Catherine McKenna is a Canadian Liberal politician serving as the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities since 2019. Before that she was the Minister of Environment and Climate Change for 4 years.
Her ministerial mandate includes ensuring infrastructure investments support just economic growth and the clean energy transition. Her ministerial mandate includes, inter alia, delivering of “accessible affordable, active and zero-emissions transit options”, “investing in large-scale building retrofits and clean power” and “continuing to close the infrastructure gap in Indigenous communities, particularly with respect to affordable housing”.
Before taking the infrastructure and communities portfolio, Catherine was in charge of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. She was appointed just before COP21 in Paris and played a significant role during the summit.
Catherine is a lawyer by education: she co-founded Canadian Lawyers Abroad, now called Level, a charity through which Canadian lawyers are able to work on pro bono cases around the world. She has also worked in leading Canadian and Indonesian law firms and was a negotiator with the United Nations mission in East Timor.
Catherine holds degrees from the University of Toronto, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and McGill University’s Faculty of Law. A mom of three, avid swimmer and canoeist, Minister McKenna is a long-time resident of the Glebe in Ottawa.
Minister Catherine McKenna: 'We need to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies' (May 2021)
McKenna: Five years after the Paris Agreement, we’ve reached a new tipping point on climate change (December 2020)
Click here for Edited Highlights
Michael Liebreich: Before we start, if you're enjoying these conversations, please make sure that you like or subscribe to Cleaning Up, it really helps other people to find us. Cleaning Up is brought to you by the Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini Foundation. I'm Michael Liebreich, and this is Cleaning Up. My guest today is Catherine McKenna, from 2015 until 2019, she was Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, negotiating the Paris Agreements on behalf of Canada. Since 2019, she's been the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities. Let's bring Minister Catherine McKenna into the conversation. So, Minister, Catherine, welcome to Cleaning Up.
Catherine McKenna: It's great to be with you, Michael, I know you've had some amazing episodes, so I can't wait for our conversation.
ML: I'm very much looking forward to it. Now, when you and I first met, that was around the time of the Paris COP 21. But at the time, you were not in your current ministerial role, you were Minister of Environment and Climate Change. You are now Minister of Infrastructure and Communities. What is it that you do?
CM: Well, so I was a second longest serving Environment Minister, I think. I was four years. And then we got reelected. And the prime minister asked me to be the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, which I think was a real signal that infrastructure is key to climate action, that it's not just through environment and climate change. Now, we had to land a price on pollution, we're ratcheting up all of our regulatory measures. But we need to be investing. And then, of course, as it happened, you know, we are in the largest recession since the Great Depression. So, we have to restart our economy. So the quantum that we are now investing in infrastructure, are on a magnitude that no one could have imagined. But it's a huge opportunity, as I say to everyone, yes, we need to restart our economy, we need to create jobs and economic growth. But we also need to tackle climate change. And we know it's trillions that we need to invest and Canada's got to be part of it.
ML: So you've gone from what is traditionally one of the least well-funded ministries to what must be one of the most well-funded, is that right?
CM: Yes, it's a huge amount of money that we're investing on the scale of, people talk about the US’ $3 trillion, it's on the same scale, we're getting close to 300 billion in Canada. And what's great is I'm now able, you know, coming from climate, environment and climate change, I have the climate lens, and I've always been focused on our infrastructure investments, all of them have to be put through a climate lens. So now I've got money, that's a good thing.
ML: You've got money, but you have to deliver on some of the things that you signed up for, that you pushed for, in fact, at COP 21 in Paris?
CM: Well, absolutely. But you know, I feel actually very fortunate that I have the background because climate policy is tricky. People often go to the Minister of Climate Change and say, ‘Hey, you got to do everything.’ No, it's all across government! And I've just started the first ever national infrastructure assessment for Canada, taking the lead, the UK has done this. So that we map out, how are we going to get to net zero by 2050? How are you going to align all of your infrastructure investments, they either reduce emissions, or they increase emissions, either make you more resilient or less resilient? And how are we going to pay for it? And so, I also think that we need to make a commitment, the UK has made a commitment to percentage of GDP, but I think we need discipline. So, I'm very excited because I can take the knowledge that I have from my previous ministry, also the international perspective, and use it as we so called build back better, but in my case, it's reduce emissions and talk of climate change.
CM: Yeah, so we had a fascinating conversation on this topic with Teresa Ribera, who's the Minister for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge in Spain. And, you know, you might think that that's a kind of like one of those ministries that sort of is always last in last in line when they're doling out the cash, but actually, she's a deputy prime minister, and what she's really doing is coordinating across multiple ministries, and is a kind of top dog and you know, in that sense, because that's how they've organized it to make sure that there is delivery of the climate pledges and not just, you know, not just the pledging.
CM: I love Teresa, she's a good friend. And I think she takes the same perspective as me. It's all hands on deck, and it has to be across the board. I think my ministry, they probably had a bit of a heart attack when I came in, because I said, ‘Okay, we're changing everything. And we're gonna focus on massive investments.’ We just made the biggest investment in public transit in Canada's history last week. So, we're really focused on how do you get things done and how do you really focus on transformational change, it's great to see my friend Gina McCarthy, who used to be my counterpart, the head of the EPA. She's the climate czar. So, she's looking at everything across the board. And this is where the world has to go. It can't just be the Minister of Environment and Climate Change trying to drive the change, there has to be an eye through every single portfolio, because that's really what climate change is. You reduce emissions across portfolios, you understand that climate change is a national security risk. So defense has to be part of it. And everyone has to be going in the same direction.
ML: Right, well, we started a number of hares running there because we're going to come back to I think the actual infrastructure plans that that you're putting in place and some of the other policies that the Canadian government, your colleagues have put in place. And also, we're going to talk about already, we've sort of touched on a few of the members of what Claire Perry O'Neill, on this show called the climate sisterhood, we're going to come back and talk about some of those…
CM: I’m happy to talk about that, there are a lot of women kicking it on climate.
