‘Canada has a credible plan for addressing our environmental challenges.’

In the wake of a recommendation from the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy that Canada move forward with a cap-and-trade system and a recommitment from the Liberals that they will move forward with cap-and-trade if elected, Peter Kent delivered his first major speech as Environment Minister this afternoon in Toronto.

In the wake of a recommendation from the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy that Canada move forward with a cap-and-trade system and a recommitment from the Liberals that they will move forward with cap-and-trade if elected, Peter Kent delivered his first major speech as Environment Minister this afternoon in Toronto.

The prepared text, after the jump.

Good afternoon to all of you.

I’m pleased to be here today and to have the opportunity to speak with you.

Since I was appointed Environment Minister just three weeks ago, I’ve noticed that friends and acquaintances are treating me rather cautiously.

They seem uncertain whether they should offer congratulations… or condolences.

To be perfectly honest, at the very outset, I wasn’t certain which response was appropriate myself.

This is my first major speaking engagement as Canada’s Environment Minister, and I want to tell you all how honoured and privileged I feel to serve Canadians in this capacity.

I didn’t hesitate for a moment to accept this job when the Prime Minister called and offered it to me.

But I did wonder just what lay ahead.

The only thing I already knew for certain was that the three things never in short supply on the environmental file are opinion, criticism and advice.

In short, every form of assistance is on offer—other than real help.

But what I’ve found at Environment Canada, to my great delight, is a remarkable team of high-achieving, deeply-engaged scientists and engineers, policy experts, economists and lawyers all of whom are passionate about their mandate as stewards of Canada’s spectacular natural legacy.

They are located across the country from Arctic Bay to Sable Island to the western coast of Vancouver Island, but they are bound by their shared commitment to developing, implementing and enforcing world-class environmental standards for this country.

And so, having spent decades in a previous career as a broadcaster, I stand before you today with the most important news I have ever delivered:

Canada has a credible plan for addressing our environmental challenges.

And we are well advanced in executing that plan.

As an aside, just weeks into this job let me say how especially frustrating I find the constant, critical refrain that this Government has no environmental plan.

Not only do we have one, we are one of the very few countries that does.

What many people don’t realize is that Environment Canada already has the legal tools it needs to execute our plan. It requires no new legislation.

This is a plan that will ensure our national environmental and energy policies strike the right balance between economic renewal and sustainable development.

But before I get into this, allow me to talk with you briefly about the economy. Afterall, our gracious host here today is the Economic Club of Canada. :

Across the country, our Economic Action Plan is continuing to work for Canadians. From coast to coast to coast, we are seeing the results in the new infrastructure that’s being built in our cities, towns and local communities. And let’s not forget our $5 billion Green Infrastructure Fund.

But it’s important to remember — Canada’s economic recovery remains fragile.

That’s why our Government is continuing to focus on the economy and on creating jobs and growth.

In fact that’s why we recently extended the deadline on several key infrastructure programs.

Approximately 400,000 more Canadians are working today than in July 2009, growth has returned to the economy, and Canada is a leader among G-7 countries in exiting the global recession.

Our banks are sound, investment in Canada is up, and both the IMF and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development expect Canada to have the strongest average economic growth in the G-7 over the next two years.

But there’s more to do — that’s why since November and all through January, leading into February, my fellow colleagues in the Harper Government have been going across the country and meeting with Canadian business owners and entrepreneurs.

Following these meetings, we will bring forward the next phase of Canada’s Economic Action Plan.

And I can assure you that we will continue to focus on protecting the financial security of hardworking Canadians and their families, and continue working to secure our economic recovery by ensuring our economic policies reflect the values and principles we share with the families across the country, including right here in Toronto and the GTA.

Now, turning back to our focus on the Environment, the link between the economy and the environment is clear. Let me assure you of one point in particular: This government is every bit as serious about the stewardship of Canada’s environment, as we are about ensuring our continued economic prosperity.

Our current plan ensures our national environmental and energy policies strike the right balance between economic renewal and sustainable development.

We fully understand the challenges inherent in our commitment to execute our plan and achieve our GHG reduction targets while prospering as an energy superpower.

Setting aside rhetorical flourishes, recrimination and—as much as possible—politics, let’s review the plain facts.

Fact number one: this government—in partnership with provinces, territories and others—has already taken actions that will reduce Canada’s 2020 greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions by 65 megatonnes and bring us about one-quarter of the way to meeting our target of 607 megatonnes.

Of course there is a great deal to do, but we have good, foundational programs in place.

Since 2006 we have:

established new standards for emissions from passenger vehicles and are establishing them for heavy trucks, one of the country’s largest sources of GHG emissions;

announced standards that will phase-out the use of dirty coal to generate electricity, another major emitter;

ensured there is a five per cent biofuel content in gasoline, with more to come soon on diesel. The GHG reductions from this initiative are equivalent to taking one million vehicles off the road;

continuously improved and strengthened energy efficiency standards for buildings and building products under the Energy Efficiency Act;

worked with provinces to update the National Energy Code for Buildings;

along with all major emitters, we signed the Copenhagen Accord on climate change which covers countries that account for over 85% of global GHG emissions;

increased the amount of land set aside for national parks by 30 per cent;

introduced aggressive new environmental enforcement rules which have just passed into law;

framed a national clean air management strategy which was endorsed by all provinces last October;

devised a chemical management plan that made Canada the first country to take action on bisphenol A and was the first in the world to systematically review chemicals already in use;

drafted national municipal wastewater standards that over time will stop the dumping of raw sewage into our lakes, rivers and oceans;

signed a United Nations agreement to co-operate on the preservation of all species at risk;

created an advisory panel of independent scientists to address the health of the Athabasca River and related waterways and make recommendations on improving stewardship.

