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New Lens – and opportunity – on a longstanding issue

June 30, 2022 | Sustainability

As we come to the end of Indigenous History Month, I’m reminded of Virginia Woolf’s Room of One’s Own essay, in which the author posits that centuries of discrimination towards, and economic and educational disadvantages of, women stifled their ability to ideate and make a meaningful contribution to their respective societies. The essay suggests that only women with financial independence and freedom (their own room) have the space required to shape the world in which they live.

Although much has advanced since the time Woolf wrote this essay in 1928, her theory still holds true for any group marginalized by the established structures within which they live today. And the impacts of centuries, or even just decades, of repression can take more decades to undo.  Biases against these groups become built into our social and economic systems.

The transition to a net-zero world will require a complete overhaul of the global economy. While that poses an enormous challenge, it is an equally large opportunity to rebuild these systems without cultural biases. To realize this opportunity, Canada has committed to incorporating equal representation of women and men, along with traditional knowledge, into decision-making frameworks on climate change mitigation and adaption. The Government is also allocating $67.5 million in funding for projects that put gender equality at the heart of climate action, and $1.3 billion in climate action funding for Indigenous peoples.

The US has committed 40% of overall benefits of Federal investments to communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution. Meeting this goal requires the transformation of hundreds of Federal programs across government.

These initiatives are a great start and should be leveraged by the private sector as businesses consider their role in increasing access to economic opportunities for historically marginalized communities. The financial sector plays a critical role in building a more just society by empowering people facing systemic barriers by increasing access to capital, along with advisory support and partnerships.

The results should be tangible, for example, increased ownership and jobs in transition industries such as low carbon energy projects, access to training and workforce development, and implementation of clean water and climate resilience infrastructure for disadvantaged communities still existing throughout North America today.

The BMO Climate Institute has launched a Climate Justice approach within BMO’s broader Zero Barriers to Inclusion strategy. We are collaborating with our Indigenous Banking, Fair & Responsible Lending, and Community Giving teams to leverage our collective influence as a bank – through procurement, financing, and partnerships – to advance the principles of Climate Justice. We strive to identify and support more inclusive business models, scale the deployment of decarbonization technologies in all communities, and actively engage historically marginalized groups in economic opportunities resulting from new market entrants in the net-zero transition.

We have much to learn and are grateful to have the opportunity to do so through collaborative initiatives that offer insightful guidance and solutions, along with practical partnership opportunities. The enormity of solving the climate change challenge requires diverse perspectives. There is no room for voices to be stifled.

About Susan McGeachie

Susan McGeachie
Susan McGeachie

Susan McGeachie is head of the BMO Climate Institute, a centre of expertise that bridges climate policy and science with business strategy and finance to unlock solutions for both clients and the bank. She brings to this role over 20 years of experience identifying, evaluating, and managing climate change-related risks and strategic positioning opportunities. Following her years in ESG research and analytics, she held leadership positions in management and engineering consulting firms. Susan is an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto where she teaches a graduate course in climate finance, and a member of the Canadian Climate Governance Experts panel. In 2021 Susan was named one of twenty-six Canadian Climate Champions by the Canada Climate Law Initiative and the British High Commission ahead of COP26. In 2014 she was named to the Clean50 and Clean 16 lists of practitioners, which recognize contributions to advancing sustainable capitalism.

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