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).

 

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.

Pension Funds ill-prepared for the risks of Stranded Assets

A survey by Asset Owners Disclosure Project (AODP) found that only 76 of the 500 largest asset owners in the world (pension funds, insurance funds, foundations and endowments) have taken meaningful action to manage climate risk. 21 of the 32 large Canadian institutional investors in the survey scored badly, including the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund and the Ontario Public Service Pension Plan. “ Risky Management ”  at Corporate Knights magazine (April 29) provides a summary of the survey results. The full report is at the AODP website .

The Asset Owners Disclosure Project (AODP) is an independent not-for-profit global organisation whose objective is to protect retirement savings and other long term investments from the risks posed by climate change. AODP and a London-based environmental law firm, ClientEarth, have announced they will work with pension fund members to challenge trustees and managers to fulfill their legal duty to protect investments from climate risk. The campaign could result in a test case to clarify the legal duties of pension fund fiduciaries.