‘Bring on the docs!’ Reporter Carl Meyer read 130 PDFs so you don’t have to

Carl went document diving and discovered Canadian banks and oil and gas companies have been lobbying against a proposal to mandate climate-risk disclosures

Not all heroes wear capes — unless bathrobes count? We ask because we know a pretty heroic guy who has spent months in pyjamas multi-tasking parenting responsibilities while reading through 130 yawn-worthy PDFs on financial disclosures to break a series of stories that hold those in power accountable.

Who is this hero of the pod, you might ask? Our very own climate investigations reporter, Carl Meyer.

It turns out Canada’s banks and oil and gas companies aren’t exactly eager to share the financial risks that climate change poses to their businesses. Quite the opposite.

From Suncor to CIBC, TC Energy to Scotiabank, dozens of publicly traded companies are lobbying against proposed rules that would force them to become more accountable and transparent about their finances — rules experts say are needed to prevent Canada’s economy from potentially ballooning into a “climate bubble” with massive consequences for anyone with a bank account.

Many of these companies complain climate disclosure requirements would be too much of a “burden,” even as these same companies post billions of dollars in profits.

What’s more, this pushback against new rules in Canada comes just as other jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, move forward with even more stringent requirements.

I caught up with Carl to learn more about how his investigations came together, how he stayed sane while reading hundreds of pages of documents (spoiler: he enjoyed doing it) and what it means for folks like you and me. Check out the Q&A below.

Take care and don’t be a burden,

Arik Ligeti
Director of audience

Reporter Carl Meyer is all smiles rocking a Narwhal T-shirt in a greenhouse.

How did the issue of climate risk transparency first land on your radar?

It started in January when I was looking into a report the Bank of Canada and the federal banking regulator had just published. Back then, I thought I was going to do a story about how the central bank was trying to encourage the release of more climate-related data from companies.

But as I asked questions I started to understand how the problem was bigger than just persuading corporate bigwigs to do the right thing. There were already systems in place, run by provincial regulators, to require some transparency from companies — it’s just that the rules were too weak. In fact, the regulators were aware of that, and so they had come up with a new proposal to require more transparency.

Yet, when I read their proposal, I was struck by how it had backed off some more stringent requirements over concerns it would be too much of a “burden” to corporations. Which companies and associations expressed these concerns about such a burden, I wondered?

It’s when I started searching for the answer to that question that I found out about all these letters to the regulators that dozens of companies and organizations had submitted. Even better, they were being posted publicly for me to download!

I started reading through all those letters one at a time, plugging them into a spreadsheet, and that’s when I started to notice some patterns about who was pushing back on transparency.

A pie chart showing a majority of companies are against reporting all emissions created when a company's products are used

You dug through 130 submissions 😭 How much time do you reckon you’ve spent reporting these stories out? How did you stay sane?

Haha, you know what? A few people have asked me that, and my honest answer is, I love it! This is what I signed up for as a climate investigations reporter. I really love digging through documents — it’s my jam and the style of journalism I enjoy doing the most. Bring on the docs!

I have worked on this trio of climate transparency stories pretty much every day since I joined the team in mid-January. I’m not sure how many hours that is, but I can tell you that each letter required some time to go through as they included a lot of jargon I didn’t understand at first. I also tried to contact as many organizations as I could, so I spent a lot of time on the phone and writing emails. Plus there was all the time I spent giving myself a crash course in financial disclosures, learning about what was in the regulators’ proposal and what had been proposed internationally.

It can be hard for many folks to relate to financial disclosures and what’s happening on Bay Street or in downtown Calgary offices. Why is this an issue people should care about?

Because it could affect your savings, your pension, your job or all three. Many jurisdictions around the world including Canada are starting to address the existential threat of climate change with new policies like carbon pricing or cleaner standards for industry and transportation. But that transition represents a major risk for Canada, a commodity-exporting country where the financial sector has been intertwined with oil and gas and other carbon-hungry industries for decades.

Your retirement savings may be tied up in oil and gas shares, or your pension may be made up of debt issued by fossil fuel firms or you may be an employee in the fossil fuel industry with pension obligations. Just how deep that intertwining goes is still largely a secret. So we need to see it all laid out in the open, because if we don’t, the bubble could burst on us unexpectedly. That means people could lose their jobs and the assets that back their savings could be devalued.

Suncor and other oil companies's logo shown in bubbles

What will you be watching for on this issue in the months to come?

The regulators are still finalizing their proposal, so it will be interesting to see what they come up with. There could be a surprise in store — for example, I wrote about how in the United Kingdom, they actually changed one of their rules to mandate climate scenario planning after they got feedback on their proposal.

I’ll also be watching how the big banks navigate their upcoming shareholder meetings in April, where they could face resolutions calling for them to do more to address climate change or disclose more information about how the climate crisis will disrupt their businesses. Shareholder meetings — almost as fun as document digging! 🔍

This week in The Narwhal

Plovers quarrel: a tiny, endangered bird returns to Sauble Beach to find sunbathers dug into the sand

An illustration of giant piping plovers on a beach surrounded by tiny humans

By Fatima Syed

Fined $100,000 for destroying piping plover habitat, the Town of South Bruce Peninsula is in court arguing over just what an Ontario beach should be. Read more.

B.C. allows logging in critical habitat of one of the province’s sole recovering caribou herds

Clearcut logging in the snowy B.C. mountains in the habitat of endangered caribou

By Judith Lavoie

Satellite imagery reveals new cutblocks are ‘nibbling away’ at the critical habitat of the endangered Columbia North caribou herd, widely considered to be the Kootenay-area population with the highest chance of persisting in the long term. Read more.

What’s missing from Doug Ford’s proposed expansion of the Ontario Greenbelt

A sign that says "Entering the Greenbelt" stands above grass on a sunny day.

By Emma McIntosh

The Ontario government initially planned more ambitious additions to the Greenbelt. But after pushback from cities and industry, what’s left are a series of river valleys that were already protected. Read more.

What we’re reading and streaming

A photo illustration of a deer over a background of viruses.

Our Narwhals have been everywhere this week, including our favourite (🤫) podcast!

Ontario bureau chief Denise Balkissoon spoke with the fine folks over at The Big Story about the discovery of COVID-19 in Canada’s white-tailed deer and concerns around funding shortfalls for animal monitoring and research.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Thomson also stopped by The Big Story to discuss his massive data journalism feature about the Indigenous guardians doing life-saving work on B.C.’s Central Coast.

And we’re grateful to Reasons to be Cheerful for republishing Sarah Cox’s solutions story that takes us to the rivers of Alaska to offer B.C. lessons on protecting wild salmon populations.

GIF of two dogs in bed wearing PJs

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The Narwhal’s reporters uncover energy stories that send shockwaves throughout Canada. But they can’t do it alone — we need to add 300 new members this month to meet our budget. Will you support crucial climate reporting that makes an impact?
The Narwhal’s reporters uncover energy stories that send shockwaves throughout Canada. But they can’t do it alone — we need to add 300 new members this month to meet our budget. Will you support crucial climate reporting that makes an impact?