COP26 shows appetite for rapid change, but Canada faces a tough uphill climb

By Sebastian Leck

Sebastian Leck is the managing editor of Research Money.

The biggest news story this month has been the COP26, the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow that has brought together delegates from around the world to discuss the climate emergency. At the summit, Canada agreed to end its funding for fossil fuels projects abroad and joined pledges to end deforestation, curb methane emissions and work toward 100 percent zero-emission new truck and bus sales by 2040.

Canada must walk a tightrope to ensure that the transition happens while avoiding short-term harm. The country is still projected to fall short on its 2030 emissions reductions targets, and the Climate Action Tracker research group has rated Canada’s climate policies as “highly insufficient.” The newly-elected Liberal government must move faster to meet its targets but also address the disproportionate effects it will have for some communities. The COP26 pledges include some important caveats; funding is ending specifically for foreign “unabated” fossil fuels projects, allowing Canada to support projects that incorporate carbon removal or conversion.

Solving a crisis of such enormous scope and complexity will require technological innovations and policy ingenuity. Almost all areas of the Canadian innovation ecosystem need to be involved in climate solutions, from oceans and agriculture to AI and quantum computing to manufacturing and aerospace. Smart industrial policies and proactive skills training programs will also be key.

Research Money has been all about money for climate projects this month. Senior correspondent Lindsay Borthwick covered a new pledge from Canadian philanthropists to use their resources and investments to accelerate climate action. A new R&D facility in Alberta is helping companies commercialize carbon conversion technologies to create new products, such as vodka and hand sanitizer. And a collaboration to develop a meatless alternatives to beef could also reduce emissions (livestock represents nearly 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions).

This week, senior correspondent Mark Lowey reported on the direct effects of the transition for universities in Alberta and Newfoundland, where enrolments have dropped for traditional oil and gas programs. Students know that these industries won’t look the same two decades from now, and they want more focus on renewables and green solutions in oil and gas. This new cohort of informed, socially-conscious students will be the next generation of Canadian innovators — and I, for one, am excited to see the ideas and technologies that emerge.