The Case for Divesting from Fossil Fuels in Canada

CIGI Papers No. 112

October 25, 2016

The call for divestment from fossil fuels has traditionally been pitched to protect the future wealth of pensioners and other long-term investors. But the time frames for action have shifted markedly over the last two years, with the collapse in coal, oil and natural gas prices already triggering a massive decline in the equity valuations of fossil fuel producers. At the same time, the strengthening resolve of the world to pursue more aggressive climate change targets at the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change brings forward the timing of needed reductions in global fossil fuel consumption. The decarbonization of the global economy sanctioned by the recent COP 21 agreement to limit the average temperature increase to between 1.5°C to less than 2°C threatens to marginalize much of Canada’s carbon reserves and points to a significant downsizing of oil sands operations in the future — and, potentially, of other fossil fuel industries in the country, including coal and possibly natural gas. Pensions and lending institutions need to stress test their oil, gas and coal assets to verify that they will remain economically viable as Canada’s commitments — as well as those of 173 other countries — to reduce carbon emissions weigh heavily on fossil fuel markets around the world.

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