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CSPS Virtual Café Series: Climate Literacy in the Public Service (TRN5-V47)


This event recording explains why climate literacy is globally relevant and how climate change is reshaping industries, policies and society at large.

Duration: 01:00:45
Published: January 16, 2024
Type: Video

Event: CSPS Virtual Café Series: Climate Literacy in the Public Service

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CSPS Virtual Café Series: Climate Literacy in the Public Service

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[00:00:02 The CSPS logo appears onscreen.]

[00:00:08 The screen fades to Lawrence Hanson.]

Lawrence Hanson: Hello, everyone.

Good afternoon. Welcome to the session, the Virtual Cafe series session, entitled Public Service Climate Literacy. I'm so glad that so many of you have been able to join us today. My name is Lawrence Hanson. I'm the Associate Deputy Minister at Environment and Climate Change Canada and I have the privilege of being your moderator today.

Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge that I am joining you from the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on your traditional Indigenous territory from where you're joining us.

I would like to acknowledge that, being in Gatineau/Ottawa, I am on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. Virtual events enable us to come together from different locations across the country, so I encourage you to take a moment to think about the traditional territory you are on.

Throughout the event today, you may submit questions by clicking on the icon that looks like a raised hand. There is some time built into today's discussions for questions and answers at the end. I'm particularly looking forward to today's discussion in terms of what it means to be a public servant ready to meet the challenges presented by a changing climate.

The year 2023 has been described as an extreme year, as communities across Canada have experienced wildfires, floods, droughts, record heat, smoke events and much more. The impacts are not only visible in the places we live but also in our work, as it influences both our actions and how we go about them.

For some of us, our role in climate change is clear. We may work directly on programs or policies critical to addressing climate change, but for others, you may be being called upon to consider climate change in your work for the first time to make connections to climate change may seem more indirect for your work. Regardless of where you find yourself in relation to climate change, we know that a changing climate and our response to it will continue to transform our world for decades to come.

As we begin to take a climate approach to Government of Canada policies and programs more generally, we must also consider the importance of education and the environment. Climate knowledge and environmental knowledge are key factors in mitigating climate change and adapting to its effects, but they are often overlooked. This expertise is essential to overcoming the challenges of climate change.

Climate change literacy helps us understand and address the impacts of climate change. It also empowers Canadians with the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes needed to act as agents of meaningful change. To increase environmental literacy across Canada and among youth in particular, Environment and Climate Change Canada has established an environmental literacy and citizenship program.

For the public service, being a public service means remaining responsive to our changing world, ready to rise to the challenges equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills. Being a climate smart public servant means understanding how climate change affects your work, how your work affects climate change, and being empowered to contribute to solutions.

That is our conversation for today: what climate knowledge means for the public service and the types of support that are available today.

I am thrilled today to be joined by three experts on climate change science solutions, communications, and adaptation who are also leading educators well versed in the knowledge and skills needed to participate in climate solutions.

[00:04:22 Dr. Sarah Burch, Dr. Robin Cox, and Dr. James Meadowcroft appear in separate video chat panels.]

I'll begin by introducing our three panelists.

Dr. Sarah Burch is the Executive Director of the Waterloo Climate Institute, Professor and Canada Research Chair. Dr. Burch is also a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report, and helped to lead expert input into Canada's first national adaptation strategy.

Dr. Robin Cox, Professor and Director of Resilience by Design Lab at Royal Rhodes University, is the head of graduate programs in climate action leadership. Dr. Cox's most recent projects include the development of Canada's first climate action competency framework.

And Dr. James Meadowcroft, Professor in the School of Public Policy (inaudible) at Carleton University, and a past tier one Canada Research Chair in Governance for Sustainable Development. Dr. Meadowcroft is also the research director of the Transition Accelerator, a pan-Canadian organization that works with others to identify and advance visible pathways to a net-zero Canada in 2050.

Our three panelists are also the lead authors who supported Environment and Climate Change Canada in the development of a suite of new climate change literacy courses now available to all public servants, which we'll touch on later in the discussion. We're so pleased to have such experts from today with us to talk about such pressing issues for the work of Canada's public service. Thank you and welcome again to Sarah, James, and Robin.

