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Vancity Community Investment Bank and CoPower teams marched for the climate in September 2019.PHOTO COURTESY OF VCIB

With the world’s urban centres now producing as much as 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and consuming two-thirds of the global energy supply, there’s an increasingly urgent imperative to transform the carbon-intensive cities of today into net-zero carbon communities of the future.

Around the world, hundreds of cities – including seven in Canada like Toronto, Vancouver and Hamilton – have committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 or even earlier. A growing number of initiatives exist to support that transition. In Toronto, where nearly 50 per cent of emissions come from buildings, the city’s Green Will Initiative offers expertise and resources to commercial building owners to enhance efficiency.

“The challenge ahead is complex and seemingly daunting, but if we take a step back and take a high-level view, getting our cities to net-zero emissions is a straightforward, if not easy, undertaking,” says Jonathan Frank, director of clean energy business development at Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB), a national commercial bank and the first in Canada to work exclusively with organizations driving positive change.

“We know we need to cut energy waste so that we need less to begin with, then we need to clean up our energy supply and decarbonize our transportation systems.”

While much of the technology and technical know-how exists to drive emissions to net-zero through building efficiency measures and renewable energy, financing green projects continues to be a challenge and barrier to progress.

“Globally, we need to invest $2.4-trillion (U.S.) annually until 2035 to meet the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement,” says Mr. Frank, referring to estimates made by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “The problem is that finding access to the right financial tools has been a barrier for a lot of organizations that are working to reduce emissions.”

For VCIB, filling that financial gap at the community level was a logical – and natural – step forward in the organization’s evolution, says Mr. Frank. VCIB is Canada’s first values-driven bank and a subsidiary of Vancity Credit Union, itself a pioneer in community-first finance.

Last year, VCIB equipped itself to support the shift to net-zero with the acquisition of CoPower, Canada’s first sustainable investment platform and a leading provider of financing to building-scale clean energy and energy-efficiency projects.

To date, VCIB and CoPower have provided approximately $35-million in financing to Canadian green energy projects including hundreds of geothermal heating and cooling systems for residential buildings, LED lighting upgrades in hundreds of condo buildings, and solar panel installations on hundreds of residential and commercial rooftops.

In 2019, VCIB also financed 17 social purpose real estate projects that translated to 671 units of new or preserved affordable housing and close to 31,000 square metres of non-profit, co-working, cultural and community spaces.

The challenge ahead is complex and seemingly daunting, but if we take a step back and take a high-level view, getting our cities to net-zero emissions is a straightforward, if not easy, undertaking.

Jonathan Frank - Director of Clean Energy Business Development at Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB)

According to Mr. Frank, it’s the combination of clean energy and real estate lending expertise that uniquely positions VCIB as a financing partner for the net-zero city.

“Our team understands the technology, the business models and regulatory landscape. We can bring together the right mix of clean energy and real estate financing tools to enable different types of projects,” says Mr. Frank, who had worked previously as managing director and head of projects at CoPower. “This makes us the ideal partner to work with towards a future where cities are far more environmentally sustainable while also delivering co-benefits such as improved affordability and comfort, better air quality, greater ease of mobility and enhanced resiliency.”

At a moment where many are wondering about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic contraction on climate action, clean energy is also being recognized as having a role to play in the economic recovery.

“A big part of decarbonizing our cities is just recognizing that we have the tools we need to get there,” he says. “We’re committed to finding solutions and working with partners who share our vision of a sustainable tomorrow.”

CoPower Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB). CoPower Inc. is an exempt market dealer registered in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Québec, Saskatchewan and Yukon.

Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s Editorial Department was not involved in its creation.