Canada urged to tap into booming green market

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Visitors look at solar panels on the roof of the Palexpo Exhibition Center, the biggest solar farm in Switzerland Tuesday. A new report suggests Canada may be unprepared to benefit from economic opportunities in the clean energy sector.
Photograph by: Denis Balibouse, Reuters , Postmedia NewsThe Canadian economy will miss out on a booming market of green goods and services worth trillions of dollars if governments fail to steer away from foolish energy and climate change policies, says a new report to be released Thursday.

The analysis, the sixth and final report in a research series undertaken by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, concluded that goods and services promoting reductions in greenhouse gas emissions were part of a sector that’s growing faster than the Canadian economy.

“Canada needs a low-carbon growth plan,” said the report. “This is a basic conclusion of our analysis and of the feedback received from regional stakeholders. The reality is that Canada is unprepared to compete in a carbon-constrained world.”

The research series, examining economic opportunities resulting from climate change, warned last year that the impacts of global warming would be far worse – up to $43 billion per year – than the cost of putting a price on pollution.

The Harper government responded by rejecting the advice to put a price on pollution. It later announced in the 2012 federal budget that it would shut down the advisory panel and eliminate its annual funding of $5 million.

The latest report was expected to be the final advice from the advisory panel, created more than 25 years ago by the government of former prime minister Brian Mulroney to bring together business and environmental stakeholders.

The report, with research led at the round table by John Cuddihy, estimated that global spending on low-carbon goods and services was at $339 billion in 2010, and that it could rise to between $3.9 trillion and $8.3 trillion by 2050, depending on the nature of energy and climate change policies adopted around the world.

In an interview, the panel’s vice-chairman, Robert Slater, said the report is urging governments in Canada to take action to ensure the economy benefits from the global transition to clean energy rather than taking “foolhardy” decisions that cause the economy to fall behind.

“There’s huge potential here,” said Slater, an adjunct professor of environmental policy at Carleton University in Ottawa. “There’s a very substantial business growing at a very fast rate compared to the overall economy. It’s right across the economy, it’s building on existing Canadian strengths in some instances, and innovations with high potential in others.”

Part of the report’s recommended plan included identifying skills and labour needs to ensure that the emerging sectors can find the workforce they need to thrive. Regardless of whether governments in Canada adopt more aggressive energy and climate change policies, the report said the clean energy goods and services sector would grow faster than the rest of the economy.

But governments could provide a boost by stimulating the sector’s growth with incentives or subsidies, the report recommended.

It also suggested the federal government could mobilize new investments by engaging key stakeholders in the business community, and expand opportunities for Canadian companies abroad by improving Canada’s global environmental reputation.

Ministers in the Harper government have repeatedly suggested in recent months that the round table’s prescriptions were the equivalent of a “tax” that would drive up costs for consumers, but the report suggested that the alternative is worse.

“The economic risks of inaction are too significant to ignore,” the report said. “For one, billions of dollars in Canadian exports could be subject to trade measures that penalize emissions-intensive industries and products. For another, our international reputation could suffer and with it the marketability of Canadian products and the ability of Canadian firms to invest abroad.”
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