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Video: EXecuTALK: The Role of the Executive in the Fight Against Climate Change

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This EXecuTALK features Nick Xenos, Executive Director of the Centre for Greening Government, who share his insights on how executive leaders in the Government of Canada can ensure that their work contributes to a zero-carbon and climate-resilient Canada. Learn how to apply your own climate lens, and walk away with practical ideas for leading change within your organization.

Duration: 00:29:23
Published: June 20, 2022
Code: TRN4-V28

Event: EXecuTALK: The Role of the Executive in the Fight Against Climate Change


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EXecuTALK: The Role of the Executive in the Fight Against Climate Change

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Transcript: EXecuTALK: The Role of the Executive in the Fight Against Climate Change

[The CSPS logo appears on screen.]

[Sarah Plouffe and Nick Xenos appear in video chat panels.]

Sarah Plouffe, Canada School of Public Service: Hello everyone. And welcome to the Canada School of Public Service. My name is Sarah Plouffe, and I will be your host for this eXecuTALK session today. So, I would like to welcome you to this event on behalf of the Canada School of Public Service. Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge the land from which many of us are viewing this event and from which I'm joining today as the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people's territory.

Some of you today may be joining us from other parts of the country. And I encourage you to take a moment and recognize and acknowledge the territory you are joining from today. So, before we continue, here are a few housekeeping items. So, today's event will be bilingual. Simultaneous interpretation and translation with CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation) real-time captioning are also available. To access these services during the event, please click on the translation icon on the Webcast interface. You can also refer to the reminder email that was sent to you by the School when you registered for the event.

So, today's event will be a bilingual event. If you wish you have access to simultaneous interpretation, as well as the service of CART real-time captioning, which you can access by clicking on the icon on the Webcast interface or you can also find it as a link in the reminder email that was sent by the school for this event. So, as always to help you experience the event at its fullest level, we encourage you to disconnect from your VPN if possible. Please disconnect from the central system for a better viewing experience. So, welcome to today's event, from the eXecuTALK series we are going to be talking about today, the role of the executive in the fight against climate change. I am lucky, we are all very lucky to have an exemplar speaker on this subject today, a real expert. Every time I hear him speak about this; I learn new things. So, please welcome Nick Xenos, Executive Director of the Treasury Board of Canada's Centre of Greening Government. Welcome Nick.

Nick Xenos, Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada:  Welcome. Happy to be here.

Sarah Plouffe: Excellent. So, we have only 30 minutes together today, so I will start and immediately pose the first question. So, since most of us are already familiar with climate change from information available to us through media and other sources. However, given that this is an area that evolves so quickly, and that may not always be our complete focus of attention. Now that we have you as their expert here today, I want to ask you, what would you say are the main pieces of information that we as executives of the public service need to be aware of right now? And really, why do all of us need to be paying attention to climate change in our respective leadership roles right now, even if our roles are not closely tied to climate change all the time?

Nick Xenos: Yeah. Good question Sarah. Thank you. So, climate change is something that's affecting all of the planet and more importantly, the people living on it, right? So, the planet will continue and has continued through various climate cycles, but of course, the amount of people on the planet and how it affects us is what's going to be critical here. And we now for the first time control the climate of the planet. So, this is why we're at a different time in history if you will. A couple things to know, one is, of course we know the globe has agreed to keep temperature warming from below two degrees and aim for 1.5-degree global warming, because that's where.... If we can keep it to that, the worst impacts of climate change will not happen. Often, people don't know that the globe is already warmed by one degree and that Canada is warming by almost double the global average. So, we're about 1.8 degrees and the Arctic is actually warming at triple the global average.

Canada is actually in particularly impacted by climate change. And so that's why we need to take actions. The other thing to know is that the interrelationships among the planet's systems are very complex. The atmosphere, the oceans, the earth, the biosphere. They all interact together and make up the climate system. So, it's something that we have to pay attention to, and many changes are, are not going to be, we can't change them. They won't be reversible. So, this is why it's so important to take action now, and to make sure the ecosystem of the planet doesn't change beyond a point where we can adapt.

