• Minister Catherine McKenna hosting Canada’s first town hall on climate change

    Minister Catherine McKenna hosting Canada’s first town hall on climate change. (Photo: Environment and Climate Change Canada)

Climate change is here; 2016 is already on track to be the hottest year on record, and in the aftermath of the Conference of Parties meeting in Paris last December, countries around the world, including Canada, are committed to taking action.

To compliment our June 2016 issue about climate change, we asked Catherine McKenna, minister of environment and climate change, some questions about Canada’s role. The following is an edited version of written answers to our questions.

Canada is committed to reducing global carbon emissions but hasn’t ruled out building more pipelines that will only increase emissions. How do you reconcile that?

We have announced that we are reviewing Canada’s environmental assessment process for natural resource projects, with a view to restoring the credibility of Canada’s environmental assessments. We are also committed to fulfilling our international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we will do that by working with the provinces. Our natural resources are and will continue to be important to the Canadian economy, and provide quality jobs across the country.

A Stanford report outlines what Canada’s energy mix could be in the future to be 100 per cent fossil fuel free and Achim Steiner, the executive director of UNEP, said that “whether we build the next pipeline or not Canada’s energy future will not be based on a fossil fuel economy”? Do you see fossil fuels as part of our energy mix in the future?  

Fossil fuels will continue to be a necessary source of energy around the world for some time. What I want to see is, and what my government has committed to in our first federal Budget, is cleaner, more sustainable extraction of our natural resources while making substantial investments in clean technologies.  Canada can, and must, play an instrumental role in the energy transition. I absolutely believe that cleaner energy sources will be essential to Canada’s future prosperity, as well as to the health of our planet.

Many leading conservation experts in the world believe half of our wilderness need to be kept intact. Canada has pledged to meet the Aichi Biodiversity Target 11, which states that it will protect 17 per cent of its land and inland water area and 10 per cent of its coastal and marine area. Why is Canada not going beyond those targets?

In fact, we want to go beyond those targets. Prime Minister Trudeau and President Obama recently re-affirmed our countries’ shared commitment to achieve and substantially surpass our conservation goals in the coming years, and to establish a new conservation goal for the Arctic and to develop a pan-Arctic marine protected area network.

What is Canada doing to help lesser-developed nations solve their climate change challenges?

Canada is doing its part to ensure a sustainable future for all, including supporting developing countries’ transitions to green economies and building climate resilience. Justin Trudeau announced at the COP 21 negotiations in 2015 that Canada will contribute a historic $2.65 billion over the next five years to help developing countries tackle climate change. This will mean that countries in need, in particular the poorest and most vulnerable, will receive support to respond to climate change and adapt to its impacts.

David Suzuki is championing an environmental bill of rights. Do you think there is any substance to an idea like that? If so do you think Canada could see one unveiled in the next four years?

Canada’s natural environment is part of what makes it so special as a nation, and I cherish it like Canadians do from coast to coast to coast. I am committed to making sure Canadians can continue to enjoy our natural wonders for generations to come. To do so, we’re working within the existing laws in place and introducing new ones where there are gaps.

How likely is it that we will see a national carbon tax?

A price on pollution makes sense and will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and give incentive to foster innovation while giving consumers and industry flexibility to figure out how best to reduce pollution. Our government is providing national leadership, by working with provinces and territories, to take action on climate change – including putting a price on carbon. Through the hard work our provinces have done, 80 per cent of Canadians will soon live in jurisdictions with a price on carbon. That’s why I will continue to work with the provinces and territories right now to support and complement their efforts.

How important is it that every Canadian cuts their personal carbon emissions?

 Everything I have heard so far in my discussions with people across this country has made it clear that Canadians want to be part of the solution, and want to know how they can help. So we are encouraging all families and communities to make small changes in their daily lives in order to make a big difference together.  From buying carbon offsets when they take a vacation, to composting more, to biking or carpooling to work, there are ways we can all cut our personal carbon emissions.

What are you personally doing to make a difference in your life? (Solar panels? Electric car? Bike to work?)

I do love to bike to work whenever I can. My ministerial vehicle is a hybrid, and I’m working to switch it for an electric car as soon as I can. At home I have three kids, all of whom are very environmentally conscious, so I’m held to account whenever I forget to turn off the lights leaving a room.

We’ve pledged to be carbon free by 2100, but experts say that 2050 would be a better target. But even then, given the record-breaking temperatures around the world, in particular in the arctic, this year, are we not too late?

When I am asked why it is so important to act now to fight climate change I tell people that this is the challenge of our generation. The targets we set—and the actions we then take to achieve those targets—are critical. That's why our government is looking at a wide range of measures that will both reduce out emissions and grow our economy. These measures will include things such as putting a price on carbon, new measures to support electric vehicles and more energy efficient buildings, and support for new, innovative, cleaner technologies. 

Are we going to try to beat our 2100 targets?
Decarbonizing the global economy before the end of this century is the right goal — for now.  The work the federal government is doing now to develop a pan-Canadian framework to reduce climate changing emissions will put Canada on a new path that will allow it to compete globally in a cleaner, low-carbon economy.  We are just starting on that path. Once Canada has taken these first few steps, we can then assess outcomes and additional opportunities to both reduce emissions and grow the economy.

Is the Arctic of particular importance for environmental protection? And if so, what is the government doing to protect it from shipping, resource extraction and development?

We all know that the Arctic is feeling the real effects of climate change.  I meet regularly with Natan Obed, the President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. The people he represents are among those most at risk from the effects of global warming. As he puts it, the sea ice is their highway. They rely on country food and now with the impact on species with the changing climate, food insecurity is even greater. 
Prime Minister Trudeau and President Obama have committed to establish a new conservation goal for the Arctic and to develop a pan-Arctic marine protected area network.

We have committed that for commercial activities in the Arctic - including shipping, fishing, and oil and gas exploration and development - we will set a world-class standard by basing development decisions and operations on scientific evidence. And commercial activities will occur in the Arctic only when the highest safety and environmental standards are met, including national and global climate and environmental goals, and Indigenous rights and agreements. Canada and the U.S. are now working to develop a shared and science-based standard for considering the life-cycle impacts of commercial activities in the Arctic within the year.