Transcript: CSPS Virtual Café Series: Climate Change – Where Do We Go From Here?
[The animated white Canada School of Public Service logo appears on a purple background. Its pages turn, opening it like a book. A maple leaf appears in the middle of the book that also resembles a flag with curvy lines beneath. Text is beside it reads: "Webcast | Webdiffusion." It fades away to a video chat panel. A woman with glasses and hair pulled back, Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin, wears an orange shirt. She sits in front of a stone fireplace, with family photos on top. Small video chat panels sit in the bottom right corner.]
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Good morning everyone! Hello and welcome to the Canada School of Public Service for our 5th Virtual Café Series event, where experts from a wide range of disciplines share and explore different ideas and perspectives with us on important topics.
My name is Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin. I am Director General here at the School of Public Service and I am very pleased to welcome you today. I will be your guide for the next hour.
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Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge that I am on the traditional, unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe People. I encourage you to take a moment to acknowledge the territory you are on, as I presume that some of you are joining us from different parts of the country. I would also like to acknowledge that today is Orange Shirt Day, a day that honours the experiences of residential school students and survivors, and is intended to raise everyone's awareness about the wrongs these schools caused to Indigenous communities.
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Today, we welcome three distinguished speakers on the topic of climate change and the strategic challenges and opportunities it generates. To start with, Jocelyne Bourgon, President of Public Governance International and former Clerk of the Privy Council. And if I may, Ms. Bourgon doesn't know it but I actually started my career at the Canadian Centre for Management Development while she was its president. So, all these years later—and I won't say how many years—it's a privilege for me to share this platform with her. Thank you, Ms. Bourgon, for being with us today.
Catherine Potvin, Professor in the McGill University's Department of Biology and Canada Research Chair on Climate Change Mitigation and Tropical Forests. Welcome, Ms. Potvin. And finally, Nick Xenos, Executive Director of the Centre for Greening Government at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Hello, Nick.
Before we hand the floor over to our guests for their opening remarks, I would like to discuss a few logistical details. First of all, today's session will be interactive. We will ask the questions that you, the audience, submit during the last part of the session. As a reminder, please use the icon at the top of your screen on the right to submit your questions. It's the image of a raised hand. We will try to get through as many questions as possible. Simultaneous interpretation is also available, and if you requested it, please refer to the instructions sent to you earlier. We will now get started and, without further ado, I will turn the floor over to our speakers, starting with Ms. Bourgon. Please go ahead.
[a cursor selects one of the small video panels at the bottom of the call and pins it, making the video panel of Jocelyne Bourgon enlarge, filling half of the screen next to Nathalie. Jocelyne sits in a white bedroom. She wears large glasses, a pink collared shirt under a black sweater, and a smart watch. The cursor clicks on Nathalie's panel and unpins it, letting Jocelyne's panel fill the screen.]
Jocelyne Bourgon: Hello everyone and thanks to the School of Public Service for bringing us together and giving us an opportunity to discuss this topic. To set the stage, to start the conversation, I would like to draw a parallel between the viral pandemic we are currently experiencing, and climate change, because they share important similarities that we could reflect on. Ideally, we could learn some lessons in the process and increase the momentum of the changes that are needed to be able to tackle issues like climate change. Interesting similarities exist between the coronavirus pandemic and the potential for a climate pandemic—the most important issue facing governments in this first part of the 21st century. I will mention a few of the similarities.
First, these are global issues that originated in the physical world. Why do I mention that they originated in the physical world? Because governments have a lot of experience dealing with other types of issues: issues of imbalance, market imbalance issues, loss of confidence issues, monetary crises, fiscal crises, crises related to inflation, employment, and so on. Physical crises are a whole other matter in terms of their nature and scope. In fact, governments around the world tend to disregard these issues because, although we are aware they exist, it's almost impossible to determine the exact moment they will reach critical proportions. The problem is that by the time a critical point is reached, it is a little too late to take preventive action that could have reduced the risks or at least the impacts. This is one of the similarities between a pandemic and a climate catastrophe that could affect us all.
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The second similarity is that a pandemic or climate crisis is a complex and far-reaching issue. Not so long ago, it was difficult to explain what a complex issue is, and now we are going to learn just what a complex, large-scale issue with catastrophic potential is. They result from a number of factors that interact in a dynamic manner. They accelerate exponentially once certain tipping points or thresholds are reached. They are systemic. They affect all systems and spread across a multitude of systems. They cause chain reactions, cascading reaction, and have devastating effects.
A third similarity is that they are regressive. They disproportionately affect the weakest individuals, the most vulnerable regions and the most vulnerable systems, and therefore have an incredible multiplier effect. These similarities should not mask the fact that the scope of the crisis we are currently managing is more limited than a large-scale climate crisis. It's important to study and learn from what's happening right now; however, what is really important is to accelerate our capacity to adapt.
