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Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Program, told the Economic Club yesterday that the Green Economy is already moving quickly worldwide, and is the best bet for a better future. The question for Canada is: will we be one of the winners, or one of the losers of this great transition? UNEP’s fascinating report: Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication, shows that, over the medium and longer term, a green economy grows faster, creates more jobs and preserves natural capital. It is better to live in for everyone, especially the poor. Even in the short term, countries that spent their stimulus funding on green initiatives recovered from the 2008 financial collapse better than those, like Canada, that did not. And economies that become less dependant on oil will be hurt less as oil prices rise.

We remain one of the world’s most wasteful countries in terms of natural capital, including energy and water. On combined measures of environmental and economic resources, we are losing ground to many others, both developed and undeveloped. Denmark already gets 30 to 35% of its power from wind. China is transforming its economy at a dizzying speed. Just as we tear up Transit City, our best transit plan in a generation, Shanghai will build a 200 station subway in two years. New world clean energy investments are soaring and exceeded $243B in 2010. World wide investment in renewable energy has outstripped annual world investment in new fossil fuel supplies. But Canada remains transfixed by the oil sands.

An effective transition to the Green Economy would cost 2% of world GDP, much of which should come from eliminating annual world fossil fuel subsidies of $700B. And it would take a much better regulatory framework and market based instruments than the ones we have in Canada.  Sustainable Development Technology Canada has a great record, having helped 5,600 Canadian innovators grow towards commercial and international success. But the single most indispensable element, as every economist knows, is putting a price on pollution, like a carbon tax. Amazing that we just had a national election without discussing any of these issues.

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