Clean Tech investment in Canada held back by a “fossil fuel comfort zone” and lack of financial disclosure

Canadian cleantech startups get ready for a breakout year”  appeared in the Globe and Mail on January 3, 2018 citing a 2017 report by Cleantech Group, which ranked Canada  “fourth in the world as a clean-technology innovator – and tops among Group of Twenty countries – up from seventh place in 2014.” Then on January 24, the San Francisco-based company Cleantech Group  released its ninth annual Global Cleantech 100 list for 2018 ; the List includes 13 Canadian companies, and the full Report is here (free; registration required).   Sure enough, Canada has improved its showing.  And on January 18, the Government of Canada announced that the federal government  will invest $700 million over the next five years  through the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) “ to grow Canada’s clean technology industry, protect the environment and create jobs “, as part of its larger Investment and Skills funding.  The same press release also announced the launch of the Clean Growth Hub, the government’s “focal point for clean technology”, which will focus on supporting companies and projects that produce clean technology, as well as coordinate existing programs and track results.

Yet in reaction to the government’s announcement,  the president of Analytica Advisors, which publishes an annual review of Canadian clean tech, had this to say in the National Post : “A $700-million investment to help clean technology firms expand and develop new products won’t turn Canada’s clean-tech industry into the “trillion dollar opportunity” the government keeps touting until we get out of our fossil-fuel comfort zone”.  She also co-authored an OpEd in the Globe and Mail, “Canada’s financial sector is missing in action on climate change” (Jan. 23)   where she berates the Canadian financial community for sitting on the sidelines amidst international initiatives for more climate-risk disclosure so that those risks can be priced into investment decisions.   For an update on the Canadian scene regarding this issue, see “Modernizing financial regulation to address climate-related risks” by Keith Stewart,  in Policy Options (Feb. 2).

 

Redesigning the fashion industry from linear to circular

In what is being called a revolutionary document, A New Textile Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future characterizes the current system of textile and clothing production as a “wasteful, linear system”  which “leads to substantial and ever-expanding pressure on resources and causes high levels of pollution. Hazardous substances affect the health of both textile workers and the wearers of clothes, and plastic microfibres are released into the environment, often ending up in the ocean.”  To improve the societal and environmental impacts of the industry, the report fleshes out the means to achieve four fundamental objectives:   1.  Phase out substances of concern and microfibre release 2. Transform the way clothes are designed, sold, and used to break free from their increasingly disposable nature, 3. Radically improve recycling by transforming clothing design, collection, and reprocessing, and 4. Make effective use of resources and move to renewable inputs.  Benefits to consumers are emphasized, and benefits to workers seem to flow from a reduced exposure to the toxic chemicals used in manufacture.  There is only vague attention to  “A better deal for employees. Because a circular economy is distributive by design, value would be circulated among enterprises of all sizes in the industry, rather than being extracted. This would allow all parts of the value chain to pay workers well and provide them with good working conditions.”    The report was released by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Circular Fibres Initiative, with Stella McCartney adding star power.

A greater focus on the working conditions in the global clothing industry comes from The Clean Clothes Campaign . Greenpeace International has been promoting the fight against toxic chemicals in fashion for several years in their Detox My Fashion campaign.

Corporate Climate Risk Disclosure needed to protect Pensions

To protect pensions, companies should be required to come clean on climate risk” writes Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada in an Opinion piece in the National Observer on November 27.  Stewart reports that Greenpeace Canada has filed a formal request under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, for the Ontario government to review the need for mandatory disclosure of climate-related risks in corporations’ financial filings. The government’s response is expected by the end of 2017.  This is the latest of recent and ongoing calls for increased corporate disclosure of the risks posed by climate change,  to protect investors and financial stability.  The issue has even made it to the conservative Report on Business of the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper, in  “Business risk from climate change now top of mind for Canada’s corporate boards” (November 22)  . The article warns that Canada’s  stock markets are  particularly vulnerable to a potential “carbon bubble” in the valuations of fossil-fuel-dependent companies, given that the Toronto Stock Exchange is so heavily weighted with energy and mining companies (20 per cent for that category, as compared with only 2 per cent for clean technology and renewable-energy companies).  And that’s not the worst:  on the TSX Venture Exchange, mining and oil and gas companies account for 68 per cent of the index.  (Such a resource sector dependency was part of the reasoning given by the Norweigian Wealth Fund for its proposal to divest oil and gas investments (Nov. 16)).

