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Activism is working to move pension funds away from stranded fossil assets

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 11, 2021

 “Canadian pensions are retiring fossil fuel investments” (Corporate Knights magazine, November 9) strikes a hopeful note about the state of Canada’s pension funds, stating: “Canadian pension portfolio exposures to fossil fuel stocks are down to a 10th of what they were 10 years ago, notwithstanding some controversial private equity investments.” The article summarizes analysis from the Canadian Pensions Dashboard for Responsible Investing, a new project of The Natural Step Canada, Smart Prosperity Institute, and Corporate Knights. That full report is a unique overview of sustainability performance, and employs measures such carbon footprint of the portfolio, presence of net-zero targets, the pay link to Environmental Standards (ESG), support for shareholder environmental resolutions, and more.

Another related Corporate Knights article describes youth-driven campaigns which have challenged pension plans to acknowledge and adjust to climate risk. “How young people are using climate litigation to fight for their future” focuses on youth activism targeting pension funds. It describes a years-long challenge to the Retail Employees Superannuation Trust (REST) in Australia, which ultimately ended in the pension fund settling a lawsuit out of court by acknowledging that “climate change is a material, direct and current financial risk” that could “lead to catastrophic economic and social consequences.” The fund also agreed to be more proactive and “ensure that investment managers take active steps to consider, measure and manage financial risks posed by climate change and other relevant ESG risks.” A second example describes the current activist campaign calling for the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) to phase out all current fossil fuel investments by 2025 and completely decarbonize its portfolio by 2030. Retired teachers and high school students have mobilized in Toronto, under the leadership of Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health (Shift), which is organizing similar campaigns at the ten largest Canadian pension funds. In September 2021, the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan Board announced  “industry-leading targets to reduce portfolio carbon emissions intensity by 45% by 2025 and two-thirds (67%) by 2030, compared to its 2019 baseline. These emission reduction targets cover all the Fund’s real assets, private natural resources, equity and corporate credit holdings across public and private markets, including external managers.” The WCR has more detail here .

Relevant to all pension management: new research published in Nature Energy and summarized in The Guardian with this headline: “Half world’s fossil fuel assets could become worthless by 2036 in net zero transition” .

Only Labor Can Force Canadian Pension Funds to Divest From Oil

By Tom Fraser - Jacobin, October 19, 2021

One of Canada’s largest institutional investors, responsible for managing billions of dollars in workers’ pensions, has committed to fossil fuel divestment. It’s a good step — but without pressure from the labor movement, these promises will mean nothing.

On September 28, the institutional investor and pension manager Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec (CDPQ) announced that it would no longer invest in oil production. The Caisse made this decision as part of their strategy to reach net-zero by 2050. Canada’s second-largest pension fund manages the retirement contributions of over six million Quebecois. Their stability and security in old age is bound up with the Caisse’s ability to assure returns on its vast asset portfolio.

Although it comes with caveats, the Caisse’s announcement could potentially be the start of a wider movement on the part of investment companies to divest Canada’s public sector pension funds from fossil fuels. With such massive portfolios, pensions could be at the forefront of a just transition.

Ontario Teachers Pension Plan sets target to reduce 45% carbon emission intensity in their portfolio by 2025

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

The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative is spurring international cooperation to end new development of

The Ontario Teachers Pension Plan Board announced on September 16 “industry-leading targets to reduce portfolio carbon emissions intensity by 45% by 2025 and two-thirds (67%) by 2030, compared to its 2019 baseline. These emission reduction targets cover all the Fund’s real assets, private natural resources, equity and corporate credit holdings across public and private markets, including external managers.” The press release continues: “By significantly growing our portfolio of green investments and working collaboratively with our portfolio companies to transform their businesses, we can make a positive impact by encouraging an inclusive transition that benefits our people, communities and portfolio companies.” Reaction by pension advocacy group Shift Action acknowledges that this is “the strongest climate commitment we’ve seen yet from a Canadian pension plan”, but called for OTPP to explain how it will eliminate its fossil fuel investments. The ShiftAction Backgrounder which accompanies the press release challenges the OTPP’s own estimate that approximately 3% of their assets ($6.6billion) are held in oil and gas assets, and compiles a list of company names and the extent of OTPP investments, including recent investments in 2020 and 2021.

If all of this sounds familiar, it may be because the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan released a Net Zero Emissions Commitment  in January 2021, which was criticized as greenwashing in Breaking down Ontario Teachers’ 2050 net-zero emissions promise (The National Observer , Feb. 4). The article stated: “…If OTPP is serious about adopting a globally significant climate-safe investment strategy, it needs a plan to exclude all new oil, gas and coal investments; a timeline for phasing out existing fossil fuel holdings; a commitment to decarbonize its portfolio by 2030; ambitious new targets for increasing investments in profitable climate solutions; and a requirement for owned companies to refrain from lobbying activities that undermine ambitious climate policy, set corporate timelines for reducing emissions, and link executive compensation to measurable climate goals.” It seems OTPP is moving in the right direction, but ever so slowly – similar to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), as explained in An Insecure Future: Canada’s biggest public pensions are still banking on fossil fuels  released by the Corporate Mapping Project in mid-August .