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Let's be honest, the pandemic that has swept across the world in recent months was not unexpected. It is not a black swan event. It was a known possibility, and the scientific community has systematically warned governments, for years, about the potential for such an event to cause devastation. The same applies to the climate crisis. It is a known event. We know enough to realize that there is an urgent need to take action. We can only hope that the past few months have given us enough opportunities for reflection so that we will be able to take the necessary action to prevent—at least to some degree—the risks inherent in a climate pandemic.
The first principle of public safety is to prevent what can be prevented, to prevent the preventable. This is the precautionary principle. It is a fundamental principle of government responsibility. A climate crisis is a foreseeable, predictable event that is somewhat preventable—because we are already late in the process—somewhat preventable in terms of its most devastating effects. Issues like this demand the kind of leadership that I would describe as distributive. And that means everyone has to act. The worst strategy is to wait for someone else to do something. The worst strategy is for a government to say, "I'm not making a move until the other level does something," and the other level says, "I'm not making a move until we have an international agreement that is universal and includes everyone." All the better if we get one, but this approach is just an excuse for inaction, and it is the worst strategy.
For the people online with us today, the question is this: what can each of them do individually in the positions they hold with the means at their disposal, and what must they do collectively to help Canadian society adapt more rapidly to unavoidable events, in the event of failure to take action, but which we can limit, or change in terms of their course or impact, through collective action. Let me repeat, what action can take individually in the positions we hold today and what must we do collectively to speed up the pace of adaptation? The pleasure of working with many countries—and many countries are working to develop their post-pandemic recovery strategy, seeking in different ways to balance, economic and societal principles, and trying to use the current wave of major public spending to accelerate necessary and inevitable changes. The Public Service of Canada is definitely equal to the challenge—the major challenge of the day, as far as I'm concerned.
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Thank you very much, Ms. Bourgon.
[Jocelyne's panel becomes unpinned and all five panels fill the screen. The cursor pins Catherin Potvin, a woman with grey, curled shoulder-length hair, blue glasses and a burgundy shirt with a brooch mimicking a firework, letting her panel fill the screen.]
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Ms. Potvin, over to you.
Catherine Potvin: Hello. Thank you very much for this invitation. Ms. Bourgon has just spoken about a major challenge for the Public Service of Canada, and it is a privilege to speak with you today, because I was very struck by the report on the Phoenix pay system, which analyzed the debacle of the pay system and showed that the government and its public servants, the Public Service, was unable to provide intellectual leadership, and allowed political aims to confuse the issue. Yes, we can talk with politicians, but Canada, the Canadian government, is much more than politicians. It is above all the Public Service, which remains in place government after government, at least partly we hope, and so can really make the necessary changes.
I am a biologist. Obviously, I will return to a few of the points raised by Ms. Bourgon and add my own two cents. Obviously, we cannot discuss climate change without talking about the pandemic. When the pandemic began, I checked the figures on deaths caused by climate change to get an idea of the type of disaster we faced. At the time, the World Health Organization reported 200,000 deaths a year attributable to climate change. Over 10 years, that adds up to two million. Extreme heat events in 2003 killed 70,000 people in Europe. And in Moscow in 2010, 10,860 people died from extreme heat. Thus, the magnitude of the disruptions is great, but in terms of expected impacts, the pandemic should be short-lived compared to climate change, which will affect our societies for decades to come. We know that the climate system has a large inertia. And even now, as we make the necessary changes to avoid reaching what is called "planetary boundaries," we won't start seeing a decrease in temperatures until the next century.
That means we will have to deal with disasters for a very long time. I think that the climate disaster is most on our minds because of its extreme danger as evidenced by the wildfires in California. Among the California wildfires, a particular fire called the August Complex—the largest wildfire on record, started in 1932, according to the estimations of burned area. Obviously, these wildfires cause huge economic losses and losses of human life as well as agonizing pain. It's important to look at the wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington State and remember the wildfire in Fort McMurray, remember the wildfires in the Amazon that started up again this year, and the vast wildfires in Australia.
The problem is not simply, "California has not managed its forests properly." For me, as a biologist, these wildfires are terrifying, and I am choosing my words carefully. The climate system is seen as a balanced system. With regard to the carbon dioxide we emit to the atmosphere, our best allies are natural systems: the oceans and forests. All our models show that if we reach the critical temperature limit, forests will lose their ability to act as carbon sinks and will no longer be our ally. Instead, they will act as enemies. If all the carbon stored in our forests is released through decay or forest fires, there is no technology that could be developed to offset the resulting impacts, and climate change will spin out of control. The time frame involved is estimated at less than 10 years. All or many of you, ladies and gentlemen, will probably still be essential members of the Government of Canada called on to advise and implement the measures required to avoid this catastrophe, which, yes, is also a disaster averted.
