After the Great Recession struck in 2008, then-U.S. president Barack Obama threw US$112 billion into green-energy-focused economic-recovery measures.
The investment boosted renewable energies, created jobs for laid-off workers and cut pollution levels.
Now, with COVID-19 grinding the economy to a halt and governments making historic injections of public money to prevent a total collapse, green-technology companies are hoping the Canadian government will make a similar bet. More than 200 organizations representing more than 2,000 green companies have signed onto Resilient Recovery, a campaign launched last week that aims to push Canadian governments to invest in clean technology, or cleantech, as the country recovers from its virus-related shutdown.
“Done right, stimulus and recovery efforts can achieve multiple things,” said Sarah Petrevan, a policy director at Clean Energy Canada, a think tank based out of Simon Fraser University that is co-leading the campaign.
"We have to look at this through a climate lens."
Since widespread COVID-19 shutdowns took hold across Canada in March, the federal government has unveiled a series of stimulus packages aimed at helping businesses ride out the pandemic.
Though there hasn’t been a package aimed specifically at cleantech, the government did earmark $250 million for innovative startups, which could help some smaller cleantech companies. Larger companies may get some help in the form of wage subsidies and access to credit.
Those measures are mostly aimed at helping businesses survive the emergency rather than driving an economic recovery — which makes sense, as Canada is still in the thick of the pandemic, Petrevan said. But the government has also signalled climate will be a central focus of its economic rebuild when the time comes.
"When the recovery begins, Canada can build a stronger and more resilient economy by investing in a cleaner and healthier future for everyone," Moira Kelly, a spokeswoman for Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, told the Canadian Press.
Other countries, including Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom and South Korea have already announced their intent to invest in green measures as part of their economic recoveries.
Over 200 organizations representing more than 2,000 green companies have signed on to Resilient Recovery, a campaign pushing for government investments in cleantech during the recovery from COVID-19.
Resilient Recovery penned an open letter earlier this month, urging Ottawa and the provinces to focus on the climate as Canada starts to talk about what reopening will look like. Not only can financial support help cleantech companies survive the current economic shock, it can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut pollution that causes health problems and create much-needed jobs, the letter says.
Resilient Recovery also points to the idea of creating a new normal, one that’s cleaner and better for the climate. Signatories to the letter include a range of companies, from small startups to established companies like Siemens.
“Solving the climate crisis is going to take a whole bunch of different kinds of solutions,” Petrevan said.
“Whoever comes up with those solutions will lead in the transition of the economy and how economies around the world adapt … Canada should look at cleantech as an important thing it can export.”
'These types of companies have a bright future'
In 2008, prosperity in Canada’s oil and gas sector helped the country recover from the Great Recession. But a lot has changed since then, and we are now in the midst of a climate crisis, Petrevan said.
The drivers of the COVID-19 recession are also completely different. In 2008, the crisis was driven by financial markets tanking. What’s happening now is a much larger economic pause, Petrevan said.
The oil and gas industry is currently suffering from a double-pronged problem that has driven the sector into global collapse. A drop in demand due to the pandemic, combined with the effects of a price war plunged Canadian crude prices to near-zero levels last month.
This time around, Canada’s economic recovery should be driven by zero- or low-emissions companies that are sustainable, said Michel Letellier, president and CEO of Innergex, a renewable-energy company that has signed onto Resilient Recovery.
“Cleantech and renewable energy is a much better proposal than depleting resources that will eventually be gone,” he added.
The cleantech sector may face opposition on that front: the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), an extraordinarily powerful and well-funded lobby group representing oil and gas companies operating in Canada, is also pushing Ottawa hard for help, arguing that oil and gas is a major driver of Canada’s economy.
So far, oil and gas companies have received $1.7 billion in federal stimulus funds to speed the cleanup of aging wells and $750 million to reduce methane emissions.
Resilient Recovery isn’t engaging in lobbying the same way CAPP does, although some individual companies do that on their own on a smaller scale. But Letellier said his company signed onto the campaign because cleantech companies can more effectively advocate for themselves as a group.
“By ourselves, we can do our little part,” he said. “But for Canada, seeing this tremendous force behind all these companies … These types of companies have a bright future.”