Photo credit: Ken Whytock. Source:

On January 1, Alberta became the second province in Canada to implement a carbon tax, after British Columbia’s was put in place nearly a decade ago.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has promised that her NDP government will create green jobs, even as the province’s economy sags after the plunge in oil prices.

But the new year has ushered in some important questions about the direction the green economy is headed in, both in Canada and abroad.

The price on carbon

On Dec. 9, most Canadian provinces signed on to a pan-Canadian framework on climate change that will impose carbon pricing across Canada beginning in 2018.

The effect that agreement will have on the green economy remains to be seen. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned hard on creating clean energy jobs in 2015, and there is evidence to suggest that carbon pricing can spur innovation in green technology, and that it can create more jobs than it kills.

But not everyone agrees. In October, the Financial Post’s Kevin Libin published a scathing column, arguing that a carbon tax will “unfailingly trade more jobs for fewer.”

The Trump card

President-elect Donald Trump has said he wants to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which the United States ratified last year, and to promote America’s coal industry, casting doubt on the future of the country’s clean energy sector.

Still, President Barack Obama published a policy forum article in the journal Science this week, arguing that the movement toward clean energy is “irreversible.” He pointed out that 2.2 million Americans now have jobs related to energy efficiency, compared to 1.1 million employed in fossil fuel production and electricity generation.

But some Canadian leaders, including Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, are sounding the alarm bell, suggesting that Canada could lose jobs to the U.S. if Trudeau imposes carbon pricing while Trump is moving in the opposite direction.

China making strides

Last week, China announced plans to invest US$361 billion into renewable power generation by 2020. It expects the investment will create more than 13 million clean energy jobs. The move is part of an attempt to reduce the country’s reliance on coal.

Even with the massive investment, renewable energy will still only account for 15 per cent of overall energy use in China by 2020, Reuters reports.

The money is to go to solar power, wind farms, hydro power, tidal and geothermal projects.

Where we stand

Despite the uncertainty ahead, major progress has been made in building the green economy in recent years.

In 2015, 8.1 million people globally had jobs in the clean energy sector, up from 7.7 million in 2014, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

The agency found that the number of U.S. jobs in solar energy overtook the number in oil and gas extraction for the first time in 2015, and that more people work in renewables than in oil and gas in China.

In Canada, the clean energy sector is a bit of a mixed bag. The Trudeau government’s first budget included $5 billion over the next five years for green infrastructure. Alberta and Saskatchewan are expected to spend billions on renewable energy between now and 2030.

But Ontario, long considered a green energy leader in Canada, cancelled plans last fall to buy 1,000 megawatts of new renewable power, in an attempt to keep hydro bills from rising.

And last summer, Clean Energy Canada found that clean energy spending dropped to $10 billion in 2015 from nearly $12 billion in 2014. Still, executive director Merran Smith struck an optimistic note in a news release accompanying the report.

“As Alberta and Saskatchewan add more clean power to their grids, and as Ottawa announces new measures that support electrification, spending on clean energy will likely grow again in the years ahead.”

In 2014, Clean Energy Canada also found that employment in the clean energy sector had outstripped employment in the oil sands.

Maura Forrest, 12 January 2017