The United States is Leaving Us Behind on Clean Energy

Obama speech

Politicians do a lot of talking. Few of them can both talk and act.

When it comes to competing in the global clean energy race, Canada’s federal government isn’t doing much of either. This stands in stark contrast with our neighbours to the south. Since he was sworn into office in 2009, President Barack Obama has made clean energy development and deployment a significant policy priority. Evidence to date suggests it will be a significant part of his legacy.

Year after year, Obama has used his State of the Union addresses to speak with Americans about the opportunities associated with competing in clean energy, and the role renewables can play in combating climate change:

  • 2009: “We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century.”
  • 2010: “…the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.”
  • 2011: “We’re telling American scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo projects of our time.”
  • 2012: “Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail. But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy.”
  • 2013: ”Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. And we’ve begun to change that … As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.”

His speech on Tuesday night continued this trend:

  • “Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar, every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced.”
  • “Taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet. Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.”
  • “The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say, ‘Yes, we did.’”

But Obama isn’t just talking a good game on clean energy. His administration has effectively engaged with businesses, state and municipal governments to deliver results. As of this month, 27 of 36 planned new electric generating units will utilize renewable energy. From research and development funding, to loan guarantees, to investment tax credits, the U.S government has enabled the clean energy sector to grow.

For example, jobs in the solar power sector south of our border have been growing ten times faster than national average employment growth. More than 142,000 individuals now work in photovoltaics, with 23,000 of these jobs added in 2013.

Of course, the United States isn’t alone in its efforts. Much of the rest of the world — developing and developed nations alike — are actively moving to reduce their reliance on fossil fuel energy sources. Just last week, the International Renewable Energy Agency laid out an ambitious road map to double the global share of renewable energy. It didn’t garner much attention in Canada, but then maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise: When you take a look at the agency’s membership map, there’s a big hole north of the 49th parallel.

It’s true that Canada already has a relatively high proportion of renewable energy flowing into our power grid, a legacy of decisions made decades ago to tap into our vast hydro resources. But that’s a poor excuse for complacency.

In its most recent Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index, global management consulting firm Ernst and Young dropped Canada from seventh to eighth position in its ranking (France edged us out thanks in part to a proposed cap on carbon pollution). Meanwhile, the United States once again maintained its top ranking as the most attractive country in the world in which to invest in renewable energy.

Its not like there isn’t citizen interest in clean energy. A recent Environics Institute survey found that 70 per cent of Canadians say they believe it is possible for their province to shift most of its energy requirements from fossil fuels to clean renewable forms of energy, such as wind, solar and biofuels. And according to a Université de Montréal poll conducted for Canada 2020, they’d even be willing to pay more for it.

Canada has tremendous renewable energy resources, a burgeoning clean energy technology and services sector, clear areas of global competitive advantage, and strong popular support to seize these opportunities.

All we lack is the political will to go all-in.

This article first appeared  in iPolitics.


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