Photo credit: Jason Mrachina. Source:

The move to a low-carbon economy will be “a major structural shift for the global and Canadian economies,” according to a senior Bank of Canada official, but the Canadian economy is resilient.

Timothy Lane made the remarks during a speech in Montreal on March 2. He argued that carbon pricing is a “powerful tool for meeting climate change targets,” as are measures to encourage investment in environmentally sustainable initiatives.

Conversely, extreme weather events are likely to cost more and more, Lane said. He pointed to last year’s wildfires in Alberta, which cut one per cent from Canada’s GDP in the second quarter of 2016.

Lane isn’t alone in making an economic argument for a low-carbon transition.

Andy Gouldson, a deputy director of the U.K.-based Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, has spent years studying the economic case for low-carbon cities.

“For many cities, we see that there are clear economic returns from investment in a whole range of low-carbon options,” Gouldson said during a panel discussion about the low-carbon economy at UBC last week.

Gouldson’s recent research has found that investment in low-carbon measures that could keep global warming to below 2 C would cost nearly US$1 trillion annually, or 1.3 per cent of global GDP in 2014. But he also found those investments would pay for themselves in 16 years through reduced energy costs, and would generate net savings of US$16.6 trillion.

Those measures include building efficiency improvements, installation of solar panels on buildings, and the electrification of transportation.

“Ambitious urban climate actions can be seen as an investment opportunity rather than a cost,” reads one of Gouldson’s latest papers.

Gouldson told his UBC audience that providing an economic argument for low-carbon initiatives can help cities take action.

“The economic story . . . helps to secure and accelerate finance and investment,” he said.

This will be an important consideration for the City of Vancouver, which has taken a number of steps in recent years toward becoming a low-carbon city.

Vancouver launched its Renewable City Strategy in 2015, which includes commitments to supply all of the city’s energy needs with renewable power before 2050, and to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to at least 80 per cent below 2007 levels by 2050.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do . . . if we’re going to actually achieve those targets,” said Matt Horne, the city’s climate policy manager, who also spoke at the panel discussion.

He said the city has already implemented a zero-emissions building plan, which will require all new buildings to be emissions-free by 2030. The city also operates nearly 100 electric vehicle charging stations, and is on track to double that number in the next year and a half. 

To date, Horne said, the city’s plans seem to align with Vancouverites’ “appetite for a more sustainable city.”

“The early returns for the City of Vancouver have been quite positive,” he said. “We have been having some success at reducing our carbon emissions. The economy has been doing well.”

But he recognized that the measures must be seen as economically as well as environmentally beneficial, especially in a city as expensive as Vancouver.

“Economic development is obviously important,” he said. “If it becomes perceived as unaffordable, I think we lose support very quickly.”

By Maura Forrest, 9 March 2017

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This article was written for Clean Capital News a free bi-weekly publication dedicated to producing topical articles on sustainability and clean technology that advance our understanding of issues like climate change and help generate solutions for a more sustainable future.

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