Senate Vote on Climate Accountability Act Countered ‘Decades of Broken Promises’

June 30, 2021: Parliament made history and overjoyed climate and civil society groups took a victory lap as the Senate passed Canada’s first-ever climate accountability legislation, just hours before adjourning for the summer.

The Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act (Bill C-12) had passed the House of Commons less than a week before, setting the stage for senators to decide the fate of the legislation—and the years-long research, policy, and advocacy effort that brought it into being.

“The adoption of Bill C-12 by both Houses of Parliament is a groundbreaking moment and ushers Canada into a new era of accountability to its climate commitments,” said Climate Action Network-Canada (CAN-Rac) Executive Director Catherine Abreu. “After decades of broken climate promises made on the international stage, years of relentless mobilization by the climate community led to this legislative milestone. While the Bill is by no means perfect and we will work to ensure its robust implementation, this moment is a testament to people power, and a big step forward for Canadian climate action.”

“Canada finally has a climate accountability framework—now we need to implement it,” wrote Ecojustice lawyer Alan Andrews, whose organization played a pivotal role in developing the legal arguments and strategies behind the bill.

“Despite knowing for decades that climate change is a rapidly growing threat to our health, environment, communities, and economy, Canada has missed every single greenhouse gas target it has ever set,” he added. “In the absence of a climate accountability law, successive governments have faced few consequences for this ongoing failure.”

Which is why “establishing a framework to support Canada in finally meeting its pollution targets is a practical and necessary step to change this trajectory.”

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson introduced what critics saw as an “underwhelming” C-12 in the House in November, 2020. Months later, it was still languishing on the Order Paper, with few visible signs that the government planned to move it to committee for detailed study. The bill went through a requisite effort by the Conservative opposition to quash it entirely, before the Liberals and New Democrats agreed on a package of revisions and climate hawks pushed hard for further improvements.

By the time the Commons held its final vote on C-12 last week, a Senate committee was already conducting a pre-study of the bill, Senate sponsor Sen. Rosa Galvez (ISG-Quebec) was optimistic it would pass the Red Chamber, and even fossil senator Doug Black (CSG-Alberta) seemed kindly disposed to the measure.

“Kudos to the Senate and @SenRosaGalvez for getting this climate accountability bill through at the end of session,” Sussex Strategy senior counsel Shawn McCarthy tweeted late yesterday afternoon. “The bill doesn’t ensure success of Canada’s net-zero ambition but is an important tool for accountability.”

In a release, Galvez said yesterday’s vote marked a break from the Senate’s “shameful record of killing climate and environmental legislation.”

With 15 other countries already operating under comprehensive climate accountability frameworks, she added, Canada is “late to the race, and given our history of failures to meet unambitious targets, we need this methodically planned framework to hold this and all consecutive governments accountable for demonstrating how they will achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Governments will no longer be able to set climate targets without being accountable to Canadians on their plan to achieve our objectives.”

CAN-Rac, which played a central part in the legislative fight for the bill, says the final version:

• Establishes a long-term target of reaching net-zero emissions in 2050;

• Contains a legislative requirement for emissions reductions targets at five-year milestones beginning in 2030, with an interim objective in 2026;

• Requires governments to set climate targets 10 years in advance;

• Creates a framework for detailed climate policy planning and progress reporting;

• Legislates a Net-Zero Advisory Body composed of diverse stakeholders and rights-holders to advise the minister of environment and climate change on targets and plans;

• Requires the minister to consider the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in climate planning and target-setting;

• Mandates a legislative review of the bill, five years after its adoption.

“Bill C-12 is not perfect,” said Ecojustice’s Andrews. “But it does bring Canada closer to taking the action needed to stave off a climate catastrophe. Crucially, we finally have a legislative framework that will require the federal government to have a plan to meet pollution targets (and take more action if they are off track). Over time, this law can be improved if experience shows it isn’t up to the task.”

“Canada has missed every climate target it has set for itself because climate change has never been seen as a true emergency, like COVID-19,” said West Coast Environmental Law staff lawyer Andrew Gage. “The Canadian Net Zero Emissions Accountability Act will play a crucial role in Canadian climate action—and in implementing it, the government must do the tough work to figure out how to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and then follow up with the same type of action and regular reporting we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We are in a health emergency: the heat dome currently sitting over Western Canada has broken the Canadian high-temperature record for two days in a row,” said Yellowknife, NWT emergency physician Courtney Howard, past president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. “In emergency resuscitation in the ER, we use frameworks and protocols to clarify roles, set expectations, and embed data checks so our team can work in a well-coordinated and time-efficient way to save lives. We look forward to seeing even more rigour added at the five-year legislative review. As in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, we must push hard, push fast, and not stop.”

