McKenna, who served as environment minister in 2015 and then as infrastructure minister in 2019, decided not to run for re-election last year but promised to “continue serving, just in a different way.”
Now, she will focus on women’s climate leadership, the global transition from coal to clean energy and carbon markets, pricing and border adjustments in her new role as a distinguished visiting fellow at Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy and the Columbia Climate School.
McKenna, who lives in Ottawa, said at “some point” she will go to New York City every month, both to work with her Columbia colleagues in person and because the city is a financial centre and a good place to tackle global climate finance.
The United Nations’ headquarters is also there, and McKenna said she has been approached to do “some work with the UN on climate,” alluding to several other opportunities to be announced soon.
Her year-long, part-time contract at Columbia also involves working with students.
“Working with young people has been the most inspirational part of working on climate,” said McKenna. “Helping them to be part of the solution is going to be exciting.”
Canada’s climate victories need to be applied globally, McKenna said, which is where she believes her political experience will be an asset.
Canada's former infrastructure minister @CathMcKenna joins @ColumbiaUEnergy to continue fighting climate change with a focus on the transition away from coal, empowering women climate leaders and carbon pricing. #cdnpoli
McKenna’s climate legacy during her six years in federal politics was mixed. Under her watch, Canada invested in new fossil fuel infrastructure like the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project and approved the Pacific NorthWest LNG project. But she scored some undeniable political victories when it comes to climate policy.
Within her first hours as environment and climate change minister in 2015, McKenna helped negotiate the Paris Agreement and land its improved pledge to keep global warming as close as possible to 1.5 C. She later brought national carbon pricing to Canada despite pushback from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario, and before her departure from politics, she spearheaded Canada’s first national infrastructure assessment, which examines the country’s infrastructure through a climate lens.
Alongside the coal transition and carbon pricing, McKenna’s priority is to increase the number of female negotiators at events like the UN climate change conferences and break down barriers for women entering climate-related professions.
“I think women are more ambitious, from my experience, on climate action. It's very personal to them,” said McKenna. “If we're going to avoid the climate crisis, we need half the population to be able to provide solutions.”
When asked about her future initiatives, McKenna said to “stay tuned.”
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer