As Go the Ecosystems, So Goes the Economy

An energy and environment expert reflects on the post-Covid recovery.

When daily life is humming along more-or-less routinely, it is easy to lose sight of just how uncertain the future really is, even during the best of times. And these are not the best of times. The pandemic has brought an abrupt halt to business as usual in our personal lives and in our economy. We do not know how long it will be before the threat of the virus can be brought under control or even whether the worst is still to come, but it is not too soon to be thinking about what things need to change when this is over.

Over the past three months, I’ve been discussing the post-COVID economic recovery with economists, federal ministers, clean energy experts, business leaders and others through a series of web panels sponsored by Corporate Knights. Prior to each panel, I collaborated with clean technology finance expert Celine Bak, public policy consultant Gillian McEachern and Corporate Knights editor Toby Heaps to write a series of white papers exploring how Canada could create a green economic recovery. 

We analyzed the potential contributions to the recovery from building renovations, renewable electricity, electric vehicles, heavy industry, forestry and agriculture, and even the petroleum industry.  We found that with investments well within the normal capacity of the Canadian economy, and with the creative partnership of the public and private sectors, we can reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 240 million tonnes per year by 2030. That would put Canada on the path to a carbon-free economy within a generation, while creating more than twice as many jobs than have been lost to the virus.

It has been clear for some time that our economy is on a collision course with the natural ecosystems in which it is embedded, and because of that there is a large and growing body of know-how for making the transition to zero carbon. By 2030, Canada could create millions of job-years of employment by greening the power grid, electrifying transport, upgrading our homes and workplaces to be more comfortable and energy efficient, and resetting our agricultural, forestry and industrial production systems on a course for sustainability. With the pandemic-triggered prospect of renewed public investment, and with the creativity up-and-coming leadership is bringing to the game, a door has opened to a positive, practical future in which we rebalance our relationships with the atmospheric and other global ecosystems on which our prosperity depends.

The pandemic response has served as a powerful reminder of the extent of our mutual vulnerability. But it has also highlighted our mutual dependence and the importance and of the effectiveness of our social and political institutions when aligned by a common purpose. This will serve us well during the post-pandemic recovery, which, I hope, will be characterized by innovation and renewal. 

The investments (blue bars) and employment impacts (grey bars) over the next decade for a green economic recovery that cuts annual greenhouse gas emissions by 240 Mt CO2e by 2030.


The Good in 2016 Review: The Year in Climate Change

2016 saw many urban-related climate action developments. This January, we’re taking a look at the good, the not so good, and what may be in store for 2017.

The Paris Agreement came into effect

At the end of 2015, nations at the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP 21) adopted The Paris Agreement, the outcome of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). To come into legal force, the agreement had to be ratified (signed into legal force by each country’s government) by at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of global emissions. The agreement has now been signed by 194 countries and ratified by 118, covering 80% of global emissions.

One of the key objectives of the Agreement is to limit global warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C, which would avoid the worst of projected climate change impacts.

For cities, ratification of the The Paris Agreement means there should be increased national climate change initiatives, as well as support for municipal corporate and community emissions reductions and renewable energy projects.

Further reading

Interested in tracking the Paris Agreement?

Analysis of the Paris Agreement

The City of Toronto made major climate action moves

Toronto has adopted the ambitious and exciting goal of reducing emissions 80% below 1990 levels (or 17,600,000 tonnes per year) by 2050. The TransformTO project was undertaken to achieve this goal. It is a collaborative project co-led by the City of Toronto’s Environment and Energy Division and the Toronto Atmospheric Fund. TransformTO is informed by community engagements and robust technical scenario modelling, aiming to understand what the most emissions, energy and cost-effective carbon reduction strategies are for the city. The results will generate a long-term climate strategy that updates Toronto’s existing Climate Action Plan.

SSG is leading the high profile energy and emissions quantification project for TransformTO. The modelling aspects of the project include developing an action plan for reaching the City’s 2020 GHG reduction target, and a decision-support framework focused on achieving Toronto’s reduction target, which aligns with the Province’s reduction of 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Phase 1 involved developing a GHG emissions baseline and Build-As-Planned (BAP) scenario to quantify the emissions reductions potentials of Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions to the year 2050. The inventory and projection is undertaken according to the Global Protocol for Cities (GPC) using CityInSight, a spatially explicit energy, emissions and finance model developed by SSG and whatIf? Technologies. This process involved significant efforts in collecting, organizing, and interpreting data from public and private entities, including spatial geographical information (GIS) and Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) data. A major analysis of City, Regional and Provincial policy was undertaken to develop assumptions and model a BAP scenario.