“As extreme heat overwhelms communities across the country, let us acknowledge that change is inevitable, but whether it will be orderly or catastrophic is very much under governmental control,” said Sabaa Khan, the David Suzuki Foundation’s director general for Quebec and Atlantic Canada. “Adoption of Bill C-12 would be a first, long-awaited step towards building the robust legal framework necessary to ensure that Canada’s deeply entrenched fossil fuel past does not annihilate our future.”

“Tens of thousands of people across the country demanded that our political leaders strengthen Bill C-12, and we now have a first-of-its-kind climate accountability law,” said Leadnow campaign manager Claire Gallagher. “Although the bill is not perfect, today we’re celebrating people power and a necessary step towards the kind of climate action that is long overdue in Canada.”

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Climate Stormed Back as Top Issue for Canadian Voters

July 18, 2021: Environment and climate re-emerged as a top issue for Canadian voters, while urgency around the COVID-19 pandemic declined (at least temporarily), as the country got ever closer to an expected federal election, according to data released by the non-profit Angus Reid Institute.

“Even as recently as June, the coronavirus response was the second-highest priority for the public,” Angus Reid writes. Now, with nearly 80% of the eligible population at least partially vaccinated, “just one in five Canadians say it is among their top three broad concerns for the country. In its stead, health care and climate change have risen to their own level of heightened priority, followed by key economic issues.”

The survey of 1,625 respondents showed the two top issues—environment/climate and health care—hitting the top-three list for 36% of voters, with the economy following at 31%. Coronavirus/COVID-19 response came in ninth on a list of 11 issues, at 19%. “Energy/natural resources/pipelines” placed dead last Canada-wide, at 13%.

The survey, conducted July 14-16, is considered accurate within a margin for error of +/-2%, 19 times out of 20.

The Angus Reid report tracks the prominence of the key vote-determining issues back to the second quarter of 2020, when the pandemic was just beginning. Environment and climate held steady through the entire period in third or fourth place, never showing up below 25 or above 30% of respondents—until this month’s quarterly survey. Over the same time span, First Nations/Indigenous issues rose from below 10% in the second quarter of 2020 to 23% today. The pandemic peaked at about 47% toward the end of last year.

In the latest quarterly results, environment and climate placed first in British Columbia, with 43% of respondents listing it as one of their top three issues, second in Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic provinces, and third in Manitoba, at 30%. Energy, resources, and pipelines came in second in Alberta, at 43%, with the economy placing slightly ahead at 45%.

Environment and climate is the top issue for likely Liberal and NDP voters, at 47 and 55%, respectively, and placed second after health care among Bloc Québécois supporters, at 49%, Angus Reid found. It fell below the top three for Conservative Party of Canada voters.

The party standings in the survey show a statistical tie between the Liberals at 33% and the Conservatives at 31%, with the New Democrats at 20%, the Green Party at 3%, and the Bloc picking up 31% in Quebec. Those results contrasted with an Abacus Data poll late last month that showed the Liberals at 37%, the Conservatives at 25%, and the NDP at 20%. Abacus also showed the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc expanding their pool of “accessible voters”—people who might consider voting for them—while the Conservatives and Greens saw their shares decline.

32 Arrested at Pipeline Blockade as B.C. Diverted 50 RCMP from Emergency Flood Response

November 21, 2021: Heavily-armed RCMP agents stormed an Indigenous blockade and arrested 32 people, including Gidimt’en Clan spokesperson Sleydo’ (Molly Wickham) and two journalists, in another escalation of the dispute over construction of the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline through unceded Wet’suwet’en territory.

The raid came days after members of the Gidimt’en Clan issued an eviction order, cut off access to a key pipeline work site, and gave construction crews eight hours to “peacefully evacuate” the area before the main road into the Lhudis Bin territory was closed at 1 PM.

The clan members had set up the Coyote Camp September 25 on the CGL work site south of Houston, B.C., “halting plans to drill under the Wedzin Kwa (Morice River),” CBC said last week. Sleydo’ had called the river “the major concern”, adding that enforcement of the eviction notice was “the next step” to protect the Wet’suwet’en sacred headwaters, salmon spawning river, and source of clean drinking water.

But on Friday, RCMP broke down the door of the camp and “arrested multiple occupants—including two who police say identified themselves as journalists,” CBC writes.

The Gidimt’en Checkpoint delivered a more complete and vivid account of the raid in a release Saturday.

“Police were deployed in military garb, armed with assault weapons and dog teams, and enforced a media and communications blackout at the site,” the release stated. “First, a cabin was breached with an axe and dog unit. Moments later, a separate cabin built on Coastal GasLink’s proposed drill pad site was breached with a chainsaw and snipers aimed at the door. RCMP did not have warrants required to enter either dwelling. After raiding Coyote Camp, police swept through Gidimt’en Checkpoint and made four more arrests, including Sleydo’s partner, Cody Merriman (Haida nation), legal observers, and accredited journalists who were there to witness the events.”