Climate change is one of the most serious environmental issues facing the world today.

Under our government’s leadership, Canada, while emitting just two per cent of the world’s GHGs, is determined to do our part for the planet.

That’s why our government has made clear commitments to be a world leader in clean electricity generation and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 % below 2005 levels by 2020.

We inscribed our 2020 GHG reduction target in the Copenhagen Accord, and don’t let anyone tell you that it’s not an ambitious target.

Canada has a growing in population.

Our economic prosperity is also growing, partly because we produce and sell energy to the rest of the world.

But both of those factors contribute significantly to GHG emissions.

That’s why I also want to make it absolutely clear that I’m not wagging my finger at industry alone: we all have to take responsibility for addressing climate change.

Our government also has a comprehensive plan to achieve real emission reductions in the short, medium, and long terms, while maintaining Canada’s economic competitiveness and its ability to create jobs for Canadians.

There’s nothing magical or glamorous about it: Achieving our objectives requires a systematic approach of regulating GHG emissions sector by sector and, where appropriate, alignment with the United States.

Canadians tend to get their hackles up whenever they hear terms like “harmonize” or “align” in the same sentence as United States.

But however much we may growl about it, when it comes to meaningful work on the environment—and climate change in particular—there is no practical alternative.

Furthermore, our strategic efforts with the United States are by no means the only example of our intent to work with others to a common goal.

Internationally, we are active, constructive participants in the United Nations’ climate change framework agreement and we’re working to ensure that becomes legally binding.

It is also worth noting that last June we announced a $400 million investment in new and additional climate financing for 2010 alone as part of our commitment to the Copenhagen Accord.

This is Canada’s largest ever contribution to support international efforts to address climate change.

This funding will help least developed countries and small island states face the challenges of climate change.

Domestically, our plan is shaped by consultation with the provinces and other stakeholders.

Strong federal leadership is necessary to provide certainty for industry and, where necessary, to stay in step with the United States.

I’ve already spoken to my provincial counterparts to assure them that we’ll continue to work closely together, leveraging the steps they’ve taken to reduce GHG emissions.

This is the most sensible approach given that the development of a continental cap-and-trade system is unlikely in the near term.

All indications are that the United States will move forward with GHG requirements led by the Environmental Protection Agency.

And so, given the highly integrated nature of the North American economy, we will align with that strategy where appropriate.

This is consistent with the way we’ve moved forward to date.

Over the last few years, our government has used environmental regulation because it reflects the belief that initiatives based upon the “polluter pay principle” yield the greatest overall benefits to society.

While protecting the environment and human health, clear and focused regulatory actions also provide industry with the certainty needed to sustain economic and job growth.

It’s a question of the balance I referred to earlier.

Our government has pursued its sector-by-sector regulatory approach beginning with two of the largest sources of GHG emissions: electricity and transportation.

In one case, we’ve set out own course. In the other, we’ve worked closely with our American partners.

The electricity sector is a prime example of areas where it is impractical to align our climate change policy.

Ours is one of the cleanest systems in the world: we have 51 coal-fired plants compared to 650 in the United States.

That’s why our new regulations for coal-fired electricity generation are unique to Canada and, with an implementation date of 2015, will make us one of the first countries to phase out emissions from dirty coal.

The proposed regulations send a clear signal to industry at a time when many older plants are about to be replaced.

By sharing this plan early, we can influence investment decisions now and help avoid the new construction of higher-emitting facilities.

Electricity differs from transportation, where we’ve worked closely with the United States from the outset to get the plan right.

Together we’ve established stringent standards for GHG emissions from passenger cars and light trucks for the 2011 to 2016 model years.

Going forward, we’ll continue working with the United States to develop even tougher standards for 2017 and later model years.

Our government has also announced its intent to develop regulations to limit GHG emissions from new on-road heavy-duty vehicles, in alignment with those being developed in the United States.

The regulations will apply to 2014 and later model year heavy-duty vehicles.

Our plan includes action to reduce GHG and air pollutant emissions from the aviation, marine, and rail modes.

Canada is working with the United States and its international partners through the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization to develop and implement new emissions standards for these modes as well.

The transportation and electricity sectors will yield important results and make progress towards our government’s 2020 target.

That said, significant work remains.

That’s why we intend to continue to develop performance standards for other major sectors of the economy.

Looking forward, our government will continue to implement its plan by developing performance standards for all major emitters to make further progress toward Canada’s GHG reduction target.

There’s no question that environmental regulation will play a key role in fulfilling the commitment we’ve made—and will keep—to develop our natural resources in a responsible and sustainable way.

Neither is there any question that it’s going to take a tremendous degree of consultation and co-operation to develop and implement the right plan to address our environmental footprint.

We’ve already taken some initial steps in the right direction.

In December, Minister Baird accepted the recommendation of an advisory panel of independent scientists on water monitoring in the region around the oil sands.

We’ll respond with our plan within 90 days, as promised.

Air quality and protection of animals and plants are next on our list.

In conclusion, I’m tremendously optimistic about the path forward.

While there remains much work to do, we’ve got several important ingredients for success: political leadership passionately dedicated to improving the environment, a results-driven plan to regulate strategically on a sector-by-sector basis; and an unwavering commitment to succeed.

As the new Minister of the Environment, I’m the first to say I have a great deal to learn about the issues and challenges in this portfolio.

I’m also the first to say that I have the confidence that we’ll build on what we’ve already accomplished.

The stakes are high and finding ways to successfully balance our environmental responsibilities with our economic imperative must be a joint effort. On that score, I look forward to working with provinces and territories, industry leaders, environmental groups and individual Canadians. We all have an important role to play.

As I’ve so often said in my past—stay tuned. We’ll be back with more.

Thank you.