Categories
Climate

Carbon pricing win at Supreme Court- now the real work begins

In our growing climate crisis, March 25 was a pretty good day. The Supreme Court of Canada rejected Conservative premiers’ attacks on Canada’s federal carbon pricing law, despite our complicated constitution. This should be the end of the anti-carbon-price dead end. We have a real job to do. 

The climate crisis is an overwhelming threat to human civilization. Its dangers have been clear for decades. We know what climate action can keep a stable climate: it includes slashing our emissions of greenhouse gas pollution by half this decade. 

No question, this will take work. For a century, we have built our infrastructure and our economy around burning fossil fuels. We have a small population, but we are one of the world’s worst carbon polluters both at home and abroad. Canada has profited heavily from digging up fossil fuels, especially petroleum from the oil sands. What Canada does about the climate crisis matters. Having wasted decades without effective climate action, we now have little time and a great deal to do. 

Fortunately, we have some excellent tools. The single most powerful is carbon pricing. It cannot solve the climate crisis on its own, but it levels the playing field between fossil fuels and a cleaner future, it rewards innovation and it reduces cost. When pollution is “free” we get more of it; when polluters pay for their damage, it’s remarkable how quickly they find alternatives. Without a carbon price, we will probably  speed ever faster towards climate breakdown. 

In the teeth of this emergency, the Conservative attack on the carbon price was a terrible waste of time, money and energy. Carbon pricing was a right wing invention, a market-based alternative to government regulation. Nevertheless, the Conservative Party, which just voted again to deny that climate change is real, has made opposing carbon prices a badge of loyalty, without offering anything in return. 

The Conservative premiers who spent millions attacking the federal law dismantled climate action in their own provinces. Doug Ford’s “Environment Plan” emphasizes litter pick up, while driving up emissions and air pollution with gas-fired electricity, highways and sprawl. When Erin O’Toole releases his carbon-price-free plan, I expect him to promise tree planting, nuclear power, and using CO2 to extract oil, expensive measures that will achieve little any time soon. 

Bottom line: the Conservatives do not offer a better alternative to carbon pricing, just delay, denial and greenwashing. No expensive future technology will somehow make everything fine. Planting trees and picking up litter are worthwhile, but continuing to burn fossil fuels as if  pollution  were “free” is a dead end. 

With Conservative provinces refusing to act, the federal Liberals stepped in with the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.The Conservatives turned this into a multi-year,  multi-million dollar turf war, which the Supreme Court has now mercifully brought to an end. The decision is a tough read, primarily concerned with how to squeeze carbon pricing into our constitutional straitjacket after 150 years of federal-provincial disputes. Ultimately, six judges upheld the Act, because do-nothing provinces threaten Canada as a whole. 

Now what? Canadians know we are in a climate crisis and want to see strong climate action, though most wrongly believe that Canada is already an environmental leader. To be honest, the carbon price has been too low (and its future too uncertain) to have driven down our emissions yet. It should have more impact now, with the price scheduled to increase, but many other initiatives are necessary if we are to get off fossil fuels in time. 

We need strong laws and strong regulations. We need a strong climate lens on every decision that governments make. We need transparent climate reporting. We need to disrupt fossil fuel lock-in. We need to protect nature. We need to make it easier, safer and more convenient to choose clean options. And we need to use the climate crisis, wherever possible, as a trigger to make health and inequality better.

Today, thank you to everyone who made this victory happen. Tomorrow, we must all go back to work. This case was an unfortunate sideshow. The real battles for meaningful climate action are ahead.

Dianne Saxe 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

This article appeared first in the Toronto Star.

Categories
Climate Energy Environment

Coldwater and TMX

What happened July 2, 2020, when the Supreme Court of Canada decided not to hear the Coldwater appeal against federal approval in principle of the TMX #TransMountain pipeline?

In essence, the Supreme Court upheld the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision, in February 2020, which said the following:

Indigenous people have a right to be consulted and accommodated about major projects in their territory, but they do not have a veto. Once there has been a deep respectful process of consultation and accommodation, the federal Cabinet has the right to balance indigenous claims with overall societal interest as they see it.

The federal government has adequately performed that process for TMX, in accordance with the judicial guidance given in 2018. When the Federal Court of Appeal turned down the TMX approval in 2018, and sent it back to the federal government, they identified specific flaws that they said could be remedied by a “brief”, “efficient” and “focussed” further consultation. The government did what the court had directed it to do, and, as a result, the approval was amended with significant additional conditions.

Consultation and accommodation are a difficult balancing act, and the federal Cabinet’s evaluation of the process deserves deference. The process does not have to be perfect.

The opponents were, in essence, seeking a veto, a right to prevent the pipeline from being built without their consent. Under Canadian law, they do not have that right. Nor can they insist on more years for further study or consultation. The Cabinet can take into account that, of the 129 indigenous communities consulted, 120 support the project or do not object, and 45 signed benefit agreements.

