Stewart Elgie is a professor of law and economics at the University of Ottawa, and director of the University’s interdisciplinary Environment Institute. He is also the founder and chair of Sustainable Prosperity, Canada’s major green economy think tank and research network.
Dr. Elgie started his career as a Bay Street lawyer. He left to do a Masters at Harvard, and then took a job in Alaska with a public interest environmental law firm, including litigating over the Valdez oil spill. He returned to Canada and founded Ecojustice, now Canada’s largest non-profit environmental law organization, where he was counsel on many precedent setting cases during the 1990s, including four wins in the Supreme Court of Canada on constitution-environment issues.
In 2003, he left a successful legal career to go back to school at Yale for a doctorate in law and economics. Since then, he has focused on how to harness economic forces to solve environmental problems.
Dr. Elgie has led or served on many government advisory bodies in the environment and sustainability area. In 2001, he was awarded the Law Society of Upper Canada medal for exceptional lifetime contributions to law – the youngest man ever to receive the profession’s highest honour. In 2015, he received Canada’s Clean 50 Award, for Thought Leadership. Since the birth of twin boys in 2012, he no longer has any hobbies.
Can Canada meet its Paris climate commitment and also have a globally competitive economy in 2030? The answer is yes. In fact, that is the only viable option.
The idea that we have to pick between a strong economy and a healthy environment is outdated thinking. There is abundant evidence, both in Canada and beyond, about how to “decouple” economic growth from environmental protection.
Drawing on the latest research and examples from across Canada and around the world, Professor Elgie will discuss how to put Canada on the path to clean growth. This means retooling our energy, transport, building and industrial systems to adopt modern, low carbon technologies and processes (most of which already exist today). A made-in-Canada green economy will include capturing our share of the booming clean tech sector, but it will also mean being among the sustainability leaders in energy, resources and manufacturing – traditional areas of Canadian strength – to meet the market demand for cleaner performance in these sectors.
It will take far-sighted leadership from governments to catalyze the private initiative and innovation to drive this shift. Dr. Elgie will review the main types of public policies and investments needed to promote low carbon growth. In large part it boils down to providing the right economic incentives to motivate businesses and individuals to make greener choices, and building the clean infrastructure needed to support those choices.
The good news is that many of these things are already happening, but too slowly. We need to accelerate the pace and scale of change. The biggest challenge, in the end, may be to muster the degree of alignment across different levels of government, and different regions and parts of Canadian society, needed to make this economy-wide shift by 2030.
These changes won’t be easy; there will some bumps and transitional pain along the way. But it is do-able – and necessary if we are serious about combatting climate change and prospering in a changing global economy.