Notes for an address by
The Honourable Jim Prentice, P.C., Q.C., M.P.
Minister of the Environment
Bennet Jones Lake Louise World Cup Business Forum
November 28, 2008
Check Against Delivery
Thank you, for the kind introduction and for the opportunity to once again address the Bennett Jones Lake Louise World Cup Business Forum.
It is difficult to refuse an opportunity to travel up here - to one of Alberta's last gateways into the great wide open - when my destination is as serene, and calming, and charming as Lake Louise.
Few other places on earth so uniquely combine such beautiful parcels of undisturbed land with a similar bounty of unspoiled riches.
In many ways, these are the characteristics that best define Lake Louise, and without question are what make this town one of the world's most renowned postcard destinations.
Some have even taken to calling Lake Louise Canada's 'Diamond in the wilderness.' I will not seek to redefine it otherwise - these four words do it justice like few others ever could.
When last I stood before you, I spoke of my affinity for fly-fishing and of my natural predisposition for conservationism.
I wonder if it was perhaps the echo of that speech that prompted Prime Minister Harper to entrust me with the environment portfolio!
Even if it wasn't - even if he didn't hear me say last year that our innate desire to protect and conserve our natural surroundings is a natural part of being Canadian - I am nonetheless thankful to the Prime Minister for the opportunity that I now have as Minister of the Environment.
In many ways, I am more excited about what lies ahead than at any other time in my political career.
The environment, like so few other aspects of life, is ingrained in the Canadian psyche as an extension of our own identity.
But in true Canadian fashion, rarely do we ever boast about our rich and diverse natural heritage. Instead, we let subtle reminders speak for themselves.
Our major league baseball team takes its nickname from the Blue Jay.
The loon adorns our dollar, the caribou our quarter.
Even certain cities and towns carry names that pay homage to the wildlife that we so seek to protect.
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Red Deer, Alberta. Rivière-du-Loup, Québec. Salmon Arm, BC.
All of these stand as examples of items and areas whose names are synonymous with the most renowned of Canadian species. And they remind us, in a very subtle but real way, that to be Canadian is to be uniquely appreciative of the land that we cherish and so proudly call home.
It was noted actor and environmentalist Robert Redford who once said that "Defence of our resources is just as important as defence abroad. Otherwise, what is there to defend?"
I believe that Redford was right... that we must indeed defend the natural resources whose form and character conspire to give us the cachet of a great northern nation.
And that we must also pour every effort into safeguarding all aspects of our environment - against those who seek to profit off the land through unsanctioned and unscrupulous activity... against those who recklessly pollute with incomprehensible disregard for environmental and human health... but also, against a far greater force whose might carries with it consequences of potentially devastating proportions.
Climate change, as we all know, has become the pre-eminent environmental issue of our time. United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, has even called it "the defining challenge of our age."
There was a time when only scorn and derision would follow in the footsteps of such a declaration.
Hyperbole, the pundits would call it.
This mentality, my friends, is eroding like the slowly receding shorelines of our coasts.
Today, climate change is widely viewed as an issue of global interest whose implications, if left unaddressed, herald consequences beyond contemplation.
In Canada, the impacts of a changing climate are already evident in every region, as our nation stands, quite literally, on the frontline of the climate change assault. Our Northern environments, in particular, have already begun to bear the scars.
Fish habitats and water supplies in independent communities are in decline because glaciers are retreating too quickly...
Thinning ice is predicted to cause some wildlife populations to diminish, and if we are not careful, to disappear altogether.
Further to the South - in BC and right here in Alberta - stubborn pine beetle infestations have left a devastating imprint on our environment, as well as on industry and jobs.
Likewise across Canada, important regional economies and entire economic sectors - forestry, agriculture and fisheries, for example - have felt the weighty punch of global climactic instability.
Obviously, these scenarios have confronted Canada with an enormous challenge and responsibility to secure our climate future.
