Remarks for the Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change at the Toronto Region Board of Trade


Friday, November 25, 2016

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land we are on is the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee (HO-Dehn-Oh-show-knee), the Métis, and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.  

Indigenous peoples are the first stewards of our water, air, and land, and we must work in partnership to protect our environment.

Thank you, everyone, for the warm welcome. It's great to be back. The Board of Trade is a longtime pillar of the Canadian business community and a cornerstone to the success of this great city.   

Our world has come a long way since the Board of Trade was created in the 1850s, on the dusty streets of Toronto.

  • First of all, we live, on average, four decades longer than we did in 1850.
  • We travel across our country in hours rather than weeks or months.
  • And today, we carry all the libraries of the world in the palms of our hand.

If you ask me, I'd say we've done pretty well. Together, we've overcome countless challenges—from war, to recession, to disease.

Here in Canada, our curiosity, intelligence, and determination have led us to create thriving cities and to come up with innovations that our ancestors would not have believed.

But today—after so much progress—we confront an urgent challenge. A challenge that will alter the course of our future if we don't act now—and will affect how and where we live, our quality of life, and our collective prosperity.

Earlier this month, the United Nations released a report. It said that 2016 was the hottest year in recorded history. Before that, 2015 was the hottest year. And before that, it was 2014.

Month by month, year by year, decade by decade, we see overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change and its world-altering impact.  And Canada is certainly not immune.

  • In Alberta and across the West, we see bigger wildfires that last longer than ever before.
  • We see droughts in the Prairies and floods in the Atlantic provinces.
  • Along Prince Edward Island, we see coastal erosion that is quite literally shrinking the province.
  • And, in the Arctic—where temperature increases are twice as high as the global average—ice cover is rapidly thinning, putting lives and traditions at risk.

The impacts of climate change also come with huge financial cost. Insurance claims in Canada from severe-weather events were $373 million a year from 1983 to 2004. That amount tripled to $1.2 billion a year in the past decade.   

At home and abroad, the impacts of climate change are causing irreversible harm.

Just a few days ago, I was at the UN climate-change conference in Marrakech, Morocco. There, I watched as the Minister of the Environment for the Marshall Islands spoke about an uncertain future. If the average global temperature increases by only two degrees, he said, it will be enough for the ocean to swallow his country.

A Canadian Inuit leader beside me responded sadly.

"So, the melting of my homeland means that your homeland will no longer exist."

It was a powerful moment that brought home the hard truth of climate change: It's already changing how people live across the globe.

And just last year, the Pentagon released a report that emphasized that climate change is a significant threat to national security.  At home and overseas, climate change will aggravate problems like poverty, environmental degradation, and political stability.     

We are the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change. And we are the last generation that has the opportunity to stop it.

But I didn't come here to focus only on the dangers we face—though those dangers are real and immediate.  

I'm here because this global challenge of our time also brings opportunity—the opportunity to ensure a more sustainable and prosperous future for our planet, and for our children and grandchildren.

In Paris, just over a year ago, 195 countries reached the historic Paris Agreement. For the first time, countries came together, and they agreed that each country must do its part to reduce carbon pollution and keep temperatures well below two degrees.  And I was very proud that the Canadian delegation included the Prime Minister and premiers, Indigenous leaders, businesses, environmentalists, labour representatives, and youth from across the country. We are united in the need to take climate action.

And just last week in Morocco, governments around the world reinforced our firm commitment to move forward, but the commitment to climate action goes well beyond national governments.

What struck me most, in Marrakech, was the presence of major financial institutions like BlackRock and Goldman Sachs and thousands of businesses. They understand the opportunity that comes from this historic shift to a low-carbon economy.

It is clear that the Paris Agreement sent a strong signal to global markets. The 21st century will be the clean-growth century.

And Canadian companies like Suncor, TransCanada, Enbridge, Atco, and TransAlta recognize the opportunity that comes from a low-carbon economy.

As they put it:

"COP22 is an important opportunity for Canada to demonstrate leadership and be part of the global conversation on reducing emissions and protecting the environment while enhancing Canadian competitiveness and access to global markets."

I quickly learned in this job that the topic of climate change can raise strong views and emotions.

There are some who want a transition from fossil fuels overnight. And nothing the government does will ever be fast enough.

While others pretend that we can continue burning fossil fuels until they run out. In their view, any climate action is wrongheaded.

You can just read my Twitter feed and watch these views battle it out.

However, I've learned that the majority of Canadians understand that Canada—and the world—is transitioning to cleaner forms of energy.

They understand this transition will not happen overnight.

