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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.


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

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

Innovator Profile: Larry Beasley

By Kayla Van Egdom

Carbon Talks is proud to launch a new blog series: Innovator Profiles featuring individuals and technologies that are helping Canada shift to a low carbon economy.

#1: Larry Beasley

Larry Beasley is an innovator in the urban planning sector. His vision and talents have played a vital role in the development of Vancouver City. In addition to the work that helped produce the livable and desirable “Vancouverism” of our city, Larry Beasley plays the role of city planning advisor to many other urban areas – his expertise spans internationally from cities across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Australia.

According to Beasley, every urban planner must act as the designer of the city. He has learned that applying the underlying principles of planning (density, diversity and citizen engagement) is only the first step in city design. Every city has its own culture, and this culture will drive the necessary modifications of the basic principles.

A key element to Beasley’s widely successful urban planning is to see the inhabitants of the city not as mere stakeholders, but as consumers of the city. As is true of any product with an end consumer, Beasley’s city designs have unique value propositions for each group of citizens. He employs what he calls experiential planning: fostering dialogue between citizens and planners in order to understand the desired living conditions of a city.

Beasley’s use of experiential planning has helped him understand the culture-specific needs of cities around the world. In Abu Dhabi, Beasley recognized the local population’s needs for privacy and preservation of their culture. By recognizing these needs, he realized that courtyard style houses and relatively spacious living arrangements (compared to the dense arrangements in Vancouver’s inner city, for example) were necessary to make Abu Dhabi livable for its citizens. Through citizen engagement and the desire to understand local culture, Beasley is able to achieve both livability and sustainability for cities.

When asked about the current state of Vancouver, Beasley points out that there are both structural and infrastructural aspects of sustainability. Structurally, Vancouver has made great strides, particularly in terms of the density and diversity of its housing and the transportation system in the city’s core. However, in terms of infrastructure, Vancouver has a long way to go. Although the use of renewable hydro energy is a step in the right direction, our overall waste and water handling, energy use and transportation methods are all very unsustainable. His suggestions for sustainable infrastructure are to rethink utility systems, layer Vancouver’s public transit system to make it more effective and accessible and develop office buildings and housing more strategically (rather than building office parks in unpopulated areas and continually subdividing for single families).

Beasley sees the transformations and challenges in Vancouver mirrored across the country. Cities throughout Canada are seeing a shift towards sustainable city cores.  They also face the challenges of unsustainable suburbs that account for two-thirds of overall housing.

Beasley has proven that his visions are definitely attainable. False Creek’s urban area (which Beasley played a vital role in designing) boasts a 90% citizen satisfaction rate and a reduced rate of car ownership. In Beasley’s ideal city, everything of importance (grocery stores, schools and places of employment) is within the citizen’s walking distance. This will not only address sustainability issues related to over reliance on cars, but also address some of our population’s current health problems as exercise-centric alternatives to driving such as bike riding and walking are healthy on an environmental and personal scale.

Through citizen involvement and a consumer-based view of cities, Larry Beasley believes that every city can become a livable and sustainable one. He sees Canada as having a responsibility to lead by example (as cities all over the world look to the West for inspiration) and to observe and replicate sustainable practices that are being carried out in other locations.

Cancun – Was it a Success?

By Shauna Sylvester

Last December I attended the Copenhagen COP 15 Conference on Climate Change and blogged daily about it. Like many Canadians, I decided not to attend the Cancun COP 16 Conference because my expectations were extremely low about what could be achieved there.  But after tracking daily blogs and reading some of the reports following the conference, I’m regretting my decision to stay home. It appears that Mexico was more successful than Copenhagen in delivering results.

I’m using the term ‘results’ here in relative terms.  International negotiations move at glacial speed, and most climate scientists would agree that the agreements made in Cancun will not take us nearly far enough or fast enough to address the volatile impacts of climate change, nevertheless it’s important to take a moment to recognize the progress that was made.

Here is my quick assessment of COP 15’s  modest ‘achievements’ albeit from my perch in Vancouver.

1.      The Mexican delegation was successful in keeping the negotiations moving.  They demonstrated their capacities as a global convenor, in ways that might put others to shame.

2.      Civil Society organizations were active, organized and vocal.  Young people and indigenous people were particularly successful in building global networks and communicating their concerns.

3.      The parties agreed to keep temperatures to a global average of under 2 degrees C (450ppm), bringing this target within the official UN process. Although this was a strongly held negotiating position by the European Union in Copenhagen, they had to wait unit Cancun to see it adopted.  Some environmentalists and island states have contended for years that the target is too high and have pushed for a lower threshold (1.5 degrees or 360ppm).

4.      80 countries agreed to mitigation targets and action by 2020, including the largest emitters like the US, the European Union, China, Brazil  and India.  Of course the devil is in the details, but getting agreement by both Annex I and Annex II countries to targets is an important indicator of their recognition of the problem.

5.      The parties agreed to greater transparency in measuring and reporting their emissions.

6.      The parties reinforced their pledges to a Green Climate Fund to help developing countries with mitigation and adaptation strategies. Despite the objections of developing countries, The World Bank was named as the trustee for this fund which is expected to grow to $100 billion annually.

7.      A new REDD plus (Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation) agreement, which recognizes the importance of protecting tropical forests as carbon sinks, was adopted.  Indigenous Peoples worked hard to ensure that their rights and livelihood as forests dwellers would not be undermined by the REDD plus agreement.  Bolivia stood strongly against the agreement arguing that it was a triumph of capitalism over communities, but despite Bolivia’s rejection, the agreement went through.

8.      Annex I countries committed to providing greater capacity building and technology transfer to developing countries and there was a reaffirmation of the Clean Development Mechanism which enables developed countries to purchase emission offset credits from carbon reduction projects conducted in the developing world.

For those who study international negotiations, the results of Cancun are important.  They reflect progress from Copenhagen in both attitude and commitment.  Cancun was not hamstrung by competing blocs of countries unwilling to move, acrimonious relations between the US and China or countries hammering at the Kyoto Protocol (perhaps Canada might be the exception here).  Instead, it was characterized by adept facilitation and chairing, a willingness by China and the US to make progress and a recognition that the needs of developing countries for support in mitigation and adaptation were essential.  As South Africa becomes the site for COP17 let’s  hope the parties develop a greater sense of urgency and come to the table prepared to take bigger steps to address climate change.

For the most comprehensive and best overview of COP 16 I’ve read so far, see Robert Stavins of the Harvard Climate Project’s article at