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Energy Divestment: Why Should You Care, and What Can You Do?

Cody Battershill

With so much news flying at us every minute of every hour, it can be hard to find the time to read beyond the headlines. But it’s really vital that we do. Here’s why.

Whether it’s Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, Lush Cosmetics, Zurich Insurance Group or the giant HSBC banking conglomerate, companies are easy prey for activist groups that push for negative, kneejerk decisions against the Canadian oil and gas sector.

The formula, as many now recognize, is simple: Activists understand the value a bank or other large company places in its own brand. Banks will do virtually anything to protect that brand against organized public attack. So they easily cave to activist pressure to throw the Canadian energy sector under the bus.

While the headlines seldom capture it, the irony is just too stark to ignore.

When you consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) investor criteria, Canada sits comfortable atop the world’s largest ten oil exporters – on virtually every metric. The rankings, from reputable global institutions and organizations are remarkably consistent in their views that Canada is the single best supplier.

From the Sustainable Development Report published by Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the Rule of Law Index of the World Justice Project, to the Women, Peace, and Security Index, of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, we’re the envy of the free world.

Now, consider the International Energy Agency recently reported that oil demand will start growing again next year by about a million barrels a day after 2020’s demand fell for the first time in a decade as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated issues.

The question is obvious. Once oil demand for 2021 surpasses 2019 figures and continues with its historic growth pattern, where does HSBC think the world should source its liquid energy? From democratically-challenged producers with inferior climate and environmental standards?

Canada’s reductions in gas flaring lead the world. So do our ESG rankings that I described earlier. Our innovations in steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) technology mean that a typical SAGD oil sands project disturbs a fifth of the land that a comparable U.S tight oil project does.

The fact is we all need to do more to battle misinformation.

Consider reviewing your own commercial relationships with companies that have fallen prey to activist threats. Find an insurer, bank or retailer that’s supportive of the energy sector’s leadership in ESG policies.

And consider getting even more involved in the discussion. There’s a genuine informational vacuum that’s been filled with a false activist narrative. Let’s change that.

If banks, insurers and others wish to use climate action as part of their corporate branding, they have a responsibility to ensure that branding conforms to reality.

Cody Battershill is a Calgary realtor and founder / spokesperson for CanadaAction.ca, a volunteer-initiated group that supports Canadian energy development and the environmental, social and economic benefits that come with it.