As climate change restructures the Canadian Arctic year by year, institutional investors should be paying attention to this all but undeveloped economy, according to one expert.
“For those that live there, the dominant narrative is about how climate change is remaking the Arctic from a frozen periphery to an area of immense geographic and economic significance,” said Jessica Shadian, president of Arctic360, during OPTrust’s climate change symposium in Toronto on Tuesday.
Currently, Canada’s northern territories suffer from a major lack of modern infrastructure, impacting virtually every aspect of life, including access to fresh food, clean water, reliable transportation and the internet, she said. However, the area is rich in natural resources, such as minerals, fish and fossil fuels. But the lack of infrastructure makes it difficult for local communities to harness these resources to bolster economic development, said Shadian. As the area’s weather gradually changes, current challenges are exacerbated but new opportunities are beginning to emerge.
During her presentation, Shadian pointed out the potential for investment in the area, noting many other countries have paid much more attention to their Arctic regions. “Canada lags behind many of its Arctic neighbours,” she said. “Over the past 10 years, Norway has turned its attention north by expanding its Arctic fisheries and offshore gas production.”
Iceland and Greenland both make rigorous use of the Arctic region with an eye towards responsible energy practices, and 20 per cent of Russia’s gross domestic product comes from economic activities in its Arctic, added Shadian.
Even China, which has no physical exposure to the Arctic, is realizing the potential of the changing realities in the region, particularly in the case of shipping, she said, noting Canada’s Northwest Passage is already experiencing increased shipping traffic and China is eyeing the potential trade route keenly, hoping to make it a more widely used path.
Ports are another area where local communities see a direct benefit, due to better access to virtually all goods, said Shadian.
As well, beginning to address the crippling lack of infrastructure in Canada’s north could be a tangible option for institutional investors that are concerned with the issue of economic reconciliation with First Nations, she said. The federal government should correct its mistake of failing to demonstrate the region’s potential to investors, she added.
“Most of Canada’s banks and pension funds have not been provided an opportunity to see the north as an emerging economy, with a strategic value, a human value placed there, and thus cannot see it as a region worthy of consideration let alone investment,” said Shadian.