Canada: The next post-industrial backwater?
By Amy Huva
May 28, 2012
The world economy is changing. Initiatives like the Nordic Ecolabel and the UK Carbon Trust Footprint are being used by companies seeking a competitive edge in the consumer market to show through whole life-cycle accounting that their products are greener than others. Combine that with $6.4 billion of investment by the Chinese in renewable energy in the last year – making them the clear world leaders in renewable investment – and it’s pretty clear that the status quo of linear business systems and supply and manufacturing chains (materials in, waste and product out) are not going to apply for much longer.
Working in the environmental sector, one of the key resources I’ve used to gather information about climate change specific to Canada has been the National Round Table on the Economy and the Environment (NRTEE). The NRTEE is an organisation that publishes well-researched policy papers on the move to the new low carbon economy and how it will be an economic opportunity for Canada. They’ve written about business resilience and climate change, how Canada can be competitive in a low carbon economy, adaptation for infrastructure in the North with climate change, and carbon pricing. Regardless of the topic, one thing all of the reports show is that Canada has an opportunity to benefit from the new low carbon economy
I was astonished then to learn that in this year’s federal budget, the Conservative Government have decided to close down the NRTEE. Newspaper reports have quoted Environment Minister Peter Kent saying that the NRTEE is no longer needed because we can just Google the information, while Foreign Minister John Baird was seemingly more forthright in saying they cut the organisation because it kept giving them advice they didn’t want to hear.
This is concerning for several reasons. Firstly, because it indicates a continuation of the silencing of dissent and debate by the current Canadian Government that is willing to declare anyone who disagrees with them an ‘enemy of the state’. Secondly, because it shows that independent advice and evidence-based policy are being minimised by this government in preference for continuing blindly to be a solely resource-driven economy. Thirdly, because by choosing to take this route, it leaves Canada at risk of missing out on the $27.4 billion worth of economic growth that is expected to be part of the new low-carbon economy in BC alone by 2020.
Canadians have long thought of their economy in terms of the resources that can be extracted from the land: the proverbial drawers of water and hewers of wood. However, over the next few decades, this kind of economy is going to be increasingly less critical to the world economy. I’m not suggesting that the international need for oil is going to go away any time soon, however there will be a shift away from burning oil as fast as possible for everything we can think of to using oil more carefully as a feedstock for plastics and other hydrocarbon products, not engine fuel. In the same manner that all resources work in a boom and bust cycle, the oil sands that the government seems so keen to subsidise and protect will experience the same decline.
Organisations like the NRTEE provide rigorous and well researched leadership on the opportunities for Canadian businesses to benefit in the new economy. The axing of this organisation is a serious loss for the future competitiveness of the Canadian economy.
As the world shifts away from fossil fuels to other sources of renewable energy, Canada has a choice: to be a leader, and create new jobs in new industries that will benefit all Canadians to grow a sustainable economy, or to keep the diminishing status quo and allow the new economy to pass us by.
(Icon photo courtesy of kygp/Flickr)