Carbon Talk Launches

While it may not have been the most fortuitous timing – sandwiched between the two most important Stanley Cup games – on June 14, 2011, CarbonTalks held its official launch at the SFU Segal Graduate School of Business.  Seventy-five guests joined President Andrew Petter, CarbonTalks Advisors and Staff to launch this new initiative and unveil CarbonTalks new website and video.

The following is an excerpt from Shauna Sylvester’s presentation (Executive Director of Carbon Talks and Fellow of the SFU Centre for Dialogue):

Welcome —  it’s wonderful to be in a room with some of the key innovators, advocates and analysts in the low-carbon economy in British Columbia.

So what’s a woman, who has spent 25 years focused on foreign policy and democratic development doing in a place like this?  How does one go from the world of peace building to the world of carbon?  It’s a question I ask myself daily as I probe articles on the most recent definition of intentional and non-intentional fugitive emissions or consider how much density is required to justify a co-generation district energy system.

But I don’t have to get too far into my existential questioning to come to the answer.  I’m here because the transition to the low-carbon economy is one of the most pressing issues of our time.  Even though it is no longer vogue to talk about climate change in public policy circles in Ottawa or Washington – it is one of the most important economic and environmental new realities facing us globally.

Carbon Talks emerged out of what I will call the “post Copenhagen” period in foreign policy when, in the absence of strong national and global leadership in addressing climate change new actors have started to take centre stage, shifting the narrative about climate change to economic development and putting the focus on innovation and opportunity.

Recognizing the economic and employment opportunities, many countries around the world have started to implement policy and investment changes to capture the economic and environmental benefits of the green economy. China, for example has moved into the spot as the second largest producer of clean technology accounting for 1.4 percent of it’s GDP and earning $64 billion.  The growth of the clean tech sector in China is growing at 77 percent per year.  As one of the early adopters, Denmark’s leads the world deriving 3.1 per cent of its gross domestic product from renewable energy technology and energy efficiency, or about $11.6 billion US.

So while it is easy to get pessimistic in this “post Copenhagen” period, my experience in foreign policy suggests that this is a time of transition and opportunity – where the locus of leadership has shifted from  global institutions to sub-national governments, businesses and civil society organizations who are focused on very pragmatic, incremental change.

Carbon Talks is part of that new narrative. Our work  is not about tackling the big hairy global policy issues nor is it about trying to convince people that climate change is coming.  We see the transition to a low-carbon economy as inevitable.  We see economic opportunities for companies and regions that can get ahead of the curve.   And we see our role in helping business, government, civil society determine how best to accelerate that shift.

At its core, Carbon Talks is about people coming together to find practical and innovative ways to transition to a low-carbon economy. We recognized that the issues are complex, but when you bring the right people around the table, with independent research and in a well supported environment – you create a platform for change.

In foreign policy circles, we often refer to this as “track II” processes – where you take people out of the comfort of their official roles and positions and you put them in a room with their hats off.   Track II process create spaces  where they can wrestle issues to the ground, think creatively, and find practical solutions – unhampered by the idea that they might be quoted.

At Carbon Talks – this is what we do.  We’ve experimented with this model in Canada and we’ve now hosted six dialogues – four in Vancouver, one in Toronto and one with the oil and gas sector in Banff.   In the coming year, we will host six more invitational dialogues focused on three key themes – The Built Environment, Transportation and Financing (with Energy as a cross-cutting theme for all of these).

In addition to hosting very small invitational dialogues, we also convene public dialogues.  In the next year we will host monthly lunch time dialogues and two major multi-media public forums on emerging issues in the transition to the low-carbon economy.  And we produce a blog that profiles the innovators and innovations in this space.

At CarbonTalks we recognize that there are a number of academic initiatives, business associations, non-government organizations and government agencies that are focused on accelerating the shift to a low-carbon economy.  We believe a networked approach is critical – we see our role as a collaborator, working with others, bringing our resources and know-how to the table and building on and leveraging the expertise of others.

