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Ontario positioned to lead move to de-carbonized economy, School of Environment panel says

New economic wave to dwarf the tech revolution

Photo of Glen Murray at podium

“This new de-carbonized economy will generate six times the economic expansion that the IT revolution did,” Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray told the gathering.

The University of Toronto, the city and province could be at the centre of a new economic wave that will dwarf the tech revolution, a panel of experts told a gathering at U of T’s School of the Environment, where an expert panel reported on the recent UN climate negotiations in Marrakech and implications for Ontario and Canada.

Forces are aligning that could make Ontario, Toronto and U of T key players in a new de-carbonized economy, driven by the race to reduce greenhouse gases, the 2016 Willis and White Thought Leadership event heard.

“Whoever leads it will own the new revolution”

“This new de-carbonized economy will generate six times the economic expansion that the IT revolution did,” Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray told the gathering.

“And whoever leads it will own the new revolution.”

One key step comes come in 2018, when Ontario links its cap-and-trade program to the market California and Quebec have created to buy and sell CO2 emission credits, said Murray. This “carbon club” will anchor a new economic alliance stretching from the U.S. west coast to parts of Canada and the New England states.

“I would argue that globally right now California, Quebec and Ontario are working more as an economic unit, because once you start to price carbon, you are actually changing the dynamics of the supply chain,” said Murray.

The alliance with California allows Ontario and Quebec to build an economic block big enough to support an aggressive de-carbonized agenda.

He noted New England and New York also have a cap-and-trade system, and they will be natural partners in the new North American economy.

“I think what is going to start to emerge in North America is a California-New England- Ontario-Quebec economy that is going to become heavily de-carbonized.”

China ready to step into leadership void

With U.S. President-elect Donald Trump waffling on his government’s commitment to the Paris agreement to combat climate change, China is ready to step into the leadership void, Murray added.

China is only trading the yuan as an international currency in two cities in the world — Toronto and Zurich. And it is studying the Californian-Canadian trading model because it is considered the best in the world.

“This reinforces the idea of Zurich, Shanghai and Toronto becoming the centres for global finance for the low carbon revolution, as Canada emerges as China’s partner in North America.”

It also bodes well for U of T’s School of the Environment, which has become a catalyst for environmental initiatives.

While the school educates the next leaders in the field, its Environmental Finance Advisory Committee creates a forum for the exchange of ideas between the university and the commercial sector, said Kimberly Strong, director of the School of the Environment.

“Achieving the goals of the Paris agreement will take many players on many fronts, and hopefully the School can play some part in the necessary transitions” to a low-carbon economy, said Strong.

At the Nov. 23 event, awards were handed out in memory of two pioneers in carbon finance who also taught environmental courses at U of T.

The Skip Willis Undergraduate Scholarship went to fourth-year environmental science student Lika Miao, and the Rodney White Environmental Studies Scholarship to Keira Lewis, a fourth-year environmental studies and Indigenous studies student.

Nearly 90 per cent of the available carbon credits at the latest California-Quebec cap-and-trade auction were sold, up from 35 per cent in the last round.

In his speech, Murray noted Ontario and Quebec have also signed an agreement with Mexico, which is piloting a cap-and-trade system in the next 18 months.

“I tip my hat to Ontario, Quebec and California and any jurisdiction that signs on to the cap-and trade system, which is absolutely critical to reach climate goals,” said committee member and panelist Katie Sullivan of the International Emissions Trading Association.

Canada is receiving plaudits for its strong commitment to finding market-based solutions to its national carbon reduction commitments under the Paris agreement.

“I hope the University of Toronto will inject a lot of knowledge and ideas,” into making progress in this area, said panel member Robert Page of The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and former Chair of the National Round Table on Environment and Economy.