But as if climate change alone isn't enough of a challenge, a new factor has entered into the equation - for Canada, and indeed for the entire world.
Times of global economic uncertainty have caused priorities to shift.
Whereas not long ago Canadians listed the environment as their number one concern, the economy has understandably jumped ahead to take over top billing.
However, our government was right to long-ago state that, always, we would fight climate change by striking an acceptable balance between measurable environmental progress and steady economic growth and prosperity.
One must not - ABSOLUTELY CANNOT - come at the expense of the other.
If this means re-examining the way forward in the face of present-day economic realities, then so be it.
But please, don't misinterpret the facts.
This government is still determined to move ahead, but will do so prudently. To do otherwise - to take short-term action that could jeopardize our ability to make long-term progress - would simply be short-sighted and in nobody's best interests.
We will not - and let me be clear on this - aggravate an already weakening economy in the name of environmental progress.
Our guiding principle, in challenging economic times as in prosperous ones, is to keep economic and environmental policy on equal footing.
Here in Alberta, perhaps more than anywhere else in Canada, it is understood that when we speak of environmental policy, we also speak of energy policy. And when we speak of energy policy, we speak of economic policy.
These are all parallel roads to the same destination.
That destination is one of an enduring Canadian prosperity... one founded, on the one hand, upon a balancing of our responsibilities as stewards of the environment, and on the other hand, as creators of wealth and builders of industry and economic opportunity.
It is a destination that will see us at the forefront of the industries where we currently excel - oil, natural gas, pipelines, hydro-electricity, and the orderly development of the oil sands.
It is also a destination that must see Canada at the forefront of the development of the technologies and human capital that will transform our world from that which we know today, to the low-carbon world of 2050.
In 2050, prosperity will accrue to those who have mastered carbon capture and storage and clean coal technologies... to those who have successfully deployed carbon energy alternatives like nuclear energy and wind and solar power... to those who have developed their infrastructure to harness more remote natural gas basins and hydro-electric projects.
In sum, prosperity will accrue to those who are not only the best at combining capital and technology for carbon-based industries, but to those who do the same for low carbon alternatives.
This will involve a transformation of our economy in the long-term, and consequential changes in the medium-term... a transformation that will require capital investment and shrewdness and stability in public policy.
The coming months are pivotal.
The next year will hopefully see the development of a continental and possibly international consensus on many of the critical public policy questions surrounding the environment; our use of hydrocarbons; and the development of low-carbon energy alternatives.
I say this for three reasons.
First, the economic downdraft that currently dominates headlines will transform elements of the North American economy.
We are all well aware of how challenging the economy has become and we intend to ensure - as I mentioned moments ago - that any environmental regulations that we propose reflect an assessment of our economic circumstances, an understanding of our technological competitiveness and careful consultation.
Second, the election of a dynamic new President in the United States - someone who has spoken with clarity and determination about the need for North American leadership in environmental and energy policy.
And third, the reality that the world community will, in Copenhagen 13 months from now, be called upon to define an international consensus to build a new and more effective international climate change regime.
The confluence of these events will be complex. These are amongst the most difficult and pressing issues of our time. How we approach them as a country will have a profound effect upon our future... upon our economy... and upon our relationship with the international community.
Close to home, we must seek to forge an immediate relationship with the new American administration in order to quickly and collectively address the environmental issues that straddle the borders of our two nations.
Environmental policy integration makes sense given the highly integrated Canada-U.S. economic and energy relationship. This is especially true for an issue with such pervasive economic and energy linkages as climate change.
Canada and the United States have a strong and shared interest in promoting the development and deployment of the clean energy technologies that will play a critical role in achieving significant medium- and longer-term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
The private sectors of both countries, in partnership with government, will be deeply involved in this process of technological change.
Both governments need to work to ensure that our policy and regulatory frameworks are coherent and supportive. This is critically important, both for the environment and for the economy.
That's why we have committed to pursue a North America-wide cap and trade system, and it is why we will seek to work closely with the new US administration to build the North American low-carbon economy.
