IN THE NEWS ~ The Way forward: Building Canada’s Green Economy The Hill Times -Policy Briefing Edition

Time for partisan politics long gone, time now for leadership and action on green economy

Without decisive action from the federal government, Canada will miss out on this critical opportunity in the green energy sector.

NDP MP Megan Leslie, NDP MP Peter Julian

Clean, sustainable energy isn't just good for the environment it makes good economic sense. The green energy sector not only holds significant potential for Canada to reduce our carbon emissions and meet our domestic energy needs, but to also establish ourselves as key contenders in the manufacture of renewable energy technology.

However, without decisive action from the federal government, Canada will miss out on this critical opportunity.

As part of a long-term strategy to reduce carbon emissions, the ecoENERGY Retrofit-Homes program must not only be reinstated but expanded to include commercial, industrial and government buildings.

This highly-popular program supported job creation, was a boost to small businesses, and helped the environment. More than 640,000 Canadian households took advantage of this program which provided grants of up to $5,000 to assist homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient. On average most homeowners were able to reduce their energy bills by 23 per cent.

Despite the program's success, the Conservative government ended it abruptly in March 2012 leaving many homeowners who had not yet signed on to the program high and dry. It is incomprehensible that the government can claim to be committed to reducing carbon emissions then announce the sudden termination of a program which was successfully doing just that.

In 2007, the Council of Energy Ministers set a target of retrofitting every home in Canada by 2030.

Currently, only eight per cent of homes have had a retrofit, and many buildings are only operating at half their efficiency.

Canada was recently ranked second-to-last out of 12 major economies in terms of energy efficiency. Only $195-million has been pledged over five years for green energy initiatives and no new programs were identified in the 2012 budget. Long-term, stable funding would allow entrepreneurs to plan their own investments accordingly, thus providing the industry confidence needed to establish a green economy.

A serious federal plan would include financial incentives for energy production from solar, wind, water, biomass and other renewable sources.

Although Canada is above average in science and engineering education, the lack of crucial access to venture capital, business research and development expenditure is preventing us from reaching our potential. Development of this area would provide the materials to be used in retrofit programs for homes and businesses thus adding to the economic cycle.

Last year, the global market for clean technology was $1-trillion and is projected to grow to $3-trillion by 2020. This represents a tremendous economic potential. However, with a less than one per cent share of this market Canada is missing out. As world financial markets become increasingly unpredictable, the foresight to invest in green energy will help insulate Canada from future economic turbulence.

According to the International Energy Agency, renewable energy is now the fastest growing energy sector. Even in tough economic times, global investment in renewable energy has continued to grow, reaching $260-billion in 2011.

As analysts expect this to double by 2020, having the capacity to harness and this export this energy alongside renewable technology materials represents another source of economic growth.

We are the third largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world and have a considerable undeveloped capacity to generate wind and solar energy.

Although wind is the second most important renewable energy source in Canada it accounts for just 1.6 per cent of electricity generation in Canada.

Germany in contrast is among the most innovative and successful worldwide in terms of renewable energy.

They are currently one of the world's top three renewable energy economies. One in three solar panels and one in two wind rotors is made in Germany. They employ more than 380,000 people in the renewable energy sector and several world leaders in green energy technology are headquartered there.

Canada could achieve far more if greater priority was placed on developing our renewable resources.

For example, the estimated geothermal power could exceed one million times Canada's current electricity consumption, with the highest temperature resources in British Columbia, Alberta, the Northwest Territories, and Yukon. A coordinated plan could harness those resources for the benefit of the entire country but we need federal leadership to move forward together on renewable energy.

Carbon emissions are having a direct and measurable impact on the environment our climate is changing before our eyes. Canadians in the north are already living the consequences of decades of inaction on climate change by successive federal governments. The green energy sector represents a significant opportunity for Canada both in terms of reducing carbon emissions and supporting our economy.

Although it is unfortunate that the Conservative government has missed opportunities to show leadership with regard to the environment in the past, the steps outlined above represent an opening to remedy this. The time for partisan politics is long gone. Now is the time for leadership and action. Our collective futures depend on it.

NDP MP Megan Leslie who represents Halifax, N.S., is her party's deputy leader and environment critic. NPD MP Peter Julian, who represents Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C., is his party's energy and natural resources critic.

The Hill Times