The federal government's latest commitment to provide $2 billion over four years to support the Canadian clean technology sector and invest $31.5 million in municipal environmental projects demonstrates an understanding of three important facts about tackling climate change:
- Cities and small-scale renewable energy projects are critical to a larger strategy to drive down emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
- Canada's clean tech sector represents not only an incredible opportunity to reduce carbon emissions, it is also the key to building a stable, 21st century economy for Canada and providing good jobs for Canadians that are not won and lost on commodity prices.
- Natural assets have clear advantages over those constructed by people. They are cheaper to operate and maintain, provide ecosystem services, do not depreciate and have a carbon advantage. But they are not accounted for in municipal budgets, leaving them prone to deterioration.
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With 81 per cent of Canadians now living in urban areas, cities are a key battleground in the fight against climate change. The ways that our urban centres produce and consume energy, the land-use strategies they employ and the manner in which they move people and goods have direct impacts on 40 per cent of national carbon emissions, not to mention the health and quality of life of huge numbers of people. As Canada's largest cities make commitments to cut emissions and increase livability, it is important not to lose sight of the benefits of smaller-scale actions. Investment in small-scale renewable energy projects that provide power for individual communities can collectively reduce emissions while offering energy stability in the face of extreme weather events that can knock out large sections of the power grid. The $31.5-million commitment is a good start, but if we want to move all municipalities in the country forward, much more will be needed.
Municipal governments are also key players in adapting to the impacts of climate change, as they represent the places where most Canadians will experience its effects. Projects like the Municipal Natural Capital Initiative can play a major role in adaptation efforts. The goal of the MNCI is to support municipalities in recognizing, measuring and managing the contribution natural systems make to people and municipal services delivery. Natural capital refers to intact ecosystems that provide services like water capture and filtration, flood control, climate regulation and many others. Identifying these assets and developing policies that give natural capital the same standing as traditional, engineered assets in municipal management can help build resilient communities and reduce spending on projects that would be required to replicate benefits that nature once provided or could provide.
Support for Canada's clean tech sector obviously carries emissions-cutting benefits. It helps with the cost of materials needed to build wind and solar projects across the country and spurs development of new technologies that can improve efficiency of vehicles, buildings and appliances or pull carbon out of the air. However, spending $2 billion to help grow this sector is as much an investment in the economy as it is in the environment. Canada's clean tech sector is one of the fastest-growing parts of the national economy. In 2013 alone, clean tech firms contributed nearly $12 billion to GDP Report Synopsis Final_wcovers.pdf and employed 50,000 Canadians. If this growth continues and Canada achieves only its predicted share of the global clean tech market, the industry will contribute $50 billion to the economy each year and employ 100,000 people by 2022.
Investing in Canada's municipalities and clean tech sector will drive effective climate action, but these announcements must be part of a larger national movement to cut emissions and transition to a clean economy powered by renewable energy. With the prime minister and his team expected to announce a new framework for Canadian climate action in March, we hope national policy will follow the lead of the national pocketbook.