A ‘green wave’ in America
There may be just the teensiest bit of boosterism in that characterization, but there’s no doubt that clean energy and climate champions did remarkably well and many key deniers were defeated (strange, isn’t it, that climate and election deniers so perfectly overlap?).
On Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden gave special thanks “to the young people of this country who voted to continue to address the climate crisis.” Overall, Democrats dramatically exceeded expectations and the MAGA wave didn’t materialize. Analysts will be parsing the issues and results for months to come (many of them with egg on their faces), but a lot of credit goes to GenZ and young voters reshaping politics.
Climate-forward candidates did well at the national level and most of the League of Conservation Voters’ “Dirty Dozen” have already been defeated — several more are in races yet to be decided.
But the state results may be even more important. Nowhere more relevant for Canada-U.S. relations than the results in Michigan. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer led the fight against Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline under the Great Lakes and has championed a transition to clean energy. She won decisively, despite a barrage of Big Oil money.
In fact, pro-environment Democrats swept the state, winning majorities in both the House and Senate as well as the attorney general’s office and secretary of state — “stunning victories against the Enbridge-driven spending,” declared the Sierra Club. (Someone should really alert the Alberta War Room about foreign meddling.)
At least 17 governors have been elected on climate platforms so far. Put together, their plans aim for an 80 per cent reduction in their states’ climate pollution.
“Candidates leaned into their clean energy leadership across the country. And won!” says Jamal Raad, the co-founder and executive director of Evergreen Action. His organization was at the forefront of civil society efforts to pass the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and mobilize hundreds of billions in investments.
You might have expected Republicans to campaign hard against that enormous spending on climate as they have in the past, flooding the airwaves with attack ads or hammering incessantly against “boondoggle” support for solar and renewable energy. But they barely mentioned it during the campaign and ignored it entirely in their advertising.
“We got the federal investments done with the (IRA),” says Raad. And, whatever happens in the U.S. Congress, the next important steps are executive, not legislative.
“Now we need strong standards in the most polluting sectors of the economy — clean electricity, clean buildings and cars. And governors and the White House have immense authority to engage in that work.”
Stand up to Big Oil, get elected
Across America, candidates who sued Big Oil got re-elected, promoted or helped successors into office to continue prosecuting the cases. That trend held from Minnesota through Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, D.C.
One leading example is Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who sued ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and Koch Industries over their decades-long misinformation campaigns. He campaigned and won on protecting Minnesotans “from corporate fraud and deception by Big Tobacco, Big Pharma and now Big Oil."
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the whole midterm cycle came in Pennsylvania where the Carhartt-hoodied, cargo-shorted, stroke-surviving giant John Fetterman, won the Senate race over snake-oil-peddling, stroke-victim-mocking, Trump-darling Dr. Oz.
Fetterman memorably called out Dr. Oz as a simp for Big Oil: “We don’t need any more simps for Big Oil in Congress — there are plenty already. We need leaders who will go after the corporations that are ripping us off.”
Climate hawks are keen to make the point that candidates shouldn’t just defend their records, but go on the offensive: “All told, one lesson to take away from this election: standing with people over polluters will get you places,” says Emily Sanders from the Center for Climate Integrity.
It might sound hyperbolic to call the U.S. midterms a “green wave.” And there are certainly exceptions. Florida is slipping beneath rising seas, still recovering from hurricane Ian, just got hit by a rare November hurricane and went solidly red — “Florida is where woke goes to die,” proclaimed Gov. Ron DeSantis. Congress is likely to be split if not controlled by climate delayers.
But organizers are brimming with newfound confidence. Everything was supposedly stacked against them — typical midterm voting patterns, inflation, gas prices and a nationwide, months-long drumbeat of punditry predicting a bloodbath.
We’ll turn to the news from COP27 in Egypt in just a moment. But it’s not often we get encouraging news about American democracy, so let’s bask in it a bit. Here’s a race that hasn’t gotten much attention — it’s not decided as I write this, but Mary Peltola is Yup'ik, the first Indigenous member of Congress from Alaska. She’s running on a “pro-fish, pro-choice, pro-family” platform. And look at that sizable lead over Sarah “Drill, baby, Drill” Palin.
Loss and damage
The annual climate summit is underway in Egypt and, for the first time, delegates formally agreed to discuss mechanisms for big polluters to address the “loss and damage” inflicted on countries suffering climate impacts. Europe and the U.S. have blocked loss and damage from the agenda in previous COPs.
UN Secretary General António Guterres kicked off the talks calling on countries to impose windfall taxes on fossil fuel companies to be directed to those suffering. “We must acknowledge a harsh truth: there is no adapting to a growing number of catastrophic events causing enormous suffering around the world,” he said. “Loss and damage can no longer be swept under the rug.”
Catherine McKenna, Canada’s former environment minister, was tasked by the UN to lead a team investigating net-zero greenwashing. McKenna announced recommendations on Tuesday clarifying the “price of admission” for net-zero promises: “You can’t be a climate leader and invest in new fossil fuel projects … you can’t use credits to meet emissions reduction goals … you can’t reduce emissions intensity instead of absolute emissions reductions.”
Among other points, the UN High-Level Expert Group defines credible net-zero pledges as:
- No new oil, gas and coal projects and no new money for fossil fuels.
