British Columbia in need of a radically retooled economic strategy

B.C. has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do what few places in the world have managed.

The province will soon release its new economic strategy, following the recent release of its Roadmap to 2030, a revised climate plan to meet its 2030 climate targets. And in doing so, B.C. will have a unique window in which to bring together its economic and climate goals. If successful, it will place B.C. among a handful of jurisdictions, including the U.K. and Morocco, with concrete economic strategies to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 while increasing employment and investment.  

The timing couldn’t be more critical for a new economic strategy. B.C. is well positioned to seize a first-mover advantage in the global economic transition with a well-educated, diverse workforce, access to Asian and western markets and an electricity grid that makes many B.C. products low-carbon.

The province is also home to an established technology sector that includes a world-leading cleantech sector. B.C. had four of the world’s 100 most innovative cleantech companies in the Cleantech Group’s latest Global Cleantech 100 ranking. 

Unfortunately, B.C. has yet to develop a cogent economic plan, under any government, due to the weight of special interests, boom-and-bust commodity cycles and the absence of a crisis to galvanize action. 

By integrating climate goals, this time can be different.

Today, 131 countries have committed to becoming carbon neutral or “net zero” by 2050, providing, for the first time, a common global economic North Star to navigate by. 

The goods and services that will support a decarbonized future are, for the most part, known and predictable: metals and minerals for battery production, low-carbon construction materials, clean electricity and clean technology.

The World Bank forecasts that the production of certain metals and minerals could increase by up to nearly 500% over the next three decades to meet growing demand for clean technologies.

Luckily, much of B.C.’s economy is situated to succeed as the world transitions – with some notable exceptions.

The International Energy Agency, World Bank and Canada Energy Regulator agree that, as governments, corporations and investors increase their climate ambition and turn to clean energy, growth in oil and gas production will soften and, in some scenarios, decrease over the next 20 to 30 years.

Unlike its past strategies, B.C. now knows the future of the industry and can make informed decisions regarding investments and incentives. 

B.C.’s economy is far removed from what it was even a decade ago. The roulette wheel of building economic strategies around volatile commodity prices has given way to an increasingly knowledge-oriented economy where services now represent 75% of the province’s GDP.

The government’s Labour Market Outlook shows that the lowest job growth between 2019 and 2029 will be in natural resource industries, yet its current economic strategy is disproportionately focused on these sectors. B.C.’s government must have good data to drive evidence-based decision-making to know which programs to fund and for how long. 

It’s how we build a truly resilient workforce in a rapidly evolving economy.

Finally, through engagement, analysis and modelling, the government will be in an improved position to understand the structural obstacles to B.C.’s growth and competitiveness. Those obstacles range from inefficient taxes and unsustainable costs of living to low productivity growth and delays in regulatory processes.

Addressing these issues is both an economic and climate imperative because, without a healthy economy, investing in the net-zero transition is that much harder.

Opportunities of this scale don’t come along often, nor do they last forever.

B.C. has a head start in this race and has enlisted U.K. economist Mariana Mazzucato for assistance, but the finish line still awaits us on the horizon. 

This post was co-authored by Merran Smith and Mark Zacharias and originally appeared in Business in Vancouver.

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