Evaluating Government Plans and Actions to Reduce GHG Emissions in Canada: Implications for Labour

Campbell, Bruce – Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Unlike its predecessor’s actions on climate change, the new Liberal government was a positive force at the UN Climate Change conference in Paris in December. It supported, and indeed pushed for, an international agreement to limit global warming to a maximum increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius. (Existing national commitments would lead to a 3-4 degrees warming.) Although the Trudeau government brought the same commitments to Paris as those earlier announced by the Harper government—i.e. to reduce GHG emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030—the environment minister stressed that this was a floor, implying a more ambitious commitment would be forthcoming. The new government has created widespread expectations that its ambitious aspirational statements will be reflected in its plans and actions going forward.

Climate leadership in Canada up to now has come predominantly from the provinces.

Three-quarters of the expected emissions reduction by 2020 come from provincial, not federal, actions. However, in the absence of federal leadership, provincial commitments and plans have been uneven in terms of their overall effectiveness.

The Trudeau government made a number of climate-related election promises, including: a Low Carbon Economy Trust; a Build-in-Canada green infrastructure fund; a Canada infrastructure bank, a phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies over the “medium term;” and tax measures and direct subsidies to encourage green technology development. The 2016 budget should provide concrete manifestation of these commitments. The Trudeau government also committed to a strengthened environment assessment process for major fossil fuel infrastructure projects (pipelines, bitumen mines, coal ports, LNG plants, etc.) with a strong voice for indigenous peoples.

The, Canada-wide framework plan (or elements thereof) to reduce GHG emissions to be announced March 11, 2016 will give rise to questions that will be the major research questions for this research:

  • What will be the substance inside that framework—targets, plans, concrete policy measures, and national standards for the country and for the provinces within that framework? What will be the specific nature of the standards—a minimum provincial emissions floor, a national carbon price-equivalent across jurisdictions?Will it be a detailed framework or bare outline to be filled in over the coming months? And how will this strategy mesh with the Paris Accord?
  • Will federal measures outlined in its upcoming budget measure up to its promises, commitments and public expectations? This also applies to provincial budgets and other commitments in the coming months.
  • How do the commitments of provinces fit into the over-all plan?
  • What understanding is there of the labour costs of implementing these strategies? And what plans are being undertaken to mitigate unemployment and to ensure not only job creation, but also workplace training.
  • If attention is given to job creation and training, how does this affect various areas of the country, specific sectors of the economy, and various groups of workers, including employment and training by gender.

The national climate strategy will take shape over the subsequent 12 months. This project will evaluate its policy measures, their implementation, impact and results during this period. The analysis will extend to provinces and territories. It will include an overall assessment of whether the ensemble of government climate plans and actions set Canada on a course to meet its 2020, 2025, 2030 and 2050 international commitments.

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Evaluating the Impact of the BC Insulators’ Union Campaign to Promote Improved Mechanical Insulation Standards in BC’s Construction Industry

Calvert, John – Simon Fraser University

Buildings account for between 35% and 40% of GHG emissions and energy use (Stern 2006, IPCC 2014). Consequently, improving the energy efficiency of buildings is an important mechanism to address climate change. One key method to accomplish this objective is through establishing higher energy efficiency standards for mechanical insulation (e.g. Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning – HVAC) systems. This means adopting industry-leading standards and ensuring that the workforce is adequately trained in low carbon construction techniques. However, Industry leading best practices are currently considerably higher than the standards required by existing provincial and municipal building codes in Canada. To reduce the carbon footprint of buildings, governments need to include more stringent energy conservation requirements in their contracts with builders of public construction projects, while encouraging similar, higher standards in private construction through innovative provisions in development permits. The industry’s training system must also incorporate the latest HVAC innovations.

The BC Insulators Local 118 represents unionized skilled insulators who have a Trades Qualification (TQ) and have completed a 4 year apprenticeship in HVAC systems and related building insulation methods. However, prevailing low bid industry practices have meant that project specifications frequently do not include the highest standards of insulation.

Consequently, many contractors with whom the union has collective agreements – and who therefore have a highly skilled workforce – have not been able to take full advantage of the skills of their workers because project specifications and building codes do not require the use of advanced HVAC systems.