So, why is it important for us? Well, the impacts of climate change are being felt across Canada already. We're seeing extreme weather events. We're seeing food and water security issues, globally. Sea levels rise and we're the biggest coastal nation, ecosystem changes. And so, a lot of what we see in the news and what we read about the impact on Canada, what we have to do in Canada, it's information that federal scientists in our offices give us.

Our federal scientists are winning Nobel prizes, are part of the IPCC process. The governmental panel on climate change, contributing to the international science in our labs, in our departments, within our mandates, telling us what we need to do. The federal government's a key actor on the science side, as well as the program side services. And I'll get more into that, but this is important for us. And a good context knows that the government Canada has a climate change plan. The target is to reduce emissions by 40 to 45% by 2030, and to be carbon-neutral by 2050. And adapt to climate change through the national adaptation strategy. There's a full plan and the climate change plan includes action on buildings, transportation, industry, oil and gas, electricity, agriculture and climate resilience. And that's the different sectors that contribute.

Of course, the government of Canada has committed to greening our own operations and our own operations are actually pretty important because we're a large entity in the country. So, the government of Canada actually owns 50,000 and infrastructure, 40,000 vehicles, and we're the largest public buyer in the country. So, we buy 18 billion dollars of goods and services a year. So, when we actually ask the country to be zero-carbon, what we're saying is actually, we need to be as one of the largest actors, first and foremost show leadership and do it ourselves.

Sarah Plouffe: Absolutely very good point. We know that the Government has in fact made commitments, set objectives in terms of implementing climate change through all sorts of measure, programs, all across Canada. And also, you mentioned that the Government does its part actually to become greener. So, I would like to hear you on a few concrete examples of how this is done as a machinery of government.

Nick Xenos: Good question. So, because we have all the things that create greenhouse gases, buildings, vehicles, and we buy goods and services, we are a good example for reducing greenhouse gases in all these areas. So, if someone asked me: So, if somebody asked me, "Nick, how do I become carbon neutral?" I would say, okay, we'll first look at your house, look at how you heat your house in particular, is it oil or gas heating? Look at how you get around, if you have a vehicle, is it an electric vehicle? And then think about what you buy. So, when you buy stuff, what you buy has a huge carbon impact.

Things like construction materials are a lot higher impact carbon wise to make, making cement steel is high impact, high carbon. If you buy food locally, less transportation than buying food further away. So, now the government of Canada has to do this across a larger portfolio, right? So, we have 50,000 buildings and pieces of infrastructure. So, anybody who's working on real property in the government of Canada, and that's thousands of people, thousands of public servants may not think that they're part of the fight against climate change, but actually they're on the front line.

How are we retrofitting that building and making it zero carbon? So, we're at the centre for greening government at Treasure Board Secretariat, we've developed some... The government has approved this greening government strategy and in it there's actions that public servants can take to green our own operations. So, for example, any new building has to be zero carbon. Any retrofit has to be deep decarbonized. So, 80, 90% lower carbon, for example. Vehicles, 75% of the vehicles we buy have to be green.

And then on the procurement, we need to look at our procurement across all the government and think about how can we buy things that are lower carbon? And each can buy things that... Can look at their spend and say, "What is it that we buy the most of and how can we buy the greenest option? If you will."

We also have commitment for the government Canada to buy a hundred percent clean electricity and to be climate resilient. So, this is a really important component as well. Climate change is happening. If the world warms by two degrees, it means we'll warm by four degrees on roughly speaking in Canada. So, we have to be sure that our infrastructure, that our services, that our programs are resilient to climate change. We must not think in the past, but we have to think about what the climate of the future will be, even the current and future climate, how can we adapt to that climate. For example, if we're building, if we're designing a port for a naval base or for Fisheries and Oceans, then what's the sea level rise going to be that place? And how do make sure it's resilient to a higher sea level and more extreme weather events?

If we're working on other federal assets buildings, is it in a flood plain? Is it a critical service? Is it something that can't go down? It's a critical lab, or it's a border post or a defence base or a correctional facility, then these things have to be resilient. So, you can hire engineering firms and you can look at what's the resilience of these places to future climate? What's the snow load going to be in the future? And are we building to the right snow load? Things like that.

