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The Honourable Peter Kent, P.C., M.P.,
Minister of the Environment,
Guelph Chamber of Commerce
January 25, 2013
Good afternoon. I am delighted to be here today to speak with all of you.
As Canada’s Environment Minister, I realize and fully appreciate the value of Canada’s vast and magnificent environment, and our government is actively engaged to ensure Canadians have long-term access to fresh water, clean air and a healthy environment.
Canada is the second largest country in the world. It is home to the third-largest supply of annual renewable fresh water in the world, 25% of the world’s wetlands, 10% of the world’s forests and over 70,000 plant and animal species. Our environmental wealth is breathtaking and unparalleled.
The value of our environment and its significance are also well understood by the Government of Canada. We recognize that conservation and environmental protection are absolutely vital to the health, to the well-being and to the economic prosperity of all Canadians.
At Environment Canada, it is our job to protect Canada’s natural legacy over the long term. And although there is still much to be done, thanks to sound science, strong leadership and productive partnerships, we are generating efficient and effective results.
Sound science, for example, frames our ability to responsibly manage increasingly complex and changing environmental issues such as climate change, threats to air, water and biodiversity and exposure to substances that threaten our environment. Expert scientists are actively engaged as I speak, monitoring the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of numerous sites across Canada.
The best available research helps us to ensure that our policies are firmly based on, or supported by, the most reliable evidence. And this is one of the many reasons why our regulations are recognized as world-class. Likewise, reliable scientific analysis and advice ensures Canadians timely weather forecasts every day of the week. I am sure many of you probably listened to one of our forecasts before you even got into your car this morning to drive here.
Strong leadership and collaboration are also driving the development and implementation of regulations. Effective partnerships are advancing the protection of our endangered species and our nation’s rich biodiversity, significantly increase land conservation… as they have supported the creation of a record number of new parks. They are also playing a strong role in enabling the protection of our Great Lakes.
As a Torontonian, the Great Lakes are a significant part of my life and the lives of my family. As residents of Ontario, I know that, like me, you take a great interest in the Great Lakes. They are the largest system of freshwater on the planet providing about eighteen percent of the world’s fresh surface water. They support more than 3,500 plant and animal species. And they also generate billions into Canada’s economy each year.
We share a deep commitment to protecting these lakes and the health of the surrounding communities. The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement signed by Canada and the United States more than forty years ago, in 1972, underscores this dedication.
Times have changed, but our perseverance has been unwavering. Last fall, we worked with the United States to enhance the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. We renewed and reinforced ongoing efforts to deal with harmful algae, toxic chemicals and discharges from vessels using the lakes. And we also included new provisions to address issues such as aquatic invasive species, habitat degradation and the effects of climate change.
Today, this agreement is serving as the foundation for the development of a new Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health.
We are already putting the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement into action. We recently announced the Government of Canada’s $46.3 million contribution towards cleaning up Randle Reef in Hamilton Harbour, the largest and most severely contaminated site within the Canadian side of the Great Lakes.
With the launch of the Great Lakes Nutrient Initiative, we are also investing $16 million over four years to address the re-emergence of toxic and nuisance algae caused by excessive phosphorous discharges to the lakes. This initiative will largely focus on Lake Erie where the impact of algae is greatest, but it will also develop a base of knowledge and strategy that can be used in other lakes as well. Algae growth is further restricted by our regulations on the use of phosphates in household cleaning products, detergents and laundry soap.
Our participation in watershed planning efforts is also supporting the Great Lakes Nutrient Initiative. A good example of this is our collaborative work on the restoration of the Grand River watershed. We are making contributions ($36,000) and working with a number of partners to reduce the significant impact that phosphorus from this watershed is having on Lake Erie.
I know that many of you understand the value of Lake Simcoe and South-eastern Georgian Bay, both of which are important natural resources, vital sources of drinking water, and regional economic drivers.
I do as well. And what a great start we had for this year when we announced our investment of $29 million into Lake Simcoe and South-eastern Georgian Bay. These funds will help to restore the ecological health of these waters and improve water quality for the residents and wildlife of the region.
This important investment builds on the success of the 2007-2012 $30 million Lake Simcoe Clean-Up Fund. It is also part of the Government’s Action Plan for Clean Water, which includes projects like the clean-up of contaminated sediment in Great Lakes Areas of Concern, and action on pollution in Lake Winnipeg—such as our $18 million five-year commitment into the second phase of the Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative.