So, now, I'd actually like to begin the formal part of the session by having our panelists talk about the importance and challenges of workforce climate literacy. I'm going to start with Sarah and then I'll turn to James and then Robin.

Sarah, over to you.

Dr. Sarah Birch: Thank you so much, Deputy Hanson. I really appreciate the warm welcome and the invitation to be here today and to work with the excellent team at Environment and Climate Change Canada to develop this course. I'm calling in today from the traditional territory of the Attawandaron, Anishinaabe, and Haudenosaunee people currently known as Waterloo. I'm very happy to be a part of this conversation. It was certainly a really exciting challenge and an honour to participate in the development of this course, and to have such a broad reach across the country and in the federal public service.

And I think we can all agree that this summer certainly made visible, in a new and very powerful way, to many Canadians at least, it has been visible to many others around the world for some time, but that climate change is unfolding before our eyes as we speak, and it threatens to undermine our ability to thrive and to foster and create resilient and sustainable communities. So, I think it's also important in that context to reflect on the fact that as we saw and as we will continue to see, climate change doesn't affect us all equally. The impacts of climate change, the costs, the consequences, are unevenly distributed across this country, across communities, with vulnerable groups being hit the hardest.

So, we have these decisions to make in our jobs, whatever our job may be. We find ourselves in a place where we are making crucial decisions about what the next several decades will look like, and each one of those decisions can lock us into a pathway that is deeply unsustainable or one that is sustainable. So, any of our decisions about the way our homes are built or the way our homes ought to be built, the infrastructure we invest in, the way cities look and function, these are all crucial ingredients in kind of the pathway that we're going to follow as Canadians.

So, here we have this opportunity to kind of take a moment and build some fundamentals, build the foundations of our knowledge about climate change so that we can be clearer on what we know for sure, what is very well-established science, and where we're still learning and where we're still being surprised, and that was one of the challenges that I really found enticing and interesting to grapple with in the context of this course.

But ultimately, out the other side, the most important reflections in my mind are that there isn't a single silver bullet. There are so many tools and capacities and strategies that are needed to respond in an equitable, just, creative way to climate change. So, this is everybody's challenge. It's a shared responsibility and these three courses are just the first step in my mind in establishing those foundations so that we can collectively take responsibility as we move forward. That's all I'll say for now. I'll say more later.

Lawrence Hanson: Excellent. Thank you very much. That gets us off to a really good start. James, I'll turn to you next.

Dr. Sarah Burch: James, you're muted.

Lawrence Hanson: James, I think you might be muted.

Dr. James Meadowcroft: Thank you for that. I don't know how long I've been on Zoom and I still can't always get the mute button. Yes, well, thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today. I think in doing this course, one of the things that, really, I thought was particularly important is that civil servants, but also Canadians more generally, understand that there are things that we can actually do to deal with this problem of climate change, both from the point of view of dealing with our emissions and slowing the advance of global warming, but also in adapting our society to the kind of changes that are already in the pipeline.

Because often, people are quite kind of... the problem seems so huge that it's very hard to know where do we begin and what difference can I as a civil servant, or I as a Canadian or a homeowner or whatever, do in face of this big global problem? So, one of the things in the part of the course that deals with mitigation, with trying to deal with the causes of climate change, that we tried to emphasize was that there really are... we know really practical things that can be done, both as a society and as civil servants and even as individuals, that we can contribute to getting a grip on this problem.

A second thing I would say that we tried to emphasize is really the importance of trying to... and this is particularly for the public service, trying to think strategically about this question. We've been talking about climate change for more than 30 years and we all know kind of little things that we can do, and we've talked about framing our emissions there or reducing 5% of our emissions by such and such a date and things like that. But really, the science now tells us quite clearly that to stop the driving forces of climate change, we have to get to what is popularly termed net-zero. In other words, we've just got to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, or if we do add some, we've got to figure ways to draw what the residual that we emit back down again, so that we're not continually increasing the degree of heating that we're getting from the atmosphere.

So, this kind of objective that was adopted at the Paris climate summit, the objective of globally getting to net-zero, really does kind of change the way we think about climate change because it means that we don't kind of just have to get rid of a few emissions here or there. We really have to change the way some of the major systems in our society work. We have to change how we build our buildings, and particularly heat them. We have to adjust our electricity system to get rid of carbon sources, for instance, natural gas for power. We've got to get rid of that, move to renewables, and expand the system so that it can also allow us to electrify other elements of society, for instance, like transportation with electric vehicles and so on.