If you're an operational area, if you're RCMP, defence, then when there's extreme weather, your communities have been affected, you've been involved. Your operations have changed in those areas. Think of the B.C. wildfires or the floods. So, how many RCMP detachments, RCMP folks had to do something different? How much... I was talking my counterparts of Canada Post. How do they re-route e-commerce, all the shipments that we've done when your transportation and infrastructure or goes down? How do you keep the economy going? Right?

So, these are all kind of areas, if you're Canada Revenue Agency, and if your tax revenues are affected in an extreme weather area, then what do you do? If you're Fisheries and Oceans and the species of different fish and quotas that you set change depending on climate and fish will move, of course, depending on temperature, water, et cetera? So, are we thinking of what the future of that programming looks like, given climate change? Those are just some examples.

If you're certain, I'll give another example in the North, then hunting and fishing seasons change. Permafrost thaw means impacts on infrastructure that we're in. Sea level rise will affect ports and infrastructure, et cetera, not just federal, but mining and et cetera, right? So, those are just some examples.

Sarah Plouffe: Thank you. I mean it's surprising through all of those examples that we don't have climate change automatically in the back of our minds when we're making all of these different decisions and taking actions on a day-to-day basis. But sometimes we just get caught up in our work and we're focused like this, right?

[Sarah puts her hands beside her face, miming blinders.]

So, my next question would be, what can all of us executives in the public service across government actually do on a day-to-day basis? What kind of actions can we take? How can we show leadership in this area, regardless, really of whether we are a file that is directly linked to climate change? You're showing us, you're telling us by all of these examples today that all of our files will be impacted by climate change. So, how do we play a leadership role in our day-to-day activities even if we think we don't have a key climate change file?

Nick Xenos: I often joke, if I have a chat with anyone and they tell me what file they work on, we can make the link back to climate change. So, it's probably not every single file, but if it's not your file directly, then it's the people around you and the mandate of your department is being affected.

So, a couple of key steps. One is, be aware of the government's climate change commitments. I think take a look at the climate change plan. Take a look at what your department's mandate is and how that fits with the climate change plan. Because your department will be affected and lots of people in your department working on it. And your file may be directly related or indirectly related. But if you are a corporate support service, then you'll be supporting those folks, doing those things.

If you're in HR, for example, and ESDC I'll take an example of forest fires in Fort McMurray. Well, when the forest fires happened in Fort McMurray, all of a sudden, a lot of people had to go on employment, unemployment insurance, or access different services from the government of Canada. But of course, if the Service Canada location wasn't operational, and then all of a sudden you need to hire more people and move them to a certain part out of the country in certain operations, then of course that'll be an impact on human resources, right? And say, okay, well, how do we need to, how do we need to hire a bunch of people temporarily or move them into a certain area?

COVID has shown us as well of a climate resilience about resilience, right? Do we need to hire everybody in Ottawa? Can we hire people across the country? And that makes us more resilient to pandemics, but also to climate change, because we can work from a telework perspective, right? So, if you're... You could be in support services like that, you can be in all kinds of areas. So, just be aware of the climate change commitments, be aware of specific initiatives like the government's Emissions Reduction Plan that just came out, which builds on the Enhanced Climate Plan, be aware of the climate lens.

So, the government of Canada is piloting right now, a climate lens for memos to cabinet and treasury board submissions, and a piloting to apply a climate lens to those. Any future submission that will be a Memo to Cabinet or a submission to Treasury Board. They will have to take into account how, do they reduce greenhouse gases? Do they adapt to climate change? Or. Does it, does it help the problem or is it the cause of the problem? So, it's going to be. Now it's a pilot, but they are going to do it through Government of Canada programs. There is also the Greening Government Strategy and the Policy on Green Procurement. So, it's important to apply this to our operations, to our real property, to our vehicle fleet and to our purchases.

