Northam’s budget includes funds for Richmond’s outdated sewer system; millions to restore Chesapeake Bay

Gov. Ralph Northam says the proposed two-year budget he will present on Thursday to the General Assembly’s money committees includes $233.6 million for outdated sewer systems.

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CDC Recommends Pfizer, Moderna Covid-19 Vaccines Over J&J’s

Health authorities said the rate of a rare but serious blood-clotting disorder associated with the Johnson & Johnson shot is higher than previously detected.

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EXCLUSIVE: ‘Wildly Optimistic’ to Expect Energy Regulator to Embrace Net-Zero, Veteran Energy Executive Warns

The Canada Energy Regulator is so closely tied to the fossil industry that it can’t be counted on to produce independent advice on the country’s path to net-zero—yet it’s considered the leading source of in-house energy modelling the Trudeau government has at its disposal, according to an independent expert commenting on the CER’s deeply flawed energy futures report released last week.

The gaps in the CER’s analysis have been under the spotlight, generating intense and sometimes caustic pushback from climate and energy experts, ever since Canada’s Energy Future 2021 projected the country’s oil and gas production growing steadily to 5.8 million barrels per day in 2032, before falling off slowly to 4.8 million barrels per day in 2050. Within days, outside analysts were pointing to the CER’s lack of any roadmap to meet Canada’s legislated climate target and contribute to the global goal of holding average global warming to 1.5°C.

While Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson tweeted that he expects better from the Calgary-based agency, veteran energy and utility executive Marc Eliesen told The Energy Mix he doubts the regulator will get the job done.

“It’s wildly optimistic to believe there will be a fundamental change in the workings of the CER in the future,” said Eliesen, a former CEO of four provincial utilities and energy authorities and one-time board member with Suncor Energy. “The people there are entrenched in a petro-culture with industry. Most people are not aware that 90% of the funding of the CER comes from industry, which really compromises the board’s own goals and aspirations of trying to serve the public interest.”

The deep connections between the regulator and the oil and gas head offices in Calgary date back to the early 1990s, Eliesen said. That was when the Conservative government led by then-prime minister Brian Mulroney moved the head office of the CER’s predecessor, the National Energy Board (NEB), from Ottawa to the centre of the Canadian oilpatch.

“The NEB had been an effective energy regulator” that largely operated in the public interest, he recalled. But the change of location “dramatically altered the work of the Board,” while making it the only federal regulatory agency with a head office outside the nation’s capital.

“First of all, two-thirds of the staff elected not to leave Ottawa, and they were replaced at that time by largely Alberta-based employees coming directly from the oil and gas industry,” he said. “So what has developed over the years and continues to this day is a close interaction between the (NEB/CER) staff and industry representatives,” so that the “goals and aspirations of the industry become closely intertwined with those of the CER.”

Then the federal government shut down the economic analysis unit at the department that later became Natural Resources Canada. That move made Ottawa dependent on opinions that largely originate within the industries the CER is supposed to regulate, Eliesen explained.

“The NEB and now the CER replaced the resources that used to exist within the government department,” he said. That makes the regulator “the number one energy policy advisor to the government, and quite frankly, it’s not in the national interest that policy advice comes from an agency so closely tied to industry. But that’s been the fact of life.” Over a span of years, the NEB and now the CER “accept what the industry proposes or submits,” uncritically taking in economic forecasts and indicators developed by the country’s leading fossil industry lobby, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

“There isn’t any independent evaluation,” Eliesen said. “On all the projects I’ve been involved in as an intervenor, with that industry they simply accept what CAPP puts forward.” The NEB process once allowed for “hard-hitting questions to the applicant” from federal and provincial agencies, often based on input from environmental groups, he said. But that practice “disappeared completely” during Stephen Harper’s years as prime minister, while the board was reviewing Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

Eliesen’s recollections came in the wake of a comment from Ontario climate and energy specialist Steve Lapp, who followed up on The Mix’s coverage of the CER report by looking at the background of its lead author, Acting Chief Economist Darren Christie. He found an Environment Canada economist who moved to the NEB for nearly eight years before starting a four-year stint at Enbridge as director of regulatory affairs, then returned to the CER in 2019.

