Cleantech is not dead, notwithstanding the recessionary global
economy and constricted sources of funds.
The term "cleantech" refers to products or services
that improve performance, productivity or efficiency while reducing
costs, consumption of energy and resources, and waste and
pollutants. Related to cleantech is the concept of
"renewable" energy, that is, energy produced by the use
of resources that are not thereby depleted.
Globally, three main drivers promise to make cleantech a major
force in 2009. First, climate change is widely accepted as fact; it
is no longer the sole preoccupation of environmentalists. Second,
world populations continue to increase, driving up the consumption
of natural resources and, at an equal or greater rate, carbon
emissions. Third, ongoing access to oil and gas is unstable and
unpredictable, and the resources are finite thus spurring
initiatives to enhance the development of alternatives to fossil
The uniquely Canadian determinant, surprisingly, is U.S.
President Barack Obama. The Canadian cleantech industry and
government policy will be greatly influenced by the policies of the
United States. A key campaign promise made by Barack Obama is a
pledge to embrace a green energy economy. He proposes federal
carbon mitigation legislation to cut greenhouse emissions to 1990
levels by 2020, and to 80 per cent of the 1990 levels by 2050. Part
of the solution is a cap-and-trade system structured to generate
US$15 billion annually for investment in renewable energy.
The US$700 billion Economic Stability Act recently
passed in the United States contains tax breaks and incentives for
renewable energy and cleantech. The Act will boost the cleantech
industry and create new "green-collar" jobs, a key
component of the Democrats' plan to re-energize the U.S.
There is no doubt that if the United States restricts carbon
emissions from its own manufacturers, it will not permit the
migration of U.S. jobs to countries with less stringent controls.
Can Canada avoid being drawn into the vortex? Our border is not
impermeable to the flow of ideas or money — or carbon
dioxide, for that matter. It was no surprise that within a very
short time of Obama's victory speech, our federal government
initiated discussions on carbon cap-andtrade agreements with the
Our country must develop a green strategy quickly, one that
includes more effective ways to encourage the development and
exploitation of new technologies, or we will hamper our ability to
negotiate with the United States and lose many more of our
cleantech innovators to Waltham.
Similar to a global economy in crisis, the price of oil can be
an obstacle to the funding of cleantech users, developers and
suppliers. At US$50 plus a barrel (at the time of writing), the
price of oil presents an opportunity to move forward with cleantech
initiatives, and in all probability, this is what the United States
will do. President Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel said,
"Never let a serious crisis go to waste." Putting a price
on carbon may be the first and most important step toward
encouraging investment and efficiencies that will lead to carbon
emission reductions across the board.
Carbon emission restrictions will result in new challenges to
global trade. For instance, the World Trade Organization has found
that certain restrictions on process and production methods are
permissible. Will carbon tariffs relating to processes and
production methods be considered as violations of trade agreements,
or will exceptions for conservation and greenhouse gas restrictions
apply? There is little doubt that the U.S. will entertain tariffs
on goods produced using carbon emitting processes. This may well
mean some resurgence of manufacturing jobs in North America as the
cost of carbon emissions get factored into the cost of goods. Also,
will emissions of greenhouse gases that are unregulated by existing
environmental legislation open a door to the liability of carbon
Despite the questions, complications and current economic
malaise, we can expect significant progress in the cleantech
industry in the very near future, and its effects are sure to be
far-reaching. We can also anticipate an increased drive toward more
eco-friendly processes in all businesses. This will be caused in
part by the need to reduce costs as energy prices rise and costs
are attached to carbon emissions. Other drivers of significance
will include the rising chorus of voices encouraging social
responsibility in cleantech matters and the fact that younger
employees are more interested in such issues than their present
managers. We can also expect to see more "green
activists" in the media, in all of our markets and at
shareholder meetings. Stay tuned — cleantech is becoming
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