They understand that oil and natural gas are essential bridges to the low-carbon economy.

And they want to ensure that their family and all Canadians benefit from this transition.

That is why they support the pragmatic, flexible, and smart climate action our government is taking.

The shift to a cleaner future is already underway. And it's not only helping reduce carbon pollution—it's also fostering incredible scientific breakthroughs, creating the jobs of the future, and sparking an energy revolution.

This summer—here in Toronto—I had a conversation with the Governor of the Bank of England, one of Canada's finest exports. He reminded us that the clean-growth economy represents a future market worth trillions of dollars.

Consider the kind of progress we've witnessed over the past year alone:

  • Close to a third of a trillion dollars was invested globally in renewable power—almost double the amount invested in fossil fuels.
  • The cheapest-ever solar power was sold in Chile—where it is half the price of power from coal.
  • In Costa Rica, the record was broken for the longest a country has ever run entirely on renewable electricity. They went 113 days powered by hydro, solar, wind, and other renewable sources.
  • And since 2000, the amount of global electricity produced by solar power doubled seven times—and wind power doubled four times over the same period.

The shift is gaining momentum. Other countries are positioning themselves to be global leaders in the clean-growth century. Climate action is now a clear competitive advantage at the business level, at the community level, and at the national level.

China, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, is making generational changes in how it acquires and uses energy.

Just a few weeks ago, China announced that it plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent in the next 4 years and to cap its emissions from coal by 2020.

And next year, China is putting a price on carbon pollution when it introduces a cap-and-trade system covering key industries including power generation, iron and steel, chemicals, and building materials. This will be the world's largest carbon market. It's a game changer.

The investments that China will need in the clean-tech and renewable sector to meet its plan are enormous. This is a huge opportunity for Canadian businesses.

That's why, next month, I will be leading a clean tech mission to China—to deepen our clean-energy ties and to help Canadian businesses capitalize on new opportunities.

If we make the right decisions—if we choose the right policies and investments—we can significantly increase our share of the global clean-tech market.

Canada is already home to more than 750 clean-technology companies. Many of these are small- or mid-sized companies. But a number of them will grow to become powerhouses and major employers. Already the industry employs more Canadians than the forestry, pharmaceutical, or medical-device industry.

Take SkyPower Global. It's a Toronto company that produces solar power in more than 30 countries around the world—and it has new projects that could potentially power tens of millions of homes.

Companies like SkyPower understand a truth that the U.S. Secretary of State recently reiterated. In John Kerry's words: "Clean energy is not only the solution for climate change, it is also the greatest market opportunity the world has ever known."

We know the shift to clean energy is happening. It is inevitable.

So the proposition is clear: We can either act now—and take advantage of this global opportunity—or resign ourselves to being left behind.

And I can tell you where most Canadians stand on this proposition: They are pushing their governments to do more.

A recent poll showed that 82 percent of Canadians want the federal government to support provinces as they work to use more renewable electricity.

Just a few days ago, 60 Canadian CEOs from all sectors and regions—part of the Smart Prosperity group—wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to stay the course on our climate action.  As they put it:

"Clean-technology companies can tap into a fast-growing global market expected to exceed $2 trillion per year, by 2020, while resource and manufacturing firms can gain competitive ground by boosting their environmental performance and using energy and resources more efficiently."

And while our clean-energy companies are succeeding around the world—the momentum at home is building as well.

In Canada, between 2006 and 2014, wind- and solar-powered electricity grew by fivefold. In just the last five years, more than $45 billion has gone into building renewable-energy projects across the country.

Every year, Canada's clean-energy sector becomes more established and a more attractive destination for investment.

In Burnaby, B.C., General Fusion is developing a process that could unleash the energy potential of fusion. In Calgary, Carbon Engineering has created an innovative technology to capture carbon from the air and produce fuels.

I recently visited a factory in Winnipeg that makes electric buses. They are incredible. They run smoothly and quietly, with zero emissions. And the company—called New Flyer—is creating good, middle-class jobs. Today we can find electric buses and electric cars humming across the country—and we'll keep seeing more of them.

Many northern communities are also transitioning toward renewable energy and away from burning diesel for electricity.

According to data compiled by the Indigenous Renewable Energy research project, there are more than 300 Indigenous clean-energy projects in more than 190 communities across Canada.

On the shores of Great Slave Lake, a Dene First Nation installed 144 solar panels. They now produce electricity that they sell back to the utility. It is estimated their system will displace up to 11 000 liters of diesel fuel annually. It is a local success story—one that is being echoed across our country.

