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Investor pressure drives Royal Dutch Shell to take action on climate change

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Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what’s happening around some of the day’s most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • Royal Dutch Shell becomes first energy giant to set short-term greenhouse gas reduction targets, linking them to executive pay.
  • The western Hudson Bay population of polar bears has dropped by more than 30 per cent over the past four decades.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Climate change

Three years after 195 nations banded together in Paris to forge an agreement on fighting climate change, real progress has been hard to find.

Carbon emissionshave hit a record high. Leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazil’s newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro are threatening to withdraw from the deal as soon as they can. And the UN is warning that even the agreed-upon goal of limiting warming to two degrees since pre-industrial times will be too-little, too-late, ensuring a future of rising seas, droughts, famines and devastating storms.

But where politicians are failing, the market has delivered an important sign of success. Royal Dutch Shell today announced that it will become the first energy giant to set short-term greenhouse gas reduction targets, and will link them to executive pay.

Oil drums are seen at a Royal Dutch Shell Plc lubricants blending plant. The company has agreed to change its lobbying practices and ensure that its membership in oil trade associations ‘does not undermine its support for the objectives of the Paris Agreement.’ (Reuters)

The move is a direct result of investor pressure.

The Anglo-Dutch firm has been one of the principal targets of Climate Action 100+, a green-minded coalition of 310 global investors that control more than $32 trillion US in assets.

Shell was already a leader among oil companies, making a promise last year to cut its net carbon emissions by half by 2050, taking the full cycle of oil — from extraction to end use — into account.

However, the new deal, announced jointly with Climate 100+, goes much further. It commits the company to concrete, three- to five-year goals updated on an annual basis, with the results reported transparently.

And to add a sense of urgency, the need to hit those targets will soon be tied to the compensation of as many as 1,300 senior Shell employees, from the CEO on down.

“Meeting the challenge of tackling climate change requires unprecedented collaboration, and this is demonstrated by our engagements with investors,” Ben van Beurden, Shell’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We are taking important steps towards turning our net carbon footprint ambition into reality by setting shorter-term targets.”

Shell chief executive officer Ben van Beurden, seen here in a June 2016 file photo, said Monday that, ‘We are taking important steps towards turning our net carbon footprint ambition into reality by setting shorter-term targets.’ (Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

The agreement also requires Shell to change its lobbying practices and ensure that its membership in oil trade associations “does not undermine its support for the objectives of the Paris Agreement.”

It’s a sharp reversal from just seven months ago, when Shell’s shareholders voted 94 per cent against a resolution that would have committed the company to firm carbon reduction targets.

Climate Action 100+, which launched last December, is a five-year initiative that seeks to systematically mobilize large institutional investors to pressure major greenhouse gas producing companies to modify their behaviour. Shell had already begun to invest in solar energy projects and charging station networks for electric vehicles, but major shareholders like the Church of England Pension Board and Robeco, a Dutch asset manager, publicly complained that the company wasn’t doing nearly enough.

The list of the pressure group’s targets is long and filled with globally known firms like Airbus, Bayer AG, Exxon Mobil, Honda, Nestlé, Rio Tinto and Procter & Gamble.

Steam and smoke rise from the Belchatow Power Station as the adjacent open-pit coal mine feeds the station on Nov. 29 in Rogowiec, Poland. The Belchatow station is the world’s largest lignite coal-fired power station, emitting approximately 30 million tonnes of CO2 per year. Poland is hosting the COP24 conference this week. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Several prominent Canadian firms are on the hit list, including Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Imperial Oil and Teck Resources Ltd.

As of this past summer, the investors had already succeeded in getting 22 per cent of their 161 initial selections to agree to set science-based targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

Suncor Energy Inc., Canada’s largest oil company, has said that it expects to “engage” with the group at some point in the coming year. Steve Williams, Suncor’s president and CEO, made headlines this past summer by attacking climate change deniers and the politicians who cater to them.

Suncor Energy Inc. president and CEO Steve Williams has taken issue with climate change deniers. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

“It is a matter of profound disappointment to me that science and economics have taken on some strange political ownership. Why the science of the left-wing is different than the science of the right-wing. Why it’s not possible for, certainly within Canada, for conservatives to take a conversation about, ‘Hey, it’s just a fact. Let’s get some facts out on the table,'” he said during a June event in Calgary.

The type of environmentally conscious investing championed by Climate Action 100+ is quickly become a force in the global market.

A recent report from the non-profit Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment found that the sector had grown by 38 per cent over the past two years, with $12 trillion US at play in the United States, and many of the country’s biggest public pension funds committed to green-first investing.

For example, CalPERS, which manages the $344 billion US pension fund of California’s public employees, is a founding member of the Climate Action group.

Anne Simpson, the fund’s investment director, issued a statement today praising Shell’s new commitments.

