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Green wave presenting major opportunities and risks for Canadian businesses

Friday, October 29th 2021, 9:00 am - Experts from the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices say many companies in Canada will see both wins and challenges as the world moves towards a low-carbon future.

Next month, the small city of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, 75 kilometres west of Winnipeg, will celebrate the grand opening of the largest pea protein plant on Earth.

Roquette Canada, a division of the French food giant Roquette, built the 200,000-square-foot plant at a cost of $600 million, to capitalize on skyrocketing North American demand for alternative proteins.

That demand is surging, in part, because production of plant proteins — key ingredients in an array of products, including high-profile foods like Beyond Meat — typically emits much less carbon than animal sources.

While the plant’s 120 permanent full-time jobs are an obvious boon for the city of 14,000 and surrounding communities, investments like Roquette’s are needed in all parts of Canada — in all kinds of different sectors — if this country is to prosper and successfully transition in a world economy moving rapidly towards a low-carbon future.

That’s the key message in a just-released, first-of-its-kind report, called “Sink or Swim,” prepared by a multidisciplinary team of experts for the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices.

It’s also especially timely, coming just days before the start of the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference, where Canada and other countries will reaffirm accelerated 2030 emissions reductions targets to help meet the goal of reaching global net zero carbon by 2050.

“The green wave is coming fast. Big changes in global markets bring big opportunities, but also big risks,” the report states.

Sunset over biogas capture wells in an open meadow section of Frederic-Back Park in the north Montreal. (Alain Beauchesne/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus) Sunset over biogas capture wells in an open meadow section of Frederic-Back Park, Quebec. (Alain Beauchesne/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus)

THE WORLD IS MOVING

Rachel Samson, one of the report’s lead authors, emphasized in an interview with The Weather Network that while the science on climate change is strong and clear, this is about recognizing the reality of an economic transition, first and foremost.

“The rest of the world is moving on this,” said Samson. “Investors are taking action to reduce emissions. Policies are changing. Technological costs are coming down. Within that context, Canada really needs to act in order to maintain its competitive position in the world.”

The report’s aim wasn’t to identify low-emissions sectors and activities — for the most part, those are known. Instead, researchers wanted to find out how well or poorly Canadian companies in different sectors are positioned to succeed in the low-carbon transition and to use those findings to guide investment and policy decisions.

What they found was concerning.

“Canada is not ready,” the report states. “Big investments are not happening at the scale needed. Businesses are vulnerable to sudden changes in global markets or investor sentiment. Promising companies that could drive future growth struggle to attract financing. And there are limited plans to protect and empower workers and communities most affected by change.”

COMPANY STRESS TESTS

Different sectors require different strategies and solutions. To help get a clearer picture, researchers ran “stress tests” on all publicly traded Canadian companies under future carbon-cutting policy scenarios, then grouped them into three categories — demand creation, carbon costs, and demand decline — according to which of those “drivers” most affected their profit.

The first category includes companies in sectors like electric batteries and energy storage, which primarily need to create more demand to succeed. The second, which includes companies in mining and heavy manufacturing, saw profits cut by rising carbon costs; to succeed, they need to reduce emissions. The third, which includes oil, gas, and coal companies, face declining demand and must shift into new business lines.

In a real highlight, authors were then able to use these results to identify specific companies and communities at greatest risk across the country.

“It’s the first Canadian report that does this, so I think it’s very, very important,” Lisa DeMarco, a senior partner and CEO of Resilient LLP, a Toronto law firm specializing in climate and clean energy, told The Weather Network.

Most striking about those results? No province or territory is exempt. And so, while those heavily reliant on oil and gas have the highest proportion of workers in transition-vulnerable sectors (Alberta is first at 9.1 per cent), a province like Ontario, with more workers and a big reliance on the transportation sector, also has many thousands of workers exposed (5 per cent).

“For workers, the stakes are particularly high in terms of what businesses and governments do to manage the transition,” Samson added.

GETTING IT RIGHT

Samson emphasizes that there are also areas where Canada is getting it right, particularly in sectors where the transition opportunities are strong. She points to General Motors of Canada’s $1 billion investment in its plant in Ingersoll to start making electric vans there in 2022.

Likewise, international miner Vale has invested $150 million to extend the life of a nickel mine in Manitoba in response to demand from makers of electric vehicle batteries. And in Quebec, aluminum manufacturers Alcoa and Rio Tinto have struck a partnership called Elysis, which recently began making low-carbon aluminum, using a technology that eliminates all direct GHG emissions from the smelting process.

The problem, Samson said, is there aren’t more examples like this. “Our analysis shows it’s clearly not [enough] yet.”

The report emphasizes that the onus is on businesses and private sector capital to make the critical investments — much like Roquette Canada’s example in Portage la Prairie. But it also details how supportive government policy, mandated climate-related disclosure rules for public companies, and targeted, strategic investments are key.

“Government has a role to play in mobilizing that investment and channeling it in the directions needed for Canada’s success,” Samson said.

That not only means doing more, but doing it quickly — which would also align with the federal government’s updated goal to cut Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40‑45 per cent by 2030.

“There’s a reason we called the report ‘Sink or Swim,’ because it really depends on the choices that businesses and governments make over the coming decade,” Samson said. “If they take the actions that we recommend, if they make the investments that are needed, then it will be very positive for Canada, with new sources of economic growth, and new sources of jobs.”

Thumbnail credit: Maryna Terletska/ Moment/ Getty Images

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