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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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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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