Remarks from the Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, at the opening ceremony of the UNESCO Week for Peace and Sustainable Development


March 8, 2017 – Ottawa, Ontario – Environment and Climate Change Canada

Thank you very much, Ms. Ruprecht.

  • Madam Director-General,
  • Peter Thomson,
  • Minister Hunter,
  • And ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning everyone,

I would first like to take a moment to acknowledge we are on the traditional territory of the Algonquin peoples.

And secondly, I’d like to wish you all a happy International Women’s Day. It is important—today and every day—that we acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of women and girls around the world.

I must say that I am very proud to be part of a gender-balanced cabinet—and I can assure you that we are committed as a government to eliminate gender-based barriers.

It is an honour to be here to mark the official opening of the UNESCO Week for Peace and Sustainable Development, focusing on the role of education.

It is a pleasure and an honour that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, what we know every day as UNESCO, has brought this important meeting to Ottawa.

Organized with the help of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, this event will showcase how we, in this country, consider sustainable development to be critically important.

The Government of Canada wants to be a leader—nationally and around the world—in promoting sustainable development and helping build resilient and healthy societies.

I’m really excited to be here during the UNESCO Week for Peace and Sustainable Development. Your focus on education and youth is so important because young people have a lot to tell us about their ideas for a sustainable future.

The current generation has grown up during a time of monumental change.

The internet and social media have transformed the way we work and socialize. Our cell phones are more powerful than the computers on the first mission to the Moon. And new technologies are also creating unimagined opportunities.

From this, we can be sure: The jobs young people have in the future will be vastly different from those of their parents.

Yet, I believe that no change will be more monumental than that of climate change. It represents the biggest challenge of our time.

But it is a challenge that also brings great opportunity—the opportunity to ensure a more sustainable and prosperous future for our planet and for our children and grandchildren.

Tackling this problem will not be easy. It will require hard work and smart ideas from all Canadians—and indeed, from every country.  

Our government knows this. And after almost a decade of silence on climate change, we took action. We know the burdens of climate change should not be passed to future generations.

So after getting elected, our government took immediate action.

  • We negotiated, signed, and ratified the historic Paris Agreement that will set our world on the path to a low-carbon economy.
  • We announced that we will contribute a historic $2.65 billion over the next five years to help developing countries tackle climate change.
  • And 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.

But we know that if Canada is going to lead, we also need to take action at home.

So last year, our government decided to price what we don’t want: pollution.

As the impacts of climate change become worse—with severe droughts, storms, floods, and fires continuing to sear our land—we know that reducing carbon pollution is crucial.

We also know it’s important because our citizens are telling us.

Last summer, we heard from thousands of Canadians across the country, in town halls, church basements, and online consultations.

We heard from Canadians young and old, from businesses and labour organizations, from scientists, environmentalists, and Indigenous peoples.

The message was clear: they want us to honour the commitments we made in Paris.

Today, 80 percent of Canadians already live in a province that prices carbon pollution. And every one province and territory will have a price on pollution by 2018.

But we are not stopping there. Through smart and strategic investments, our government is making sure Canada will succeed during the clean-growth century.  

Today, economies are shifting towards cleaner, more sustainable growth. And Canada must do the same.

Across our country, we need to renew our infrastructure, strengthen our transportation networks, and invest in new technologies to spark innovation and entrepreneurship.

If Canada is going to reach its Paris targets—together with countries around the world—we have to reduce carbon pollution across our economy.

And we’ve already made some big moves.

  • Last year, we committed over $60 million for clean transportation.
  • We will invest $2 billion to communities to improve their water infrastructure and make buildings more energy efficient.
  • And we’ve committed over a billion dollars to support clean-technology projects.

Last fall, we also proposed our Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. And I can tell you, it’s a comprehensive plan for a strong and healthy future for Canadians.

It describes how we plan to make Canada one of the greenest countries in the world by

  • Making government buildings run on renewable power.
  • Improving our environmental assessments so that Canadians can have confidence in future energy projects.
  • Connecting a new generation of Canadians with nature.
  • And ensure the health of our lakes, rivers, and streams.

Our goals, of course, are part of a larger global transformation.

Today we see countries shifting to cleaner forms of energy not only because it’s the right thing to do—but because it now represents a clear competitive advantage.

In 2015, over $300 billion was invested globally in renewable power—almost double the amount invested in fossil fuels.

From Texas to Denmark to China, governments are fostering clean growth. China alone is making incredible investments. In fact, they plan to invest a stunning $360 billion by 2020 in renewable generation alone, which could create up to 13 million jobs.

And who would have thought that in Texas, wind energy would become the new oil. Texas produces the most wind energy of any American state, three times more than second-place Iowa.

Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, recently said that renewable‑energy investments represent a future market in the trillions of dollars.

As countries forged an agreement during the Paris climate talks, there was an understanding that by taking action now, we will not only stave off the worse effects of climate change—but we will spark innovation and drive growth across our economy.

And that’s what Canada intends to do.

As I mentioned earlier, the UNESCO Week for Peace and Sustainable Development reminds us of the important role young people will play as we take steps towards sustainable development.

Nowadays, many people consider the energy transition to be a clean-energy revolution. And, like the digital revolution that forever changed our way of communicating and doing things, the clean-energy revolution will change everything, from transport to the built environment to the type of jobs we have.

The youth of today will lead during this new world. And that’s exactly why we need to hear their ideas.

Our government has made this a priority. We now have the Prime Minister’s Youth Council, which provides advice to the Prime Minister on issues like employment, access to education, building stronger communities, and climate change. And last fall, we had a youth summit in Ottawa to discuss Canada’s plan to fight climate change.

Through education, we can engage youth on a vision for the future. Education plants the seeds for the leaders and thinkers of tomorrow.

All of us owe it to ourselves to create a strong and sustainable economy and to leave our children and grandchildren a cleaner environment. And we can’t do this without engaging our youth.

  • We need their energy and enthusiasm.
  • We need their dedication and inventiveness.
  • And we need their creative ideas to help solve the problems of tomorrow.

Thank you very much, everyone.

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