In 2010, the BC Insulators commissioned a major BC consulting firm, H P Lanark to identify measures that could be included in new and renovated buildings to reduce energy use. The purpose was to substantiate the potential benefits of better mechanical insulation and to provide a model, or template, for higher energy efficiency standards. Lanark’s 75-page technical study, “Pipes Need Jackets Too” confirmed the important role that mechanical insulation can play as a component of an overall climate change strategy to reduce energy consumption in buildings.

Over the following years, the BC Insulators campaigned to encourage municipalities in BC to require higher insulation standards in their building requirements and procurement contract tenders. They lobbied municipal purchasing managers to modify mechanical insulation specifications in tender documents. They broadened their campaign to include presentations to the BC construction industry at building conferences and forums.

The BC Insulator’s initiative is unique in Canada. It illustrates the efforts of a labour organization to promote a major climate initiative in the construction industry. This proposal is intended to document the Insulators’ campaign, including the union’s rationale for initiating it, describe its various components and evaluate the extent to which it has influenced standards of mechanical insulation in BC. The study will explore the question of why the BC Insulators chose to align their campaign with climate change objectives and why they decided to target local governments as a key part of their strategy for generating broader industry support for the enhanced standards they favoured.

The Insulators also believe that implementation of low carbon standards requires changes to the content of the training that apprentices receive. Uniquely, the union has developed (and copyrighted) the curriculum for BC’s 4-year insulation apprenticeship program. Its staff delivers this curriculum through BCIT, the province’s major trades’ training college. It has introduced a major climate change component in its curriculum to give apprentices a theoretical perspective on climate in addition to the low carbon skills they learn in the classroom. Thus the final component of this proposal is to interview returning 4th year apprentices when they take their final period of classroom studies at BCIT. The goal is to document their experience in implementing energy efficient mechanical insulation systems on the work-site, including any barriers to doing this successfully.

This proposal aligns with a number of ACW objectives noted above as well as involving one of the grant’s partner organizations in the research and a major public trades training institution, BCIT.

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Green Transitions in the US and Europe: Breadth, Depth and Worker Agency

Stevis, Dimitris – Colorado State University, and Steward, Fred – University of Westminster

On the basis of the framework developed by the International Working Group, presented in the overview papers accompanying the December 2015 Baseline Report, and in consultation with coapplicant partners, this proposal will seek to:

  • map interventions by trade unions and affecting workers across the US and Europe in order to feed into an international and action- (rather than purely document-) based web directory of work-led environmental actions according to a data base format (country, organisation, type of intervention) agreed with the International Working Group.
  • identify those interventions to be analysed in greater depth in Year 2, including the relationship of each to different transition pathways.

The aim is to systematically capture different interventions, whether these take the form of practices, proposals, agreements or policy measures.

The U.S. is an important case because:

  • it is a federal, liberal capitalist country, like Canada (albeit much more so), with a significant extractive industry;
  • the two countries are deeply integrated through intergovernmental agreements at the federal level, such as NAFTA, and specific networks connecting specific places in Canada with specific places in the US (e.g., energy provision).

Europe is an important case because:

  • It has a variety of forms of capitalism, Rhineland, Scandinavian, Anglo-Saxon, Mediterranean and East European with different kinds of trade union – industrial, general, trade, political, and, like Canada, with a significant extractive industry, especially in the east;
  • Europe, Canada and US are deeply integrated through intergovernmental agreements, and specific networks.

This project will provide a systematic overview of relevant and key practices and proposals in Europe and the US at the federal and sub-federal levels from two angles:

  • Those that affect workers and to which workers and unions have to respond. Such proposals and practices could be: for the US, federal policies or initiatives such as the Green Power Plan or federal energy efficiency standards; for Europe, European-wide policies or initiatives or energy efficiency standards. They would also be state and city level renewable energy standards or climate action plans, as well as proposals from industry, environmentalists and advocates.
  • Those by labour unions and/or directly involving labour unions including proposals by unions or organizations in which unions play a leading role, such as, for the US, those emanating from the BlueGreen Alliance and, for Europe, those emanating from the respective sectoral federations. They would also include collaborative arrangements such as those between unions and employers.

