Mediaplanet sat down with the Honourable Steven Guilbeault to learn about some of the most pressing environmental challenges we face today and how they’re working with all stakeholders to drive our transition to a sustainable, just, and secure Canada for future generations.
Within the context of sustainable development, what are some of the biggest challenges faced by industries in Canada?
The reality is that we need climate action now. Supporting industries to reduce polluting emissions and allowing these businesses to thrive are not mutually exclusive concepts. Clean, innovative technologies are central to successfully addressing climate change and to growing a clean global economy. Supporting our economy for future generations means creating jobs and positioning Canadians to take advantage of new opportunities both at home and abroad.
For industries to be sustainable, they must prepare for climate-related risks to their operations, such as extreme weather events. The Canadian Centre for Climate Services is a key example of federal support to understand and prepare for climate impacts.
How does the electrification of our fleets tie into the emissions reduction plan and what are the biggest challenges in achieving your goals?
Transportation accounts for 25 percent of total emissions in Canada. To transition to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), we’re investing in charging infrastructure and consumer awareness, helping the auto industry retool, and providing cash incentives for consumers, as well as tax incentives for businesses. Over 125,000 Canadians and businesses have taken advantage of the federal incentive to purchase a ZEV.
Charging stations are needed across Canada. Our government has helped to address this key barrier with over $280 million in investments resulting in more than 25,200 new chargers. This means you could drive from St. John’s, Nfld., to Victoria, BC, on electricity!
We committed to developing a regulated sales mandate requiring at least 50 percent of all new light-duty vehicle sales to be zero-emission by 2030, and 100 percent by 2035. Vehicles stay on the road for up to 15 years, so meeting this target is necessary to reach net-zero.
Within the context of protecting our biodiversity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, what makes nature conservation such a critical tool at our disposal, and how are you accelerating its impact in your overall policy strategy?
Nature is vital to Canada’s efforts in fighting climate change, protecting biodiversity and species at risk, and rebuilding a strong, sustainable economy. For example, resilient wetlands are very important for migratory birds, species at risk, and other wildlife. They also help manage floods and prevent coastline erosion and damage from rising water levels.
To protect the places we love most, we invested an additional $2.3 billion over five years to reach our goal of conserving 25 percent of our lands and oceans by 2025. Together, we’re helping protect species at risk, conserve lands and waters, and monitor climate change, informed by Indigenous knowledge and science.
What are some of the largest knowledge gaps concerning climate change and the future of our planet that you would like to clarify among Canadians?
People should know that the challenge we face in our fight against climate change is to bring our society to what we call “net-zero”. That means that, for all the greenhouse gases pollution we are emitting, we are taking as many of those gases out of the air, either by natural or artificial processes, until we have reached a point of balance. This may sound daunting, but with the pace of technological change, it is achievable. Canadians should also know that developed economies and businesses around the world are all undertaking this challenge because they all know the alternative — if we do nothing — entails a level of climate volatility that would change our way of life and the stability of everyday business.
Canadians need to know that the tools are there for them to help tackle this problem in their everyday lives.
For starters, buying an electric vehicle is one of the most impactful decisions people can make to do their part in fighting climate change while saving big on gas bills. People may not know how fast the technology is progressing — batteries last longer, charging stations are becoming more accessible, and they are becoming very competitive in terms of price. The federal government and many different provinces have financial incentive programs for prospective buyers. Considering transportation accounts for a quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gases, getting our country switched onto electric vehicles will make a big difference.
Similarly, energy-saving retrofits for your house can make a big contribution to fighting climate change, while saving on your energy bills. Proper insulation, smart thermostats, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, and windows and doors, all make a big difference. Buildings account for 12 percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. The federal government and many provincial governments have programs to help people upgrade their buildings to become more energy-efficient.
Climate change is not a partisan issue. It is not a regional issue. Everyone should be pulling in the same direction. It is a challenge that will only grow the longer we take to act.
Having been tasked with developing and enacting our evolving climate strategy, what is the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change doing to accelerate emissions reduction in Canada?
Canada and other countries around the world acknowledge the critical need to do more to address climate change and on a faster timeline. The science is clear that existing efforts are not enough to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Over the past six years, the Government of Canada has taken action and invested over $100 billion to reduce emissions, drive the emergence of clean technologies, and help Canadians adapt to the impacts of climate change.
The first Emissions Reduction Plan will outline how Canada will achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 40 to 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. It will tell us what actions we must take to reduce our emissions to meet the goal.
As someone whose sustainability journey started at the age of 5 campaigning against deforestation near your home, what message do you have for Canadians this Earth Month?
When I climbed this tree in the backyard of our house when I was five, the environmental movement was in its infancy and few people paid much attention to environmental issues.
When I climbed the CN Tower 25 years later to draw Canadians’ attention to climate change, many said that I was an alarmist.
Today, Canadians and people around the world have felt and continue to feel the effects of climate change and environmental degradation. They have asked us to go further and faster on climate action, and that is what we are doing. As Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and more importantly, as a Canadian citizen, it is my duty to deliver my commitments and continue to implement legislation that applies 21st-century science to 21st-century problems.
By working together, we can protect our country’s beautiful green spaces, bodies of water, air and importantly, build a clean future for our kids and grandkids. May we mark this Earth Day with a renewed commitment to this collective goal. Climate change affects us all and we cannot tackle it alone.