Summits that bring world leaders to the table to discuss climate change are generally regarded with a fair bit of pessimism, but the 2015 United Nations Climate Change conference in Paris will be different, believes Toby A.A. Heaps, CEO of Corporate Knights. He’s seen growing momentum in environmental sustainability efforts – an indication that the time is right for announcing an ambitious plan.
“The two biggest economies in the world – China and the United States – have already made hard commitments to cap emissions over the next 15 years,” he says. The two states’ joint announcement set targets for the U.S. to slash its carbon emissions below 2005 levels, while China will halt growth of greenhouse gas pollution and double the proportion of renewable and nuclear electricity on its grids.
The result will be a dramatic change in the energy landscape, says Mr. Heaps, who adds that more and more companies – and countries – are moving away from viewing this new reality as a threat.
“It’s now widely regarded as an opportunity,” he says. “The train has left the station on the low carbon energy production economy – it’s really a matter of getting on or being left behind.”
Merran Smith, director of Clean Energy Canada, says when “superpowers go from finger-pointing to handshaking, it’s a sign that the energy transition is gaining real momentum.
“Countries like the U.S. and China used to be obstacles – now they are ready to step up to the plate,” she says. Ms. Smith believes this willingness is shared by the Canadian delegation. “Our new government is sending people to [Paris] who are good diplomats and want to be part of finding a path forward.”
Part of the incentive for the shift comes from facing hard realities, she adds. “People across the globe are already living with the impacts of climate change – this is motivating countries to take action.”
Mr. Heaps believes the realization that the planet’s resources are finite is another consideration. “We are approaching nine billion people,” he explains. “With our global population growing in number as well as consumption habits, the changing ratio of people over resources is a driving force for increasing resource productivity.”
For achieving the same or a higher standard of living, Mr. Heaps believes that the use of resources, including energy, has to be more progressive. Reflecting this approach is a trend in investments, he says. “Globally, investors poured twice as much money into new renewable-electricity projects than into new fossil fuel projects last year.”
Around the world, utilities added 123 gigawatts of renewable electricity to their grids in 2014, increasing the world’s renewable energy capacity by eight per cent.
The numbers send a clear message. “The momentum behind clean energy is big. With $295-billion (U.S.) invested globally last year, this is a big industry,” says Ms. Smith. “By providing clean electricity for powering industry and households – including meeting transportation needs – we’ll be able to get off fossil fuels and reduce our carbon footprint.”
Clean energy is not only a good climate change solution, says Ms. Smith, it’s also “good business” and creates jobs. Canada has a wealth of opportunities, with renewable energy potential from coast to coast to coast, she adds. “Wind, solar, run-of-river, hydro, biomass, tidal, we have it all – we could be a leader.”
To take on a leadership role, Canada needs to better support the players in the clean energy economy, such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology, suggests Ms. Smith.
“We already have a renewable electricity advantage, our grid is relatively clean – we only need to scale it up. For Canada, it’s not a matter if, but a matter when – and those first into the game are going to be the winners.”
It’s high time to step up the game, agrees Mr. Heaps. “There is a certain moral charge that comes from the appreciation and awareness that we are brushing up against some potentially serious climate limits,” he says. “Getting a handle on our greenhouse gas emissions is important and we are starting to move, even if it isn’t fast enough.”
“Not everything is going to be solved in Paris,” adds Ms. Smith. “But there is momentum going into the talks and I believe it’s going to inspire strong global action as well as climate action commitments.”
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