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“If Canada is truly serious about climate change, then we need to seriously consider the idea that most of the world’s oil reserves, including Canada’s, need to stay where they are: buried. I am convinced that if we don’t start moving away from carbon-intensive activities now, instead of investing in them for decades to come, we will never break our dependency on our non-renewable resource-based economy, and 50 years from now, our planet, population and economic wellbeing will suffer the consequences.”
That’s Paula Barrios, IOG’s new Senior Analyst, summing up just one conclusion after 16 years of experience conducting research and writing analytical reports on a wide range of sustainable development and environmental issues.
“We need to move to a circular economy,” she says, “and it is time to have a real conversation about how to achieve that in Canada, and to see how we can actually effect the change we need to move us from a resource-intensive economy to a low-carbon one, while leaving no one behind, especially workers in Alberta and other parts of the country.”
With a Master’s degree in international law and a Ph.D in international environmental law, both from UBC, as well as a law degree from the University of Los Andes in Bogota, Colombia, her country of origin, Paula has devoted her working life to researching and reporting on the evolving and worsening state of the global environment.
In addition to her international experience with Colombia’s Ministry of the Environment and various UN programs, offices and conferences, Paula has also contributed to vital and important research here in Canada in the areas of international environmental law and policy, sustainable development, corporate social responsibility, environmentally- and socially-responsible investment, and chemicals and waste.
“When it comes to the wellbeing of the economy and the environment,” she says, “it’s not an either-or proposition. There’s just too much at stake for that approach. To me, it all falls into place when you take a long-term approach, because without a healthy environment, you cannot achieve a healthy economy or have companies that succeed and create real wealth and prosperity over the long term.”
Paula saw first-hand evidence of this tenet while working at SHARE (Shareholder Association for Research and Education), a Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to promoting environmentally and socially responsible investment through education, research and dialogues with public companies on behalf of institutional shareholders interested in building a sustainable economy.
“We worked with long-term oriented institutional investors, such as pension plans and charitable foundations, to help them align their investments with their missions and long-term financial objectives by engaging with companies in their portfolios on environmental and other long-term risks,” she explains. “For instance, we worked with a foundation that was interested in protecting Canada’s forests to ensure that the companies it owned were promoting sustainable forestry practices; another investor client, a pension plan, asked us to work with companies in Alberta’s oil sands region to mitigate the risks associated with land and tailings reclamation, and we produced a report to create awareness around such risks; and we worked with several clients to address water pollution risks associated with shale gas extraction.”
Paula says that she came to the IOG because she wants to “contribute to the good quality and credible research the IOG has been producing to promote good governance,” and to use her experience in the environmental field. So, one of her first projects at the IOG will involve developing options for a sound governance model for thePan-Canadian Approach to Wildlife Health, a new strategy adopted by the Federal, Provincial and Territorial governments in June 2018 that aims to improve the management and protection of wildlife health in Canada.
Given her domestic and international experience—and her passion—in these areas, we have no doubt that Paula will help the IOG to continue to make a solid contribution not only to advancing good governance in the environmental sphere, but also to helping address the myriad issues affecting our natural environment, both here in Canada and around the world.
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