If the pandemic has failed to capture your attention, think back to the collapse of the cod stocks. Scientists saw it coming, Department of Fisheries and Oceans staff know it better than me, no action was taken and the outcome is reflected in the all the hardship suffered in this sector of the Atlantic fisheries. To conclude, I concur with Ms. Bourgon's comment. Individual action is important, but it's not enough. As employees of the Public Service of the Government of Canada, you can take action as individuals, you can take action as employees of the government and, collectively, you can push the government in the right direction.
Two articles have been published in the prestigious journal, Nature Climate Change, since August that measure the impact of the global lockdown on atmospheric gases. During the lockdown, mobility decreased by about 50% around the world. The effect on the climate is negligible. The expected climate impact will be negligible because institutions continued to use heat and some industries kept operating. So, individual action has limits. Individual action must be fostered and magnified by government action, by policies. And it must be done in a spirit of equity, taking into consideration the way the pandemic spread through the poorest neighbourhoods and the most vulnerable segments of the population. The same trend will be seen with climate change.
If Canada is to be a country we can be proud of—and we don't have to look very far from our position in Canada to see countries where unity is crumbling—so if Canada is a welcoming country, a fair country, climate policy needs to include everyone, not only the rich who can afford to buy a Tesla or property owners who can afford energy-efficient renovations. Climate policy must focus on the well-being of all Canadians in the face of the grave danger that lies ahead. Thank you.
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Thank you very much, Ms. Potvin. Nick,over to you.
[The cursor selects Nick's panel and pins it, letting his panel sit beside Catherine's a moment before hers is unpinned. Nick Xenos is a man with short brown hair, square glasses and a light blue button down shirt. He sits in front of a background picture featuring a field of sunflowers underneath a cloudy blue sky. He speaks.]
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Nick, you're on mute.
Nick Xenos: Sorry. That's okay. Thank you very much. One of the goals of the Centre for Greening Government is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from government operations. To do that, one of our commitments is to work with the School, and others, to encourage and enrich the discussion among public servants and within the Public Service. So, thank you very much for this event, for the large turnout. What I want to talk about, well, one thing I want to mention is that if we ask Canadians to take action, we have to take action as a government as well. And as a government we can take action in many ways: through our policies, laws and regulations. And as a player, since the Government of Canada is one of the largest organizations in the country. We have more than 30,000 buildings and we are the largest property owner in the country. We own 25,000 vehicles and buy $20 billion in goods and services every year. So, we need to take action.
We, as public servants, have to act. I would like to say a few words about science, impacts and action. Based on the scientific data, the world has already warmed by 1° and under the Paris Agreement, we are trying to keep the global temperature rise below 2°, preferably 1.5°. The world has reached one degree already. Canada has reached almost double that level, with a temperature rise of 1.7°. We have already recorded a temperature increase of 1.7°. The Arctic is warming almost three times faster than the global average. We have to adapt to this new reality and aim for net zero emissions to prevent things from getting worse. And, as Ms. Bourgon said, net zero means everyone must do their part, in every area of endeavour. We can't wait for anyone, we should be aiming for net zero. In terms of the impacts of climate change, we are fairly aware of the domestic impacts in Canada, we have experienced them. But I would also like to emphasize how the climate change impacts around the world will affect us in Canada.
From a trade perspective, if our companies don't adapt, first or faster, they will be less competitive than other global companies that are quicker to adapt, whether in forestry, natural resources, manufacturing, etc. With regard to supply chains, resiliency in our supply chains is important because a lot of our goods and services are interconnected. Other international impacts include food security, drinking water, conflicts—climate change amplifies conflict—migration, etc. We should also keep in mind that even if we adapt, globally, a lot is going to happen and we should look into it.
In terms of action, I would also like to make a few observations because it might seem big, "Climate change, what can we do?" etc. We have to take action. Governments have a lot of leverage: we have laws, regulations, research and development programs, etc. And everyone listening works in some field or other that is affected by climate change. We can look at our field and consider how we can take action. As part of one of the largest organizations in the country, we also need to act as leaders. As individuals, our choices can make a difference. Collectively, all of our little choices add up to make a difference and can push government, and society, in a given direction.
Let me simplify the actions a little. We can take action in five different areas. One is buildings, real estate. It's really about heating and electricity. What some people may not know is that in Canada, 80% of our electricity is zero carbon. Most of the time, it's about the heating of our commercial, residential, institutional buildings, etc. But solutions exist already: energy efficiency, air-source heat pumps, geothermal energy, and so on. Transportation: how do we get around? And maybe we could really electrify our transportation system. For our ships and planes, perhaps we could switch to low-carbon fuel. It's a little more expensive, but it's available. The third thing, after buildings and transportation, is our purchases. It is important is to make good choices. If you buy local peaches, less carbon is generated than if you buy peaches transported from far away. Our food, our industrial products, and construction materials: cement, steel, fuels, plastics, energy for our IT devices, etc. We really need to aim for a circular economy and change our thinking a little. The fourth area is land-use planning. We really need to go green, to encourage more green spaces in order to absorb carbon dioxide, to manage floods, etc. And we shouldn't be paving everywhere. The fifth area is adaptation. We really have to adapt. If the world is at 2 degrees, it means that Canada will be at 4 degrees or more, and we need to adapt to this new reality.