“What is the point of putting out a report that is not in line with the country’s net-zero targets?” Lapp asked. “His previous job for four years was with Enbridge, [so] was he afraid of the blowback from past colleagues? Maybe the feds need a regulation that all agencies reporting to them must recognize the 2050 net-zero targets and explain and justify why any projected actions/paths do not conform to that goal.”

The CER has been saying since October that next year’s edition of Canada’s Energy Future will include net-zero modelling. CER Communications Officer Karen Ryhorchuk declined a request for an interview with Christie, who shared some of his assumptions about future fossil fuel demand with CBC earlier this week.

Chris McDermott, a former Environment Canada official and Kyoto Protocol negotiator from 1998 to 2007, traced a pro-fossil tilt within the federal government that went beyond the then NEB. Within the environment department, “the economics group was very fossil biased. A lot of their analysis and their outlook reflected the lobbying positions of CAPP,” he said. “So this is not new, the fact that these economists have close linkages to the fossil fuel industry”, in jobs that give them “a surprising degree of autonomy” to work in ways that run counter to ministerial direction.

McDermott’s description of the Environment Canada economics unit differed from Eliesen’s memory of the policy shop at the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, which was renamed Natural Resources Canada in 1993. “The old EMR had quite a strong, competent group,” he said. “That changed, of course, with the Mulroney government, and as a result the chief energy policy advisor to the government became the NEB,” a state of affairs that hasn’t changed with the arrival of the Trudeau government and the shift to the CER.

“So the knowledge and the ability to evaluate developments in the Canadian fossil fuel industry comes primarily from the regulator, which as I’ve argued is closely tied to the industry, and has an inability to define really what the public interest is,” Eliesen said. “You don’t have a really strong policy presence, particularly on the economics, coming from Natural Resources, which should be the department to house this kind of expertise.”

In the aftermath of the Canada’s Energy Future release, and the pushback on its lack of net-zero modelling, two frequent CER observers said Wilkinson can compel the agency under the Canada Energy Regulator Act to report back on specific topics.

“I think the obvious step for government to take would be to direct the CER to introduce and mainstream a net-zero scenario in its annual energy outlook,” University of Ottawa public policy professor N
icholas Rivers wrote in an email. “Minister Wilkinson stated following the most recent report that this is exactly what he intends to do,” and “I’m inclined to take the Minister at his word.”

“At this stage, I’m confident that CER will analyse Canada’s own path to net-zero, since the Minister of Natural Resources has already asked for that,” agreed University of British Columbia political science professor Kathryn Harrison. “What I am less confident about is whether CER will also analyse the implications of a global transition to net-zero. I hope that the Minister will request that as well,” because “the global transition has bigger implications for Canada’s oil and gas exports.”

But Eliesen and McDermott were less certain the CER would fully comply with Wilkinson’s mandate.

“At the present time, I would not rely on the CER for any policy advice, because by their actions they are too captured by industry and do not have a full appreciation of what it means to be in the public interest,” Eliesen told The Mix. “That’s why they’re defined in my context as a captured regulator.”

McDermott said Lapp’s suggestion of a regulation to mandate net-zero compliance by the CER “is not a bad idea. The question is why should you need it. Agencies are supposed to respond to the will of the government of the day, and it’s a pretty sad state of affairs if you need regulatory power to make an agency do what it’s otherwise supposed to be doing.”

A spokesperson for Wilkinson did not return calls seeking details on what the minister will be asking the CER to report on, and when he plans to make the request.

Help us out here! There’s more to this story than we’ve been able to confirm so far, but we’ll be pursuing it in the new year. If you have leads or details to share, please let us know. Anonymous tips are always our favourite holiday gift, and all confidences will be rigorously respected.

Fossil Emissions Cap, 75% Methane Cut Lead Guilbeault’s 39-Point Mandate Letter from Trudeau

A cap on oil and gas emissions, a 75% methane reduction this decade, a net-zero electricity grid by 2035, a mandated 50% target for electric vehicle sales by 2030, and a renewed commitment to international climate finance are among the elements of the mandate letter issued to Environment and Climate Minister Steven Guilbeault Thursday afternoon by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Guilbeault will have his hands full for the foreseeable future, with a total of 39 items—not including sub-bullets—and 27 mentions of “climate” in his mandate letter.

