Our oceans and my recent trip to Monaco


When Prince Albert II of Monaco spoke at the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in 2017, he mentioned the ocean’s “immense opportunities.” Indeed, the ocean represents the seventh-largest economy in the world. 

Yet, despite dire warnings for decades, we have treated this precious resource with carelessness. We have polluted it, abused it, overfished it. And our appetite for fossil fuels is continuing to heat it, acidify it, and raise its level. Canadians know this better than anyone, given our 202,080 kilometers of coastline — the longest in the world. What we do here reaches the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans and affects the livelihoods of all Canadians, especially First Nations people who have stewarded the oceans for their livelihood and culture for thousands of years.

As a heat and carbon sink, the oceans absorb a disproportionate amount of human’s impact, and it isn’t just a problem of coastal pollution: the impact of fossil-fuel operations in Alberta, which are expected to create climate pollution double that of Norway, includes acid rain that is damaging our inland lakes and rivers before reaching the sea. And with our exposure to the oceans, Canadians feel the impact disproportionately as well: a recent government report shows that Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. 

In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC). This report from 130 scientists, including five Canadians, assessed the impact of climate change on ocean and coastal ecosystems and the consequences for humanity. Released in Monaco and coinciding with Prince Albert II’s Ocean’s Week, it added urgency to an already urgent situation. 

We are living in a moment of great despair over our climate. While trying to wrap our minds around the problem is very hard, I need you to know that we don’t have to live like this. Thanks to our massive coastline, Canada has a tremendous opportunity to be the world leader in oceanic stewardship. The effects of our bold action and innovation will be felt by the three billion people who depend on world oceans for their food and livelihoods. 

There is also great economic opportunity: according to the U.N., the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at $3 trillion per year, or about 5 percent of global GDP. For investors focused on building a better world, now is the time to invest early in the second, larger wave of Cleantech commercialization that we are witnessing. And by creating a sustainable future, we open up more economic opportunities for our communities. 

Canada should take the lead in showing the world that using our own abundant, clean resources are the key to reducing emissions. But no more stalling. Now is the time to take action. We need to see significant investment in both renewable energy technologies that cut emissions as well as sustainable practices that support, not strip, the seas’ resources.

As managing partner at Inerjys Ventures, a renewable energy and clean technology private equity fund, my vision is to marry climate stewardship with commercially-focused entrepreneurship. Our team is in the enviable position of seeing emerging climate solutions, such as those that safely harvest the ocean’s energy and protect it from pollution. Our recent investment in tidal energy, with one of our portfolio company’s first commercial projects in the Bay of Fundy, is proving that this technology is easy to maintain, does not disrupt coastal ecosystems, and creates economic opportunity in remote areas. 

One tidal-energy platform can create enough electricity to power 3,000 homes. Now, imagine if our coastline was dotted with these platforms. Tidal energy has the ability to provide a significant portion of Canada’s energy, and unlike solar and wind, its output is very predictable. We could eliminate the pollution from shipping coal, diesel and oil for fossil fuel-based generation plants. We could breathe life into coastal communities that may fear a choice between obsolescence and an emissions-heavy fossil-fuel plant. We could all breathe easier.

I was in Monaco the week of the IPCC report release, and brought Inerjys’ best ideas and my great hopes with me. I discussed climate change and its solutions with top thinkers, philanthropists, and celebrities who can influence the global conversation at the Monte Carlo Gala for the Global Ocean. I told anyone who was willing to listen that Canada can lead the way in transforming how coastal communities produce and distribute energy. 

We must be honest with ourselves, however. It is past time to take our big ideas into the world, where they can finally do some good. Climate change is happening now, and will continue to happen without massive investment and rapid deployment. We have to stop relying on our governments to do all of the work for us: they can be the spark, but we must invest our collective energies -- and money -- into averting this crisis. I carry my hope with me, but I am also impatient. I don’t want to see any more ice shelves the size of a city drop into the Arctic Ocean.

Inerjys means “inner energy.” I know the planet has enough energy within it that we don’t have to drain every drop of oil and burn every bit of coal. The planet has enough renewable energy to support its needs--and protect its oceans--so let’s make that a reality now in Canada.

Stephan Ouaknine is the managing partner of Montreal-based Inerjys Ventures, an innovator in climate solutions investments, and was in Monaco when the IPCC report was released and was the only Canadian VIP guest of HSH Albert II’s Monte Carlo Gala for the Global Ocean.

Stephan OuaknineComment