ML: Well, there really are. Absolutely, and we'll come back to that, I promise. But I want to go back to Paris 2015. And you were at that time, a relative newcomer to the ministerial brief? What are your memories of actually getting that deal across the line?
CM: Well, first of all, I think I've been in the job for three days, the prime minister, when he asked me to be the first ever Minister of Environment and Climate Change, it was a big signal to Canada, because we've been a laggard… um, he said, ‘okay, and you're going to Paris in three days.’ And I had run a human rights NGO, I was a corporate lawyer, I had done a bunch of things, but I kind of felt like other people were really involved on climate, because it seems to be I mean, as we know, it's, it's like, some people have been there, at every COP even. And so, I landed there, I remember staying up all night, reading all these documents, plus, I had to do French because I had to do French media, I do speak French, but very technical issues. But my first favorite memory, honestly, was when I got to make Canada's first statement. And I threw out what people were going to, you know, the public servants, they'd written this kind of boring statement. And I just said, Canada really believes in the science behind climate change, Canada knows we need to be supporting those developing countries, that have caused it the least, Canada knows that we need an ambitious agreement, Canada's back, and then everyone cheered. And then I thought, okay, I should just retire now. Because it was great. And I realized that, you know, we're not the biggest country in the world. I mean, we are by size, up there. But we have a role to play. And it actually happened when I was talking to Laurent Fabius, the President of the COP, he was talking about what an important role Canada had at that time coming in, looking back on it, because it was a bit… things were hard. This was the pre-COP, everyone was like, ‘are we gonna get an ambitious deal?’ And so there was that. And then I was quite honored to be asked to be part of the inner circle of the negotiations. And I love negotiations. I've done a lot of negotiations. But it was really interesting to see what an amazing role the key players played. So, from, well, Laurent Fabius obviously, Laurence Tubiana and Christiana Figueres, like it was it was something to keep everyone together who came with very, very different perspectives. And I was on quite a hard file, I was on Article 6, as we call it, but the market text, and some people didn't believe in markets. So, we actually couldn't use the word markets. And I was up all night many nights on my own, because they were really limiting the number of people that were allowed in. And I just remember, at one point, someone I thought they're gonna, like, come over and throw shoe at me, it was like, quite dramatic. But we, we managed to… I managed to help out, you know, in that area, but we managed to get an ambitious deal. And I have so many memories. Honestly, Michael, like, with the High Ambition Coalition, the Marshall Islands was awesome. And they had this Coalition and you should always, their tips…
ML: The High Ambition Coalition, we got to backfill here, I should have like a buzzer saying, well, wait, we’ve got to explain some stuff…
CM: We're very excited about this.
ML: So the High Ambition Coalition was a bunch of countries that said, ‘Look, we need 1.5 degrees, not two degrees, two degrees is not good enough, we will be underwater.’ So, there was I don't exactly… there was Marshall Islands. But there were a bunch of countries, and then you were part of it, or..?
CM: Well, you had to be invited. So, it was started, we’ve got to give Marshall Islands credit. So, they just said, ‘this is bananas, people are not being serious enough. We're gonna be underwater if we don't stay well below two degrees, striving for 1.5.’ And I said this on the floor. I remember they were shocked. They're like, ‘Whoa, Canada stands up for 1.5.’ And so then you have to be invited. So, we were I hadn't, you know, I did it because it was the right thing to do. But then Canada got invited. There were a number of countries that weren’t invited not everyone was invited. And we all work together because it's interesting, obviously, developed and developing countries are critically important. And people work in negotiating blocks, but you needed to break that if you were going to get a deal. So everyone had different spheres that they could, you know, kind of work on. Canada is a Commonwealth country and also a part of the Francophonie. So, there were some opportunities there and made a real difference. And I remember walking into one of the plenary sessions, and we all were hand in hand the members of the High Ambition Coalition like Miguel Cañete, I mean, I could go through all the different players have their led by the Marshall Islands, and people were cheering and I think it gave hope…
ML: Miguel Arias Cañete from Mexico?
CM: No he was with the EU, he was the EU negotiator. Quite a personality, Miguel. There are a lot of personalities at COP. But we walked in, and I remember everyone was cheering. And I think that for people that had been involved in climate, in a kind of the COPs, but in climate action, climate policy, were just so worried. And I think that seeing that there actually was a group of people that were beyond blocks that were just saying, we're going to do this, I think that gave everyone hope. And so many people played a role. There's a lot of focus on state, but obviously NGOs and everyone else we're playing a great role too.
ML: So actually Episode Six, I talked to Christiana Figueres. And she talked about how there was kind of the wordings between the two degrees, the well below two and then the targeting one and a half and how it all fitted together. And it's a very clever little architecture. But the other thing that I talked to her about is you mentioned Laurent Fabius and how he had helped and so on, because I said that, as an outsider, my sense was that basically, the women took over and decided they're going to do a deal. And but then when it actually came to like gaveling it down and saying, okay, we have a deal, anybody, you know, are we are we done here and then, and that was the sort of honorary male, the honorary man, Fabius go got to do this, you know, no, no, she said he was absolutely marvelous, and you can't believe how much he did. So you're, you're sort of supporting that?
CM: Well, he did. You know, I have to support him because he gave me the gavel. I just he, I mean, there was a bit of drama at the end. We probably don’t have time to get into that but on the floor, we were like, Oh, no, where's this going? It had to do with the should/shall issue that is, I'm a lawyer, so there was a US issue… But anyway, he gaveled, he was very good, because he just said, All right. I don't even pay him but behind the scenes, so Laurent Fabius, worked extremely hard. But I will say that I always think of Laurence Tubiana, she was wearing different Converse every day running around.
ML: I’ll just say she's going to be opening our fourth season. So. after the summer break, Laurence and I'm really looking forward to that conversation. She's going to open up our fourth season of Cleaning Up.
