Susan Uthayakumar is the Canadian president at Schneider Electric, a global energy management and automation company.
Canadian cities are unprepared to deal with the threats posed by climate change. This was the primary finding from a survey of 63 municipalities across the country released earlier this month in the journal Climatic Change. The challenge facing us from climate change is daunting and touches all of us. As the leader of a Canadian business, I truly believe the onus is on business and industry to make bold changes to our operations and our energy consumption to fight climate change.
Under the Paris Agreement, Canada committed to reducing emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. And yet, as revealed in our 2018 greenhouse gas inventory report, Canada’s emissions are only down 1.4 per cent from the year before. We are the 38th-largest country in the world by population, but we’re the seventh-biggest emitter, and the highest among all G20 members.
We are struggling to meet our emission-reduction targets, and we have more work to do if we hope to exceed them. Canada isn’t alone in this regard. A recent report from Climate Transparency, a coalition of international climate organizations, reveals that no G20 country currently has a plan in place that would meet the goals determined in the Paris Agreement. Any serious climate plan includes a price on pollution, and our federal government has kickstarted this with a national carbon tax. However, our plans, as they stand now, aren’t enough.
On Dec. 15, following two weeks of meetings on climate change at the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) in Poland, 194 countries decided on universal rules to guide implementation of the Paris Agreement. This conference represents the first time that the United Nations has met to discuss climate change since October’s shocking report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which concluded the world must limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5 C, and needs to take immediate and drastic action in order to do so. The report was a stark wake-up call for every government, person and business to prioritize adopting new programs, habits and solutions to limit the global temperature rise.
While it is promising that the UN member countries have agreed on a standard set of rules at COP24, the current agreement lacks ambitious goals, including specifics on how to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and the mechanics of a global emissions trading program. While we consider how to solve these issues at a global level, Canadian business leaders must take greater responsibility to stem our national emissions and their impact on climate change.
Business and industry are significant users of our energy resources and must play a critical role in helping Canada limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 C. It’s up to Canadian businesses to be stewards of the environment and use the technologies we have available to us now, and the ones that are yet to be introduced, so we can stay ahead of this upcoming challenge.
At Schneider Electric, we are strengthening our own sustainability target of zero emissions. We have pledged to become carbon-neutral globally by 2030, and to avoid 100-million metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted by our customers through our energy management technologies. We are one of 197 companies that attended COP24 to demonstrate our commitment to fighting climate change, something we have been doing for more than a decade.
This passion for fighting climate change and innovating business operations means that I know sustainability and profitability can co-exist with the technology we have available today. Industry and business need to see past the short-term profits and risk aversion that has, for decades, plagued their ability to adopt newer technologies that have the potential for significant impact on climate change. There’s a financial benefit to carbon-reducing technologies, too. The return on investment from introducing an energy-management and automation system can be met within a few short years.
Energy awareness is no longer a nice-to-have in Canadian business. Canada’s business and industry leaders must make bold decisions today to transform to a low-carbon or a no-carbon organization.
The work ahead is challenging, though it can be done. We have a responsibility to our country and our citizens to take the necessary steps and make the smart decisions that will preserve the economy for our businesses, and more importantly, protect the earth for future generations.