Three central questions will run through both substantive issues:

  • How broad are these proposals, i.e. how much of the political economy do they cover? Are they limited to particular activities and places or do they envision much larger swathes of the political economy?
  • How deep are the changes they envision? Do they propose technical innovations within an otherwise unreformed political economy or do they envision more profound social reforms?
  • What is the role of workers and unions in these initiatives? Are they considered actors or largely the targets of changes in which they do not have a voice?

Taking Ownership and Control of the Green Energy Economy

Scott, Dayna – Osgoode, York University

Resistance to green energy projects, particularly in Ontario, has typically been regarded in policy circles as simple NIMBYism, stemming from a place-based attachment to landscape (Baxter et al., 2013). Renewable energy advocates have responded with dismissal, treating the resistance as irrational and self-interested, and approaching it as a hurdle to get over as we pursue the transition away from fossil fuels (Bell et al., 2013; Turner 2015). In an effort to better understand resistance, we conducted preliminary interviews with residents in Southwestern Ontario affected by wind and solar power projects. The interviews, carried out in summer 2015, lead us to believe that the opposition rests on more substantive and legitimate grounds. In fact, our preliminary findings confirm those of Shaw et al. (2015) who indicate that public resistance to renewable energy projects, while framed as a defence of “landscape values,” often “articulates with other, broader concerns” related, for instance, to governance of green energy initiatives. Shaw et al., who undertook a multi-investigator study of community responses to new energy developments in four Canadian provinces, identified distributive justice as a key preoccupation of local communities. Residents were “concerned that they would bear often intensive social and ecological impacts of energy projects, while the benefits – the financial gains and new energy produced – accrued elsewhere” (Shaw et al. at 46). This focus on the “social patterning of costs and benefits” is tied primarily to the ownership structure of the project. As Shaw et al. state, “the economic governance, and regulatory arrangements underlying a project are important factors that create or undermine distributional justice, shaping who benefits financially, who bears the risks and how risks are managed” (at 43).

These findings give rise to an imperative to understand the various forms of structures and ownership that have emerged across the country for green energy projects and how they influence community acceptance of those projects. We propose to investigate the degree to which alternative ownership and control structures have the potential to build community support for projects and create a more fundamentally just set of social relations in the green energy economy. Consistent with efforts to produce new research on the opportunities and obstacles to low-carbon energy futures, the project will hone in on the role of the law in structuring the social relations of renewable energy production, specifically the rules surrounding ownership and control of solar and wind projects. We will examine the existing forms of public-sector and community-owned renewable projects to ascertain the implications for workers and unions in their effort to build, strong, resilient communities. This is pertinent in terms of the desire to combat precarious employment which, as Vosko (2006) notes, emerges from declining worker control and influence within work relations. We wish to understand whether a push towards community-ownership of energy projects can combat precarious employment and trends towards energy utility privatization.

Our project will also investigate the degree to which community acceptance of green energy projects is influenced by the involvement of local First Nations. Shaw et al. found “instances where local ownership supported community acceptance” (47), however there were mixed results as to whether First Nations’ ownership interests would be enough to deter public opposition. We aim to produce timely, policy- relevant knowledge to support the transition towards a greener economy. In particular, the proposed project will help to re-shape the social relations of energy production in Canada so as to position ourselves for a more ‘just’ transition in the sense of creating decent work in a re-imagined energy sector with innovative, collective models of community ownership and control.

The Training of Canadian Architects to Prepare Them for the Challenges of Climate Change

Mumme, John – Independent Architect

Project aim: To evaluate the ways in which the 11 Canadian architecture schools are preparing their students for practice in function of the challenges of climate change. The built environment sector is a crucial element in the struggle to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG’s) in the face of climate change. Recent studies show the sector to be responsible for 35-40% of GHG’s and energy use2. As a result, the importance of the sector in both the production and the potential reduction of GHGs makes the question of how construction professionals in general, and architects in particular, are trained for climate-literacy both pressing and important. There is, however, surprisingly little research on the education of Canadian construction professionals for climate change.