“The science is clear,” Trudeau wrote, in a boilerplate paragraph that shows up in his letters to each of the 38 Cabinet ministers. “Canadians have been clear. We must not only continue taking real climate action, we must also move faster and go further. As Canadians are increasingly experiencing across the country, climate change is an existential threat. Building a cleaner, greener future will require a sustained and collaborative effort from all of us. As Minister, I expect you to seek opportunities within your portfolio to support our whole-of-government effort to reduce emissions, create clean jobs, and address the climate-related challenges communities are already facing.”

The PM instructs Guilbeault to:

• Deliver a plan by the end of March to reduce Canada’s greenhouse emissions 40 to 45% from 2005 levels by 2030;

• Work with Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to cap oil and gas sector emissions at current levels and set five-year reduction targets “at a pace and on a scale needed to align with the achievement of net-zero emissions by 2050”;

• Set regulations to achieve a 75% reduction in methane emissions from oil and gas by 2030;

• Continue the government’s efforts on a 2030 coal phaseout;

• Work with International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan to mobilize financing for climate adaptation, mitigation, and resilience in developing countries, particularly vulnerable small island states;

• Develop a “regulated sales mandate that at least 50% of all new light duty vehicle sales be zero emissions vehicles in 2030”, en route to 100% by 2035;

• Work with Wilkinson on a Clean Electricity Standard to deliver a 100% net-zero power grid by 2035, including an Atlantic Loop initiative to connect surplus clean power in the country’s eastern provinces with areas that are trying to move off coal;

• Introduce Canada’s first national climate adaptation strategy in 2022;

• Speed up the country’s deadline for phasing out fossil fuel subsidies from 2025 to 2023;

• Work with Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on climate-related financial disclosures, alongside provincial/territorial governments;

• Modernize the Canada Water Act to factor in climate change and Indigenous rights;

• Deliver on a zero plastic waste strategy by 2030, while working toward a new global agreement on plastics;

• Introduce environmental justice legislation and drive recognition of the right to a healthy environment in federal law.

(And there’s more…find Guilbeault’s full mandate letter here.)

Wilkinson’s mandate letter includes more detailed responsibilities on the net-zero electricity grid, including formation of a Pan-Canadian Grid Council and working with Indigenous communities to replace diesel generators with “clean, renewable, and reliable energy” by 2030. He also takes on duties related to the oil and gas emissions cap, ending fossil fuel subsidies, and driving a just transition for fossil fuel workers and communities alongside his predecessor in the natural resources portfolio, Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan.

Wilkinson also receives mandates on:

• A national electric vehicle charging network;

• A Net Zero Accelerator initiative for Canadian industry;

• Full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;

• Strategies on critical minerals and battery innovation;

• A Buy Clean Strategy for Canadian infrastructure investment;

• A net-zero buildings strategy, including energy retrofit incentives and model building codes;

• The government’s continuing effort to make good on Trudeau’s 2019 promise to plant two billion trees, along with a commitment on old growth forest protection in British Columbia;

• A national flood mapping strategy to protect homes and communities threatened by climate change;

• A wildfire resilience strategy that includes training for 1,000 community-based firefighters.

The words “carbon capture” do not show up in Wilkinson’s mandate letter, despite concern over the last couple of weeks that Ottawa was poised to approve new subsidies for the controversial technology. Similarly, small modular nuclear reactors did not make the rhetorical cut in Wilkinson’s stated duties.

While the mandate letters put Guilbeault and Wilkinson at the centre of the government’s emerging climate plan, a number of other ministers and departments have roles to play. Some of those include:

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland working with Trudeau to “champion the adoption of a global minimum standard on carbon pricing” and drive consultations on border carbon adjustments, while ensuring that “budgetary measures are consistent with the Government’s climate goals and the legislated requirement to achieve net-zero emissions by no later than 2050”;

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair with responsibility for climate resilience and response, including planning and preparedness in Indigenous communities, climate-resilient infrastructure, a climate data strategy, and an expanded focus on climate as a national security issue;

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly positioning climate change as one of the issues at the heart of the country’s foreign policy, with formation of a Canadian-based NATO Centre of Excellence on Climate and Security;

Treasury Board President Mona Fortier carrying on the federal Greening Government Strategy and working with Guilbeault to attach a climate lens to all government decisions.

