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.

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.

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.

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.”

Sarah Petrevan of Clean Energy Canada says that if done well, Canada's economic recovery after COVID-19 can also boost green industry and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Photo courtesy Sarah Petrevan

'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.”

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"There is no shortage of productive jobs that can be done which would be ‘safe’ in this social distancing era but would provide valuable outputs to society.

The Covid-19 pause definitely offers Canada an ideal opportunity to engage in a transition to a green economy.

The solutions are known and the technologies to comply with the Paris Agreement already exist. Since Canada is so far behind China the European Union, California and other progressive U.S. states, plus additional jurisdictions, it could just cherry pick options to catch-up and adapt such options to a Canadian context.

Now is the moment to do so.

The oil and gas majors have been in financial trouble for nearly a decade now, surviving by selling assets and debt financing.

The financial institutions are readying to close in on the shale oil and gas sectors for which expenditures have exceeded revenues for quite some time, hence functioning on a growing accumulation of loans over years.

The oilsands represent a poor-quality high carbon and sulfur content fuel that is not economically viable.

China and the European Union vehicle legislation, in the largest and third largest vehicle markets in the world, assure that global automakers will be making a massive transition to electric vehicles in but a few years. With 60% of petroleum consumption associated with road transportation, peak oil in the first half of the 2020’s is highly likely. Shell agrees.

For natural gas, its game over since renewables are now cheaper for two-thirds of global electric generation markets. Yet LNG and shale gas supplies have been going up, with the U.S., Russia, Australia, and Egypt about to increase the current glut, while 75% of the 2019 newly installed power capacity was represented by renewables.

Couldn’t find a better time to set up in Alberta, a national Canadian-scaled equivalent to the U.S National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) with its over 2,685 employees from 70 countries and covering the full spectrum of green economy technologies, including the integration of these technologies.

Shell, which is spending US$2B per year on clean tech firm acquisitions, many of them start-ups, engaged in a partnership with NREL back in 2018 to establish the Shell GameChanger Accelerator. The goal is to provide an incubator to provide clean tech start-ups with the financial strength to get these technologies out of the lab and into production and on the market.

As well, Canada, if it so chooses, can be a significant global player in electric vehicle technologies. Quebec has electric school bus, transit bus and truck manufacturers; an innovator and producer of electric power-trains; three charging station companies, a battery producer and battery raw materials; and EV research facilities. Ontario has an electric bus manufacturer and a vehicle parts manufacturer involved in a joint venture with a Chinese firm to produce EVs there.

If Canada is to get serious about electric vehicles, it is likely best to consider European Union and/or China legislative and policy paradigms, rather than sticking to copying and pasting the U.S corporate average fuel economy standards (CAFE). Our Canadian EV stakeholders already have Chinese and European connections. Required is a change of mindset. Instead of thinking of the Canadian vehicle industry as part of a North American integrated sector, the time has come to think in terms of a global vehicle integrated industry.

These are but minuscule numbers of examples of options to make the green transition.

To-date, under Liberal and Conservative governments alike, the federal government has chosen piecemeal and random green economy solutions, while concurrently supporting fossil fuels at levels many times greater than clean tech, 12 time greater in the case of Export Development Canada (EDC).

Catherine McKenna, as Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Canada during the first Trudeau mandate, was a spokesperson for promoting the Trudeau administration decision to buy existing Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain assets and construct the twinning of the pipeline at the public's expense. She referred to these gestures as balancing the economy and the environment or a way to finance green initiatives.

The current environment Minister, Jonathan Wilkinson approved a derogation of the Trudeau government’s own environmental impact procedures to permit offshore oil exploration on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

More recently, EDC committed to a $500M loan for the Coastal GasLink.

No wonder emissions went up during the first Trudeau mandate.

Holistic approaches are required, such that economic and sustainable development are integrated in annual budgets, legislative agendas plus policy and program initiatives.

However, if over 60% of Canadians continue to support political parties aligned with powerful lobbies, Canada will continue to be a mediocre player in the global green economy, ultimately being a net importer clean technologies as its way to be competitive in the new global emerging economy.

This post could be a NO opinion piece all by itself!