In concluding, I am optimistic. I'm in front of a field of sunflowers, so I have to be optimistic. Solutions exist. Using COVID as a parallel, we saw that, on the negative side, a global crisis has consequences for our economies and our health. We are vulnerable to global shocks. On the positive side, we can adapt and we can innovate. We can see what's been happening. I see small businesses doing amazing things. With climate change, we know what is going to happen. The science is clear-cut and it is based on physics and chemistry—you can't argue with the science. Since we know what will happen and we can adapt. We know what the solutions are. But we may wonder, "Okay, well, what are the challenges, the barriers, why aren't we taking action?"
First, there is always uncertainty, change, transition, there is always inertia in our system. We have to fight this. Solutions. On the technical side, do we have the solutions and the required knowledge? In many cases, yes. Often, that's not an issue, and we definitely have what we need to get started and move forward. The third problem is always the cost: Will it cost more? Any transition involves costs, but in this case it's the capital costs that are often more expensive initially, but from an operations point of view, the cost is lower. I drove an electric car to Montreal. I charged the car in Montreal. The return trip cost me $3.17. That's cheaper than taking the bus from the suburbs to downtown. We just have to change our thinking. If an electric car saves you $2,000 a year in gas, even if it costs a little more in the beginning, it's worth it. Other costs can also be saved which are related to the impacts of climate change, which cost in the billions, not to mention the benefit of jobs in new energy sectors. Ultimately, the world is changing. We often have a hard time imagining a new world, we have our field, and we think that things will go on as they are, but the world is changing and we have to change with it. Thank you.
[The cursor selects Nathalie's panel, pins it so that it joins Nick's, filling the screen, then unpins Nick's panel. His returns to the small bar of panels on the bottom right.]
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Thank you very much, Nick, and all the panellists. Just a reminder for those listening in, you don't necessarily have to wait until the very end to send us your questions. If you think of any questions, send them along. During this portion of our event, we will move on to more of a dialogue with our panellists. Personally, I would like to give a thumbs up to some of the comments you made, but of course, panellists, please feel free to expand on what you heard from the other guests.
[As Nathalie speaks, a raised hand icon labelled "Catherine Potvin, Prof" appears above her head, and in Catherine's panel for a moment.]
If I may, as the first item of discussion, I would like to address the individual and collective behaviours that need to change. It's plain to see that things are not happening very quickly or not as quickly as they should, and so in your opinion, and I ask each of you to give your perspective, what would you say is one of the biggest obstacles to this kind of change? It's a complex question. But where do you think the problem lies? I don't know, Ms. Potvin, you raised your hand, would you like to start? Thank you.
[As Catherine speaks, the cursor pins her panel and unpins Nathalie's.]
Catherine Potvin: Yes, I was listening to Nick, and I said almost the same thing about five years ago. In fact, in 2015, I was very active with the government, with colleagues who are scientists, trying to encourage Canada to put its best foot forward in Paris. We were happy with how things turned out. Five years later, I'm not so optimistic anymore. I don't see solutions being deployed as fast as they should be. And that worries me because, yes, the solutions are there, but no, we aren't putting them into practice. I would like to discuss two things.
First of all, I think a national vision on climate change is lacking in Canada. We have a national vision on health care. In Canada, everyone has access to health care. It's a national vision. No matter who forms the government or which politicians are elected, there can be no deviation from that national vision. They can tinker with it, they can implement it in their own way to some degree, but the structure is set. We don't have that for climate change. Climate change is politicized and so it depends on who is Prime Minister.
I think Canada needs a vision and I think in the Public Service, you have the data to help make that happen. I would like to draw an analogy to smoking. At one point, there was a big societal debate about cigarettes and the social costs of smoking. Smoking had a strong economic lobby, the tobacco companies were very powerful, not to mention the large agricultural sector that produced tobacco, including my grandfather. But a consensus was reached with a view to the need for limits. And actions were taken, individual actions. "Stop smoking, we'll help you. We can help you, there are programs to support you, there are resources available." And then decisions were made, like bans on tobacco company advertising. So why is it that every time I turn on the television to watch the news I'm bombarded with ads for SUVs, big vehicles? That doesn't make sense. And they portray these vehicles as a gateway to freedom in nature. But no, it's the freedom to kill nature. Regulations must be developed. For the public to get on board, I think advertising restrictions and incentives are needed. Someone could very well say, "You can advertise but only for electric or rechargeable hybrid vehicles." Period. That's it.
