Henry David (Hank) Venema, PhD PEng(Ont.), Chief Technology Officer
Dear Committee Members:
My name is Henry David Venema. Most people in the province know me as Hank, thank you for the opportunity to present before Committee.
I am the Chief Technology Officer at a cleantech company, Strategic Community Consulting, where we’re focussed on Waste-to-Energy and Waste-to-Fertilizer technology as well as resilience strategies based on high-technology water resources management.
You’ve heard from many other colleagues regarding the merit and demerit of various carbon pricing strategies. I am here to discuss the risks of neglecting climate resilience and the economic and technology development opportunity associated with leadership on climate resilience.
I’ve previously held various directorships at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, including most recently as a director of the Prairie Climate Centre. My shift to the private sector mirrors the broader trend of investment in climate resilience as a new growth sector.
In my previous role, I was asked to endorse this government’s climate and green plan discussion document released one year ago at Oak Hammock Marsh. I did so as I was impressed with the clarity with which that document expressed the real risk climate change poses to our society - precariously situated at the bottom of glacial Lake Aggasiz. Among other impacts, we can expect more floods and more droughts from climate change. What we used to think of as extreme events will become more commonplace.
The 2011 Assiniboine River flood is a foreshadowing of future climate risk. It caused over a $1B in distributed infrastructure damage – blown apart culverts, bridges and section roads. As if that were not bad enough, another billion dollars of crop losses resulted from flooding and drought conditions. Some sections of land were under both flood and drought insurance claims in the same year.
Unmanaged exposure to such climate risk imposes a huge financial risk. Last year Moody’s investor services warned hurricane-prone US cities that their debt would be downgraded if they did not develop and implement a resilience strategy. Conversely two weeks ago, Bloomberg Business Weekly published a report, entitled, Climate Change Will Get Worse. These Investors Are Betting on It, which detailed how venture capital firms, private equity firms and technology firms are embracing the investment opportunities associated with climate resilience.
In a very similar vein, I recently co-authored a report for the Insurance Bureau of Canada on the use of natural infrastructure to reduce flood risk and concluded that the investment case for the multifunctional storage system at Pelly’s Lake near Holland Manitoba had a net Benefit-Cost Ratio of at least 2.8 and probably closer to 4, when the sum of flood and drought risk reduction, irrigation, and ecosystem service values were considered. This project is reducing flooding, preventing nutrients from travelling downstream, storing carbon and creating new biomass harvesting opportunities. Projects like this are extraordinary infrastructure investment opportunities and need to be scaled up and designed for private sector co-investment.
The provincial investment in the Conservation Trust through a one-time endowment of $100M is a commendable commitment to natural infrastructure. But it is also at least an order of magnitude below the required level of investment. The major upside is that the necessary capital need not come from government alone as resilience is such a good investment that the right plan and investment model will attract private and pension capital pools. Infrastructure that creates climate resilience is exactly the investment that smart, patient money seeks.
For an investment of one-half of one percent of the capital cost of the Lake St Martin channel (that is $2.5M invested compared to the current $500M Lake St Martin cost), local technology firms, in collaboration with the R&D community, can build this province a 21st century resilience strategy based on high tech water resources management that will attract private and institutional capital. For Manitoba to seize the opportunity of expanded agriculture in a warming climate we need a reliable water supply. Moreover, the underlying technology that we apply will be extremely valuable and exportable to many other agricultural regions of the world also experiencing increased frequency of flood and drought risk.
Our company is currently building resilience strategies for local governments, for whom climate risk to infrastructure is a here and now priority. The major innovation opportunity is taking these concepts to scale and leveraging previous provincial investments in artificial intelligence, high performance computing, big data, and P3 investments.
Manitoba has an opportunity to demonstrate leadership, foresight, innovation and do our fore-bearers proud. Two generations ago, this party was led by Duff Roblin who willed the Red River Floodway into existence not because it was politically expedient or easy, but because it was such an excellent investment that would allow future generations to survive and thrive in this environment. He believed the scientists and engineers. The benefit-cost ratio of that investment is now approaching 100:1 – Let’s build the 21st century analog; distributed, networked, intelligent – highly attractive to investors. Let us help you.