Global vaccine justice seen as a test of climate justice at G7 meetings in June 2021

G7 finance ministers and the global financial elite issued an important Communique  on June 5, and while the mainstream media (and Finance Canada’s own press release ) focused mainly on a 15% minimum global tax rate for corporations, the Communique made ambitious statements regarding international climate finance too, with calls which seem to acknowledge the importance and inequity of climate risk to the global financial order. “G7 Ministers Recommit to Climate Finance, Leave Details for Later” in The Energy Mix summarizes the general reaction that the Communique is too vague and “unambitious”. The article states that the scale of global climate investment (both public and private) is estimated at $100 billion per year, and that Canada’s fair share would be US$4 billion per year.

The issue of global climate finance is seen as crucial to the success of the upcoming G7 meetings of world leaders in the U.K. on June 11-13. “As leaders gather for G-7, a key question: Will rich countries help poor ones grapple with climate change?” in The Washington Post (June 7) describes how global climate finance and the issue of global vaccine disparity are being conflated, for example in a quote from a senior advisor to Climate Action Network International:  “The G-7 meeting will be a test for international solidarity. This implies solidarity on both ensuring equitable and rapid access to vaccines globally, as well as on finance and support for the climate crisis”.  “World Climate Deal Could Fail unless G7 Solves Vaccine Disparities” (June 8, The Energy Mix)  quotes the head of the international Chamber of Commerce: “We can’t have global solidarity and trust around tackling climate change if we do not show solidarity around vaccines.”   The Guardian writes: “Share vaccines or the climate deal will fail rich countries are told” (June 5) – which points out that “Canada has the highest number of procured doses per head, with a total of 381 million procured vaccine doses for a population of just over 37 million.”  – and contrasts Canada with the low vaccine availability in such countries as Columbia, Indonesia, South Africa, and Pakistan.

Climate Change is one of the priorities of the G7 meetings. Reports released in anticipation of the G7 meeting include:

Ranking G7 Green Recovery Plans and Jobs  published by the U.K.’s Trades Union Congress, which shows that the U.S. had the highest level of green jobs and recovery investment per person, followed by Italy and then Canada. The U.K. ranks sixth, with Japan 7th.  The report critiques specific U.K. policies and makes recommendations for improvements.

Oxfam International posted analysis on June 7 which estimates that the economies of G7 nations contracted by about 4.2 per cent on average in the pandemic, and compares that to the greater economic impacts which will result from extreme weather, the effects on agricultural productivity, and heat stress and health.  The report includes estimates of GDP losses by 2050, assuming 2.6°C of warming, using the modelling of the Swiss Re Insurance Economics of Climate Change Index , and predicts the worst affected countries will be  India, Australia, South Africa, South Korea, The Phillipines (with a 35% loss of GDP), and Columbia. Canada’s GDP loss is estimated at 6.9%.  The report is summarized in  “Covid shrunk the economy but climate change will be much worse” (The Guardian, reposted in The National Observer, June 8) and also in  “Climate inaction will cost G7 countries ‘billions’” in  Deutsche Welle .

The official G7 Ministers meeting website is here and will post official documents/news.  The Resist G7 Coalition will present different information, and aims to coordinate protests on their Facebook page and their website.  A Reuters article states that police will number 6,500, and Extinction Rebellion alone estimates 1,000 protestors will be present. 

Canada’s Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance recommends incentives to green pensions, RRSP’s

Canada’s Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance released its final report on June 14,  Mobilizing Finance for Sustainable Growth . The report makes fifteen recommendations,  stating “…. climate change opportunity and risk management need to become business-as-usual in financial services, and embedded in everyday business decisions, products and services.”  Although the Panel’s main focus was on institutional investments, they also made recommendations which would help individuals to make greener personal investments.

Tiff Macklem, Chair of the Expert Panel,  summarizes and simplifies the message of the Panel Report in “Climate change should be part of regular savings and investment decisions” in The Conversation  on July 3.  Concerning individual actions,  he states:  “To accelerate climate-conscious investment, we … recommend actively engaging Canadians in the climate opportunity and making their stake in fighting climate change more tangible…To engage them, we recommend the federal government create an incentive for Canadians to invest in accredited climate-conscious products. Specifically, we recommend that the Minister of Finance create additional space in RRSPs and defined contribution pension plans for these investments and offer a “super deduction” — in other words, a taxable income deduction greater than 100 per cent —on eligible investments.”   This proposal was further explained in “Expert panel on sustainable finance recommends super tax deduction to incentivize green savings” in Benefits Canada magazine.

Other recommendations in the final Report include:  Establish a standing Canadian Sustainable Finance Action Council (SFAC), with a cross-departmental secretariat, to advise and assist the federal government in implementing the Panel’s recommendations;  Establish the Canadian Centre for Climate Information and Analytics as an authoritative source of climate information and decision analysis;  Define and pursue a Canadian approach to implementing the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). Although the recommendations include goals for private financing of the building retrofit market and clean tech industry, they also include a call to support Canada’s oil and natural gas industry “in building a low-emissions, globally competitive future.”