All Hands on Deck: An assessment of provincial, territorial and federal readiness to deliver a safe climate

By Nichole Dusyk, Isabelle Turcotte, Thomas Gunton, Josha MacNab, Sarah McBain, Noe Penney, Julianne Pickrell-Barr, and Myfannwy Pope - Pembina Institute, July 22, 2021

Unlocking a prosperous future for all will require bold, ambitious action on climate from governments across Canada.

To measure readiness to act on climate, Pembina Institute in collaboration with Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management assessed the performance of provinces, territories, and the federal government on 24 policy indicators across 11 categories. The indicators represent foundational climate policies and measures to reduce emissions in key sectors of the economy. Governments were invited to review the accuracy and completeness of the data and summary for their region prior to publication.

The assessment shows that there have been important examples of climate leadership and success across the country. Yet, progress made — for example with economy-wide carbon pricing and the phase-out of coal-fired electricity — has been offset by emissions increases elsewhere. In particular, emissions from transportation and oil and gas production have been on a steady upward trajectory since 2005. As a result, Canada’s overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have dropped by only 1% between 2005 and 2019. Modelling that includes the federal climate policy published in December 2020 shows a national emissions reduction of 36% below 2005 levels by 2030 — still short of the federal government’s commitment to reduce emissions by 40-45% by 2030.

Read the Report (PDF).

Canada’s Supreme Court affirms federal government’s constitutional right to enact carbon pricing legislation

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 29, 2021

On March 25, the Supreme Court of Canada released a majority decision stating that the federal government of Canada was within its constitutional rights when it enacted the 2018 Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act — which required the provinces to meet minimum national standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The decision enables the federal government to move on to more ambitious climate action plans, since it ends a two-year battle with the provinces, and affirms the importance of the climate change issue. The majority decision states that national climate action “is critical to our response to an existential threat to human life in Canada and around the world.” Summaries and reaction to this hugely important decision include an Explainer in The Narwhal , and “Supreme Court rules federal carbon pricing law constitutional” (National Observer) . Mainstream media also covered the decision, including a brief article in the New York Times which relates it to U.S. policy climate.

The Canadian Labour Congress issued a press release “Canada’s unions applaud Supreme Court decision upholding federal carbon pricing” – pointing out that the carbon tax is only one piece of the puzzle in reducing GHG emissions. Unifor emphasized next steps, calling on the provincial premiers of Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and the federal Conservative leader, to “stop complaining” and devise their own climate action plans. Similar sentiments appeared in the reactions of other advocacy groups: for example, Council of Canadians; the Pembina InstituteClean Energy Canada, and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) .

Political reactions

The reaction and explanation of the case from the federal government is here. The CBC provides a survey of political reaction here. Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta were the three provinces who lost their Supreme Court case: in a press release, Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney pledged that his government will continue to “fight on”, and will now begin to consult with Albertans on how to respond to the court’s decision – as reported in the National Observer, “Alberta has no carbon tax Plan B, was hoping to win in court: Kenney” (March 26) . Kenney further stated, “We will continue to press our case challenging Bill C-69, the federal ‘No More Pipelines Law,’ which is currently before the Alberta Court of Appeal.” [Note Bill C-69 is actually titled An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act… and was enacted in June 2019]. Ontario’s “disappointment” is described in this article in the Toronto Star and Saskatchewan’s government reaction is described here by the CBC . A sum-up Opinion piece appears in The Tyee: “Sorry Cranky Conservatives! Carbon Pricing Wins the Day” (March 29).

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”.

Take the Plant Save the Planet (pamphlet)

By Green Jobs Oshawa - Socialist Project, March 22, 2020

On November 26, 2018, General Motors announced a number of plant closures in North America, the largest of which was in Oshawa, Ontario. The Oshawa facility, once the largest auto complex on the continent, was to end all its assembly operations by the end of 2019.

The issue is not simply a matter of bringing the environmental movement and the labour movement together; each must be transformed if the sum is to be more than the currently limited parts. The environmental movement must raise itself to a new level by concretely engaging the working class and the labour movement must escape what for it has become an existential crisis. The threats and opportunities of the environmental crisis offer a chance for labour revival, but only if this incorporates a renewed approach to organizing, struggle, radical politics, and the maximization of informed membership participation.

Read the report (PDF).

Take the Plant, Save the Planet (article)

By Russ Christianson - The Bullet, September 22, 2019.

