Real climate leadership for people and the planet

We need to keep it in the ground, develop meaningful relationships and take bold climate action

This blog is a reproduction of The Council of Canadians' submission to the Government of Canada's Climate Plan Consultations written in collaboration with Diane Connors, Prairies Organizing Assistant for The Council of Canadians based out of Alberta.

Founded in 1985, the Council of Canadians is Canada’s leading social action organization, mobilizing a network of 60 chapters across the country 100,000 supporters. Through campaigns we advocate for clean water, fair trade, green energy, climate justice, public health care, and a vibrant democracy.

 

The Council of Canadians makes this submission to the Climate Action Plan with the premise that any climate plan must prioritize people and the planet we live on. This has multiple components, such as justice, equity, economy, environment and meaningful nation-to-nation relationships with Indigenous peoples. This is not a list of choices. Until we check all of these boxes – and others –  any climate plan is incomplete. Some people will say we will inevitably have to compromise. The Council of Canadians recognizes that making these changes  will be a process with challenges, but we must embark on this journey to ensure our planet survives for future generations.

The Council of Canadians’ submission will focus on a few overarching components  that are crucial to bold and effective climate action, including the importance of public and community ownership of renewable energy projects and the threat trade agreements pose to climate action. We will also include concrete proposals to address the climate change crisis and help build a people and planet-centered climate plan.

Keep fossil fuels in the ground

Scientists have estimated that we need to keep more than 80 per cent of fossil fuels in the ground to limit temperature increases to a maximum 2 degrees, let alone Canada’s 1.5 degree Paris pledge. This means that we need to keep the vast majority of the Canadian tar sands in the ground, untouched and unburned. This also allows us to understand that regardless of how ambitious our actions to reduce our emissions are, we need corresponding actions to slow – and then stop  – the expansion of the tar sands. We need to build a future where we are reducing our consumption of fossil fuels at an ever increasing rate. Contrary to what the fossil fuel industry would like us to think, global trends are sending us in this direction, but if we don’t heed the signals, any investment in carbon intensive infrastructure such as pipelines will only leave Canada in a worse position, unable to meet its climate commitments and unable to adapt to a changing economy.

Implementing UNDRIP and the principles of Free, Prior and Informed Consent

Meaningful nation-to-nation relationships are a core part of any serious climate plan, and this means that Canada needs to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and apply the principles of Free, Prior and Informed consent to all projects, including the extraction of fossil fuels, pipeline proposals, but also future renewable energy projects on traditional indigenous territories. The Council of Canadians supports Indigenous grassroots leadership and communities who are making this a reality.

Embracing Climate Solutions

Prioritizing public and community ownership of renewable energy projects

Public ownership models include Crown corporations and public utilities. Community power models include local public ownership from municipalities and regional districts as well as First Nations and Indigenous ownership. It also includes consumer and member co-operative ownership models, and worker co-ops.

In a paper authored jointly with the Canadian Labour Congress titled “Green, Decent and Public,” we outline a number of distinct advantages of public and community ownership, including retaining economic revenues, maximizing social benefits, prioritizing conservation and ensuring energy security. When power is kept in public and community hands, the likelihood of revenues being redistributed for further public good increases.

Public and community ownership also provide opportunities to ensure that the expansion of renewable power generation is accountable to the public interest and contributes to job creation and reduced inequality. Government action through public employment programs is far more likely than the market to provide job opportunities that help reduce poverty and improve equity while  building a fair and just green energy economy.

Government spending for training programs (associated both with renewable power and improving energy efficiency) can be directed towards workers who have lost their jobs (including those displaced in the transition away from fossil fuel industries) as well as towards people and communities facing poverty and systematic injustice or bearing the brunt of environmental and social impacts associated with the fossil fuel industry. For example, Columbia Hydro Constructors, the construction arm of B.C. Hydro, implemented employment equity programs in the late 1990s that provided training and opportunities for marginalized groups in the province.

Public – and particularly community ownership models – have also proven to be an important means to ensure that individual and collective concerns associated with potential renewable energy projects are heard. What better way to ensure local input is prioritized than to have the renewable energy project owned and run by community members? European cooperative models have clearly demonstrated this advantage.

In being held accountable and measuring success not only through profitability but also through achieving social, economic and political objectives, public and community owned power also provides the means to prioritize increased energy conservation. The cleanest energy is the energy we don’t have to use.

Further, public and community ownership remains the best way to insulate public policy choices from conflict with trade rules, including challenges emerging from NAFTA.