Phase 2, currently underway, involves modelling the GHG emissions reduction potential of implementing a host of low carbon actions to meet the City’s target, and an analysis of the co-benefits and co-harms of these actions. A key focus has been evaluating the implications of land-use policy for key GHG emissions drivers such as transportation and buildings, and the opportunities associated with interventions such as transit and district energy.

Further reading:

Most of Canada adopted a Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change

The Prime Minister and First Ministers of eight provinces (Manitoba and Saskatchewan declined to participate) and three territories agreed to a national framework for climate change and clean growth in 2016.  

A national price on carbon will be implemented as a key part of the framework. It will be $10 per tonne of emissions starting in 2018, rising to $50 per tonne by 2022. The federal government will impose a carbon tax on those provinces that do not enact their own.

The first ministers also agreed to:

  • Phase out coal-fired power by 2030;
  • Provide 90% of power in Canada from clean energy sources in just over a decade;
  • Reduce methane in the oil and gas sector;
  • Protect the carbon stored in ecological areas (forests, wetlands, farmland);
  • Improve building codes to advance energy efficiency; and
  • Deliver annual progress reports on implementation.

Further reading:

The world continues to heat up

While the Paris Agreement aims to enable warming to a limit of 1.5 degrees, the world got a glimpse of what that would look like in 2016. Climate Central reported that: “the average global temperature change for the first three months of 2016 was 1.48°C, essentially equaling the 1.5°C warming threshold agreed to by COP 21 negotiators in Paris last December.

Further reading:

What might be in store for 2017?

Despite international agreements and national intentions, many recognize the slow pace of action inherent at these scales. Here in Canada, a focus on provincial and local government climate action will be essential to the success of the newly adopted national framework, and other efforts. Coalitions of municipalities have developed from this recognition, both nationally and internationally. Municipalities can access coalitions such as these for support on urban planning and climate action:

There is much to look forward to and participate in for 2017. To keep you in the loop, we suggest:

Low carbon city.

SSG partners with CDP to support the transition to low carbon cities

SSG has partnered with CDP to support European cities in reporting on GHG emissions and climate risk. Both SSG and CDP recognise the critical role of cities in advancing a low carbon future.  

CDP has worked with over 300 cities globally to manage over 1.67 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. CDP’s cities program demonstrates that cities are better managing their risk and increasing resiliency through more than 4,800 activities to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

“CDP has had a pivotal role in advancing climate action, firstly amongst corporations and now with cities. CDP’s work compliments SSG’s efforts to identify and implement low carbon pathways, using the lens of city planning”, says SSG Director Yuill Herbert.

SSG has fifteen years of experience working with cities, including undertaking GHG inventories using the GHG Protocol for Cities, performing emissions projections, and assessing emissions reductions strategies that consider financing, economic development, and quality of life. In Paris at COP21, SSG launched a new energy, emissions and finance model, CityInSight, designed to help cities evaluate and implement decarbonisation paths.

“SSG develops and implements comprehensive sustainability solutions for cities focused on climate action,” says Conor Riffle, Cities Director at CDP. “We are excited to welcome SSG on board as the first CDP cities consultancy partner for Europe and are confident they will continue to provide high quality services to cities responding to CDP.”

CDP offers a voluntary climate change reporting platform for city governments. The Cities program provides the world’s first global platform for municipal governments to disclose greenhouse gas emissions, climate change risks, and mitigation and adaptation strategies.  CDP collects and delivers materially relevant data for cities, the private sector, and other stakeholders.

Sustainability Reporting for Co-operatives: A Guidebook

International Co-operative Alliance & SSG Present: Sustainability Reporting for Co-operatives: A Guidebook

Sustainability Reporting for Co-operatives: A Guidebook, prepared by SSG for the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), explores the different types of reporting frameworks used by co-ops globally, the process of developing a chosen framework and how a co-op can then communicate results to members and interested stakeholders.

The Guidebook also provides guidance on how co-operatives can track their contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

You can read more about the report on ICA’s website, or you can download the report directly.