It is a tragic irony that General Motors (GM) chose its hundredth anniversary in Oshawa to announce the December 2019 closure of its Oshawa assembly plant. This means the loss of over 15,000 jobs in Ontario: 2,200 GM assembly jobs, 300 salaried positions, 500 temporary contract positions, 1,000 inside and 1,000 outside supplier jobs, and a related 10,400 multiplier jobs. The closure of Oshawa’s assembly plant is estimated to decrease Ontario’s GDP by $4-billion per year until 2030, also reducing federal and provincial revenues by about $1-billion a year.1

Over the months following the November 26, 2018 plant closure announcement, GM and Unifor (formerly the Canadian Auto Workers’ union) negotiated the Oshawa Transformation Agreement (May 2019)2 that promises:

  • 300 stamping and parts assembly jobs and a $170-million investment.
  • Donating the 87-acre Mclaughlin Bay Reserve to the City of Oshawa.
  • A 55-acre test track for autonomous vehicles.

It has yet to be seen, whether GM will keep its promise. But even if they do, it will still mean losing over 13,000 jobs and a major hit to the economy.

This preliminary feasibility study offers an alternative. The Government of Canada can provide the leadership to acquire the GM Oshawa assembly plant and repurpose the production to building battery electric vehicles (BEVs). There is a strong business case for this alternative, based on a triple bottom line analysis that considers the economic, social and environmental benefits:

  • A public investment estimated at $1.4 to $1.9-billion to acquire and retool the Oshawa assembly plant for BEV production, and potentially manufacturing other products.
  • Manufacturing and selling an estimated 150,000 BEVs in the first five years of production, for total sales of $5.8-billion.
  • Estimated government procurement of one quarter of the BEVs produced in the first four years, representing about 23,000 vehicles with an estimated value of $900-million.
  • Reaching a breakeven point in year 4, and making a modest profit in year 5.
  • Creating over 13,000 jobs: up to 2,900 manufacturing-related (including 600 parts supplier jobs) and over 10,000 multiplier jobs.
  • Decreasing CO2 emissions by 400,000 metric tonnes by year 5.

Trading Up Equipping Ontario Trades With the Skills of the Future

By staff - Canada Green Building Council, April 2019

Equipping Canada’s labour force with the skills required for designing, constructing and maintaining low-carbon building infrastructure is critical to achieving a greener economy and to reducing Canada’s emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. We are pleased to support Canada’s green building industry with a new report, Trading Up: Equipping Ontario Trades with the Skills of the Future, aimed at facilitating a low carbon workforce transition.

This report provides an action plan to close the low-carbon building skills gap in the Ontario construction industry. Green infrastructure investments are expected to create an estimated 147,000 job openings for skilled tradespeople over the next 15 years in the Toronto region alone. The inability to close the skills gap in Ontario is estimated to have an impact of $24.3 billion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in foregone company revenues, with an additional $3.7 billion lost in foregone taxation.

The report identifies where shortages in low-carbon skills training currently exist, and highlights the risks to the quality of low-carbon buildings being constructed. It defines specific actions that labour, governments, post-secondary institutions and industry organizations can take to optimize green building skills training.

The “Trading Up” report was compiled by CaGBC with Mohawk College, McCallumSather, The Cora Group, the City of Toronto and the Ontario Building Officials Association (OBOA). The project was funded, in part, by the Government of Ontario. While the report examines the Ontario construction industry, its recommendations can be applied throughout Canada.

Read the text (PDF).

EcoUnionist News #34 (Special Red Signal Edition)

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, February 18, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Within the last several days there have been two crude-by-rail accidents: one in Ontario, the other in West Virgina. Meanwhile, one of the unions representing the railroad workers at Canada Pacific almost went on strike (until the Canadian government, acting clearly on behalf of the employing class and the latter's need to continue profiting off of crude-by-rail, threatened to intervene). CN was prepared to use untrained managers as "replacement workers" (scabs), not unlike the fossil fuel corporations have likewise threatened to use scabs in the oil refineries--for example Chevron in Richmond--during the current Steelworkers' strike.

Given the circumstances it's more urgent than ever that eco-activists, front-line communities, unionists (and those that are combinations of them or all of them) register to participate in the upcoming Future of Railroads: Safety, Workers, Community & the Environment Conferences: Richmond, California (March 14, 2015) and Olympia, Washington (March 21, 2015) - railroadconference.org, or organize one of your own.

Beyond that, it's clear that the capitalist driven profit motive, which encourages the extraction and transport of increasingly volatile fuels, under increasingly unsafe conditions, using as few (overworked, exploited) workers as possible places not only communities along the rail lines, but our entire existence on this planet at risk. These catastrophes cannot be avoided unless we abolish wage slavery and live in harmony with the earth!

Lead Stories:

Ontario CN Derailment:

Canadian Pacific Contract Fight:

West Virginia CSX Derailment:

Other:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

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