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Time for a Bold Response to our Converging Health and Climate Emergencies

March 29, 2020

The current COVID-19 health crisis portends a future with increased climate-related disruptions where multiple shocks occur causing significant impacts to systems and economies. This experience has highlighted resiliency gaps across businesses, governments and institutions.

At the same time, seeing how the global community, businesses, and citizens have come together to mitigate a collective risk that disproportionally affects our most vulnerable citizens is inspiring. Although the immediate nature of the COVID-19 crisis is different than the slower-moving climate crisis, we now know we can respond to scientific warnings with bold actions. We are optimistic that we can rally around our renewed sense of collective purpose, trust in scientific experts, and community resiliency to mitigate the climate emergency.

Green new stimulus

During this current emergency, we advocate for our political leaders to support all Canadians and businesses to reduce job losses and social displacement. At the same time, we support a stimulus that doesn’t deepen another emergency. A few of our developing thoughts about how government should respond are below.

Implement the Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance’s recommendations

We will need private capital to drive the recovery and that capital should be incentivized towards low-carbon products and services. The recovery can’t just consist of government funds. The federal government should work with the provinces and financial regulators to require climate-related disclosures in line with the recommendations from the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).

Apply a climate lens to procurement and infrastructure

Procurement and infrastructure spending should balance cost, time, resiliency to climate impacts and low-carbon metrics.

For infrastructure, the upfront carbon from construction materials and fuels can be capped and projects below the cap could be prioritized. It is important for projects with long time horizons to account for all of their operating and upfront carbon emissions – a growing source of carbon pollution in the building sector.

To jump-start the economy, support Canadian workers (without running afoul of trade agreements), and align with climate goals, the government should apply upfront carbon caps on infrastructure projects. Read more about upfront carbon caps.

Build out zero-emission vehicle infrastructure

The market for zero-emission vehicles is growing in Canada as drivers increasingly realize electric vehicles are cleaner, quieter, more efficient, require less maintenance, and cost less to operate than internal combustion engine vehicles. As the growth in zero-emission vehicles continues, the federal government should continue to invest in electrifying our transportation system. That means incentivising the adoption of zero-emission vehicles for both individuals and businesses, expanding public transit, and increasing the amount of charging infrastructure.

Support the transition of high-carbon industries

If public dollars are going to support businesses, including high-carbon industries, the stimulus should also support workers to transition to low-carbon jobs. Funding should reward businesses that make meaningful investments during this transition. This could entail converting old oil wells into sources of geothermal powerextracting lithium for batteries, or investing in carbon-sequestration technologies. We should use our skills and assets in the oil and gas sector to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, especially while oil prices are at historic lows and show no signs of rebounding.

What do you think? Are there other steps the government should be taking? We’d love to hear from you. We can learn faster and smarter, together.