Monday, November 30, 2009

Are Quebec's Climate Change Targets Ambitious? Est-ce que les cibles Québécois sur les changements climatiques ambitieux?

Now that the dust has settled after Jean Charest's fiery speech at CORIM (see blogpost dated 23 November) where he announced that Quebec will reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20% between now and 2020, many are asking whether this target was the easy way out. After all, Quebec is "blessed" with abundant hydroelectric power and therefore a target of -20% reduction is not such a big effort. As well, the Kyoto targets which calls for a 6% GHG emissions reduction between 2008 and 2012 (1990 baseline) has not been achieved in Quebec (except as projected for 2012). Some achievement.

The problem is that many people living in urban centres, where the majority of the population resides, do not visually see or feel the impact that climate change is having on their daily lives. But the reality is that record floods, record fires, loss of evergreen forests in Western United States, people living in low-lying countries/regions, such as in Bangladesh who are already moving more inland, and pine beetle impacts due to the warmer climate in Western Canada which is devastating forest cover, are real examples which demonstrate that a threat to the future of civilization is already occurring. How can the population at large be forced to change their behaviour which is to reduce their consumption of fossil fuel? Do cities and municipalities have a large-scale plan to tap into geothermal energy and build smart grids which would truly drive sustainability? It is important to change the light bulbs but what is much more important is to change the laws and policies which, compared to other Western industrialized countries have gone way further than where Quebec stands at this point (Sweden -40%; Norway -30%; United Kingdom -34%; Japan -25%; Germany -25%). The key players at the summit have also agreed to arrive with targets and timetables.

Over the last few years, several countries have witnessed the emergence of innovative new business groupings to offer support for a progressive public policy agenda on climate change. These include the Corporate Leaders Group in the UK and EU, the US Climate Action Partnership (US CAP) and Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) in the US, Empresas pelo Clima (EPC) in Brazil and Climate Change Business Forum (CCBF) in Hong Kong. The debate that will undoubtedly emerge in the next few weeks is what the public policy priorities should be, post-Copenhagen, to speed delivery of the low-carbon economy. In Quebec, the it appears that the business community, led by the CPEQ, was misquoted in Le Devoir (see 23 November blogpost) as they do not endorse any targets for Quebec. The Quebec Minister of the Environment, Line Beauchamp, endorsed Quebec's position in Poznan last year, as supporting a global target based on scientific consensus which demands that the international community control a temperature rise by 2 degrees Celsius and therefore supports a global target of -25% (IPCC). So it begs the question: how did Quebec come up with its -20% target? Based on what? What would happen if the target were -40%? Is the CPEQ showing sufficient leadership? Any leads to solving these mystery questions is requested!

From an investment perspective, climate change may also present opportunities. Investors are starting to look more closely at companies in order to ensure that they have clear strategies for responding to climate change and reporting on risk assessment processes. Investors are also playing a much more proactive role in public policy debates on adaptation to the effects of climate change, highlighting a need to develop long-term policies which enable companies to plan and invest appropriately.

It is expected that many world leaders will be attending the Copenhagen summit to negotiate a new deal. So what needs to happen for success? Expectations have been scaled down, not surprising, due to the challenging situation, feet-dragging and inertia. A likely scenario is that near-term reductions and simultaneous instructions to country negotiators to complete a new deal will be handed out in Copenhagen for final completion at the next meeting which will take place in Germany in March 2010.

News has it that Obama will attend the summit and that he will further put a reduction number on the table. And both India and China have recently accepted to commit to binding targets.

Back on the farm, Canada continues to not take this issue seriously and, as a result, it affects our country enormously. The Canadian government has been so focused on the economy that it has practically shunned the environment debate. It doesn't hurt to remind our federal leaders that Kyoto is an international law that is binding on all signatory countries, including Canada. But the federal government continues to believe that efforts to reduce GHG emissions will destroy the economy. It is many years since Sweden has implemented its carbon tax and their economy is thriving. And they stand at 8% below 1990 levels!

Under international and US pressure, Prime Minister Harper has agreed last week to attend the Summit. PM Harper needs to provide moral leadership. This is what distinguishes Canada from a host of other countries. What is at stake is not just our global reputation (let alone our national symbol, the red maple leaf) but also our economic prosperity (France has indicated that it will penalize Canadian products due to carbon dumping). We have brought the Montreal Protocol and UN Peacekeeping to the international fora. The trade-off between short term profits (i.e.: the tar sands) and the risk factors to a dire crisis is not a suitable trade-off. In Al Gore's new book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, he noted that gas derived from tar sands gives the Toyota Prius the environmental footprint of a Hummer. And the risks to Canada's North has already begun (see Globe and Mail, 28 Nov 2009, A10).

We need to deal with this problem now as the consequences, as predicted by all the top scientists, will be dire. If we fail, the problem will be handed over to the next generation to solve.

