Sustainable Prosperity brought together at the University of Ottawa on April 28 and 29 some of the most prominent environment-economy thinkers in the world. We asked them for their “Big Ideas for Sustainable Prosperity” — and wow, did they ever think big. Don’t worry if you weren’t there in person or didn’t catch the live webcast – we’ve got 10 top highlights recapped below, with videos of each presentation available here under the "Presentation Day 1" and "Presentation Day 2" tabs, organized in the same order as the 10 highlights below.

Top 10 Highlights

  • Alan Nymark set the stage for us by introducing his 11-point stress test for green economy big ideas. After all, a big idea can only have big impact if we can find ways to build policy support for it – not to mention political support.
  • It was said at least 50 times, but Ed Barbier said it first – we have to get prices right. That means phasing out bad subsidies, putting in place market-based incentives, and encouraging innovation.
  • We did some high thinking on low carbon with James Meadowcroft, Kathryn Harrison, Andrew Leach and SP’s own Alex Wood – each took a different angle on strategies Canada can use to transition to a low carbon economy, but they all agree carbon pricing is critical.
  • Rachel Kyte put the challenge in perspective and encouraged us to think big and broadly about sustainability from a global perspective. She reminded us that Canada is important – our ideas and actions resonate locally and globally, and our impacts are as much social as they are economic and environmental.
  • Peter Nicholson, Richard Lipsey, Richard Hawkins, David Keith and Nick Johnstone lead us through the ins and outs of what innovation means and how we can accelerate clean innovation. Collectively, they took us back in time to learn lessons about what we need to do now to build the future we want later.
  • We all joined “the Tribe of Matts” when Matt Turner and Matthew Kahn talked about the role of big data and the possibility of using cities as ground zero for policy experiments that can inform good, cost-effective municipal policies. Anne Dale shared with us her insights on how local level innovation is critical in addressing climate change and Enid Slack convinced any holdouts in the crowd that municipalities should use the pricing tools at their disposal to encourage local sustainability.
  • We looked at our world through the lens of natural capital with Geoffrey Heal, Vic Adamowicz and Brian Murray and saw the potential for markets to work for nature – if we can get the policies right.
  • A keynote address by Jeremy Oppenheim of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate’s New Climate Economy partnership got us all talking (it was covered here in a GlobeAdvisor article by Shawn McCarthy). He described an emerging world driven by large investments in disruptive energy technologies, astonishing policy innovations and new business models. He left us with a provocative question – Is Canada wise to continue on its current path of energy intensive and carbon intensive growth, with highly exposed assets prone to significant uncertainty and price volatility, or should we think about new ideas?
  • Our closing panel reminded us that there isn’t a single big idea that will get us where we need to be – but instead, every great big idea (such as incorporating environmental costs into prices) needs other supporting ideas (in the form of complementary policies). And while sometimes one idea on its own isn’t new or big, it’s in putting ideas together in a complementary way that big things happen.
  • And finally – we capped off with a lively panel discussion on “Green Growth: Can Profits help the Planet?” moderated by CBC Ideas Paul Kennedy and to be aired on CBC Radio on Tuesday May 27. Tune in!
  • With these insights, questions and big ideas from world-class thinkers, we’ll be well set to frame the policy research agenda on sustainable prosperity for Canada. This is just the beginning – it’ll take a lot more thinking, collaboration and action to realize a green economy in Canada. Join us in making it happen, won’t you?

    For one-stop shopping for Big Ideas conference materials and presentations, see here. And thanks to our wonderful speakers, collaborators and funders for making the conference such a success.