Expect National EV Sales Mandate by End of 2022, Guilbeault Tells Auto Dealers

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault says he wants a national mandate forcing auto dealers to sell a certain number of electric vehicles to be in place by the end of next year.

Road transportation accounts for one-fifth of Canada’s total greenhouse-gas emissions, and as Canada charts a path to net zero by 2050, eliminating carbon dioxide from passenger cars is a big part of the process, The Canadian Press reports. The federal government wants half of all new passenger cars sold in Canada to be zero-emission vehicles by 2030, en route to 100% by 2035.

Canadians bought more electric vehicles in the last two years than the previous eight combined, but still only 3% of new cars registered were battery-electric or plug-in hybrids.

The Liberals promised during the election campaign to bring in a sales mandate to meet those goals. Guilbeault said he wants that to happen by the end of 2022, or early 2023 at the latest.

“This (mandate) will not come into effect in the next few months but it will come into effect very soon,” he said. “We’re at three, maybe four per cent. We have to get the 50. It’s a lot of heavy lifting.”

CP reported the minister’s remarks just as two other cabinet ministers warned top U.S. senators that Canada will pursue trade sanctions if the Biden administration’s long-awaited green infrastructure plan includes Buy American provisions for EV components.

“We are deeply concerned that certain provisions of the electric vehicle tax credits as proposed in the Build Back Better Act violate the United States’ obligations under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Trade Minister Mary Ng said in a letter released Friday. “The proposal is equivalent to a 34% tariff on Canadian-assembled electric vehicles,” making it a “significant threat” to the Canadian automotive industry and a “de facto abrogation” of the USMCA.

On the domestic front, Guilbeault launched consultations on how to develop that mandate this fall. A new discussion paper for those meetings seeks input on how the mandate should work, the effect on the Canadian auto industry, and whether there should be an interim target before 2030.

Growth in electric vehicles has been swift in the last few years, but almost entirely in the two provinces that already have a provincial sales mandate. Quebec began enforcing sales quotas for electric vehicles in 2018 and British Columbia followed in 2020.

Three in four new electric vehicles registered in Canada in 2020 were in B.C. and Quebec. Ontario, which had a rebate until 2018, accounted for 19%. The rest of Canada accounted for less than 5%.

Outside B.C. and Quebec, few dealers have access to electric vehicles, and the wait can be more than six months long. Supply chain crunches affecting the entire auto industry make it worse.

“That’s one of the best arguments in favour of a national zero-emission vehicle mandate,” said Joanna Kyriazis, a senior policy adviser at Clean Energy Canada. “Right now we’re really seeing a tale of two Canadas when it comes to EVs.”

A mandate must be in place by early 2023 if the targets are going to be met, she said.

Until recently, Quebec and B.C. were also the only provinces with a rebate program that cut the cost of a new electric vehicle. Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and all four Atlantic provinces introduced them in the last 18 months.

Guilbeault said in Quebec and B.C., the provincial mandates immediately opened up both vehicle availability and options. Carmakers introduced new models and shifted supplies to those provinces to avoid the $5,000 penalty for every credit they were short of meeting the quota.

“All of a sudden, people have access to a whole range of other vehicles that they didn’t before,” said Guilbeault. “So they have more choice in terms of prices, models, size, battery autonomy. And it makes a lot of difference.”

B.C. and Quebec passed laws to set their electric car mandates and then used regulations for the specifics. Guilbeault said Canada can go straight to regulation under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which will get the mandate in place much faster than legislation.

Most experts say the world is moving toward electric vehicles no matter what. The key is how quickly it happens.

Guilbeault said if Canada does not move swiftly to push EV sales and become a major part of the global supply chain, it will still eventually end up with electric cars on the road. But it will miss the big economic benefits that can come with them.

CP cites Norway, which has had electric vehicle incentives in place for more than 20 years, as the world’s leader in global sales. Seventy-five per cent of new cars sold there last year were zero-emission vehicles. Canada’s market share was 3.5%, up from 2.9% in 2019.

Many European countries saw their market share of electric vehicles soar last year –from 3.1 to 11.3% in the United Kingdom, from 2.8 to 11.3% in France, and from 2.9 to 13.5% in Germany. China, the biggest market for electric vehicles, hit 5.7% in 2020.

