Remarks for the Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

To the Canada 2020 annual conference, Ottawa, November 20, 2015

OTTAWA, Nov. 20, 2015 /CNW/ -

Thank you for that warm welcome, and good morning everyone.

I would like  to start by recognizing that we are here today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin and Anishinaabe Peoples. I look forward to working with our Indigeneous friends across the country.

It's a pleasure to be involved in this important conference.

It's especially great to be part of the breakfast session—or as it's known to me and other parents of early risers: lunch.

I've been a big fan of Canada 2020—and I know I'm not alone in being impressed by how quickly this forum has established itself as a go-to place for debate and policy discussion. Thanks Tim, Susan, Tom and Don, and your team for all your hard work.

This is my first time on this side of the microphone—and I have to say I'm very pleased to share this session with the Premiers of Ontario and Quebec. Both Premier Wynne and Premier Couillard have shown real leadership on the environment and curbing emissions, and I know we all look forward to their discussion this morning with Paul Wells of Maclean's.

As for me, I'm here today to talk about what we are going to do as a government to lead Canada's efforts to fight climate change.

Having recently polished off the last of my thirty‑eight‑hundred briefing books—or maybe it just felt like that many—there is no shortage of anecdotes I could use to illustrate the urgency of the situation, and convince you that our world and our way of life are already being altered. 

But I have to believe we're past that, aren't we? Surely most of us are beyond the point where we need to be persuaded that the threat is real and immediate.

We know our climate is changing. We know that years of inaction and indifference—here in Canada and around the world—have undermined our collective ability to protect our planet and our future.

We know climate change represents a challenge that is massive in scope. What should interest us now—the only thing that should interest us now—is doing something about it.

My party made a very clear commitment to Canadians during the election campaign. We promised to provide national leadership to take action on climate change, put a price on carbon and reduce carbon pollution.

That means creating policy based on science and guided by evidence.

It means ending the cycle in which federal governments have set arbitrary targets without a corresponding plan, without adequate consultation and partnerships, and without the commitment and the will required to make those targets achievable.

Above all, it means bringing Canadians together and making it clear that to achieve meaningful progress in emissions reductions, everyone will need to do their part—the federal government, the provinces, our cities, businesses and consumers.

That is the only path to a serious plan that will produce real results. 

It starts with words, but it has to end with action.


Most people know the United Nations Climate Change Conference begins in Paris in 10 days. But I'm not sure everyone has an understanding of what's at stake—and what to expect when the countries of the world sit down together.

For the first time, all of the world's major economies—both developed and developing—have made concrete commitments.

In all, over 160 countries—which together account for 93 percent of global emissions—have formally submitted their intended contributions to the Paris agreement.

And to make sure those pledges get us to where science tells us we need to go, countries are also working on rules to ensure transparency and accountability, and to encourage even stronger commitments in the future.

The goal is an agreement that applies to all—an agreement that reflects the will of every nation to accept the science, join together and make a contribution.

Setting targets is important—but on its own, the assigning of specific targets tied to far-off dates hasn`t gotten us very far internationally.

That said, in the context of Canada's contribution, the targets we do set—and the actions we take to achieve those targets—are critical.

We have already made clear that Canada's existing commitments, made by the previous government, represent only a starting point—a floor for our post-2020 ambition, not a ceiling.

At the Paris summit and afterward, I will be consulting with my provincial and territorial counterparts. In fact, this week, I met with Alberta Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips to discuss how each province and territory can do its part to help us achieve our targets. In the weeks ahead I will also sit down with business leaders, scientists, mayors and other stakeholders and experts.

Ultimately our government will articulate a clear and practical plan to meet the targets we set. This will demand a whole of government approach that considers our climate commitment in everything we do. And it will require us to put in place measures to support our plan.

During the election, for instance, we pledged to work with the provinces and territories to create what we're calling a Low Carbon Economy Trust.

This trust will be a source of funding for projects that materially reduce carbon emissions. In other words, it will help put good ideas and proven solutions into action for the benefit of all.

This trust will be endowed with $2 billion over the course of our mandate.

And that's not the only way we'll be contributing. Our government will also make significant new investments in green infrastructure. And we'll support progress in clean energy—because innovations in our energy sector can be commercialized, scaled up and exported. Done right, this will create good middle class jobs, grow our economy and reduce pollution, including greenhouse gases.

When we are realistic about the challenge we face, we realize no one country can solve the problem of climate change on its own—not the United States, not China, certainly not Canada.

We can only make a difference by working together in good faith. And we can only maintain that good faith by each delivering on our individual commitments. A cooperative approach is essential.

The same is true within Canada.

We all have a role to play: the federal government, the provinces, cities and communities, businesses and individual Canadians. The choices we make in our lives have an impact on our world and on its future—from the kind of car we drive, and how often we drive it, to the energy efficiency of our homes.