 

New report recommends mandatory financial disclosure of climate-related risks for Canadian companies

iisdleveraging-sustainable-financeThough written mainly for a financial audience, a new report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is relevant to the livelihoods and pensions of all Canadians.  Leveraging Sustainable Finance Leadership in Canada: Opportunities to align financial policies to support clean growth and a sustainable Canadian economy was released on January 16,  examining and making  recommendations for Canadian companies to disclose climate change risks to their shareholders and to the public. A press release summarizes the report.  Why is it so important?  It concludes with an analysis of financial disclosure in the oil and gas industry, (found in Annex E), and this warning about the dangers to us all of stranded assets: “When these emissions are counted via proved and probable reserves, as disclosed by Canadian oil and gas companies, a picture emerges of significant, undisclosed—and therefore unaddressed—risks to Canadian companies, financial institutions, pension beneficiaries and savers…. Once the implications of the Paris Agreement are fully priced into the market, oil and gas asset valuations will shift. If this change is sufficiently large, debt covenants may be triggered in companies. This will in turn impact financial institutions, including banks, insurance companies and pension funds. Debt downgrading could ensue, and bank capitalization thresholds could be impacted.” (And a related risk for oil and gas companies:  in December 2018, the Canadian Shareholders Association for Research and Education (SHARE) joined an international campaign for improved disclosure by oil and gas companies of the water-related risks of their operations ).

What is to be done?  Canada’s transition to a lower carbon economy requires private investment capital, and Canada’s financial markets cannot operate in isolation.  Canada has a lot of regulatory “catching up” to do regarding climate risk, (outlined in “Data Gap” in Corporate Knights magazine in May 2018) , and  evidenced by the examples given throughout the report of current practice amongst  European Union , G7 and G20 countries. The report shows the state of  Canadian regulation, with  frequent reference to the two major Canadian studies to date on the issue:  the Interim Report of the government-appointed Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance (Oct. 2018), and the Canadian Securities Association Staff Notice 51-354 (April 2018).  In Leveraging Sustainable Finance Leadership in Canada, author Celine Bak, sets out a three-year policy roadmap for Canada, calling for Canadian laws and statutes to be updated to require mandatory disclosure of climate risk by 2021. The report also calls for the Toronto Stock Exchange to  join the UN Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative, and that the the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board  be required to report on the climate change risks which might affect its fully-funded status.  Detailed and concise summaries are provided in the Annexes, titled:  “An Overview of the Key Reports on Corporate and Financial Sector Climate- and Environment-Related Disclosure”; “G20 and G7 Precedents for Implementation of TCFD Recommendations in Canada”; and  “Analysis of EU Sustainable Finance Proposed Actions, EU Laws and Canadian Equivalents”.

Expect more discussion and publications about sustainable finance issues, as Canada’s Expert Panel  concludes its public consultations at the end of January 2019, and releases its final report later in the year.  The European Union Technical Expert group on Sustainable Finance (TEG) is also expected to report in June 2019,  and the international  Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures Task Force will publish a Status Report in June 2019,  updating its first report,  published in September 2018, with analysis of disclosures made in 2018 financial reports .

Corporate Disclosure of climate change risks, and shareholder action by BCGEU on sustainability

The British Columbia Government and Services Employees’ Union  (BCGEU) issued a press release on April 20 to announce its partnership with the global advocacy group SumOfUs (Fighting for people over profits).  Over the summer, on behalf of BCGEU, SumOfUs will file proposals at annual general meetings of Canadian companies,  calling  for greater fairness in corporate governance and increased scrutiny around human rights and labour practices as well as of the impacts of deforestation.

BCGEU President Stephanie Smith stated “As a union, we need to make sure that funds our members count on, such as the strike fund, are financially healthy and this requires careful and responsible investment decisions. …Calling for greater corporate responsibility as a shareholder is not only financially prudent, but it allows us to pursue our values as a labour union as well.”  This is not the first time BCGEU has taken initiative  – in 2014,  the union divested its strike fund and general reserves from fossil fuel equities, and saw in increase in values.

With a similar strategy, the Fonds de Solidarité des Travailleurs du Québec (FTQ), empowered SHARE (Shareholder Association for  Research and Education), to file a shareholder proposal at the April 27 annual meeting of Imperial Oil, requesting better disclosure on its exposure to and management of water-related risks in its oil and gas operations.

Even Canada’s financial regulators are moving in the direction of increased transparency and disclosure for corporations. The Canadian Securities Administration,  concluding a process which had stretched out for over a year, issued a press release on April 5, announcing   CSA Staff Notice 51-354 Report on Climate change-related Disclosure Project.  The report announced  its intention to consider new disclosure requirements relating to material risks and opportunities and “how issuers oversee the identification, assessment and management of material risks.  This would include, for example, emerging or evolving risks and opportunities arising from climate change, potential barriers to free trade, cyber security and disruptive technologies.”

And on April 12, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change announced  the creation of an  Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance. Part of the mandate of the Expert Panel will be to  explore the issue of  voluntary standards for corporate disclosure of the financial risks associated with climate change, and to provide  recommendations to the federal government by the fall of 2018. Full Terms of Reference are here .  The Expert Panel is expected to build upon the work of the CSA Task Force, and the earlier, international Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCDF), led by Michael Bloomberg,  and chaired by  Mark Carney. Canada’s new Expert Panel will be chaired by Tiff Macklem, Dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and former Senior Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada; the other three members are Andy Chisholm, member of the Board of Directors of the Royal Bank of Canada; Kim Thomassin, Executive Vice-President, Legal Affairs and Secretariat, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec; and Barbara Zvan, Chief Risk and Strategy Officer, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

For context on the issue of corporate disclosure, read “Investigation finds nearly half  of Canadian failing to  Disclose Climate-Related Risk” from the National Observer (April 5), and, in the opposite direction in the United States, In ‘Attack on Shareholder Rights,’ SEC Seeks to Sideline Activist Investors .

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).