In late May, shortly after becoming Alberta’s new premier, Jason Kenney visited the Toronto offices of The Globe and Mail. In a sit-down interview, Premier Kenney spoke at length about his vision for Alberta’s economy and his plans to restore the oil and gas sector to its former glory.
When asked about institutional investors’ growing focus on climate change, Premier Kenney brushed it off. “Flavour of the day,” he told the Globe. There are more important things for investors to look at.
If the financial risk from climate change is a flavour of the day, the Premier of Alberta should prepare himself for one very long day.
The threat of climate change to the stability of the world’s financial system is increasingly a top concern for investors around the world. What was once considered a niche issue is now regularly cited by central bankers and CEOs of the world’s biggest companies as a major threat—not in the future, but today.
With national governments failing to move at the speed necessary to address the climate crisis, the financial sector is driving the shift towards a low-carbon economy. Sustainable finance is directing billions of dollars towards cleaner, greener businesses—and those who ignore or deny what’s happening will lose out on new business opportunities.
For a ‘flavour of the day,’ climate risk has made a lot of appearances amongst the most powerful banking and investment institutions around the world. Consider that in the first six months of this year:
● The Bank of Canada declared, for the first time, climate change to be one of six significant vulnerabilities to the stability of Canada’s financial system in its annual Financial System Review.
● The Bank of England announced a series of climate stress tests for insurers.
● 477 investors managing more than US $34 trillion in assets signed an open letter calling on G20 leaders to price carbon, rapidly decarbonize and end support for thermal coal.
● BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the world, released research showing investors are underpricing climate risk in US bonds, commercial real estate and utility investments.
● New York State’s Common Retirement Fund, the third-largest public pension fund in the US, will increase its contribution to a Sustainable Investment-Climate Solutions Program from $10 billion to $20 billion.
These are professional economists and money managers who, when presented with the evidence, are making the calculated decision to shift money out of industries linked to climate change. Are we to believe that Premier Kenney knows something they don’t?
Even leaders in some of the most carbon-intensive industries in the world are speaking out. Shell CEO Ben van Beurden said a ‘net zero’ target on emissions is the only way to go. BP’s head of strategy told Bloomberg News that some of its oil assets “won’t see the light of day” due to the threat of climate change and the demand from investors for lower-emission projects.
In case you think these statements are simply the musings from investors outside of Canada who don’t understand our economy or the importance of the energy sector, think again. Alberta’s very own AIMco, which is responsible for investing the pensions of Albertans and has more than $100 billion in assets, signed an open letter calling for an acceleration of investment into the low-carbon economy and scaling up efforts to meet the Paris Agreement climate targets.
There is an enormous opportunity for Alberta, and by extension Canada, in embracing sustainable finance. The move to create transition bonds, whereby investors can put their money into businesses seeking to reduce emissions in high-intensity industries, stands to be of huge benefit to Canada’s oil and gas sector. Rather than dismissing sustainable finance, Premier Kenney should be championing these types of new financial tools.
In 2019, the market signals around climate risk are undeniable, and the global shift towards low-carbon industries can’t be ignored. Climate risk is a flavour of the day? If that’s the case, Premier Kenney should brace himself for a very long 24 hours. This flavour is not going anywhere.
Kevin Quinlan is a senior advisor with Mantle314, a climate risk management consulting firm.