October 8, 2007

CEO task force presents proposals for making Canada an environmental superpower

Aggressive global action is needed to address climate change, which stands as the single most pressing issue within the context of the more fundamental challenge of achieving sustainable development, says the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE). The Council's Task Force on Environmental Leadership maintains that while the scale of the challenge is enormous, it offers immense economic opportunities for Canada.

"The key is to shape public policies that reinforce both the desire of individuals and companies to reduce their environmental impact and their ability to invest their money in the new technologies, products and processes that will make the greatest difference domestically and globally," says the Task Force, in an 11-page policy declaration titled "Clean Growth: Building a Canadian Environmental Superpower."

The CCCE Task Force on Environmental Leadership is made up of 33 CEOs representing a broad cross-section of Canada's leading energy-producing and energy-consuming companies. Its policy declaration, issued October 1, represents the first input by the group to the discussion about a national climate change strategy. The paper offers five key propositions concerning how best to proceed from Canada's current status.

Alcan president and CEO Richard Evans, who is one of the Task Force's three co-chairs, said the statement "represents an unprecedented consensus among the CEOs of Canada's leading enterprises on how best to move forward in addressing the vital issue of climate change. Our hope is that these ideas can form the basis of a broader national consensus."

The CEOs say Canadians must reduce their impact on the environment and help people around the world adapt to changes in climate that cannot be prevented. The Task Force believes Canada is uniquely positioned to demonstrate leadership in developing a flexible international approach to addressing climate change, but must first achieve a consensus on the most effective domestic strategy. The goal of Canadian public policy, says the statement, must be to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) while strengthening Canada's competitive advantage and economic performance.

"Canada's business community is committed to achieving greater progress on both greenhouse gases and air pollution," said Suncor Energy president and CEO Richard (Rick) George, also a Task Force co-chair. "To do that, we need a policy framework that promotes economic growth and technological innovation."

CCCE president Thomas d'Aquino, the third Task Force co-chair, observed that "Canada's business leaders have long understood that enhanced prosperity and high standards of environmental protection are mutually supportive." He pointed out that the Council was among the first business organizations to declare support for the concept of sustainable development as defined by the World Commission on the Environment and Development (the Brundtland report) in 1987.

The Task Force's five propositions are offered as a starting point for enabling Canada to reduce GHG emissions and make the greatest possible contribution to a sustainable global economy.

(1) A national plan. Canada needs a coherent national plan of action on climate change, one that sees governments, industry and consumers working together toward shared goals. All Canadians contribute to the creation of GHG emissions and nothing meaningful will happen unless we all accept our share of the responsibility.

(2) The technology opportunity. The core of this national plan must focus on investment in new technologies that can help Canada and the rest of the world achieve a rising standard of living with a reduced environmental impact. Energy is Canada's strength, and clean energy has the potential to be Canada's greatest competitive advantage. If we make the most of this strength, Canada can become an energy and environmental superpower.

(3) Targets and investment. Targets are an important spur to action, but real and sustainable improvements in environmental performance come when healthy firms can attract capital and expertise to drive innovation. While intensity targets make sense as a means of encouraging Canadian firms to become more efficient without being penalized for growing, the ultimate goal must be to achieve a substantial absolute reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases, in Canada and globally.

(4) The power of price signals. The price signal is an important means to ensure that energy use reflects its environmental costs, and these signals can be strengthened through market-based mechanisms such as emissions trading and environmental taxation. However, any such tools must be designed so that industries and consumers are not merely penalized, but have positive reasons to act. Policies aimed at changing behaviour through price signals must deliver positive environmental outcomes in ways that foster an innovative economy and strengthen Canada's competitive advantage.

(5) Canadian leadership globally. To achieve global progress in addressing climate change, Canada must champion a future international process that will ensure the participation of all major emitting countries. A long-term plan that includes all significant players is the only effective solution to climate change.

"We view these five propositions as starting points, not final answers," the CEOs say. "We remain open to any and all ideas that would help Canada reduce GHG and other emissions while promoting the innovation and investment that will drive superior economic as well as environmental performance.

Canada's business leaders, concludes the statement, share a goal that is as ambitious as it is clear: "to enable our nation to harness its plentiful energy resources and abundant human skills to become an energy and environmental superpower."

The Clean Growth policy declaration may be viewed on the CCCE Web site, www.ceocouncil.ca.

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