While there are reasons to be pessimistic about the impact of climate change on the environment, Karen Clarke-Whistler prefers to remain upbeat.
The chief environment officer at TD Bank Group says a lot of good and important work is being done across industries and by some governments around the world to help reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, save energy and shrink society’s overall environmental footprint.
“Obviously it could be moving more quickly, but I think we’ve moved from years of what I call ‘analysis paralysis’ to the point where there is widespread recognition of the problem and a focus on solutions,” says Ms. Clarke-Whistler.
She points to new carbon pricing policies in places like Ontario and the momentum among government and industry in Canada and around the world heading into the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, where global leaders are set to tackle tough environmental challenges. According to a recent report from the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat, the world is on track to make a “significant dent” in cutting greenhouse gas emissions without sacrificing economic growth.
“I feel we’ve passed a very important tipping point at this stage, and having a strong regulatory base is only going to help,” says Ms. Clarke-Whistler. “It’s very interesting to me the momentum that has been building even without that.”
Ms. Clarke-Whistler has a unique perspective from a bank that offers financing to a wide range of businesses, including those involved in clean technology. TD is often sought out as a trusted environmental partner by many of its leading energy clients and by governments on issues relating to carbon reduction.
In 2010, TD became the first North American based carbon-neutral bank. Within the bank’s retail branch network, the green building program supports solar generation at more than 115 locations. Between 2006 and 2014 TD provided nearly $7-billion in financing to the low-carbon economy. TD also has a large portfolio of renewables financing and in 2014 became the first commercial bank in Canada to issue a green bond, which supports low carbon projects related to energy, buildings and infrastructure.
TD has published a number of high-profile thought leadership reports on the environment and the economy, and most recently is considering natural capital and how including it in the decision-making process can lead to better outcomes both financially and for society at large. TD says its own carbon neutral commitment leads to a reduction in carbon emissions and air pollution that has a natural capital value of $118-million annually.
“I think all of us have a role to play in helping to reduce energy and emissions, not just corporations and government; a lot of it also comes down to the consumer level,” says Ms. Clarke-Whistler.
Companies and governments can contribute by helping consumers better understand the environmental impact of the goods and services they buy. Ms. Clarke-Whistler says banks can also step up their efforts on financing emerging clean technologies.
She is calling for “an inclusive approach” to help develop the economic transformation towards a low-carbon economy. That includes both natural resource-based and traditional “bricks and mortar” industries.
“Creating an inclusive approach that doesn’t call out ‘good and bad guys’ is vitally important, especially to established industry sectors,” she says.
She cites the example of Ontario, which benefits greatly from linkages to the oil and gas and the auto manufacturing industries, both of which have taken strong action linked to greenhouse gas emissions.
“The transition to a low-carbon economy has potential benefits for numerous sectors,” adds Ms. Clarke-Whistler.
She says the key is to grow and support clean-tech companies through education and training programs, which in turn will help to ensure entrepreneurs have the financial literacy and business skills to successfully create and grow businesses and secure financing.
“In Canada, what we need to do more of is provide recognition of what we are doing to help move towards a low-carbon economy,” she says. “We can do it if we all work together.”
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