Photo: Canada should embrace diversity, the economy is no exception

By Ryan Kadowaki, Science and Policy Specialist

The David Suzuki Foundation is co-hosting a sold-out public event in Vancouver on September 18th to explore the largely untold success story of Canada's clean technology sector. Tune in to the live webcast starting at 4:30 p.m. PDT.

Population science extols the importance of diversity. A genetically diverse population can adapt more easily to environmental change or withstand the introduction of disease. A complexity of traits allows a population to evolve in advantageous ways over time, making it more resilient and effective.

Economies also benefit from diversity. Diverse economies can cope better with change than those focused on a single industry or commodity. Acknowledging this becomes crucial as climate change threatens major disruption with particularly harsh impacts on major sectors like forestry and agriculture. Canada's history as a resource-based economy is littered with examples of sectors and communities facing perilous situations when environmental or market conditions become unfavourable. Canada will always depend on natural resources as part of its economic strategy, but focusing too greatly on a handful of industries is akin to limiting your gene pool.

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It's not that Canada lacks economic diversity, but the Canadian government has promoted oil sands development domestically and internationally at the expense of other sectors. What some have called an all eggs in one basket marketing approach means we're not getting an impartial picture of what our future prospects actually are. While we often hear otherwise, our optimal development path may not be preordained by the natural resources that exist within our borders. Encouraging economic diversity should be considered as a key element in managing risks and achieving our economic and environmental goals. This applies to the energy sector of our economy as much as to any other.

One strategy for increasing economic diversity would be to profile and support emerging areas of Canada's economy that are succeeding. Some of the millions of dollars spent on oil sands ad campaigns and lobbying efforts could be used instead to expedite the rise of industries that are already showing tremendous promise. A prime example of this is Canada's clean technology sector. This sector represents a host of diverse businesses including, but not limited to, renewable energy, green building, water treatment and development of environmentally friendly consumer products. These industries rarely make it into media discussions of Canada's economy. How significant are they?

According to analysis from Analytica Advisors, the clean technology sector has grown to 700 companies with industry revenue of an estimated $11.3 billion. It is growing faster than any other sector of Canada's economy. Clean technology companies are also heavily outpacing the resource-extraction sector in research and development spending, increasing their chances of being at the forefront of new technologies and ideas and creating additional opportunities down the road. They are also providing opportunity to young Canadians entering the workforce, with 20 per cent of their employees aged 30 or younger.

Pursuing alternatives like clean technology also offers tremendous environmental benefits by shifting from emissions-intensive economic activities to generating wealth by solving environmental challenges. The leading scientific body on climate change, the IPCC, agrees that the state and future of humanity depends on these types of choices, and that it is better to act now than to leave things to chance.

The rise of clean technology is a testament to Canadian innovation and entrepreneurship and should be celebrated. Let's hope governments choose to recognize this emerging industry as a vital component of a diverse and sustainable Canadian economy. One way of doing this is to craft forward-looking energy policies, like pricing carbon emissions, which would shift us from our carbon-intensive activities towards clean energy and clean technology — an economic strategy that would position Canada as a leader on climate change and environmental innovation.

September 17, 2014

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