We are in a unique moment in time in Vancouver – as I travel the country, I realize that something different is going on here.  We see it in the province’s leadership on carbon pricing, municipalities such as Vancouver and Surrey demonstrating their national leadership in creating green centres, the existence of a growing and vocal clean tech sector, a vibrant and active civil society sector, strong academic and research entities, large consumer coops like MEC and Vancity, a vibrant organic agriculture and food movement and a citizenry who embrace a “green ethos”.

How do we weave all of these strands together to make a strong new fabric that is a model for other economies in the world?

As part of this new fabric, we, at Carbon Talks, look forward to playing role in weaving and reinforcing these stands so we are a more vocal, visible and resilient global force for economic and environmental change.


Bike Sharing – Coming to a City Near You

By Nils Westling

“The Bixi bikes have given me the opportunity to try cycling for a season, without spending too much money” says Sasha Simmons, a regular user of the public bike sharing system in Montréal, called Bixi. She uses the bikes on a daily basis and finds the system convenient and easy-to-use.

Bixi Bikes, Montreal - Photo by afagen on Flickr

Public bike sharing is an increasingly popular way for cities to promote cycling. The list of cities with bike sharing systems is growing.  Berlin, London, Melbourne, Barcelona and Washington DC are just a few of the cities that have joined Montréal in adopting bike sharing programmes.  The idea isn’t new, but recent improvements in technology –  primarily to protect the bikes from theft and vandalism – have given bike sharing programs a boost in the last few years.

The world’s biggest bike sharing system – Vélib – is in Paris, with more than 20,000 available bicycles throughout the city. France is a world leader in public bike sharing and set up the first successful system in La Rochelle in 1974.  Now most major French cities have bike sharing systems in place.

Vélib' bikes in Paris - Photo by Tami

Perhaps the French influence may be at play in Canada as well.  Montréal boasts the largest bike sharing system nationally with approximately 5000 bikes available throughout the downtown core.

In Vancouver, about four percent of commuting trips are made by bike (City of Vancouver) but this number could be significantly higher. According to a survey carried out by the City of Vancouver (Cycling in Vancouver – Fact sheet march 2011)  31 percent of Vancouverites consider themselves cyclists or potential cyclists. But for potential cyclists to actually start pedaling in Vancouver, a few barriers need to be overcome. Bad weather, the risk of injury and the cost of acquiring and maintaining a bike are among these. While it may be difficult to control the weather, Vancouver is one of the best cities for year-round cycling. Safety however remains a serious problem.  Although there are more bike lanes (and most recently some separated lanes), cycling in Vancouver still feels unsafe for many.  With public bike sharing however, the cost of acquiring a bike and the time and effort needed to maintain it, are almost eliminated. For Sasha Simmons: “The best thing about Bixi is that you don’t have to worry about repairing the bike”,  she says.

Hornby Bike lane in the rain - Photo from the Average Joe's Cycling blog


How does bike sharing work?

  • The users who subscribe to the service get a membership card which is used to unlock a bike.
  • The user is required to provide his/her credit card information, which works like a deposit if the user does not return a bike. For example, the users of Bixi bikes in Montréal pay $78 per year whereas subscription in Paris and Stockholm costs approximately $40 per year (in Stockholm a helmet is included in this price).
  • A computer system keeps track of the time each bike is being used, and the user is required to leave the bike back in any station within a certain amount of time.
  • If the bike is not returned within 24 hours, the bike is considered lost and the user is charged a replacement fee (e.g. $250 in Montréal).

Vélib user paying at a station - Photo by nitot on Flickr

In most cases bike sharing is run by public-private partnership arrangements, and advertising is the main source of revenue. Many cities launch public bike sharing programmes with a subsidy or grant.  The City of Stockholm has recently indicated that its’ bike sharing programme is now fully financed and does not require subsidization from the city.

There are numerous benefits to public bike sharing – most notably reduced vehicle traffic, reductions in green house gas emissions, enhanced transit options, more vibrant street life and improved health for users.  Bike sharing programmes also change people’s behaviours. In Paris, cycling went up 70 percent after the first year of bike sharing .  And as someone who was not a cyclist before Bixi came to Montréal, Sasha Simmons agrees, bike sharing has changed the way she thinks about getting around the city – “I actually like cycling now”.

