Federal Budget 2021: Liberals focus on clean technology for climate spending

·4 min read

OTTAWA — Pushing the private sector to develop clean technology — and heavy emitters to adopt it — is where billions in new money will flow from the Liberals’ 2021 budget pledge to tackle climate change.

Around $17 billion is promised to be spent in the years ahead to promote a “green” recovery out of the COVID-19 pandemic and create jobs.

Included in that is $5 billion more into a fund meant to be spent on projects used by industry to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The government says that will be spread out over seven years and is on top of the $3 billion announced when the Liberals unveiled their plan reach to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Another measure targeting heavy emitters is a new tax incentive to encourage companies to adopt technology that traps carbon dioxide into the ground from fuel combustion instead of seeing it released into the atmosphere.

The government says it will soon begin consultations on designing a tax credit for capital spent on carbon capture and storage technology in hopes of increasing how many million tonnes Canada traps annually.

Making the country a hub for clean technology is among the priorities Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has outlined in his approach to climate. The Liberals also want to adopt policies that make Canada go over and above its international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels.

A political scientist who focuses on budget polices and public finances says the new spending plan fails to offer solutions to the pressures facing Ottawa, like how to reconcile the environment with the economy.

“I don’t see a big ambitious program that will lead us to zero emissions with strict targets,” said Genevieve Tellier of the University of Ottawa.

She added a lot of the new climate spending comes in form of grants, so it’s being left up to private businesses to come to government with ideas.

“It’s not a very aggressive, proactive environmental budget.”

Tellier says there’s not much for Saskatchewan and Alberta by way of providing a road map or more support for transitioning away from fossil fuels.

She also suggests the budget is not likely to woo potential voters who want to see more action on climate change if the minority Parliament heads into an election.

Overall, Tellier says climate change has taken a back seat to recovering the economy from the pandemic, although the government has placed a green lens on programs like housing.

Building off of what was promised in fall economic statement and in hopes of reducing people’s energy bills, Ottawa promised to send around $4 billion over five years to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. to offer interest-free loans of up to $40,000 for households to do green retrofits.

Other climate initiatives include a 50 per cent 10-year reduction on corporate and small business income tax rates for companies manufacturing zero-emissions technologies, such as solar panels and electric buses.

It will also establish the first federal green bond with an issuance target of $5 billion. The goal is to attract investors to finance ways to fight climate change, like through green infrastructure.

Getting more electric vehicles on the road is a priority for the Liberals under its net-zero emissions plan and the budget promises $56 million over five years to work with countries like the United States on bringing in standards for zero-emission vehicle charging and refuelling stations.

Although the government says reducing emissions will help all Canadians, a gender-based analysis in the budget says men will likely benefit from growth in the clean energy sector because they make up most of its workforce, same with the new climate spending on science and research.

It also says employees in manufacturing tend to be men, and those who are middle-aged high-income earners have been the early adopters of zero-emission vehicles, according to data.

Monday's budget also promises $2.3 billion in funding to federal departments like Parks Canada and Fisheries and Oceans to conserve up to one million square kilometres more land and inland waters to meet the country’s 2025 conservation targets

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2021.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press