December 15, 2017 Read More →

Op-Ed: Electricity-Generation Transition in Canada

Globe and Mail:

While momentum is clearly building to end pollution from burning coal, a change of that magnitude takes time. As environmental organizations reported this week, some Canadian companies are among those investing to expand coal power overseas.

While companies are responsible for their own decisions, this news does not represent the growing trend worldwide. Many other companies and investors are moving in the opposite direction. They see opportunities not in the expansion of coal burning – which is a hazard to our health and a driver of climate change – but in the economic opportunity of clean growth.

Major corporations such as Facebook, Google and Wal-Mart are all part of RE100, a global initiative that commits companies to move toward 100-per-cent renewable energy. One of these companies, Salesforce, had plans to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but through rigorous innovation has already reached its goal.

There was also the announcement that 237 other companies – with a combined market capitalization of $6.3-trillion – publicly supported the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. Led by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and Michael Bloomberg, the recommendations of the Task Force will require companies to publicly disclose the risks climate change pose to the value of their assets.

By adopting these recommendations, CEOs and boards of directors would be required to ask themselves: Does our business strategy align with the goals of the Paris Agreement? If not, they would have to answer to their shareholders.

But all investors should be concerned about risk exposure. We know we’re in a global transition to cleaner energy, and the financial risks of investing in thermal coal are significant. Some institutions are taking action to reduce this risk. The World Bank announced this week that it would end financial support for upstream oil and gas projects after 2019, citing the increasing threats of climate change.

The fact is, global markets are shifting.

Renewable power is the most competitive source of electricity in many markets. Since 2011, more money has been invested each year in renewable electricity than in power from fossil fuels. And in the United States, solar power is more than 80-per-cent cheaper to produce today than it was in 2009, while wind power is more than 60-per-cent cheaper. Increasingly, clean power is affordable power.

Yet any move away from coal also raises questions about jobs. I’m proud to say that Alberta – which generates more than half of its power from coal – is leading by phasing out coal, and making it a fair transition for workers and communities. The province appointed a task force to visit each of its coal communities, hear from workers, and find a way forward that supports them, including through skills training and community economic development.

With smart and strategic investments, governments are moving away from coal and spurring clean economic growth. The federal government is doing this through historic investments in public transit, innovation and energy-efficient infrastructure – which together are making our economy stronger and our towns and cities cleaner.

More: Why investing in coal is risky business

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