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Dawn Calleja, editor of ROB magazine, Dec. 2021.Steph Martyniuk/The Globe and Mail

I sometimes wonder if the climate crisis has been allowed to get to this critical point because of a branding error. When the earliest activists first started sounding the alarm on global warming, the rallying cry became, “Save the planet!” Here’s the thing, though: It’s not Earth that’s in trouble—it’s been spinning for 4.5 billion years and will continue right on doing so. What’s truly at risk is humanity (which, it should be noted, has been around for just 0.004% of the planet’s history).

The irony is that the Big Bad in this scenario is us, of course. We’re running headlong toward our own destruction, embracing present prosperity at the expense of future safety. Sure, we have a national goal of net zero emissions by 2050—but in the meantime, the plan seems to be to keep pulling fossil fuels out of the ground and count on carbon capture technology—which will cost tens of billions of dollars to implement at scale and doesn’t even exist yet—to somehow save us.

Never mind the fact that all those billions could be redirected now toward proven low-carbon technologies, building retrofits and other initiatives that would get us far closer to net zero—creating jobs and growth along the way. (Promisingly, investments in renewables have now surpassed those directed to fossil fuels.)

Yes, the transition to a no-carbon world is going to be painful. And absolutely, it’s going to be expensive. But what’s the alternative? What we need right now—what we needed two decades ago—isn’t more magical thinking. It’s bold leadership from corporations, yes, but also from governments and regulators. Industry needs guardrails. Oil producers, for instance, cannot be allowed to continue boasting about their march toward net zero without having to account for Scope 3 emissions—those produced when their products are actually consumed and which account for 85% of the industry’s total emissions.

So, where do we start? Well, as the famous (if somewhat flawed) saying goes, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” That’s what Morningstar Sustainalytics is attempting to do with its Low-Carbon Transition Rating (LCTR), which crunches scores of metrics to determine which companies are aligned with the global goal of limiting climate change to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. So far, they’ve rated 8,000 companies globally, including 260 publicly traded outfits here in Canada—and not a single one of them are on track. Part of the problem here is a lack of reporting requirements: Many companies have no plan on how to reach net zero because regulators haven’t required them to draft one.

We’re focusing on leadership, highlighting Sustainalytics’ analysis of companies that are making progress at least in terms of disclosing key management indicators around the low-carbon transition and their climate investment plans. It’s far from perfect. But we wanted to be both constructive and instructive: What are companies doing right, and where do they need to improve? If you’re in the early stage of your net zero journey, consider it a guide on how to get started.

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