The release gave a total count of 32 arrested.

“The Wet’suwet’en people, under the governance of their hereditary chiefs, are standing in the way of the largest fracking project in Canadian history,” Sleydo’ said in a statement prior to her arrest. “Our medicines, our berries, our food, the animals, our water, our culture, our homes are all here since time immemorial. We will never abandon our children to live in a world with no clean water. We uphold our ancestral responsibilities. There will be no pipelines on Wet’suwet’en territory.”

The release said “solidarity actions” had taken place in Burnaby, B.C., Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Montreal, and Victoria, along with a rail blockade in New Hazelton, B.C., with more expected over the weekend. The Checkpoint’s Twitter account has photos of rallies in Peterborough and Guelph, as well as video of the arrests Friday.

In a searing email to supporters, Dogwood Communications Director Kai Nagata said the “mask is off” on the B.C. government’s priorities in a climate emergency.

“While rescue teams searched for bodies, and soldiers filled sandbags in Abbotsford, police dressed up like soldiers spent the week serving as mercenaries for the Coastal GasLink pipeline,” he wrote. “A squad of at least 50 heavily-armed RCMP officers, flown in from detachments around the province, headed north to arrest Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en people on their own land.”

The “diversion of public safety resources, during a provincial state of emergency, had to have been authorized by cabinet ministers,” Nagata added. “The B.C. government is going all-in to build LNG Canada, a fracked gas megaproject that would ensure tomorrow’s climate disasters are even more deadly and destructive,” and was brought to life by more than $5 billion in provincial subsidies.

The Canadian Association of Journalists identified two of those arrested as Amber Bracken, an award-winning reporter for The Narwhal, and documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano. Their treatment “marks just the latest in a long string of illegal RCMP actions against journalists,” Narwhal Editor-in-Chief Emma Gilchrist wrote in a Sunday afternoon email. “Let’s be clear: journalists play an essential role in bearing witness in a democracy and have a charter right to report from within injunction zones,” and “the RCMP needs to be held accountable for their repeated violations of the rights of Canadian journalists.”

Dogwood is urging supporters to call a B.C. cabinet minister and “hold them responsible for “using a climate disaster to force through a pipeline” while 17,000 people are evacuated from their homes. The Narwhal is looking for letters to federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, calling on him to “exercise his oversight responsibility of the RCMP to correct these serious violations of press freedoms.”

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Prairie Drought Could Threaten Global Food Supplies

August 5, 2021: An ongoing drought in Canada’s prairie provinces devastated farms and revealed potential future repercussions for both the global and domestic food systems. 

“It’s going to take longer for the realization of how bad things are today to fully flow out to the plethora of crop users around the world,” writes The Western Producer. 

Meanwhile, Global News says a drought impacts report recently issued by Statistics Canada “pointed to record-high temperatures and a lack of rainfall as having debilitating effects on farmers’ abilities to produce.” In Alberta, for example, only 36.6% crops are listed as “good to excellent,” compared to the five-year average of 74.1%. The report notes a general concern among farmers that the drought comes at “at the worst time of crop development,” as some crops are either maturing faster than normal or stagnating. 

Ranchers across the prairies are struggling, as well, as grazing lands and hay crops yield less feed than usual. With limited supply, demand for feed is driving up prices and pushing producers to sell their cattle, writes CBC. 

“Twenty-five percent to half of our cow herd is just going to disappear with the drought…and the feed scenario that we’re in,” said Donnie Peacock, an auctioneer in Saskatchewan. He told CBC producers are selling off calves earlier than usual, and even parting with their breeding cows.

The ramifications of these desperate sales will affect ranchers beyond just losing their herd, CBC notes. Prices are dropping as cows flood the market, but when demand rises as producers move to rebuild their herds, they could soar. That has left farmers—already struggling to make it through the current season—worrying what will happen if next year is also dry.

“It’s kind of a generational, traumatic experience for a lot of people in our cattle industry,” Peacock told CBC. “We have a lot of people that are going to be making decisions that are lifelong changing right now.” 

Losses from the drought will also affect buyers downstream. Reuters says bakers are already paying higher prices for dwindling red spring wheat—when they can find it—and bread prices are expected to increase as much as 6.5% by year’s end. 

There will be international impacts, as well. Canada is the world’s largest producer of some crops, like canola, and is among the top 10 beef exporting countries in the world, reports the New York Times. Reuters notes that North America’s red spring wheat harvest accounts for more than half of the world’s supply. 