CM: She's a very good friend. You know what, you make very good friendships. But I've got to say, like the women they're at, at COP 21 when I think about… so of course, it was Christiana Figueres and Laurence Tubiana… But Amber Rudd from the UK. There was Mary Robinson, Jennifer… Like there was an
ML: Amber was Episode 33. So I mean, I'm sort of working my way through
CM: Rachel Kate and Sharon Burrow, and there are just a lot of amazing women.
ML: Episode Two and Episode 43. I think now, and it's not i'm not being funny. I'm not going through and inviting them on the show, because they were, you know, because they were, you know, I'm trying to prove a point about the role of women in these are the people who got it. These are the leaders, these are the people who got it done.
CM: You should have more women. If you do, I can give you a list because I created a group. Well, Mary Robinson did a great group called the Troika, and she brought in grassroots women, women leaders that were on climate, I called it something different. I called it women kicking it on climate, and I actually brought a bunch of them to Canada, because I think, you know, what, look, there were men involved. And that's great. But I will tell you, we wouldn't have got well below two degrees striving for 1.5 that particular language if it wasn't for women, I'm just going to tell you that and that's women who were running the show, that's women that were ministers, that's women that were environmentalists working for the not for profit sector, indigenous women, so I'm gonna like the woman, we're taking credit for it. We're taking credit.
ML: Well, I've said before that my short version of the history of this sort of this period here is basically the men nearly broke the planet, but then the women came in and fixed it. And that'll be the kind of 50-year history of this period.
CM: And then Greta came along, and then the youth, then the young women who were fearless, like you have to give them credit to keep the ambition that we see now is directly related to Greta and the girls and boys in the streets. And my dad, so he's Irish, and he said to me, he said, ‘How can anyone be against climate change? He said, my grandchildren yell at me all the time. He said, I am supporting more ambitious climate action, a price on pollution for my grandkids.’ And I thought that that's the amazing thing. It's the power of young people started, you know, there are lots of young people, but Greta was amazing.
ML: There is one learning from that though, which is for all of the think tanks, for all of the policy papers for all the political careers, for all of the theories of change expounded in the universities, nobody forecast Greta. Nobody really had their finger on what actually would turn this thing around.
CM: That's great. You know, what clarity, clarity and moral purpose and being able to blow through things. And this is one of the things that actually is a serious lesson that I think we all need to take to heart. We need to talk like real people about real things. Because I want… in some ways, it's good that I came into, as I say, kind of COP-land. I didn't know anything about… I actually had to ask my team. I said, okay, there's no dumb questions, right? I was like, what's a COP? They're like, Conference of the Parties. And I said, ‘Okay, no acronyms.’ But I mean, adaptation, mitigation. We use all this language like Article Six, market text, no one knows what we're talking about. And I saw this when we were talking about, like, what started off in carbon tax. Let me tell you, that's not a good sales pitch. Carbon tax isn't a good sales pitch. We talked about… we started really thinking hard about how do we communicate to Canadians. And it matters how you talk to regular people, because we're not trying to convince environmentalists here. And I think sometimes we get into our jargon, and we think we're all very smart. But we realized that what really resonated was putting a price on pollution, because it shouldn't be free to pollute. And that people actually, if you go to a grade four student, they'll be like, of course, like, if you just say, should it be free to pollute? They'll say absolutely no. And so I think that Greta, beyond that, she had a clarity of purpose. And she was willing to call people out and didn't try to mince her words. And people sometimes say to me, ‘Well, they call you out, Canada.’ And that's fine. Like, we actually need the ambition. And we need the clarity so that that politicians can get the support. Because it's really hard out there. It's not easy. Let me tell you fighting for a price on pollution, we won an election on it, but it was extremely hard.
ML: And what was the wording that you went with, because you've got the action incentive payments, that's only part of it. I think that's one of the really interesting policies, you know, that you've pursued, which is you have, you don't call it a tax, but you have a… you have a carbon price, but then you rebate it out to people. Talk us through that?
CM: Well, so there's a policy because I am a policy wonk, too. So, there's the policy piece, and then there was a comms piece, but they're very related. So, we need a price on pollution around the world, across the board price. So, everyone who's listening to this, you need to get that we need to land that I know people are like, it's too hard. Well, this is how we did it in Canada. So, the Prime Minister, first of all, you need ambition at the top. So, the Prime Minister, we ran on a platform in 2015, that we're going to put a price on pollution. So that was part of my job, I had to negotiate a climate plan with provinces and territories - very challenging. We ended up having a number of conservative premiers that was, you know, during the time I was in office, so it became very, very, very hard and very political. But one thing that was very important to me in the design is that every dollar had to go back, that we couldn't be in some ways progressives like this, we're gonna put pots of money here and here and here. But if you do that, then people are like, you're just playing games with money, our money, taxpayer dollars. And so, it had to go back. So, what we did is we said, it can no longer be free to pollute, we're putting a price on pollution. But all the money will go directly back to people, 10% was back to businesses and not for profits. But it was all going back. We were not keeping a dollar. Now we had to impose it. We said to provinces. Also, you can fill your boots. You as long as you meet the benchmark of our price, you can do it a direct price, like a tax, or you could do a cap and trade.
ML: That’s the elegance. That you let the provinces do it, you only step in if they don't do it. And then that got challenged in your Supreme Court. And then you put you got through that, right.
