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UN climate fund gets ‘back on rails’ ahead of December talks

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The world’s biggest fund for tackling climate change in the developing world has approved investment of about $1 billion US in new projects and launched a process to refill its coffers, putting it back on track after a difficult few months.

Progress at the latest meeting of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) board, which wrapped up on Saturday evening in Bahrain, was viewed as key to smooth the way for UN climate talks in December tasked with agreeing rules to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb global warming.

GCF board co-chair Lennart Bage of Sweden said the results from last week’s meeting had “exceeded expectations,” while UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa said in a tweet it had sent an “important signal” ahead of the upcoming climate conference.

Researchers with the U.S.-based World Resources Institute (WRI) who attended the board meeting told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the GCF was “back on the rails” after a previous meeting in July broke down amid political squabbling.

“We are in a much better place going into these crunch climate talks in December,” said Joe Thwaites, an associate in WRI’s Sustainable Finance Center.

“Continued GCF support for developing countries is a key component of success in the international negotiations.”

The GCF was set up under the UN climate talks, and donor countries initially promised more than $10 billion US in 2014 to fund projects to help poorer nations reduce planet-warming emissions and adapt to wilder weather and rising seas.

But it has not been plain sailing.

The South Korea-based fund has struggled with arguments over how it should be run among its 24-member board, which has an equal balance of developed and developing-country representatives. Some of those issues have yet to be resolved.

$2 billion US shortfall

It also faces a $2-billion US shortfall after U.S. President Donald Trump last year decided his country should quit the Paris Agreement, and signalled he would not deliver the remaining two-thirds of a $3-billion US pledge to the GCF.

That has made a replenishment of the fund even more important, as it has now allocated more than $4.6 billion US to 93 projects, with more proposals seeking funding approval.

A bus moves along a road in Karachi, Pakistan in 2016. A bus rapid transit system for Karachi is one of the newly funded Green Climate Fund projects. (Akhtar Soomro/Reuters)

“With a rapidly growing portfolio, accelerating implementation on the ground, and a pipeline of $17 billion showing huge demand, GCF is now entering its first replenishment ready to step up its support of developing countries’ climate action,” Javier Manzanares, the fund’s interim executive director, said in a statement after the board meeting.

A process for approaching donors for fresh contributions was agreed at the Bahrain meeting. Observers said a pledging conference could take place next autumn.

In Manama, the fund’s board also approved 16 new partner organizations to implement GCF projects, including banks and government agencies, bringing the total to 75.

It agreed on a process to select a new executive director after its previous head quit in July, and it decided to start a performance review of the fund by an independent unit.

In addition, the board discussed how it should take decisions if it cannot reach consensus — an issue that has hampered progress on occasions. An alternative process has yet to be agreed.

Water supply, conservation

There was controversy over a project submitted by the meeting’s host government, oil- and gas-rich Bahrain, which sparked concern that GCF money could be used to help clean up wastewater from the fossil fuel industry.

Only part of the original proposal, however, relating to reducing national demand for water, was eventually approved.

Other projects that won GCF backing included:

  • Work to boost the climate resilience of Indian coastal communities.
  • A water supply project for the Pacific island nation of Kiribati.
  • A program to help 50,000 family farmers deal with weather extremes in El Salvador’s “dry corridor.”
  • A bus rapid transit system for the Pakistani city of Karachi.

“Climate finance and climate project formulation are the two greatest bottlenecks to climate action in the developing countries,” Paul Oquist, Nicaraguan co-chair of the board, said in a statement. “GCF has a critical role to play in both.”

CBC News is launching a new weekly newsletter about the environment called What on Earth? Smart, snappy and constructive, it will highlight trends and solutions that are moving us to a more sustainable world. Written by CBC News journalists and delivered to you email inbox every Thursday afternoon. Subscribe here.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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