Ethical investors want government to clean up environment act

By  Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
  • November 24, 2006
The companies that sell ethically screened mutual funds are asking Parliament to clean up the Clean Air Act.

The Ethical Funds Company, Inhance Investment Management Inc., Meritas Mutual Funds and the Social Investment Organization have combined forces on a letter to the leaders of all four federal  political parties asking for revisions to the Clean Air Act as the bill is reviewed in committee.

"The Clean Air Act, as currently proposed, does not provide the type of leadership by the Government of Canada that people expect and need on climate change," said the Nov. 16 letter.

The Clean Air Act and Canada's commitment to the Kyoto Accord are also expected to be a topic among Canadian bishops when their social affairs commission meets Dec. 14-15.

The investment managers, who collectively represent more than $2 billion under their management and 187,000 investors, want the act rewritten to include:

  • a hard target reducing greenhouse gas emissions to an average of five per cent below 1990 levels by 2012, in line with the Kyoto Protocol;

  • co-operation with other nations which have signed the Kyoto Protocol to establish greenhouse gas targets;

  • establishment of a carbon trading market as proposed by the Montreal stock exchange.

A lack of leadership in both government and corporate Canada is letting opportunities to create wealth from new technologies and carbon trading pass by, Clean Power Income Fund chief financial officer Rob Roberti said.

"Their 'made in Canada solution' is remarkably similar to the United States' solution."

While carbon trading in Europe and on the Chicago Climate Exchange is helping to change the business climate so that it responds to the real climate, and the Stern Report in Britain has delivered an economic analysis of climate change, Canada continues to make policy only for the oil sands, said Roberti.

"There are huge opportunities to clean air and to clean up greenhouse gas emissions," he said.

The economic argument for a tougher Clean Air Act is welcome backup to the ethical argument churches have been making, said KAIROS ecological justice co-ordinator Joy Kennedy. KAIROS, the social justice organization supported by Canada's largest churches, sponsored the first ever conference on climate change and investment along with the Social Investment Organization two years ago.

"We can and do raise the issue from the point of view of people's pocketbooks, as well as ecological impacts," Kennedy said.

Theologian Dennis Patrick O'Hara, director of the Elliott Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology at the University of St. Michael's College, said the economic argument for a stronger Clean Air Act is just the flip side of Catholic social teaching.

"It highlights something that the Catholic bishops have been saying for quite some time," O'Hara said. "That is that economic justice, political justice, ecological justice, gender justice — these things are not separate silos. They're all related."

Petitioning the government is a bit of a departure for the companies, said Meritas chief executive officer Gary Hawton.

"We do most of our work on climate change through the companies that we own, rather than through the political process," he said.

The government has to do more than manage the risks and costs of climate change. It also needs to see the economic opportunities, Hawton said.

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