Speech Article from  Environment and Climate Change Canada

Remarks for Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

“Partners FOR a more Sustainable Economy”

Sustainable Communities Conference
Federation of Canadian Municipalities

February 10, 2016 at the Westin Hotel Ottawa, Ontario

Thank you…

I am very excited to be here with you today—to talk about our country and the important role we can play together as Canadians—and you as cities and towns—to protect the climate of the planet we share.

We have a federal government that understands the value of partnership and co-operation.

We have a federal government that is eager to work with other levels of government—both to grow our economy and to protect our environment.

Above all else, we have a federal government that understands: Canada can only make its full contribution to the fight against climate change with the support and leadership of our cities and towns.

I’ve been Minister of the Environment and Climate Change for just over three months now. It didn’t take long to realize that Canada can’t do its part on climate change by working in isolation from the global community or from our partners here at home.

We will succeed only if we work together. Tackling climate change will require a partnership, as well as a contribution and commitment of our municipalities, our provinces, our businesses and our people. It will demand new ideas, smart solutions and sustained effort.

The scope of the challenge is large—we all know this. We’ve read the forecasts. We understand the science. But this is Canada, we are Canadians, and we are not a people to shrink away from a challenge simply because it is difficult.

So I guess what I’m saying is: I’m an optimist. Or perhaps an optimistic realist. I believe in our ability to make a difference so long as we serious about taking meaningful action.

To that end, I’ve been heartened to hear from so many Canadians—especially from young Canadians—who have shared their ideas and their support for reducing emissions and taking a global leadership role on the climate front.

I’ve been inspired by the sight of almost 200 countries coming together in Paris to pledge real and meaningful action.

Yes, it can be unnerving to hear about the changes that are already occurring across our planet—the threat to traditions, to ways of life, to economies and to the very existence of small states like the Marshall Islands.

But it is encouraging to witness the passion and the ingenuity with which so many people, in so many countries, are working to alter the course we’re on and set the planet on a more sustainable path.

In Paris, Canada argued for an ambitious and balanced agreement, an agreement in which countries set targets and report on their performance in a transparent manner, and in which each country must review and improve its greenhouse gas reduction targets every five years.

Under that agreement, each country will adopt concrete measures to limit the increase in the average global temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius and make efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.

We must do this to avoid the worst impacts of climate change on our geography, our way of life and our health.

Canada must do its part. The hard work we have to do at home must now accelerate.

Less than two weeks ago, I got together with my counterparts from the provinces and territories.

We took a hard look at the data that shows a considerable gap between where we are and where we want to be in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

We laid the groundwork for the First Ministers Meeting that will take place in early March and where Prime Minister Trudeau and the Premiers will come together to build the foundation of a pan-Canadian plan.

Over the past decade the provincial and territorial governments—along with municipalities across our country—have led the way in adopting concrete measures to address climate change.

As I told my provincial colleagues and as I am happy to tell you, we have a federal government that is determined to implement policies and make strategic investments that will both reduce emissions and prepare our communities for climate-related risks.

Canada needs your contributions, your creativity and your support if we are to become a country that leads the world in showing the way to a sustainable, low-carbon economy.

We want to work with you in long-term partnership.

We want to help build sustainable and resilient communities.

That’s why we have a Green Municipal Fund—to encourage innovative projects that protect the environment, improve energy-efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

And we are going to take that support one step further. As part of our efforts to tackle climate change—for our generation and the next—I am thrilled to announce today that we will be providing Green Municipal grants and loans of $31.5 million through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Green Municipal Fund to 20 cities and communities across Canada.

These grants and loans will help them reach higher standards of air, water and soil quality.

They will help fund projects such as Canada’s first net-zero municipal library, which produces as much energy as it uses.

They will also support Halifax’s ground-breaking Solar City project—which will see solar hot water systems and efficient water fixtures installed in local homes.

Innovative projects like these provide concrete examples of how our communities contribute reducing emissions and tackling climate change.

Our cities and towns, big and small, are where most Canadians live—where we raise our children, where we learn, work and play. It matters how our communities are designed, how they work and how much energy they use.

Globally, cities and towns consume on the order of two-thirds of the world’s energy—and ultimately produce more than 70 percent of CO2 emissions. In Canada, cities and towns have direct control over 40 percent of Canada’s emissions.

But our cities and towns are also on the front line of climate impacts. Communities across Canada have already been affected. Many of you know from hard experience exactly what I’m talking about. Forest fires in British Columbia, extreme flooding in Alberta and Manitoba, the erosion of coastlines along Prince Edward Island, the disappearance of vital roadways in the north.

At a time when budgets are already tight, these events all come at a huge cost.