Premier Clark Reconfirms Commitment to B.C.’s Carbon Pricing Policies

Carbon Talks worked with a number of businesses and environmental leaders to encourage the B.C.  government to stay the course on carbon pricing, cap and trade and leadership in the Western Climate Initiative.  We want to acknowledge and applaud Premier Christy Clark for reconfirming B.C.’s commitment to their green economy policies. This is a copy of the open letter that Premier Clark released on May 6th. (We’ve bolded a couple of the key passages)

Open Letter to British Columbians from Premier Christy Clark
Building on BC’s Leadership in the Green Economy.

Over the past several years, BC has gained international recognition for being a leader on the green economy and taking strong, bold steps to reduce our carbon footprint. We have set legislated targets to reduce our carbon emissions 33% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. And we, as a province, have taken strong, bold steps to achieve them.

When I took office on March 14th, there were important decisions on my plate:
• Do we follow the path that has been laid out through 2012 on the carbon tax?
• Do we continue to be engaged with other provinces and states in developing policies to reduce carbon emissions?
In both cases, the answer is yes. It’s in BC’s interests to be leading change in order to leverage our bountiful supply of renewable resources and clean energy, and, more importantly, our expertise and creativity in adapting to a greener economy.

Climate change is having a major impact on BC, whether it is the devastation of our forests by the mountain pine beetle, the impact on our water supply due to melting glaciers, or extreme weather events. Governments, communities, and businesses around the world are confronting climate change, some places more than others, but there is unquestionably a movement taking place that is changing the way our economy works.

BC is on the leading edge of the new, green economy – a decision that was reinforced by the electorate in the 2009 election when it made a choice to elect a government committed to moving ahead with courageous climate change policies.

New green jobs being are being created and cleaner technology is being utilized whether it is a new district energy system at Simon Fraser University, new technology on drilling rigs in our natural gas sector, or new bio‐energy production in Prince George. As well, the announcement by Mercedes Benz to locate the production of electric vehicle fuel cells in Burnaby, confirms that BC is seen as a leader in the new green economy.

Where do we go from here?
The carbon tax has put a price on carbon, while returning that revenue back to individuals and businesses through tax cuts. The purpose is to provide, over time, an incentive for individuals and businesses to reduce carbon use. To date, we have cut more taxes than the amount collected by the carbon tax.

In the future, I am open to considering using the carbon tax to support regional initiatives, such as public transit. If we go this route, we must ensure that the allocation of carbon tax revenue respects regions and communities so that one region is not subsidizing investments in another.

We will continue to play a leadership role through the Western Climate Initiative to design a cap and trade system that works for our environment and our economy. Cap and trade requires the participation of trading partners, and BC will work with California and other participating jurisdictions, while consulting extensively with stakeholders in BC.

As we go forward, one thing is for certain: we will work to achieve our targets to reduce carbon emissions and continue to be a leader in North America on the green economy. Not in a vacuum, but by working together with British Columbian families, communities, and businesses.

Premier Christy Clark

Stay the Course – BC’s Leadership in the Western Climate Initiative

Today over 150 business, academic and NGO leaders sent a letter to Premier Christy Clark supporting the  provincial government’s leadership role in the Western Climate Initiative (WCI).  The letter was prompted by news[i] which broke earlier this week that the B.C. government is softening its position on carbon pricing, cap and trade and its role in the WCI.  Below is a copy of the letter that was sent to the Premier and key members of her cabinet.

April 21, 2011

Premier Christy Clark

PO Box 9041, Stn Provincial Government

Victoria, British Columbia

V8W 9E1

Dear Premier Clark,

Thank you for the leadership race commitments you made to aggressively establish British Columbia as a leader in clean energy. We appreciated the connection you made between investments in clean energy and the ability to create jobs throughout the province.

