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.

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About Carbon Talks

Shauna Sylvester is the Executive Director of Carbon Talks and a Fellow at the SFU Centre for Dialogue. View all posts by Carbon Talks

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