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September 23 2019

Chamber of commerce head lobbies for energy sector at UN climate summit

This article was published in the Calgary Herald on September 23, 2019.

Promoting the country’s energy sector at the UN Climate Action Summit wasn’t like mixing oil and water, the president of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce said Sunday.

Sandip Lalli said the three-day event at the UN in New York allowed her delegation of eight Canadian chambers of commerce to emphasize the industry’s role in tackling environmental challenges.

“Nobody’s denying climate change and I never got the sense from anybody here that we’re not doing our part,” said Lalli.

“It’s usually just governments and policy-makers here, having industry in the room was seen as positive. . . . The message (we delivered) was don’t let governments get in the way of business providing solutions.”

Lalli said she met with youth activists soon after Friday’s so-called climate strike, which saw millions of students around the world walk out of class to protest perceived inaction of human-caused environmental degradation.

It was a positive, respectful discourse where the youth “wanted to play a part in moving forward faster.”

“We realized we don’t have the solutions but know there’s an enhanced need for collaboration and dialogue,” said Lalli.

Climate scientists are almost unanimous in concluding the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities are warming the climate, leading to potential environmental and health disasters.

Lalli also said institutional investors from a variety of countries that attended the summit made it clear they want to see a more sustainable approach in the industry, along with policy stability to ensure it.

“They have to be invested in companies moving toward a lower-carbon economy — they have to have the political will and conviction toward a certainty of policy,” said Lalli.

Critics of the UCP government say its decision to kill Alberta’s carbon tax and the previous government’s climate leadership that was endorsed by oilsands producers — and its silence on the proposed coal phase-out — are setbacks for that kind of certainty.

But Lalli said she’s yet to hear those moves are being seen as obstacles to making Alberta’s case to the world.

Even so, she said, “we have to make sure we have a climate plan that is competitive and supports innovative technology. . . . The idea is to get to a national vision for federal and provincial policies that are in step.”

“We can be pro-environment and pro-development, that’s the message that resonated here,” she said.

As Lalli was sharing her message, almost 90 large firms in sectors from food to cement to telecommunications are pledging to slash their greenhouse gas emissions in a new campaign to steer multinationals toward a low-carbon future, organizers said Sunday.

We Mean Business, a coalition of advocacy groups, said dozens of companies had joined the initiative in the two months leading up to the UN climate summit.

“Now we need many more companies to join the movement, sending a clear signal that markets are shifting,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

The coalition was launched in June with a call to action by the United Nations, business and civil society leaders. The first 28 companies to join were announced the following month. We Mean Business said 87 companies are now involved, with a total market capitalization of more than $2.3 trillion.

Some companies in the coalition have agreed to slash their carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050, including Swiss food company Nestle, French building materials company Saint-Gobain, and French cosmetics maker L’Oreal.

The Canadian energy industry’s efforts toward greater environmental efficiency was well-received by many at the UN summit, who were surprised to hear about it, said Lalli.

“People are quite interested to hear what Alberta and Calgary are up to,” Lalli said, adding she highlighted hundreds of examples of sustainable technologies and innovations being exported by Canada’s energy sector.

The summit is to present joint resolutions on Monday, its closing day.

— With files from Reuters