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Making "Build Back Better" Better: Aligning Climate, Jobs, and Justice

By Jeremy Brecher - Common Dreams, June 1, 2021

At the end of March 2021, President Joe Biden laid out his $2 trillion American Jobs Plan–part of his "Build Back Better" infrastructure program–to "reimagine and rebuild a new economy." Congress is expected to spend months debating and revising the plan. The public and many special interests will play a significant role in that process. President Biden has promised to follow up with additional proposals to further address climate policy and social needs.

Many particular interests will seek to benefit from the overall Build Back Better program–and that's good. But as Congress and the public work to shape the ultimate form of that program, we also need to keep our eyes on the ultimate prize: combining climate, jobs, and justice. What policies can integrate the needs of working people, the most oppressed, and our threatened climate and environment?

The Green New Deal reconfigured American politics with its core proposition: fix joblessness and inequality by putting people to work at good jobs fixing the climate. The Biden administration's Build Back Better (BBB) plan has put that idea front and center in American politics. Now we need to specify strategies that will actually achieve all three objectives at once.

There are many valuable plans that have been proposed in addition to Biden's Build Back Better plan. They include the original Green New Deal resolution sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; the THRIVE (Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy) Agenda; the Evergreen Action Plan; the Sierra Club's "How to Build Back Better" economic renewal plan; the AFL-CIO's "Energy Transitions" proposals; the BlueGreen Alliance's "Solidarity for Climate Action," and a variety of others. All offer contributions for overall vision and for policy details.

There are six essential elements that must be integrated in order to realize the Build Back Better we need for climate, jobs, and justice:

  • Managed decline of fossil fuel burning
  • Full-spectrum job creation
  • Fair access to good jobs
  • Labor rights and standards
  • Urgent and effective climate protection
  • No worker or community left behind

These strategies can serve as criteria for developing, evaluating, and selecting policies to make Build Back Better all that it could be.

Job creation potential of nature-based solutions to climate change

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, May 10, 2021

U.K. think tank Green Alliance commissioned research to measure the economic impact of nature-based investments for a green recovery, and released the results on May 4. The full report, Green Renewal – The Economics of Enhancing the Natural Environment, was written by WPI Economics, and states: “Looking at just three types of enhancement (woodland creation, peatland restoration and urban green infrastructure) we find that an expanded programme of nature restoration could create at least 16,050 jobs in the 20% of constituencies likely to face the most significant employment challenges. We present place-based analysis of the labour market and nature based solutions, which can also be found on an interactive webpage here.” The report emphasizes that nature-based interventions can create jobs in areas that need them the most – stating that two thirds of the most suitable land for planting trees is in constituencies with worse than average labour market challenges.

Jobs for a Green Recovery is a summary report written by Green Alliance, based on the economic WPI report. It emphasizes the impact of Covid on youth employment, stating that 63% of those newly unemployed in 2020-21 are under 25, argues that nature-based jobs are long-term, skilled and productive, and makes specific recommendations for the British government so that such jobs can become part of the U.K. green recovery. Green Alliance estimates that investments in nature-related jobs have a high cost-benefit ratio, with £4.60 back for every £1 invested in peatland, £2.80 back in woodland, and £1.30 back for salt marsh creation.

Jobs for a Green Recovery includes brief U.K. case studies. An interesting a related Canadian example can be found in the new Seed the North initiative, described in The Tyee here . Seed the North is a small start-up company in Northern B.C., with big ambition to scale up. Currently, the project collects wild seed from Canadian trees, uses innovative technology to encase the seed in bio-char, and then uses drone technology to plant seeds in remote forest areas. The result: increased regeneration of disturbed land, restored soil health, a statistically significant contribution to carbon sequestration, and economic benefits flowing through co-ownership to the local First Nations communities who participate.

Who is hiding $2b in Bay Area transit rescue funds?

By Annie Lloyd and Joty Dhaliwal - East Bay Majority, May 4, 2021

As vaccinations increase and California reopens, local governments and boards will be responsible for their jurisdiction’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The $1.9 trillion COVID relief spending package President Biden signed into law on March 11 provides a crucial lifeline for this recovery, but there is a hitch: State and local implementation is required to “turn on the money hose” to deliver jobs and vital services to struggling working-class communities of color. 

Before federal dollars can have their intended impacts on the ground, city, county and state governments—and in some cases, obscure unelected boards—must decide how and when to spend those funds. 

In the Bay Area, one of the obscure unelected boards managing the money is the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). MTC now stands between the $1.7 billion in ARP funding for public transportation in the Bay Area and the local transit agencies it oversees—all of which desperately need the money to restore service and jobs. 

Rather than spending to recover from the crisis, which is the whole point of a stimulus package, MTC’s aim is to hold back as much of the ARP funds as it can for a future “rainy day,” by refusing to allocate the money in time for transit agencies to put it into their budgets for the ‘21-’22 fiscal year. Instead, they intend to allocate most of the funds at the end of July, weeks after the July 1 budget deadline. 