We write to urge you to follow-through on those commitments, and give the clean energy economy a central role in your efforts to create jobs and help British Columbian families. According to the Globe Foundation, clean energy contributed $15.3 billion to B.C.’s GDP (10.2% of the total) and 166,000 jobs (7.2% of the total) in 2008. Those numbers are significant today, and they could double in the next decade.

B.C. has already built a strong foundation to achieve higher gains. The province has been rightly applauded for the leadership it has demonstrated by spurring investment in clean energy. We have punched above our weight and helped to positively influence the Canadian, continental and global debate on how to build a clean energy economy.

This is particularly true for the implementation of B.C.’s carbon tax and being one of the leading partners in the Western Climate Initiative. Continued progress presents opportunity, and limits risk, on a number of fronts:

We can grow the market for B.C.’s clean energy companies

By tipping the economic scales in favour of clean energy, and helping our neighbours do the same, B.C. can help open domestic and export markets for the province’s entrepreneurs. Whether it’s a wind farm being built in Dawson Creek, or cutting-edge fuel cell engines and biomass gasification technologies being sold to the world, those businesses bring investment to B.C. and employ British Columbians.

We can set the rules of the clean energy economy

The rules are set by the people that play the game first. We know there will be constraints on carbon in the near future, so B.C. needs to be involved in setting those constraints and demonstrating their potential. Doing so puts us in the driver’s seat to ensure the rules account for B.C.’s interests, which will give our economy a competitive advantage. Furthermore, just by setting the rules and participating, we give other jurisdictions the confidence to do the same. This will grow the size of the clean energy economy and increase the range and scale of opportunities available.

We can help families get ahead in a future where energy is going to cost more

As global oil prices rise, developing a robust clean energy sector in B.C. helps protect families by reducing their dependence on fossil fuels, and giving them real alternatives such as better public transit and neigbourhood heating systems. The same shift away from fossil fuels also benefits families by keeping energy prices lower than in other jurisdictions, providing long-term employment throughout the province, and building healthier more vibrant communities.

We can protect B.C.’s natural beauty for our children and grand children

If we fail to effectively build a clean energy economy, we will fail to effectively show leadership on climate change.  If climate change persists, the B.C. we know and love will be dramatically different for our children and grand children. We’ve already seen the devastation that pine beetles can cause on our forests and the way storms can gut our parks. If the Fraser River gets much warmer, salmon won’t survive. B.C. can’t stop these threats on our own, but we can be a positive influence in finding local and global solutions.

We look forward to working with your government to secure the gains we have made in recent years and affirm B.C.’s position in the clean energy economy.



Minister Lake

Minister Coleman

John Yap

Minister Lekstrom

A comparison between the federal parties’ climate policies

Less than three weeks remain until the 2011 Canadian federal election. Although climate change is an important issue to many Canadians, it has received only a passing reference in the federal leaders debate. Trying to discern where parties stand on this issue has not been easy. Carbon Talks researcher, Nils Westling waded through party platforms and election announcements to provide this quick overview of how the Conservatives, the Liberals, the New Democrats, the Greens and the Bloc Québecois propose to address climate change.

The Conservative Party of Canada

The Conservatives have been quiet on climate change. They mention investments in clean energy and their contributions to getting the Copenhagen Accord in place in December 2009 as their main achievements. If elected they promise to invest in clean energy and extend the ECOenergy Home Retrofits Program by one year. The platform can be downloaded here.

The Liberal Party of Canada

The Liberals have an approach to environmental policies that separates them from the Conservatives. They do not present environmental policy as separate from economic policy, instead they frame working for a clean environment as a question of preparing Canadian industry for the economy of the future. With governmental support, such as tax incentives, the Liberals hope that Canada will be a world leader in the emerging clean resources industry. They promise to give $1 billion to renewable energy development and to introduce a Green Renovation Tax Credit with a goal of retrofitting over 1 million homes by 2017. They propose introducing a cap-and-trade system, a policy measure that sets an upper limit to carbon emissions and make Canadian polluters trade emission permits. The platform can be downloaded here.

