Speaking Points for
The Honourable Jim Prentice, PC, QC, MP
Minister of the Environment
to the Members of the University of Calgary School
of Public Policy and the School of Business
February 1, 2010
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for the invitation to speak with you here today.
One of the things about an aggressive travel schedule is that, in addition to testing the durability of your patience and your luggage, italso allows you really to test your assumptions and to provide some fresh perspectives on some of the more familiar icons in your own backyard. And for me, one of those icons is the University of Calgary, which I attended but which I did not graduate from although parenthetically I did graduate from somewhere else.
But, wherever I go across the country, I come back impressed by the reputation and the respect commanded by our university, and the turnout today is further testament really to the reach of the University of Calgary. It may not be Canada’s oldest university, but it’s one of the most dynamic.
And as a Calgarian, I am proud and, as a Calgarian obviously you feel the same way, I’m proud of the Haskayne School of Business, named after my friend and neighbour and mentor, Dick Haskayne. And we all look forward to great things from the new School of Public Policy, under the leadership of Jack Mintz. I often say as a Minister that I believe passionately that you cannot achieve excellence in public policy, unless you talk to people. And my participation here is offered very much in that spirit.
Certainly the most challenging item on my 2009 political and travel schedule was my trip in December to the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen. And that’s where I’d like to begin my remarks today.
The complexity of climate change and the file can not be overstated. It cuts across every sector of the economy; it affects every Canadian—rural or urban dweller—on pretty much every level of their daily lives. It is an issue that is at once local, regional, national, continental and global. It is, simultaneously, an issue of science, of business, of public policy and of politics.
Now the Government of Canada understood the importance as well as the complexity I would say of the Copenhagen Summit and the process leading up to it. We were well-organized, we were well-prepared, and the results were preceded by a year of hard work at the 17-member Major Economies Forum initially set up by President Obama.
And what was achieved at Copenhagen, frankly, is not well understood today. Neither is the fundamental importance of the outcome to us as Canadians. That’s partly because climate change has become such an ideological issue that media reports were often confusing, they were voluminous and they were sensationalized. And that made an already challenging process, even more difficult.
The agreement that was forged during that intense two-week period in December culminating on December 18th represents a major turning point for Canada and for each of the other nations that signed it.
The Copenhagen Accord is what the federal government has advocated for more than three years and it is what we have negotiated to accomplish for more than a year. And we firmly support it. It accords with the principles that we have enunciated as a government, sometimes unpopularly, at the climate change table.
For one thing, this accord has the support of the United States which means that our stated objective of aligning our policy with their policy now has a reinforced framework.
For another, it creates a functional, international community, with really one shared goal, namely addressing climate change in a principled, in a comprehensive fashion, and as a respected and fully-engaged member of the community, Canada is not alone in facing that challenge.
This is an agreement that acknowledges climate change as a global issue requiring of course a global response.
- It provides for specific mitigation commitments by major emitters;
- It provides as well for international reporting and review of the progress all Parties’ are making towards their commitments transparency;
- It provides for predictable, ramped-up flows of support to help mitigation and adaptation efforts globally.
And so going forward, the Copenhagen Accord will be the foundation for the international and domestic policies of Canada and of all other signatories. And it’s the first time that there has been a comprehensive, global agreement that deals with climate change and includes commitments from all major industrial emitters including the United States, including China and including India.
Now getting that many countries and that many agendas even close to the same page has been a remarkable accomplishment, but for all the attention that was focused on the two-week summit in Copenhagen, the reality is that much of the work was done over the preceding year during a lengthy series of reasonably quiet multilateral negotiations.
A great deal of the work was done through the Major Economies Forum and also through the Clean Energy Dialogue between Canada and the United States. And I say to you today that Canada will continue to work extensively at both of those levels.
Ultimately, however, the Copenhagen Accord will be successful not only because it moves us all forward, but because of how it moves us all forward.
