Canada needs a green stimulus plan

The following is an article from the David Suzuki Foundation and originally published in the Toronto Star:

By Stewart Elgie, Peter Robinson, and Alan Nymark

January 22, 2009 — The Toronto Star — In the Chinese language, the symbol for crisis includes both danger and opportunity. That same approach should guide Canada in responding to the current economic crisis. The upcoming federal stimulus package – the largest injection of public funds into the economy in decades – is an unparalleled opportunity to kick-start the economy of today, while laying the foundation for Canada to succeed in the low-carbon economy of tomorrow.

The global economy, including Canada’s, is in serious recession. Most agree that a significant public investment is needed to boost spending and create jobs.

At the same time, Canada faces unprecedented environmental challenges. Scientists say we are nearing the limits of how much stress the planet can take.

The warning signs are everywhere, in the form of the melting polar ice cap, 3,000 Canadians dying each year from air pollution, and wildlife species going extinct at an alarming rate. These two problems are connected. A healthy economy depends on a healthy environment.

The world is moving toward a low-carbon economy. The economy of the future will reward businesses that are energy efficient, low polluting, and use scarce natural resources efficiently.

The change is already underway, as evidenced by the rapid global growth of clean energy, fuel-efficient cars, and other green sectors in recent years.

This trend will continue; for example, the International Energy Agency projects that renewable energy will be by far the fastest-growing part of the global energy sector over the next decade. Wind energy alone is expected to see more than $1 trillion in new investment.

Other countries realize this opportunity.

Barack Obama has proposed a major green economic stimulus package for the United States. European Union countries are doing the same. Even China has earmarked more than $150 billion for green measures. These are our major markets, and Canada is falling behind. Our economy is among the worst in the OECD in per capita greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, water use, and overall environmental footprint.

In short, we are not using our natural capital wisely.

If we want to turn this around, and position Canada for the economy of the future, the time to start is now.

The upcoming budget will make a massive public investment that will help shape Canada’s economy and communities for years to come – for better or worse.

To meet the present crisis, and opportunity, we need a green economic stimulus package. Here’s what it could look like.

First, make a $10 billion investment in green public infrastructure – one of the best ways to boost the economy quickly. Let’s build new buses, rails and trains – made in Canada – for better transit and cleaner air. Let’s upgrade sewage and water plants. Many communities, especially aboriginal ones, still don’t have safe drinking water. Let’s also put people to work building energy efficient schools and low-income housing, constructing a “smart” electrical grid, and cleaning up toxic sites.

Second, invest $4 billion to grow Greener Businesses and Jobs. Start with a tax break for companies to invest in clean technology – to boost productivity and cut pollution. Also invest in training to build new skills for a new economy, through extended Employment Insurance benefits. Reforesting 2 million hectares of land would generate much-needed jobs in northern communities. And if Ottawa is going to bail out auto companies, at least require them to retool their plants to build fuel efficient cars that people want to buy – to help the environment and their competitiveness.

Third, let’s help Canadians Go Green, beginning with expanded incentives to make homes more energy efficient and fight climate change. Let’s also make it easier to switch to clean power, by lowering the cost and doubling Canada’s production by 2010, to help fuel the future.

The total cost of this package: $15 billion. And it’s a great public investment. It will create more than 160,000 jobs in the coming year alone, targeting hard-hit sectors and regions.

It also will reduce pollution and environmental harm that cost our economy tens of billion of dollars each year in lost health and productivity. In addition, it will build a base of innovation that will power Canada’s future prosperity.

An economic stimulus package is about more than fixing a problem; it is about seizing the opportunity to shape our collective future as a country. Canada has done this before.

More than a century ago, our leaders invested massive public funding to build a railroad. That bold decision laid the foundation for our nation, and prepared Canada for the economy of the 20th century – an economy powered by coal and oil.

The new century will see a new economy; one powered by clean energy and driven by green transportation; one that will sustain people and the planet; one in which a healthy environment and economy go hand in hand.

Our main trading partners get it. As Obama declared, “this is the great challenge of our time. If we fail to act, the implications will be grave for our economy, for our security, for our planet. But if we seize this moment, and meet the challenge, we can open to door to a new economy for the 21st century that will bring new energy, new jobs and new hope.”

Stewart Elgie is a professor at the University of Ottawa and chair of the green economy think tank Sustainable Prosperity. Peter Robinson is the CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation. Alan Nymark has been federal deputy minister of revenue, environment, and human resources.

 

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