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RISK: Clean tech revolution is the upside to climate change

Changes "will not happen spontaneously."

Major advances in renewable is the upside to climate change, says the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“It didn’t happen by accident. There was a lot of money spent by some countries,” Simon Upton, the OECD’s environmental director, said Friday at a news conference in Paris. “But we really can see what a de-carbonized power generation sector would look like.”

Read: Insurers aren’t ready for climate change, says UN diplomat

Some 162 countries have pledged to cut emissions as part of the Paris conference process. Climate scientists say, however, those pledges won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep the planet within the 2 C degrees of warming required to avert global climate disruptions.

But since it’s becoming cheaper and easier to generate renewable power, says Upton, it’s more likely countries will reach the goal.

“The technical changes, the fall in costs, has now made the future a much more hopeful one,” he said. “But it will not happen spontaneously. The playing field is still massively weighted in favour of the sunken investment in technologies which use fossil fuels.”

The French hosts of COP21 have added a “climate solutions” component to this year’s conference which will catalogue and highlight the practical technologies being developed to address cutting carbon pollution.

The emphasis dovetails with campaign promises of Canada’s new Liberal government, which has promised to support clean technology development through everything from direct investment and green bonds to export assistance and tax changes. The Liberals are also promising to phase out federal fossil fuel subsidies, which a Washington-based NGO pegged last week at more than $2 billion annually.

Read: Ontario to adopt cap-and-trade system battle climate change

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Sunday she takes heart knowing the Paris conference will proceed, despite Friday’s devastating terrorist attacks.

Mandate letters for the new Liberal finance minister and natural resources minister released Friday show they are to work “to make Canada the world’s most competitive tax jurisdiction for investments in research, development and manufacturing of clean technology.”

It’s an emphasis that is many years overdue, says Celine Bak, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

Bak is currently beating the bushes for contributions from Canada’s 800-plus industry players for her fifth annual Canadian Clean Technology Industry Report.

Her data shows Canada’s clean tech export sector directly employs 50,000 Canadians and is comparable in export value to livestock, processed foods, mining and finished wood products. Yet in an aggressive global clean tech market, Canada has been losing global market share even as the sector grows.

It’s a myth Canadian clean tech companies want to integrate into global supply chains, says Bak. These young companies are producing full system components they are ready and eager to sell directly at home and abroad. Financing is their top priority.

Read: Netherlands ordered to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020

Back in Paris, the OECD’s environmental director says government support and policy action will unleash market forces that will help tackle the global carbon challenge.

Talk to any business sector, said Upton, “and they will say the most important thing is a clear directional signal from governments to the private sector and to communities.”

“No one is going to invest if there is uncertainty–either that governments won’t do anything or, having done it, they’ll then change their minds. Better to take a steady and incremental approach which keeps moving in the same direction, reliably and predictably.”

Transcontinental Media G.P.