Speech Article from  Environment and Climate Change Canada

Keynote address at Montreal Council on Foreign Relations: "After COP21: Environment and Climate Change Priorities for Canada"

Remarks for The Honourable Catherine McKenna,

Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Conseil des relations internationales de Montréal (CORIM)

Bonaventure Hotel Montreal, Westmount Ballroom
Montréal, QC

March 29, 2016

Check Against Delivery

Thank you Alain, thank you for your kind words.
Mr. Mayor, Denis, it is a pleasure to be here with you.
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

When I was invited to speak to the members and friends of CORIM, I had no hesitation.

Like you, I have a passion for international affairs. After spending four years in Indonesia and with the United Nations in East Timor, I was convinced that Canada could play a more constructive role internationally.

That was why I started Canadian Lawyers Abroad, with student chapters in Quebec.

That is why I am so honoured to be in the position I am now, trying to build a better world.

I am the mother of three young children. I entered politics to try and make a meaningful contribution and impact for them, our fellow citizens and our country.

That is why I am particularly delighted that the Prime Minister has asked me to work on the issue of climate change. In my view there is no greater challenge for our generation.

For a decade, the provincial and territorial governments—along with municipalities across our country—have led the way in adopting concrete measures to fight climate change.

The province of Quebec has shown national leadership by convening a climate change summit to build stronger alliances with other provinces—and by joining the largest carbon market on the continent.

The government of Premier Couillard has also engaged all sectors of society to create consensus for reducing emissions in the province.

And it’s heartwarming to see that the Quebec business sector has also engaged meaningfully on this issue.

Just last month, Prime Minister Trudeau helped launch the Smart Prosperity Initiative, a new multi-sector group of business leaders, labour, NGOs and academics who want to speed up Canada’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

One of the founders is Bio-Amber—a Montreal chemical company that uses sugar rather than fossil fuels.

Other leaders from Quebec include the presidents and CEOs of the Aluminum Association of Canada and Tembec, Jean Simard and Jim Lopez, as well as the former CEO of Desjardins Group, Monique Leroux.

Taken together, this is the kind of leadership of which all Quebecers—and all Canadians—can be proud.

It has been five months now since the October elections. Since then, we have demonstrated our commitment to the environment and taken tangible, meaningful action on climate change that I would like to highlight.

So, let’s begin with Paris.

Canada went to the Paris Conference with great ambitions and great determination.

We worked for an ambitious and balanced agreement, one in which the countries set targets for themselves, report on their performance in a transparent manner, and are required to review and improve their pollution reduction targets every five years.

With this extraordinary agreement, each country will adopt concrete measures to limit the rise in average global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius and make efforts to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees.

That is an agreement that we can legitimately support with enthusiasm.

In Paris our Canadian delegation included every level of government, including Premier Couillard and my counterpart David Heurtel. We also had Indigenous leaders join us as well as representatives from environmental NGOs such as Steven Guilbeault from Equiterre and youth from all over Canada, including of course from the province of Quebec.

It demonstrated our understanding that no single jurisdiction, government or sector can alone solve climate change.

We are in this together. From national leadership to personal choices, there is a role to be played by one and all.

It was heartwarming to see nearly 200 countries come together in good faith to take action on climate change. But we all know the agreement was just the beginning. The real work must take place in every country, at every level.

In that regard I am happy to say that we have made tremendous progress on the bilateral stage. Two weeks ago, President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau affirmed their common vision of a prosperous and sustainable North American economy.

They both see the Paris Agreement as a turning point in our fight against climate change, and our countries will sign the Agreement on Earth Day, this April 22 in New York.

In Washington, our leaders adopted the Joint Canada–United States Declaration. Among several important measures, it commits us to reducing methane from the oil and gas sector.

This is so significant. Methane emissions comprise about 15 percent of Canada’s total emissions. If we reduce our methane emissions by 45 percent nationwide, it would be roughly the equivalent of taking every passenger car off the road in both Ontario and Quebec.

There is no doubt in my mind that taking action on methane is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions overall. Canada’s objective is to have new regulations in place in 2017.

Canada and the United States also agreed to foster advancements in technology, and put in place new carbon standards for airplanes. The two leaders also plan to adopt a carbon offset measure in aviation.

Now this is a huge deal because the aviation industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters, and its greenhouse gas emissions, according to ICAO, could quadruple by 2040, compared with 2010 levels. So we will work very hard to encourage other world leaders to adopt the new carbon offset.

For many reasons, our relationship with the United States is uniquely important. At the same time, we must remember our other great friend in North America: Mexico.

We are focusing our efforts on the continental front by working with the United States and Mexico on an ambitious North American clean energy and environment agreement.

Together, we want to maintain a consistent set of shared environmental values on our continent. And continental action on climate will no doubt be on the radar of the next North American Leaders’ Summit, which will be held this June in Ottawa.

It goes without saying that our efforts to be a constructive partner on the international stage have been equalled—and even no doubt surpassed—by our efforts here in Canada.

I am sure you will agree with me when I say that, in order to meet the challenge of climate change, we need a shared vision and collective solutions.

It is with that objective in mind that the government is working closely with the provinces and territories as well as with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada.

