Energy, environment and economy: Canada's road to prosperity

Wednesday, March 10, 2022

Hon. Scott Brison, MP

Source :  Embassy Magazine

This year's theme at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, was to "rethink, redesign, and rebuild" the world economy. However, it was the 3Es—energy, environment and economy—that dominated discussions.

From carbon pricing to smart grids, a consensus emerged that the discussion surrounding the 3Es has shifted from environmental responsibility to a recognition that clean technologies represent 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. The risks associated with inaction are equally great: as the world puts a price on carbon, environmental laggards will become economic laggards.

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama stated that "the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy."

In recognition of this new reality, emerging markets are moving forward with investments to green their economies. Nowhere is the drive to become a clean energy leader more evident than in China, where recent stimulus funding was strategically directed towards green infrastructure.

At one session in Davos, US Senator Lindsey Graham stated that "six months ago my biggest worry was that an emissions deal would make American business less competitive compared to China. Now my concern is that every day we delay trying to find a price for carbon is a day China uses to dominate the green economy. China has made a long-term strategic decision and they are going gangbusters."

As the US moves towards reducing carbon emissions in their own market, the imposition of carbon-tariffs will become inevitable. China is now working towards implementing a carbon tax so that their exports will remain competitive in the face of such tariffs.

Where is Canada in this new 3E paradigm?

Stephen 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 economic imperatives in the short term."

Where the rest of the world sees economic opportunities in a carbon-constrained economy, Mr. Harper sees only costs. His myopic view is out of step with the rest of the world.

As a major energy producer, Canada can build on our expertise in the traditional energy sector to become a green energy superpower. Positioning Canada as a global leader, however, will require a federal strategy.

The United States invested six times more per capita than Canada in clean energy through their stimulus package. When China and the United States signed an agreement on carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology—an area where Canada is a global leader—we were not even at the table.

The recent federal budget did nothing to earn Canada a seat at that table. Support for green technologies, and the policies to encourage their implementation at home and sell them abroad, was practically nonexistent. It needn't be that way.

As a result of strategic investments by the previous Liberal government, Canada was an early leader in CCS technology. We have both the knowledge and research base to expand that leadership into other areas. Indeed, green technology touches on many of Canada's strengths, including transport, waste and water management infrastructure.

In deepening our energy relationship with the United States, Canada ought to focus on three objectives: co-ordinated carbon pricing mechanisms; integrated smart energy grid corridors; and green technology research and development partnerships.

At home, we must change our regulatory frameworks to incentivize green investment. Outdated regulations combined with utilities that fear stranded assets from legacy investments in dirty energy production and antiquated, inefficient, transmission infrastructure are slowing real progress.

We need to follow the lead of jurisdictions like Ontario to make it attractive for both domestic and foreign companies to come and do green business in Canada—and enjoy the high-paying jobs that come with that investment.

We must also deepen our trading partnerships with emerging markets in order to significantly expand markets for Canada's clean-tech sector.

Restarting Team Canada missions, which group business leaders together with political figures, would help open doors in markets in Asia and Africa where the commercial and political worlds are more closely linked. These trade missions can show that Canada's multiculturalism is not just a good social policy—it can also be an economic advantage. Canada's vibrant diaspora can act as natural bridges to the fastest growing economies in the world.

However, Canada must invest in our missions abroad if we are to help Canadian entrepreneurs turn cultural advantages into business opportunities.

Canada's political leadership must focus on where the big opportunities lie, instead of directing limited resources towards bilateral deals with relatively small markets. At the same time, our leaders must recognize the serious economic risks associated with inaction on the climate change file.

As the world embraces the green economy, Canada cannot afford to continue putting forward outdated policies from the last century. By failing to provide a combined environmental and economic strategy, the Harper government is risking Canada's future prosperity.

We have the tools to forge strategic partnerships with emerging markets and to develop cutting-edge expertise in green technology. Canada just needs the leadership to act.

Scott Brison is the member of Parliament for Kings-Hants. He is also the Liberal critic for international trade and chair of the Leader's Advisory Committee on Economic Strategy.


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