The shift in this clean-energy century is irreversible.  As my friend, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, puts the shift to clean energy:  "You can't stop the waves from hitting the beach."

And I would add, let's make sure Canada is in the best position to catch those waves.

And that's what we're doing.  Since the election a year ago, our government has made climate change a priority.

In just one year, I've made great progress both at home and abroad.

Now—if you're ever trapped next to me at a dinner party, I could give you the 90-minute version of our accomplishments. It includes some really fascinating photos of wind turbines that I have on my phone.

But in the interest of keeping our economy rolling and getting you back to work, I'll stick with the big picture.

Let me first tell you about our international accomplishments. Together, these actions give you a clear signal to the global markets that governments are shifting to low-carbon economies.

  • We negotiated, signed, and ratified the historic Paris Agreement that will set our world on the path to a low-carbon economy.
  • We committed to doubling our investment in clean innovation as part of Mission Innovation, a global initiative where governments commit to double their investment in transformative, clean-energy research and development.
  • We helped negotiate an international agreement to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (or HFCs) used in refrigerators and air conditioners. These destructive greenhouse gases are thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
  • We joined 66 other countries to cap emissions from aviation, helping to reduce emissions and drive innovation in that sector.
  • And at the North American Leaders Summit, we committed with the U.S. and Mexico to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector— one of the world's largest methane sources—by 40 to 45 percent by 2025.

These global partnerships matter. When we work in collaboration with other countries, we strengthen our ability to solve problems that no one country can solve on its own.

But we need to have our own house in order.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that Canada be among the leaders in the fight against climate change, to protect our environment and to strengthen our economy because they go together.

And we didn't waste any time getting input from Canadians. Members of Parliament hosted close to a hundred town halls across the country with several thousand participants.  We heard from Canadians, young and old, from businesses and labour organizations, from scientists, from environmentalists, and from Indigenous peoples. And thousands more took time to participate in our online consultations.

The Prime Minister met with premiers to advance our climate plan.  And I spent the last year crisscrossing the country, meeting with my counterparts to understand the opportunities and challenges of climate action for each province and territory.

We also talked to businesses through roundtables and working groups in specific sectors—from energy, to transportation, to the built environment.  And today, the working-group papers are up on our web site outlining how— together—the provinces, territories, and Indigenous communities will work towards a low-carbon economy that lowers emissions, drives innovation, and grows the economy.

I want to personally thank every Canadian, business, and organization that participated this year. We need your climate solutions and we need your actions.

And after listening, it was time to take action. And we've made several announcements that reflect our pragmatic approach, providing flexibility to provinces and territories to develop solutions that make sense for them and ensuring that we maintain the competitiveness of Canadian businesses.

As I mentioned before, market signals are critical to providing certainty to businesses that we are serious about moving to a low-carbon future. 

That is why we developed a plan to  price  carbon pollution across the country. Already 80 percent of Canadians live in a province that prices pollution. By 2018, all provinces and territories will have a price on pollution, and this price will rise over time.

We were very pleased that Nova Scotia and Manitoba announced, this week, that they will be developing their own plan to price pollution that is aligned with the federal approach. Over 30 major Canadian companies—ranging from energy, consumer goods, and all five major banks—have signed on to the World Bank Carbon Pricing Coalition. They agree that pricing pollution is the most effective way to reduce emissions, foster innovation, and drive energy efficiency in Canada.

And our government will continue working with provinces and businesses to keep Canadian companies competitive on the world stage and create jobs here at home.

But we need other market signals.  That is why Canada has committed to phasing out subsidies to the fossil-fuel sector.  And it is also why we will be very interested in reading the upcoming report by the Financial Stability Board's Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, led by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney.  Developing consistent climate-related financial-risk disclosures for companies increases transparency for investors, making markets more efficient and economies more resilient to climate risks.

Other examples of serious climate action by our government include phasing out coal from our electricity system.  Just this week, we announced that by 2030, we want 90 percent of our electricity to come from clean-energy sources.  Not only will this significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions—this action is the equivalent of taking 1.3 million cars off the road—but it will also prevent more than 1000 premature deaths and save billions of health care dollars.  

And to support the transition to clean power, we have committed to investing $21.9 billion in green infrastructure, and we will leverage investments through the new Canada Infrastructure Bank to finance projects such as clean-energy generation, transmission interconnections, and modern electricity systems across provinces and territories.

As Dominic Barton, the Chair of the Advisory Council on Economic Growth, explained the historic nature of this investment, he emphasized that "Connecting provinces with a clean and modern electricity system is a nation-building effort that positions us to compete for significant global investments in our power sector and puts more Canadians to work." The investments we make today will help form the bedrock of our economy tomorrow.

