SWR is pleased to launch our official Federal election blog series for Waterloo region. Over the next two weeks, join us to hear from candidates across the five ridings in our region, on the topic of how their parties would support businesses for the green economy. To start the conversation, we have a local expert, Dr. Jason Thistlewaite to help frame the issues.
The environment and economy need to work together. You may have heard this line a few times during the 2015 federal election. It’s a founding principle in what’s known as “the green economy.” Despite all this talk, the federal government has historically been at the back of the line when it comes to leading our way there.
A green economy improves our wellbeing by creating growth that improves our resiliency to risk, reduces ecological scarcities, and increases energy and resource efficiency. It sounds optimistic, but countries such as Germany are proving capable of making such a transition by committing to using 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050. How can Canada do the same? Here are three ideas. We need to breakdown walls between governments and public and private actors, embrace the diversity of existing local green policy, and abandon short-term thinking. Coordination between levels of government and businesses remains a significant obstacle for advancing Canada’s green economy. For example, at the same time that municipalities are developing renewable energy systems, provinces are establishing regulations to price GHG emissions, and builders are introducing technologies to make buildings energy net-zero. On their own these initiatives are impressive. But cooperation could generate an alignment so that a provincial and federal price on GHG is high enough to expand markets for net-zero buildings and renewable energy systems.
Local governments and businesses have initiated diverse policy mechanisms supporting green growth. Each policy should be treated as a site within a system of policy experimentation generating important insight on broader applications, because there is no, “magic bullet,” for a green economy.
For example, Canadian municipalities have adopted different approaches to limit damage from extreme rainfall. These range from education on best-practices for homeowners, storm-water incentive fees that encourage storage at the lot-level, and even fines for failing to direct water away from the storm sewer system. Similarly, engineering firms are working on permeable concrete and asphalt capable of absorbing significant rain run-off. These initiatives represent an opportunity for the federal government to monitor, assess effectiveness and refine approaches, but also for scaling up to other jurisdictions as provincial and national building codes could adopt these practices.
For any of this to happen, the federal government needs to abandon its short-term decision-making cycle. Elections come and go, but people’s homes don’t come back when they’re underwater. Resources must be earmarked beyond one budget cycle (and even government) as the economic benefits and knowledge gained from green policy manifests in the long-term. A key to utilizing this knowledge is the prioritization of science within government decision-making.
The federal government has sat on the bench for too long as businesses, local and provincial governments are left to spearhead the transition towards the green economy. The 2015 election is an important opportunity to remind the federal government that it can do its part by coordinating existing green policies, embracing experimentation and adopting a long-term horizon for policy decisions.