Closing remarks by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, at the 21st annual Chatham House Climate Change Conference


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London (United Kingdom) – October 10, 2017

Good afternoon. Thank you, Rob, for that kind introduction.

It is a great honour to be here at Chatham House. In fact, it brings back wonderful memories. I spent many hours researching and writing my Master’s thesis at the London School of Economics.

Incredibly, I was here at Chatham House at almost the exact moment that the Chatham House Climate Change Conference began. It’s great to be back!

Like many of you, I’ve devoted much of my life to studying, understanding, and practicing international relations. It was my focus throughout university. And then I became a student in the real world— where I was witness to the messy job of putting policy into practice and where lives were often at stake. In Indonesia, I worked as a lawyer in the years after the fall of Suharto and watched brave students fight for justice and accountability. As a senior negotiator for UNTAET, the UN peacekeeping mission in East Timor, I worked with the brave people of Timor Leste to rebuild the world’s newest nation after decades of fighting and dying for independence. And then, with Level Justice, the charity I co-founded, I watched Indigenous Peoples in Canada and abroad fight for justice.

I understand and share your belief in the importance of international relations—that it matters how states interact and relate with each other and that this is increasingly true of business, civil society, and individuals as well. The idea that the world is a simplistic zero-sum game where a country either wins or loses is obsolete. The challenges we face are far too complex, and our fates are far too intertwined. We have a choice: we can work together in common cause and build a more prosperous and more sustainable future for everyone, or we can all go down together.

There is no better example of this than climate change, the most pressing challenge of our time.

But I’m a realistic optimist. Climate change is an extraordinary challenge, but the world is finally getting its act together. I saw it happen first-hand in Paris almost two years ago, in a way that would have been unimaginable years or even months before. And I’ve seen the momentum since then. Countries, cities, businesses, and individuals are taking tangible and ambitious climate action. Equally importantly, I’ve watched the market march in the direction of clean growth.

I don’t generally bother talking about the science behind climate change and the role humans play in the warming of our planet because it’s clear and overwhelming. My time is better spent acting on climate change than fighting climate deniers. Unfortunately, some people in positions of power continue to propagate myths about the issue, even yesterday here in London.

So I’m going to start with a story.

I think about this story a lot because it sets out in stark terms the reality of climate change and the enormity of the task before us, and that motivates me.

This past summer, I travelled to the Canadian High Arctic. It’s a place of stunning beauty, an expanse of sprawling tundra, sea ice, and blue ocean, and it’s home to biodiversity that includes beluga, bowhead, whales and polar bears.

But what made my visit special was the opportunity to see the region through the eyes of the young people who live there.

I joined an expedition that included youth, climate scientists, and Inuit elders travelling through Tallurutiup Imanga, known in English as Lancaster Sound—the gateway to the Northwest passage—to better understand how climate change has altered life in the North.

One day, toward the end of my trip, a 14-year-old Inuit boy quietly sat down beside me and showed me a list. It laid out all the changes that he was seeing that he thought might be caused by climate change. He told me of getting stuck in thawing permafrost while hunting; the loss of caribou, a food that Inuit rely on; thinner polar bears; and experienced hunters no longer being able to tell the thickness of the ice and falling through. A climate scientist with us sadly confirmed that these were all tangible signs of a warming climate.

And warming it is. Canada’s High Arctic is warming at three times the rate of the rest of Canada. One of the most fragile ecosystems in the world is under existential threat.

I can say with complete certainty that unlike some, my young Inuk friend doesn’t think that climate change is “probably doing good.”

I can also say with certainty that the great majority of people living in countries, states, and cities feeling the devastating impacts of hurricanes—or extreme droughts or massive floods made worse by a warming planet—don’t question the science behind climate change.

Unlike some people, they don’t have the luxury of burying their head in the sand. The damage inflicted by extreme weather events is costing hundreds of billions of dollars and destroying economies. But much worse, it’s threatening people’s very survival.

And it is up to world leaders, and people like us in this room, to stand up for them and the only planet we have.

Now on to the million-dollar question: What are we going to do about climate change? Where does the world turn to at a time when the need for international co-operation is critical?