So, these big changes, I guess what you would say is we can't think about, everybody does a little bit and then we'll all do a little bit. What we realize is there are going to be profound changes over the coming decade, particularly in our energy system. But I mean, the bad news is they require a lot of work and there are a lot of them. The good news is we actually know how to do this now, and Canada's already taking steps not just to decarbonize our economy but also to build a vibrant, prosper, equitable society over the coming decades, and that's critically important because Canadians don't just want a zero-carbon economy. They want a prosperous society. And so, things like developing the new industries that be growing in this context of decarbonization become critically important. Thanks.

Lawrence Hanson: Thanks very much, James. I'm going to turn to Robin in a second, but just as a reminder to folks, if you do have questions, use the hand function to put them in because that makes it easier, hopefully, to be able to get to some questions toward the end. So, please feel free to start putting in your questions now.

And with that, I'll turn to Robin.

Dr. Robin Cox: Thanks so much, Deputy Hanson, very happy to be here and very happy to be here with my esteemed colleagues and all of you who joined here today. Taking this time out of your work schedules, I know, is a big deal. I know it would be for me as well. And so, I really want to thank you for joining us.

Like my colleagues have already said, entering into these courses is a place to start and it's an important place to start. Climate change, yes, is upon us and we have an opportunity. As well as dealing with the threat of climate change, we have an opportunity, I think, to really envision a world that we want to live in and address climate change with that in mind, with the issues around equity and justice, with the issues around how we become more connected in our culture to the world around us, to nature and to each other.

I'm joining you here today from the unceded territories of the Coast Salish Peoples, specifically the (speaks in Indigenous language) speaking families and their ancestors. And as I'm sure with many of you, I sit here in wonder at the world in which I get to live in. I feel very privileged to live in what I know as Victoria, and I feel very concerned about climate change and how that is going to impact me, my family, my community, and our society as a whole. So, I think we really have to look at this as an opportunity for all of us to engage in what I think of as collective leadership. Working in the public sector. You're already in leadership positions regardless of your job. You already have the capacity to join in and leading the changes that James mentioned, some of them very profound changes, and supporting your family, your communities, our society, our shared world in making those shifts in positive ways for Canada and for the rest of the world. I think one of my favorite phrases is, every job is a climate job, regardless of whether you're focused on it directly or indirectly, we are all going to be impacted by climate change, every sector, every community. And so, when we begin to think like that, we have the opportunity to feel empowered through knowledge, through conversations, through our collective actions, to really make a difference.

And I think if you've joined the public sector, you've joined because you want to make a difference. So, that's at least part of your motivation, is my guess. And so, I think that this is an opportunity for all of us to really take climate change as seriously as we need to and as we haven't necessarily in the past, and to launch into the changes and the actions that we need to take in order to address it effectively, to address it as quickly as possible, and to move forward in a way that brings us into a world that we want to live in, that we want our children and our grandchildren and generations to live in. And so, with that, I think the most important thing, I think, with these courses, with all three of them, is to take them, to stay open to learning, to stay open to thinking through with yourself and your colleagues what it means to you and how you effectively engage as a climate action leader in the work that you do and in the positions you're in. So, I'll leave it there and I look forward to the conversation.

Lawrence Hanson: Excellent. Thanks so much, Robin. Maybe I'll actually go right back to you with kind of an initial question that ties into the Resilience by Design Lab. So, just wondering if you could talk a little bit... and I understand you developed this sort of climate action competency framework and I'd love to get a sense of what that is and what you kind of see as core competencies that somebody really needs to engage with climate, especially within the context of the federal public service?

Dr. Robin Cox: Great. Thanks for that question.

We have developed a climate action competency framework. It involves competencies related to mitigation and adaptation, climate action, and it's a broad framework because the competencies that we need to address this are broad. Climate action is distributed across society, as I said earlier, across every sector. And so, some of the specific competencies in each sector, whether it's engineering or planning or policy development or any of the many jobs and sectors that we have, will need specific technical and technological competencies but they're also going to need competencies that generalize across many jobs in many sectors.