Most of those countries hiked rebates to lower the cost of buying zero-emission vehicles, and some, including Germany, are making it a legal requirement for every gas station to have a charging station.

The change to a fully electric fleet is “massive,” Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra said during the COP 26 climate summit in November. “That is a massive transformation, not only for consumer behaviour, but it’s also for production, for supply chains, for rules and harmonizing standards,” he said.

Wilf Steimle, president of the Electric Vehicle Society, has been a full-time EV proponent for the last seven years. He said the switch to electric vehicles needs to overcome consumer concerns about charging stations and vehicle costs, and education about the benefits.

Steimle said helping auto dealers prepare is also critical, because the cost for most dealerships to install charging equipment and train staff on sales and maintenance is still well above the profits on selling electric vehicles.

Huw Williams, a spokesperson for the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association, said carmakers and sellers are getting ready but the government’s timelines are ambitious and it can’t happen overnight.

“It’s hard for the government to understand the size and scope of this transition,” he said.

Williams said dealers want to work with the government to ensure the process is both clear and fair to all involved.

The main body of this report was first published by The Canadian Press on December 10, 2021.

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Biden Bans Financial, Diplomatic Support for International Fossil Projects

The Biden administration has slapped a ban on financial and diplomatic support for new fossil fuel projects, in what Bloomberg News describes as a “major policy shift designed to fight climate change and accelerate renewable energy worldwide.”

The U.S. government communicated the policy shift in a cable to overseas embassies earlier this month, the news agency reports. “The wide-ranging directive for the first time bars U.S. government backing for future ventures, potentially affecting billions of dollars in annual funding as well as diplomatic and technical assistance.”

While the policy contains “significant exemptions”, Bloomberg adds, “the policy shift could affect a significant number of potential foreign projects, including terminals in eastern Europe and the Caribbean to receive shipments of U.S. natural gas. It also goes beyond constraining financial aid and rules out other, softer forms of government support, including diplomatic and technical assistance that benefits developers of pipelines, liquefied natural gas terminals and other projects overseas.

But the U.S. will withhold direct support from new projects, it won’t stop fossil fuel companies from pursuing them.

“As long as there is demand for fossil energy products, technologies, and services in global markets, the U.S. government will not stand in the way of U.S. companies that are ready and able to meet those needs,” the cable stated. “The U.S. government will continue to help U.S. energy companies, especially small- and medium-sized businesses, achieve their commercial objectives without compromising global climate ambitions.”

The announcement received mixed reviews from climate policy and campaign groups.

“If this guidance is implemented well and loopholes are minimized, this is a major step forward to align our overseas spending with climate goals,” said Collin Rees, U.S. campaign manager at Oil Change International. After seeing the U.S. spend US$11 billion in public funds on overseas fossil projects since the Paris climate agreement was signed, the new order “shows the Biden administration is taking seriously the joint commitment it signed onto at COP 26 to end international support for fossil fuels.”

“Details matter and we are still missing some fine print,” added Bronwen Tucker, co-manager of Oil Change’s Global Public Finance Campaign. If the exemptions are implemented in good faith, this guidance would end almost all U.S. international finance for fossil fuels.”

But Friends of the Earth U.S. said the guidance was too weak to be useful, with International Finance Program Manager Kate DeAngelis saying it “looks like it was written a decade ago when climate change’s severity was less understood. Despite the Biden administration’s big talk on climate, their overseas fossil fuel finance policies are like they were written by anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers, bereft of necessary protections despite high risks and compelling science.”

350.org U.S. Campaign Manager Brooke Harper called the decision “a major victory for the movement to end fossil fuel finance,” but called on Biden to curtail funding for domestic projects as well as international ones.

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New York’s Right to Healthful Environment Sets Stage For Aggressive Climate Action

Nearly 70% of New York voters have backed an amendment to the state’s climate law to grant all residents the right “to clean air and water and a healthful environment,” potentially laying the groundwork for lawsuits against fossil fuel polluters and developers.

“It certainly sends the message that (new) large, fossil fuel facilities are going to have major problems” in New York, Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told Inside Climate News. “I wouldn’t call those decisions a death knell, but they’re certainly a blinking red light.”

