December 11, 2015 - From the December, 2015 issue

VX Hosts Ontario Premier Wynne in Discussion with California Climate & Energy Leaders

On November 3, VerdeXchange Institute co-hosted Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, welcoming her to LACI's La Kretz Innovation Campus for a conversation with CARB's Mary Nichols and former California ISO Chair Bob Foster, moderated by Waterloo Innovation Summit Chair David Fransen. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti opened the program. Here, TPR presents edited excerpts from the conversation.

Kathleen Wynne

"This work of knitting together the subnationals has been critical to demonstrating to the leaders of the nations that, not only can you take actions that will dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but you can also do it in a way that actually benefits your economy.” —Mary Nichols

David Fransen: Premier Wynne comes to the issue of climate change and environmental policy as a real believer and a leader. The most tangible manifestation of that, most recently, was when she hosted the Climate Change Summit of the Americas in July—300 participants from 20 states and provinces. She partnered with the premier of Québec, Philippe Couillard, with whom she’s developed a very strong working relationship. (I’ll just say that it hasn’t always been that way.) Governor Brown was there, as well.

There is an alignment of forces and Premier Wynne has been one of the leaders in that process.

Premier Kathleen Wynne: Climate change is the biggest challenge that we confront as humans. I don’t know whether it’s being a grandmother for the first time now, but I want to be able to look those children in the eye and answer them in the best way possible when they say to me, “What did you do? You had a responsibility, and you had some authority to make decisions.” 

When I’m being yelled at across the legislature floor about investing in transit, I just hold on to those three kids’ faces. We’re talking about the next generation and the generation after that. If we go to our First Nations, we’re talking about the seven generations. What are we doing that’s going to impact them? There’s nothing more important. 

We in Ontario set out to transform the way that we power our homes and businesses, and already 30 percent of our electricity needs are met by renewable sources. By 2025, we’ll approach the 50 percent mark. We started that major transformation by shutting down all of our coal-fired plants, which was the largest climate-change initiative in North America. 

That was not easy. It took political will. It started before I was the premier, and we followed through on it. 

This spring we announced that we are working with California and Québec to join their carbon market. 

We chose cap and trade because we believe it will foster innovation. But as we travel to Paris in December, we’ll be standing side-by-side with other provinces that are doing things differently. British Columbia has a carbon tax. But what’s important is that everybody step up and do what they can. Now that we have a new federal government that is going to be more interested in working with us, and understands, I think, how important this is, we will take a more important place on the international stage.

Turning to water, Ontario has an abundance of water resources. The Great Lakes are one-fifth of the world’s surface freshwater. But we’ve never taken that for granted. The presence of that fresh water is core to our understanding of who we are. Preserving those lakes is a priority for our people. 

We made water tech an anchor tenet of what is Canada’s biggest and fastest growing cleantech sector. 3,000 cleantech companies employ 65,000 people and generate $8 billion in annual revenues. Water-related businesses alone total nearly 1,000. With the support our government’s put in place these last few years, this is growing at an estimated 15 percent annually. 

Here at La Kretz, Toronto-based UV Pure is installing a permanent technology demonstration. As we speak, UV Pure technology is purifying the water and wastewater all over North America: in California, and 30,000 overhead aboard the new Boeing Dreamliner. It’s one of the hundreds of businesses with water treatment and infrastructure rehabilitation expertise that’s perfectly aligned, I think, to help California conserve and reuse its water sustainably. 

UV Pure is also a great example for today because it’s one of the many cleantech start-ups that Ontario’s MaRS Discovery District has helped along. It’s part of this relationship we’re going to be celebrating today.

MaRS Cleantech Venture Services performs the same catalytic function in Ontario that the LA Cleantech Incubator performs here: leveraging public- and private-sector expertise in order to help companies to deliver market-rate cleantech solutions. It’s very exciting that, in just a few minutes, MaRS and LACI will sign an MOU to share best practices and to jointly work together to promote one another’s programs.

I’m going to be travelling to China tomorrow morning on my second trade mission there. I see those trade missions as about signing memoranda of understanding, nailing down investment, bringing home jobs—but it’s also a much broader engagement than that. It is really about finding ways—since we wall live on the same planet—to share the best of our ideas and to remove the turf. 