Another related Globe and Mail article provides an excuse for the current state of climate risk disclosure in Canada in  “Companies Looking to Report Environmental Data Also Navigate Inconsistent Frameworks” (Nov. 22) . The article states that “There is a dizzying number of best-practice guidelines for climate disclosures” and lists the major ones – with information drawn largely from the Carrots & Sticks database . In fact, Carrots & Sticks lists  nine sustainability reporting instruments unique to Canada, in addition to widely-recognized international ones such as the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) Reporting Framework  and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises  .  (Carrots & Sticks  is an initiative begun in 2006 by KPMG International, Stichting Global Reporting Initiative, UNEP, and the Centre for Corporate Governance in Africa, with the goal of encouraging and harmonizing financial disclosure guidelines.)

Most recently, the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, led by Marc Carney and Michael Bloomberg, released their  landmark Final Report and Recommendations in 2016. The following Canadian pension funds have, at least on paper, supported it:  Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, OPTrust, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation.  The Canadian Securities Administrators  launched a Climate Change Disclosure Review  in March 2017 to investigate and consult re Canadian practice, which will issue a report “upon completion of its review”.

And across the globe in Australia, the  Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), the  regulator of the financial industry, has  also announced an industry-wide review of climate-related disclosure practices.  On November 29, an Executive Board member of the APRA delivered a speech, “The weight of money: A business case for climate risk resilience” , in which he outlines the Australian perspective on climate-related financial risks, and states:  “So while the debate continues about the physical risks, the transition to a low carbon economy is underway, and that means the so-called transition risks are unavoidable: changes to market sentiment, new financial or environmental regulations, or the emergence of new technologies with the potential to prompt a reassessment of the value of a large range of assets, and consequently the value of capital and investments.”  The speech is summarized in The Guardian.

Do electric vehicles create good green jobs? An Amnesty International report on Supply Chains says No

Tesla TruckNovember brought  exciting news about electric vehicles:  BYD,  one of China’s leading electric carmakers, announced that it will open an assembly plant in a yet-to-be-announced location in Ontario in 2018, (though according to the Globe and Mail article,   the new plant will only create about 40 jobs to start ).  Also in mid-November, Tesla revealed a concept design for  an  electric truck in an glitzy release by Elon Musk , and the Toronto Transit Commission announced its plan to buy its first electric buses, aiming for an  emissions-free fleet by 2040.    Unnoticed in the enthusiasm for these announcements was a report released by Amnesty International on November 15:    Time to Recharge: Corporate action and inaction to tackle abuses in the cobalt supply chain  which concludes : “ Major electronics and electric vehicle companies are still not doing enough to stop human rights abuses entering their cobalt supply chains, almost two years after an Amnesty International investigation exposed how batteries used in their products could be linked to child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).” (That earlier report was This is what we die for   released in January 2016) .

Under the heading “The Darker side of Green Technology”, Time to Recharge states: “Renault and Daimler performed particularly badly, failing to meet even minimal international standards for disclosure and due diligence, leaving major blind spots in their supply chains. BMW did the best among the electric vehicle manufacturers surveyed.”   Tesla was also surveyed and ranked for its human rights and supply chain management; Tesla’s policies are described in its response to Amnesty International here.  And further, Tesla has come in for suggestions of  anti-union attitudes  in “Critics Suggest Link to Union Drive After Tesla Fires 700+ Workers” , in  The Energy Mix (Oct. 23), and in an article in Cleantechnica , and for discriminatory policies in “The Blue-Collar Hellscape of the Startup Industry“, published in In these Times and re-posted in Portside.