And a lot of those core competencies are things you already have and that you need to... from my estimation, that you need to build, enhance, amplify, and those are things like critical thinking, those are things like understanding leadership and how to lead change and how to do that collectively. I think one of the key dimensions of the competencies that we require, one of the key competencies is creativity. We need people who can innovate and really think creatively about how we're going to tackle this. Yes, there are things we know we need to do, as James pointed out, regarding mitigation, there are things we know we need to do with adaptation, but how we do those and how we do those in ways that reflect this need for justice and equity will require creativity, so, creativity, critical thinking, the ability to collaborate.

And probably every job has some component that says you need to be good at teamwork and you need to work collectively. That is amplified for climate action. We need to work collectively and we need to be able to bust silos. We need to work across the silos that we have created, so the competencies that are associated with building those kinds of relationships, sustaining teams and collectives and networks, being able to manage conflict when it arises, differences of opinion when they arise, and then still move forward, and that also means moving forward with uncertainty.

I think just to close it off, I mean, we're not necessarily ever going to know exactly what we need to do when we think we need to do it, but we need to move forward even if we don't have all the information, as long as we're drawing on the best evidence available at the time in which we are operating, and move forward and take actions that are associated with our jobs and with these collective initiatives. So, I think those are some of the critical competencies. The framework lays out others, and I'll make sure, through the people organizing this, that you have access to that framework after this webinar. Thanks.

Lawrence Hanson: Thanks very much, Robin. I'm glad you brought up uncertainty, and I think that is something I'm going to double back to later on in the conversation. So, that also serves as a warning to the other panelists because I am going to improvise a bit just to increase the degree of difficulty today.

So, James, you're doing a lot of work on net-zero and this is something that, on a personal level, I spend a lot of my work day thinking about. There's certain terminologies you hear a lot of, about dead end pathways to 2050, when we talk about resilience building, and what do we mean by terms like maladaptation. So, I kind of would like to get a sense from you about, in a climate literacy context, what are we talking about when we're talking about strategic action and what are the risks if we aren't really thinking and factoring in climate change in our decision-making on a day to day basis?

Dr. James Meadowcroft: So, I guess I'd start that by saying that one needs to begin by understanding where the emissions actually come from today in our society, what activities, processes, industrial processes, and so on. Where does the problem reside? And that's kind of the first thing, and right away, we see that about 80% of the emissions, something like that, come from fossil fuel combustion and from our energy system. And then, there are also some emissions associated with waste or associated with agricultural practices and things like that.

But we need to start... if we want to think strategically about the problem, we have to start by saying, where exactly are the problem sectors? And then, think about, well, how could those be transformed in the future? And one thing I would place very highly is to think about this in sectoral and regional terms, because of course, we want a low carbon Canada or a net-zero Canada in 2050 but the whole economy is a really complicated thing and the country is very different from one side of the coast to the other. So, it helps to break the problem down more into bite-sized pieces, if we think about what needs to be done in Quebec to move things forward, how is that different than Alberta or British Columbia or whatever, but also sectors, so agrifood is just a really different sector than the electricity system or the built environment.

And in each of these separate areas, we need to see some transformational change, but the conditions are quite different, the enablers, the barriers are different. And so, we need policy adapted and decisions adapted to where things are in each specific sector and region. So, that's a second thing I would say, and then the third thing I would say is, because we've mentioned... Robin mentioned the unknown or risk or uncertainty. So, there's a lot we don't know about what the world is going to look like in 2050, how Canada will work, how big will the economy be, the many questions that... things that we don't know.

But already, our knowledge is enough to tell us some things about this net-zero world. What would production systems... what would a country look like that wasn't generating greenhouse gases? For example, we know that electricity is going to have to take a lot more of the energy needs that induce combustion of fossil fuels. That's to say burning natural gas as a furnace in your home or driving a car with an internal combustion engine running on gasoline. You can't have that in a net-zero world. So, those sorts of changes already tell us a lot. We need a decarbonized electricity system, a bigger one. We need people driving electric vehicles. We need heat pumps and electricity and other low carbon options to heat our homes and so on.