New York’s climate law sets ambitious goals to transition away from fossil fuels and “create a new, electrified economy that stops adding to climate change by 2050,” reports The New York Times. It commits the state to several climate targets, including increasing the share of energy generated from renewable sources from 30% to 70% by 2030 and shifting its power sector to net-zero emissions by 2040. 

The climate law has since influenced several state decisions to bar new fossil fuel projects, such as the fracked gas Williams Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline in 2020 and two new gas-powered facilities this past October, a move that drew praise from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. One month later, the state passed the amendment granting the right to a “healthful environment,”  setting the stage, Gerrard said, for citizens to sue the government or other entities more easily for things like polluting a river or hindering the state’s legally binding clean-energy targets.

One caveat, he added, is that the constitutional weight of the amendment is still unclear and it may take several years for the courts to flesh out exactly what the provision means in concrete terms. A handful of other states have similar provisions, but only three—Pennsylvania, Montana, and Hawaii—have had state court rulings to enforce them.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, for instance, turned on a state provision granting all residents “a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment.” The court ruled against legislation that would have barred local governments from banning fracking in certain zoning areas, finding that the “right to an environment of quality is an obligation on the government’s behalf to refrain from unduly infringing upon or violating the right.” The ruling indicates that such provisions require state governments to proactively protect citizens’ environmental rights through actions like carrying out environmental impact assessments for new projects and denying permits for those found to be too harmful.

The Pennsylvania ruling did not set any precedent that would be binding for New York. But climate advocates are optimistic the new amendment will support stronger action to fulfill the state’s emission reduction targets, writes Inside Climate News.

“The state is looking as if it’s going to come out with an aggressive plan,” said Conor Bambrick, Environmental Advocates NY’s director of climate policy. “It really bodes well for the future.

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City of Auckland Proposes Climate Tax on Residents in Global First

Auckland has become one of the world’s first cities to propose a residential climate tax that would see locals contributing roughly one dollar per week to the city’s fund for reducing emissions and greening its streets.

Projections are that the climate fund could require NZ$1 billion (C$862 million) within the decade, leaving the city to fundraise another $471 million to top up the $574 million it hopes to raise with the tax, reports the Independent.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff, who announced the proposal on December 1, said the new fund will be dedicated to greening Auckland’s ferry fleet—which accounts for 21% of the city’s public transport emissions—adding more buses, expanding cycling and walking routes, and increasing the city’s green space.

He said he expected his constituents will have his back on the proposal. “While nobody relishes the idea of paying more rates, we’ve heard clearly from Aucklanders that they want us to do more on climate change and to improve our public transport system,” he said. And “we must be able to say to future generations that we used every tool in the toolbox to tackle the climate crisis,” he added.

Goff said the climate tax, scheduled to be voted on next year, will help make public transit more available to more people. The updated system will leave 10% more Aucklanders—some 170,000 people—living within 500 metres of a frequent bus route.

He said the proposed climate tax is needed at a time when the city’s emissions are “not remotely tracking in line with our target to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030.”

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Replacing Coal With Biomass Threatens Forests, Climate Targets, COP 26 Panel Warns

Forest biomass has been mislabelled as a carbon-neutral energy source, said speakers gathered at a COP 26 side meeting who urged governments to stop subsidizing power plants that say they have gone green by replacing coal.

“Forest biomass is criminally harmful in so many ways,” said Maya Menezes, senior forests campaigner with Stand.earth. Public energy from forests “must not be used by major fossil fuel companies looking to turn a buck and trying to manipulate the public panic (over climate change) into a subsidy scheme that it will take precious years to disentangle ourselves from.”

“Standing and intact forests are the best offence and defence for climate catastrophe,” she added. “Betting our lives on potential carbon capture systems that are not yet operational but hypothetical” is not a path forward.

Speakers at the session on “Beyond Burning, Beyond Biomass” directed criticism at the 4,000-MW Drax power station in England, which uses biomass to reduce its carbon footprint by 80% compared to coal, with the company claiming to be the largest source of renewable energy in that country. It shuttered its two coal units in March, 2021, and continues to insist that it will become carbon neutral, although it burns 25 million trees per year and receives an annual subsidy of £1 billion, according to statements during the session.

Investors have dropped the company from their clean energy listings, added Toby Aykroyd of Wild Europe, who noted the growing public awareness of the climate, biodiversity, and health impacts of burning biomass. Taxpayer groups are also concerned that government subsidies are “misspending scarce resources on high-carbon energy that actually worsens climate change.”

