Earlier this month, I sent a memo to all our staff encouraging them to leave the office on Friday, Sept. 27 and join the youth-led protest against climate change in Confederation Park. After that, I sent emails out to fellow CEOs and business leaders I know in the Ottawa region urging them to give their staff time off to do the same.
This is not something I did lightly or without careful thought. I haven’t demonstrated publicly in more than 20 years; I prefer to work quietly behind the scenes, but I am convinced that it’s now time for the people and business leaders of Ottawa to take to the streets.
The effects of climate change are already in evidence in our community: we’re seeing more once-in-100-years floods, more intense heat waves, and algal blooms on our lakes and rivers. And the reality is that we have fewer than 11 years to avoid the very worst of what climate change can bring – we don’t have time for any more excuses.
As climate change intensifies, so too do the risks to our businesses. The physical risks alone – to our businesses and also to our supply chains – are significant. In 2018, insured damage for severe weather events across Canada reached $1.9 billion – the fourth highest year on record. The Ottawa-Gatineau tornadoes and windstorms caused $295 million in insured damage alone. There is also increasing pressure from investors and markets to disclose climate-related financial risks, and from employees are even pushing their bosses to act on climate – for example, Jeff Bezos recently announced his intention to make Amazon carbon neutral by 2040 in response to his workforce’s concerns.
Keep in mind there’s also a massive economic upside associated with transitioning to a cleaner, more sustainable future. The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate estimates there’s US$26 trillion on the table – think new products and services, new market opportunities and new cross-sector partnerships. The transition to a clean economy represents the greatest economic opportunity of our time.
Ottawa is poised to act on these risks and opportunities. We are recognized as Canada’s most educated city, and punch above our weight when it comes to innovation – our researchers, academia and tech entrepreneurs are already coming up with solutions that will help the world deal with this crisis. Companies in our community are visibly stepping up, such as Shopify with its recently announced Shopify Sustainability Fund, which will make $5 million annually available to fight for the environment.
We’re also a G7 capital, and now more than ever we need to lead by example on the global stage. Which is why standing in solidarity with youth during the climate marches is so important. The Global Climate Strike and week of action that started on Sept. 20 grew out of a youth climate movement whose de facto leader is Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish woman who has already made a big impression at the UN Climate Conference and the World Economic Forum. Her direct calls for action are aimed at all of the supposed grown-ups in the room, and they spare no one.
It’s time to ask: ‘What is the most we can do?’ rather than, ‘What is the least we need to do?’ The young people in the streets are the talent of the future and they are looking to us to lead and to support their participation in these marches. Many of the most important movements in the last century have been spurred on by a march – think the civil rights movement, or the now-annual women’s marches around the globe. This is our opportunity to turn words into action on climate – and if there’s one thing that I know our business community can inspire, it is this.
I have been part of the Ottawa business community for more than 20 years, and I am consistently inspired by my colleagues to do more and do better. I urge all of you to join me and our teams on Sept. 27 to fight for the future of our businesses, for our communities, for the youth who are marching in the streets, and for the future of our children and grandchildren.
To find out more about the Ottawa protest visit https://www.facebook.com/FridaysForFutureOttawa/
Ottawa-based Mike Gerbis is CEO of GLOBE Series and chair of Leading Change.