Among the notable omissions, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau’s mandate letter makes no mention of the government’s previous promise to cut farm producers’ nitrous oxide emissions 30% by 2030, to the consternation of the country’s fertilizer lobby. Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra receive no climate mandates at all, apart from the boilerplate paragraph sent to all ministers.

Arctic Residents, Ecosystems in Peril Due to Dangerous Thawing at Poles, Report Reveals

The all-important Thwaites Glacier ice shelf in Antarctica may be as little as three years away from collapse, threatening to release a river of ice that would drastically raise sea levels, according to research presented last week at the annual American Geophysical Union conference.

Planet-warming pollution has already raised global temperatures more than 1.1°C. And the effects are particularly profound at the poles, where global heating has seriously undermined regions once locked in ice, writes the Washington Post.

Released during the conference, an annual Arctic Report Card testified to the accelerating erosion in ecosystem stability in the region. Permafrost continues to disintegrate, polar waters continue to overheat (with devastating consequences to all marine life), and warmer land temperatures upend distribution of flora and fauna, as seen in the sudden explosion of beaver dams in western Alaska.

A truly “weird situation,” observes CBC News, this incursion of the famously industrious rodents bodes further ill for permafrost, as the standing pools of water they create with the dams they build will accelerate thawing.

The Arctic Report Card, the work of 111 scientists from 12 countries, also confirmed the peril that a melting north poses to the some five million people who call it home. Thawing permafrost endangers everything from sacred grave sites to highways, as melting sea ice becomes too thin to travel and hunt upon and more frequent flooding is worsened by glacial meltwater.

“For many Arctic residents, climate change is a threat multiplier—worsening the dangers of whatever other crises come their way,” writes the Post. The Report Card pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as a case in point.

And these dangers will soon reach the rest of the planet. For millennia, the Earth’s icy white poles have bounced as much as 66% of incoming solar radiation back into space, helping to keep things cool. 

Describing the feedback loop now in play, the Post explains that ever-expanding regions of ice-free dark water will mean yet more global heating, leading to yet more melt.

Commenting on the three separate heat waves that swept across Greenland this year, causing some 77 trillion pounds of ice to melt away and rain to fall where it had never been seen before, glaciologist and report co-editor Twila Moon cautioned that in no way should we understand this to be a “new normal” for the North. “It’s merely a pit stop on a path to an even stranger and more dangerous future,” writes the Post.

Strange and dangerous is an apt description for what is unfolding across the Thwaites Glacier ice shelf in Antarctica. Sharing her research at the conference, Oregon State University glaciologist Erin Pettit said it was “hugely surprising” to see how quickly the critical ice shelf—which has long acted as a kind of protective buttress against the collapse of the massive Thwaites glacier itself—is disintegrating.

Such a collapse would have profound consequences: whereas today the eroding ice shelf “contributes up to 4% of global sea level rise,” that share could increase “by as much as 25%” should the shelf fall entirely into the sea, explains the Post.

And the ensuing collapse of the main Thwaites glacier would likely “destabilize other glaciers along the West Antarctic.”

But doesn’t have to be this way, the Post notes, with research suggesting that “achieving the best case climate scenarios could cut the volume of ice lost from Greenland by 75%.”

Flood Damage Produces Calls to Rethink Trans Mountain as Pipeline Slowly Reopens

As the federally-owned Trans Mountain Pipeline slowly returns to service after the longest outage in its 68-year history, a senior pipeline executive is pointing to the vulnerability of British Columbia’s energy supplies, while critics call for a faster shift off fossil fuels.

But while Trans Mountain Corporation Chief Operating Officer Michael Davies sees an intensely contentious pipeline expansion project as the ticket to securing gasoline supplies on B.C.’s Lower Mainland, observers say the new infrastructure he wants so badly to complete was only meant to serve export markets, not Canadian consumers.

The discussion was triggered by the unprecedented atmospheric rivers that brought a torrent of flooding to B.C. last month. Operators shut down Trans Mountain November 14, leading to gasoline rationing in the southern part of the province that only ended earlier this week. In all, the floods exposed about 14 sections of the pipeline along a 30-kilometre stretch south of Merritt, B.C., CBC says, and Davies acknowledged “that the unprecedented surge of the Coldwater River was a challenge that may have been driven in part by wildfire damage earlier this year.”