MTC is sinking a unique opportunity to accomplish a true recovery. Instead, they are playing into their own pessimistic outlook for public transit. In fact, MTC’s draft Plan Bay Area 2050 projects that pre-pandemic transit service will not be restored until 2035. 

As riders (including students returning to school) return to transit, they will find continuing low levels of service, long wait times, and overcrowded buses. Those with other options will abandon transit. And unemployed workers who might otherwise have access to a flood of openings for good-paying union jobs as operators and mechanics will be left to drive for Uber and Lyft. 

Ranking G7 Green Recovery Plans and Jobs: Can the UK boost its climate action and green job creation in line with its G7 peers?

By staff - Trades Union Caucus (TUC)May 2021

This report ranks G7 countries’ green recovery and job creation plans. It shows how the UK is lagging behind its G7 peers, and the potential to do much more to expand green jobs and accelerate climate action.

The TUC’s ranking of all G7 countries’ green recovery and jobs investments shows that the UK comes sixth. Only Japan scores worse per person.

The UK’s green recovery plans remain only a tiny fraction of that in other G7 countries, despite the government’s flagship Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution which purports to support the UK’s climate targets and establish UK world leadership in some areas of green technology. Scaled by population, the UK green investment plans are only 26% of France’s, 21% of Canada, 13% of Italy’s and 6% of the USA’s.

This means that the UK Prime Minister would need five Ten Point Plans to match Prime Minister Trudeau in Canada, eight Ten Point Plans to match Prime Minister Draghi in Italy, and sixteen Ten Point Plans to match President Biden’s in the US.

Read the text (PDF).

Public Forum on Empowering the Post Pandemic Working Class

$17.6 Billion announced for Green Recovery in Canada’s new Budget- but still not enough to meet the Climate Emergency

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

On April 19, the federal government tabled its much-anticipated 2021 Budget, titled A Recovery Plan for Jobs, Growth, and Resilience, announcing $30 billion over five years and $8.3 billion a year afterward to create and maintain early learning and child-care programs – stating: “It is the care work that is the backbone of our economy. Just as roads and transit support our economic growth, so too does child care”. COVID-19 wage subsidy, rent subsidy and lockdown support programs will be extended until September, depending on how long the crisis continues, the maximum sickness benefit period for Employment Insurance will be extended from 12 to 26 weeks, and a new Canada Recovery Hiring Program will provide employers with funding to hire new workers between June 6, 2021 and November 20, 2021. A new $15 federal minimum wage will apply in federally regulated private businesses.

Green Recovery and the Climate Emergency: The Budget still falls short

In an article in Policy Options in March, Mitchell Beer laid out the challenge: Chrystia Freeland must pick a lane with next budget – climate change or oil and gas? Climate activists laid out what they were looking for in Investing for Tomorrow, Today: How Canada’s Budget 2021 can enable critical climate action and a green recovery , published on March 29 and endorsed by nine of Canada’s leading environmental organizations: Pembina Institute, Nature Canada, Climate Action Network Canada, Environmental Defence, Équiterre, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Ecology Action Centre, Leadnow, and Wilderness Committee. 

Yet it appears that the federal Budget is still trying to maintain one foot on the oil and gas pedal, while talking about GHG emissions and clean technologies. The reactions below indicate such concerning elements – incentives on the unproven technologies of carbon capture and storage and hydrogen, no signs of an end to fossil fuel subsidies, no mention of a Just Transition Act, and, despite hopes that the Prime Minister would announce an ambitious target at the U.S. Climate Summit convened by President Biden, a weak new GHG reduction target increasing to only 36 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The Budget summary announces “$17.6 billion in a green recovery that will help Canada to reach its target to conserve 25 per cent of Canada’s lands and oceans by 2025, exceed its Paris climate targets and reduce emissions by 36 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and move forward on a path to reach net-zero emission by 2050.” This Backgrounder summarizes some of the Green Recovery highlights, which include :

  • $4.4 billion to support retrofitting through interest-free loans to homeowners, up to $40,000
  • $14.9 billion over eight years for a new, permanent public transit fund
  • $5 billion over seven years, to support business ventures through the Net Zero Accelerator program – which aims to decarbonize large emitters in key sectors, including steel, aluminum, cement—and to accelerate the adoption of clean technology. Examples given are aerospace and automobile manufacture industry.
  • $319 million over seven years “to support research and development that would improve the commercial viability of carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies.” This would be in the form of an investment tax credit, with the goal of reducing emissions by at least 15 megatonnes of CO2 annually.
  • a temporary reduction by half in corporate income tax rates for qualifying zero-emission technology manufacturers, such as solar and wind energy equipment, electric vehicle charging systems, hydrogen refuelling stations for vehicles, manufacturing of equipment used for the production of hydrogen by electrolysis of water, production of hydrogen by electrolysis of water and others
  • $63.8 million over three years, starting in 2021-22, to Natural Resources Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Public Safety Canada to work with provinces and territories to complete flood maps for higher-risk areas.
  • $2.3 billion over five years to conserve up to 1 million square kilometers more land and inland waters, and an additional $200 million to build natural infrastructure like parks, green spaces, ravines, waterfronts, and wetlands.

