U.S. President Joe Biden’s first week in office has offered a welcome dose of climate optimism. Not only did Biden win a mandate with climate action as a central pillar of “building back better” from the pandemic, he has also assembled a cabinet and White House team comprised of climate experts to deliver an all-of-government effort.
Canada welcomes the return of the U.S. to the Paris Agreement, and we look forward to forging new opportunities for bilateral climate co-operation with our largest trading partner and closest neighbour. This will be facilitated by the fact we already have a solid relationship and record of accomplishment working with Biden. In 2015, shortly after Canadians elected us to deliver ambitious climate action, then-vice-president Biden visited Canada to urge our government to continue taking action on issues such as climate change. And we did just that.
Working with Canadians, we developed and began to implement Canada’s first-ever national climate plan — the Pan-Canadian Framework. The plan was supported by every premier, save one, and is doing more to cut pollution in a practical and affordable way than any other climate plan in our history.
Headwinds to this momentum soon developed, however, both from a small but vocal group of Conservative politicians and from a newly elected U.S. president who did not share Canadians’ conviction that climate change is an emergency and its solutions, an opportunity. Several provinces backed down from their commitments to put a price on pollution and the Trump administration began to reverse environmental regulations, some of which impacted Canada.
Amidst calls to slow down our environmental ambitions to maintain economic competitiveness with the U.S., perhaps the painless path would have been to use these challenges as an excuse to do less. In fact, that is what the Conservative Party proposed to do in its 2019 election platform. But working with Canadians, we stepped up and forged ahead with the sense of urgency that a crisis requires.
We advanced Canada’s world-leading carbon pricing system that puts more money in the pockets of families. We accelerated the phaseout of coal, invested in renewable energy and developed standards for cleaner fuels. We moved on regulations that will cut methane pollution from oil and gas almost in half by 2025, even after the U.S. backed out of its commitment to do likewise. We made electric vehicles more affordable and accessible. And we continued to protect more of the lands and oceans that sustain us.
Nevertheless, we knew we needed to ramp up our ambition and Canadians elected us to do exactly that in 2019. That is why we built on our progress by developing and presenting a strengthened climate plan in December that means we will not just meet but exceed our 2030 emissions reduction target.
There is now significant alignment between the climate plans of President Biden and Canada’s. From our electricity grids to our automotive industry — there are many areas of economic integration that can be leveraged in the fight against climate change. Done thoughtfully, in collaboration, we can create more well-paying jobs and attract more investment into our innovative industries that will deliver climate solutions we and the world urgently require.
We can do this by developing joint efforts in areas like expanding access to affordable and reliable clean energy, reducing methane and eliminating thermal coal, decarbonizing our industries and transportation systems, and building sustainable and resilient economies through investments in green infrastructure. Together, we can ensure North America lands its fair share of the multitrillion-dollar low-carbon opportunities in the face of fierce global competition and an accelerating climate crisis.
Canadians want to be at the forefront of this change, and that is where Biden will find us as he looks to implement his environmental and economic agenda. No doubt, he will be looking for strong allies in the fight against climate change, and he will find none more resilient and determined than right here in Canada.
The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson is Canada’s minister of environment and climate change.