Repair work on the pipeline will cost “many tens of millions of dollars,” Davies told The Canadian Press. In a December 6 media release, the company said the line’s capacity would “return to normal levels within a week.” But just a few days later, Davies said TMX won’t be back to full capacity until late January at the earliest.

“The pipe is still running at a lower pressure. We’re armouring riverbanks and re-bedding pipe where it was scoured out,” he told CP. “We may still have some further pipe repairs to do, more permanent repairs.”

To get that work done, Trans Mountain had to divert some contractors from its C$12.6-billion expansion project to focus on the existing line. “The biggest challenge was access,” Davies said. “There was only one location where we actually had repairs that we had to do physically to the pipe.”

In the wake of the shutdown, the TMX executive said completion of the export pipeline would give B.C. another option for securing its gasoline supplies. “We all aspire to change the energy mix,” he said, “but fossil fuels for motor fuel are still something we need every day.”

But where Davies cast the pipeline’s response to the flooding as a testament to its resilience, West Coast Environmental Law staff lawyer Eugene Kung saw an environmental calamity narrowly averted.

“I feel like it is absolutely a miracle that there wasn’t more extensive damage. It could have been even worse,” he told CBC. “It doesn’t take much imagination to envision what could have happened if a large tree or rock had come tumbling down.”

And “with triple the capacity and volume of oil enabled by the expansion, the risk and consequences of a spill also increase,” he added last week, in a blog post that included photos and video of the flooding and the subsequent pipeline repair.

Kung said the flooding, described by University of Calgary economist Blake Shaffer as “easily the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history,” showed that it’s time to rethink the Trans Mountain expansion project. The sequence of floods, wildfires, heat domes, and severe storms B.C. has endured over the last few months “are the impacts of climate change being felt while Canada is warming at twice the global average,” he wrote.

“At a time when the human and financial costs of climate change are in such stark relief, it is hard to believe that our federal government is still talking about expanding oil pipeline infrastructure,” he added. “But if the climate impacts of enabling oilsands expansion aren’t enough, skyrocketing costs, exacerbated by the floods and wildfires themselves, should cause them to pause.”

West Coast Environmental Law had been reporting a “myriad of delays and challenges” facing the pipeline before last month’s atmospheric rivers. Now, Kung wrote, “the damage caused by the floods and landslides—which have washed away an unknown amount of the progress in two large segments of the pipeline route—will likely add tens of millions if not billions of dollars to the cost, and cause delays of one year or more,” sufficient to “force a reconsideration of the economic benefits of the pipeline itself.”

Instead of doubling down on the pipeline project, Kung said, “the floods should be a catalyst to accelerate the shift away from a dependence on fossil fuels towards renewable resources with distributed generation, requiring less linear infrastructure that makes us all more vulnerable to catastrophes. This is especially true in light of the inevitable delays and cost increases to the expansion project caused by the floods.”

Read the rest of Eugene Kung’s analysis here.

Opinion: Nuclear Plants Masquerading as Climate-Friendly Shouldn’t Qualify for Green Finance

Bruce Power’s recent issuance of C$500 million in green bonds to help extend the life of Ontario’s biggest nuclear power plant is being touted as a critical step toward decarbonization. But it could also be seen as a dangerous and time wasting dead-end, a corruption of the very notion of green financing.

According to Jonathan Hackett, head of sustainable finance at BMO Capital Markets and co-lead green structuring agent for Bruce Power, nuclear is necessary to the net-zero transition, writes the Globe and Mail.

According to Hackett, the urgent need to green the energy and power sectors means nuclear power is a worthy recipient of green finance.

But confronting the notion that nuclear power is “green” are unresolved concerns about what to do with reactor waste products, as well as the acute dangers inherent in nuclear power plants, with the tragedy at Japan’s Fukushima plant the most recent example.

As for the claim that nuclear is essential to avoiding climate meltdown, independent experts say the world has neither the time, the funds, nor the expertise to bring the expensive and notoriously slow sector to bear in time to shift the climate crisis in any meaningful way.

And this reality doesn’t change as the hype around small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) ramps up. “There is no SMR promoter suggesting a prototype could be licenced, built, and operating by the end of this decade,” said Mycle Schneider, author of the annual World Nuclear Industry Status Report, at a webinar hosted by University of British Columbia in October. “That means—if ever, likely not—a commercialization could start only in the second half of the 2030s.”