We present that to consumers and then we advertise public transit, we advertise bicycles, right? Because it's important. Sidewalks need to be created in rural areas so that people can use active transportation to get around, something not currently possible. We have to make life easier for people, make it accessible, enjoyable and safe. Plus, it is necessary to convince them through ads. None of these things are currently being done. I think a lot of work has to be done before we can get where we need to be. It all starts with a vision, and with a lot more support from government.
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Thank you, Ms. Potvin. Ms. Bourgon, please go ahead.
[The cursor moves, pinning Jocelyne's panel to the screen and unpinning Catherine's. Jocelyne's panel fills the screen and Catherine's moves to the smaller panel bar at the bottom right.]
Jocelyne Bourgon: Why are we not making progress? I've always thought that the results we observe are due to the "incentives" that are in place. Is there some kind of incentive that is preventing various groups, people, companies, businesses, and decision makers from taking action?
There are all sorts of reasons for this. Economic decision-making is separate from social and environmental impact assessments. All decision-making mechanisms involving cost-benefit analyses are like this. They date back to the industrial era. We work and live in a different time. We haven't incorporated the total cost of a decision in our decision-making systems: its cost, naturally, the use of inputs, but also outputs, the impacts on society, the environment and on the ecology.
[Jocelyne counts on her fingers as she lists.]
Obviously, until we begin incorporating the true costs, decision makers will base their decisions on an analysis that is so narrow that it doesn't address the real situation.
As Ms. Potvin mentioned, the rate of change is sometimes difficult to comprehend in the short term. We reward short-term performance, short-term results. But the kind of actions we need are actions that will benefit my grandchildren. We have to acknowledge that one generation will pay the costs but not reap the benefits. What we are really dealing with is the public good.
This explains the importance of the government's role. Let's try to summarize the role of government in society. What role do governments and institutions play in a society? A small number of people—public servants or elected officials—have the right to use the levers of government to achieve results that could not be achieved otherwise and to find solutions to problems that could not be solved without using government levers. That's what public servants do, that's how they earn their living. They come up with solutions to intractable problems using the levers of government. Hence the importance for governments to implement a series of incentives to accelerate the necessary transformations. Nick said, "We know what to do," and he's totally right. And he emphasized, "Here's what you can do internally," and honestly, unless the government does internally what it's going to preach externally, it will lack the credibility it needs to back up the major demands it will have to place on society. But we know what to do.
We are in a situation where we know that the energy sector is changing and we also have to restart the economy after a pandemic. Let's use the public funds given to support this sector to accelerate its transformation and to encourage diversification in regions that are heavily dependent on it. We know that the Canadian automotive sector has specific features. It's not clear that we are manufacturing vehicles that will give us a competitive edge in the future, and, as it happens, electric vehicles generate less CO2. We have reached an amazing point in time when we can speed up transformations because of transfers like that. If we keep focus on the long-term and take short-term circumstances into account, the question becomes: how can we harmonize a series of measures, whether normative, legislative, incentivizing or persuasive, to accelerate the momentum? We really need to step up the pace. And we're not talking about incremental changes—that won't get us where we need to be.
Should we be optimistic? I think we have to be realistic. And to be realistic, we need to increase the momentum significantly, now is the time, and governments around the world are spending massive amounts. This massive spending can be combined with conditions to speed up the necessary transformations needed and ensure that we're a little better off in ten years' time, the timeline Ms. Potvin mentioned, which will let us change course. We can't wipe the slate clean—our impacts over the past 150 years, but we can move forward in a direction that takes society to a better place than where we are headed now.
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Thank you very much. Nick, do you have anything to add? Yes? Go ahead.
[The cursor pins Nick's panel and unpins Jocelyne's, letting his panel fill the screen and hers return to the bottom row.]
Nick Xenos: Speed is important here. What has changed in five years is that we really need to speed things up. But what I see in five years is a greater awareness in society, among public servants and that's important, the technical solutions that have been advanced. But the pace of change is an important factor and adapting new technologies is going to be important. And breaking the issue of climate change down into smaller, more immediate problems would help people take action. What I see is a kind of disconnect. If someone is managing 20 or say 100 buildings, they eventually want to do something about climate change, but they don't think that heating 100 buildings is what needs to change.
[As Nick speaks, a raised hand icon labelled "Catherine Potvin, Prof" appears above his head, and in Catherine's panel.]
This is where all the government's tools—regulations, laws, technology, research, development, etc.—need to be used to encourage individual action. Is that the price we have to pay for the pollution we already have? Will the price be higher? Will it take laws, regulations, programs, etc. Will it mean changing the heating systems in buildings, etc.? We have to use every tool available. We have to examine all sectors. We need to speed up the adoption of all these measures. We know what to do. It's interesting that people don't necessarily see this right away in their particular situation or in their daily lives. I think a bit of communication is needed, a bit of awareness raising, a lot of awareness raising, and we have to use every tool we have, and quickly.
