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March, 06, 2023  |    |    |  

GLOBExChange: In Pursuit of a Low Carbon Future

The 2023 GLOBExChange conference took place last week. It was a powerful week of learning and leadership.

Mike Rowlands
Partner and CEO of Junxion, Mike has spent more than 20 years working to catalyse social responsibility and sustainability.

At this point in my career, conferences present opportunities for connections, relationship-building, and to discover opportunities for Junxion. Rarely do I attend conference sessions. GLOBExChange was different: the conference brought together sustainability practitioners, capital and funders, and public sector expertise for three days of dialogue, debate, and discussion about Canada’s potential for a Net Zero future. Opportunities to learn were abundant.

The conference was brilliantly designed; many of the country’s thought leaders on sustainability and the transition to a low-carbon economy were in attendance and on stage. UNEPFI’s regional gathering was intertwined, so dozens of representatives of Canada’s biggest banks were here, ready, willing, and eager to talk about how their capital is set to drive the ‘just transition.’ And the long list of new models, frameworks, and case studies made for session after session filled with information, insight, and inspiration.

Today’s Problems Call for New Ways of Thinking—and Knowing

It can be easy to feel cynical among the ridiculous number of three, four, and six-letter acronyms, and the exquisitely crafted messaging of the oil and gas industry—with its all too common hyperbole and greenwashing. When the science has been all too clear for far too long, why do so many conferences seem to be stuck trying to kickstart the same outdated conversations?

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

– Einstein

Never has Einstein’s quote resonated more deeply than it did this week. GLOBE Series has always impressed me for bringing together people and perspectives from all across industries and sectors—including (and especially this week) those who owe their livelihoods to exploitation of Canada’s oil sands, the largest deposit of crude oil in the world.

Canada cannot meet its Paris commitments if we exploit that oil. Yet, the companies keep digging…. The mind boggles. During a late-night debate with an oil exec who will remain nameless, I took exception to the assertion—a frequent talking point of oil and gas leadership—that their firms cannot make Net Zero commitments because the technology doesn’t exist for them to deliver. As if any undertaking of any significance ever waited until the know-how was there!

Kennedy didn’t know what the moon mission would cost. Gates imagined ‘a computer on every desktop’ when the smallest computer was bigger than any pair of desks!

Magellan didn’t wait for a map

What We Have Here is a Failure of Imagination

Across hundreds of delegates and dozens of sessions, it’s hard to imagine how many questions were asked at GLOBExChange. But my favourite came at the end of the final session I joined.

In a session that focused on the social risks of climate change, after citing the data, defining the challenges, and describing solutions, the three panellists were asked, “What role do you think storytelling and the arts will play in this work?” What a powerful question! Well, you could have heard a pin drop…. And then the panellists began to smile….

Chad Park, VP Sustainability at Cooperators was first to respond. Citing The Natural Step’s back-casting approach (he was formerly Executive Director of TNS Canada), Chad suggested that frameworks like TCFD give us a picture of a beautiful future. Our job is to back-cast to today. Ashleigh Owens of Shift explained that the present impacts of climate change are being visited most severely on populations far remote from our beautiful Toronto hotel. 

Our ability to empathize with people in far-off locations is bolstered by the power of a well-told story. And Jonathan Fowlie of Vancity cited his academic training in journalism: “An idea without a story is DOA.”

Imagination drives innovation

The very act of imagining brighter futures opens in us the capacity for innovation—precisely what we need in order to navigate the ramp down of the carbon economy and the cultivation of what’s next.

The Hard Work of Building Soft Skills

Early in the conference, Jocelyn Joe-Strack, Research Chair in Indigenous Knowledge at Yukon University shared her view that reconnection to spirit, self, and one another is climate action. To operate only from mind and not from our full selves (including, may I suggest, our imaginations) is part of the problem.

Storytelling sounds so soft, doesn’t it? Empathy sounds like something that belongs at home, rather than the office. And please! Don’t talk about love at work!

Yet these are precisely the skills that always bring out the very best in humanity. In a sidebar conversation, a friend and I got to talking about Namwayut, the recently published memoirs of Chief Dr Robert Joseph. I feel fortunate to have met him a few times and shared with my friend that part of what I appreciate about Chief Joseph is that there’s always a giggle sitting just behind his eyes. His commitment to our shared humanity is the spirit that has made Reconciliation Canada successful. By the way, Namwayut means we are all one.

There are so many things I could say about GLOBExChange. But from the opening session’s focus on intergenerational, cross-cultural dialogue to the closing moments on Wednesday, the biggest takeaway for me is a recommitment to the hard work of building soft skills—in ourselves, in our organizations, in our communities, and across society.

Climate risk is a clear and present danger to all manner of systems, including our economies and our ways of life. The best time to act was a generation ago. The next best time to act is now.

Let’s design new ways of thinking together. Of being together. Of acting, together.

Let’s Be Audacious, Together…