If we take the same approach to climate that we are taking to COVID-19 — maintaining a sense of urgency, tightening our focus, listening to science, innovating relentlessly — we will win.
Five years ago, I returned to Canada from the international climate conference in Paris still buzzing with adrenaline, lack of sleep and the exhilaration of helping get 194 nations to move ambitiously on climate action. But even as a new cabinet minister – less than two weeks on the job – I recognized the long road ahead: developing a vigorous agenda on climate change to honour our commitments.
In Canada, we moved that rock, with great effort. In the last five years, we have put a price on pollution, establishing that it’s no longer free to pollute. We committed to planting two billion trees by 2030. We banned single-use plastics, made historic investments in the Oceans Protection Plan, and legislated five-year climate reviews. We are spending billions on clean infrastructure.
Today, as we face the worst public health crisis in a century, there are lessons to be learned from our public health response. If we take the same approach to climate change that we are taking to COVID-19 – maintaining a sense of urgency, tightening our focus, listening to science, innovating relentlessly and collaborating across borders – we will beat climate change, as we are beating COVID-19.
In recent days, Canada has joined Britain and the United States in approving a vaccine. This took less than a year. We found a way. We will on climate change, too.
My successor as environment and climate change minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, has introduced a strengthened climate plan that will help Canada beat its 2030 climate target. We are the first government to set a clear path to actually achieve and exceed it.
Canadians heard a lot of talk about targets under the Stephen Harper government, with virtually no action to meet them. Our government took the opposite approach, committing to exceed our 2030 target with practical and affordable measures. Last week, Wilkinson introduced a climate plan building on what we have already achieved with a clear path to exceed our target while creating good jobs and economic growth at a time when both are really needed.
The new plan continues to ensure that pollution isn’t free while giving households more money back in a way that leaves the majority of them better off. It includes an investment of $15 billion that will help make communities more livable, create good union jobs, and support workers in a stronger and cleaner economy. And it will harness the power of the market and will help businesses export low-carbon “Made-in-Canada” products, services and technologies.
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To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky, that’s where the puck is going. Alberta’s newest solar power facilities will provide electricity at rates cheaper than natural gas, and wind power costs have dropped 70 per cent over the past decade. In the same 10 years, the TSX Renewable Energy and Clean Technology Index is up 130 per cent and the TSX Energy Index, which is heavy on fossil fuels, is down 69 per cent. Markets tell the tale: clean power is attracting investment, and investment brings jobs and community growth.
The new climate plan commits to long-term investments in cleaner public transit and active transportation, adding more cycling and walking paths when people need to be outside in nature the most. And the plan will invest $1.5 billion for green community buildings, including retrofits and new, net-zero builds, which builds on our government’s historic 12-year, $26.9-billion green infrastructure plan.
As minister of infrastructure and communities, I’m working to deliver projects across Canada to make our communities more resilient, inclusive and healthy. Projects such as the net-zero pool in Drayton Valley, Alta., and the biofuel production facility in Varennes, Que., that turns waste into fuel using cutting-edge Canadian technology. Or funding Canadian-made electric school buses in Ottawa, reclaiming saltwater marshes in Nova Scotia and fighting floods in Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island.
Infrastructure Canada has approved more than 700 projects, worth more than $1.3 billion, since March. Tackling climate change is about good jobs, Canadian innovation, clean air and water, more inclusive communities, and a better future for our kids.
Canadians want and deserve a brighter, cleaner, more resilient future. And the majority believe that this is what it will take to get there. The fight against climate change is at a tipping point.
Five years after the Paris climate agreement, imagine the future you want for you and your family. With the same commitment we’ve brought to beating the pandemic, we will beat climate change, too.
Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna is the minister of infrastructure and communities.