Canada’s sixth-oldest family foundation has announced a five-year plan to close its doors after distributing its entire $100-million endowment to help slash the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and build a low-carbon economy.
“We’re not presenting this in a way that we’re trying to be alarmist, but the reality is that we are moving far more slowly than we need to be moving on these issues,” Ivey Foundation President Bruce Lourie told The Energy Mix Wednesday. “I hear the word ‘ambition’ a lot, but we don’t need to increase our ambition. We need to increase our action. Politicians like to talk about ambition, but we like to talk about getting things done.”
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Since 2014, Ivey Foundation funding has helped launch a long list of organizations—The Transition Accelerator, the Canadian Climate Institute, the Institute for Sustainable Finance, Efficiency Canada, Farmers for Climate Solutions, and the Canada Climate Law Initiative, among others—all of them “designed to fill gaps in Canada’s capacity to research, understand, communicate, and overcome fundamental barriers to transitioning the economy,” the foundation said in a release. In an interview, Lourie cited green infrastructure, building retrofits, grid decarbonization, and new transmission lines as examples of areas where the country must move farther and faster.
“We need to do a whole lot of stuff that is very, very easy to understand, very tangible, but we’re just not doing a very good job of it in Canada right now,” he said. “The world’s not doing a great job, but Canada is doing a much poorer job than a lot of our peer countries. So we’re hoping that with our initial resources, we can help accelerate the pace and scale of the transformation we need to make.”
The release said Ivey issued more than $100 million in grants over its 75-year history, and will distribute that same amount again over the next five years, most of it to existing partners “working at the intersection of the critical issues of climate change and economic prosperity.” The announcement received wide circulation and praise in climate and philanthropic circles.
“Foundations need not continue in perpetuity for perpetuity’s sake,” Lourie and Foundation Chair Rosamond Ivey wrote [pdf] in an open letter released Tuesday. “There is a strong argument that their philanthropic resources can, and in some cases should, be fully utilized for the most critical issues we face today,” and Ivey’s work through its Economy and Environment Program “makes capital distribution especially well-suited to achieving maximum impact in the near term.”
That’s at a moment when “Canada has eight years to meet ambitious 2030 climate targets,” Ivey and Lourie added. “Without rapid action at scale, the strong economy and jobs that Canadians depend upon are at risk. Global competitors are vying for dominance in critical sectors where Canada is well-positioned to lead, such as zero-emission vehicles, modernizing and expanding electricity systems, low-carbon buildings, and the hydrogen economy,” and “the next five years are crucial to keeping the country on track.”
Ivey’s granting over that time span will be “pretty much focused on mitigation pathways that will deliver measurable, empirical emission reductions or set us up to do that,” Lourie told The Mix. The foundation does have some interest in carbon capture and storage as it relates to hydrogen deployment. “But if you look at the research, there are some technologies including carbon capture that simply aren’t going to deliver anything meaningful between now and 2030, and arguably may not be significant between now and 2050,” he said. “So our five-year decision is very much focused on the near term and how we bend the curve as quickly as possible. A lot of the technology solutions simply aren’t going to be in that framework.”
The foundation will still be interested in measures that focus on fossil industry emissions. “Without a regulatory backdrop for curtailing methane emissions or putting a regulatory cap on oil and gas emissions, we’re not going to see enough effort to get the other parts working well on the demand side,” he said.
But “our overarching strategy is that you need to build the alternative before you can shut off oil and gas activity, even though most of our oil and gas gets exported. The reality is that we need the economic activity, the jobs, the trade that will come from building up the clean economy, and those things have to go hand in hand.”