Canada has a lot of catching up to do on sustainable growth, says panel

The federal government's Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance says Canada has a long way to go to achieve sustainable growth — and in its final report, being released today, it says financial markets will play a fundamental role in unlocking that economic potential. But while Canada has a lot of catching up to do compared to countries in the European Union or Asia, the panel argues that if its 15 recommendations are acted upon, Canada could become a leader in transitioning to a greener economy. "Our environmental and economic aspirations need to become one and the same, because ultimately they are indivisible," said Tiff Macklem, chair of the expert panel and a former senior deputy governor of the Bank of Canada.

"Finance is not going to solve climate change, but the things that are going to solve it ... all require a lot of investment. And that's where finance is critical. "If Canada is to realize its environmental and economic goals, sustainable finance needs to go mainstream. 'Sustainable finance' needs to be simply 'finance'."

Changing consumer patterns

The panel's recommendations encompass what the federal government, the financial sector, regulators and investors need to do to ensure Canada remains competitive in the face of climate change. "As the effects of climate change are becoming more evident around the world, we are also seeing shifts in consumer preferences, innovation, economic activity, competitive advantage and wealth creation," says the report.

"With these shifts, sound environmental stewardship is increasingly intersecting with market access and becoming a critical source of sustained competitive advantage." The report highlights Canada's unique position, having both a deeply resource-based economy and a world-class financial system. For Canada, it says, that means both challenges — as the world transitions away from carbon toward cleaner energy sources — and an opportunity to lead. "This is a real opportunity to bring Canada's financial system into the modern age," said Kevin Quinlan, a Vancouver-based climate change and sustainable finance consultant. "It's not only good for the economic sectors exposed to climate change risk, and the people who work in those sectors, but for all Canadians who invest in the economy." Among other things, the report recommends:

  • Standards for how companies disclose the risk climate change poses to them and their bottom line

  • Incentives to boost the clean energy sector

  • Help for the oil and natural gas sector to make it as low-emissions as possible

  • Having the federal government publish its plan for lower emissions past 2030, up to 2050, so that industry knows what to expect

  • E​​stablishing a Canadian Centre for Climate Information and Analytics to obtain better data on the economic and financial impacts of climate change

  • Accelerating development of a vibrant private building retrofit market.

A 'super-deduction' for green investments

The report also calls for financial incentives for investors to choose mutual funds and equities that are more climate-friendly, such as a 'super deduction' which would give investors income tax deductions for the investment worth more than 100 per cent. "We think this would get Canadians asking their investment advisers about climate-smart investments, it would get investment advisers to ask their clients about their climate preferences and ... it would stimulate the market development for climate-conscious investment products," said Macklem. The panel also supports carbon pricing as a financial instrument to lower greenhouse gas emissions — but it says industry and investors need more certainty, and that means the federal government should map out its carbon pricing plan beyond 2023.

Macklem said there's nothing stopping governments, industry and financial institutions from acting on the recommendations immediately, even with a federal election looming. "This is our best economic and financial advice for any (political) party in Canada," he said. "There's going to be an active discussion, that's a good thing. But we tried to be very thoughtful about what were the priorities for Canada, what are the things that could really make a difference in Canada." Quinlan said this report is important. "The transition away from carbon is already happening around the world," he said. "We need to be proactive and ensure a smooth transition for Canada so that no one is left behind."