Sierra Club green recovery plan calls for “ironclad labor and equity standards”

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

The Sierra Club U.S. report How to Build Back Better: A 10-year Plan for Economic Renewal is a blueprint for economic renewal – in which the environmental advocacy group continues to demonstrate clear support for the needs of workers. Released in March, this report includes a call for public investments which “must come with ironclad labor and equity standards to curb racial, economic, and gender inequity instead of reinforcing the unjust status quo.” To support the job quality theme, the Sierra Club also released a 1-pager titled Cross-cutting environmental, labor and equity standards and a 3-page summary titled Why Standards Matter, an overview of job quality issues .

Briefly, the Sierra Club recommends a pandemic recovery plan which would create over 15 million good jobs, based on public investment of $1 trillion per year for ten years. Investments would go to many sectors including infrastructure and clean manufacturing, but also the care sector and the public sector. In addition to job creation, the plan addresses systemic racism, supports public health, and cuts climate pollution nearly in half by 2030. The economic renewal plan is based on the THRIVE Agenda, which is itself based on job projections and modelling by academics at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), led by Robert Pollin. Their latest analysis was published by PERI as Employment Impacts of Proposed U.S. Economic Stimulus Programs (March 2021). Sierra Club released a 3-page summary of job projections; an interactive Jobs Calculator ; and Fact Sheets for each of the sectors considered: regenerative agriculture, clean energy, care and public sector, transportation, manufacturing, buildings, and clean water for all, and pollution-free communities. All these accompanying documents, along with the full report, are available here.

THRIVE stands for “Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy” and is summarized in the Sierra Club press release of March 25. The coalition has grown out of the Green New Deal Network, itself a coalition of 15 U.S. organizations that are focused on combating social inequity and environmental destruction through political action. 

Climate Justice, Jobs, and Freedom to Thrive

Take the Plant, Save the Planet: Workers and Communities in the Struggle for Economic Conversion

Community Hearing on Transit Equity 2021: Findings and Recommendations

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, Caitlin Kline and Gregor Semieniuk - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 2021

In February 2018, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) partnered with the Labor Network for Sustainability to launch Transit Equity Day in honor of Rosa Parks’ birthday, which is on February 4. We chose to honor Rosa Parks for the role she played in the civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat at the front of the bus and, in doing so, lift up transit as a workers’ rights, civil rights, and climate-justice issue.

Since its launch, Transit Equity Day has grown each year. In 2020, there were events in 50 cities and a social media explosion that brought attention to transit equity beyond just the participating locations. Just as important, a Transit Equity Network emerged through the process. Consisting largely of grassroots advocates, the network has grown and relationships have deepened both locally and nationally.

After the success of Transit Equity Day 2020, participants were ready to work together on a national initiative. We wanted to develop a stronger sense of unity and shared values. We sought to shape a broad vision of what we wanted from our transit systems across the nation. But rather than creating a vision document ourselves, the Transit Equity Network leaders wanted first to hear directly and collectively from transit stakeholders—riders, workers, families reliant on transit, and community activists—about their needs, frustrations, and hopes.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and, with it, a transit crisis. With ridership plummeting and state and local budgets imperiled, it became clear that transit was facing an existential threat. The pandemic laid bare the crisis of inequality and highlighted the essential need for transit. While thousands of workers in sectors not considered essential stopped using transit, millions of essential workers continued to need to get to their jobs: workers in healthcare, public service, food and agriculture and others continued to work to keep us safe and healthy. Many of these workers were in low-wage jobs and dependent on transit, but transit services were being cut and health and safety was not adequately addressed in many systems that remained in service. The dangers associated with the pandemic were exacerbated for unemployed and low-income riders who rely on transit to get to healthcare appointments, grocery stores, pharmacies, and other necessary retail establishments. The idea of holding a (virtual) community hearing on transit was born in this context. The crisis caused by the pandemic made it even more apparent that we needed to hear directly from transit riders and workers about how to address the crisis in the short-term and improve the system in the long-term. For Transit Equity Day 2021 we convened two days of live testimony–as well as pre-recorded testimony–over Zoom with hearing facilitators who came from the policy and social justice world, with Spanish interpretation and to the extent we were able, accommodations for the physically challenged.

This report is a summary of those hearings–rooted in the experience of workers and riders. We have tried to highlight recurring themes, distill the most salient points and remain faithful to the intent of the testimony. Transit riders and workers were very clear about the important role transit plays in their lives and in their community. At the same time, they identified problems with the current system and offered constructive solutions to address them. We structured each key theme of these findings in a similar fashion: 1) recognize the critical benefit of public transit to those who are most vulnerable; 2) identify the existing problems and inequities in public transit; 3) propose policy solutions to both fix and improve public transit. 

Read the text (PDF).

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