How to do business in a warming climate

By Tyler Hamilton - Published on Jul 20, 2016
Bank of England governor Mark Carney and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna spoke to the Toronto Board of Trade. (CP/Chris Young)



In the lead-up to the Paris climate conference last December, relatively little noise could be heard out of corporate Canada — even as big U.S. companies got together pledging to embrace renewable energy, disclose climate risks and support a price on carbon. One frequently given reason for this is that even after last fall’s federal election, Canadian corporations were still a bit shell-shocked after nearly a decade of Harper government inaction on climate change.

As Corporate Knights magazine reported in June, Canada’s business community is a risk-averse bunch, even at the best of times. “The safest bet for the average company is to stay silent on controversial policies like carbon pricing, even if there’s internal support for it.” But, as the magazine also pointed out: “We’ve begun to see a new dynamic play out over the past year across Canada.”

Last Friday, for example, Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna announced that 21 mostly large Canadian companies representing the mining, energy, forestry, banking and retail sectors had signed on to the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, a global initiative created by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. It launched, coincidentally, the same day the Trudeau government got elected.

After speaking at the Toronto Board of Trade last Friday with Bank of England governor Mark Carney, McKenna also confirmed that the federal government plans to have a national price on carbon emissions put in place by the end of this year.

For Canada’s big investors, a $7-trillion global opportunity awaits

It’s interesting to note that during his visit to Toronto, Mark Carney didn’t choose to focus on the anticipated economic impacts of Brexit. Climate change was his key talking point, and he had plenty to say. He called carbon pricing “the cleanest way for markets to judge the tangible exposure to climate change,” and he emphasized how important it is for companies to disclose climate risks so investors can see “who’s leading and lagging in adapting to a low-carbon world.” Carney also praised the emergence of green bonds as a way to finance climate-friendly infrastructure, and said up to $7 trillion a year will be needed to fund such infrastructure, making it a huge investment opportunity for Canadian investors.

Kelp! Kelp! Nova Scotia seaweed is in trouble

Canada is known for its boreal forests, but there’s another forest we don’t hear much about. Nearly 110 kilometres of kelp grows underwater along the coastline of Nova Scotia, and it’s not doing well.

Karen Filbee-Dexter, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, told the Toronto Star that that the large, nutrient-rich form of seaweed is being killed off by warming ocean temperatures. Her research suggests that over the past three decades kelp biomass in many areas has plunged by more than 85 per cent, even 99 per cent in some locations. St. Margaret’s Bay and Mahone Bay are among the hardest-hit spots. That’s a big problem for organisms that rely on the kelp for food. “This is one of the most important ecosystems that we have,” she lamented. “The fact that these changes are happening so suddenly and are only projected to get worse is of great concern.”

The story is Canada’s version of the great kelp die-off in Australia, where climate change and warming ocean waters are also killing mangrove forests and causing mass bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef.

A new meaning for ‘baked Alaska’

Mention a place like Alaska to someone and they’ll probably think of snow-capped mountains, polar bears and frigid weather — even at the height of summer. What they’re likely not thinking about is soaking up the sun on a beach.

Well, welcome to the new Alaska, brought to you by climate weirdness. The 49th state of America, and home to former governor and climate change denier Sarah Palin, experienced some of the warmest weather ever recorded there last week. Temperatures at this time of the year usually range from 0C to 15C, but in towns across the state it was 25C or warmer. Fairbanks officially clocked in at 31C, but its airport reportedly hit 35C.

No surprise, then, that average Arctic sea ice extent in June reached a record low, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The sea ice extended to around 10.6 million square kilometres, or 259,000 square kilometres less than the previous low record in 2010.

Climate anarchy in the U.K.?

Last week we talked about climate politics in the United States as it relates to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. This week, we look at our friends in the U.K., where Conservative MP Theresa May just took over as new prime minister.

Environmentalists were freaking out when May, in one of her firsts acts as prime minister, decided to abolish the government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change. It has since been folded into an expanded Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Greg Clark, who has been a Conservative MP since 2005, was selected to head the super ministry.

The move comes as other countries, including Canada, are making a symbolic effort to give “climate change” a more official profile. For example, Canada’s former Department of Environment is now Environment and Climate Change Canada. Similar changes were made in Ontario. As reported in the U.K.’s Independent, critics are calling May’s move a “terrible” and “deeply worrying” and “plain stupid” development in a post-Paris world.

Or is it? Samantha Page, writing for climate news site Climate Progress, speculated that folding the climate file into a larger, more powerful department might actually lead to bolder climate action. After all, it’s widely recognized that business, energy and industry will need to be transformed to achieve the long-term goals of the Paris climate agreement. “Merging the formerly small [department] with business perhaps makes more sense than skeptics might think,” wrote Page. Time will tell.

Low gasoline prices aren’t killing the electric car

There’s no question that when gasoline prices falls we see a rise in sales of big, gas-guzzling cars and trucks and a decline in purchases of electric vehicles. But low gasoline prices aren’t having as much of an impact as some might think.

Scott Shepard, a senior research analyst at Navigant Research, told ClimateWire that sales of plug-in electric vehicles in both Canada and the United States will reach record levels this year — a combination of increased choice, falling cost and better driving range. He expects the year’s sales will hit 200,000, which would represent a 62 per cent jump over 2015. Another interesting observation: sales of used electric cars are on the rise as one- to three-year-old models come off their leases.

So far, sales in Canada appear healthy. As reported earlier, Chevy Volt sales have experienced record growth this year. In fact, Canadians are now out-purchasing Americans on a per-capita basis. But could growth be stronger?

Some experts I’ve consulted say Ontario consumers may be holding off on purchasing electric vehicles until the government introduces free overnight charging and eliminates the HST on new electric vehicle purchases, as called for under the Wynne climate plan. Why purchase one today when you know you can save thousands of dollars in taxes and get free charging at a later date?

The Big Picture: Yawn. Just another monthly temperature record

Over-exposure can be a bad thing. Take Donald Trump. The more we listen to him, the less shocked we are by the craziness that comes out, and we become desensitized to the carnival the U.S. election has become.

The same thing applies to global temperatures. When NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported separately this past week that June set another all-time monthly record, there was a collective yawn.

Sadly, we’ve become far too used to hearing it. As the agency said, “This was also the 14th consecutive month the monthly global temperature record has been broken.” It’s also the longest such streak in its 137-year history of keeping record. NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt said 2016 is on track to blow 2015, itself a record year, “out of the water.” The first six months of this year, in fact, were measured to be 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial times.

(View the text alternative for the Global Mean Surface Temperature infographic)

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Research Spotlight: A trillion tonnes of ice gone in four years!

All of this warming explains some scary stuff happening in Greenland, with worldwide repercussions. A paper just published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters analyzed ice-melt data from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat satellite. It found that between the start of 2011 and end of 2014, Greenland had lost one trillion tonnes of ice due to melting. Let’s stop to process that for a moment. According to writer Phil Plait, a trillion tonnes of ice can be imagined as a massive cube that’s 10 kilometres tall. That’s about three times the volume of Mount Everest, and just as tall.

Of course, that ice didn’t just disappear — it flowed as water into the ocean. “Distributed over the Earth, that means sea level rose about 2.5 mm over those four years,” wrote Plait. “That rate of sea level rise from Greenland ice melting was twice as rapid as the average rate from 1992 to 2011.” And that doesn’t include melting from Antarctica. “The evidence that global warming is behind all this is so overwhelming is difficult to overstate,” Plait added. 

(View the text alternative for the Greenland Ice Sheet Elevation Change infographic)

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