Clean innovation will be increasingly critical to Canada's economic and environmental wellbeing in a changing world. On March 31, 2015, Sustainable Prosperity and partners brought together Canadian and global experts from academia, industry, government, and NGOs to discuss how Canada can accelerate the pace of clean innovation across all parts of the economy, with a particular focus on the key role that governments can play -- through smart policy, investment, spending, etc. The videos of the conference sessions are now available.
Earlier this summer, Sustainable Prosperity posted a series of blogs that captured the work we’ve done over the past year on how public policy can help accelerate the pace of clean innovation in Canada. You can find those blogs here (blog 1 covered the Canadian context; blog 2 explored what the conference speakers had to say about the public policy levers available; blog 3 looked at practical experience in accelerating clean innovation; and blog 4 looked at where we go from here.
The good news is that SP is not the only voice calling for a discussion on how we can move the needle on clean innovation. Here are a few of the ones that have been active in pushing a conversation so far in 2015:
In January, the Broadbent Institute and Atkinson Foundation partnered to put out a paper "Bets and Returns" that challenges some of the (negative) perceptions about the role of public policy and government investment in innovation. This excellent paper, and corresponding public lecture by UK Economist Mariana Mazzucato (which you can view here) push for more thinking about what government puts into innovation and what the public gets in returns – and whether we’ve got the right scale and balance for both. The scope of the paper looks at innovation broadly, but clean/green innovation is given lots of discussion. The provocative bottom line – like all investors, government is bound to make a few bad bets, but has a pretty good track record, so how can we get some public return from public investment?
In May, Analytica Advisors released its “2015 Canadian Clean Technology Industry Report,” which is a broad and deep survey of the industry in Canada. Analytica found that “Canada’s clean technology industry is Canada’s first new industry of the 21st century. In fact, with 50,000 people employed directly in more than 800 firms, some might say Canada’s clean technology industry has come of age.” While the report is bullish on the Canadian clean technology sector’s prospects, it includes a cautionary note that “The absence of government policies to stimulate take up of these new technologies does not bode well for Canada.”
The Council of Canadian Academies released a report in May that looked at the clean technologies available to reduce the environmental footprint of the oil sands and found that “technologies implemented over the short to medium term can reduce the footprint on a per barrel basis, but none can bring absolute reductions. The greatest potential lies with emerging technologies that are longer-term research and development prospects.” The report’s bottom line is that more effort is needed.
Last month, The Pembina Institute released a report card that assessed federal and provincial support for clean technology exports. The punch line: “Some provinces have more strategies and policies focused on supporting clean technology companies than do other provinces, with Ontario and Quebec leading the way. However, Canada lacks a comprehensive policy framework to support clean energy technology exports in general, at both the national and provincial levels. Instead, a patchwork of policies — which mainly support R&D but neglect commercialization and export — are scattered across the country. The result is that many clean energy companies with great innovative products could ultimately fail to get those products to market.”
Most recently, Bill Gates put out a call for greater investment in clean energy innovation. He plans to invest $1billion in clean energy over the next five years, in order to help “accelerate the pace of progress, develop and deploy new solutions, and eventually provide everyone with reliable, affordable energy that is carbon free.” As Gates states, “these are solvable problems.” As he points out, the rational is environmental and economic – and also equitable. There are large populations, mainly in developing countries and coastal areas, who will be disproportionately impacted by climate change.
With all these voices (and Sustainable Prosperity’s) adding to the conversation about the importance of accelerating clean innovation, the “what” is pretty clear – we need more clean innovation. The “when” and “where” are also emerging – NOW and in Canada. The next suite of questions are about the “how” and “who.” At SP, we think there’s a rationale for some government involvement in accelerating clean innovation, but with lots of important work still to be done to determine how best and with whom. Through our March conference, Sustainable Prosperity and partners have started a dialogue about these questions, work we anticipate continuing as a multi-year effort. We’ll continue to disseminate our research findings, pose questions for further research, and reach out to new collaborators and funders. If you’re interested in joining us in these efforts, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.