Achieving this goal will require innovation and sustained effort. Many Canadian companies are leading the way.
Some are developing, with government support, next generation biofuels for use in today's cars and trucks.
Others are creating energy conversion system facilities that use world-leading technology to convert municipal, household, commercial or industrial waste into green power.
Others still are committed, as industry leaders in unconventional natural gas and integrated oilsands development, to significant improvements in the sustainability of their operations.
Business leadership on the environment and climate change has the potential to make a major contribution to strengthened global action.
I intend to promote that very message when I travel to the United Nations Climate Change Conference next month in Poland. There, I will also reiterate that Canada's engagement on climate change continues to be guided by four key principles:
- To balance environmental protection and economic prosperity;
- To maintain a long-term focus;
- To develop and deploy clean technologies; and,
- To engage all major emitters.
The Conference represents a milestone on the road to strengthening international cooperation on climate change, and will get us one step closer to adopting a new international agreement for the post-Kyoto, post-2012 period... an agreement that recognizes that not one country alone can respond to the climate change challenge.
We will be working towards a new climate change agreement at Copenhagen in 2009, while also responding to the current financial and economic crisis.
In the current circumstances, balancing environmental protection and economic prosperity is vital. Achieving deep reductions in greenhouse gases by strategically transforming to a low-carbon economy will require sustained effort and a long-term vision.
In Poland, Canada will advocate its vision of a low-carbon economy that ensures continued growth and sustainable development. This will require continued action to provide increased global supplies of secure, affordable and clean energy.
Global action should focus on achieving dramatic increases in energy efficiency, expanding significantly the use of low-carbon and renewable fuels, and encouraging the rapid development and deployment of clean energy technologies.
As a major producer and exporter of all forms of energy, Canada has the potential to make a significant contribution to meeting this global challenge - at home, in partnership with the United States and with other major international economies.
We highlighted this commitment in the Government's recent Speech from the Throne. We have set an objective of providing 90 percent of Canada's electricity needs from non-emitting sources such as hydro, nuclear, clean coal or wind power by 2020.
This will make an important contribution to our commitment to reduce Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, while ensuring that Canada's actions going forward are comparable to those of our partners in the United States, Europe and other industrialized countries.
Effective global action on climate change and on the economy will require the engagement and contribution of all major economies in taking measureable action.
In recent months, many major developing countries - including China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa - have shown a new willingness to take action, commensurate with their growing global responsibilities and capabilities.
This is an important development.
Canada remains ready to work with all major economies in the negotiations to ensure a successful outcome at Copenhagen.
The United States will play a crucial role in this process, as it should. Canada accounts for only two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet has been clear about its willingness to be a leader in addressing this global environmental challenge.
America, on the other hand, is responsible for nearly twenty percent of the world's emissions, but has been slow in coming to the table.
The President-elect of the United States has clearly indicated his intention to provide new leadership on climate change, both at home and in the UN negotiations. We look forward to collaborating closely with the new administration in these negotiations.
Going into Poland, Canada has an important role to play and the potential to make an active and constructive contribution to a new global agreement on climate change.
This is important, because hinging on the outcomes of these meetings - this year's in Poland, next year's in Copenhagen, and all others before and after then - is the overall environmental legacy that we will leave behind for those who will follow in our footsteps.
Our land, after all, is merely on loan, passed on to us from a previous generation to safeguard for a future one.
And although our stewardship of the world's environment is only temporary, we must take great pride in the role that we play as its custodians.
The responsibility to protect that legacy is ours and ours alone... but not simply as individuals or as individual nations in a global community.
The responsibility to protect the land that we are safeguarding for the future falls in the hands of every industrialized nation whose actions are contributing to the climate change challenge we face.
And as such, it is critical that we work collectively on all fronts - domestically, in North America, and as a leading contributor to international efforts - to make real progress.
This must be our goal - for our environment as a whole, and for our world's future health and prosperity.
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