Deadly Western Heat Dome Was ‘Virtually Impossible’ Without Climate Change

July 7, 2021: Less than a week after a deadly “heat dome” devastated western Canada and the U.S. Pacific Northwest and burned Lytton, B.C. to the ground, an international science team reported that the blistering conditions would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change.

“Climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, made the heat wave at least 150 times more likely to happen,” the World Weather Attribution Network said in a release.

“An event such as the Pacific Northwest 2021 heat wave is still rare or extremely rare in today’s climate, yet would be virtually impossible without human-caused climate change,” the 27-member research team declared in a paper published late yesterday. “In the most realistic statistical analysis the event is estimated to be about a 1 in 1000 year event in today’s climate,” but “as warming continues, it will become a lot less rare.”

They add that the estimate of hundreds of premature deaths in the heat wave to date is “alarming”, but “likely a severe undercount” until health statisticians have a chance to review mortality data and factor in the impact for people with underlying conditions.

“What we are seeing is unprecedented,” said Friederike Otto, associate director of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. “You’re not supposed to break records by four or five degrees Celsius (seven to nine degrees Fahrenheit). This is such an exceptional event that we can’t rule out the possibility that we’re experiencing heat extremes today that we only expected to come at higher levels of global warming.”

“While we expect heat waves to become more frequent and intense, it was unexpected to see such levels of heat in this region,” added Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, senior researcher at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. “It raises serious questions whether we really understand how climate change is making heat waves hotter and more deadly.”

The study results, based on a comparison with historical climate records, “provide a strong warning: our rapidly warming climate is bringing us into uncharted territory that has significant consequences for health, well-being, and livelihoods,” the scientists said. “Adaptation and mitigation are urgently needed to prepare societies for a very different future. Adaptation measures need to be much more ambitious and take account of the rising risk of heat waves around the world, including surprises such as this unexpected extreme.”

And “greenhouse gas mitigation goals should take into account the increasing risks associated with unprecedented climate conditions if warming would be allowed to continue.”

Every heat wave that takes place today “is made more likely and more intense by climate change,” the WWAN release explained. But this time, “the extreme temperatures experienced were far outside the range of past observed temperatures, making it difficult to quantify exactly how rare the event is in the current climate and would have been without human-caused climate change.”

They did, however, conclude that it would have been “virtually impossible” without the climate-warming impacts of human activity.

The review covered a stretch of B.C., Oregon, and Washington State that included the cities of Vancouver, Portland, and Seattle, with a combined population of more than nine million people who sweltered and suffered through temperatures as high as 49.6°C. It looked at the “slow-moving strong high pressure system” that settled in over the area, bringing warm, dry air along with clear skies that led to higher near-surface temperatures.

The science team came up with two possible pathways by which climate change made the extraordinary heat more likely. One possibility is that climate change, combined with the heat dome plus pre-existing drought, made the heat wave more likely, but still a “very unusual event,” the release states. The second is that the global climate system “has crossed a non-linear threshold where a small amount of overall global warming is now causing a faster rise in extreme temperatures than has been observed so far.”

The scientists called for further research to sort out which interpretation is right.

“Based on this first rapid analysis, we cannot say whether this was a so-called ‘freak’ event…that largely occurred by chance, or whether our changing climate altered conditions conducive to heat waves in the Pacific Northwest, which would imply that ‘bad luck’ played a smaller role and this type of event would be more frequent in our current climate,” the scientists write.

But “in either case, the future will be characterized by more frequent, more severe, and longer heat waves, highlighting the importance of significantly reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the amount of additional warming.”

While the Attribution Network focused its attention on the western heat dome, a new modelling study published this week in the journal Nature Communications points to greenhouse gas emissions and land use changes as “a key factor in extreme precipitation events such as flooding and landslides around the world,” The Guardian reports.

“Up till now, work in this field has been restricted to countries, rather than applied globally,” the news story explains. In the new study, a UCLA research team used machine learning to tell a wider story. “By examining multiple data sets of observed precipitation, the researchers were able to build a global picture, and found evidence of human activity affecting extreme precipitation in all of them.”

While some areas see increased drought as a result of climate change, “the dominant mechanism [driving extreme precipitation] for most regions around the world is that warmer air can hold more water vapour,” said lead researcher Gavin Madakumbura. “This fuels storms.”

Canada Must Leave 83% of Fossil Fuels in the Ground in Latest 1.5°C Scenario

September 9, 2021: Canada must leave 83% of its fossil fuel reserves and 84% of its tar sands/oil sands in the ground if the world is to have even a 50% chance of holding average global warming to 1.5°C, according to a paper published in the prestigious journal Nature.

The figures were part of a global calculation that called for oil and gas production across all regions to fall 3% per year through 2050, the paper stated. And the authors say the actual cuts will probably have to be faster and deeper.