I’m not being Pollyanna here. I think that there are real opportunities to find ways to collaborate with mutual benefit. Everyone is looking for benefit, and everyone’s looking to create jobs and allow their economies to grow. But the short-sightedness of not collaborating on a task that is as important as pollution in Beijing, or drought in California, or flooding in Alberta or in Ontario is absolutely going to sound the death knell for everyone. It is in our mutual best interest to engage in that huge project together. 

The more we can acknowledge that there’s a mutual benefit, then the better off we’re going to be. 

We are thrilled to be here. I’m thrilled that this MOU is being signed. I know that there are people in this room who have been holding these spots for a very, very longtime, and we’re standing on your shoulders.

David Fransen: Let’s focus on the question of jurisdiction, and the relationship between national governments and subnational governments.


Mary, could you speak to the role of subnational governments in advancing the goals of the international gathering  in Paris?

Mary Nichols: As the premier mentioned, we are all getting ready for a very important event that’s going to be happening in Paris in December, where I believe that, thanks to a tremendous amount of work by many good people, there will be an international agreement signed. 

It will be in a format that’s new and different from previous efforts because it won’t be a treaty. It will be an agreement. The agreement will bind the nations of the world to a goal, and to report to each other and to hold each other accountable for emissions reductions that are needed to save the planet, literally.

That agreement could not be coming into existence if it weren’t for years of work at the subnational level. But you have to have both. The UN was simply not capable of coming together and crafting an agreement. All of the diplomats and experts on international law couldn’t do it without having the base that comes from work at the local, state, and provincial level with the leadership of visionary elected officials, including the ones that we have here, as well as my boss, Governor Brown, and President Obama. 

But also, it would not have happened without the willingness of many private-sector entities to support that work. Jerry Brown sometimes says in a slightly cynical way that the great thing about climate change is that it forces us all to work together.

But that is the great thing about climate change. I, as a government regulator, cannot will technology into being. We can encourage. We can incentivize. We can create conditions that allow it to happen. But this is an issue that really does require everyone to work together. 

It didn’t look quite so wonderful a few years ago. When California passed AB 32 and Governor Schwarzenegger signed it in 2006, we were the only state to even be thinking about a comprehensive climate program. The people who pushed it, frankly, didn’t really believe that California’s program was going to be all that important. They were doing it as a symbol. It didn’t work out that way, and we ended up actually having to put a program together. We did, and it turned out to be attractive enough to get others to join us. 

This work of knitting together the subnationals has been critical to demonstrating to the leaders of the nations that, not only can you take actions that will dramatically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but you can also do it in a way that actually benefits your economy. 

Those of us who come from democratic societies can’t ask people to sacrifice beyond an amount that’s reasonable for the future. They have to see that, whatever those sacrifices are, they’re going to be rewarded. In the midst of all the upheavals and refugee movements, it’s even more apparent that people will vote with their feet in order to get to a better way of life. 

We—Ontario, Canada, the United States—offer that better way of life. We have to be sure that we maintain that, while at the same time taking on this new and horrific problem. 

Even an international treaty, if it becomes a binding, enforceable treaty at the International Court in the Hague, is still going to require the kinds of agreements that we just signed here today.

Bob Foster: Under the parliamentary system, when the government changes, it changes. In the United States, things don’t work fast. It’s designed to frustrate immediate action. But the states are where a lot of the action is supposed to take place. In fact, they are supposed to be annoying—I might add, a role I particularly excel at. 

We adopted the first energy efficiency standards and, I believe, the first renewable portfolio in the nation. After we adopted standards, for example, for efficiency in residential and non-residential buildings, California now has half the electrical use than, per capita, the rest of the country. 

It’s the same thing if you look at renewables. When we started out just 30 years ago, we were hoping you could get solar energy down to $3/watt for install. Today, you’re hovering around 70 cents—a dramatic reduction. You’re delivering utility-scale solar at a little over 5 cents a kilowatt-hour—cheaper than anything, to tell you the truth. No one thought that was possible.

The advances and private-sector innovation that has taken place as a result of establishing those standards has been remarkable. Utilities and others have stepped up to the plate. 

I do think it is the role of smaller governments to experiment, to challenge, and to move the national government and the international organizations, too, to do better. They’re much slower, generally, and that’s usually a good thing. 

The role of being the squeaky wheel has paid off for California.


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