Transition is a sticky word for a lot of people. Add “net-zero” or “pipeline” to the mix and you might even spark a wave of public passion. But emotions are always anchored in something and those relating to Alberta’s energy transition carry no exception. Sure, through the years we’ve talked about net-zero by 2050 but these conversations have often carried an element of speculation. A nice theory, one might say, but how will we get there? While the answer to this question is neither simple nor obvious, the events of last week offer a little insight into the nature of energy transition.
This post is part 2 of 3 exploring sustainable finance, bringing together the perspectives of three of our Core Working Group members: Patrycja Drainville (Associate Director, Sustainable Finance, Scotiabank), Chad Park (Vice President, Sustainability & Citizenship, The Cooperators), and Jamie Bonham (Director of Corporate Engagement, NEI Investments)
If there was ever any doubt that net-zero finance was the way of the future, former Bank of Canada and Bank of England governor Mark Carney cleared it up in a March 29th tweet. “Huge announcement today that the core of the global asset management industry, managing over $32 trillion in assets, is committing to addressing climate change [and] delivering the goals of the Paris Agreement.” When you start talking about that many trillions of dollars, even the most ardent skeptic is forced to sit up and start listening.
Around the world, countries, corporations, and people are picking up the call for a net-zero future. This global rallying cry is highlighting that we need to do more to reach a lower emissions future and we need to do it at an exponential pace. We cannot close the gap between our reality today, and our aspirations for what is possible, without developing and deploying technologies that both manage our greenhouse gas emissions and add value to our economy.
A shift towards a world with drastically lower carbon emissions appears to be in the cards. The UNFCC noted that global commitments to reach net-zero emissions from regions, cities, corporations, and countries has doubled since September 2019, and that was before China, Japan, and South Korea all pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or 2060.
We are surrounded by technical achievements — often near-miraculous, even if they may get taken for granted. The electricity grid that delivers a safe, constant and predictable stream of on-demand energy. Communication systems that allow real-time conversations with people on the other side of the earth. Networks of food delivery that allows us to enjoy fresh, safe, and relatively inexpensive produce in all seasons.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has triggered a global economic crisis that was unimaginable even two weeks ago, and perhaps nowhere is that being felt more acutely than in Alberta. In addition to the obvious consequences of social distancing on businesses and industry, we’re also dealing with a gut-wrenching collapse in oil prices that’s being driven in part by a deepening conflict between Saudi Arabia and Russia. Taken together, the combination of falling oil prices and a temporary collapse in the broader economy will put Alberta’s community and business leaders to the toughest test they’ve ever faced — one that they cannot afford to fail.
As a second COVID wave hits the province with full force and the impacts of prolonged economic repercussions become clearer, Alberta faces challenges that will ask us to reimagine what it means to bring our ingenuity, expertise, and innovative spirit to bear. In a province already reimagining the future of its energy sector, COVID-19 has shocked demand and disrupted expectations we might have had about what the future could look like. This turbulence has been accompanied by an accelerated commitment among financial institutions to scrutinize their investment portfolios and other activity through a climate science lens. The UN Principles for Responsible Investment initiative, a leading body pushing towards low-carbon pathways, has reported that signatories have more than $100 trillion in assets under management, and the Bank of Canada has made recent public statements about how we will need to decarbonize many facets of our lives in order to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. Global investors are demanding a more stringent reckoning with an emerging consensus that prioritizes climate risk. With all of this as backdrop, several leading oil and gas companies have reduced the reported value of their assets by more than $80 billion in the first three quarters of 2020.
As governments and industry around the world work to jump-start their economies and restart their businesses without triggering a second wave of COVID-19 infections, they’re suddenly open to ambitious ideas and policies that were on a slow track before the virus struck. But in straining for the highest fruit on the tree, we need to be careful that we don’t miss one of the easiest pieces to pick: energy efficiency. It will deliver results — and deliver them quickly. Installation of commercially available high-efficient technology saves more money than it costs, reduces emissions, and supports the local economy, producing high-quality local jobs while keeping investment in the community. But for too long, we’ve overlooked this opportunity. The good news is that now is the perfect time for that to change.