CM: That was the only way we would have won in the Supreme Court. So, I am a lawyer. And it was very important that you know, that we not we just be focused on outcomes. But we did get the decision that pollution is, well, CO2, it's an issue of national concern. So we need to have that it was a very, it was a very important decision, because otherwise we would have been in a situation the federal government couldn't regulate, you know, across the board when it came to climate change… so that would have been an issue. But it's a very narrow decision, we were very careful. But the comms, let's get back to comms, because in the end, okay, great policy is amazing. But if you can't land the comms, you're not going to land it. And so we called it the Climate Action Incentive. So, when you filed your taxes, every Canadian, we get the Climate Action Incentive. And we could say how much it was in each province, it was not based on income, it was everyone was going to get it, it was based on the number of people in your family, which is a progressive policy, because people that have less money, they cause you know, they have less pollution, they don't have multiple cars, gas guzzling large cars, or multiple houses that are very large. So, we could say that more and it was true, more people would get more money back. And so, we had to fight. There were stickers on pumps, in some provinces, led by conservative politicians that were very misleading or misleading advertising campaigns, I took a lot of hits. Luckily, I'm from a place called Hamilton, the hammer, as we call it in Canada, and maybe my dad's Irish, like I just, you know, we had to fight, you had to fight for it. And you had to be out there, and I had to do comms, I had to answer sometimes every question in question period in the House being yelled at.
ML: And where is it now in terms of is it now popular because everybody started… because of course, there's a kind of between the talking about it, and then the levying of it, and then the starting people starting to get cheques are starting to get that payments, that's presumably takes some time. So now that the checks have started to arrive, is it popular? Or is it is it unpopular?
CM: Oh, well, the last election was fought. I mean, there were a number of things, but definitely pricing pollution was a fight. And in the end, now we have the Conservative Party who had fought me to the death have just announced the price on pollution in their policy, they taken a different approach. But they've announced it, and we won the Supreme Court case, and in the end, so it's now I think it's done. And we are raising our price. We've announced this as part of our new climate plan with our enhanced target, $170 by 2030. So that's very significant. It's going up by $10, a year until 2022, and then $15. So, it's a significant signal to the markets. Now, of course, we're doing a whole bunch of other things, but it is important. And as I say, I had to make it as conservative as possible, small c conservative, all the money going back. And I learned this from George Shultz who just passed away, but he spent some time with him in the US. Arnold Schwarzenegger did a video for us saying he was a Republican governor, who brought in a price on pollution and broad bipartisan support, and guess what it works and California was leading the way in growth in clean tech and jobs. So, um, you know, but you had to have all hands-on deck <inaudible> landing it.
ML: Do you think it'll stay… I mean, you said that the Conservatives now have a policy of price on pollution. But is it a different one? Or do you think that these climate action incentives and outages that's it - be like Social Security or whatever, that's just like, there to stay?
CM: I think it’s very hard to cut money back to people? I think also Canadians, really… because it became such an issue, Canadians were like, ‘wait a minute, the conservatives don't even have a climate plan.’ And so then it was seen like now, it's unacceptable to not be serious about climate here. Now, of course, there's different views on policies, but I think the way we've designed pricing where provinces in many provinces are actually administering it itself. I think that we're not going back. Does that mean that we'll continue to have to talk to people about it, we're actually cutting checks before it was through your taxes that was subpar. I think that actual people seeing the amounts quarterly is really important to some people may not see it. And you know, there's been some adjustments to make sure that it's, there aren't unintended consequences in some sectors. And there's an output-based pricing system. I'm not going to get into the weeds but for major emitters, because competitiveness is an issue. But look, I think we landed it and I hope folks learn from our experience. I'm happy to talk more to anyone who wants to do it because it was not easy. But design matters and comms matters and, and being strategic on how you do it, but then not backing down. You have to, you have to fight for it.
ML: Well, I think it's such an interesting, you know, I don't I don't know what to call it an experiment because it's here to stay. It's not an experiment. But it was such a such interesting pioneering work because I think you're the first to do that kind of fee and rebate where there's the money is collected, but then it's rebated which I think is the only way to get this stuff done. I think as you say, as soon as the money just comes into treasury and disappears, then anybody on even the mild center right, which is probably where I am, is just gonna say okay, well, we know what this is, it's called a heist. It's a tax heist. Yeah. And so, what you've done has navigated that it sounds like successful and definitely should be an example then to others who want to go the same route. If I might though, Catherine, I'm going to ask the… you know, at the same time as you were doing all of that, you were also buying a pipeline. And I'm not trying to do a big gotcha and ask you these difficult questions, but you were buying a pipeline. What's the politics behind that? What's the thinking there?
CM: So I mean, obviously, that was very challenging. And, like, the reality is, I mean, we're, this is going to be a messy way how we take climate action, and we have hugely ambitious climate action. But I mean, people are still using oil and gas. And this was just… I mean, look, we turned down many pipelines. And this one was seen as incredibly important as part of the transition. And also, as you know, moving forward on figuring out how we're going to have money to pay for some of the massive investments we're making. It was very hard for folks, some folks, I mean, it was very hard on all sides. And that's the thing I've learned about climate policy. That, in some ways, you always have to be focused on people like regular people. So I'll give you a different example on phasing out. Cool. So we announced we were phasing out cool, that literally, we're phasing out jobs. Um, and I think you have to be aware of this, and not just say, um, you know, too bad. Like, we got to do these things off the backs of some people. And to be honest, it would have been very hard for us to look like we understood where the world was going. But where the world still was. Because people are still using oil and gas. But we got to get off it. I mean, let's be clear. And so it was it was a very challenging, but what I learned on the phasing out of coal, so we did one of the first just transition taskforce, and we sent folks out to communities that were phasing out coal, and you would go to these town halls, like, you know, the community center, the school gym and 700, people would show up, and they'd be angry, and they'd be sad, and they'd be scared. But they still cared about the environment, they still cared about clean air and clean water. But reasonably, they also cared about jobs. And I think that we do need to navigate that, because we've seen how challenging it is, you know, for folks to get behind policy changes, if they don't believe they're going to be part of it. And I know some people, I take my knocks all the time. You know, I'm absolutely ambitious on climate change. But sometimes people say you're not doing it fast enough. Why do you do these things? You know, and we do need to be more ambitious, and I get it. But we also need to figure out how we bring people together. So what we did in the case of our just transition task force, which was labor, business, environmentalists, we looked at what were the jobs of the future? How could we do retraining? How could we do infrastructure investments in those communities? And how could we show that it wasn't just for people who it wasn't going to impact that it was easy to just say we're phasing out coal. And obviously, we need to phase out coal, let's be clear, we need to transition off from fossil fuels. But we also recognize that people's lives and futures are at stake, because it's very hard to land climate policy. If you don't also talk about the transition for folks. And, you know, shutting things down you of course, we have to move in a different way, but just shutting things down, and just saying that's it and too bad. That isn't going to rally people together. And it's not going to help, like we need to be bringing everyone together on this. And so it's hard. It's hard. And it's messy. And I mean, we had to work very hard to get, to land our first climate plan. We're also, you know, this is we're talking about the province of Alberta. You know, there's a lot of politics there. And so I don't know, this was a lesson I learned, because at the beginning, you know, it's easy to just say, we're doing this, this and this and not worrying as much about people. I don't think you can land good policy if you don't think about people, which is very bad, because we get a new government, you lose everything. And in our case, it was the Conservatives because they didn't support many of our policies. But also I got into politics to help people and so you do have to figure this out. But we have to be super ambitious, and we have to figure this out. And we've seen how challenging it is like, you know, Germany, it took them a long time to commit to getting off coal their past I think they might be 2036 I'm not sure when they're…
ML:2038. Yeah, well, although they've just been they were challenged in their Supreme Court about whether they had, were putting an unacceptable and unconstitutional burden onto future generations, and the government lost the case, which is why they've now pulled forwards, net zero to 2045. And I don't think that's consistent with coal in 2038.