The successful conclusion of the Paris Agreement, supported by close to 200 countries, was an incredible step in the right direction. I was very proud to be part of the negotiations. There were long nights and tough debates, but, in the end, we witnessed the world coming together, overcoming the inertia of cynicism and tackling climate change head on. The Paris Agreement bridged divisions between developed and developing countries. It established a broad consensus that every country must take concrete action at home. It established a framework that provides for accountability and transparency. And developed countries committed to supporting actions by developing countries. It proved countries of the world could rally together because cooperating to respond to climate change is in all of our national interests—and in our collective interest as human beings. And incredibly, the Paris Agreement came into force last year, years before expected, after countries around the world rallied to ratify it as soon as possible.

But global action didn’t stop there. Last year, in Kigali, Rwanda, more than 170 countries agreed to limit pollutants in air conditioners, which contribute to climate change—pollutants thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide—with an amendment to the Montreal Protocol. This deal could prevent a half-a-degree Celsius increase in temperatures by the end of the century, and it is one of the most important steps that we can take now to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of holding global temperature rise well below two degrees.

Last year, countries also reached an ICAO agreement—brokered in large part by Canada—a framework to help lower carbon emissions from international air transport. This is critical because air emissions weren’t covered by the Paris Agreement.

Since that time, of course, there have been challenges. The United States’ administration’s announcement of its intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is among the most serious.

And yet, in the aftermath of that decision, we saw the world—and a huge number of Americans—rally once more.

Within hours of America’s move, countries around the world reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement. Dozens of US cities and states, led by California—the sixth-largest economy in the world—as well as hundreds of US businesses, announced their commitment to act in support of the Paris Agreement.

Civic leaders, such as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg,  have helped to push for this energetic re-engagement with the Paris Agreement. As he put it to me recently, he is convinced that actions by cities, businesses, and communities in the US could achieve or even surpass the US target under Obama. He’s pushing to have their actions accepted by the UNFCCC, alongside contributions by countries, to the Paris Agreement.

The US administration’s decision, far from weakening the bonds of Paris, has instead strengthened the world’s resolve.

It has also strengthened Canada’s resolve. With the announcement by the US that it was stepping back on climate action, we resolved to step up internationally.

It used to be that the US administration hosted the major economies to discuss and advance action on climate change. This was certainly the case under President Obama. But when it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, I travelled to Berlin, this spring, to meet with my Chinese and EU counterparts. We had a discussion about the need for global leadership and the need to step up. Out of that meeting came a commitment from Canada, China, and the EU to co-host our first meeting of major economies in advance of COP 23. I’m pleased to say that, last month, we had a very successful ministerial meeting in Montréal. It brought together ministers and representatives from 30 developed and developing countries. And the message coming out of that meeting was clear—the Paris Agreement is non-negotiable and irreversible. The world is moving forward.

Let me pause to say a few words about China, as I understand there is interest in understanding China’s commitment to climate leadership. I can assure you that China understands the need to act on climate change, and it is doing so. Some compelling stats: In China, two wind turbines are erected every hour of every day. In 2016, they added roughly enough solar panels to cover three soccer fields every hour. China recently announced that by 2020, it aims to have five million clean energy vehicles on the road. This year, they’re launching the world’s largest carbon market.

Canada will continue to act internationally. We just hosted hundreds of scientists supporting the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in Montréal, and doubled our funding for the IPCC. We are pushing forward the development of a gender action plan under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and training female climate negotiators from developing countries so that more women are at the table. And we recently co-hosted a workshop on local communities and Indigenous Peoples, again under the UNFCCC. Finally, we are committed to supporting the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change with a historic investment of $2.65 billion in climate finance.

We’re committed to climate action at home, too. In Canada, we know that the environment and the economy go together. To suggest that you should or even can choose between the two is simply wrong. We recognize that we need to leave future generations a clean and healthy planet. And we understand that in the clean-growth century, by moving ambitiously towards a cleaner future, Canadians will reap the rewards: more jobs and a stronger economy.

But that wasn’t always the case. For a decade, the previous government failed to take any action on climate change—in fact, they were loath to use the phrase and muzzled our scientists. But, in the face of federal inaction, provinces stepped up. British Columbia put a price on pollution, which has resulted in lower emissions while their economy has grown, and Quebec joined California’s cap-and-trade system. Alberta, which put the first ever hard cap on emissions from the oil sands, committed to phasing out coal and put a price on pollution as well.

Since taking office in October 2015, our government has followed their lead. We’ve announced that we’re putting a price on carbon pollution across the country. It will start at $10 in 2018 and rise by $10 after that. This was the centrepiece of our made-in-Canada climate plan, which we developed last year with our provinces and territories and in consultation with Indigenous Peoples.

