A Turning Point for Canada’s Green Economy?

Program Manager Jamie Kirkpatrick was in Québec City April 11th to 14th along with tens of thousands of Canadians who spoke out for action on climate change.

A powerful optimism could be felt in Québec City this past weekend. It began with Saturday’s remarkable 25,000 person march through the cobblestoned streets of old Québec. People from across the country and from all walks of life, first nations, students, environmental and labour activists, children, and families marched sending a clear signal to our elected officials: it’s time to act on climate change.

The momentum continued on Sunday with the Act on Climate Forum where workers and environmentalist met to strengthen collaboration and advance the transition to a green economy. Through discussion panels (PDF) and one-on-one conversations folks gathered and explored opportunities to work together to tackle climate change. Panels discussed existing federal and provincial government climate policies, what a Canadian climate and energy strategy must look like, how to ensure a just transition for workers, and a discussion of the many existing and future real job opportunities in a green economy.

Blue Green Canada President, Mark Rowlinson, participated in a panel on job opportunities in the green economy, and illustrated the vast potential for good green jobs in Canada if we collectively act on climate. Blue Green Canada has demonstrated the potential for thousands of new jobs if investments are made in clean energy over fossil fuels.  (A $1 million investment in oil and gas nets just two jobs versus 15 jobs in clean energy for the same million dollar investment.) We have also shown how a 25 percent reduction in electricity and natural gas use in Ontario by 2025 would create 25,000 new jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nine percent.  As well, dedicated investments in new public transit infrastructure can create thousands of new jobs and reduce transportation related emissions. Optimism for change and a recognition that we all must work together for these big wins prevailed throughout the day.

On Monday the Canadian Roundtable on the Green Economy convened with a meeting of 200 decision makers from various economic, private industry, non-profit, and environmental organizations to discuss key actions to be taken to accelerate the country’s shift towards a green economy. The big news of the weekend broke as the roundtable was set to begin as Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that Ontario would begin a cap and trade program and put a price on carbon by joining the Québec–California carbon market.

This welcome news was applauded and generated a real level of enthusiasm throughout the remainder of the day’s events.  While those in attendance were eagerly expecting this news and already largely convinced of the need to price carbon, the announcement and meeting was a refreshing change from past climate change gatherings I have attended. There was less doom and gloom about inaction and more excitement about the opportunities that are possible if we all truly act on climate.

The main event and the reason people had gathered in Québec over the past three days, was Tuesday’s Premiers’ Summit on Climate Change, which concluded relatively quietly with a joint declaration (PDF) on how to transition to a lower-carbon economy. This is an important first step for our first ministers but there are clearly many more steps to take. The elephant in the room remains that all of the commitments pledged by the provinces and territories in attendance in Québec City can be made much less relevant for Canada’s greenhouse gas emission reductions if major oil sands expansions are allowed to proceed unchecked.  A complete transition to a green economy, one that sees fossil fuel use steadily decline throughout the Canadian economy must remain our collective ambition.