It is based on the efforts of national governments, on the inclusion of all major players and on practical solutions. Now, my friends, that’s a pretty stark contrast to the old approach which was enshrined in the Kyoto Accord.
Above all else, and this is perhaps the most singular difference of all, it is our intent to respect the Copenhagen Accord and to work together with the other signatories to see it translated over the course of the coming year into a full binding international treaty. That’s something that the previous government—by the public admission of at least one senior Liberal policy advisor—never intended to do with the Kyoto Protocol. Instead, it was apparently interpreted as a mechanism to generally galvanize Canadian public opinion around the issue of climate change. I leave for another discussion on another occasion the fascinating discussion of the perils of galvanizing public opinion in a circumstance where there is not a societal consensus, where divisions of opinion are regionalized and deeply held. But that is for another day.
This Government will act on the Copenhagen Accord because it is consistent with Canada’s stated position on climate change and because it moves us closer to our ultimate goal of becoming a Clean Energy Super Power. It is also a practical document, one that acknowledges that there can be more than one way to proceed in addressing climate change. And it accommodates the specific constraints of countries while allowing them to capitalize on their own strengths.
The Accord’s attempt to build a sustainable bridge between developed and developing countries is also one of the reasons why Canada was so willing to agree to contribute our fair share to the $30-billion “quick-start” fund. And this money will assist the poorest and most vulnerable countries with mitigation, adaptation, capacity building, and technology transfer. It is the first step towards establishing a new Green Climate Fund.
There are other ways that the Government will actively contribute to any and all multilateral efforts to convert the new agreement in principle into a full, binding international treaty.
We took the first steps down that roadthis weekend by inscribing our target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the United Nations: a reduction of minus 17 per cent by 2020 from a base year of 2005.
We have adjusted our previous target to ensure that it matches exactly with those just inscribed by the United States and we have consistently said from the outset that we must harmonize our climate change strategy with that of our greatest trading partner because of the degree of economic integration between our two countries. And this is an important part of making that happen.
And let’s be clear: It’s absolutely counter-productive and utterly pointless at the end of the day for Canada and for Canadian consumers and businesses to strike out, to set and to pursue targets that will ultimately create barriers to trade and put us at a competitive disadvantage.
And one of the most glaring examples of the folly of attempting to do it alone in an integrated North American approach frankly are the new and unique vehicle regulations in the province of Quebec. These ensure that consumers will basically have to leave their province to buy their vehicles, to avoid levies of up to five thousand dollars per vehicle, because seventy-five percent of the latest car and truck models don’t conform to the new rules.
In Canada and the United States, we also have an exceptional record of accomplishment where—as with the Acid Rain Treaty—we’ve closely aligned with the United States.
And if the issue of climate change is complicated by its ideological overlay, ladies and gentlemen, as I stated earlier, targets are at the very heart of the ideology. And I think it is important speaking here today to understand just how far removed the Opposition parties in the House of Commons have been from the Copenhagen process and from what the Government of Canada is putting forward.
The NDP’s Bill C-311, supported by all of the other parties in the House of Commons, proposed a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels. My friends that works out to a 66 per cent reduction from essentially current 2006 levels and, in fact, if you use some of the United Nations’ more recent methodology, assessing the impact of pine beetles and forest fires, it would impose an obligation akin to 85 per cent reduction of our carbon emissions over the course of the next nine years. Ladies and gentlemen, that is just not feasible.
Now make no mistake about it: By adopting the 17 per cent target from the base year of 2005, we are embarking on a very ambitious journey.
The shared targets may be identical but they are not equivalent in their impact. They are, in fact, much more onerous for Canada than they are for the United States and that is because we already burn less coal to generate electricity here in our country and our industrial sector is generally newer and, consequently, more energy efficient.
And by the way, it’s also important to note that this country has a cold climate and a sprawling geography and a very intensive industrial base meaning typically significantly higher operating costs for Canadian companies.