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Thank you. Ms. Potvin, I think you wanted to add something? So, just before you go ahead, I should mention that questions are starting to come in from the audience. After your comments, I may ask one of the questions that just came in. Please, go ahead, Ms. Potvin, over to you.
[The cursor pins Catherine's panel and unpins Nick's. Her raised hand icon disappears.]
Catherine Potvin: I would like to mention the danger of over-personalizing efforts. I mean, we hear a lot of talk about members of the public taking action. But we can't lose sight of the fact that, in Canada, large corporations are still the source of most emissions. Let's be honest and just come out and say it: the tar sands sector accounts for almost half of the country's emissions. And how can we have a vision and achieve goals while letting this sector do what it wants. We cannot force individual citizens to bear the burden of decisions.
There's another point—you are the federal government—there is something absolutely fascinating going on in Canada right now. It is a country built around a railway. All around the world, the train is the best friend of change and of the mobility revolution, but in Canada, it's not only a braking force, it is an indecency.
In Montreal, you can't cross railway tracks, bicycle paths end at a fence, and it's under federal jurisdiction. How is it that nothing is being done? I hope there are a few public servants here from the Department of Transportation. I strongly encourage you to try to get moving on this issue, one that is a driver of change in other countries, but an obstacle to our progress here. So there really is... Yes, there are individuals, it's important to reflect that in policies, but we can't forget that the big corporations are very powerful and, unlike you and me as individuals—we don't have access to government—the companies have access to government and talk to you constantly. And we also have to acknowledge the crucial role they play in implementing a climate change strategy.
[Jocelyne smiles as Nathalie mentions the Transport Canada employees. The cursor pins Nathalie's panel and unpins Catherine's.]
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: So, a shout-out to Transport Canada employees, if you are here with us, send us your questions and comments. Now I want to ask one of the questions that just came in. It reads: All of these viewpoints are fantastic, and I agree, but Canada is facing a complex political challenge, with provinces and industries resisting the transition that we have to make and with a COVID debt and deficit that might limit our fiscal room to invest in a green transition. What can we do if we don't receive clear direction from Cabinet and appropriate financial support? Who would like to take this one? Ms. Bourgon, please go ahead.
[The cursor pins Jocelyne's panel and unpins Nathalie's.]
Jocelyne Bourgon: I listened to the question and thought the conjunction in the question would be "but." I agree, but. I understand the importance, but. And the "but" is paralyzing us. Because the question is—I'm rephrasing it from a moment ago—what can I do in my current position that would allow me to take actions that contribute to the collective effort of somehow ensuring that our planet will continue to sustain life, specifically human life, in the future?
No, this is not a trivial question. So, we start with what can I do, in my position, with the levers at my disposal? I'm talking here about individual responsibility. The other part of the question is what can I do with others? My colleague, another department, an internal partner, an external partner. In this way, I can have a multiplier effect. How can I increase the momentum? And the third level of responsibility is collective responsibility. Public sector leaders have access to levers that are available to no one else. So, it's not so much a matter of saying, "I'm going to wait for the Prime Minister to issue a directive to Cabinet that will cascade through 300,000 positions, and eventually I'll be told what to do." Instead, we should ask: What can I do? And I assume that every person at every level has to ask, "What can I do?"
The Prime Minister has to make specific choices that others do not. Cabinet has opportunities that others do not. And this applies throughout the public sector chain of responsibility. To give a simple example, the Public Service of Canada tables an annual report to Parliament on the state of the Public Service. Let's build on Nick's idea of submitting an annual report that tells us how we get to net zero. Can we decide to make that the topic of our report? Absolutely. Are we able to use existing means? We actually underestimate existing means, existing levers.
For example, the funding that companies received for COVID could be leveraged. I didn't say "ask for more funds to do it," I said "use the funds we are spending now" to see how including conditions could accelerate the changes that are needed. We have laws, for example, pertaining to companies. The boards of directors of all companies in Canada are being asked to review a plan for large companies that is aimed at promoting progress on the equal representation of men and women. Well, we could tell them (for no added cost) "your company has to have a green plan." We could tell Canadian associations "you have to have a strategy for reducing your environmental footprint and you have to have it ready in a year." Because this is not the end of the world either. You can ask each country to devise a strategy that is more than just, "Here's what I'm going to do internally" but is instead, "Here's where we're going to be," which includes levers. We underestimate the means available. And after we have exhausted all of these actions, then we are entitled to say, "I need more means." But I'm not sure that the approach logically begins with, "I need more means." I think the approach starts with action, individual, shared, collective action, that at each level warrants asking the other level to do more. And I think the major successes of the Canadian public sector have quite often been of this kind.
