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If Canada won’t lead on climate change, who should we follow?

September 25, 2009

Prime Minister Harper has been roundly criticized this week for blowing off a U.N. climate change summit attended by President Obama, Chinese President Hu Jintao, and the leaders of a hundred other nations*. The event was considered an essential prelude to the Copenhagen talks in December.

Harper’s stand-in Jim Prentice stated the Canadian government’s position, which is that they will wait and follow whatever Obama and the Americans do. Meanwhile, the Americans are waiting to see what they can get out of China and the other emerging economies before they commit to anything.

While anything is better that the previous U.S. administration’s obstructionist approach, it still all looks like some inverted game of musical chairs where the goal is to avoid being the first one to take a seat rather than the last.

Meanwhile, the opposite approach is being taken by countries like Germany, who are not only not waiting for the Americans, but are moving towards cutting them out of the picture altogether – all through some very American-sounding capitalist mechanisms.

Deutsche Bank last week released a research note of curious interest just ahead of this busy week of international climate meetings and upcoming Senate action on federal climate law. Called Creating Jobs and Growth: The German Green Experience, it reviewed the policy architecture responsible for Germany’s rise as a global clean tech leader over the last decade.

… The brief report from one of the largest investment banks in the world tells a different story, with a clean energy boom being an outcome that any genuine capitalist would be proud to have engineered. But the report also sounds a warning to U.S. lawmakers: Failure to enact climate and energy legislation will keep investors away from U.S. markets.

“Capital is a free-flowing system,” Bruce Kahn a Deutsche Asset Management senior investment analyst and co-author of the report told SolveClimate. “If the U.S. is not an attractive place to invest in renewable energy, capital will flow elsewhere. The German example shows how capital can be attracted when there are a clear set of policies.”

The paper is worth reading in full as it outlines some incredibly creative and effective measures being taken by Germany to rapidly convert their energy grid to non-emitting sources, create jobs, and stimulate their economy all at the same time.

If Canada is going to insist on playing ‘Follow the Leader’ on climate and energy policy, perhaps we should be picking a different leader.

* In all fairness, Harper skipped Tuesday’s Climate Change Summit to meet with the Mayor of New York. It was Obama’s speech on Wednesday he blew off to go to Tim Horton’s.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. nmboudin permalink*
    September 30, 2009 11:10 pm

    The German experience certainly is impressive. I always thought that creation of a renewable energy infrastructure would be good for job growth.

    Though it is clear that our federal leaders are not going to take the helm on renewable infrastructure, is it inconceivable that it can happen within enterprise, independently of any particular national stances?

    Government investment is a boon to development to be sure, but since it is not the current official mandate, the prospect of success in this sector may be enough to create confidence in the leadership.

    With business start-ups, particularly those that are proposing a new idea, investors do not go all in at once, but looks for proofs that the company is doing what they set out to. If the investor is mature, they will expect setbacks. Should the company make advances in spite of the bumps, the investor gains in confidence, and provided the pockets are deep enough, more resources are extended to propel the idea further.

    Perhaps the current Canadian administration is like a conservative investor.

  2. corsullivan permalink*
    September 29, 2009 12:03 pm

    Climate change aside – and it does sound like the Germans are headed in a sensible direction – it’s unfortunate that Canada was so poorly represented at the UN summit. I’m no UN-worshipper, and I think meetings among smaller groups of countries are often better for solving real problems and getting things done, but these summits do provide an opportunity for Canada to make its voice heard on a global stage. It’s frustrating to see the opportunity basically squandered.

    By the way, I thought the bit about “some inverted game of musical chairs” was wonderfully apt. Let’s try to find the courage to sit down, shall we?

  3. September 29, 2009 8:26 am

    This government desperately wants to ignore climate change altogether, but they realize that industries like the oil sands would be vulnerable if the US moves forward with climate legislation.

    Canada isn’t interested in either providing or receiving leadership – it just wants to do as little as it can get away with.

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