That means that the United States can reach its target by doing things that we have already done, frankly, given them a menu of much easier choices. Canada will have to dig deeper to achieve that same end, something that we’re nevertheless prepared to.
Ladies and gentlemen, our determination to harmonize our climate change policy with that of the United States also extends beyond greenhouse gas emission targets. We need to proceed even further in aligning our various regulations.
To date, we’ve made some excellent progress, working closely together, in the automotive, marine, aviation and biofuel sectors, but we need to do even more in the days ahead and we will.
Now that being said, we will only adopt a cap-and-trade regime if the United States signals that they are prepared to do the same. Our position on harmonization applies equally to regulation. We’ve already completed much of the extensive analysis and the consultation work required to prepare us for both of these options. And Canada can go down either road—cap-and-trade on the one hand or regulation on the other. But, ladies and gentlemen, we will go down neither road alone.
That reality—and the fact that the United States has committed to the Copenhagen Accord—will also see us working even more closely with our American colleagues to further enhance the Clean Energy Dialogue, which was established when President Obama came to Canada more than a year ago to optimize co-operation on such areas as emerging technologies—such as carbon capture and storage, smart electricity grids and clean energy research and development, all of which we are making significant progress on.
I’m on my way to Washington in the next few days to continue those discussions with our counterparts in the Obama Administration on these and other related issues.
We also will be working more closely than ever with the 17-member Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, a group that includes the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Brazil, Japan and the European Union. And, ladies and gentlemen, as the 2010 chair of the G-8 and the G-20, Canada is uniquely positioned this year to shape the international dialogue around the Copenhagen Accord and its evolution into a full binding treaty.
I say to you as well not all of the work on climate change, however, is going to be on the international or even on the continental stage. There is plenty that we can and there is plenty that we will do here at home.
And I note that since 2007, the government has invested in a range of ecoAction programs, many of which promote the use of new technologies. In 2009, Canada’s Economic Action Plan included billions of dollars in spending on initiatives like the Clean Energy Fund and the Green Infrastructure Fund. They provide close to $2 billion for the development of promising clean energy technologies and green infrastructure projects.
That focus on technology and innovation relating to climate change will be sustained.
On another front, although it may not necessarily be apparent to the naked eye, the federal Government has made some great strides in building a climate change consensus with amongst most of our provinces and territories.
As part of the preparations for Copenhagen, I personally met with on a face-to-face basis and a comprehensive consultation process, meeting with every provincial and territorial leader to discuss Canada’s policy and positions. And those Premiers who were not able to accept our invitation to travel to Copenhagen as part of our official delegation—and several of them did make that trip—sent instead Cabinet members or other senior officials to observe and participate.
And so I say to you that by finding common ground, building on it and working together effectively around Copenhagen, we have laid down some tracks for future co-operation on climate change strategy.
Another important part of our domestic strategy at Copenhagen was to pull together a group of advisors, Canadian leaders, many of whom are in this room today, from various sectors from across the country. Theirs was an extremely valuable contribution to the process. We met each day at the start of the Copenhagen Conference to discuss the issues on the table and how their resolution might resonate within their areas of expertise, and it gave them an opportunity to get a good look at the engine room of an international policy summit and to better understand some of the challenges that Canada—and other nations—face when dealing with climate change.
We were fortunate to count amongst those advisors Canada’s ambassador, Gary Doer, among the Advisors. He’s not only a political veteran having served as premier of Manitoba for more than a decade, but he’s Canada’s face in Washington and an important player in our ongoing, bi-lateral relationship on climate change.
And so the reinforcement of all these connections is important as we move forward, because for all of the opportunities that surfaced for Canada at Copenhagen, a brighter light was also cast on some of the challenges that we need to confront sooner rather than later.
And let me deal then with an issue that concerns every Albertan, and indeed every Canadian—the oil sands.
Our Government supports the continued expansion of the oil sands of Alberta. The oil sands are one of country's greatest resource endowments and developed responsibly, they hold the promise to be a driving engine of the Canadian economy, ensuring prosperity and a high quality of life for our children and for our grandchildren.