However, there are small-scale, local-based initiatives that can be implemented to mitigate the risks. To be successful, we’re going to need specific, achievable and measurable local strategies.

Municipalities across our country have already proven how innovative they can be when it comes to developing environmental plans, programs and projects. I want to take this opportunity to do a shout out to the 2016 winners of the sustainable communities awards: Edmonton, Waterloo, Toronto, Austin (in Quebec), Marwayne, Vancouver, Saint-Hyacinthe and the district of Sechelt.

Whether it’s shifting to 100 percent renewable energy, improving the efficiency of buildings, developing world-leading waste processing centres or expanding the electric-vehicle charging network—there are proven ideas that you can use right now both to reduce emissions and to better protect the communities you lead.

I know you are all striving to lead in these areas. And I can tell you: your contributions, your decisions, your actions—they are all so important. Yes, they reduce emissions. But done properly, they can also attract investment, create good new jobs, improve public health and raise our standard of living.

Just this morning, during our speed-dating session I learned about innovative practices from a number of cities and towns across the country, such as:

The City of Edmonton has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistently with limiting global temperatures below 2 degrees and has focused on initiatives that will reduce energy use.

The Yellowknife City Council introduced amendments to its building by laws to incorporate high energy efficiency standards in the city’s building requirements. As a result, the average energy efficiency rating of homes has increased from 63 to 79.

The City of Plessisville has adopted three pilot projects to reduce greenhouse gases, including SAUVéR, a municipal vehicle-sharing project among residents outside of working hours that includes electric vehicles.

I also heard from London about the importance of investments in public transit which would represent the largest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the city’s history and North Vancouver’s initiative to build a community to the Passive Housing Standard which will reduce the long term operating costs for housing providers and address energy vulnerability. And the town of Gibson became the first community to formally deem nature to be its most important infrastructure asset, which guides its decisions.

There are certainly a lot of best practices to be shared and lessons to be learned. And the message is that cities and municipalities want to partner with the federal government to expand and build on these initiatives.

I also want to congratulate the Federation of Canadian Municipalities which, as an organization, is leading a movement to improve sustainability in Canadian cities and communities.

Many of you—in fact, 280 cities and towns to be precise—have already joined the Partner for Climate Protection Program. This cutting-edge initiative gives municipalities the ability to improve resilience to climate change and identify opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, track progress and better prepare for climate change impacts.

As a government, we recognize that cities cannot move forward alone on climate change.

As leaders, you need and deserve the support of the federal government—a government that is committed to build resilient infrastructure, energy efficient building and better transportation, all while creating economic opportunities and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

We must all come to understand that improved environmental performance can, and must, go hand in hand with economic growth. We don’t need to sacrifice growth to better protect our environment and our world.

In fact, tackling climate change holds tremendous opportunities for local, national and international businesses. 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.

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

World economies are shifting towards cleaner, more sustainable growth and Canada must keep up to stay competitive on the world stage.

This is why the Prime Minister and I were in Davos, promoting Canada and Canadian businesses in order to attract new investment to our country and to promote our clean tech companies.

And this is why Canada will support our communities and our economy by making significant new investments public transit, social infrastructure and in green infrastructures.

Indeed, we have 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 first mandate.

And we’ll support progress in clean energy—because innovation 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.

This is why Canada has joined Mission Innovation, an ambitious initiative spearheaded by Bill Gates that brings together governments and the private sector to accelerate clean energy innovation. To that end, we will double our investments over the next five years and invest $300 million a year in clean technology.

Take these various initiatives together and I hope it becomes obvious: we are for real on climate change. We are determined to work in a spirit of partnership to establish Canada as a global leader in reducing emissions and building a low-carbon economy.

Before I conclude, I have to tell you: There are some young people I work with now—they’ve been hearing about climate change for most of their lives. They understand the magnitude of what we’re up against. But they’ve never really had a sense that their leaders were interested in confronting the challenge in a serious way.

None of us can stop climate change on our own. No one Prime Minister. No one President. No one citizen.

But each of us can make a difference by working together with others who share our concerns, our fears, our goals and our determination. By working together—here at home and around the world—the challenge becomes more manageable. The impossible becomes possible.

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.

I am counting on you to become champions in your cities, towns, and communities, to adopt forward-thinking policies and take meaningful actions that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

By showing leadership, embracing our responsibility and supporting one another, we will be able to find solutions that will create healthier living spaces, community resilience and stronger and sustainable economies.

What should give us hope is that we are at a turning point, that this is the moment when we all agree that climate change is the challenge of our generation and that it is within our power to do something about it. Each of us. So long as we work together and never give up.

I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead to tackle climate change and build a more sustainable and prosperous Canada for future generations.

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Hon. Catherine McKenna Environment and Climate Change Canada Nature and Environment

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