[Catherine's raised hand icon pops up for a moment. As Nathalie speaks, the cursor pins Catherine's panel and unpins Jocelyne's panel.]
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Thank you very much. Ms. Potvin, you wanted to add something.
Catherine Potvin: Yes, because earlier Ms. Bourgon, in her opening remarks, mentioned how we look at short-term impacts and short-term economics. So, to say, "Oh my God, the pandemic is going to be expensive. We are in debt. How can we make the green transition?" First, that attitude probably reflects a short-term economic outlook. We are well aware that the cost of not taking action on climate change will be extremely high. And we are in debt. The best investment is to avoid future debt, and that message is an extremely important one for you to pitch to government, to elected officials, to make them understand that. A very wealthy person may worry less about future costs; but when you're headed for a financially difficult situation, that's when future costs are, you really want to make sure—I know, I'm getting close to retirement and now is not the time to be extravagant, it's the same logic. This is very important.
The second thing that "but" implies is that it will be more expensive or less efficient to invest heavily in the transition. However, all the literature shows that it is precisely during times of major investment that the green transition costs the least. The federal government currently says—and as a Quebecois I am not taking a position on the debate, but I see what you can do as a government—the federal government says, "I'll give you extra money for health care, but you are going to do this, this and this."
There are some really interesting projects going on at the Department of Infrastructure. The Green Infrastructure program has a climate lens: we'll give you the money, but there has to be a climate lens. There is no problem with imposing a condition in such a case. It is a common occurrence at the federal level, and it's the right time provided we have a vision for the future. On the contrary, right now I would say that investments will definitely be made to restart the economy. Now is the time not for additional investments, but to use the investments we need to make anyway to, first, immediately restart the economy and, second, protect ourselves from the coming shocks and the terrible impacts of climate change on the country. I see an opportunity and I believe that you, the Public Service of Canada, have a duty to educate people in that regard.
[The raised hand icon pops up labelled first as Catherine, then Nick. Catherine takes a sip of water.]
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Thank you! Nick?
[The cursor pins Nick's panel and unpins Catherine's. Nick speaks silently.]
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: You are on mute.
Nick Xenos: Time is running out so I will quickly add that I also support the idea that the two go together. The green economy, if we do not produce electric vehicles, for example, we will not manufacture vehicles in the future. We have to address the crisis and align the economy with the post-COVID situation, adapt to climate change, and take the opportunity of this crisis to steer our economy into areas where we can be competitive, growth areas.
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Thank you. You're right, time is running out very, very quickly, but I would like to give a thumbs-up to something you mentioned in each of your comments.
[As Nathalie speaks, the cursor pins Catherine's panel and unpins Nick's. It pins Nathalie's panel as well.]
These impacts are disproportionate. And this fits in with a question that just came in. A lot of data show that pandemics or situations like climate change can have a disproportionate impact on the more vulnerable members or marginalized communities in society. From this perspective, how can we ensure that efforts to mitigate climate change and the need to adapt to it, if you will, do not impose an additional burden on certain groups? And if they do, how can we fix things? Can you talk to us about that? Again, I will leave the choice up to you. Who wants to start? Ms. Potvin?
[Catherine speaks silently.]
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin:You are on mute.
[A small menu pops up and the cursor selects an "unmute participant" option. It unpins Nathalie's panel, letting Catherine's fill the screen.]
Catherine Potvin: We see examples in relation, for example, to participation by women and equal pay. There have been quotas, there have been measures to compel participation. Meaning investment criteria. And I think just as I encourage departments to adopt measures like Infrastructure Canada's climate lens, I think we need criteria to ensure equity in the measures that are promoted. What really strikes me—and here I am going to refer to a local case in Montreal, although I imagine it illustrates a certain reality present across the country—during the lockdown, if we lived in a wealthy, middle-class neighbourhood, we had access to parks, trees, it was pleasant enough. That's a bit ironic, too, because the people who live in such neighbourhoods tend to have cottages and therefore left the city to spend time elsewhere during the pandemic.
Poor, densely populated neighbourhoods have no parks or trees. In Montreal, they have few or no bicycle lanes. Currently, there are no street sharing zones where people can social distance. Tremendous inequality exists in the city. But with climate change, we know we're going to have more frequent heat waves, and guess where those heat waves are going to be the most dangerous? In poor neighbourhoods. So why is it that we find cities with very green, pretty neighbourhoods, full of parks in rich areas, and then cities with densely populated neighbourhoods with a lot of concrete, where the people are poor? This is a place to start investing. Poor neighbourhoods need to go green because greening will be an important tool in the fight against climate change in terms of heat islands. Obviously, plants also act as a carbon dioxide pump. So, we have a dual benefit.
