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A Strong Start to the G7 Halifax Environment Ministers Meeting

John Kirton, Director, G7 Research Group
September 19, 2018

The G7 Halifax Environment Ministers Meeting on September 19th got off to a strong start by proclaiming as its main message — the ecological transition is the growth story of the twenty-first century. The opportunity is now. The time has come to shift thinking from climate risks to climate opportunities. Controlling climate change is and will be a major source of economic growth, good jobs, investment and productivity for the middle class and in a more inclusive way.

The designers wisely started with a special conference the day before on climate finance. It featured as its keynote speaker Michael Sabia, the CEO of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Canada's second largest pension fund. He emphasized that those seeking stable, strong, long-term returns would find them in investments in renewable and clean energy, low-energy real estate and low carbon transportation. His firm had already walked the talk by declaring last year that it would reduce the carbon footprint of its portfolio by 25% by 2025.

The ministerial meeting itself opened with a session on climate finance, with presentations by Lord Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics and Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England and chair of the Financial Stability Board. They also noted, as had Sabia, that much was happening in the right direction but that much more was needed now. In her opening remarks as chair, the Honourable Catherine McKenna, Canada's Minister of the Environment and Climate Change declared that the challenge was to turn the "billions into trillions" to produce the sustainable finance transformations on time.

McKenna noted that G7 ministers had an ambitious agenda, and that she welcomed that. She also noted that their work was ultimately about people, above all the young and the most vulnerable in the world. Speaking of her recent conversation with high school students in Cambridge Bay she told their story of how climate change was already killing their fathers and brothers as they fell through the thinning ice while hunting to provide their families with food. They looked to those at the table today to provide the leadership that only the G7 could.

McKenna also emphasized how climate change control was intimately connected to gender equality, the central mainstreamed priority of the G7 Charlevoix Summit that her prime minister, Justin Trudeau, hosted on June 8-9. Women and girls were the greatest victims of climate change. But they were also powerful change agents who could help provide the solutions that were urgently needed now.

McKenna urged her colleagues in their discussions today to avoid acronyms and "wonky" policy language but instead to "make it real." Ambitious leadership that responded to the needs of people, in ways that they understood and could help shape, was what the G7 is all about when it works at its best. The environment ministers' strong start at Halifax showed it was doing so, and suggested it would finish this way too.

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John KirtonJohn Kirton is director of the G7 Research Group, and co-director of the G20 Research Group, the Global Health Diplomacy Program and the BRICS Research Group, all based at Trinity College at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. He is also a Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at China's Renmin University. A professor of political science, he teaches global governance and international relations and Canadian foreign policy. He has served as a member of Canada's National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, and has advised the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, estabished to implement the North American Free Trade Agreement. He as also advised Environment and Climate Change Canada. His most recent books include Accountability for Effectiveness in Global Governance, co-edited with Marina Larionova (Routledge 2018), China's G20 Leadership (Routledge, 2016), G20 Governance for a Globalized World (Ashgate, 2012) and (with Ella Kokotsis), The Global Governance of Climate Change: G7, G20 and UN Leadership (Ashgate, 2015), as well as The G8-G20 Relationship in Global Governance, co-edited with Marina Larionova (Ashgate, 2015), and Moving Health Sovereignty in Africa: Disease, Govenance, Climate Change, co-edted with Andrew F. Cooper, Franklyn Lisk and Hany Besada (Ashgate, 2014). Kirton is also co-editor with Madeline Koch of several publications on the G7/8, the G20 and the BRICS, including G7 Canada: The 2018 Charlevoix Summit, published by GT Media and the Global Governance Project.

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