As we head into Earth Month I want to highlight two major recent headlines related to the climate crisis. The first is the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Synthesis Report, which offers the usual alarms blaring along with some signs of hope, and the second is the release of the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP)’s climate plan, signaling new steps towards protecting our pensions from the multitude of climate related risks.

New IPCC Synthesis Report

I would highly recommend checking out the Synthesis Report to get the information straight from the source. In fact, I was planning to write a summary but I think I will just directly relay the documents because the IPCC has done a great job converting the science into understandable, actionable information. Below I linked the media slide deck summarizing the key points: fossil fuel combustion is the main cause of the climate crisis, warming is happening faster than anticipated, warming is causing dramatic effects now, those least responsible for warming are typically most at risk, immediate cuts in fossil fuel burning are required, and technology is available to do so.

Below are three charts that caught my attention, directly from the IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report Summary for Policy Makers. Feel free to click on them to enlarge.

Figure SPM.2 shows the global impact of different levels of warming in terms of changes to temperature and precipitation extremes. Every fraction of a degree of warming makes a big impact to extreme conditions. Therefore, every reduction in GHG emissions is crucial.

Figure SPM.5 shows the emissions pathways required for key warming scenarios, compared to existing policies. Note the large immediate drop required to keep warming below 1.5C and 2C. Hence, the urgent need for emissions reductions.

Finally, Figure SPM.7 shows the best mitigation options we have. I’d like to highlight a few of the options. First, solar and wind power generation are the biggest near term mitigation options and are largely cheaper than the fossil fuel alternative (indicated by blue bar). In general, we are hurt financially and environmentally every time new fossil power generation is built. Second, the destruction of natural ecosystems must be ended and in fact additional areas must be restored to their natural state (check out the Earth month page for option to participate in habitat restoration event on April 22). Natural ecosystems have great carbon storage capacity.

Key emissions reduction options relevant to UHN are Fuel Switching (generally fossil fuel heating systems to electric) and Efficient Buildings. UHN has been developing and implementing many projects on these two fronts over recent years. Projects include developing design and construction standards with heavy focus on efficiency to ensure new construction uses as little energy as possible. We have piloted and implemented technology such as deep lake cooling, LED lighting, demand controlled ventilation, efficient chilled water plants, variable air volume systems, advanced heat recovery, building automation control strategies, and we are currently constructing our largest emissions reduction project yet, the Wastewater Energy Transfer System at TWH. And of course we do everything we can to fuel switch from car power to pedal power! All of these initiatives and more have led to a cumulative reduction of over 45,000 tons CO2 from 2010 to today. As of 2022, UHN is emitting 6,000 tons less per year than 2010 baseline despite large increases to floor space during that period. We are planning to accelerate emissions reductions to achieve a 45% reduction from 2010 levels by 2030.

Hopefully these IPCC reports serve as inspiration for action. In the past this has been the case for me, but not everyone is motivated by sciency diagrams and reports. That’s why it’s important to amplify the need for climate action using your own voice that has greater potential to reach the people you know and care about. If you’re now feeling super confident about your climate knowledge, try our Earth Month climate quiz for a chance to win a prize!

Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) Announces Climate Strategy

In light of the financial, environmental, and healthcare imperative for climate action, HOOPP has developed a climate strategy aiming to limit plan members exposure to climate risks. If you would like a little bit of background on why I think green investing is important, here is a post I wrote about it 3 years ago. Although many variables have changed since I wrote that article, the basic messages about sustainable investing hold true. I’m sensing a rare opportunity for me to quote myself:

Given that climate change is a public health crisis and that I want to retire in a world that hasn’t been destabilized by global heating, I decided that I needed to change my investment plan to eliminate investments in fossil fuels. There is a scientific imperative that consumption of fossil fuels needs to drastically decrease, so why should I invest any of my hard earned money in these companies that are either destined to fail or to speed us toward an uninhabitable future?

Mike Kurz

With this in mind and acknowledging that a large number of us at UHN are HOOPP members, their new climate strategy is a moment to celebrate! Here are some of the key commitments:

  • 2025: 80% of assets reporting scope 1 and 2 emissions (for explanation on the emission “scopes” see figure below)
  • 2025: Initiate portfolio scope 3 measurement
  • 2025: Excluding new direct investments in private thermal coal and oil exploration and production companies
  • 2030: Reduce portfolio carbon footprint to 28 tCO2eq/$M from 2021 baseline of 41 (~32% reduction)
  • 2030: Reduce real estate portfolio’s Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 50% on an absolute basis through direct decarbonization efforts at our owned properties under our operational control
  • 2030: Committed over $23 billion towards green investments
  • 2030: 50% of our infrastructure and private equity portfolios covered by credible transition plans
  • 2050: Net zero portfolio
Scope 1: you burn/release stuff yourself on your site
Scope 2: someone else burns/releases the stuff for you off your site
Scope 3: stuff get burned/released as an indirect result of operations/supply chain
Source: Healthcare Without Harm, “Designing a Net Zero Roadmap For Healthcare,” Published July 2022

This Earth Month, HOOPP should be commended for taking a huge step forward in the fight against the climate crisis. Their climate strategy lays the framework to protect members from climate-related financial risk as well as reduce members responsibility for destabilization caused by fossil fuel investment/combustion. That being said, there are some discrepancies in urgency between the scientific reality described in the IPCC report and HOOPP’s climate strategy. Therefore, I hope HOOPP’s proposed reporting process leads to continuous strengthening of these commitments in the future, such as stronger wording and quicker implementation of fossil fuel exclusions, acknowledging the role of natural gas as a fossil fuel that also needs a timeline for phase out, larger expansion of green investments, more urgent net zero targets, etc. Overall, this is a moment to celebrate the achievement this strategy represents and applaud the hard work put into it by HOOPP and by plan members.