In a perky tweet, Canada’s former Environment Minister who apparently thinks she still holds that job trills that “fighting climate change requires trillions in infrastructure investments” which she thinks is just grand. They told us Net Zero was low-cost, low pain. And now you’re talking trillions? Isn’t it a lot of money especially in these troubled times? Oh no. “Great discussion with Amy Hepburn at @ILNinfo about how we can partner to drive ambition & move faster to net zero emissions & sustainable growth.” Faster? How can we go faster in a direction we are not going? Insolvency is another question.
In fact the Canadian government’s own statistics show that between 1990 and 2018 we reduced emissions from 600 Mt CO2 equivalent to just 729. Ack. But then again, the 1990s were a decade of blithe indifference in which we made a big hoo-hah about the 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio and signed the Kyoto Protocol. Admittedly the latter was in 1997, after which our emissions … um… well, went down from about 690 to 729. And while we did get down from 742 in 2007 to 680 in 2009 thanks to a lovely recession, we then rebounded steadily. Not to worry. We just have to invest trillions. And after all, free money is everywhere.
McKenna speaks of “trillions in infrastructure investments from both governments and the private sector”. And Canada is such a great place to invest these days, in anything from a pipeline to a vaccine plant to a hot air factory, that the world’s investors are undoubtedly just itching to throw their cash onto the table next to that of a government whose budget deficit last year exceeded total revenue.
After all, the @ILN referred to above is the Investor Leadership Network, a.k.a. “14 global investors leading the sustainability shift in #Infrastructure, #Diversity and #Climate. A G7 initiative.” And the Amy Hepburn referred to above tweeted back “As one of the @ILNinfo’s three pillars, we’re always re-imagining how to leverage sustainable infrastructure to drive both social and environmental wellbeing.” Which you can take to the bank of self-congratulatory cliches.
By the way, if you’re wondering what the pillars of the ILN are, you can visit their website and go fish. But you can find out who the 14 global investors are in this project which, a bit suspiciously, boasts that it “was founded in 2018 during the Canadian G7 Presidency held in Charlevoix, Québec, Canada” and sounds like a branch of the Canadian government, perhaps the Ministry of Expensive Virtue-Signalling. And sure enough, the 14 Jolly Green Giants include the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo), a crown corporation that specializes in government pension funds, APG, a Dutch pension giant that specializes in government pension funds, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) which specializes in government pension funds, CalPERS, an American outfit that specializes in government pension funds (they give them very stock-market-sounding names but that acronym actually stands for California Public Employees’ Retirement System), the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) which we don’t need to explain except it increasingly pursues high-risk investment strategies on behalf of the whole Canadian population’s public pension fund, and OMERS, which specializes in government pension funds, plus Ontario Teachers which, well, you guessed. Oh, and OPTrust, which “funds and administers the OPSEU Pension Plan”, a vast government pension plan. And let’s not forget the Public Sector Pension Investment Board which, and you saw it coming, “manages net contributions to the pension funds of the federal Public Service, the Canadian Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Reserve Force.”
So there’s your vast network of private investors just waiting to hand Catherine McKenna trillions to spend on solar panels, electric buses and magic beans. Seven giant Canadian public sector pension funds, a giant American public sector pension fund and… you the taxpayer holding the bag. Deep in their reports these pension funds will talk fairly frankly about their “sustainability challenge” by which they don’t mean environmental but fiscal. And about their assumptions for real rates of return without which they’re in metaphorical hot water whatever the stuff outside is doing. But she who pays the piper calls the tune and if the government wants them putting it into unicorn power, they’ll do it, into the trillions if needed (mind you the total net assets of OPTrust are around $22 billion, so you’d need 50 of it for the first trillion), and ask the state to backstop any losses.
What could possibly go wrong?
Still, trillions is a lot. For the Canadian government, now asking high school students for help with its long-overdue budget, we mention that even one trillion dollars is a 1 followed by 12 zeroes. And more than half of Canada’s GDP. There was a time when people fretted that this nation had a $150 billion infrastructure deficit that would take decades to fix. But then we found the free money tree in the middle of a pandemic and such cares were cast to the winds.
Indeed, global green finance superstar Mark Carney, once a humble central bank president, now says that as climate change will kill as many people as COVID every year from mid-century on, “The scale of investment in energy, sustainable energy and sustainable infrastructure needs to double. Every year, for the course of the next three decades, $3.5 trillion (£2.5tn) a year, for 30 years. It is an enormous investment opportunity.” Well, opportunity is one word. Black hole is another.