Co-ops Can Lead the Race to Zero

By Kenzie Love

At the recent CMC (Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada) Congress in Calgary, delegates approved a resolution committing Canada’s co-operative sector to adopt the UN’s Race to Zero, a global pact which mandates signatories to achieve net zero in emissions by 2050 at the latest, and to commit to at least a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030. 

That the resolution passed  — unanimously  — in a city closely identified with Canada’s oil and gas sector is certainly a cause for celebration, though this should not necessarily have come as a surprise. Co-ops have many features that make them uniquely able to tackle the climate crisis, and play a central role in the broader economic and social transformation that must occur. Numerous co-ops in Canada and around the world, moreover, are already taking action in cutting emissions. But now that both CMC and CWCF, at its board meeting just before the Congress, have committed to sign on to the Race to Zero, what are the implications?

What is the Race to Zero?

The Race to Zero is a part of the UN’s climate change process, the critical distinction being that it applies to entities other than countries (businesses, cities, regions, investors, etc.) Once they’ve joined an appropriate network for their respective entity, signatories must commit to a series of procedural criteria known as the 4 P’s: pledging to achieve net-zero GHG emissions as soon as possible, and by mid-century at the latest; sharing a plan to achieve this within 12 months of joining; proceeding to take immediate action to achieve these results; and publishing progress on meeting these targets on a regular basis.

What does this mean for Canadian co-ops?

The resolution commits CMC to signing on to the Race to Zero; developing  cooperatives-specific initiatives to encourage and support members to participate in the Race to Zero initiative and undertaking federal advocacy efforts in keeping with these commitments and strategy. Individual CMC members, therefore, now have the opportunity to sign on to the initiative, but aren’t required to do so.

For co-ops that do wish to participate, CMC will need to define what it means for a co-operative to participate in Race to Zero, following the criteria established by the initiative. Once CMC has defined its approach it submits an application to Race to Zero and if approved, co-operatives which meet these requirements and sign on become part of the Race to Zero effort.

Why is the Race to Zero important?

As CWCF’s resolution made clear, the climate crisis is already having a severe economic and environmental impact, and this threatens to become worse absent rapid, decisive action. Many countries have already committed to achieving net zero emissions, but as James Hitchings-Hales observes, “Although it’s critical that countries make radical changes from the very top, there are so many more levels to global governance that can also make transformative contributions. That’s where the Race to Zero campaign comes in.”

But while participating in the Race to Zero campaign can be seen as a moral imperative, that’s not the only reason to sign on. As Yuill Herbert of CWCF member SSG ,who presented the resolution to CMC’s AGM, observes: “Responding to climate change is not just about moral leadership, it is about risk management, managing transition risk, managing energy costs, managing regulatory risks, and increasing resilience. There is a moral case but there is also a business case. And it is when these two aspects come together that co-operatives thrive.”

Thus the Race to Zero is an initiative in which co-ops can be not just participants but genuine leaders. By building on the actions they’ve already taken, they can inspire others to work towards a more just, inclusive, and sustainable world.