Below you will find a series of additional policy suggestions that address the need to reduce our use of fossil fuels and create meaningful opportunities to transition to a justice-based post-carbon economy.

Energy Efficiency

Public funding for retrofitting programs must prioritize areas that can reduce social inequity, including communities facing the brunt of the environmental and social impacts of the fossil fuel industry, workers impacted by the shift to a low-carbon economy, and isolated and low-income areas.

Direct regulations as a conduit to climate and broader environmental action

  • A freeze on the expansion of tar sands extraction and pipeline infrastructure.

  • A moratorium on offshore drilling in the Arctic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

  • A moratorium on fracking.

  • Hard, caps and timelines for phasing out all coal fired power.

  • Better regulation and enforcement of fossil fuel industries.

  • Rejection of new nuclear developments.

Revenue generating recommendations

  • Impose a financial transaction tax, or “Robin Hood tax.” This is a relatively simple measure that has won support from diverse audiences. It is a small tax on all financial market transactions that could generate significant funds towards ending poverty and addressing climate change.

Climate policy recommendations

  • Redirect fossil fuel subsidies to climate measures. This would include improving energy conservation, energy efficiency, renewable energy expansion and public transit.

For more information please read White Paper on Climate Change Actions in Canada by the Council of Canadians (October 2015)

 

A serious climate plan must address threats from trade agreements

Historically, trade agreements tend to favour the rights of corporations over those of people and the environment, and this has the serious potential to undermine climate action.

One of the main components of trade agreements that undermines climate action are investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions. ISDS provisions give corporations the right to sue governments for financial compensation if governments introduce new laws or practices – be they climate, environmental, health or human rights – that negatively affect corporations’ bottom lines. ISDS provisions essentially grant corporations equal status to governments in these negotiations, they bypass the national legal system and privatize the dispute settlement system between nations by bringing disputes to tribunals set up for each trade agreement.

ISDS provisions are a one-way street. Foreign investors are granted rights without any obligations, such as respect for environmental, social, health and safety standards. Citizens impacted by the activities of fossil fuel corporations, mining companies, banks, food multinationals or chemical producers do not have access to the same rights in cases where multinational companies are responsible for human rights violations or environmental degradation.

ISDS provisions are dangerous because the mere threat of potential claims can have a “chilling effect” on governments that want to enact ambitious public interest regulations. Governments may be reluctant to move forward because of the potential burden of future ISDS claims on public budgets.

ISDS provisions proposed in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would replicate much of the ISDS language found in past U.S. trade and investment agreements, such as NAFTA. Under these agreements, tribunals have already ordered government to pay more than $3 billion in compensation to investors or corporations attacking land use rules, water, energy and timber policies, health, safety and environmental protections, financial stability policies and more.

Canada, one of the most sued countries in the developed world

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reports that almost two-thirds of ISDS claims against Canada involved challenges to environmental protection or resources management that allegedly interfered with the foreign investor privileges of American corporations. Under NAFTA, foreign investors have launched ISDS claims against Canada at least 39 times.

As long as special rights for corporate investors remain an element of trade agreements, the deals will continue to prioritize short-term corporate interests over the public good including policies that would help tackle the climate crisis.

Recommendations on trade

Canada needs to:

  • Refrain from including special, overreaching rights for foreign investors, including the ISDS or ICS mechanisms, in any new trade or investment agreements such as TTIP, TPP and CETA.

  • Remove ISDS and overreaching foreign investor rights from all existing trade and investment agreements.

  • Rework trade policy to prioritize and ensure the protection of human rights and the environment. This should include ensuring that challenges cannot be brought against climate change policies under trade and investment agreements.

For more information please read Oil corporations vs the climate: How Investors use trade agreements to undermine climate action & Protecting a Multilateral Agreement on Climate Change from the Threat of Corporate Trade Challenges.

Concluding remarks

The Council of Canadians’ contributions are a snapshot of some crucial aspects of a just energy transition strategy on the road to a post-carbon society. Many other people and organizations across Canada have mobilized and made tremendous contributions to the consultation process and this we hope will be reflected in a Canadian Climate Plan. It is a complex issue, but one that needs to be tackled with a lens that is tinted with justice and boldness. The Council of Canadians will continue to hold the Canadian government accountable to the highest possible standards.

 

 

For more information please see "Top 5 Actions for a National Climate Plan", People's Climate Plan, and the Leap Manifesto