The Amnesty International report is a result of a survey of 29 companies, including consumer electronics giants Apple, Samsung Electronics, Dell, Lenovo, and Microsoft, as well as electric vehicle manufacturers BMW, Renault and Tesla.  Questions in the survey were based on the five-step due diligence framework set out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas.  Detailed responses from many of the surveyed companies are here. 

International action on Just Transition: what’s been accomplished, and proposals for the future

ituc logoJust Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? A Guide to National Policies and International Climate Governance  was released on September 19 by the International Trade Union Confederation, summarizing what has been done to date by the ITUC and through  international agencies such as the  ILO, UNFCCC, and the  Paris Agreement.  It also provides short summaries of some transition situations, including the Ruhr Valley in Germany, Hazelwood workers in the LaTrobe Valley, Australia, U.S. Appalachian coal miners and the coal mining pension plan, Argentinian construction workers, and Chinese coal workers.  Finally, the report calls for concrete steps to advance Just Transition and workers’ interests.

The report defines Just Transition on a national or regional scale, as  “an economy-wide process that produces the plans, policies and investments that lead to a future where all jobs are green and decent, emissions are at net zero, poverty is eradicated, and communities are thriving and resilient.” But the report also argues that Just Transition is important for companies, with social dialogue and collective bargaining as key tools to manage the necessary industrial transformation at the organizational level.  To that end, the ITUC is launching “A Workers Right To Know” as an ITUC campaign priority for 2018, stating, “Workers have a right to know what their governments are planning to meet the climate challenge and what the Just Transition measures are. Equally, workers have a right to know what their employers are planning, what the impact of the transition is and what the Just Transition guarantees will be. And workers have a right to know where their pension funds are invested with the demand that they are not funding climate or job destruction.”

The ITUC report makes new proposals. It calls on the ILO to take a more ambitious role and to negotiate a Standard for Just Transition by 2021, carrying on from the Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies forAll  (2015).   The ITUC also states “expectations” of how Just Transition should be given greater priority in the international negotiation process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), so that:  Just Transition commitments are incorporated into the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of countries; Just Transition for workers becomes a permanent theme within the forum on response measures under the Paris Agreement, and Just Transition is included in the 2018 UNFCCC Facilitative Dialogue. It also calls for the launch of a “Katowice initiative for a Just Transition” at the COP23 meetings to take place in Katowice, Poland in 2018, “to provide a high-level political space”.  Finally, the ITUC calls for expansion of the eligibility criteria of the Green Climate Fund to allow  the funding of Just Transition projects.

Just Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? is a Climate Justice Frontline Briefing from the International Trade Union Confederation, with support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and is based upon Strengthening Just Transition Policies in International Climate Governance by Anabella Rosemberg, published as a Policy Analysis Brief by the Stanley Foundation in 2017.

Other Just Transition News:  In Calgary in September, the  Just Transition and Good Green Jobs in Alberta Conference took place, sponsored by BlueGreen Alberta, with updates on national and provincial developments and with a global perspective from Samantha Smith, Director of the ITUC’s Just Transition Centre as the keynote speaker.  A companion event, the 3rd Annual Alberta Climate Summit, hosted by the Pembina Institute and Capital Power,  also included a session on  “Just Transition: Labour and Indigenous Perspectives” which featured Andres Filella (Metis Nation of Alberta), Samantha Smith(Just Transition Centre) and Heather Milton-Lightening ( Indigenous Climate Action Network).

In advance of these events, the Alberta government had announced  on  September  11  the launch of  the Coal Community Transition Fund to assist Alberta communities impacted by the mandated coal-phase out in the province.   Municipalities and First Nations can apply for grant funding to support economic development initiatives that focus on regional partnerships and economic diversification.  Further funding is anticipated from the federal government, with retraining programs also expected after the Advisory Panel on Coal Communities  provides its recommendations in a report to the government, expected this fall.