OTTAWA – Canadian investments in clean energy totalled $6.5 billion last year, a 45 per cent increase from 2012, according to a new study released Tuesday.
More than half the Canadian investment – $3.6 billion – went into wind power, with another $2.5 billion invested in the solar sector, says Clean Energy Canada, an advocacy and research organization.
The investment spike moved Canada up to seventh place among the Group of 20 industrialized nations, from 12th spot a year earlier.
“We hear a lot of talk about pipelines and the oil and gas sector,” Merran Smith, the director of Clean Energy Canada, said in an interview.
“What we don’t hear is that Canada’s actually gone from a boutique clean energy industry to really big business.”
Over the past five years, $24 billion has been invested in clean energy, and the sector now accounts for almost 24,000 direct jobs, a total that includes manufacturing but not construction employment.
The report comes as Canadian officials begin two weeks of meetings in Lima, Peru, on the United Nations framework convention on climate change.
Greenhouse gas emissions are rising again in Canada, according to Environment Canada projections, and the country will not come close to meeting its 2020 international target for curbing emissions under the 2009 Copenhagen accord. The talks in Lima are part of negotiations for a post-2020 international agreement that is supposed to be completed next December.
The UN talks were given a jolt of adrenalin last month when the United States and China, the world’s two biggest emitters, announced a bilateral deal to curb emissions through 2030.
Both the Chinese and U.S. governments are investing heavily in renewables.
“There’s a clean energy transition underway globally already, and they’re backing their clean energy industries,” said Smith.
What makes the Canadian investment story more compelling is that it’s happening without much federal government interest.
Private sector financiers – many from abroad – and provincial governments are driving the investment boom.
Of the top five financiers of clean energy in Canada over the past five years, investing $3.44 billion among them, two are Japanese, two are German and just one is Canadian, says the study.
Clean Energy Canada would like to see a federal industrial policy, based on tax and research incentives, like the one that helped Canada’s aerospace and oil sands industries in their infancy.
“If the federal government got engaged we could be a real world leader in clean energy,” said Smith. “But the federal government is really missing in action.”