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Canada dropping behind in clean tech sector: study

Wind turbines dot the landscape north of Shelburne, Ont.

Bill Sandford

Canada is falling behind its trading partners in financing the clean technology sector, a new study suggests, even as U.S. President Barack Obama vows to lead the world in developing low-carbon energy alternatives that are needed to combat climate change.

The Calgary-based Pembina Institute said Canadian companies suffer from two shortcomings: lack of a federal-provincial strategy for promoting clean tech companies, and difficulty in accessing capital.

As a result, the country has dropped from eighth place to eleventh in the Pew Charitable Trust's ranking of who is winning the clean energy race.

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"While meteorologists in Australia add new colours to their temperature forecast maps following record heat waves and wild fires, clean energy entrepreneurs in Europe, Asia and the U.S. are busy capitalizing on investments in de-carbonizing energy systems," said Ed Whittingham, executive director of the Pembina Institute and co-author of the report.

"With the Harper government's focus set on accelerating development of Canada's fossil fuel commodities – from oil sands to shale gas and coal – Canada is currently capturing just 1 per cent of the thriving clean energy market."

In his inaugural speech Monday, Mr. Obama warned that the world must address global climate change, and that the U.S. will lead in developing the clean technologies needed to do so.

With 700 companies, the Canadian clean tech sector – which includes everything from renewable power to energy efficiency to pollution control – invested almost $2-billion in research and development between 2008 and 2010, and saw an 11 per cent growth in employment.

A spokesman for Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the Conservative government has provided generous support to the sector since taking office in 2006, boosting spending to $10-billion over its period in office from about $3.5-billion in the six years before that.

Mr. Whittingham said a good portion of the recent money has been allocated to carbon capture and storage projects, which are not expected to be widely adopted in the near term.

But he said many of the companies that were financed through the Sustainable Development Technology Canada – a federal venture fund – have achieved commercial success and are now exporting to the world. That technology fund is now depleted.

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"Our report is not meant to take away from the existing investments – what it is trying to say is that we need more," he said. "And if we don't get behind this now, we're going to miss the boat."

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