CM: No and I think that's, I'm sure it isn't, because actually we did that…I helped create with Claire Perry, who you had on your show on the Powering Past Coal Alliance. And when you look at projections, I mean, we got to get off coal, obviously, all fossil fuels, but coal it right now. And for developed countries, it's really 2030, China 2035, 2040, and the rest of the world 2050. That's what we saw at those projections at that time. But look, I think you have to do big things. And then you have to do more. And that was the whole point of the Paris Agreement, that every five years, you got to come back and be more ambitious. So, we just announced our new target, which is a lot of work for us. It's getting 40 to 45% reductions. And that's a lot. But we all have to do it. And we have to continue to drive and do more and we have to bring people with us too, because you don't want to lose it all.
ML: You mentioned Powering Past Coal, I think we've touched on in a couple of times, and that was actually when we first worked together because Claire Perry, who was if I look at my little list here, she was on she was Episode 30 on Cleaning Up, she asked me if I could come in and chair the launch meeting. And it was fabulous. Because there was a classic, you know, international diplomacy, you know, U-shaped tables, and there were the television cameras. You were on one side. So that was you know, Minister McKenna, Canada, and then there was minister O’Neill, UK. And then there's I think there was Belgium and there was Costa Rica. There was a bunch of other countries. And my name tag just said, Michael Liebreich. And on Twitter they said, ‘Oh look, they gave him his own country now.’
CM: There you go. But that was the great announcement. Actually, I remember that. And, once again, I mean, you have to do things through the COP process. But I think we all know, like, if there's one thing we need to do right now is get everyone off coal. But I realize I'm more sophisticated now. Because I'm coming like I have to do a lot on the financing side. And we need to figure out for coal, you got to figure out jobs, transition, financing. Those are very critical elements of this. And they're hard.
ML: And, again, that one Teresa Ribera, you know, talked about that she's actually done some very pioneering policy work down there coal industry, and there was a big outcry actually it ended up with being compensation. And you know, Germany also has had to provide compensation. And that's really the only way the only way to do it. But one thing with Powering Past Coal, you know, my sense is that what what's really needed is sort of part two would be leapfrogging over coal. How do we get that done? Because there are countries that have got coal in the ground, and they see it as their national, you know, wealth, and their right to develop it. And of course, we all know that if they did become wealthy by using coal, the next thing they would have is an air quality issue, a health issue, probably a cost issue and so on. But how do you support the these developing countries: I’m thinking of the Mozambique here? You know, the Bangladesh's the Vietnam's, you know, how do you support them to leapfrog beyond coal? And is that sort of the next stage of Powering Past Coal that you could kick off?
CM: So I actually totally believe this, I know Michael Bloomberg, if you think about how he thought about it in the US context, I think it's useful. I mean, obviously, there are campaigns to talk about the benefits of, you know, getting off coal, but it's also… it is what Powering Past Coal’s mandate involves, but I think you've got to go deeper jobs, like part of the reason countries want to do this is they want jobs, like people need jobs and are entitled to jobs. So, you need to solve that piece at the same… and that's a political piece, let me be very clear as a politician, jobs are an issue. Like if you can’t show, if you're cutting jobs as opposed to enhancing jobs, then it's gonna be very hard to stay elected, even if you're doing the right for the planet, because people need jobs. But then you also need the financing. And I think this is also really interesting place. How do we know we need trillions? How do you make sure the investments go there? So part of it is my good friend Mark Carney has come back to Canada, which is great. He's been working on climate disclosure, and I think that's really important. So, what are you investing in and stranded assets? But I think the other side of this is actually figuring out how do you get the dollars to be invested in the clean side, not just so they stay out of the dirty side, but that they go into the pieces and there are… I lived in Indonesia, I lived in East Timor, I understand there are risk factors involved. And we have the Canada Infrastructure Bank, it's a totally different mechanism, but it's intended to in some ways, de risk investments. And so, I've learned a lot about that and we have development banks. I think we have to get more sophisticated in going into countries, looking at what are the opportunities, and then helping to finance it but de risking it so you can get the private capital. And it's not just going to happen by chance. And that requires, it just requires a different way of looking at things. And it requires us a lot of work, actually, right, like capital will go to some places where it's easy. But I think you're gonna have to figure that out. But we need capital, like, it's trillions of dollars that will need to be invested in, I think we have to do this. This is something I'm extremely passionate about. I think that is something really operationalizing Powering Past Coal not just saying I want to sign up, because you know, I've committed to doing that, but helping people being able to commit in a way that's going to create jobs, and get them to the clean power they need. Because also people in developing countries, they need power too. Like we can, once again it goes back to people it always has to be focused on people, because that's the only way you get outcomes.