The current political climate in Canada is likely to provide sharply increased opportunities to reduce GHG emissions. The reduction of GHG’s in the building sector is “low-hanging fruit” of great importance that must be addressed as rapidly as possible. Through their decisions regarding design, drawings, specifications, choice of materials and installation methods for both new buildings and the renovation of existing ones, architects are in a critical position to make significant reductions in level of GHG’s produced in buildings.

The project analyses and evaluates how the 11 Canadian architecture schools educate their students in climate-literacy and prepare them for the climate change component of their internships and for their licensing examinations. A follow-up project will analyze the role the 11 provincial architectural professional associations/licensing bodies play in GHG reduction in the Canadian built environment, in their licensing and post-licensure regulatory capacity. It is clear that architects need to have a high degree of construction-related climate literacy, in the sense that they need to be knowledgeable about:

  • The actual nature of climate change and what is driving it,
  • The significance of the sector in reducing GHG’s,
  • Requirements of building code and LEED or other certifications,
  • Practical approaches by which architects can bring about significant GHG reduction,
  • Ethical options in relation to their future clients, to ensure these clients are themselves sufficiently “climate-literate” to make informed decisions.

Architects in Canada are trained in three separate stages:

  • First, education (generally through an accredited Masters of Architecture program at a School of Architecture),
  • Second, experience (through an Intern Architect Program, and
  • Third, by examination through a series of standardized examinations.

The second and third stages are ultimately under the aegis of the group of provincial/territorial professional associations, to whom the provinces have delegated the responsibility to license architects. In this project, the focus is on the first stage, the education stage, which culminates with a Master’s degree from a university school of architecture.

Transforming Canada’s Transport Sector: Impacts of Electrification and Increased Biofuel Use

Mabee, Warren – Queen’s University

Canada’s move to a cleaner economy, committed to by the Government at Paris in late 2015, will require transformations in all sectors. One of the most important areas to address is that of greenhouse gas emissions associated with transportation. It is possible to divide Canada’s use of petroleum-based fuels into two categories: gasoline, for light-duty vehicle use (mostly passenger vehicles and small trucks); and diesel, for heavy-duty vehicles (mostly trucks on-road, off-road vehicles such as tractors, and rail transport).

At the present time, there are two options to substitute clean(er) energy for petroleum-based fuels in transportation. The first is electrification, which requires vehicle replacement and new infrastructure in the form of charging stations and additional electrical generation capacity. The second is biofuel, which typically can be used in existing vehicles and distributed via existing infrastructure, but which will require new production facilities and which will demand a significant amount of biomass to support deployment at a large scale. At the present time, electrification is only feasible for light-duty vehicles as the energy density required to move heavy loads over extended distances cannot be achieved with batteries. Biofuel may be an option for heavy-duty vehicles.

The proposed project will provide data on (a) how much new green energy may be required in light- and heavy-duty fleets, (b) the options for its delivery (i.e. electrification and biofuel production pathways), and (c) the employment opportunities associated with each option. A range of technical options will be considered. Employment at each stage of energy generation will be considered. The project will focus primarily on employment directly associated with energy generation but will also consider (a) additional work through indirect employment, and (b) potential changes in overall employment compared to a status quo situation (i.e. one in which energy generation technologies do not change).

In addition to providing an extensive amount of information to support the activities of the Energy Working Group (WG), the activities of many of the eight (+) other WGs currently organized within the ACW research program will be informed by the outputs of this project. There are direct connections between the proposed project and the two or three policy groups (Domestic, International, and the emerging group on Municipalities). Electrification will involve provincial governments (who generally control generation and transmission) as well as municipal governments (who generally oversee or inform local distribution companies); international examples of electrical intensification and development of green energy strategies will also be useful to inform this component of the work. Biofuel strategies typically are developed at the federal or provincial level, but biomass production is almost completely overseen by provincial policy. The outputs of the proposed project will identify opportunities for policy development within each of the associated WGs that support greener energy and improved employment.

There may also be implications for the Law WG, if policy is enacted which binds governments to action. The Manufacturing and Services WGs would also be strongly informed by the work carried out in the proposed project, as part of the data provided would be estimates of the degree to which GHG emission reductions could be achieved by moving to electrical vehicles or biofuel substitution. It is anticipated that a follow-up project to this proposed work would look at changes in manufacturing of vehicles if a major shift to electrical vehicles is undertaken.