The Novel Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has the world facing unprecedented public health and economic challenges, radically changing the way Canadians live their lives. 2020 has been marked by a global economic shutdown, and tremendous personal sacrifice as people rally to face the challenges of social distancing to try to keep themselves – and each other – safe.
As our collective efforts begin to pay off and Canada starts to “flatten the curve,” governments are turning their attention to the formidable task of kick-starting the economy and getting people back to work. Pollution Probe has devoted over 50 years to fighting for the environment through evidence-based collaborative efforts with industry, government and civil society.
We firmly believe that stimulus can address both climate change and plastic pollution while helping to create the conditions for sustained environmental, economic and social success.
Canada is at a pivotal point in the COVID-19 battle, at which it is vitally important that we resist the temptation to roll back hard-won environmental gains. Our environmental advances from the past decades have made Canada healthier, prosperous and more resilient. Canada’s environmental standards at the provincial and federal level are vital for protecting the health of Canadians, which must be the top concern now and into the future. In addition, many regulations will be important in driving the post pandemic economic recovery.
Data suggests that the COVID-19 shutdown has had a significant impact on air pollution, and will result in approximately a 5% reduction in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for 2020 – the most significant annual GHG drop to date. However, we know that to meet our 2050 GHG emissions targets, we must reduce global emissions by over 7.5% per year. This gives us some idea of the scale of climate change efforts needed to achieve 2050 GHG reduction targets, and the need to ensure that this effort is economically sustainable.
We believe that an economic stimulus package should be based on three fundamental principles:
Rebuild – Action for the short-term, while positioning for our long-term success
Refocus – Aligning efforts with our 2050 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions targets
Renew – Developing flexibility and resiliency to meet changing needs and emerging challenges
Today, Pollution Probe sets out our recommendations to government at both the Federal and Provincial levels for supporting job creation, prosperity and well-being across four areas.
In addition to mitigation efforts, grey and green infrastructure can help communities to become more resilient to a changing climate. Many municipalities have already identified climate resilient infrastructure projects. The projects often provide multiple benefits such as flood protection, drought resistance, community amenities and new habitat. Many are “shovel ready” and could create significant employment opportunities.
Promoting energy efficiency supports existing workforces and can immediately get skilled tradespeople back to work. In the long term, energy efficiency can increase competitiveness, reduce emissions and improve affordability.
Economic recovery strategies should ensure that all communities benefit from recovery efforts. By supporting community energy planning (CEP), all communities can benefit from local job creation and economic development. Developing CEPs will also allow communities to reduce emissions, improve services and amenities to residents, and improve resilience. 
The pandemic has proved in no uncertain terms that the future is truly unknowable, and everyone can benefit from more flexible and resilient systems. This includes the energy system. An increase in distributed energy resources, including small-scale renewable energy, battery and other storage systems as well as smart demand response and targeted energy efficiency, can provide economic opportunities to communities across Canada. Integrating these resources also provides the opportunity to lower bills through reducing the need for large infrastructure, lower GHG emissions, and improving communities’ resilience to future pandemics as well as extreme weather events.
Canada has the potential to be a global leader on hydrogen development. Hydrogen has enormous potential in our energy system, as a feedstock for energy or for when high temperature heat is required. Many of the top hydrogen technology companies in the world are already based in Canada, providing the country a base from which to expand. In addition, hydrogen development could leverage Canada’s oil and gas reserves and experience.
 IEA, Energy efficiency and economic stimulus, April 8, 2020. https://www.iea.org/articles/energy-efficiency-and-economic-stimulus. Efficiency Canada has also some recommendations: https://www.efficiencycanada.org/how-todays-economic-recovery-policies-can-bake-in-tomorrows-energy-efficient-buildings/
 The Smart Energy Community Benchmark, prepared by QUEST and Pollution Probe, can help direct communities to the areas where immediate action can have the greatest benefit, see https://smartenergycommunities.ca
COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the narrative surrounding plastics. Individuals, households, retailers, and restaurateurs have been living in a heightened state of anxiety about product safety and infection risk. The production and use of single use plastics has radically increased during this pandemic crisis, which means that more plastics are being disposed of in landfill or ending up in the environment, especially as end markets for recycled plastics have largely disappeared. The price for virgin plastics has also radically decreased (in direct correlation to the fall in oil prices). As a result, there is even less incentive to use recycled content in products, which further discourages plastic recycling. These new circumstances need to be considered and addressed in our efforts to tackle plastic pollution.
We encourage the federal government to further its work on eliminating plastic waste and pollution. Aggressive targets, standards, market instruments, technological innovation and public outreach will be needed, at a national scale, to create a circular economy that extracts the best value from plastics while minimizing negative environmental outcomes. Equally important, we need to communicate science to ease the entirely understandable public safety fears that have been supporting the greater consumption of single-use plastics. A circular economy for plastic can prevent pollution, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, according to some estimates, create over 42,000 jobs for Canadians by 2030.
The pandemic shutdown will likely have far-reaching effects on transportation trends in Canada. Switching to zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) which include electric vehicles (EVs) can drastically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but multiple factors (including falling gas prices) stand in the way of a widespread, large scale ZEV transition. Strategies that governments can roll out to support the switch to ZEVs include increasing funding for infrastructure initiatives – to install electric and hydrogen vehicle fuelling stations, for instance – and scrappage programs that give vehicle owners the incentive and the means to switch out older, higher-polluting cars for newer, cleaner ZEVs. These strategies would help increase car sales, create jobs and simultaneously reduce GHG emissions.
Public transit has been and will continue to be an indispensable element of Canada’s national climate plan for reaching 2050 emissions targets. We are very concerned about the impact the pandemic has had on transit systems across the country, including reduced ridership and transit revenues. Much of the impact on transit systems has been a direct result of necessary public health directives, but it is important that a post-pandemic transit strategy be put in place to help these vital systems recover.
Low-carbon fuels such as hydrogen, natural gas and renewable natural gas are valuable tools for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, particularly in sectors like marine transport and trucking. Federal and provincial governments can collaborate with industry on strategies – such as building up new fueling infrastructure – which can reduce emissions while also creating jobs and supporting economic growth.