Clean technology ‘revolution’ the silver lining in climate change gloom: OECD

OTTAWA – The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development says the world has yet to “turn the corner” on addressing climate change but there is room for optimism.

That’s because — notwithstanding the gloom over the scale of the global issue, or the naysayers who claim a decarbonized economy means going back to the stone age — there’s been a quiet “revolution in renewable energy.”

“It didn’t happen by accident, there was a lot of money spent by some countries,” Simon Upton, the OECD’s environmental director, said Friday at a news conference in Paris.

“But we really can see what a de-carbonized power generation sector would look like.”

In advance of the COP21 climate conference in Paris that begins Nov. 30, the OECD held a media briefing on the state of play in conjunction with the International Energy Agency, the Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Transport Forum.

Some 162 countries have pledged to cut emissions as part of the Paris conference process. However climate scientists say the pledges won’t get the international community anywhere near the greenhouse gas reductions required to keep the planet within the 2 C degrees of warming required to avert global climate disruptions.

“You’d have to say that, globally speaking, we have barely started,” said the OECD spokesman.

Upton, however, argues the fact there’s now a known path to renewable power generation, with falling costs and increasing output, raises the likelihood of getting the job done.

“The technical changes, the fall in costs, has now made the future a much more hopeful one,” he said. “But it will not happen spontaneously. The playing field is still massively weighted in favour of the sunken investment in technologies which use fossil fuels.”

The French hosts of COP21 have added a “climate solutions” component to this year’s conference which will catalogue and highlight the practical technologies being developed to address cutting carbon pollution.

The emphasis dovetails with campaign promises of Canada’s new Liberal government, which has promised to support clean technology development through everything from direct investment and green bonds to export assistance and tax changes. The Liberals are also promising to phase out federal fossil fuel subsidies, which a Washington-based NGO pegged last week at more than $2 billion annually.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Sunday she takes heart knowing the Paris conference will proceed, despite Friday’s devastating terrorist attacks.

“I was just in Paris maybe three or four days ago and it’s really shocking,” she said. “They will still be welcoming the world and I think that sends a message that we need to be strong; that we can’t back down; and this is a very important conference, and we need a success there.”

Mandate letters for the new Liberal finance minister and natural resources minister released Friday show they are to work “to make Canada the world’s most competitive tax jurisdiction for investments in research, development and manufacturing of clean technology.”

It’s an emphasis that is many years overdue, says Celine Bak, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and the self-described, private-sector “StatsCan for clean tech.”

Bak is currently beating the bushes for contributions from Canada’s 800-plus industry players for her fifth annual Canadian Clean Technology Industry Report.

The 2015 report from her company Analytica Advisors ran to 369 pages and is required reading for a number of Liberal ministers or their senior mandarins charged with addressing climate change and invigorating Canada’s clean technology sector.

Her data shows that Canada’s clean tech export sector directly employs 50,000 Canadians and is comparable in export value to things such as livestock, processed foods, mining and finished wood products. Yet in an aggressive global clean tech market, Canada has been losing global market share even as the sector grows.

Bak says her research shows it’s a myth that Canadian clean tech companies want to integrate into global supply chains, a notion that comes from academics who transposed the model for the much older auto sector, for example, onto the emerging clean technology field. Instead, these young companies are producing full system components they are ready and eager to sell directly at home and abroad. Financing is their number one priority.

Back in Paris, the OECD’s environmental director says government support and policy action will unleash market forces that will help tackle the global carbon challenge.

Talk to any business sector, said Upton, “and they will say the most important thing is a clear directional signal from governments to the private sector and to communities.”

“No one is going to invest if there is uncertainty — either that governments won’t do anything or, having done it, they’ll then change their minds. Better to take a steady and incremental approach which keeps moving in the same direction, reliably and predictably.”

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