Where was Canadian business leadership at COP21 in Paris?

COP21 was the largest gathering of government leaders ever. Country leaders were open for business, and the who’s who of the political and corporate world, including major energy executives were all in attendance. Absent from the stage were the Canadian leaders; our energy companies, banks, pension funds, manufacturers, and infrastructure players.

COP21 was the greatest economic opportunity of our time; a message repeatedly expounded by multinational CEOs and country leaders at COP21. The global transition from fossil fuels to a low carbon economic system is a multi-trillion dollar bonanza! And, the global shift is happening now.

The export equation is shifting and Canadian business leaders need to be part of the new economy. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the world’s fossil fuel energy companies are currently valued at $5 trillion, while those related to renewable energy are valued at $300 billion — this ratio will flip over the coming years as trillions flow to fast growth low carbon technology businesses. The future is Silicon Valley, not Saudi Arabia. Even Mark Carney, the former head of the Bank of Canada, has sounded the alarm on the trillions of stranded oil and gas assets.

Smart businesses and countries are investing with urgency to be part of this future. The shift from energy-as-a-resource to energy-as-a-technology is occurring at blinding speed in industry formation terms. Solar costs have dropped by 10 fold in the last 15 years alone; while batteries and electric vehicles are following a similar cost curve. Think the exponential growth of Internet, not the linear growth of traditional industries. OPEC, meet your competition — its the ingenuity of Apple, Google, Tesla, SolarCity; its the Chinese mega manufacturing machine; and its the breakthrough start-ups we are investing in today. Businesses and countries will be left behind in this transition — and Canada?

Proudly, Canada was front and centre in the climate negotiations, a fresh rebranding of the tarnished reputation left by our previous Conservative government. Canada has a massive challenge ahead. We must artfully manage the transition from a focus on oil resources to a technology-driven low carbon economy. Move to slow and we miss the low-carbon train.

We need bold government policies and eye-popping public-private capital investments to foster innovation to build global winners: the Blackberry, Nortel, and Bombardier equivalents of the low carbon economy. We need to be a first mover on low carbon policies. We should aggressively phase out fossil fuel subsidies; implement national net-neutral carbon pricing; expand funding for cleantech research and commericalisation; and launch strict energy, transport, and environmental policies at all levels of government that build ripe local markets for innovative clean technology. When a market gets a signal that it must innovate, it does.

We must encourage and assist our leading Canadian companies with this transition; however, we also need a fresh staple of fast growth leaders. Most of all, we need more Canadian business leaders to show up at the next global climate talks prepared for deal making!

Originally posted Dec 16, 2015 on the ArcternVentures.com