The Prime Minister and premiers came together earlier this month in Vancouver to discuss the vision and principles that will help guide our shared environmental efforts in the years ahead.

It was a valuable conversation. And the ensuing Vancouver Declaration on Clean Growth and Climate Change is an important foundation on which greater collective action can be built.

The First Ministers also announced the creation of four working groups.

These groups will be making recommendations on clean technology, innovation and jobs; carbon pricing mechanisms; specific mitigation opportunities; and adaptation and climate resilience. Their reports will be considered at a First Ministers Meeting in the fall of this year and will be used to develop the pan-Canadian framework for clean growth and climate change.

It is only by working together that we will enable our country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, we will build a stronger, more resilient low-carbon economy that provides good jobs and great opportunities for all Canadians.

Budget 2016 is making significant investments to support those objectives.

It also illustrates that protecting our environment and fighting climate change are not niche issues—they are imperatives that reach through to the very heart of our economy, our lives and our well-being.

I’ll give just a few examples:

We want to encourage people to use public transit for work and for play with an investment of $3.4 billion over three years to improve transportation infrastructures—this will not only help us to lower emissions, but hopefully also to help improve the quality of life of Canadians.

And we are dedicating $5 billion over the next five years to green infrastructure that will help better protect our communities and support our transition to a clean-growth economy.

This includes modernizing our water and wastewater infrastructure. I know this is a very critical issue for Montreal and to my friend Denis Coderre. We are committed to working hard and together on this.

It means delivering energy efficiency programs to retrofit buildings—and this is really important in our country where winters are so long and cold! And more importantly it means that we have more energy efficient buildings and that our bills are lowered.

It also means developing building codes that include requirements for climate resiliency.

I think it is absolutely crucial when we build affordable housing—and Budget 2016 provides $2.3 billion for affordable housing—that we make sure they are as sustainable as possible.

We will also be building hydrogen and natural gas refuelling stations—and charging stations for electric vehicles, and I am certainly looking forward to having those on Parliament Hill so I can switch from a hybrid to an electric car!

Since being appointed Minister, I have had the chance to meet many brilliant entrepreneurs and scientists who are pushing the boundaries of what can be done and who are literally inventing the energies of the future.

Canada should be at the forefront of supplying the world with clean energy—and in developing the technology that allows others to create it for themselves.

That is why we are investing more than $1 billion over four years to support clean technology.  

And that is the absolute smart thing to do. Did you know that a recent report from Bloomberg estimates that the global renewable energy industry will require more than $12 trillion in investments over the next 25 years?

This is a huge opportunity for Canadian companies to export their products and expertise.

It’s important that we all understand: Clean energy is not a theory. It’s not a dream or a curiosity. It’s real, and it’s the future. The world is already diversifying toward it. Why wouldn't we want to lead the way?

That’s why our government will provide $130 million over five years to further support clean tech research, development and demonstration.

Part of this investment will support the SD Tech Fund at Sustainable Development Technology Canada, which is already investing in companies like Sigma Devtech here in Quebec—working to make bioplastic from pulp mill waste.

Investments in clean energy are crucial as we work to ensure that Canadian companies are able to produce and sell the energy of tomorrow.

Think of the opportunities for good new jobs. For successful, world-leading companies. Think of the reductions in emissions and pollution that we could achieve.

We will succeed in building a climate-smart economy only if we are able to create jobs and generate growth while simultaneously treating our planet with greater care.

As we transition toward cleaner energy sources, fossil fuels will play an important role. But they should never be a limit on our progress.

Our allies on this continent and across the world are also our competitors in the marketplace. They are shifting their economies toward reducing emissions and investing in clean energy. It will make them more competitive. It will make them stronger.

We cannot afford to be left behind.

I want to leave you today with something I’ve been reflecting on these past few days.

As we were leaving for the Paris negotiations last fall, we reached out to Canadians. We encouraged them to send in their ideas and their encouragement.

We received a phenomenal response. But one message stood out.

It was from a group of Grade 6 students from École du Sacré-Coeur, in Sherbrooke. They recorded a video in which they sang a song called Plus Rien, by Les Cowboys Fringants.

The song is written from a future in which humanity is nearing its end. Only one man remains alive. The Earth is lunar landscapes and suffocating heat.

The planet and its people are the victims of short-sighted leaders who refused to take on the challenges of their time.

There is a moment near the start of the video when a young boy, in his jacket and toque, holds up a sign to the camera. The sign reads: Deux choses infinies: L’univers et les bêtises de l’homme.

I have to tell you: That was a really jarring moment. To see someone so young express such a raw sentiment.

That image has stuck with me—the boy and his sign.

It motivates me. It also reassures and inspires me.

Here we have a group of 11-year-olds—diverse, committed and focused on their future.

Even at a young age, they are aware of the challenges we face. They can foresee the potential consequences of inaction. They are unwilling to tolerate excuses.

These children have the passion and commitment to reach out to the Prime Minister of their country—to make their case, and to encourage him to make tough but important decisions.

Our government will work with the global community, with our continental partners and with other governments right here at home to reduce emissions and create a climate-smart economy.

We are taking the first steps on a long journey to build a better future for that young boy with the sign, for his classmates and for all Canadians.

Thank you.

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