I think you have to look at things like that, renovations—Nick was talking about renovations in government buildings, but with energy efficient renovations in buildings, you have to make sure they don't increase rents in poor neighbourhoods. Apartment building owners in poor neighbourhoods should be encouraged to do energy-efficient renovations that create a more pleasant building—because it's more enjoyable, there aren't many drafts—but the cost must not be passed on to poor tenants. They can't afford it. We have to adopt this perspective to ensure that the measures taken, that it's not another case of putting Teslas on the road, because that's just a fraction of the problem, and only a few citizens can afford to buy them.
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Thank you very much. Any other comments on that point? Nick?
[The cursor pins Nick's panel and unpins Catherine's panel.]
Nick Xenos: Yes, I would also add that in every area impacted, there are different impacts—floods for example, something especially visible internationally, but also in Canada—the poor, the most vulnerable, are often the ones who suffer more. In my opinion, when we develop policies in these areas, we really have to make an effort. We really need to look at targeting each area, each impact, each policy we develop by considering, "Okay, what is it?" Who are the most vulnerable? How will different segments of society be impacted, etc.?" I think it's going to take effort, and that's important.
[The raised hand icon labelled for Catherine pops up for a moment. The cursor pins Nathalie's panel and unpins Nick's.]
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Thank you. We have five minutes left. I'm going to give my closing remarks in less than a minute to allow each of you about 30 seconds, one minute, that's the challenge. Now for possibly the very last question, and it's for you, some advice. Someone asks: "What advice do you have for young public servants who want to create momentum and to attract the attention of senior public servants and leaders in order to promote action?" In a minute or less, everyone. Your last word on this, Ms. Potvin, go ahead.
[The cursor pins Catherine's panel and unpins Nathalie's.]
Catherine Potvin: I really like what Che Guevara said: "Be realistic, demand the impossible." And I would say, be realistic, demand the impossible, work hard and seek out allies—there are many in Quebec society—and never take no for an answer. Because when you know where you want to go, you find ways to get there.
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Thank you.
Nick Xenos: Yes, I would say, get informed. We need to expand our knowledge of climate change to see what we can do in our field, in your field, and this applies to every person who is working, everyone who will be affected by climate change. Get better informed. Be part of the change, not one of the people who say: "Oh, I don't know how that affects us. I don't know what we should do." There are a lot of resources, a lot of expertise and we're here for you.
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Ms. Bourgon, the last word to you?
[Catherine's raised hand icon pops up for a moment. The cursor pins Jocelyne's panel and unpins Nick's.]
Jocelyne Bourgon: Well, I would say test the limits of the changes you can initiate. I'm not saying to take things to the limit, I'm saying to test the limits, because the limits are usually further away than we think. When you tell people "Push the limit of what you can do," your vision of the limits is usually much more restrictive than what is possible.
So, I say: test the limits of your authority, of your ability to initiate change. And you'll discover that you can do much more, go much further. And when you've finished testing those limits, you'll reach the point where someone else's limits begin. Take the time to work with them. This is how collective efforts start. This involves combining all this capacity to act in order to create momentum. To a young public servant entering the Public Service of Canada, I would say, "You're so lucky, you're starting out at a time of phenomenal change and major transformations." And you can't—we can't—make Canada a great country if we just repeat what was done before. So you can't take too many pages from the book of your brilliant predecessors because that was there and that was then. You are managing unique changes and transformation now, at a unique time. Don't be overly influenced by your elders. Go test the outer limits yourself—it's an extreme sport. Go and test the extreme limits of your ability to initiate change. That might be a good start.
[As Nathalie speaks, the cursor pins her panel and unpins Jocelyne's panel.]
Nathalie Laviades-Jodouin: Excellent. Thank you very much. This concludes today's event. I think we'll have to invite all three of you back because I feel like we were just getting started. On behalf of the School, I thank you very much. Ms. Bourgon, Ms. Potvin, Nick, for joining us today. I would also like to thank all the participants who turned out in large numbers for this event and to take the opportunity to remind you that the next virtual café will be held on October 22.
[The raised hand icon labelled for Catherine pops up again for a moment.]
It will focus on the future of work and will involve Gary Bolles of Singularity University and Armine Yalnizyan of the Atkinson Foundation, and registration for the session is now open. If you missed the virtual café on national security, a rebroadcast will be available on October 7. Of course, you can follow the School's Twitter account and subscribe to our distribution list if you want to know more and learn about other School events. On that note, thanks to you all. Enjoy the rest of the day and take care. Thank you, goodbye.
Jocelyne Bourgon: Thank you, goodbye.
[The chat fades to the animated white Canada School of Public Service logo appears on a purple background. Its pages turn, closing it like a book. A maple leaf appears in the middle of the book that also resembles a flag with curvy lines beneath. The government of Canada Wordmark appears: the word "Canada" with a small Canadian flag waving over the final "a." The screen fades to black.]