Change is messy. The pace is usually unpredictable and the direction rarely looks like a straight line. Twenty years ago, who thought Netflix would have upended the TV marketplace, that more than half of us would do all our banking without ever dealing with an actual banker, or that China would be the world’s biggest investor in clean energy technology?
Canada’s transition to an economy that runs on cleaner energy is no easier to predict, given all the variables at play.
This being the case, we can’t afford not to invest in good measurement and a steady flow of data that tracks our clean growth transition. Data drives progress. We need to know where we are in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, what efforts are paying off, and where more effort must be applied.
Several types of information will be vital to success in reaching our environmental and economic objectives
We need hard data on where emissions are declining and where they are not, so that policies and regulations can be constantly adjusted toward maximum efficiency and efficacy. And we need new, more sophisticated GHG emissions modelling from agencies like the National Energy Board or Statistics Canada to factor in the pace of innovations that are reshaping the energy sector.
Useful information can also flow through capital market disclosures, where companies account for climate-related risks and opportunities. Governments have an important role to play in signalling to securities regulators that such information is critical to a successful clean energy shift. The recommendations of the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures offer a path forward. We are also encouraged by the upcoming review by the Canadian Securities Administrators of risk disclosure and financial impacts associated with climate change.
Data sets that highlight the link between the adoption of clean technologies and economic growth are another area full of potential. The Canadian clean tech sector is growing, but it still craves more domestic and international demand for their products. Businesses will be more apt to invest in new innovations, if they see the evidence that clean technologies translate into healthier bottom lines.
To date, systems to gather evidence of how businesses can cut pollution and make themselves stronger are largely anecdotal, but the anecdotes are piling up literally by the hour. Thousands of the largest companies in the world have committed themselves to meeting environmental targets and timetables and are happily sharing the ways in which this shift is helping, not hurting, their competitive position. In places like the EU, new modelling techniques are being developed to chart the shifts we are seeing in hard numbers, and Canada can learn from and adopt similar techniques.
The potential that could be unlocked by this type of data collection is enormous, especially among the generation of data-savvy business leaders and policy-makers who are now taking charge of the future. Imagine a real-time technology-enabled system of emissions measurement, giving anyone with a phone, tablet or computer instant information on trends and patterns in emissions where they live, or across the country.
Finally, constant feedback is essential to learning how to improve as we go, and it’s an important part of getting businesses and individuals to feel confident that public policy is designed to reward effort properly and maintain fairness for everyone. Progress will break down if people believe that the burden of change isn’t shared.
Here in Canada, the reporting mechanisms in some provinces and the expanding mandate of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development are good starting points for providing this feedback, but there’s lots of room to improve.
The ideal approach would be to include a pan-Canadian accountability mechanism inside the Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Growth and Climate Change, and create an independent body like the UK Committee on Climate Change to advise the government on setting carbon targets and report back to Parliament annually on progress.
For most Canadians, there’s little debate about the science of climate change.
What people want to know is how change is happening, how it can happen more quickly, and how healing the planet by cutting emissions can contribute to a stronger economy where they live and across Canada.
It’s time for some innovation in how we measure and report the essential information needed to move this debate to a new, and more productive stage.
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