Actions to clean up and protect the Great Lakes are supported by the Government of Canada’s internationally recognized Chemicals Management Plan which is continuing to play a crucial role in protecting water quality. Under this plan, controls limit toxic chemicals such as PBDE’s which is a flame retardant. They prohibit their use and prevent them from getting into fresh water. We are also conducting monitoring to provide a picture of human and environmental exposures to priority chemicals, with a number of sites in the Great Lakes Basin.
We are also working with a number of partners, including the International joint Commission, to address extreme water levels in the Great Lakes. Water levels have been low for more than ten years. This is particularly concerning when it comes to the extremely low water levels in the Georgian Bay where the economic impacts could be quite high. For this reason we are pursuing a balanced approach that will make a difference.
Furthermore, we’re making progress remediating other waterways. Many of you are familiar with the tremendous work the Nature Conservancy of Canada has done helping us to protect more than 338,000 hectares including habitat for 126 species at risk. Habitat protection on Manitoulin Island and Rice Lake Plains are just a few recent examples. The Nature Conservancy of Canada also joined us, along with its American counterpart and public and private partners, to collectively invest over $10 million to safeguard the Flathead River Valley in British Columbia—one of North America’s most iconic wild places.
Similarly, we are engaging Canadians from all walks of life in conservation acts through programs such as the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk and the Ecological Gifts Program. The Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk is part of Canada’s national strategy for the protection of Species. This program funded more 2,000 projects that protect over 160,000 hectares between 2001 and 2012. Additionally, we have secured at least 959 private land donations worth more than $594 million and covering an area around 1,440 square kilometres through the Ecological Gifts Program.
Under the St. Lawrence Action Plan, which was renewed last year, we are focusing on comprehensive monitoring with a view to biodiversity conservation, improved water quality and sustainable use of that great river.
Water quality monitoring is also at the heart of the ongoing work we’re doing to ensure the environmental integrity of Canada’s oil sands. With the Canada–Alberta Joint Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring, announced last February, we will have the most scientifically-credible picture of the water, air, land and biodiversity issues in the region.
I spent a lot of time talking about the Great Lakes and the value of water. These are issues close to all of our hearts, but like all environmental issues, they cannot be viewed in isolation. Environmental issues are intrinsically linked. A key issue affecting both the quality and quantity of water in the Great Lakes is climate change. It underscores our commitment to ensuring meaningful actions—to protect the future of our environment, our people and economy.
Under our domestic plan, we are developing and implementing a sector-by-sector regulatory approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We are determined that Canada will meet its Copenhagen commitment of a 17 percent reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2020. This past year, we introduced proposed greenhouse gas regulations for on-road heavy duty vehicles for the 2014-2018 model years, and proposed marine sector standards that will have the effect of reducing greenhouse gases and air pollutants.
In addition, we put forward regulations for new passenger cars and light trucks for model years 2017 and beyond. With these regulations, vehicles rolling off the line in 2025 will produce almost 50 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions and consume up to 50 percent less fuel than those models produced in 2008. This improved fuel efficiency is expected to save Canadians upwards of $900 in fuel costs per year, per car, while reducing GHG’s by 162 megatonnes.
These initiatives build on the greenhouse gas regulations already in place for passenger cars and light trucks for 2011 to 2016 model years. We’ve also put in place regulations on coal fired electricity making Canada the first country ever to ban the construction of new coal plants using traditional technology. What is more is that this approach is working.
Canada is now halfway to achieving its Copenhagen target. Looking forward, we plan to achieve additional reductions from the oil and gas sector.
On the international stage... we are honouring our United Nations commitments under the Copenhagen Accord—a target that continues to drive efforts to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions. We are funding programs to promote sustainable agriculture and to protect forests in developing countries. As well, we are participating in global sustainable development summits such as Rio+20, and working with continental counterparts in the United States and Mexico to address a shared environmental agenda. And we also partnered with the United States on vehicle emissions standards for both light and heavy duty vehicles.
Canada was also a founding member of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition—a new, multilateral initiative to reduce short-lived climate pollutants that have a major impact on near-term warming of the planet. Since its launch, this Coalition is definitely picking up steam with a growing membership that has expanded from six to twenty countries. We also played an influential role in Durban on the development of a climate change platform that brings us closer to seeing all major emitters agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Looking back at the year 2012, Canada certainly enjoyed many successes. We are building a framework that will enable continued progress on protecting our environment for generations to come. Moving forward, we will continue working collaboratively with Canadians, like many of you here today, engaging expert scientists and using reliable science to pursue a balanced and truly sustainable approach for environment. Future generations will be the greatest beneficiaries of our collective efforts today.
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