The federal government has released proposed guidelines, submitted to it by an independent group of finance experts, on what investments should be considered worthy in the fight against climate change.

Clarity around what's considered eligible is meant to increase investment in these areas. Experts estimate upwards of an additional $115 billion per year in investment will be needed to meet Canada's net-zero-by-2050 target.

The taxonomy report by the Sustainable Finance Action Council proposes including both widely accepted green investments like solar panels and electric vehicles, as well as a more contentious "transition" category for emission reduction efforts in heavy industry, including the oilsands.

"What we're trying to do is really bring clarity to people of what is green and what is truly transition and what is not eligible," said Barbara Zvan, chief executive of the University Pension Plan Ontario, who helped lead the taxonomy effort at SFAC.

Environmental groups have criticized the inclusion of oilsands-related investments, as well as so-called blue hydrogen, in the transition category. They say such projects will still have significant emissions, and there are clear alternatives.

"The transition taxonomy would give a gold star for simply mitigation activities, which are not actually transition," said Julie Segal, senior manager of climate finance at Environmental Defence.

The transition category is important for industries like steel and cement that are emission-heavy but that will still be needed in a net-zero world, said Segal, but the inclusion of oil and gas projects muddies what is an attempt to provide clarity.

"Canada's version is looking like an endorsement for greenwashing, rather than something that will stop it," she said.

The SFAC report notes that there will still be oil and gas demand for decades so it's also important to reduce emissions on existing production, but adds the transition category will include intensifying restrictions around what emission-reduction efforts on fossil fuel projects would be eligible.

Climate taxonomy proposal asks feds to include oilsands-related spending. #CDNPoli #SFAC #ClimateTaxonomy #ClimateChange

“Transition is a lower bar, but a bar that is expected to become higher over time," said Zvan in an interview ahead of the report's release.

She said there's been a lot of progress on establishing green taxonomies internationally, but less work on the transition side so there's an opportunity to help shape the thinking around it.

"There's a real opportunity for Canada to lead in this area, given our needs around natural resources, and to work with other key economies out there and regions to help create a definition that we can all leverage,” she said.

The proposed rules would disqualify any coal projects or the development of new oilfields from being included, but there is still much to be worked out. Both the federal and provincial governments are expected to provide feedback.

The Sustainable Finance Action Council is a federal government-convened group of 25 financial institutions focused on integrating sustainable finance into standard industry practice.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2023.

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