Carbon pricing, even in Canada, isn’t new. Eighty percent of Canadians already live under a system that makes carbon polluters pay.

The idea is simple: We’re putting a price on what we don’t want—pollution—and fostering what we do want—lower emissions and clean innovation.

This is a real opportunity to harness the power of the market to drive behaviour—to protect our environment and grow our economy.

While pricing carbon is an important part of our climate plan, it isn’t the only major initiative. We are also actively transitioning away from coal, and quickly.

Before I go on, I also want to take a moment to applaud the UK for its initiative to phase out traditional coal-power generation by 2025.

Both Canada and the UK are at the forefront of global coal-reduction efforts, and the phasing out of traditional coal power will mean cleaner air and better health for citizens of both countries.

Canada’s climate plan also includes

  • increasingly stringent building codes
  • a new clean-fuel standard
  • net-zero vehicle strategy
  • new methane regulations that will reduce methane emissions by 40% to 45% by 2025
  • reducing federal government GHG emissions from government buildings and fleets
  • scaling up clean procurement and modernizing the governments procurement practices

But as I said, we know that climate action is also an enormous economic opportunity for Canada.

The Paris Agreement was a clear signal to the markets that countries are moving towards a cleaner future. We have entered the clean-growth century, and you can see clear examples of this. My friend and a temporary export to the UK, Mark Carney, considers clean growth a $30 trillion economic opportunity. Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects that $5.1 trillion will be invested in new renewable-energy capacity by 2030.

Renewable sources of energy are becoming increasingly cost competitive. In fact, they’re becoming cheaper, in some cases, than traditional sources of energy. Chile, for example, is now producing solar energy at about three cents per kilowatt hour.

In the US, the solar and wind industries are creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy. In fact, solar and wind have created almost 485 000 jobs. Meanwhile, the coal industry—which has shed jobs since 2012, largely due to market forces and competition from cheap natural gas—provided just over 160 000 jobs worldwide, of which only 54 000 were in mining. Coal is not coming back.

Investors are driving much of this. In 2015, for the first time ever, more money was invested in renewable power (US$265.8 billion) than in new power from new coal and gas ($130 billion).

We recognize that in the clean-growth century, Canada has the opportunity to be a world leader in developing key clean technologies, which leads to growing our economy and creating good jobs. We know countries that innovate will have a competitive advantage going forward.

Our government has invested over $2 billion to support clean technology and innovation in basements and labs, commercialization, and growth. We also joined Mission Innovation alongside the US, UK, and others to double our investment in research and development.

But we know technology only starts in the labs, and I have visited many. We also have renewed funding to Sustainable Development Technology Canada, which helps new innovators get their first contacts, a first step we know is crucial.

We are also investing billions of dollars in collaboration with provinces on green infrastructure such as EV chargers, public transit, and greater energy efficiency. Our own government investments help innovation scale up in the market.

Finally, through a number of innovative financing mechanisms, such as the Canada Infrastructure Bank and green bonds from Export Development Canada, we are helping new technologies become mainstream.

Of course, the final phase is sharing innovation around the world, and that is where our government is committed to free trade and why having progressive trade agreements with global strategic markets is so important to us, like the Canada-Europe Free Trade Agreement or CETA, which just came into force.

Earlier this year, 11 of Canada’s clean-tech companies were ranked within the top 100 in the world. We are punching well above our weight. These are companies like Carbon Cure from Nova Scotia, which has developed a cutting-edge technology that captures carbon pollution from industry and injects it into cement to create cheaper, stronger concrete.

Now, to conclude, I’m going to tell you about a conversation I witnessed at COP 22 in Morocco last year between an Inuit elder and the leader of a small island state. They were sharing the devastating effects that climate change was having on their communities, and the conversation ended with the Inuit elder saying: “So my homeland is melting and it’s causing yours to go underwater.” It broke my heart. 

International relations isn’t really about policies and politics. It’s about people. In the end, when we develop environmental policies and decide what actions our countries and the world should take—we must remember the people connected to these policies.

To them, climate change isn’t an academic discussion or a wedge issue—it’s a problem that threatens their way of life, their culture, their future.  Our future.

As Pope Francis has captured in his encyclical, Laudato Si, we all share the responsibility of protecting our common home . . . for my three children, for your children, and for future generations.

I want to thank you for having me here today. Chatham House’s mission to build a sustainably secure, prosperous, and just world could not be more important.

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