The keynote speaker at the Vancouver Island Economic Alliances (VIEA) annual State of the Island Economic Summit this October will be Dr. Catherine Potvin.
Never heard of her? Well, you don’t have to hang your head or go to the back of the class, but Potvin, who hails from McGill University in Montreal, is a Canadian leading light in the drive to get leaders – including business leaders – to transition to the low carbon economy that she and her colleagues say is a necessary shift not only for the future of business, but for the planet.
She’s used to tuning in to people like Mark Carney, former head of the Bank of Canada, and current Governor of the Bank of England, who is on board with the need to ween the world from its high hydrocarbon trajectory, and soon.
“The combination of the weight of scientific evidence and the dynamics of the financial system suggest that, in the fullness of time, climate change will threaten financial resilience and longer-term prosperity. While there is still time to act, the window of opportunity is finite and shrinking,” Carney is quoted in a recent State of The Island Economic Summit newsletter.
But what on earth do people like Potvin and Carney have to do with we citizens of Vancouver Island, an idyllic state – if only of mind – protected form the realities of the problem plagued world by the Strait of Georgia and a 90 minute ferry ride?
Where does self-delusion end and a reach for the levers of responsibility begin? That’s the question, and Potvin, who spoke to The Chronicle Thursday, June 9, says right here, right now, and beginning with you… especially if ‘you’ happen to be a forward thinking business person.
Potvin was one of a ‘large network of scholars that wrote a climate action plan for Canada.’ She believes the time for business to carpe the diem is already here, and that those who don’t respond to the challenge will be left behind. Following are extracts from an interview with Potvin.
What is the Climate Action Plan?
We basically teamed up together, scholars from all ten provinces, and tried to spell out how we think it’s possible to start tackling climate change – how can this transformation to low-carbon also be good to local economies and what are the opportunities for business.
What does the big picture look like?
I actually think that as we speak in the spring of 2016, Canada and the world have started a race to transition their economies to low-carbon, and I would think that in Canada it started with the last federal election, and in the world it started with the climate summit that took place in Paris in 2015.
How does the drive to low-carbon affect the world economy?
The countries of the world are all repositioning themselves in looking for this new future economy, and Canada is very active on that… It is a very good time to look at what the strengths of a local economy are, and how the local economy can benefit from this national and international transition to low-carbon.
What are the risks for businesses of entering the low-carbon market too soon?
I think that risk is forgone now. I think that transition has begun. Two days ago I met with the federal and provincial heads of these working tables that are preparing the future Canadian plan for the transition to low carbon, and it’s going forward. When we have the (Vancouver Island) Economic Summit, it will coincide more or less with the release of that plan. So I think now the risk is very low, I think the risk was two years ago. I think now those who wait two more years will have missed an opportunity.
What kinds of opportunities will become available to local markets as a low-carbon economy is implemented?
We mentioned transportation. There’s certainly a lot to do also with buildings, in terms of energy efficiency. Another sector I noticed when I was in Vancouver Island was local food production. So these, the building and local food production, would really be local benefits in a local market.
How is Canada positioned in terms of participating in the global low-carbon economy?
It’s important, I think, for Canadians to realize that, while in Canada the climate change discourse has largely been perceived as threatening for our economy and scary, many developing countries, on the contrary, see this as modernity and they really look forward to it, probably because they have not invested heavily in fossil-fuel dependent infrastructure.”
Will the transition to a low-carbon economy be market driven or government and policy driven?
I actually personally think it’s going to be both. I think markets have their role to play, I think though that regulation and incentives are really important. You were mentioning this used electric car dealer, I think governments have a role to play for example by increasing the tax on very highly emitting vehicles and reducing the tax on electric vehicles so the market can receive a little bit of help from the government, and it seems that’s the way things are going to go.
How will people adjust to the economic and lifestyle realities of a low-carbon economy?
I think it’s really important to realize, and remind people, we’re not asking everybody to change tomorrow, that this is a transition that will take place over a 20-year period. So if your car is emitting quite a lot, maybe you cannot afford to change your car tomorrow, but certainly your next car will be a zero-emission car kind of thing.
Many governments, particularly at the municipal level, seem to be more focused on adapting to the reality of global warming than taking steps to reduce GHG emissions and stop it. Is there a sentiment that it’s too late to do anything about global warming, therefore we just have to learn to live with it?
I would be (concerned) if the dominant attitude was let’s adapt and let’s not try to reduce. But it is essential to adapt, I think. In Vancouver Island, where a sea-level rise is an unavoidable problem, municipalities would be quite careless if they didn’t try to adapt to that. I mean, this is going to happen and there needs to be an adaptation response to that. The responsibility is to do both at the same time. But if we just adapt without reducing, then the cost of adaptation will skyrocket.
Are people aware of the need to make personal changes in order to achieve a low-carbon economy?
I would say yes, and probably to a different degree in different provinces in Canada. I think that climate perturbation has become so significant and obvious most people realize now that the climate is acting weird. It is also my sense that overall the Canadian population is quite supportive of action.
Are the people of Canada looking for leadership that will allow them to participate in a low-carbon economy?
I could not have said it better. In fact, when we launched our climate action plan in March of 2015 we were very unsure of how the public would receive us. I had this fantasy of receiving quite negative emails from climate skeptics and negative people, but my email was overwhelmed by people thanking us for giving them hope. So our reading of the general Canadian public is that people feel quite frightened, are looking for leadership, are looking for government and business and scholars who can say: “This is the way forward.”