depressed cash flows in a low carbon world of falling oil demand and weak pricing, but will be forced to produce or pay the price due to inflexible “take-or-pay” transport fees for excess new pipeline capacity.

While take-or-pay contracts spread the impacts, pipeline investors still face financial risks as upstream production weakens. Uncontracted capacity will probably remain unused by producers, and contracts may cannibalise tariffs from other pipelines. Even take-or-pay commitments are subject to counterparty risk in a falling oil market.

The Canadian government’s stakes in Keystone XL and Trans Mountain could well prove to be a drain on the public purse. Under the SDS, government tax revenues and the value of the assets are unlikely to reach the levels anticipated at the time of sanction.

Canada’s leadership position on climate change may be undermined by its support for projects reliant on the failure of the Paris Agreement.

Read the report (Link).

A Pathway to a Regenerative Economy

By various - United Frontline Table, June 2020

The intersecting crises of income and wealth inequality and climate change, driven by systemic white supremacy and gender inequality, has exposed the frailty of the U.S. economy and democracy. This document was prepared during the COVID-19 pandemic which exacerbated these existing crises and underlying conditions. Democratic processes have been undermined at the expense of people’s jobs, health, safety, and dignity. Moreover, government support has disproportionately expanded and boosted the private sector through policies, including bailouts, that serve an extractive economy and not the public’s interest. Our elected leaders have chosen not to invest in deep, anti-racist democratic processes. They have chosen not to uphold public values, such as fairness and equity, not to protect human rights and the vital life cycles of nature and ecosystems. Rather, our elected leaders have chosen extraction and corporate control at the expense of the majority of the people and the well-being and rights of Mother Earth. Transforming our economy is not just about swapping out elected leaders. We also need a shift in popular consciousness.

There are moments of clarity that allow for society to challenge popular thinking and status quo solutions. Within all the challenges that this pandemic has created, it has also revealed what is wrong with the extractive economy while showcasing the innate resilience, common care, and original wisdom that we hold as people. Environmental justice and frontline communities are all too familiar with crisis and systemic injustices and have long held solutions to what is needed to not only survive, but also thrive as a people, as a community, and as a global family. We cannot go back to how things were. We must move forward. We are at a critical moment to make a downpayment on a Regenerative Economy, while laying the groundwork for preventing future crises.

To do so, we say—listen to the frontlines! Indigenous Peoples, as members of their Indigenous sovereign nations, Asian and Pacific Islander, Black, Brown and poor white marginalized communities must be heard, prioritized, and invested in if we are to successfully build a thriving democracy and society in the face of intersecting climate, environmental, economic, social, and health crises. A just and equitable society requires bottom-up processes built off of, and in concert with, existing organizing initiatives in a given community. It must be rooted in a people’s solutions lens for a healthy future and Regenerative Economy. These solutions must be inclusive—leaving no one behind in both process and outcome. Thus, frontline communities must be at the forefront as efforts grow to advance a Just Transition to a Regenerative Economy.

A People’s Orientation to a Regenerative Economy offers community groups, policy advocates, and policymakers a pathway to solutions that work for frontline communities and workers. These ideas have been collectively strategized by community organizations and leaders from across multiple frontline and grassroots networks and alliances to ensure that regenerative economic solutions and ecological justice—under a framework that challenges capitalism and both white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy—are core to any and all policies. These policies must be enacted, not only at the federal level, but also at the local, state, tribal, and regional levels, in US Territories, and internationally.

Read the text (PDF).

Green Strings: Principles and conditions for a green recovery from COVID-19 in Canada

By Vanessa Corkal, Philip Gass, and Aaron Cosbey International Institute for Sustainable Development, June 2020

Key Messages

  • The COVID-19 crisis, while difficult and tragic, also provides a critical opportunity to align efforts to meet Canada’s climate goals with the challenge of economic reconstruction post-pandemic.
  • IISD has developed seven "green strings" recommendations: key principles, criteria, and conditionalities that should be applied to government measures for economic recovery from COVID-19 to ensure a green recovery.
  • Canada’s leading environmental groups, representing close to two million people, have signed on to the recommendations, including the Pembina Institute, Climate Action Network Canada, David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence, Greenpeace Canada, Équiterre, Ecojustice, Ecology Action Centre, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Stand.earth, Leadnow, Sierra Club Canada Foundation, and Wilderness Committee.

The reasons to set and apply "green strings" are clear:

  • Conditions in the public interest are the government’s right and duty.
  • The benefits of green stimulus and recovery measures are backed by evidence. 
  • We need a new economic model for the workers of today and tomorrow.
  • Urgent action is needed to address the climate crisis. 
  • Health and climate change imperatives go hand in hand. 
  • There is strong public support for ensuring a green recovery. 

The following seven “green strings” should be attached to COVID-19 recovery measures announced by Canada’s government:

  1. Support only companies that agree to plan for net-zero emissions by 2050.
  2. Make sure funds go towards jobs and stability, not executives and shareholders.
  3. Support a just transition that prepares workers for green jobs.
  4. Build up the sectors and infrastructure of tomorrow.
  5. Strengthen and protect environmental policies during recovery.
  6. Be transparent and accountable to Canadians.
  7. Put people first and leave no one behind.

We can no longer continue with the status quo, worsening the climate and biodiversity crises and locking our country and the global community in to stark health, environmental, and economic outcomes. We must seize this difficult moment to transform our economy and our institutions to serve vital public policy goals from environment to equity. The stakes are high.

Read the text (Linked PDF).

Labour’s Vision for Economic Recovery

By staff - Canadian Labour Congress - May 13, 2020

Canada is in the midst of the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. Millions of workers have lost their jobs and now face an uncertain future.

Canada’s unions are proposing a set of ambitious initiatives in order to achieve a strong, sustainable and inclusive economic recovery. It is a recovery that places workers directly at the centre of every policy and strategy going forward.

COVID-19 has laid bare the underlying inequalities of our society. The labour movement has been witness to the growing divide between the have and have-nots and is ready to advise on ways to narrow the gulf to ensure fairness for everyone.

By fixing what has long been broken, we can ensure that no one is left behind in the coming phases of recovery.

The guiding principles we propose build on current government efforts to respond to economic disruptions wrought by the pandemic. These priorities aim to ensure that the economic recovery:

  • Focuses on getting Canadians back to work and fully employed in decently paid, productive jobs. As we learned from the Great Recession in 2008, joblessness and labour underutilization will persist without labour market planning, coordination and concerted action by governments.
  • Focuses on public investment in infrastructure, and on renewal and expansion of public services. Amidst general uncertainty, weak consumer demand and high levels of indebtedness, business investment will not, by itself, be the engine of recovery. Strong public investment can lift incomes and economic activity that will, in turn, stimulate business investment.
  • Focuses on being gendered, inclusive and committed to reducing inequality. The pandemic and economic shutdown have worsened insecurity and inequality, which will further slow the recovery if left unchecked. It is time to address the precarity, poor working conditions and wage discrimination in sectors dominated by women, including care work, retail and health services. This work is essential to the health and well-being of our communities and economy.

Canada’s unions reject the failed thinking and economics of austerity. Canadians remember how the Conservative Party of Canada cut spending to balance budgets in 2010, just months after the worst depths of the Great Recession. The government prioritized financial support for banks and corporations, instead of investing in people and communities. Those decisions led to years of sluggish economic growth, persistently high unemployment, growing precarity and insecurity, and rising inequality.

Read the report (PDF).

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