Canada is missing out on global clean-tech revolution

Elizabeth May

Remember the 2008 Speech from the Throne? I may be the only one who does. In the context of “Securing our energy future by developing our rich energy resources and pursuing new cleaner energy supplies,” the 2008 Speech from the Throne promised that “90 per cent of our electricity needs are met by non-emitting sources” by 2020. It certainly does not seem to be operative, and the SFTs since then have made no mention of this particular commitment.

The term “non-emitting” is a bit odd, but certainly seemed to suggest a vigorous commitment to renewable energywind, solar, tidal, geothermalas well as demand-side management and district energy to reduce waste in electricity.

Canadians clearly embrace this kind of ambition. The most recent poll from Harris-Decima (conducted for the Clean Energy Project of Tides Foundation) demonstrated overwhelming support for clean, renewable energy. Nearly 90 per cent of Canadians agree with the statement: “The nation needs a Canadian climate and energy strategy to plan its energy future,” and more than 70 per cent support “creating more jobs in clean energy.” Less than one-third agree that “exporting more of Canada’s oil and gas resources” is a high priority.

Despite the 2008 pledge, Canada is falling behind the rest of the world in the race to clean, green energy. In fact, Canada is one of the only countries in the world to have refused to join the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). IRENA has a goal of 100 per cent renewable energy worldwide. Its members include the European Union, China, U.S.A., most African nations, India, Japan, and Australia. Our absence from the IRENA membership rolls is bizarre. The global investment in clean energy of $244-billion this year, exclusive of large-scale hydro, is making a positive impact around the world. Despite the fact that renewables saw a downturn in investment compared to the previous year, installed capacity saw a sharp jump. According to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme, while total global fossil fuel investment was $262-billion, net investment in fossil fuels was $148-billion, falling below renewables.

Canada is not seizing the opportunity. Rather than diversifying our energy options, the Conservatives are increasingly limiting our choices and our potential to the one source of energy the world is slated to reducereliance on fossil fuels.

The countries that are heavily invested in renewable may surprise those who associate China’s energy picture with nothing but dirty coal. In fact, China is the top performer in installed wind energy, producing 26 per cent of its electricity from wind. Next in the ranking is the U.S. at 19 per cent wind, and then Germany with 12 per cent. Canada stands at 2.2 per cent. We rank at a similar level in solar, with China once again in top place. Solar photovoltaic prices continue to drop contributing to an all time high in installed capacity in 2012.

We do not make the cut in the top 10: China, U.S., Germany, Japan, Italy, U.K., India, South Africa, Brazil, France.

In Canada, we have failed to protect our home grown solar technology breakthroughs. Arise Solar of Kitchener, Ont., ended up building its first manufacturing plant in Germany when the German government came callingoffering a $35-million grant to pay half the cost of the new factory. Canada has far more solar potential than Germany, but rates well behind Germany in installed photovoltaics.

As the Pembina Institute determined in a recent study, Canada is missing out on the clean-tech revolution. We are not investing in clean-tech and renewable energy, nor the jobs they create. Regardless of one’s views about the climate crisis, or the oil sands, the reality is that an economy that puts all its eggs in one basket is incredibly vulnerable. An economy that diversifies its energy mix, supports the commercialization of local innovations and new technologies, is far healthier and more resilient.

But, we really have to stop treating our energy choices as disconnected from the climate crisis. The evidence of extreme weather events is not something even an ostrich with its head firmly planted in the sand can any longer ignore. Whether baking heat and no rain in coastal BC, or the ferocious flooding that hit southern Alberta, or the one day rain event that dumped a month’s worth of rain on Toronto, or any one of dozens of extreme events globally in the last few months, the climate crisis is intensifying. We have very little time to change course. The good news, news Canadians already understand, is that moving to cleaner, greener energy is good for the economy, and our future climate.

With rumours of another Speech from the Throne in our immediate future, perhaps Mr. Harper should dust off the 2008 pledge.

Originally printed in the Hill Times.