The shift to clean energy is producing huge economic gains, but Canada risks being left behind if the federal government doesn't get on board, a new report warns.
That's the message from energy and climate think tank Clean Energy Canada, which paints a picture of a world increasingly embracing – and investing in – green energy alternatives.
Clean energy is now "business as usual, it is not boutique any more," said Merran Smith, director of Clean Energy Canada. "This is where the puck is going … The world has changed and there is no going back."
The report, to be released Monday on the eve of the United Nation's global climate summit in New York, says that thanks to government support and dramatic increases in private investment, "companies, countries and whole economies are steadily reducing their dependence on fossil fuels and embracing clean and renewable energy."
It cites China, for example, where new renewable energy plant construction has now surpassed investments in coal generation. The country has embarked on an enormous effort to build solar and wind power generating facilities, along with a massive electrified high-speed rain network.
At the same time individual corporations – including some big players such as Google Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Apple Inc. and Ikea AB – have jumped on the bandwagon, investing in renewable energy projects in order to cut their own greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, almost 6.5 million people now work in the renewable energy sector around the globe.
Over all, private investment in green energy is growing dramatically, the report says. In 2013, $207-billion (U.S.) was invested in clean energy deployment, not far below the $270-billion invested in fossil fuel power generation. While China, the United States and Japan lead the way, Canada ranks seventh among G20 countries with $6.5-billion in clean energy investment in 2013.
While carbon-based fuels will still be important for a long time, "for the first time in more than a century, multiple signs suggest that their dominance is beginning to wane," the report said.
While there is push back against subsidies to the clean energy industry, prices have dropped so significantly that financial support is now far less important, Ms. Smith said, and subsidies are being removed in many jurisdictions. "Renewables can compete with fossil fuel … and that is only going to become increasingly so."
Still, she said, governments need to put in place policies to encourage more renewable energy. In Canada individual provinces have stepped up to the plate – through British Columbia's carbon tax and Quebec and Ontario's pro-renewable policies, for example – but the federal government has dropped the ball, she said.
It should set renewable energy targets, for example, and join international climate change bodies that it has avoided up to now, she said.
"We are ignoring the signs that this clean energy economy is taking off, [and that] our major trading partners like the United States, the European Union and China, are investing in the clean energy economy and embracing this new direction," she said.
While setting a price on carbon would help level the playing field with other forms of energy production and accelerate its uptake, the revolution is going to happen with or without that step, she said.
The Clean Energy Canada report comes on the heels of other recent reports that suggest green energy is helpful to the economy. A report last week from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate said that all countries can build economic growth while reducing climate change risks. Another from the International Monetary fund said carbon pricing is practical and valuable for countries that put it in place.