To the best of my knowledge, that means that the opponents no longer have a legal right to prevent the construction of the pipeline. However, they can still make this pipeline slow and difficult to build, and to further damage its economic rationale. The detailed alignment is still to be determined and some environmental studies are still underway. There could be a worldwide campaign to dissuade purchasers from booking space on the pipeline, and from buying oil transported by this pipeline. We may still see a campaign of civil disobedience, people laying down in front of bulldozers and in front of trains across the country.

Opponents can also continue to attempt to persuade the government, and the public, that it is a bad decision to build this pipeline, for economic, climate, environmental and other reasons. Just because the project has been approved does not necessarily mean it has to be built. There has also been considerable discussion about whether the federal government will turn the pipeline over to a First Nations consortium to be built and operated, and if so, how much this would address environmental and indigenous rights concerns.

Categories
Climate Energy

A letter from Alberta, again

I appear regularly on Amanda Lang’s TV show on BNN Bloomberg. Inevitably, within a few hours I get an angry email from some man in Alberta. This week’s writer was more polite than most in his insistence that only fossil fuels will do and that “renewables (electricity and vehicles) are not price-competitive at Canada’s latitude”, so I wrote him back:

“Dear _____,

It is well established that fossil fuel-generated electricity typically looks cheaper primarily because most of the costs are borne in ways that are not reflected on the electricity bill, such as health, environment and climate damage. Some details here: https://eco.auditor.on.ca/reports/2018-making-connections/

In Alberta, some additional costs are externalized by oil companies shirking billions of dollars in liabilities to landowners, municipalities and clean up costs. Some details here: https://saxefacts.com/canadas-murky-bailout-deal-for-oil-and-gas-will-cost-us-all/. Now taxpayers are paying billions again to pay for some of the messes left behind.

Renewable electricity is increasingly the cheapest electricity to generate, e.g. https://saxefacts.com/berkshire-hathaway-wind-power-saves-money/. In my upcoming interview with Dan Balaban, Alberta businessman, he reports that Alberta has world-class wind resources. https://saxefacts.com/green-economy-heroes-podcast/

Utility scale storage is also becoming dramatically cheaper, e.g. https://www.hydrostor.ca, https://formenergy.com/.

EVs? Battery costs continue to plunge. https://insideevs.com/news/386024/bloombergnef-battery-prices-156-kwh-2019/
More than a year ago it was already cheaper to own an electric vehicle, especially for those who drive longer distances, even without counting the environmental impact. https://www.corporateknights.com/channels/clean-technology/faceoff-electric-vs-gas-cars-on-cost-15555966/. Electric vehicles have orders of magnitude fewer parts than internal combustion engines, so are cheaper to assemble and maintain and may last much longer. https://www.plugndrive.ca

It is not my responsibility to persuade you of anything. There is ample information available on these questions, and there are many good reasons why smart money managers are divesting from fossil fuels. https://gofossilfree.org/divestment/commitments/

Categories
Climate Energy

Oil bailouts: an expensive, polluting way to protect jobs

Bailing out oil companies: an exceptionally expensive and polluting way to preserve jobs. We have much better options. Listen to my interview on CBC’s Metro Morning. #CleanReset

Here is a clearer version of Professor Eric Miller’s excellent chart which I refer to:

If you were wondering, why is Prof. Miller using 2015 data? His answer is that Statistics Canada is slow to update the input-output accounts which are necessary to make these calculations. 2015 is the most recent common year for which StatsCan currently makes available the necessary raw data for both the GHG intensity of each sector and the jobs’ multipliers.

It guess it says something that StatCan provides quarterly estimates of GDP, while their environment-related products tend to lag years…

Why isn’t renewable energy in the list? Much the same reason: StatCan doesn’t provide the necessary data.

The level of aggregation/detail used by Statistics Canada (and by the NAICS
system and other similar accounting of economic sectors) tends to reflect
historically-important activities/sectors than more recent and future-oriented ones.  The manufacture or installation or servicing of wind
and solar (or the electricity produced by them) will be accounted for within
broader aggregations that unfortunately meld renewable and non-renewable energy.

Categories
Climate Energy Environment

Clean50 calls for #CleanReset

I am glad to have been able to help the outstanding Clean50 (contributors to clean capitalism) deliver a compelling letter to the Prime Minister on Earth Day calling for a #CleanReset of our economy. Read it here. If you can, please send it on to your member of Parliament with an endorsement.

Categories
Climate Energy Environment

Canada’s murky bailout deal for oil and gas will cost us all

The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with low oil prices, have created extraordinarily hard times in oil producing provinces such as Alberta, and unemployment not seen since the Great Depression. Quite properly, the federal government has promised to help. But it is shameful that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using your tax dollars to bail out the oil and gas exploration and production industry, perhaps the wealthiest and most polluting industry in human history. For details, see my op ed in the National Observer.

Categories
Climate Energy Environment

Climate Law Practice Officially ReOpens

The law practice of Dianne Saxe, Ph.D. in Law, is open again. I’m focussing on climate law, because if we get this wrong, not much else will matter.