We want to see that happen and we are pleased by the recent announcements of Conoco Phillips and Total to quadruple production at the Surmount project, by Husky and BP who have also pledged to spend in excess of $2.5 billion to boost output from their Sunrise project. Ladies and gentlemen, this is all good.
But let me be perfectly clear, the oils sands must be developed in an environmentally responsible manner and the Government of Canada will ensure that oil sands development lives up to our stated objective to be a ”clean energy superpower”. We aspire to be a respected and an environmentally responsible producer of all forms of energy, whether renewables such as hydro, or non-renewables such as the oil sands.
The development of the oil sands and the environmental footprint of these industrial activities have become an international issue and as such, they now transcend the interests of any single corporation. What is at issue on the international stage is our reputation as a country.
Accordingly, we need to up our game, in terms of both environmental investments and vigilance and in terms of our communication efforts. Now the Canadian and the Alberta governments are essential to this effort and I look forward to a continuing positive working relationship with the Alberta Government, with my friend the Premier, with the new Energy Minister, my colleague Ron Liepert, with whom I spoke this morning. But, our two governments cannot do this without the concerted co-operation of industry, in terms of both environmental efforts and in terms of communications.
We do not intend to stand still, and this is not an international battle that Canada intends to lose. We staked out important ground at Copenhagen, but this challenge has only just begun and we will need, and expect, the co-operation of industry in the Government of Canada's future plans. The challenge has, however, only just begun and we will need to work together to ensure that that happens.
As I said earlier, climate change is a complex issue, and that means that there are a number of stakeholders with legitimate interests in how the oil sands are developed, and they also have a right to transparency and to accountability in that process.
We have a lot of work to do. It is no secret, and should be no surprise that the general perception of the oil sands with the misinformation that has been spread has beenprofoundly negative. This is true both within Canada and increasingly internationally.
Given that perception has a way of becoming reality, unless we take some bold, proactive action, the many positive steps we take towards addressing climate change will be eclipsed by that negativity. We will continue to be cast as a global poster child for environmentally unsound resource development. Canadians expect and deserve more than that.
And for those of you who doubt the Government of Canada’s willingness, that we lack either the willingness or the authority to protect our national interests as a “clean energy superpower”, think again. We do and we will. And in our efforts we will expect and we will secure the co-operation of all private interests which are developing the oil sands. Consider it a responsibility that a company has the right to develop these valuable Canadian resources.
How we manage environmental issues post-Copenhagen will define Canada’s future and will define our reputation on the international stage.
We need to address the challenges of climate change, but not with excessive haste. We need to work more closely with all members of the global community within the auspices of the the Copenhagen Accord and, in particular, to harmonize our policies with those of the United States. We need to invest in technology and innovation that is geared to Canada’s unique circumstances and to our unique strengths.
And as I draw to a close, it is also important, even as we set new standards of goals, to celebrate our many wins, and on that score, as much as I look forward to the rigorous challenges ahead this year, I regard 2009 as a year of great environmental accomplishments for our country.
We expanded the Nahanni National Park in the Northwest Territories by six times by over 30,000 square kilometres. We gave our Environmental Enforcement Legislation some sharp teeth, increasing penalties and sentencing for individuals and groups. We led the way in polar bear conservation. We signed an agreement with Greenland to protect polar bears. We worked closely with the Nature Conservancy of Canada to protect environmentally-sensitive areas. We introduced new continental vehicle tailpipe emission standards and we have laid the groundwork for the publication in several weeks of Canada’s first national sewage wastewater regulations, so that we will no longer discharge our effluent from 4,000 facilities across Canada into our natural environment . We launched the Clean Energy Dialogue with the United States.
And, last but not least, and important for our purposes today, 2009 was the year of the Copenhagen Accord and all of the promise that represents for the future of our country.
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
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