Sweeping government agreements to protect forests at COP 26 “ring hollow when, in reality, forests are more at risk than ever” from the expansion of forestry biomass, explained moderator Tegan Hansen of Stand.earth. Calling biomass a renewable energy represents an enormous threat, elevating a false climate solution that receives major subsidies from many countries, she said.

Forests in the European Union are in dire condition despite misleading land use statistics which show more tree coverage, said Zoltan Kun of Griffiths University. The data capture only the size of forest, not the quality of the trees. Scientific reports show that only 14% of EU forests are in favourable conservation status, with only 2% of boreal forests in good shape.

The session concluded with questions on how to reduce the import of biomass into the EU, reduce the level of corporate and government greenwashing over the impact of biomass energy, and plug loopholes in the definition of carbon neutrality.  “We are fighting an absolutely expert executive public relations campaign that has been funded by millions of taxpayer dollars,” Menezes said, adding that the biomass and fossil fuel industries are using the same approach to sway public opinion on their value.

“It may take years to convince governments to remove their funding from this industry, which will take us well past 1.5°, and we do not have that time,” she stressed.

Deforested Tropical Soils Can Recover Quickly, But Old Growth Still Needs Protection

Soils on deforested tropical lands can recover their fertility in less than a decade, but it will still take a century for the newly-regrown trees to fully recover their carbon storage capacity and species diversity, according to a new study in the journal Science.

The research “shows that tropical forests can recover naturally and remarkably quickly on abandoned lands,” the Washington Post reports, adding that the new forest growth can have an important impact on atmospheric carbon levels. The secondary forests “are able to sequester more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than established forests, like the voracious food intake of a sprouting teen compared to that of an older adult.”

“I was totally surprised how quickly it went,” said lead author Lourens Poorter, an ecologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “These forests can recover very fast and they can do it by themselves.”

“It does provide a glimmer of hope for this process of tropical reforestation,” said conservation biologist Meg Lowman. “My only caution is that I don’t think it’s ever a substitute for the importance of saving big trees and old growth forests.”

Poorter agreed that it’s crucial to maintain current forest cover. “First, stop deforestation and conserve old growth forests,” he told the Post, adding that deforested lands’ ability to recover “is not a licence to kill.”

While older forests store more carbon dioxide than younger ones, those stocks are released when deforestation occurs. But the new information is that cleared land can recover if it’s subsequently abandoned, largely without human intervention. The subsurface soil in tropical forests “often remains relatively vibrant after deforestation, which enables a faster recovery,” the news story states. “The warmth and humidity of the tropics also allow trees to grow extremely fast, with some species climbing more than a dozen feet per year.”

In all of that activity, “the influence of humans is relatively minor compared to what nature itself is doing,” Poorter said. “The conditions are that there has to be nearby forests, and the soil can’t be too degraded.”

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Climate Candidates Win Hearts In Local Elections Across U.S.

While America’s national Democratic party struggles to get its climate message heard, down-ballot elections are proving kind to progressive candidates who link environmental initiatives clearly to the local public good.

From Massachusetts to Texas, and from Washington State to Florida, local elections for everything from mayor to utility board are paying off for candidates who make the connection between a thriving planet and thriving communities, especially the ones close to home, writes Bloomberg CityLab.

Case in point: climate activist and avowed democratic socialist Richie Floyd, who in early November secured a seat on the city council of St. Petersburg, Florida. He’d pledged to upgrade the city’s sewer system to stop the pollution that regularly produces lethal red tides out in Tampa Bay, much to the distress of the local fishing industry.

Maria Revelles, program director of Chispa Florida, a statewide climate justice group funded by the League of Conservation Voters, praised Floyd’s emphasis on the local. She told CityLab that aspiring local politicians need to be talking with local people about lost homes and livelihoods, those already happening, and those in the offing as the climate crisis ramps up. (Floyd also ran on a promise to “aggressively” transition St. Petersburg to 100% renewable energy.)

“If you’re a candidate in Tampa and don’t have a solution for the red tide, you have a problem. If you don’t talk about hurricanes getting stronger in Orlando, you’re going to have trouble on Election Day,” Revelles added.