“The engagement shows the value of dialogue and global partnership to deliver on the goals of the Paris agreement on climate change. Shell is setting the pace, and we look forward to other major companies following their lead.”


Polar bears in peril

Reporter Duncan McCue travelled to northern Manitoba to talk to researchers about the health of the region’s polar bear population.

Have you ever heard a polar bear snore?

The National  cameraman Dave Rae recorded that unusual noise on the tundra of Cape Churchill in northern Manitoba, while we interviewed scientists about the iconic polar bears they’re researching.

The 320-kilogram snoring bear in question sounded a bit like Grandpa, sprawled in an easy chair after an epic Thanksgiving dinner. He was one of five polar bears caught and released by biologist Nick Lunn and his team the day we joined them.

Biologist Nick Lunn, centre, explains to CBC’s Duncan McCue how data collected from these two tranquilized bears will be used in the Polar Bear Research Program. (CBC)

It was an extraordinary trip: scouring the shoreline of Hudson Bay for polar bears from a helicopter cockpit, the pilot deftly maneuvering so the bears could be tranquilized from the air.

Soon we were kneeling next to these massive animals, now sedated for 45 minutes or so, as two biologists quickly measured everything from incisor teeth to fat samples.

For me, it was astonishing to touch the coarse, white fur of a polar bear, then look straight into his eyes as he dopily observed the scientists poking and prodding and evaluating him.

For Lunn, it was just business as usual.

He figures he’s been involved in more than 4,000 polar bear captures during his nearly 40-year career with the Polar Bear Research Program, operating out of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre.

The long-term data tells a troubling story: longer ice-free periods in Hudson Bay are leading to lighter bears, fewer cubs and more mortality. (Duncan McCue/CBC)

Polar bears have long gathered in October and November near Churchill as they begin to move from their summer habitat on the tundra back to seal-hunting territory — the pack ice of Hudson Bay.

The bears’ proximity to Churchill makes them the most studied polar bears in the world. Unfortunately, that extensive long-term data tells a troubling story.

The western Hudson Bay population of polar bears has dropped by more than 30 per cent over the past four decades.

“At some point down the road, if it continues, it won’t be a viable population. They’ll be gone,” Lunn says.

The biologists measure everything from the bears’ paws, to incisor teeth, to fat samples. The western Hudson Bay population of polar bears is down more than 30 per cent since research began in the 1980s. (Duncan McCue/CBC)

Tonight on The National, I’ll take you along for an inside peek at the world-renowned work of Dr. Nick Lunn and his research team, and explain why he believes the Churchill-area polar bears act as a sentinel for the changing climate around us.

If that sounds disheartening, though, here’s a treat for you: the sound of a polar bear snoring:

This peacefully snoring bear was tranquillized near Churchill, Man., as part of research on the health of the bear population by Dr. Nick Lunn and his team. 0:06
  • WATCH: Duncan McCue’s story about Churchill’s polar bears tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

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  • You may also like our early-morning newsletter, the Morning Brief — start the day with the news you need in one quick and concise read. Sign up here.

A few words on … 

A rather awkward proposal.


Quote of the moment

“Right now we are facing a manmade disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

– Naturalist and TV host Sir David Attenboroughopens the COP24 UN climate change summit in Poland with a dire warning.

World-renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough delivers the ‘People’s Seat’ address during the opening of the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland, on Monday. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)


What The National is reading

  • Why Bush wanted Trump at his funeral (CNN)
  • Michael Ignatieff-led university ‘forced out’ of Hungary (CBC)
  • Fuel supplies, schools hit as ‘yellow jacket’ protests enter third week (France 24)
  • Nigerian president denies dying and being replaced by a clone (Telegraph)
  • Woman set on fire in India after telling police about attempted assault (Reuters)
  • Want to go camping on Sable Island? Parks Canada is considering it (CBC)
  • New Mexican president sells predecessor’s luxury plane (Al Jazeera)
  • NW China hit by apocalypse-like sandstorms, black snow (Asia Times)
  • Pensioner who feels 20 years younger can’t change age, court rules (Sky News)

Today in history

Canada welcomed 104,111 immigrants in 1960, but Annette Toft got the biggest reception. The 16-year-old Dane was the two millionth person to arrive in the country since the end of the Second World War. She was given a beauty-queen-style sash and the cameras were waiting dockside in Quebec City to capture her reunion with her father who had emigrated two months before the rest of his family. The Tofts had been trying to get to Canada for 20 years.

Annette Toft, formerly of Denmark, becomes Canada’s two millionth immigrant since the Second World War. 0:28

Sign up here and have The National Today newsletter delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

Please send your ideas, news tips, rants, and compliments to thenationaltoday@cbc.ca. ​



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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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