Other sectors are much more difficult. For instance, agriculture is quite difficult. 4/5 of agricultural emissions are associated with fertilizer use, animal agriculture, particularly beef production for manure and things like that, and they're not easy solutions, as easy as, say, just drive a battery electric car, and same for some heavy industry sectors like steel or cement making, and these will take longer. So, one of the things I would say strategic action means is focus your dollars and your investments on the things we know how to do and scale them up as fast as possible, and there's some other things that are not so clear how to solve like airplanes. We don't have the technological step to make a big leap there but that's okay. We have several decades to do this and we will need to increase research and experiments and things like that in order to learn how to do these things in the future.

So, just to wrap back to what you mentioned about dead end pathways, there are things we can do that reduce emissions but don't actually... aren't actually on a pathway to net-zero. So, for instance, we know cars, light-duty vehicles, are moving towards electrification, but we do still have programs that spend a lot of money putting ethanol, blending ethanol, into gasoline. We know that's not going to scale up to all of Canada driving on gasoline, biofuel cars. So, strategically, it's more important to support electrification than a technological option that can't deliver at scale, really at net-zero. Thanks.

Lawrence Hanson: Thanks very much, James. And again, I think that these are some... you're touching on some issues that I would love to come back and talk to all panelists about.

Sarah, I'll turn to you now and research you're doing on the unique contributions that are possible from all parts of society. So, I think there'll for sure be some public servants on this call who are kind of really engaging on climate change issues for the first time and really don't even know where to start. So, just curious to get a sense of your sense of what's a good place to start. If you're just beginning, what are some things to think about? What are some things to bear in mind? You might not become a climate expert, but some core competencies that you think are particularly important.

Dr. Sarah Birch: Sure. Yeah, it's a great question. I mean, I think my initial reaction to just the observation that there are a lot of folks out there who are coming to this for the first time, I mean, I think that's really... that's exciting. That's a move in the right direction, and you are not alone in that. You are in good company as you're sort of jumping off this diving board and starting to acquire these skills.

And to bring this back to a point that Robin made, that what is really needed here is creativity and a really diverse set of skills and capacities. So, ideas, solutions, new applications of solutions we already have can come from all sorts of places, and there is expertise held in all of your hands, those of you who are here on this call and taking these courses. You have skills and abilities to bring to the equation that are so urgently needed. So, I think there's that shared responsibility there that I think is really important.

And to draw it back to... and James made this point that a lot of the technologies, to at least make the first crucial important steps to, say, our 2030 or 2040 climate change goals, most of those already exist. The real challenge here is amplification, scaling up, speeding up, spreading, sharing, and adapting and adjusting these solutions so that they're appropriate for the place in which... the actual physical space, the community, the environment in which they're operating. And so, that capacity to adapt, the capacity to adapt these solutions to our local context, to our own community and priorities, to see the connections among things and to work better and more collaboratively across sectors, across disciplines, I think, is such an important ingredient in speeding up and making faster progress.

And over the last few years, as you mentioned, Deputy, I was working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which is this global body of scientists that try to synthesize the state of climate science and social science so that we can make better decisions on the basis of that science. And one of the key findings from that work was that, yes, our emissions over the last ten years globally are the highest they've ever been, not good news, seeing as we've been talking about this for a long time, but we also now have examples of countries and communities all around the world that are on track towards reducing their emissions at the pace and scale necessary to bring us into this kind of net-zero world.

And that means we have pathways to follow, we have templates to follow. So, this isn't open territory. It's not a completely... a world full of questions. We have a lot of really good answers now. So, I would say thinking in systems, thinking across our boundaries and breaking down silos between disciplines is a crucial capacity, building trust and our engagement with communities so that we can collectively generate these visions of what a low carbon, resilient Canada could and should look like, which, by the way, it won't look only one way. It'll look lots of different ways, and communities and provinces, as James mentioned, across the country, those are just some of the capacities that I think the three of us weave through these courses and would be the next steps following taking these courses as really important capacities to build.

Lawrence Hanson: Excellent. Thanks very much, Sarah. I think I'd like to talk about... we've mentioned them in passing, I want to come back to them now very specifically, which is these three courses that each of you have designed one course. And so, this session, I think, is a bit of a kind of... the café language is kind of fitting because this is sort of the amuse bouche for the three courses that are now available. I will say, as somebody who this is my second time in this department, I first joined the department in 2004, and I went home on Friday and I was doing employment policy and I arrived at my new job on Monday and I was doing climate policy, and I would have paid good money to have access to these courses at that time. And here, the school is offering them for free, no less.