Canada’s New Democratic Party

Like the Liberals the NDP also proposes the introduction of a cap-and-trade system in Canada. Overall, the environmental section of NDP’s platform is quite similar to that of the Liberals. The two parties both propose a goal of 80 percent emission reduction by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. However, the NDP takes this one step further by introducing this goal into Canadian legislation via the Climate Change Accountability Act. The NDP promises to cut subsidies to non-renewable energy and transfer funds to investments in cleaner energy production. Public transportation is an important part of their environmental policy and they want to instate a National Public Transit Strategy for maintenance and expansion of public transit. The platform can be downloaded here.

 The Green Party of Canada

Just like the other two federal opposition parties, the Greens propose carbon pricing as a way to reduce emissions. In their document Vision Green they express being open to cap-and-trade as well as a carbon tax. They are also clear about cutting subsidies to nuclear and fossil fuels. One thing that separates the Greens from the other political parties is that they express skepticism to the notion of endless growth. Their platform can be downloaded here.

The Bloc Québécois

 The Bloc proposes a more territorial approach to climate policy, that advances Quebec as an autonomous actor in international negotiations on climate change. Like the other opposition parties the Bloc advocate for investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency and they want to introduce a cap-and-trade system to promote emission reductions. They propose elimination of subsidies to oil- and gas companies and an ambitious goal of reducing the use of oil in Quebec 50% within ten years. One of the strategies for reducing oil consumption is the support for electric cars, which none of the other parties mention in their platforms. They also want to see carbon labelling on products to enable consumers to make informed purchasing choices. Their platform can be downloaded here.

At Carbon Talks we believe that Canada’s global competitiveness depends on transitioning to a low-carbon economy. There is a strong role for the federal government to play in developing a national climate policy. We encourage you to probe candidates for their views on climate change and encourage parties to develop policies which help Canada mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Why climate change should be an electoral issue…

…and why it matters to healthcare

By Elodie Jacquet

As Canadians prepare to head to the polling stations and attack ads seem to be lurking in every corner of the mainstream media, one issue seems to have completely fallen off the radars: climate change. As Jeffrey Simpson reports in a recent column in the Globe and Mail: “In a country with the worst record in the industrialized world for greenhouse gas emissions, you might have thought that the subject of climate change might merit more than a cursory discussion.” As much as the carbon tax was an issue during the last election, carbon-related issues have left the centre stage to be replaced by a much more popular issue, healthcare.

I understand how climate change and its complexities can make for an obscure and intangible threat to citizens and politicians alike. However, scientists have come to an overwhelming consensus that human activities are definitely affecting our climate and in so, shaping our futures. It is time that our government faced this fact and started taking action. Downplaying the issue is not in the best interest of Canada.  Our federal government’s inaction on climate change is undermining our resilience as a country, negatively impacting our long-term economic interests and creating greater health care costs.

So, how does climate actually affect the future of our healthcare system? Let’s look at our own government’s research. The following is an excerpt from the Health Canada website[1]:

Health Canada has identified seven categories of climate-related impacts, and the potential effects these can have on health and well-being.

1-      Temperature-related Morbidity and Mortality

  • Illness related to extreme cold and heat events
  • Respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses
  • Increased occupational health risks

2-      Weather-related Natural Hazards

  • Damaged public health infrastructure
  • Injuries and illnesses
  • Social and mental stress
  • Increased occupational health hazards
  • Population displacement

3-      Air Quality

  • Increased exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollutants and allergens
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases
  • Cancer

4-      Water- and Food-borne Contamination

  • Intestinal disorders and illnesses caused by chemical and biological contaminants

5-      Vector-borne and Zoonotic Diseases

  • Changed patterns of diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and other pathogens carried by mosquitoes, ticks, and animals

6-      Health Effects of Exposure to Ultraviolet Rays

7-      Socio-economic Impacts on Community Health and Well-being

A changing climate can increase the frequency, intensity or duration of extreme weather conditions which increases risks for vulnerable populations and communities in areas exposed to natural hazards.

