Vancouver sets the stage for divestment

Vancouver Sets the Stage to Divest

Vancouver’s Council considered a responsible investing motion on October 9th, 2013, after learning from city staff that its provincially-managed pension fund was heavily invested fossil fuel, tobacco and mining companies. The bank and credit union companies directly held by the City also fail to disclose their exposure to climate risk and carbon liabilities.

I spoke to Council and along with several other speakers urged them to adopt a fossil fuel divestment policy. Although Council declined to adopt a divestment commitment today, they seriously and thoughtfully engaged speakers about the issue and have asked city staff to report back with plans for screening investments and steps that should lead to divestment in the City’s pension fund.

I am very encouraged that Vancouver is starting down the path to full divestment, joining cities like Seattle and San Francisco that are already on their way.

Show your support. Add your name to the City of Vancouver divestment petition. If you’re a student, faculty, staff or alumni of SFU, sign the SFU divestment petition Sustainable SFU started. You can also start a divestment petition of your own for your pension fund, government, church or school by visiting Fossil Free Canada or Go Fossil Free (US/Global).

Below is audio and text of my comments to Council. (Hyperlinks have been added to the text, which is differs slightly from the audio delivery).

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Laura Benson on the fight against coal export in Metro Vancouver

The Dogwood Initiative’s new coal campaigner Laura Benson writes a week-by-week recap of her fight against coal export expansion in Vancouver since the BC election.

Her update is impassioned and journalistic. Laura documents the front line of citizens, health officials and municipalities struggling against Port Metro Vancouver, an unaccountable regional port authority, and the dangerous coal industry it serves.

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“Strategic retreat” in BC’s sea level rise toolkit

BC’s Ministry of the Environment released a report on sea level rise adaptation over the weekend. It is inevitable that Metro Vancouver municipalities will come to restrict new development and abandon at-risk areas to protect homes, infrastructure and agricultural land from the higher, warmer sea.

Compared to other provinces, BC:

has the lowest proportion of its land area at risk but the majority of [Canadian] dwellings at risk, due to the high housing density in the Lower Mainland, much of which is low lying. The Lower Mainland, consisting of Metro Vancouver and the lower Fraser River Valley, is very vulnerable to sea level rise because of a 127 kilometre system of dikes, which were not built with sea-level level rise factored into the design. This area also has very expensive real estate subject to flood risks.

The report looks at two responses for our coastal areas: climate-related development planning and strategic retreat.

The first means no new construction would be permitted in high risk areas. The latter strategy means a gradual abandonment of these areas. Citing the now-shuttered National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, the study notes strategic retreat produces significant benefits over development planning. In some areas, dikes would need to be 6–8 metres high to protect dwellings, much taller than current structures.

Full report PDF is here.

Why Council should approve Robertson’s coal export expansion motion

My letter to the Mayor and Council, in support of a motion about coal export expansion.

Dear Mayor and Council,

Local municipalities, including the City of Vancouver, must urgently act to protect citizens and our environment from reckless plans to make Port Metro Vancouver the largest coal export terminal in North America.

I share the concerns about expanding coal exports through our region expressed by Mayor Gregor Robertson; elected officials and city staff in Delta, Surrey, White Rock, and New Westminster; and public health authorities and organizations from across the region. Increasing coal export capacity in our region and excusing the public health impacts of coal transport must be responsibly opposed by the City of Vancouver and I strongly urge you to support the coal export expansion motion at City Council on March 12, 2013.

The City of Vancouver must continuously confront local contributions to the rapid heating of our atmosphere, a crisis driven by the over-use of dangerous fossil fuels like coal. The public health impacts of the transportation, import and re-export of coal through our regional port network are extremely worrying and we must acknowledge the warnings from public health experts. No less, the local economic benefits paraded by coal export proponents are deadly false. The future of Vancouver’s economy is in cleaner energy, technology, services, resource management and food — not energy and materials systems from the 19th century. And if we fail to prevent runaway global warming — as looks increasingly likely — we must remember that there are “no jobs on a dead planet”.

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Vancouver Mayor moves to protect public health and climate from reckless coal export scheme

We need to keep coal in the ground. There should be no question or debate about this, yet Port Metro Vancouver plans to move forward with a reckless scheme to become North America’s largest coal export terminal.

People in Vancouver (especially young people) are rightly worried about and opposing this dangerous and irresponsible direction. Now, Mayor Gregor Robertson is very publicly joining this opposition. Robertson has introduced a motion that could stop coal export infrastructure from being built or expanded in the City of Vancouver and that supports the call for a health impact assessment of Port Metro Vancouver’s reckless coal export plans.

Coal ports employ very few people, do little for our local economy, and endanger all of our jobs and livelihoods by destabilizing the climate. As the Mayor outlines at length in his motion, the local health impacts from coal dust and diesel fumes are not well-understood and of great concern to our community’s health authorities.

Most importantly, it is very unlikely that we will avoid the 2 degree warming threshold most scientists and global governments say must be avoided. Coal is killing us and we do not need more of it in our community.

As David Roberts writes: “Coal is the enemy of the human race. It needs to be kept in the damn ground.”

Read the whole motion here and tell the mayor and councillors that you’re behind this important motion and expect their support.

Chinese coal demand is a myth: report

Coal exporters and port authorities in the US and Canadian Pacific Northwest want to export more coal to China, claiming demand is steadily rising. David Roberts points us to a new report by Greenpeace USA that busts this dangerous myth.

From the report:

[China] is deliberately, and quite effectively, decoupling its economic growth from coal such that future economic growth may not manifest in increased coal consumption. The results of this decoupling are already present: A rapid expansion in hydroelectricity, wind, and solar has pushed down coal’s share of energy production from 85% to 73%, and this trend will continue. …

… Assuming Chinese coal demand continues to weaken and that it sticks to its policies to curb coal use and increase renewable investment, the Chinese market for US coal exports may dry up before major new US coal shipments ever reach its ports. [my emphasis]

The report lists and discusses nine reasons why Chinese coal demand is not steady and rising and why pushing coal exports is an ill-informed gamble for Pacific ports:

  1. A desperate industry — not sound economics — is driving U.S. coal export proposals.
  2. China produces nearly all of the coal it consumes.
  3. China’s economic growth is slowing.
  4. Coal use in China is flattening out.
  5. Chinese policy caps on coal production and consumption will decouple economic growth from coal.
  6. Renewable energy is on the rise.
  7. Chinese society is resisting coal and becoming more aware of its impacts on health and water.
  8. Unstable Asian demand has sunk U.S. coal export proposals in the past.
  9. International competitors recognize flagging Chinese demand.

In Vancouver Voters Taking Action on Climate Change are leading the defence against coal export expansion. More info about their campaign to halt more coal exports is here.

Vancouver’s coal exporting port authority seeks PR help

Days after young people publicly challenged their dangerous coal export plans Port Metro Vancouver posts a request for public relations help.

From Business in Vancouver:

[Port Metro Vancouver] yesterday posted a request for proposals (RFP) on its website, seeking an integrated communications and advertising agency “to develop and implement a communications program that will increase awareness and understanding of the port and its role in facilitating Canada’s trade, primarily amongst residents of its bordering communities in the Lower Mainland.”

The port said it may also require “services to develop and implement an advertising program that promotes the port’s facilities and services to customers, the international shipping community and industry stakeholders.”

PMV described its ideal proponent as an agency with “deep experience in integrated marketing and public relations involving complex issues and diverse stakeholders.”

Also, following on my earlier post: Both Port Metro Vancouver and climate activists tweeted about meeting last week.