Citing the recent election of Boston’s mayor Michelle Wu, who won with a campaign that was explicitly focused on climate and climate justice, Revelles said candidates face defeat if they don’t talk about these issues. “Business as usual is dead,” she said.

Such advice might seem to run counter to the narrative playing out at the national level given that climate change remains “a bitterly partisan issue in the U.S.,” writes CityLab.

But that narrative is shifting, as “what was once seen as an abstract threat happening over decades on a planetary scale is increasingly understood as a crisis that is playing out locally, right now, in flooded basements and broken power grids.”

CityLab cites a recent Yale report which found that “for the first time, a majority of Americans say they’ve personally experienced the impacts of climate change.”

Such painful epiphanies may well help progressive local candidates, who have traditionally been ill-supported by the national climate movement.

Lead Locally, whose roots lie in the 2015 battle against the Keystone XL pipeline, is trying to change the state of play. The group is committed to local climate campaigning, and to “educating the national climate movement about what it looks like for local leaders to win.”

Many of these local leaders—and aspiring ones—are young, and many are persons of colour whose personal backgrounds testify to the lived sincerity of their election platforms. 

One of two women of colour who ran for and won seats on Seattle’s Port Commission, Toshiko Hasegawa, invoked her own experience growing up poor in an industrial zone (her family home is beneath the airport’s flight path) in her campaign to make the city’s airport and port more sustainable. 

She did not shy away from pointing out that her then-3½-month-old baby could have her life cut short by exposure to fossil fuel emissions. “I ran to make sure we have the most vulnerable people in mind,” Hasegawa told CityLab.

With their eyes on the 2022 midterms, groups like Climate Candidates are working to train political newbies to run on climate and win. Many of the workshops they’ve held have been “party-agnostic”, CityLab says: What matters is the ability to make voters understand that the climate crisis is a local issue.

“The problem of climate change is one of democracy,” Climate Candidates co-founder Katie Walsh told CityLab, as are the solutions to the climate crisis. “You have the fossil fuel industry so heavily monopolizing our local elected officials, and we’re at a crossroads where we need to unlock the claws and the teeth of this industry, at all levels of government.”

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Company Plans To Reuse Discarded EV Batteries in Local Power Grids

Using retired electric vehicle (EV) batteries in smaller, localized power grids could be a “game-changer” for microgrid owners, say the proponents of an innovative plan to reduce grid costs and emissions.

Microgrid provider Instant On is working with NICE America Research—an incubator for China Energy that researches clean energy and other ways to move to a low-carbon economy—to put second-life EV batteries to the test with three of Instant On’s pilot projects in multi-family housing, indoor cannabis grow facilities, and a gas station microgrid, reports Microgrid Knowledge.

EV batteries retain 80% capacity even after they are taken out of service, said A.J. Perkins, president of Instant On. Although they are no longer useful for powering vehicles, they can still have effective applications in stationary storage applications at only 30% to 70% the cost of new batteries. 

But factors like climate or driving habits during a battery’s formative years will have an impact on second-life performance, leading to varying levels of battery performance. Because batteries are linked in packs to power EVs, one low-capacity battery can limit the performance of the entire array.

Although performance limitations can be weeded out by cycling and grading batteries to predetermine capacity, “grading them and estimating their state of health involves cost. You spend capital and labour to do that,” said Surinder Singh, director of engineering at NICE America Research.

The company has developed a less expensive grading system to keep second-life battery costs low.

“The key is how we can use the battery packs without disassembly or reassembly. We are spending minimal resources to get a health measurement,” Singh said.

The two companies plan to test the researchers’ new technology with Instant On’s customers.

“It is ready to go. We need to manufacture it at scale; it’s ready for commercialization. But now we need to develop the supply chain and manufacturing,” Singh said.

One priority is using second life batteries in microgrids on both sides of the meter, to help those who are subject to power outages, Singh said.

“This application has the highest potential impact to the grid and utilities,” said Perkins, adding that if a significant percentage of solar arrays became microgrids or nanogrids, it would be “a major game changer.”

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NASA to Launch 4 Earth Science Missions in 2022

How to Tell the Boss You’re Burned Out (Without Derailing Your Career)

Companies are lean, and employees have more work than ever. We’re more comfortable now talking about feeling overwhelmed, but remember: Share these feelings with your boss so you can ask for what you need.

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