But we know that there is more we need to do. We know that we need to reduce emissions from every sector—from industry, to buildings, to transportation, to agriculture.  And here, I'll give you a sense of other actions that our government will be taking in collaboration with provinces and territories. 

Let's talk about buildings—where we spend the majority of our daily lives. They require heating, insulation, and lighting to operate—and in Canada, they represent 12 percent of our national emissions. By making them more energy efficient, they will represent an even bigger economic opportunity.

In this year's budget, we committed $500 million to support energy-efficiency improvements in affordable housing across Canada. When our buildings use less energy, people save more money. It's that simple.

We must continue to invest in our buildings. We can save Canadians  on their energy bills by setting a national code that ensures our new buildings are energy efficient and are themselves energy producing, by being net zero. We can also save money by retrofitting our current buildings so that they use less electricity. These actions will also help us reduce carbon pollution and create thousands of good-paying jobs.

The  Low Carbon Economy Fund gives us flexibility to support the efforts of provinces and territories that wish to create or expand programs to help homeowners make their homes more energy efficient.

The future of our buildings in Canada is an exciting one. We manufacture many of the building materials we use from our own abundance of natural resources. Combine that with our skills in information technology, and we have a winning formula to transition our buildings to be cleaner, healthier, and less costly to operate.

Now I don't know about you, but I spend a lot of time getting from one building to another. Most of us leave our homes every morning to take our kids to school and to get ourselves to work.

Mobility is so important to our daily lives and to our economy. It can also be a big point of frustration when we are stuck in traffic or when the bus doesn't come on time. Not to mention the fact that transportation contributes 23 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions every year.

So how are we going to build a modern transportation system?

We will invest in transportation like hybrid- and electric-vehicle infrastructure that will link towns and cities with charging stations—so cars can drive across the country on clean power. And we will set more stringent standards on cars that burn fossil fuels so that they run more efficiently and save people money at the pump.

In the Fall Economic Statement, our government announced $25 billion to upgrade our transit infrastructure. This upgrade will reduce commute times in cities across the country. It will increase the use of clean transportation, and it will allow people to spend more time with their families and less time in traffic.

For those of you nodding off after a long speech, you may want to pay attention. I am proud to make a new announcement here today.

Canadians want access to affordable, safe, and clean fuels to power our workplaces, homes, and cars.

That is why we, with provinces and industry, will be developing a clean fuel standard. This clean fuel standard will be a made-for-Canada approach that will provide flexibility to industry in how they innovate and how they reduce emissions throughout the fuel system.

Designed well, it will stimulate Canadian production of renewable bio fuels from the agriculture sector and use lower-carbon fossil fuels such as natural gas. BC has already adopted a low-carbon fuel standard to spur the creation of a thriving clean-fuel sector.

We also know that we have to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Our government is investing to protect our communities. From coastal and wetland protection, to more resilient infrastructure, these investments will protect property and save lives during extreme-weather events, like floods and storms.

Combined, all of these measures will significantly reduce our country's emissions, make us more resilient to the impacts of climate change, and grow our economy. They will also create thousands of jobs, strengthen our middle class, and position Canada as a global leader in the clean-energy century.

Working with the provinces, territories, and municipalities is essential. They have done extraordinary work on all these fronts. They are working hard to reduce their carbon emissions, innovate, and create good-paying jobs.

And we will continue to work closely with Indigenous communities. Many are on the front lines of climate change. When we build stronger relationships with Indigenous peoples, we strengthen our ability to understand environmental problems—and also better understand potential solutions.

Next month, First Ministers from our provinces and territories and Indigenous leaders will meet in Ottawa to discuss our made-in-Canada plan to reduce carbon pollution and to drive innovation. This will be an important meeting to build consensus across Canada and to lead our country during the clean-growth century.

I believe in our ability to compete, to show the way, to lead.

I believe in the creativity of our entrepreneurs and in the genius of our scientists.

I believe that the same maverick spirit that led to our leadership in oil and gas can help us seize the opportunities of our planet's next energy sources.

I believe that taking climate action will make us more competitive, not less, and that it will grow our economy and create jobs.

We stand at the dawn of the clean-growth century. It begins with the choices we make today.

So let's do this together.

Think of it as a 150th birthday present to ourselves, and to our children and grandchildren—clean energy, cleaner air, and a better future for our planet and our people.

Thank you.

Associated links

Government of Canada to work with provinces, territories, and stakeholders to develop a clean fuel standard

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