ML: So I'm an advisor to an NGO called GREENMAP. And this is Sebastian Kind, who was, I think he was Assistant Secretary of Energy in Argentina, and created a program called RenovAR, and it was incredibly successful at bringing in he was $7 or $8 billion into Argentina, just after you know, a few years before under this was under Macri, the money came in, but a few years before they had been, you know, nationalizing oil and gas assets. So, a very dangerous sovereign risk environment. And he structured this thing really nicely using national and multilateral guarantees, you know, World Bank guarantees and so on. But, the critical piece was structured in such a way that you didn't crowd out competition. So, once you've got the guarantee, then there was, you know, vicious private sector, you know, competition to get the lowest interest rates for each tranche of the capital stack. So, it was very successful, it has actually survived very well, what's happened, you know, more recently in Argentina, as you know, they've got all sorts of other, you know, debt problems, but that debt has been very, very good. And he now has an NGO called GREENMAP and I sit on the advisory board actually, along with Rachel Kite is on there and Connie Hedegaard and other the climate sisterhood who was the European Climate Commissioner, probably before… well, I think until 2014. So, a little bit before your time as an environment minister, but that you're absolutely right. The finance stuff is, you know, couldn't be more critical. We've got a few more minutes left, and I want to talk about the just transition and the policy… everything you said, I mean, it sounds very sensible. But you know, we are operating in a political environment in the Anglo-Saxon world that is incredibly abrasive and toxic, you know, the administration before your own and before the before the first Trudeau administration was virulently against action on climate. I mean, I think one can say that they would have said, ‘No, no, no, we were doing all sorts of things,’ but they weren't. You've seen the same in Australia, you've seen the same in the US, obviously, under President Trump. And then you've got the UK where normally, we have this tremendously, you know, confrontational political environment. And yet suddenly, on climate, it's like, there's this kind of race to the top, you know, who can cut more quickly, and the Conservatives, you know, the Conservative administration under Boris has just, you know, everybody was expecting after Brexit, or we're going to tear up bonfire of all this stuff. I always thought that was complete nonsense. I was, you know, I'm a Conservative, so I knew some of the people. But even I'm really surprised at the extent to which you've got this kind of, it's not bipartisan support, because it's still really aggressive and really nasty. But at least it's competing on how to do the same good stuff. So how do we unpick that? I mean, what's really going on here?
CM: Well, I mean, it's interesting, the UK example, because I think it's a great example of how like it should be a race for the top and the race for best ideas, because we should be focused on outcomes. And so, we all need to have ambitious climate action. And so, you know, if you have a different way of doing pricing, it's going to be better, get a better outcome, and you're going to be able to sell it, great, and that wasn't the case in Canada, let me tell you, but in the UK, I mean, it's interesting…
ML: So just before we come back to other, let me challenge you on that, because so many people, particularly well, people on the left tend to say, it's so urgent, and it's so dramatic and whatever, that we must all work together. In other words, we've got to suppress, effectively what they say is, we've got to suppress the competition for ideas. And in fact, you've all got to accept our ideas, feed-in tariffs, which are state pricing, state allocation of capital, the state control of R&D, I'm going to have Mariana Mazzucato, the great economist. She's going to come on this show, and so on. But you know, so many people on the left think there should be no competition for ideas, there should just be the acceptance of theirs.
CM: Well, I mean, so that's a, there's nuances to that. So, in Canada, we didn't have we all we had was a campaign against carbon pricing coming from Conservatives, it was like, it's a tax on everything, it's gonna raise it and like, they were just not true, because we're giving the money back. So, you know, I'm not going to give credit to folks who attack you with misleading statements and don't have a plan. But I think in the UK, I mean, it's been good to see, I wonder if the fact that you have legislation in place, you have carbon budgets, that that is where we have moved. And so we're trying to get legislation through the House, because I think discipline and accountability is extremely important. But I think we also need to do a good job talking about it, the world has changed, the economy has changed. And now this is where the jobs and the economic opportunities are. Because that's just true. And if you look at, you know, go back to Mark Carney, you know, he's been very clear about the trillion dollar opportunity, but the risks if you don't go to this side, so hopefully everyone, especially conservatives, who believe in you know, being mindful of taxpayer dollars who believe in actually, you know, you know, in Canada, I mean, well, I guess everywhere, conservatives, you know, conserving energy, saving money for energy efficiency, growing your economy, that's all the opportunity. And I think that's where we need to go when we talk about it, because I think it is, you know, I think we have to have reality checks. And I think it's great Greta and others are out about the reality checks. And gosh, we see the impacts of climate change every day. And who knows what's going to happen when it comes to the summer and fires because it's looking, it's very dry out here. But we also need to talk about the opportunity. And I spend a lot of time actually with young people at community colleges and universities talking to them because no one underestimates, climate change real, they just can't wait to find the solutions and the jobs they want are climate related, and sustainability. And they see the opportunities, the innovation piece. So that's where I hope we all go. But I do think there should be a marketplace of ideas. And look, as I said, I what I did is I pulled out conservatives all the time to talk about pricing. As I say, I went out and George Schultz was talking about pricing, and I had Arnold Schwarzenegger talking about pricing. And there are conservatives in Canada that have talked about pricing, it is a conservative idea, by the way, putting a price on pollution, you know, market. So, I think that we shouldn't be so dismissive, but at the end, you have to land things. So, it's politics and sometimes you got to fight and I literally, we had to fight, we had to win an election on it. We did have to win at the Supreme Court. But I think UK is great. I mean, look, you guys also fought coal in a different way. Nothing to do with climate, I would say, you know, many generations ago, a number of generations ago. So, you know, that wasn't the jobs piece so much that it could.
ML: That wasn't fighting coal that was actually fighting, high priced coal that we were being forced to use. And it was actually a labor. I mean, it was all about labor law.