  • Demands on Health Care Services – Extra pressure is placed on Health care services by increased demands resulting from weather-related natural hazards, eg. floods.
  • Disruption of Social Networks  –  Power outages can occur as a result of extreme weather-related events, which can affect our ability to communicate during emergencies.
  • Interference with Livelihoods – People experience stress if their livelihoods and productivity are threatened, for example, farmers suffering crop failures and income losses due to droughts.
  • Damage to, or unavailability of, housing and shelter – Climate change can increase the number of extreme weather events which can damage buildings. This causes trauma for people having to relocate, as occurred following the Saguenay River flood in 1996.
  • Damage to critical infrastructures – Virtually all our infrastructures are designed for a specific climate, such as those related to food production, water management, energy production, storm sewer, drainage and sanitation systems, and housing and health infrastructures. Health risks can arise when any one of these systems fails or becomes compromised – as they may in a changing climate.

We all know that the key element to prevent our healthcare costs from going through the roof is prevention. By addressing the challenges of climate change, we should be able to mitigate the effects on our health and on the cost of healthcare, especially for those most vulnerable. And let’s not kid ourselves here: we do have some very vulnerable populations within the confines of our borders. The more we wait, the higher the cost will be, cost of healthcare of course, but also the cost of the lost of competitiveness of Canada on the global stage. While we congratulate ourselves on the soundness of our banking system and on our swift recovery from the recession, we should be thinking about how the changing climate is and will be affecting our ability to remain healthy as a country.

Photo courtesy of Ask the Climate Question initiative in the UK

The Future of BC’s Carbon Tax

On March 17, Carbon Talks hosted its third brown bag dialogue of the year. In the past, greenhouse gas emissions were essentially ‘free’ for the individuals and corporations emitting them, and only the environment paid the full price. During this dialogue, Nancy Olewiler asked “what do people do when they can get something for free? They take as much of it as they can!” The potential solution is BC’s carbon tax.

The carbon tax is a price tag on GHG emissions and an incentive to get off a high carbon diet. Nancy Olewiler led the dialogue participants through the many merits of the policy – the gradually increasing tax rates will give industries time to adjust to the carbon tax. The tax also has a definite certainty to it because new tax rates are embedded into legislation.

But like any newly implemented policy, the carbon tax is not without shortcomings. Both Nancy Olewiler and the dialogue participants raised a number of issues with the policy as well as suggestions for ways to improve the policy.

Public support is critical for any government policy to thrive. In order to gain public support, the government ensured that the carbon tax would be 100% revenue neutral: every dollar of carbon tax collected must return to taxpayers in the form of reductions and credits.

Click to enlarge financial statement for carbon tax.

Problems with this aspect of the carbon tax are already arising – the 2009/10 forecasts indicate that the government will be returning over $2 million more than it will collect. This sort of discrepancy is not sustainable. Like energy, taxpayer dollars cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred among sectors. If the government continues returning more than it collects for the carbon tax, the government will have to cut funding or increase taxes in other areas.

Nancy Olewiler concluded her discussion of the carbon tax by saying that it is too soon to tell statistically if the carbon tax is working. There has been some evident that corporations are paying attention to the tax and changing their business practices. Still, Nancy Olewiler speculated about whether the carbon tax does enough to change behaviour on an individual level. One major concern is that the government will not be able to raise tax rates high enough to stimulate substantial GHG reductions.

How should the government deal with these shortcomings in the future? What will happen to the carbon tax after 2012? Participants at the dialogue made a number of insightful suggestions. One crucial key to future success for the carbon tax is the public’s trust in the policy. To attain this trust, the government needs to communicate the policy’s procedures and successes.

There were some interesting proposals from our dialogue participants – the government could associate the carbon tax with Medical Service Plan reductions in on order to increase the visibility of the tax. Another suggestion for increased visibility was to include a line on pay stubs showing carbon-tax related tax reductions. Everyone at the dialogue seemed to be in agreement: consolidating public support is the best way to help the government’s carbon tax policy have the desired impact now and into the future.