Let's start by tackling the root case: our excessive use of fossil fuel. We have the opportunity to embark on a truly sustainable path and personally, I believe in human ingenuity and resilience. How will you act?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Radio Interview on Sustainability Issues

I was interviewed today by Chris "Zeke" Hand on CKUT 90.3 FM radio in Montreal on a couple of sustainability issues. To hear the broadcast, click on the player below or download one of the links.

Download: MP3 / FLAC / Ogg Vorbis or Stream


Monday, November 23, 2009

Quebec and Greenhouse Gas Emissions reduction target/ Québec et la réduction des émissions de Gaz à effet de serre

On Saturday 21 November, Louis-Gilles Francoeur published in Le Devoir an article where he stated that the CPEQ (Quebec Environment Chamber of Commerce) and the NGO Equitere propose a GHG emissions reduction target of 25% compared to 1990 levels. This proposal took the form of a joint letter signed by the CPEQ and Equiterre and, according to the journalist, further endorsed by Quebec's Environment Minister Line Beauchamp. This position is forward-looking and ambitious.

As I am writing this blogpost, Quebec's Premier Jean Charest, is speaking at a luncheon at CORIM where he will officially announce Quebec's GHG emissions reduction targets. You can bet that the Harper Conservatives are watching closely!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Climate Change and Canadian Mining: Opportunities for Adaptation

Tristan Pearce from the University of Guelph provided the EIA Concordia students a formidable opportunity to discuss how climate change is impacting Canada's north: impacts on communities (food shortages), impacts landscape (i.e.: loss of ice roads), and impacts on mining activities (i.e.: increased storm activities) through the report published for the David Suzuki Foundation.

The report highlighted many important issues but I was struck by the fact the perception gap that exists within many Canadian mining companies: only 25% of senior executives and management viewed climate change as a problem in contrast, 100% of day-to-day workers in those same companies perceived climate change as a threat. If you are obviously sitting in a Toronto corporate office and have very little contact with operating facilities (apart from the occasional site visit), then you do not readily "see" the changes which are occurring.

Should the Canadian mining industry ramp-up its efforts to better adapt to climate change? If so, what should some of those methods be? (i.e.: alternative routes?).

Thanks once again to Tristan Pearce, Maude Beaumier and James Ford for this great presentation and stunning visuals!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Canadian Securities Administrators scrap changes to corporate governance rules

While the most sustainable companies are fast-moving forward and implementing indexes and benchmarks as regards ethical sourcing (see Walmart example), KPIs and are using this period of economic downturn to sharpen and strengthen their governance frameworks, Canadian securities regulators have placed governance issues on the back-burner. The Globe and Mail recently reported that "regulators agree with corporations which say they are currently too busy dealing with the financial crisis". Who are those corporations? Corporate governance oversight is urgently needed in Canada! Now is the time to act.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Climate Change Radio Interview

I was interviewed, along with environmental journalist Felix Von Geyser, on Mark Brooks' show Off the Hour, CKUT 90.3 FM in Montreal on the topic of climate change.

Download: MP3 / FLAC / Ogg Vorbis or Stream


Friday, November 13, 2009

Environmental Impact and Business Sustainability

I teach a course at Concordia University entitled Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). EIA is a planning process used throughout the world to ensure that the environmental impacts of proposals are identified, predicted, mitigated and evaluated, and that this evaluation influences the final decision(s) concerning proposals and proposed development in such a way as to represent the interests of the stakeholders involved.

On November 3rd, Claude Perras, Director Sustainable Development and Community Relations from Rio Tinto, was the class' featured guest speaker on the topic of "Interactions with Communities before a Project". Claude outlined how Rio Tinto engages in mutually-beneficial partnerships in order to fulfil community priorities and Rio Tinto's strategic objectives, and to ensure long-term sustainability of the business and the community. He outlined how Rio Tinto works in order to obtain a social license to operate. Claude's presentation was quite innovative as he aptly demonstrated how there has been a paradigm shift within the company (and in many other forward thinking companies) whereby a new business model has been created. This model has shifted from value protection to value creation, it builds alliances between the business and the NGO sectors, and the project teams are now thinking long-term about their impacts on the community, and legacy issues.

When some of the students raised questions and issues regarding corruption and methods of doing business in those countries who do not have a full democratic regime, Claude responded that Rio Tinto is a signatory of the UN Global Compact.

A question was raised by a professor from Concordia where he asked "how can Rio Tinto call itself a sustainable company if it is in the business of extracting non-renewable natural resources?" A company such as Rio Tinto has the resources and willingness to be sustainable. Unlike some other mining companies (i.e.: PDAC members), Rio Tinto recognizes the full benefits of conducting business in a socially responsible manner. Any further comments as to why Rio Tinto recognizes those benefits would be appreciated.

Next week, one of the authors of the report entitled "Climate Change and Canadian Mining: Opportunities for Adaptation", published by the David Suzuki Foundation, will be speaking to the same EIA class. More to follow...