As Mayor Don Iveson of Edmonton that I met this week has put it: "To be successful, we're going to need specific, achievable and measurable local strategies." One of those local strategies is found in Edmonton itself, where the city has developed a world-leading waste processing centre—which, among things, turns household garbage into advanced biofuels.

Despite the struggles to make progress on climate change, there are reasons for optimism today.

All the major carbon emitters are coming to the table in Paris. Here at home, it has been both encouraging and inspiring over the past few years to watch a number of provinces take climate leadership into their own hands.

B.C., Quebec and Ontario have been at the forefront of that movement. B.C. introduced North America's first revenue-neutral carbon tax . Quebec created and implemented a far-sighted action plan aimed at significantly reducing emissions. And Ontario, among other achievements, has put an end to coal-fired electricity generation—a single decision that is without equal in reducing Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.

Respecting our obligation to help protect our planet does not mean sacrificing energy production. But it does mean that development projects must meet the standards of rigorous environmental review and find public support among affected communities.

Respecting our obligation to help protect our planet does not mean sacrificing economic growth. To the contrary: Canada has the potential to prosper in clean energy, technology and other growing industries that are less impactful than many staples of the high-carbon economy.

The world stands ready to reward those who produce carbon-free forms of energy that meet our needs for transportation and heating—and those who are able to help the world transition to a net zero carbon economy.

Beyond that, Canada has the tools to demonstrate how an energy economy can be developed responsibly, and with the future in mind.

There is no denying that we are in a tough spot. Governments both Conservative and Liberal have given too little in terms of concrete action. With each passing year, it becomes more difficult to achieve meaningful reductions within the relevant timeframe.

The bottom line is this: none of the countries of the world can solve this alone. And all the countries of the world will feel the consequences if we fail.


Shortly after I was sworn in as minister, I traveled to Paris to participate in the preparatory meetings for next month's summit. It was rewarding to see the Canadian delegation receive such an enthusiastic reception—and to hear from our counterparts how thrilled they are to see Canada at the table.

But beyond that, I have to tell you: I was heartened by the prevailing spirit of progress and possibility.

I sat down with ministers and officials from around the world, and discovered a genuine commitment to making real and lasting progress in the fight against climate change.

I also heard widespread enthusiasm for the role that Canada can play in helping to achieve commitments by the whole of the international community.

I came away convinced that we can be leaders. Despite our years of delay and inaction, there is still an opportunity for Canada to lead.

We can be leaders on carbon reduction, showing the world that a leading economy can produce energy in a more responsible and sustainable way.

We can be leaders in clean energy, using technology and know-how to develop products and solutions that will help Canada achieve its targets—and grow our exports, as other countries benefit from our ingenuity.

We can be leaders in North America, advocating a continental approach to how we think about energy and the environment—and how our three countries can remain competitive in the world by better aligning our regulations.

We can be leaders in mobilizing critical investments to help developing countries achieve sustained emissions reductions. Many of these countries are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change—yet lack the resources to adapt to the changing climate or work toward a lower-carbon economy.

And finally, starting as early as 10 days from now, we can be leaders in bringing together the countries of the world—bringing them together to find a better way forward, and an agreement that promises real progress in a fight we all have a stake in winning.

It begins next month in Paris, but it doesn't end there. Our work will continue on the international front. And it will continue here at home.

After the summit, we will again meet with the provinces and work together toward a framework for Canada's targets. These targets will be informed by the best available economic and scientific analysis.

This framework won't be imposed unilaterally. And the actions won't be one‑size fits all, because that approach doesn't work. Instead, different provinces—with their different circumstances—will be empowered to find their own best way to make their contribution and get us closer to achieving our national goal.

At the same time, we'll consult and meaningfully involve Aboriginal governments in the sustainable resource development decisions that affect and benefit them.

And we'll work with our cities to help build resilient infrastructure and better transit, to move people efficiently and stimulate economic productivity, all while reducing our carbon footprint.


As some of you know, I've got three young children. I can't think about climate change without seeing their faces. If we look at all the ways in which our climate has changed in just the last decade or two, it's an unsettling prospect to consider where the world—where their world—may be a generation from now.

We know what we have to do. The science is plain. The evidence is there. And here's the thing about evidence-based policy making—sometimes it's going to lead us to a difficult place and to difficult choices.

But that's where we are today. If we as a country truly want to contribute to the fight against climate change—for ourselves, for our children and for our world—we need to go where the evidence is guiding us.

We need to sit down here in Canada amongst ourselves. We need to sit down with the nations of the world. We need to come to grips with the challenge we're facing—and we need to act.

No more delays. No more denial. We need to act.

None of this is going to be easy. That's all the more reason to get to work.

We can do this.

Thank you.


SOURCE Environment and Climate Change Canada

For further information: Barbara Harvey, A/Press Secretary , Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, 613-301-9581; Media Relations: Environment and Climate Change Canada, 819-934-8008


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