CM: That what I’m saying, it was a labor… you didn't have to deal with the placement of workers right now that had already happened. Nobody's fighting. That's I guess that's my point. But look, I hope the world gets to this point. But I actually think that there we really, I hate saying tipping points because it always sounds you know, ridiculous. Like, yeah, you know, there's a tipping point. But I do think that people are recognizing… I don't think they recognize just how urgent it is. But I think people I don't I think we're moving really far on the you know, on climate change is real. Although I worry, Michael, I worry because I see it on my social media disinformation, misinformation, attacks, women often attacked on climate policy. So, there's like a weird misogyny thing. It gets tied up, we've looked at there's been analysis that folks that are, you know, on some, the fringes of many issues, climate is one of those issues. So, we're going to have to be very vigilant and make sure that we are able to get out the information to regular people, so they understand where we're at, and what the policies are and how it's going to improve their lives for them, but also their kids.
ML: Now, I do worry that we're in a sort of golden period, in a sense at the moment on climate action, because, you know, I was smiling when you were talking about, you know, the sort of the jobs and it's about saving money and conservatives, you know, like saving money. It's because, you know, I wrote an article in 2014 and it was on Conservative Home about how this is the cheapest form of energy, you know, this is what is becoming… wind and solar. Because at the time in the Daily Mail, it was always like, ludicrously expensive renewables. That was the phrase, and I was looking at it. I know what I know what people are paying for this stuff, you know, the developers, I know the banks, I know, you know, the technology providers. And I was like, No, you have to understand this has now reached that famous grid competitiveness… was around that time, 2014 - 2015. And it keeps getting cheaper and cheaper. But that is true of wind, solar, you know, renewable electricity. It will be true of electric cars. Yeah, that's absolutely clear. But it probably won't be true of heating, you have a lot of very cheap natural gas. And, you know, I went to visit Okotoks community outside Calgary, and they've got this fantastic geothermal heating system. And it's fabulous, because there it is quite near to the Olympic. The old Olympic… what is it? The 1988, I should know this, the 1988 Olympic Stadium, and they heat, you know, right through the winter on geothermal. But it's really expensive. I mean, I can't remember the exact numbers, but it's like $100,000 per home. And natural gas is about 200 bucks a year to heat with. So, there are going to be bigger sacrifices in some of the other sectors. And, you know, we're likely to find that zero carbon flights will simply always be more expensive than carbon flights. And the same with steel. And the same with, you know, there's going to be some sectors where we just have to say, it's going to cost more. And I worry that we'll lose, you know, the conservatives at that point, saying, are we really sure about the science and, you know, the real catastrophe scenarios the sort of, you know, they call it RCP 8.5, the absolute five and eight degrees, those things are not happening. They're completely implausible. They have been for decades. So, we're going to end up, you know, it may be harder to hold the coalitions or harder to hold, you know, focus together going forward. That's what I worry about.
CM: Well, I think, look, I think that once people really understand, like, I just have seen such a sea change in Canada, maybe internationally, although it really did take for the US the Biden administration, not because the states and cities and businesses weren't acting, but it does matter that you have someone who's pro-climate action in the US. But I've seen a sea change in Canada in the views of Canadians over the past five years. And I think they get it. It's also making sure people understand what we value. And once again, it's not just comms but it is comms too, like it's not just the future, it's clean air and clean water and valuing things in a different way. So you're not just saying, oh, well, it's has to be cheaper or we're not going to do it. I mean, you're right, there's a limit to that argument, we have to be quite careful. Um, there's also an equity issue. And that's really come up in Canada, in the US, you see it a lot. But equity when it comes to, you know, climate being linked to other issues. And I've always talked about this. I mean, the people that are most impacted by climate change, or dirty air or dirty water are the ones who caused the least and are often the people that are the poorest, and they may be indigenous, racialized in our country. So, I think there's a broader equity issue that that needs to be part of a conversation. And not in a, you know, we're trying to link all of these issues, because it's all our agenda, because they actually are real issues. Like if you look at the Inuit in Canada, I'm like, what value do we put on the Arctic, like their homelands, like their home, they've done nothing to cause climate change. And meanwhile, their livelihoods, their communities, their cultures disappearing, and there's a value to that, but we need to… people need to understand, and Mark Carney has written a good book, Value and Values, it's on my bookshelf somewhere. But I think it's just important to think about what do we value? And what kind of future do we want? And having real conversations now, you know, of course, you got to make the case on costs. That's important. You got to make the case on jobs. But in Canada, I think a reflection from the pandemic, it's been very interesting. People really value nature. They really value being able… So we actually launched Canada's first natural infrastructure fund. And also, you know, the opportunities for communities to invest in community gardens or to invest in bypasses for cycling, ski trails, in cities is a really big, not everyone has snow, but in Canada, we have snow, especially if you're live in Ottawa, where I live. And so I think it's just being thoughtful about what's important. And I think that's also we got to talk about that too. But, you know, look, it's always going to be hard. I think it's always gonna be hard to because some of this as so many decades down the road. And I don't think our brains are very good at processing that. But I've always said in a hopeful note, as I say to folks, I'm like, ‘you know what, who would have thought we would get a vaccine to COVID-19.’ At the beginning, I remember, we were like, ‘We will probably never get a vaccine like this is really hard.’ And we had a very clear goal. And a clarity of purpose. We listened to science and scientists, the private sector worked with government, worked with public health agencies worked with, you know, everyone to get a vaccine to get the roll out to support people through the pandemic. And guess what we're going to tackle COVID-19. Now, of course, there's the developing countries, we need to get more vaccines there, but we will do it. And that's what I think we need on climate. We just need a clarity of purpose. And it's not just about COPs, right, I like COPs. But you know, like fighting, sometimes you're fighting over a word or two, not that it's unimportant. I'm a lawyer. But I think there's a limit to that, I think that we need to just be very clear about the outcome we want. And then every day you wake up, that you do it based on science, but you bring in the private sector, you work partnerships. And that doesn't mean it's always going to be easy, but I think we can do it. I really do think we can do it. But it requires discipline, discipline and ambition.
