Few would argue that in the last 10 years, Canada has been a global leader on climate change.
Last year, Canada's investments in clean energy dropped by a whopping 46 per cent while countries like China, the U.S., Japan, and India significantly upped their contributions. It also received a "failing grade" on climate action, and it's a well-known fact that despite the COP21 commitments made in Paris, the country is projected to increase its greenhouse gas emissions in the years to come rather than reducing them, as promised, by 2030.
Yet despite this negative track record, newly-appointed Environment and Climate Change Minster Catherine McKenna is filled with overwhelming hope for Canada's prospects when it comes to global environmental leadership.
“Right now the energy sector is evolving rapidly," she told audiences at the Globe 2016 Leadership Summit in Vancouver on Wednesday.
“By partnering with the private sector to foster growth in green technology and sustainable development, Canada will not only reduce greenhouse gases, we will also build a greener and more sustainable economy.”
Climate change and the environment are not partisan issues, she explained, and there is no better time to act than now.
Time to take "big risks"
Canada is full of "entrepreneurial spirit," said the minister, rhyming off a list of examples including the Smart Prosperity coalition launched yesterday by senior officials in oil and energy, big banks, unions, think tanks and environmental groups.
She also gave a special nod to General Fusion in Burnaby, B.C., an innovative company striving to be the first commercial enterprise to create low-cost, usable fusion power.
"That’s really, really hard, but that would be a game changer," she insisted. “We need to take big risks because the rewards are going to be great.”
Her claims were backed by Merran Smith of Clean Energy Canada, who spoke alongside her at the presentation.
“Renewables are ready for prime time and we are ready to use them," she explained. "Clean energy is not considered alternative anymore — it’s not something you do just because it’s morally right, it’s considered good business.”
The real question we need to ask ourselves now, said Smith, is how quick the clean energy transition will be. Carbon pricing will certainly accelerate the change, but the province's are in disagreement with how such an initiative should proceed.
Carbon pricing the way to go
Despite dissent between the premiers, McKenna promised that a national carbon scheme is coming.
“I actually really believe in the power of the markets," she explained. "Carbon pricing is the most efficient way to reduce emissions but also to foster innovation.
"I hear that from business leaders, I heard that when I was negotiating the market tax in Paris all through the night.”
But forcing polluters to pay is only one piece of the puzzle — she said providing incentives and capital investment is another. Last year, the Liberals promised to create a $2-billion Low-Carbon Economy Trust to ensure that premiers come up with solid plans to reduce their own emissions.
Canadian citizens also have a role to play, she added, encouraging one and all not to be discouraged by the "overwhelming" nature of climate change. She asked the public — faith groups, youth, Indigenous leaders, everyone — to use social media to share their own climate change solutions with the government via social media.
“In the areas that you have expertise and solutions… come and provide your expertise," she challenged. "We really need the best thinkers.”
It takes bold partnerships to foster real innovation, said the minister, who fully expects Canada to emerge as a global leader on climate change action.