Even the 3% annual target “implies that most regions must reach peak production now or during the next decade, rendering many operational and planned fossil fuel projects unviable,” write authors Dan Welsby, James Price, Steve Pye, and Paul Ekins of University College London (UCL). But “we probably present an underestimate of the production changes required, because a greater than 50% probability of limiting warming to 1.5°C requires more carbon to stay in the ground, and because of uncertainties around the timely deployment of negative emission technologies at scale.”

The targets in this week’s release are much deeper than the estimates in a 2015 analysis, of which Ekins was a co-author, based on a 2.0°C target for average global warming, the new paper says. They come at a time when “existing fossil fuel infrastructure already places a 1.5°C target at risk owing to implied ‘committed’ future CO2 emissions.”

“The inescapable evidence that hopefully we’ve shown and that successive reports have shown is that if you want to meet 1.5°C, then global production has to start declining,” Welsby told Inside Climate News.

“It is abundantly clear from this and other work that the conversation now is about declining production,” added Greg Muttitt, senior policy advisor at the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development. “It’s about leaving fossil fuel reserves in the ground.”

Overall, the authors say 58% of the world’s oil reserves, 59% of all gas, and 89% of all coal will be “unextractable” in their 1.5°C scenario. Canada faces a faster, deeper cut than most other regions, based on its high production costs for a polluting form of oil and its limited influence over world oil and gas markets. Middle Eastern countries and former Soviet states will see their production decline, but not as steeply, so that they retain an above-average share of the remaining oil and gas production.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation says Australia will be in a similar position.

“The United States is the only region that would see oil production increase from current levels, to about where it was before the pandemic, before peaking within a few years and then declining steadily,” Inside Climate writes. “U.S. natural gas production, however, would see an immediate and sharp decline in the paper’s scenario as renewable energy sources displace gas for generating electricity.”

Across all countries, “the plateauing of production and subsequent decline will mean that large amounts of fossil fuel reserves, prospects that are seen today as economic, will never be extracted,” the paper states. “This has important implications for producers who may be banking on monetizing those reserves in the future, and current and prospective investors. Investments made today in fossil fuel energy therefore risk being stranded.”

However, “there continues to be a disconnect between the production outlook of different countries and corporate entities and the necessary pathway to limit average temperature increases,” the four authors add. “The extent of fossil fuel decline in the coming decades remains uncertain, influenced by factors such as the rapidity of the rollout of clean technologies and decisions about the retirement of (and new investment in) fossil fuel infrastructure.”

One of those factors is the extent to which carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies become practical and affordable, in time to contribute to a 1.5°C future. “The possible extent of CDR further complicates this picture,” the authors write. “At high levels, this may allow for more persistent use of fossil fuels, but such assumptions have attracted considerable controversy.”

Canada Helped Prod IEA for Net-Zero Pathway

May 21, 2021: Canada played an important behind-the-scenes role in prodding the International Energy Agency to develop its landmark Net-Zero by 2050 pathway, while the Trump administration would have been in a position to exert outsized influence on the IEA’s governing board to obstruct progress, The Energy Mix learned in May.

In the days after the IEA’s Tuesday morning release, climate policy analysts and campaigners found themselves absorbing the magnitude of the win. And fossil-dependent governments like Alberta’s were in the unfamiliar position of trying to dismiss the agency’s analysis, rather than using it to bolster further investment in oil, gas, and coal.

According to participants in a five-year coalition campaign to align the IEA’s analysis with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, Canada was one of several member countries that helped shift the agency’s work in that direction.

“I can say that Canada was reasonably active in pushing the IEA to develop a 1.5°C scenario from quite early on, including ministerial letters to the IEA as well as to peer member states,” said one close observer of the process, who declined to be identified. “So on this front, they have been helpful.”

“There have been governments behind the scenes over the years, requesting that the IEA move in this direction,” agreed Kelly Trout, interim director of Oil Change International’s energy transitions and futures program. Along with Canada, Trout cited Germany, Spain, Denmark, and France, as well as the United Kingdom, which commissioned this week’s net-zero report in its role as president of this year’s United Nations climate change conference, COP 26.

But under the IEA’s arcane rules of operation, The Mix has learned, those countries’ combined influence could have been outweighed by the U.S. government, which holds one-quarter of the votes on the Paris-based agency’s governing board. While no one is saying explicitly that the Trump administration actively obstructed the IEA’s embrace of a net-zero pathway, getting to this point “has not been easy,” Bloomberg Green wrote Tuesday morning.

