The Caisse against Big Oil
When you think about the financial Goliaths that dominate our economy, the names that jump to mind probably aren’t pension funds. But those staid managers of our retirement dollars control more money than governments, and this week, Quebec’s pension fund made a decisive move against Big Oil.
The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) announced it would divest itself from oil production by the end of next year, along with a series of other climate strategies. The Caisse is Canada’s second largest pension fund — second only to the Canada Pension Plan — and ranks as the 12th biggest public pension fund in the world.
The divestment is testament to five years of organizing by a coalition of groups across Quebec. The wonderfully named Sortons La Caisse du Carbone brought together big and small green groups along with other civil society organizations and unions.
Sortons La Caisse du Carbone declared itself “delighted” with the announcement by CDPQ, saying: “The signal sent to other funds and to Canadian banks is clear: if the Caisse could do it, you can and must do it, too.”
Of course, as with all progress on climate, the Caisse’s move is both highly significant and wholly inadequate. The Caisse did not agree to exit natural (methane) gas or pipelines and, in fact, regurgitated the tired line about methane gas being a transition fuel.
But the decision to exit oil is a huge step forward for a major fund in Canada’s fossil-heavy financial sector. Big banks and fund managers have been willing to set up green funds and make promises about the future but have been utterly unwilling to draw any bright lines against fossil fuels.
In fact, since the Paris Agreement, Canadian banks have loaned $694 billion to fossil fuel companies and invested $125 billion.
Those same banks are giving over $1 billion to Enbridge for “sustainability linked” financing. The terms of the deal show that Enbridge plans to use the money for pipelines, debt payments and, potentially, even to pay for policing expenses against water protectors opposing the Line 3 pipeline.
One of my early mentors, Rainforest Action Network founder Randy Hayes, often said our job was to “stop the bad and start the good.” Nowhere is that more true than in the fight against climate change, where we can build all the clean energy we want but it won’t matter unless it actually replaces fossil fuels. The atmosphere only reacts to the climate pollution we spew, not to the good stuff we build.
Which is why divestment campaigns are so important. Not only are they forcing a reckoning over “stranded assets” and “carbon bubbles” within the financial sector, the campaigns also draw those bright lines and sharpen public understanding.
As of today, 1,339 institutions representing over $14 trillion have divested. Over 58,000 individuals have, too.
September was big for universities: Harvard finally agreed to divest and the University of Aberdeen became the 90th university in the U.K. to exit fossil fuels. The divestment movement is showing strong growth rates, one might say.
And so, while the folks at Sortons la Caisse du Carbone vow to keep organizing for a more complete policy from the Caisse, others have turned their sights on pension funds like the Canada Pension Plan and big banks like RBC.
Wet’suwet’en land defender wins Right Livelihood Award
Freda Huson, Chief Howihkat, will be one of this year’s “Alternative Nobel Prize” winners. Huson led construction of the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre near the Wedzin Kwa (Morice) River in northwestern B.C. It’s a trauma recovery centre and land reoccupation project that became a focal point for blockades against the Coastal GasLink pipeline being built to supply a new LNG terminal under construction on the West Coast.
Huson was arrested in February 2020 in the blockades that precipitated solidarity protests and rail blockades across Canada.
Blockades are back up right now, aiming to stop drilling under the Wedzin Kwa River. Two people were arrested this week and construction in the area has been stopped since Sept. 20.
Right Livelihood gave Huson the award for “fearless dedication to reclaiming her people’s culture and defending their land against disastrous pipeline projects.” It will be formally presented in a ceremony broadcast from Stockholm on Dec. 1.
Indigenous resistance against carbon
The blockades by Freda Huson and other Wet’suwet’en land defenders are part of a highly effective movement.
Indigenous Environmental Network teamed up with Oil Change International to quantify the impact of Indigenous resistance to fossil fuel projects across the United States and Canada. The results? They calculate Indigenous resistance over the past decade has stopped climate pollution equivalent to 400 new coal-fired power plants, or 345 million new passenger vehicles.
“Indigenous Resistance has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least 25 per cent of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions. The numbers don’t lie. Indigenous peoples have long led the fight to protect Mother Earth and the only way forward is to center Indigenous knowledge and keep fossil fuels in the ground,” said Dallas Goldtooth, Keep It In The Ground organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network.
Conservatives didn’t lose votes to carbon pricing
Erin O’Toole’s climate plan didn’t cost the Conservatives votes in the last election; in fact, it was probably helpful, according to a survey by Leger for Clean Prosperity.
Twenty-one per cent of potential Conservative voters (those who considered voting blue but didn’t) said the Conservative plan made them more likely to vote Conservative compared to just eight per cent who found it a turnoff.
Fifty-two per cent of those potential voters think the Conservatives should do more on climate change. Only five per cent said the party should do less.
Under water: The costs of climate change for Canada
The financial damage from flooding is projected to soar in the coming decades.
