In my part of the world, my long-awaited Christmas snowfall happened this past weekend, before we return to work in earnest, leaving a glittering powder of white over the twinkling lights of my neighbourhood. That first morning walk in the snow's quiet stillness leaves me cleansed and energized for the year ahead. As long as it arrives some time over what is for me a two-week Christmas and New Year holiday, I head back into the working world filled with optimism and hope.
We’ll need them both. The 2024 working world will be a tough one. Deloitte’s economic outlook report paints a gloomy picture for Canada. While the firm was more optimistic about the US economy, it did note that climate change continues to pose a long term challenge due to increased costs and an as yet unrealized need to invest in solutions.
It’s these very types of economic environments, however, that create exciting potential for change. Necessity as the mother of invention has been demonstrated time and again through innovations born in periods of recession. Low demand for products, services, and employees, combined with high levels of available talent collaborating on new ways to apply their skills breed creative disruption. Today, as Plato tells us in the Republic, “our need will be the real creator”.
The first economic depression, triggered by the “Panic of 1873” brought us both the light bulb and telephone. The electric guitar, FM Radio, and the photocopier were created during the 1930s. The less glamorous but game-changing barcode, which enables us to track inventory and therefore reduce costs, was launched in 1974, a year after the start of the 1970s recession. The ongoing development of personal computers also took place during this decade of soft economic conditions following the launch of the first of its kind in 1971. And the Great Recession, resulting from the financial crisis of 2008, preceded the launch in 2009 and 2010 of economic disruptors Airbnb and Uber along with social networking and communications platforms WhatsApp, Instagram, and Pinterest.
Coalescing thought leadership indicates that the much-needed disrupters coming out of this next recession will be to the political and economic systems themselves. The energy transition will be the most radical economic transformation since the industrial revolution. It will take more than technological innovation to get there as evidenced by the plight of mature technologies struggling to survive in the face of increasing interest rates, razor thin margins, and “warring regulators” that “have shaken investors’ faith in Canada, sent one company into bankruptcy and imperilled the massive green-power potential….” Today’s global legislative frameworks and financing architecture are not yet conducive to accelerating capital flows into climate solutions.
Over the past four months, the Accelerating Climate Finance inaugural cohort of graduate students from business, finance, environment, policy, and engineering at the University of Toronto has evaluated and proposed solutions in five broad categories to address weak points in the capital investment system. The results of this work, to be released in early 2024, focus on five priority areas.
1. Legislative barriers that stall climate-aligned projects including renewable energy generation in Ontario and transmission in California.
2. Delayed reallocation of revenues through functional carbon markets or, where these fail, more direct mechanisms to support mature climate-aligned technologies still struggling with razor-thin margins and dwindling access to capital.
3. Uncoordinated, complex, and delayed access to concessional capital and risk-sharing structures.
4. Technically feasible but economically unviable industrial decarbonization solutions.
5. Non-income generating climate risk reduction through investment in adaptation.
As our traditional economy sputters and stalls, we face a unique opportunity to create a new one, the one we’ve been envisioning in every global Conference of the Parties session since Paris. Successfully redirecting the flow of capital to the low carbon economy will create a softer landing in these challenging economic times for us all.
Susan McGeachie is Co-founder and Managing Partner at Global Climate Finance Accelerator, which convenes partnerships across business, finance, and government on strategies, policies, procedures, and tools to finance climate solutions.