“For years, environmental groups and climate activists have been demanding the IEA produce a full-scale pathway for getting to net-zero by 2050,” said veteran climate reporters Akshat Rathi and Eric Roston. But “as an agency that only answers to ministers of rich countries, it’s had to wait until the majority of its members committed to that goal, with the U.S.—the IEA’s biggest funder—joining the list last month.”

One analyst said earlier drafts of the report were out for peer review as late as April, and “didn’t actually include any of the language around no new oil and gas builds or coal mines.” So “it was more of a surprise in the lead-up to the report release to find that was actually something they were saying.”

That much more so, perhaps, given that one country, the United States, holds 46 out of 184 votes on the IEA’s governing board.

First adopted in 1974, the 116-page International Energy Programme Agreement [pdf] that guides the Paris-based agency’s operations assigns three “general voting weight” votes to each of its 28 member countries. But after that, the governments divide up another 100 votes based on their oil consumption. The U.S. receives 43 of the oil consumption votes and 46 in total, followed by Japan with 17, Germany with 11, France with nine, and the UK with eight.

Which means that, if a policy matter like the IEA’s net-zero pathway had been brought before the governing board for a decision, the U.S. could have outvoted the six countries Trout identified as net-zero leaders—Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, and the UK—by a margin of 46 to 44.

That didn’t necessarily mean the IEA staff were waiting for the Biden administration’s blessing. But “I think it is fair to say that the change in the U.S. administration was another opening that made this shift from the IEA more likely,” Trout said. “It’s been years that the IEA has been facing increasing pressure around this, and I think it had come to a breaking point. Not only were a number of the IEA member governments saying they were committed to 1.5°. The IEA was also hearing it from investors.”

With Oil Change’s #FixTheWEO coalition carrying the fight, and international luminaries like former UN climate secretary Christiana Figueres and Spanish environmental transition minister Teresa Ribera turning up the heat, the IEA “finally decided it had to produce this 1.5°-aligned scenario to prove its credibility on climate,” she added.

For its part, the IEA takes pride in what it sees as the independence and transparency of its analysis and has cast the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS), a secondary energy future that it maps out in its annual World Energy Outlook (WEO), as being compliant with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

For years, however, while the agency styled the WEO as the “gold standard of energy analysis”, IEA-watchers in the climate community and beyond said the agency’s work was being used to justify hundreds of billions or trillions of dollars of new fossil infrastructure, with ample commentary from fossil companies, large investors, and fossil-friendly governments to back that up. The IEA steadfastly maintained that the WEO was a projection, not a prediction, essentially arguing that it was just an unfortunate misunderstanding if decision-makers were assuming otherwise.

But “if you look at oil and gas company annual reports, you’ll see constant references to IEA scenarios, including references to the SDS, claiming that even in the IEA’s climate scenario, we need to keep investing in new oil and gas fields,” Trout said. Now, “there will be a shift. If companies are serious about 1.5°, they’d better adjust their plans to the IEA’s new scenario that actually aligns with that.”

In the immediate aftermath of the IEA release, campaign groups like Oil Change took a victory lap, but still chided the IEA for (even now) understating the potential growth of renewable energy and relying instead on exotic, expensive options like carbon capture and storage. But it may turn out that the shift in the IEA’s modelling approach was just as important as the conclusions the agency reached.

“This is a backcast, not a forecast, and that’s a major shift,” said Ralph Torrie, research director at Toronto-based Corporate Knights. “Asking what has to happen to stay within 1.5°C is a real game-changer. That question makes a world of difference in where you end up, because now you have no choice but to push really hard on anything that will help you get to 1.5.”

Even though the IEA roadmap ends up with some fossil fuel consumption in 2050, the agency’s “path between here and 2030 is all about the options we already have in hand, like energy efficiency and electric vehicles and heat pumps,” Torrie told The Mix. “If you achieved the short-term levels of efficiency and renewables that are in this report, the transition would start to snowball in a way that would shift the need for those longer-term, more expensive, riskier options.”

While the IEA’s analysis “may not recognize the full potential available to reduce energy demand,” added Anna Milner, manager of government and stakeholder relations at Passive House Canada, the report still contains a “recognition of what’s required to achieve our climate targets in the building sector for new buildings and retrofits. It’s also great to see embodied carbon identified as a key area to target emissions reductions.”

Milner said zero-carbon buildings “can and are being built now,” with energy savings of 90% in new construction and 75% in retrofits. “It’s more cost- and energy-efficient to target our end goal as soon as possible, given the time and investments required to transform the building sector and see Canada achieve our targets.”

On The Weather Network, leading U.S. climate scientist Michael Mann and renewable energy researcher Mark Z. Jacobson said the roadmap could and should have pushed all the way to 100% renewables by mid-century.