Noting that “the industry has never kept its promises on schedules and budgets,” Schneider added, “we have no time, money, and brainpower to waste on fantasy PowerPoint designs.”

Early this month, Ontario Power Generation and GE Hitachi triumphantly announced plans to bring an SMR into service at the Darlington nuclear generating station “as early as 2028”. But even if they managed to bring the project in on time and on budget—a practice that has never been the industry’s strong suit—the project would just be one expensive generation source in a decarbonizing economy that needs far more electricity, and vastly more energy efficiency, far faster than SMRs can deliver.

And this year’s WNISR report was only the latest to conclude that the nuclear industry outside China is already in decline, with its output in the United States dropping to its lowest level since 1995. In France, a former nuclear leader, atomic generation dropped to 1985 levels.

As explained in last year’s WNISR report, this precipitous drop in the fortunes of traditional nuclear owes to the soaring fortunes of solar and wind, with the renewable technologies receiving 10 times as many investment dollars.

Faced with such an implosion in the prospects of its traditional reactors, the nuclear industry has seized upon SMRs as a ticket to a new revenue track. But SMRs will never be ready in time to shift the trajectory of the climate crisis. Even if they worked, “it would take centuries to build enough to make a difference,” Schneider said.

Schneider is not alone that view.

“Betting on nuclear as a climate solution is just sticking our heads in the sand because SMR technology is decades away, extremely expensive, and comes with a nasty pile of security and waste headaches,” Ontario Clean Air Alliance Chair Jack Gibbons wrote last year, responding to then-natural resources minister Seamus O’Regan’s full-throated endorsement of the SMR storyline.

“That our government would be this gullible is distressing, especially given the havoc already being wreaked by a changing climate,” he added.

Jonathan Porritt, founder of the UK’s Forum4theFuture, echoed Gibbons’ view in a March opinion piece for The Guardian. He warned of a nuclear sector now “straining every sinew to present itself as an invaluable ally” in the global push for net-zero by 2050.” Yet the problems that have long dogged the industry remain unchanged: “ever-higher costs, seemingly inevitable delays, no solutions to the nuclear waste challenge, security and proliferation risks.”

Take ‘Concrete, Rapid Steps’ to Decarbonize, Investors Urge Big Five Canadian Banks

Aligning climate targets with a 1.5°C future, aiming to at least halve absolute emissions by 2030, and issuing annual reports on the climate impacts of investments are among the best practices put forward for Canada’s five biggest banks in a report issued yesterday by Investors for Paris Compliance.

“Canada’s banks play a huge role allocating capital to clean or dirty economic activities and as such will help determine whether Canada meets its emissions targets or stays wedded to fossil fuels,” Matt Price, I4PC’s director of corporate engagement, said in a release. “Net-zero pledges were the first step for Canada’s banks,” he added, but “now we need to see concrete and rapid steps towards implementation.”

The report shows the country’s five biggest banks—RBC, TD, Scotiabank, BMO, and CIBC—with a lot of ground to cover to put substance behind their promises. They “all rank among the top 25 fossil fuel lenders in the world, collectively lending well over half a trillion dollars to fossil fuels since the Paris agreement was signed, including hundreds of billions into fossil fuel expansion,” the release states.

“Part of the duty of Canada’s banks is to manage risk, yet their activities are driving up investor risk by enabling massive Scope 3 emissions,” the 22-page report adds. “These activities clash with the emerging nature of fiduciary duty in a world facing a climate crisis. If banks are to act in the interests of their beneficiaries, then they should act in ways that reduce risk rather than increase it,” at a time when climate impacts are “material to investors and are set to become even more so.”

Moreover, investors “stand to gain shareholder value with a transition to a clean economy,” I4PC adds. “The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate found that bold action on climate change could lead to economic gains of US$26 trillion between 2018 and 2030.”

