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Five ways to build a low-carbon, high-octane Canadian economy

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Over the past six years, solar energy panels have dropped in cost by more than 60 per cent, making them a more affordable option for individuals and organizations wanting a greener alternative.

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Justin Trudeau will join world leaders at next week's Paris Climate Summit to chart a course to a low-carbon future. The most advanced nations aren't waiting. They are hard at work building cleaner, more innovative economies to compete in a changing global marketplace – one that will reward countries and companies that find new ways to generate wealth and jobs with less impact on the planet.

Canada is well positioned to thrive in this changing global economy. Our burgeoning clean-technology sector can tap into a rapidly growing market expected to exceed $2-trillion by 2020. At the same time, demand continues to grow for energy and natural resources that are a big part of Canada's economy. These sectors face rising pressures for cleaner production, as our oil industry is learning, and firms that succeed will gain market advantage.

To ensure Canada's place in this new order, we need to boost both our environmental and economic performance. Experts call this "decoupling" economic growth from environmental harm. It isn't easy, but it is possible. In fact, we have already done it in a number of places. Ontario, for example, reduced greenhouse gases by 19 per cent since 2005 while growing its GDP, mainly by shifting from coal to cleaner power. Since 2000, Canada's forest sector has improved its environmental performance and cut its emissions in half, building market access with a new green brand. With the right mix of smart public policies and private initiative, growth can be green.

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There are five key strategies for Canada to build a cleaner, stronger economy that positions us to prosper in a changing world.

1. Price pollution and waste. Ensuring prices reflect the real cost of harm to air, water and land will create real incentives for greener choices by industry, consumers and investors alike. B.C.'s carbon tax, for example, helped cut fuel use by 16 per cent from 2008-2013 while its GDP outpaced the rest of Canada.

2. Accelerate clean innovation. Finding new, affordable ways to solve environmental problems is the key to success in a greening global economy. We've seen prices for solar panels and electric car batteries plunge by over 60 per cent in the past six years through smart policies and entrepreneurship. Imagine unleashing that same kind of eco-ingenuity across the Canadian economy.

3. Invest in advanced infrastructure. The smart economy of tomorrow will run on next-generation energy, transportation, water and waste systems. With a big investment in clean infrastructure now, as Justin Trudeau has promised, we can reduce our environmental footprint for decades to come, and build capacity to help Canadian firms compete for the $90-trillion the world will spend on better infrastructure by 2030.

4. Boost energy and resource efficiency. Doing more with less is essential to a high-performance, low-impact economy. Existing technologies – for more efficient buildings, vehicles and industries – can cut energy use by over 25 per cent and save money. And Canadian producers can help provide the resource efficiency breakthroughs needed to meet the world's growing demand for food, water, energy and materials – a $1-trillion per year opportunity.

5. Conserve and value nature. Canada's natural systems provide us with clean air, fresh water and other priceless services that are the foundation of our economy, health and way of life. By creating world-class stewardship and protected areas regimes we can conserve our precious natural capital for future generations.

Canada has a proud history of taking far-sighted policy actions to prepare for global economic changes, from free trade to the global financial crisis. That same kind of leadership is needed now to spur environmental solutions and secure Canadian competitiveness and jobs in a low-carbon world.

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By Stewart Elgie, Professor of Law and Economics at the University of Ottawa, and Chair of Sustainable Prosperity

This content was produced by Randall Anthony Communications, in partnership with The Globe and Mail's advertising department. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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