The second, so number one, be aware of the specific initiatives on climate change and your department's mandate on it. And then number two, lead by example, on your file in your work, right? We're asking Canadians to take climate action. So, then we need to do it ourselves. I've shown how large we are and how important we are. And it's hard. You can't have the government on one hand making these commitments, and on the other hand, on individual files, not being consistent with that policy direction, right?

If you're corporate services and you're managing buildings, make sure you have a path on how to get them to zero carbon. If you manage fleet, or if you drive the fleet that someone else manages. So, if you're an inspection officer, I always use the example. If you're an Environment Canada inspection officer, and you're going to give a ticket to somebody for polluting the river or something, you're driving something that's polluting. So, what's off? What's changed as well, these days is people expect us to act in a way that's consistent with what our policy direction is. So, can we give a ticket to somebody because they're polluting the river when we're driving a car, that's emitting GHG emissions, right? So, if you don't have electric vehicle and you need a vehicle for your work, then ask, your fleet manager, how do I get an electric vehicle?

We should also think about differently how we do things. COVID shown us something, right? That we used to... We used our houses half the day, we used our offices half the day. And then we all pile on the same infrastructure, four hours a day, two in the morning, two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. And then we say we can't afford our infrastructure. And it's the same in our real property in government, we can't afford it. Right? We have to think about how we can do things differently. It doesn't make sense to use very expensive infrastructure, half the day and than the pile on to infrastructure that we build for peak use and is empty the rest of the time on. It makes sense, then we ask ourselves – we don't have the money for all that. Well yes, I agree. We don't have money for all that and we don't want to pay taxes for all that. So, we have to think differently.

So, let give you an example of... So, let's say you're doing economic development programming and you're like, "I'm doing economic development programming. It has nothing to do with climate change." Well, I'll give you an example in the Gaspé region.

If you go sort of on the way to Rocher Percé to go visit the to Rocher Percé. It's a very touristy area. Often people would come and just go see to Rocher Percé and then leave. Right? And so, the town also had a problem, which is its shoreline was being eroded by climate change, more storms, sea level rise, et cetera. So, they went to a Quebec's development Corp, our regional development Corp for Quebec and got funding. And they restored L'auberge the coastal area of that area and made it a beach, because a beach will resist extreme weather, et cetera, much better than hard infrastructure. Well known on the adaptation side.

Well, what happened when they built the beach, it was actually an economic development thing because families were coming to visit and staying three days, four days because they were spending time on the beach. So, all of a sudden, this town and the feds assisted this, but this town then did an economic development project that's actually really good for climate change, resilience as well. So, these are the kinds of examples that you need to think of, how do you combine the two? How do you combine economic development or social benefit with climate change action?

I can give a million examples, but another good example, I talk to Parks Canada folks a lot. They're protecting certain ecosystems. Those ecosystems are changing. If you do an environment- you work on environmental assessments for mines, let's say. Well, the mine may open up on the lake and then they might say, they'll have no impact on caribou. They might be right, because of climate change, the caribou may move. And so how do you do that kind of science and an environmental assessment when what we always thought was stable is no longer stable, right?

Ecosystems are changing and so you need to then apply your analysis on that change. So, those are examples. If you work on the international file, then lots of conflict, food, water, security causing conflict. Climate change is an amplifier. More pressures will be on immigration. And so, if you're Immigration Canada, then of course being ready for those kinds of things, knowing where the hotspots are, same thing for defence and global affairs. They're well aware of it, but these are... If you're at Agriculture or Fishers and Oceans or these kinds of places, there's lots of resource impacts, impacts to resource development and our natural resources of course.

If you're Health Canada, the biggest impact of climate change has actually been heat, and deaths from heat. And so, it's a bit of a silent sort of thing. We don't see it, but actually more people have been dying of heat, extreme heat than other areas. And so, Health Canada's got programming in this area, Lyme disease has increased. So, these are all areas, a lot of the health things that we keep in mind that we think about are being impacted by climate change.

So, as an individual know what the government's commitments are and then know how it applies to your job and your mandate and see how you can be innovative, be ahead of the curve and raise the awareness on your team, raise the awareness of your area, and think about how you can work with others that are working on this and be an enabler as opposed to waiting for others to tell what you can do.

