However, Mr Guilbeault, who prefers to take the train over the plane whenever possible, has agreed to travel to London by plane only. He and his team therefore covered the remaining distance – 555 km – by train and thus caused less than a sixth of the CO2 emissions that they would have caused by flying.
Although a little surprised, his team members quickly realized that some things would be done differently now that they had an environmental activist as their minister.
Guilbeault, 52, is the first professional environmental activist, a veteran lobbyist dedicated to urging government to do more for the environment to become the one on top.
“I think the Prime Minister wanted an activist in this position to show that he was committed to doing what he promised Canadians during the campaign, which was to do more for the climate, for nature and for all environmental issues and to do it faster. »
— A quote from Steven Guilbeault
Mr Guilbeault’s appointment had also been seen as a glimmer of hope by several of his allies.
He understands the magnitude of the challenge ahead. We don’t have to spend hours explaining to him what’s going on, it makes a big difference, says Environmental Defense Canada group director general Timothy Gray.
During his first full year in Environment, Mr. Guilbeault advanced at least eight major dossiers related to climate change and conservation.
These acts include the culmination of new legislation on the use of single-use plastics, electric vehicles and methane emissions, and the release of the long-awaited national adaptation strategy.
In April, he released the first national plan to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, outlining the steps the country needs to take to meet its 2030 targets in this area.
He also helped organize the COP15 on biodiversity in Montreal in the last few weeks of the year, where 196 countries managed to agree on a plan to stop the destruction of nature.
We are using all the regulatory tools at our disposal to ensure that we achieve our goals with carrots and sticks, explains Minister Guilbeault.
The Oil Challenge
Pump Jacks in Northern Alberta.
Photo: Radio Canada / Genevieve Laurent
Despite these recent achievements, Mr Guilbeault is quick to point out that he still has work to do. In addition, some of these new measures must always pass the reality test. In particular, he must find a way for the government to limit emissions from oil and gas exploration, which will inevitably lead to new conflicts with the Alberta government.
Oil and gas industry officials declined to comment on the case, despite meeting regularly with Mr Guilbeault and have already told him they will not be able to meet the targets he has tentatively set for 2030.
The minister chastised some companies for posting record profits as a result of the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on global oil prices. But he listened to their concerns, opened the door to some flexibility on targets, and even approved a new oil exploration project in April that he had fought against throughout his career.
“By far the most difficult decision I had to make was Bay du Nord. Without doubt. This day was extremely difficult. »
— A quote from Steven Guilbeault
This mega-project off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador is expected to produce more than 300 million barrels of oil over its lifetime.
A heartbreaking moment
Ottawa bans six single-use plastic products.
Photo: The Canadian Press/Mark Baker
For Caroline Brouillette, National Policy Director at Climate Action Network Canada, the approval of this project is proof that even having one of the most respected environmental activists as a minister is not enough to stop oil production.
It was truly a heartbreaking moment, she regrets, adding that in theory Mr Guilbeault is someone who should have said no to this project.
In May, an alliance of environmental groups filed a lawsuit to have that permit overturned. Groups involved include Équiterre, which Guilbeault helped found in 1993.
When Mr. Guilbeault claims he has not lost friends, he says he heard their great disappointment in his decision, which he made with great reluctance.
He reminds that even if the use of coal disappears, all projections show that oil and gas will be necessary in the coming decades. Bay du Nord went through a federal permitting process and after the necessary reviews, it was recommended that the project be implemented under strict environmental mandates, including zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The other challenge: communication
Canadian Minister for Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault at COP15 in Montreal
Photo: The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes
Over the next year, Mr. Guilbeault hopes to advance issues such as capping greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas, clean electricity regulations and commitments to the transition to electric vehicles.
He also recognizes that he needs to communicate better with Canadians.
For years, conservatives in public opinion have fought the liberal carbon pricing system by focusing on its costs and largely ignoring rebates, which for most Canadians are more than they can afford, Guilbeault said.
He also stresses that giving the population a sense of urgency without depressing people is a good challenge.
I think where we’ve failed collectively in our communications is helping people see hope and understand what we’re trying to do.
And we try to build a better world for everyone.