Young people need us to act on climate change, McKenna tells G7 ministers

Catherine McKenna led off the three-day Halifax gathering Wednesday

Canada’s environment minister opened a meeting of her G7 counterparts with a call for action on climate change, even as prominent environmentalist David Suzuki reportedly called for her resignation over Ottawa’s support of fossil fuels.

Catherine McKenna led off the three-day Halifax gathering by telling a story of meeting young people in the Arctic who she said are worried about ice so thin that hunters are falling through into the ocean when they search for food.

Recalling a summer visit to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, McKenna said she went to the local school and heard the high school students’ accounts of disappearing caribou, polar bears moving further south and greater dangers for people seeking traditional foods.

“They’re seeing hunters literally falling through the ice. These are hunters who for millenia have been able to hunt … able to tell the thickness of the ice, and they’re falling through the ice,” she said.

She told the meeting that young people in the North are anxiously waiting for national leaders to come up with ways to deal with the warming climate.

“(They’re) just worried. They’re worried about their community, they’re worried about their culture, and they’re worried about whether we’re going to do anything about it, because they don’t feel empowered to do anything about it,” she said.

The meetings of G7 environment, oceans and energy ministers will be discussing climate change, plastics pollution, illegal fishing and clean energy.

McKenna said it’s important to firm up rules this year around how the carbon emission targets set in the Paris climate agreement will be enforceable.

“Our goal is to translate outcomes into action, and build off the co-operation of the G7 on these issues,” she said.

As she spoke, a story published by La Presse had David Suzuki calling for her to step down.

If she really thinks what she says, McKenna should resign “instead of being an apologist for the government,” Suzuki told the Montreal-based news site.

Suzuki said Canada lacks credibility on climate change, with the Liberal government supporting the construction of a pipeline to the British Columbia coast to transport Alberta bitumen.

“She must stop rationalizing what Canada is doing,” Suzuki told La Presse, adding that the government “talks out both sides of its mouth.”

“We have a prime minister who signed (the Paris climate accord), who says, ‘We’re back,’ and we all praised him … then he approves pipelines! What is that?”

Suzuki ridiculed the idea that developing the oil sands allows Canada to have a strong economy to achieve a transition of its energy supply.

The truth, he said, is that “We are not seriously committed to respecting the Paris accord” and the Liberals deceived Canadians on their real intentions on the environment.

Suzuki told La Presse that he thinks McKenna should follow the example of Nicolas Hulot, who resigned last month as environment minister in France.

“There should be plenty of environment ministers resigning everywhere,” said Suzuki,who said Hulot “will be even more effective” now that he has resigned.

Meanwhile, in Halifax, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, was in the room for McKenna’s opening calls. He wasn’t among the opening speakers, and other comments from the morning meeting were closed to the media.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been criticized for his government’s decision to withdraw the United States from the landmark Paris climate accord.

Nicholas Stern, the chair of the Grantham Institute on Climate Change, suggested during opening comments that nations that ignore climate change may run the risk of falling behind countries who make shifts to invest in green energy and infrastructure.

He told delegates there are trillions of dollars in economic opportunities in areas like renewables and lower-energy building.

“This is about growth … Cities that can move and breathe and ecosystems that are robust. … these are profitable opportunities,” he said.

He said huge changes are expected as the size of the world’s economies double over the next two decades while nations attempt to meet the “wise” Paris climate agreement targets, which seek a 30 per cent reduction in carbon output.

“The transition is extremely attractive, and of course those that do not act risk being left behind in a new world economy that is being built.”

Mark Carney, the Canadian-born governor of the Bank of England, also spoke at the opening of the conference, telling participants via a video conference line that the corporate sector is planning to start disclosing more about their exposure to climate change risk.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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