A former head of one of Canada’s largest pension plans is warning that if major energy firms don’t commit to a drastically-reduced carbon footprint, they risk missing out on potential investment capital.

“[The energy] industry is transforming and it will be driven by capital,” Jim Leech, chancellor of Queen’s University and former president and chief executive officer of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, told BNN Bloomberg on Tuesday. “It’s the institutional investors, the pools of major capital that will decide who gets funded.”

“And remember the old saying that ‘what gets funded, gets built.’”

Queen’s University’s Institute for Sustainable Finance published a study on Sept. 29 that found that not only is the energy sector Canada’s greatest emissions-reduction need, it is also the one most susceptible to technological disruption.

“[Electricity and oil and gas] are both characterized by relatively high emission abatement requirements and relatively high levels of investment needed to achieve those reductions,” the study’s authors, Ryan Riordan and Simon Martin wrote.

“Collaborative efforts between these two sectors would be highly beneficial. Electricity will likely displace some oil and gas services in the future, so the electricity sector should make use of some of the expertise and capital that is found in the oil and gas sector.”

For Leech, that means that the firms working to reduce their carbon footprints stand to benefit more from potential investment than those who maintain the status quo. 

He pointed to recent deals BP PLC and Shell International Petroleum Co. signed with Microsoft Corp. as positive steps, but chided Exxon Mobil Corp. for its lack of commitment.

“There is a new world. There is a new momentum, and the private sector is moving there. So, you better get with it,” Leech said.

“I think it’s kind of like: ‘Come on Exxon. It’s 2020, after all. Let’s wake up.’”