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Canada Carves Out Leading Role in Clean Tech Revolution

FILE - A Volkswagen E-Golf electric vehicle is seen at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto, Canada, Feb. 18, 2020.

If technological innovation holds the key to easing the threat of global climate change, Canada’s government and private tech sector believe they have some of the answers.

Despite a population that is less than one-eighth that of the United States, Canadian firms have for the past two years been named company of the year in a survey of North American companies by Cleantech Group, a San Francisco-based consultancy promoting technological solutions to global warming.

While rating the United States as first in the field overall, the consultancy — which issues an annual Global Cleantech Innovation Index — places Canada in second place worldwide, slightly ahead of Germany. China appears in the list’s top 10, as does Slovenia, one of several Eastern European countries excelling in several tech measures.

Clean technology a focus for Canada

What’s good for the global climate is also good for the national economy, according to Yara El Helou, a media relations adviser at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, a government agency that funds clean technology — or cleantech — projects.

The federal government seeks to make Canada “the most competitive country in the world for clean technology companies,” El Helou told VOA. “We’ve made a series of major investments since 2016 in clean technology research, development, demonstration and adoption, and support to accelerate the growth of clean technology companies including climate tech startups. …

“Canada is the first country to measure cleantech and environmental goods and services at a national level and to commit to regular publication of this data,” El Helou added. “Clean technologies contributed over $28.8 billion to the Canadian economy in 2019. Of this, approximately $7.05 billion worth of clean technology goods and services were exported.”

'Playground for Cleantech'

In the 2020 report “Advantage Canada: Reshaping Supply Chain Investment Opportunities After COVID-19,” by Invest in Canada and consulting firm KPMG, KPMG referred to Canada as a “playground for Clean Tech.”

The report lists Cleantech as comprising 3.2% of Canada’s GDP, and said the “average annual growth rate of expanding Clean Tech companies is 5.6%.”

Government support is just one of the reasons for Canada’s success in the sector, said Steve Oldham, CEO of Carbon Engineering, this year’s Global Cleantech 100 North American company of the year.

“Canada has an excellent system for supporting early-stage companies,” Oldham told VOA. “The government in various departments do a really good job in helping early-stage companies through those difficult first few years.”

The country also benefits, however, from “an environmentally focused population” with a high degree of awareness about environmental issues and a passion for environmentalism, he added.

However, “there’s obviously always going to be outliers to that,” he admits.

And thirdly, Oldham said, “Canada has a huge environmental problem. … The need to solve the climate problem is close to home for a lot of Canadians.”

Because much of Canada’s economy is based on natural resources extraction in environmentally damaging fields like energy and mining, Canadians experience environmental damage firsthand, he explained.

'Highly trained workforce'

Stephen Beatty, the chair of Global Cities Center of Excellence for KPMG in Canada, told VOA that Canada’s advantages also include “a significant highly trained workforce that is diverse, and cuts across numerous sectors.”

He said Canada has been viewed as a world leader in hydrogen technology and has important growth potential in the real estate sector, with “a shift around low-impact buildings.”

Beatty said he expects the country to remain a pacesetter in the clean energy field no matter what party controls the federal government. “The market conditions will persist regardless of who comes to power,” he said.

For Kathleen Funke, communications and government relations manager at Natural Forces, a private company, the key to clean technology is community involvement at “every step of the game.”

Her company builds clean energy projects for Indigenous communities, universities and other communities in Canada and Ireland. Its offices are in the Atlantic coast city of Halifax, far from the major tech hubs in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

When asked if she has a message for people from a tech background looking to move to Canada, Funke said, “Come to Atlantic Canada. Things are bustling here. … We’ve certainly got the resources.”