It’s already big news that Canada now has a Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna.
But it might be even more newsworthy that McKenna is promising that Canada will be a constructive player at the upcoming UN climate talks in Paris next month.
After years of international scrutiny for playing an obstructive role in international climate negotiations and a former environment minister who performed awkward linguistic gymnastics to avoid using the words “climate change,” McKenna’s enthusiasm signals a new era for Canada’s role on the global climate stage.
Speaking outside Parliament Wednesday after her first day in office, McKenna said she is “really excited” to get down to work on Canada’s climate file.
“It’s going to be a lot of hard work. This is a really important file. It’s a really important file to Canadians — both the environment but also tackling climate change. We need to be ambitious and I’m ready to work hard and get down to action,” McKenna told the CBC. “This is why I got into politics: to make a difference. I have three kids and this portfolio could not be more important to their future.”
When asked to reflect on the significance of adding climate change to the traditional Minister of Environment title, McKenna laughed.
“Well first of all because we can use the term climate change,” she said.
“We believe climate change is a huge problem we need to be addressing. We are certainly highlighting this and we’re going to be taking action right away.”
The Liberal government has yet to release specific emissions reduction targets for Canada, a point of concern for some onlookers who criticize the party for taking former prime minister Stephen Harper’s climate plan to Paris.
That plan, to reduce Canada’s emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, has been criticized for being weak and inadequate when compared to commitments from other industrialized nations.
Canada’s submission to the UN relies on the use of forestry credits, something Climate Action International said allows Canada to avoid eliminating emissions from fossil fuel sources like the Alberta oilsands.
Currently there is no plan to reduce the climate footprint of the oilsands, Canada’s fastest growing source of emissions although a recent downturn in the global oil economy, paired with a rapidly growing and competitive clean energy sector, may already be changing the fate of high-cost, high-carbon oil reserves.
The first session of Canada’s new Parliament is scheduled for December 3, a few days into the Paris climate talks.
After being sworn into office Wednesday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a crowd outside Parliament, “Canada is going to be a strong and positive actor on the world stage including in Paris at COP21. That’s why we have a very strong minister, not just of environment, but Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.”
Although the Liberal government isn’t armed with the kind of targets most climate advocates would like to see, McKenna said she plans to demonstrate Canada is taking a new approach to climate change.
“Our priority is certainly to show we have an ambitious agenda,” she said, indicating the Liberal government’s full-fledged climate plan is in development.
“We’re going to figure out a plan to make a huge reduction in emissions and show that Canada is back, that we believe that climate change is a massive problem and we need to be playing a significant role to tackle it and that we’re there at the table to play a constructive role with the other governments.”
McKenna also said the federal government will work closely with the premiers to develop a national climate plan.
“We have to have a comprehensive plan.”
“The federal government can’t do this alone, so that’s why we’re working with the provinces,” McKenna said, indicating many of the provinces already have promising climate strategies in place. “We’re playing catch up at the federal level.”
McKenna and Trudeau will lead a team of delegates to Paris that include many of the country’s premiers as well as federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May.
“We’re going to have the provinces at the table and we’re going to come up with a plan that is actually going to make a difference,” McKenna said.
“I’m excited to work with amazing public servants at Environment Canada, working with civil society, businesses to really tackle climate change. It’s exciting.”