Within 30 years, the costs from coastal and inland flooding will increase three to four times over what we already pay today — rising to $4.5 to $5.5 billion per year. That’s according to a new report from the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices on the costs of climate change for Canada’s infrastructure.
“As spectacular flooding like we saw in Germany this summer becomes increasingly likely everywhere, the expensive housing stock of Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver are among the assets most at risk,” says the study’s lead author.
Americans more worried, Canadians pessimistic
Concern over climate change is growing in the U.S. For the first time, a majority of Americans understand people in the U.S. are being hurt by climate impacts right now. That’s according to new surveys by the climate projects at Yale and George Mason universities.
And a new poll commissioned by WWF (conducted by Environics in late August) found 67 per cent of us are pessimistic about stopping climate change.
One really notable finding is that the public has very little grasp of what could be done. For example, 80 per cent of Canadians don’t understand what a nature-based solution is.
"It's incredibly important that we take action. It's equally important to show Canadians the possibilities, to show the solutions that are possible," said WWF’s Megan Leslie.
German Greens come 3rd in “climate election”
The German Green Party had its best results ever in last weekend’s federal election. Dubbed by the German media as the “climate election” after the harrowing floods this summer, the Greens will be the third largest party in the new parliament.
Germany has a proportional system of government, and negotiations are underway to form a governing coalition. The Greens will almost certainly be a decisive player.
Ford’s new factories
Ford says its fleet will be 40 per cent electric by 2030. The company announced it will spend $11 billion to build new EV factories in Tennessee and Kentucky and hire 11,000 new workers.
Big Money wants science-based targets
Over 200 of the world's biggest investment funds, managing nearly $30 trillion in assets, are using their leverage with the world’s 1,600 most carbon-polluting companies. The group wrote to the CEOs, calling for urgency in establishing science-based climate plans.
The investors want the companies to make plans vetted through the Science-Based Targets Initiative, an independent group that aligns plans with the Paris Agreement.
Provinces blocking, accelerating progress
If you want to electrify your home or building and get off natural (methane) gas, Ontario’s making it difficult, while B.C. took a step forward this week.
The Ontario Energy Board failed, yet again, to approve a strategy to facilitate green alternatives like electric heat pumps and geothermal systems. The use of methane gas accounts for 28 per cent of Ontario’s emissions and is the largest source of climate pollution in the City of Toronto.
Meanwhile the province is undoing the progress from closing its coal plants by building new gas generators.
Over in B.C., the province announced more than $190 million to accelerate “fuel switching” from fossil fuels to electricity. The B.C. plan offers a range of rebates to switch from gas to electric heating or gasoline to electric vehicles.
The B.C. announcement was also noteworthy for its clear public communication. Here’s the headline from the premier’s office:
It’s not often we hear governments (at least in English Canada) be so blunt about the task at hand. Here’s to fewer euphemisms and more straight talk.
In recognition of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation this week, I’ll leave you with two suggestions that have really stuck with me.
Robert Jago: On her last day, my mother wore a shirt with the words she so believed. Every child matters. I’m ashamed to admit I was only dimly aware of the history of “Indian hospitals” until reading Jago’s piece this week.
Clayton Thomas-Müller draws the connection between Indigenous and climate justice in This National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Canada should commit to a Just Transition for Indigenous Peoples
That’s all for this week. Thank you for reading Zero Carbon. You can email me with your thoughts or suggestions for future newsletters at [email protected]
Support for this issue of Zero Carbon came from The Trottier Foundation and I-SEA.
Sources and Links:
The Caisse and divestment
Canada’s National Observer, Canada’s second-largest pension fund is dumping its oil assets
Reaction from Sortons la Caisse du Carbone
Canada’s National Observer, Canadian banks are loaning Enbridge over $1B with questionable sustainability requirements
Fossil free: divestment, running tally
Freda Huson, Right Livelihood Award
APTN, Road blocks go up on Wet’suwet’en territory to stop Coastal GasLink from drilling
The Tyee, Unist’ot’en Land Defender Wins International Advocacy Award
Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon
Full report from Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International
Conservatives didn’t lose votes
Clean Prosperity, Exit Poll Shows Conservatives Didn’t Lose Votes to Carbon Pricing
The costs of climate change for Canada
Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, Under Water
Toronto Star, We’ve been building for a world that no longer exists
Americans worried, Canadians pessimistic
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, Dramatic increase in public beliefs and worries
Canada’s National Observer, Poll suggests most Canadians feel humanity can't fight climate change
German Green Party
Clean Energy Wire, Germany heading for three-party government with climate focus after tight elections
Science Based Targets
Reuters/Globe and Mail, Funds demand science-based emissions targets from 1,600 firms
Toronto Star, Ontario’s energy regulator is blocking efforts that could slash natural gas emissions
British Columbia, Office of the Premier, New plan makes it easier to switch from fossil fuels to made-in-B.C. clean electricity