Race for green growth: the new Davos consensus

Wednesday, February 10, 2022

Scott Brison

Source :  Chronicle Herald

Race for green growth: the new Davos consensus  

Recently, I participated in the World Economic Forum’s 40th annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. This year’s theme was to "rethink, redesign and rebuild" the world economy. The 3Es — energy, environment and economy — dominated discussions. From carbon pricing to smart grids, the consensus among global government and business leaders is that the discussion has shifted from environmental responsibility to the biggest economic opportunity of the 21st century.

Given the potential rewards in terms of jobs and prosperity, competition for leadership in 3E-related sectors is fierce. In the words of Christine Lagarde, finance minister of France, "It’s a race and whoever wins that race will dominate economic development." The emerging economies, which are investing massively in science and technology, are well poised to take advantage of this new opportunity, in addition to rapidly developing industries in the U.S. and Europe.

We are falling behind. Stephen Harper’s failure to prepare Canada for the economy of tomorrow will cost Canadian jobs and prosperity.

Nowhere is the drive to become a clean energy leader more evident than China. Two years ago, China became the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. Last year, China leap-frogged Denmark, Germany, Spain and the U.S. to become the largest maker of wind turbines in the world. In partnership with Vestas of Denmark, China recently built the world’s biggest wind turbine plant.

China is not just thinking domestically: Last November, a deal was announced to supply Chinese turbines to a massive wind farm in Texas. As part of its next five-year plan, China is considering carbon pricing mechanisms to encourage green investment and to avoid carbon tariffs abroad.

The opportunity is clear. It is estimated that China invested $440 billion into clean energy last year. As China builds a modern energy system, it has become the largest market in the world for smart grids, smart meters, and clean energy production technology. Massive investments in transportation, sewage treatment technology and progressive urban design are also in the cards.

Canada is well placed to take advantage of these opportunities. We can leverage our existing expertise in the traditional energy sector to become a leader in clean energy. Canada has the knowledge base to become a global innovator in all areas of clean technology. We were an early leader in carbon capture and storage (CCS) — which will be integral for coal-reliant economies like China to reduce their carbon emission — because of projects like Weyburn, Sask., pioneered by a partnership between EnCana and the Martin government.

As the world puts a price on carbon, environmental laggards will become economic laggards. China realizes this. The U.S. realizes this. In his state of the union address, President Barack Obama said, "The nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy."

Stephen Harper doesn’t seem to get it, however. Where everyone else sees opportunity, he sees only costs. Mr. Harper was alone in Davos insisting that measures to address climate change will hurt the economy with "real impacts on jobs and economic growth," and that "there are serious tradeoffs with economics imperatives in the short term." In response, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero countered, "There is nothing that leads us to believe actions to address climate change would call for lower growth."

Harper’s myopic view is out of step with the rest of the world. The U.S. invested six times more per capita than Canada in clean energy through its stimulus package. When China and the U.S. signed an agreement on CCS technology — an area where Canada is a global leader — we were not even at the table.

Republicans and Democrats alike understand the opportunities. Senator Lindsay Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said at Davos that "six months ago, my biggest worry was that an emission deal would make American business less competitive … Now my concern is that every day that we delay trying to find a price for carbon is a day that China uses to dominate the green economy."

Meanwhile, Canada is just sitting back, waiting for U.S. standards to be imposed on us.

Canada needs to increase strategic investments in green technology and actively seek partnerships to sell our innovations — both in green tech and in transport sewage and water management infrastructure — around the world. Nowhere is partnership more important than with our neighbour to the south. Canada is America’s largest energy supplier. We need to work with the U.S. to co-ordinate carbon pricing mechanisms, build integrated smart energy grid corridors, and to partner on the research and development of green technology.

The Davos consensus is clear: Green technology will be the economic engine of the future. Without investments in eco-efficiency, our traditional industries will be less competitive and Canada will lose its place in new green industries. Those countries which move now with policies that foster green energy and technology will reap the rewards as the global economy returns to growth.Canada can still compete for the green jobs of tomorrow. But we need leadership now.

Kings-Hants MP Scott Brison is the Liberal international trade critic and chair of the Liberal leader’s advisory committee on economic strategy.


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