Canadian environmental economist returning home, hopes to drive growth of ‘green economy’

Carolyn Fischer, Canada 150 Research Chair in Climate Economics, Innovation and Policy. Photo: Yvonne Compier

Carolyn Fischer’s work on effects of carbon pricing on international competitiveness influenced design of Alberta’s GHG emissions rules

By Alanna Mitchell, University of Ottawa

Carolyn Fischer, a Canadian–American citizen who was born in Ontario while her parents were computer science professors at the University of Waterloo, says the draw for her return is Canada’s strong commitment to becoming a global leader in addressing climate change.

“It’s an exciting time to be working on climate policy [in Canada],” she said in an interview from Amsterdam, where she is a professor at Vrije Universiteit. She added that Canada is in a critical period of policy innovation as the federal government and several provinces grapple with reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Sylvain Charbonneau, the University of Ottawa’s vice-president, research, says it is an honour to welcome Fischer to the new position, created under the federal government’s $117.6-million program to mark the sesquicentennial by attracting exceptional international scholars to Canada.

“As one of the world’s top environmental economists, Carolyn Fischer will bolster the University’s expertise in clean energy and climate policy at a time when building a green, resource-efficient economy has become a national priority,” said Sylvain Charbonneau.

Creative solutions for greener industry

Fischer is renowned for the unusual breadth and depth of her expertise in creating new policy tools to address environmental issues. She has been at the forefront globally of understanding the role technology can play in lowering emissions and of designing carbon pricing policies that address questions of industrial competitiveness.

Colleagues praise her “outstanding intellect,” her “panache,” her elegant prose and the creativity of her solutions. A measure of her originality was the 2013 release of her first folk music album, A Rumor in the Mill. The songs she wrote, and performs, tackle such issues as a killer smog in Pennsylvania in 1948 and the endangered giant Galapagos tortoise.

“She’s not just a brilliant environmental economist…she also thinks across different disciplines,” says Stewart Elgie, professor of law and economics and chair of the Smart Prosperity Institute, a national clean-economy think tank based at the University of Ottawa.

Fischer says her ongoing collaboration with Elgie and the Institute helped convince her to make the move to Ottawa. “The Smart Prosperity Institute has rapidly become a leading global centre for environment–economy thinking and policy change,” she says. “It provides an important interface with the Canadian policy community and, being in the nation’s capital, much of that community is at our back door.”

She adds she is eager to join the University’s Department of Economics, which is highly regarded and especially strong in the fields of environmental and resource management. She also looks forward to contributing to interdisciplinary learning through the Institute of the Environment.

Real-world influence

Since she completed her doctorate in economics in 1997, Fischer has been at the Washington-based think tank Resources for the Future, which pioneered the modern field of environmental economics. A senior fellow there since 2007, she has also been a key influence on global policy and research as a visiting scholar at the Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei in Venice (as a European Commission Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow), the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, the London School of Economics, the University of California (Santa Barbara) and the Centre for Advanced Study of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, among others.

Her work on the effects of carbon pricing on international competitiveness has influenced the design of emissions trading programs in California and New Zealand, proposed US federal legislation and Alberta’s greenhouse gas emission rules.

“She has helped inform real-world change. That’s why her expertise is such a valuable complement to the University of Ottawa’s scholarship in this field,” said Stewart Elgie.

Fischer is a member of the Economics and Environmental Policy Research Network, which is hosted by uOttawa’s Institute of the Environment and financially supported by Environment and Climate Change Canada. She is also vice-president of the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists for 2018.

Elgie says that in addition to holding the Canada 150 Research Chair, she will maintain cross-appointments at Resources for the Future and European institutions, bringing cutting-edge ideas and research from other countries to Canada’s policy conversations.

But she will not just bring new ideas to Canada. Fischer says she is keen to tell the world that the University of Ottawa, already a centre of excellence in green economic policy, is “the place to come for policy advice and for advanced study in clean energy policy, innovation and environmental economics.”

She adds that her new chair, in combination with the University’s three Canada research chairs in environmental policy, the Department of Economics, the Institute of the Environment and the Smart Prosperity Institute, will create a powerhouse for training a new generation of global thinkers.

Carolyn Fischer’s research on the effects of carbon pricing on international competitiveness has influenced the design of emissions trading programs and proposed legislation on greenhouse gas emissions. Photo: Emile Séguin/Upsplash

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