The report sets out best practices for Canadian banks in five areas: setting Paris-aligned net-zero targets, addressing high-carbon sectors while protecting “special places”, sustainable finance, just transition and Indigenous rights, and a new approach to governance, client engagement, and advocacy. Greatest hits include:

• Aiming to cut emissions by at least half by 2030, with 2025 targets “to motivate immediate action”;

• Issuing annual reports on “the full extent of bank business with climate impacts, including lending, underwriting, and investments”;

• Setting 1.5°C-compliant targets that limit reliance on negative emission technologies and carbon offsets;

• Immediately ending any efforts to enable new fossil fuel production, while strengthening coal phaseout policies, reducing exposure to tar sands/oil sands investments, and expanding investment bans to “special places” beyond the Arctic;

• Developing a sustainable finance classification system, or taxonomy, that avoids carbon lock-in;

• Holding clients accountable for their performance on the just transition off fossil fuel dependency;

• Strengthening efforts on reconciliation with First Peoples and the practice of Free, Prior and Informed Consent;

• Reorienting banks’ governance, compensation, and client engagement to support the drive to net-zero.

The report arrives at a moment when Canadian banks are choosing to engage on net-zero strategy with fossil fuel clients and other high-emitting sectors, rather than heeding calls to withdraw their investments. In October, the Royal Bank issued a widely-cited white paper that called for $2 trillion in new investment for net-zero strategies that leaned heavily on the carbon capture technologies that I4PC and many other groups see the need to minimize.

In an email Wednesday, Price said banks won’t achieve their climate goals or fulfill their duty to help drive decarbonization without a more informed, harder-edged approach.

“Engagement without the possibility of divestment is like raising a toddler without consequences,” he told The Energy Mix. “Yes, as a first strategy, work with clients on their net-zero strategies, but know that not all of them will get there, particularly if nobody holds them accountable. Other banks like Citigroup and Credit Suisse are more honest about the need to drop clients who don’t come along.”

To make that shift in strategy work, “major banks and pension funds need a crash course on the concept of carbon lock-in,” he said. “Technologies like [carbon capture and storage] may well be appropriate for sectors like steel and cement, but only address 20 to 30% of emissions in oil and gas given most emissions result when the end product is burned. The $50 billion that the oil sands companies are asking for by way of further public subsidies for CCS is a dead end that just locks in production and emissions,” so it’s “better to invest that money in actual transition.”

New York City Bans Gas Heat, Appliances in New Buildings

New York City has approved a bill banning gas heat and stoves in new buildings, leading the mayor’s director of climate and sustainability to riff on an old saying about the Big Apple: “If we can do it here, we can do it anywhere.”

Standing in opposition to the ban were National Grid, the utility that supplies the city’s gas [though surely not all its hot air—Ed.], and real estate developers who played up fears of freezing in the dark cold of New York winters should the power grid fail, writes the New York Times. 

The developers did hold some sway, negotiating a delay of three years on buildings over seven storeys. For new builds under seven storeys, the ban will take effect in December 2023.

But still, the pro-electricity campaign won big, thanks to a year-long grassroot campaign aided by growing citizen awareness of the climate crisis, driven events like the killer floods that the tail end of Hurricane Ida brought to the city in September.

Also persuasive were presentations by the non-profit Urban Green Council which argued that, contrary to developers’ scare tactics, the grid is now strong enough to support the shift to mass electrification. The council said the grid can deliver in summer as well as winter, even with New Yorkers turning up their air conditioners to survive the summer swelter.

Indeed, proponents of the ban argued that the mandated shift to electric heating could be a boon for the grid in summer. Many builders are expected to turn to heat pumps, which are as efficient at cooling the air in summer as they are heating it in winter.

And then there are the air quality benefits of the ban. Citing a recent study by the Snowmass, Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Institute, the Times writes that the ban will “prevent 2.1 million tons of carbon emissions by 2040—equivalent to what 450,000 cars spew in a year.”

The measure’s lead sponsor, Brooklyn councilwoman Alicka Ampry-Samuels (D), spoke passionately in public about how the switch from fossil fuels to electricity “would reduce air pollution and climate dangers that disproportionately kill and harm vulnerable groups like Black and poor people.”

Bans like the one just passed by NYC “are the latest challenge for an industry already besieged by campaigns against fracking, pipelines, and gas-fueled power plants,” the Times adds. “Permits for two such plants were recently denied by state regulators.”

But the U.S. industry is fighting hard to lobby policy-makers to outlaw such bans. And they have made inroads: to date, 20 state legislatures, all under Republican control, have made it illegal to ban natural gas.

Climate Change Education Is Failing Our Youth