But “the gap between 100% efficiency and renewables and where the IEA has gone is a lot smaller at this point than the gap between where we are and where they’ve gone,” Torrie said. “They’re aiming for 80% renewables, others are saying 100%, and meanwhile, we’re stuck at 25. So rather than focusing on 80 versus 100, we should be talking about 25 versus either of those numbers. Let’s figure out how we’re going to get on with the next mile, which is the next important one. Because the action items I see in this report are not timid.”

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Alberta MLA May Face Law Society Complaint for Overheated Claim Against Climate Campaigns

An MLA in Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government may soon face a complaint to the Law Society of Alberta, after drastically overstating the dollars from foreign donors that went into anti-tar sands/oil sands campaigns in the province, The Energy Mix has learned.

The challenge to MLA Nicholas Milliken (UCP, Calgary-Currie) comes from former provincial Liberal Party leader David Khan, now a Calgary-based senior staff lawyer with Ecojustice. It centres on Milliken’s Friday tweet that “hundreds of millions of foreign dollars have been used to target the development of our province’s oil and gas industry”.

That figure was apparently Milliken’s take on the long-awaited, long-delayed report from Steve Allan, the UCP loyalist whose commission of inquiry was supposed to look at supposed foreign-funded influence over Alberta’s fossil industry. Unfortunately for Milliken, his numbers didn’t quite match up with Allan’s.

“While [Allan] finds that at least C$1.28 billion flowed into Canadian environmental charities from the United States between 2003 and 2019, only a small portion of that has been directed against the oilsands,” The Canadian Press writes. “Auditors Deloitte Forensic Inc. estimate that money at between $37.5 million and $58.9 million over that period — which averages to $3.5 million a year at most.”

By comparison, the Kenney government’s hapless fossil industry “war room” has received up to $30 million per year in taxpayer funding. Allan found that pro-fossil forces in Alberta took in at least $1.6 million per year, CP says, and Khan noted that the tar sands/oil sands themselves are 70% foreign-owned.

Nor did Allan find fault with the environmental groups he spent years looking into. “To be very clear, I have not found any suggestions of wrongdoing on the part of any individual or organization,” he concluded. “No individual or organization, in my view, has done anything illegal. Indeed, they have exercised their rights of free speech.”

The disconnect in Milliken’s numbers didn’t sit at all well with Khan, who’s vowing to take action if the MLA, an active lawyer on the Law Society rolls, doesn’t dial back the rhetoric.

“This is a lie, and I am going to consider reporting you to the Law Society of Alberta for wilfully promoting misinformation based on an Alberta government public inquiry report that found otherwise, Mr Milliken, Esquire,” Khan tweeted Saturday. “As a member of the bar (& MLA), you have a duty to not lie.”

With that gauntlet formally laid down, “I’m going to put out one more tweet and wait until Monday, asking him to retract and apologize. Normally, we should resolve these things among ourselves,” Khan told The Mix yesterday. If Milliken declines or ignores the request, “there have to be consequences. Lying sounds like a harsh word to use, but I can’t think of anything less direct that encompasses the actions they’ve taken.”

Milliken did not return a call and email requesting comment. An Allan spokesperson sent a prepared statement indicating that the commissioner would have no further comment on any aspect of the report.

A distillation of Deloitte’s work for the Allan report, obtained by The Mix, shows Canadian environmental charities receiving $8.1 billion from all sources over the study period, including $925 million from foreign sources. Non-Canadian environmental charities raised another $353 million for initiatives related to Canada, and Allan got his total of $1.28 billion by combining the two.

But Khan and others note that the totals include nearly $450 million that went to Ducks Unlimited, a non-profit dedicated to buying and preserving wetlands—and currently led by Larry Kaumeyer, a former principal secretary and interim chief of staff to Kenney.

While Khan is focusing his attention on Milliken at the moment, he pointed to similar tweets from Kenney, Energy Minister Sonya Savage, the United Conservative Party caucus, and other UCP representatives, in what could be interpreted as a coordinated online campaign.

“It’s been really shocking to me that a government would push out false claims, lies essentially, based on a report they commissioned which came to different conclusions,” he said. “Rather than respect the commissioner and the report they paid for and commissioned, which was Mr. Kenney’s idea, they’ve decided to push out the same narrative they’ve been flogging like a dead horse for years.”

Despite Allan’s findings to the contrary, “they’ve made no changes to their conspiracy theory about this vast network of evil environmentalists”—even though one of the principal sources of that theory, Vancouver blogger Vivian Krause, has since walked much of it back.

“What’s been most disturbing is that they’re using the figure that our Canadian environmental organizations have received in U.S. funding and conflating that with the very tiny amount of money that went to the anti-oilsands campaign which was never hidden, was never a conspiracy,” Khan added. “These people in a position of power are getting away with lying about something fundamental to our province and our future, and lying about something they spent so much time trying to prove, that the commissioner essentially disproved.”