- Actual emissions reductions instead of offsets.
- Cutting emissions across the supply chain, including Scope 3 emissions.
- No lobbying to undermine policies, either directly or through business associations.
Perhaps it’s too obvious to need saying, but among all of the advertisements you’re seeing from Canada’s big banks and oil companies touting net-zero pledges, none come anywhere close to these criteria for credibility.
The UN secretary general accepted the recommendations from McKenna’s team saying: “Using bogus net-zero pledges to cover up massive fossil fuel expansion is reprehensible. It is rank deception. The sham must end.”
As Shawn McCarthy writes: “It will now be up to the thousands of advocates in business, environmental groups, government and politics to take those criteria and see that they are given some teeth.”
Fossil fuel treaty
John Woodside is in Egypt covering the talks for Canada’s National Observer. He reports that Tuvalu has joined “the chorus of nations, cities, Nobel laureates, and others demanding coal, oil and gas be phased out.”
“We all know that the leading cause of the climate crisis is fossil fuels,” Prime Minister Kausea Natano said. “Tuvalu has joined Vanuatu and other nations in calling for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to steer our development model to pursue renewables and a just transition away from fossil fuels.”
Many island states called for windfall taxes to expedite the end of fossil fuels. The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda quoted Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”
The atmospheric scoreboard
Barry Saxifrage released his annual chart-filled assessment of COPs and the climate: “Notice that the most extreme CO2 acceleration happened in the most recent decade. That record surge happened despite the marquee Paris Agreement and a global pandemic shutdown.”
Fossil fuel lobbyists
Fossil fuel lobbyists are “swarming” COP27, says Julia Levin from Environmental Defence. Thirty countries have them as official members of their national delegations and Global Witness puts the tally at 636 in total, up from 503 at last year’s summit.
Here are the countries with the most in their official delegation:
There are a lot more than eight Canadian lobbyists at COP, including several from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and at least one lobbying for meat and dairy. John Woodside caught a couple on camera (note the pink badge — indicating Canada’s official delegation).
Well, you might ask, is it fair to categorize an RBC vice-president as a fossil fuel lobbyist? Especially someone with a background as a distinguished journalist and editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail?
We shouldn’t make things personal, so let’s just look at RBC as a company: this year, just one year after signing onto net-zero banking alliances, RBC’s fossil fuel financing has soared.
“We're seeing a year-on-year increase from 2021 to 2022 in terms of fossil fuel financing, both in terms of underwriting and lending, and we're also seeing that the money they're managing on behalf of clients … they're putting more of that into fossil fuels as well,” Stand.earth climate finance director Richard Brooks told Canada’s National Observer.
Since the Paris Agreement, RBC has loaned or invested over $270 billion to coal, oil and gas companies.
And they’ve gotten away with murder, writes Greenpeace’s Keith Stewart — of the UN’s net-zero banking club. (To be fair, they were accomplices in a supporting role to the big U.S. banks.)
“The ultimate lesson of this tragic tale is that since the banks won’t, or maybe can’t, get serious about decarbonization on their own, then governments will have to make them do it.” Which is precisely what McKenna’s High-Level Expert Group called for.
“Fortunately, the federal bank regulator in Canada is in the process of establishing regulations on climate finance,” Stewart writes. “And federal ministers Guilbeault and Wilkinson have indicated they are prepared to bring in new climate finance rules.”
Just do it
Of course, it’s important to set big wonky climate policies to shape the whole economy, but not one per cent of the public will ever navigate the obstacle course of acronyms, distinguishing a COP from an IRA from an ERP, a ZEV mandate from a CFS.
So, it’s really important to just do stuff — especially big, visible, public things. And here are a couple of good examples this week.
France orders solar on parking lots
It’s a beautifully simple move. Any parking lot with over 80 spots will have to cover itself with solar panels. The order applies to any new parking, but existing carparks will have to comply as well. Big ones have three years to get it done.
The French government says the order could generate up to 11 gigawatts of power: the equivalent of 10 nuclear reactors.
Disneyland Paris was already installing a solar canopy. So far, it has installed 46,000 panels covering 7,000 parking spaces — with the remaining spots to be covered by 2023.
Washington state mandates heat pumps
Every new apartment and house in Washington state is going to have to install heating (and cooling) from heat pumps. And the state isn’t dawdling — builders have to comply with the new rule starting in July.
Last year, the state’s building code council voted to restrict gas in offices and other large facilities, also starting in July 2023.
“City and state officials nationwide are using building codes as tools to accelerate the shift away from gas-fuelled heaters, boilers and stoves. To date, 90 cities and counties across 12 states and Washington, D.C., have adopted policies that encourage or require building electrification, including most recently, a $4-billion initiative to switch New York City’s existing school buildings to all-electric heating,” reports Canary Media.
Here’s the best thing I ran across this week. No need to read anything. Hundreds of climate activists from Scientist Rebellion and Greenpeace overran the private jet area at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. Many of them were on bikes. The police weren’t.
That’s all for this week. Thank you for reading Zero Carbon. Please forward it along and always feel free to write with feedback or suggestions at [email protected]
Support for this issue of Zero Carbon came from The McConnell and Trottier foundations and I-SEA.