ML: Funny you say ‘I like COPs’. I now like COPs, because they seem to be delivering something useful after Copenhagen. And of course, you know, in the UN. It was sort of like Copenhagen didn't really work out exactly as right. Let's go to Cancun, let's go to Doha. And I wrote this piece saying, enough, let's stop doing these things. They're destroying credibility. But of course, then Christiana, Paris, etc. Now I like COPs, too. There is one thing we've talked about this sort of the political culture. And we've talked, you've talked about how you've taken your knocks, as well, as you've, you know, proposed these policies that are not universally popular instantly. What I would say is, I've interacted with you a little bit on Twitter, around the Powering Past Coal, sometimes I'll tweet and you might respond, sometimes you've tweeted and I've responded, I have never seen such virulent neandertal pushback. I don't know what you want to call it. I, you know, it is the sexism that greets you're, pretty much every sortie into the, you know, into the social media sphere. I'm not sure if it's better recently. I've not seen it as much recently, but then we haven't been working on Powering Past Coal in the same way. Does that get you down? And does that how do you how do you, emotionally, how do you deal with that? It's really hard. Is it not?
CM: I mean, it's interesting because I mean, you can a bit abstract it that it's related to my file, and they interestingly, so some people have done studies about my social media. Just understand what the heck's going on. And the day we announced we were putting a price on pollution was the day that the hate really increased, like it was significant, and it was organized campaigns for sure. I'd love to know exactly who's behind it. We do know, some of the folks that are behind it, and there's a whole industry, there are bots, but there are also folks who fuel the fire. And look, does it get me down? Is it annoying? Like they call me Climate Barbie, I didn't even play with Barbies, I'm don’t have anything against Barbies. But I didn't say anything for a long time. And then one day, I called out one of the, you know, real media organizations who asked a question at a press conference and went viral. And the reason I called it out is that one I was fed up and I was like, screw it. I'm done. I'm sorry for the language. But I really was I was like, and no one wanted me to do it because they thought, we wish an…
ML: This is an organization that had called you Climate Barbie repeatedly, and then popped up in one of your press conferences and was like, ‘Hey, let me ask the question.’
CM: Yeah. And there was my first question at my provincial and territorial meeting. And I was, like I said, I actually turned to the other ministers. And I said, I'm sorry, I just said it. And I didn't vet it with my press sec or my team because they would have said, don't do it, don't do it. And the funny thing is, of course, everything's streamed now, like so the whole press conference was streamed. And so, we had a little interaction. I said, I'll answer your question, if you commit to never calling me climate Barbie again. And I said, it's not just because of me, it's because I've daughters, and there are a lot of women who want to get into politics, and this is not okay. And it was kind of funny, because the guy was like, I've never said it. And then the good news is on Twitter, you can instantly check it, so one of our more conservative journalists was like, actually, he did. And so… and then, you know, what happened out of that and this is just a reminder like, it's hard to be objective when you're, you know, you're the face of it and taking all this hate and it is a bit exhausting and it and it's resulted in real security issues for my family, which is unacceptable. Um, but so many people came up to me afterwards, it would be like a dad, and he'd say, you know, I my kid was bullied and I showed them the video of you calling it out, or you know, a kid saying I really appreciate that you stand up for our planet. And I just realized that it's important because I'm in a privileged position. And it sucks for people like you, unfortunately, who get caught into my Twitter feed and that's unacceptable. And it can be anyone who gets them on my Twitter feed and then people latch on. But that actually most people certainly in Canada are reasonable, they don't accept it, they don't like it. And if I can make politics a bit better, so that we call it out, and Canadians realize that it's not okay. And Canadians really did realize most of them that it wasn't okay, and the climate change that we are fighting a fight against, you know, kind of the dark forces, and then I'm fine with that. I mean, do I wish it didn't happen? Yeah, but whatev, you know what you got to do what you've got to do, and it's much more important to be focused on the outcome and the outcome is saving our planet and doing all the work to get there. And so, you know, it happens to many other women. It happens to Katharine Hayhoe. She's a good friend of climate scientists in the United States. Shannon Phillips was the environment minister in Alberta. But I think the broader thing is on, like, how can we all have conversations? And I think probably it's harder on social media, but I am not off it. I mean, I'm on it actually, all the time. I really enjoy it. But I think um, I think it's really challenging because to have nuanced conversations is tough. But you know what, the good news is, in Canada, at least, I feel like Canadians, now they support a price on pollution, they expect ambitious action. And if you look at polling on even across party lines, like even conservatives, they're supportive, and we want to see serious climate plans.
ML: Catherine, I hope you're right, I was worrying about a… there might be a bit of a pendulum and we might be in this golden period, it might swing back, you've reassured me greatly.
CM: I’m only one person, but I feel more optimistic after five years in this job.
ML: And hopefully, hopefully, we will get to I will get to meet during COP 26. The president of the COP, Alok Sharma has announced this week that it's going to be in person. So, I'm assuming that you will be that to relive your greatest hits at COPs, and maybe we'll get to, to hang out and meet in person. But until then, all I could do really is thank you for the time that you spent with us here today on Cleaning Up.
CM: It was great. I really appreciate the chance to have a good conversation. And who knows, I mean, I hope everyone needs to be able to come to COP, including developing countries if we're going to do it in person. So that has to be a priority, because that's what COPs are all about. But anyway, we need more ambitious action, and we need to have serious conversation. So, thanks a lot.
ML: Thank you very much. Thank you, Catherine. So that was Catherine McKenna, Minister of the Environment for Canada during the Paris Agreement negotiations, and now Minister of Infrastructure and Communities. My guest next week is Angelina Galiteva. She's Chair of the Board of Governors of the California Independent System Operator, and a great friend of mine. Please join me at this time next week for conversation with Angelina Galiteva.