Khan said he was concerned about that activity as a member of the legal profession, and acknowledged he might be more attuned to it because of his own time as a provincial party leader.

“I know how the sausage is made, I guess, and I was involved for three years at the highest level of provincial politics,” he told The Mix. “So I know all the players, I know how they operate.” But even so, “the confluence of it all was absolutely shocking to me,” particularly the apparent coordination across multiple Twitter accounts.

“Essentially, it’s misinformation from the highest levels of the Alberta government, the party in power, and the premier and leaders,” he said. “So it’s incredibly disturbing.”

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New Zealand Became First Country to Set Climate Disclosure Rules for Big Investors

April 18, 2021: In a world first, New Zealand will require all its biggest banks, insurance companies, and investment managers to report the climate impacts of their business activities.

“We simply cannot get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 unless the financial sector knows what impact their investments are having on the climate,” Minister of Climate Change James Shaw said in a statement. “This law will bring climate risks and resilience into the heart of financial and business decision making.”

The new rule, introduced last week, applies to banks with assets above NZ$1 billion, insurers with more than $1 billion under management, and all equity and debt issuers listed on the New Zealand stock exchange, Reuters reports. It’s expected to mandate disclosures from about 200 companies beginning with the 2022 business year, which means company reports will begin showing up in 2023.

The news goes back to New Zealand’s promise in September, 2000 to introduce mandatory climate risk reporting requirements based on the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Risk Disclosures (TCFD). “New Zealand has made a leap in the right direction to safeguard its businesses and financial market for the future,” Michael Zimonyi, policy and external affairs director at the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, said at the time. “Now the real work begins of ensuring that businesses have the skills needed to implement these new requirements.”

Reuters notes that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called the climate crisis the “nuclear-free moment of our generation”. Her government “has introduced several policies to lower emissions during its second term, including promising to make its public sector carbon-neutral by 2025 and buy only zero-emissions public transport buses from the middle of this decade,” the news agency writes.

In 2019, the country legislated a net-zero target by 2050, after promising that it would apply to all greenhouse gases except methane.

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Major Canadian Solar Firm Denied Reports of Forced Labour

January 31, 2021: A Canadian solar company claimed no Uyghurs were employed at its 30-MW solar farm in China’s Xinjiang region, nor were any members of the persecuted Muslim community being forced into labour anywhere along its solar supply chain. But human rights observers said that last assertion didn’t stand up to the evidence.

Guelph, Ontario-based Canadian Solar claims that all of the seven people who work at its solar farm in Xinjiang are ethnic Han, “the majority group in China that make up more than 90% of the population,” writes the Globe and Mail. And despite widespread reports of abuse in the industry, a representative for Canadian Solar told the Globe the company “doesn’t believe ‘there is forced labour in our industry’.”

On the contrary, said company representative Isabel Zhang, the international spotlight on the persecution of Uyghurs stands to hurt the community. “The media narrative is not helpful for companies that don’t support forced labour, that wouldn’t engage in forced labour—because we would really think twice if we are employing Uyghur labour,” she said. “In a way, that’s actually bad for the Uyghur ethnicity.” 

That logic doesn’t stand up in the face of the corroboration, however. “Evidence for involuntary employment in Xinjiang come from numerous official documents about transfers of ‘rural surplus labourers’ as well as the existence of manufacturing plants alongside, and sometimes inside, fenced detention facilities,” writes the Globe. Personal testimonials from Uyghurs have also played a role.

The international outcry has led the Canadian government to propose a law requiring companies seeking federal trade commission assistance in China to supply a “Xinjiang Integrity Declaration.” Ottawa has also formally advised companies working in China that they face legal risks and “reputational damage related to their supply chains if it is discovered that they are sourcing from entities that employ forced labour.”

As for Canadian Solar’s assurances, any denial of the potential for forced labour in the solar supply chain “defies belief,” said Nathan Picarsic, co-founder of Horizon Advisory, which is currently gathering evidence of forced labour throughout the polysilicon supply chain in the Xinjiang region. 

More than a third of this critical solar panel component is produced in Xinjiang, by four of the world’s top manufacturers of the material. Horizon found that these companies “‘appear actively to participate in the resettlement of ethnic Uyghurs from poor areas of Xinjiang’ and ‘contribute to and implement re-education programs that impose political and military training on resettled populations’,” the Globe reports. The company explicitly named Canadian Solar as a buyer as recently as 2019.

Even if Canadian Solar comes through in its stated intent to audit its supply chains, that work is getting more difficult. “Numerous international audit groups have said publicly they will no longer work in Xinjiang, where authorities have used tools of surveillance and law enforcement to interfere with visits by outsiders,” the Globe writes.