I was talking to some of my financial folks, the CFO folks at Treasury Board secretary, for example, and we're looking at... So, then you would think, well, we do accounting standards, and we do financial policy, it has nothing to do with climate change. Well, something as simple as when somebody drives a car, a corporate car, if they have a gas card, it's real easy. They know, they go fill up a gas, charge it on the gas card. But if they go home, if they have an electric vehicle and they go home and they charge it overnight, the corporate car, it's going to cost maybe $1 instead of $60, filling up with the gas tank at the gas station. And it costs $1 and it's going to be more hassle for them because we don't know how to handle it.

We don't know what to do. Someone brings their car home and then charges it. He charges it. Does he want to be reimbursed? How do we organize all this? So, even our fiscal policies, we have to adjust them, we have to understand what is possible. If someone wants to take the bus to a meeting instead of a taxi, are we organized? Did we buy a Presto Card for the team, the division, instead of...? No. Well? But if someone takes a taxi and it's $20, there's no problem, we pay the $20. But if he takes the bus for $3, then we don't know what to do. So, we save the taxpayers' money, but our systems are not equipped. So, even if we are on the corporate, operational, programs, anything side, we have to think, "Ok, how can we be an enabler for climate change, climate change action". And another thing, think about this for yourself, in your home, in your day-to-day. How do you heat your house? How do you get around? What do you buy? Have you thought about it?

So, it's something to think about and I'm sure your kids are coming back from school, asking you what you're doing. And so, you too can say that you are taking action on climate change and helping people around you take action.

Sarah Plouffe: That's fantastic. Thank you. So, many examples. I also think that you mentioned a few resources, some key documents. I think that perhaps some of them will be shared in the upcoming email. But would you like to mention some of these key documents that are available to us that we should all consult?

Nick Xenos: Yes, so, where to start? There is actually the Canada Climate Plan,... so it's the government's Emissions Reduction Plan and the Enhanced Climate Plan. So, there's kind of a combination of two as they've gone one to the other. They're found if you go to Environment Canada's website and click on 'climate change.' So, on the first main site of Environment Canada, there's a climate change link and that's the best place to start.

The other place is the greening government strategy. So, that's on the government agenda strategy for its own operations. Those are two very good, important documents. And I'd say, if you want to really sort of follow what's the authoritative science, then look at the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Go to their website and go to their latest reports and they have various reports that are- they have something called a summary for policymakers, and they have an executive summary, and it's really the authoritative science. They've synthesized the science from thousands of scientists around the world. And take a look at the answer, it's a quick read and take a good look, and you can really understand what's happening globally. I'll also see just an example. So, that is just an example, a few examples of documents that are available to everyone. And, look at your Department's mandate. Look at your Department's plan. Look at your commitments from your Department's and your Minister's perspective on climate change because.

In every mandate letter for every minister, it says they will look at their portfolio, look at their department and see what they can do to help take climate change action. So, your minister's on the hook in his or hers mandate letter. And so, you can look at those source documents, those would be a good start.

Sarah Plouffe: Excellent. So, we have sources of information, we know why it's important for everyone, for us, for our future generations, for our work. So, it really has inspired me. I hope that it inspired the people who are listening to us today. So, this concludes today's event. I would like to sincerely thank Mr. Xenos and all of you across the country for taking part in this event. I hope you enjoyed it, that you learned something relevant today. As always, your feedback is so important to us. We try to create the best possible events for you, and we would really value your feedback. We will be sharing an electronic evaluation, please take two minutes to fill it in and send it back to us. And the school has more events like this to offer. We encourage you to visit the website. Go and check the offers that are presented on the website of the School of Public Service. There is a wide range of varied topics that are very, very interesting. Then, if you have some ideas, you can always give us your feedback on them. So, once again, thank you all for your participation here today. Thank you Mr. Xenos, and have a wonderful day.

[The video chat fades to CSPS logo.]

[The Government of Canada logo appears and fades to black.]

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