So, I just... first and foremost, I really encourage people on this call to sign up and take these courses, and I think our conversation now is a little bit of an opportunity to kind of get a sense of what those courses are. And so, what I'm going to do is turn to you each in turn and give a sense about the course you worked on and maybe your sense of how it kind of fits in with the other courses as well. And so, I'll kind of go in reverse order of what I just did and I'll turn right back to you, Sarah, if you would like to talk a bit about your course and how it links into the others.

Dr. Sarah Birch: Thank you. Yeah, so, the course that I developed does feed directly into the two that follows and essentially sets the stage, lays the foundations in climate literacy. So, what that means is helping learners first understand what climate is, how is climate different from weather, what we feel on a day to day basis, where is the carbon in our system, in the oceans and the forests, buried underground, and coal, oil, and gas, etc., so understanding how all of the parts of that climate system interact just as kind of a fundamental level of understanding. And then, we move on to a question of what is changing. So, how do we know that change is happening in the climate and how do we know that humans are responsible for that change, which is a really important ingredient in our understanding of this? Because then, that suggests where the solutions might lie as well. So, what is changing? How does that affect, how does that change affect, different ecosystems and our ability to produce food, the health of our forests, the health of people? So, what are those climate change impacts that we see today and that we project will increase into the future? So, that's kind of the state of play in terms of climate change impacts.

And then, we move on to understanding, as James mentioned, where are those greenhouse gas emissions coming from. We have to be very focused and strategic in understanding where the most important sources of those emissions are and what the trajectory in those emissions have been over time. Are they going up? Are they going down? Do we have the technologies already available or is there still a lot of room for innovation in these sectors? And then, finally, we wrap up the course by talking about the governance dimensions and the policy dimensions of how we actually make decisions around climate change. Woven throughout all of this, because of excellent colleagues, Dr. Kelsey Leonard here at the University of Waterloo who is a citizen of Shinnecock First Nation, and Dr. Graham Reid, highly esteemed colleagues who supported this process, weaving an Indigenous lens throughout the entire course so that we understand more about both how those impacts are being unevenly distributed, as I mentioned, across communities and across Canada, and also the capacities and the resilience and the ingenuity within Indigenous communities to respond to climate change.

So, that's kind of the broad strokes of the course from the science fundamentals on through to the impacts, the sources of greenhouse gas emissions, and what we can do about it.

Lawrence Hanson: Thanks very much, Sarah. I'll turn to you next, James.

Dr. James Meadowcroft: Yeah, great. Thanks, Sarah.

So, the course that I worked on is really focused on mitigation. That's to say, what can we do to stop climate change, and it's framed around the objective of getting Canada to net-zero by 2050. So, it starts just by discussing a little bit, what do we mean by net-zero and why this changes the context kind of from the slightly incremental approach that we've had over the past couple of decades, and it really sets up a new challenge for the next 25, 30 years and beyond to move Canada towards net-zero. Next, we look at the sources of emissions, where do they come from in Canada, both regionally, how do the regions differ, what are the important sectors, and so on. Then, we offer a little bit of a portrait of how the energy system works today. Where do we get... what are the raw materials from which we generate energy, fossil fuels, uranium power from water, and so on? And we look at the electricity system but also other uses of energy, so, for instance, for transport and so on.

And then, we specify what would need to change. What would the broad outlines of a net-zero energy system look like in 30 or 40 years? And so, we give a broad idea, a portrait of such a system, specifying what we know pretty much for certain now and other things that we are only going to sort out over the next couple of decades, and a good example there is, we know we're going to need more electricity if we're replacing fossil fuel and use fossil fuels but do we know how much will come from nuclear or how much will come from wind or solar? Not exactly, and it will differ in different parts of the country and it will evolve over time, but that doesn't mean that we can't do anything now because we don't know what the final snapshot will look like in 2050. On the contrary, we have clear pathways to advance the file.

We also talk a little bit about the role of government and particularly policy instruments. What mechanisms can we do for governments, all kinds of governments, including Indigenous governments, municipal governments, provinces, the federal government, of course? What policy instruments can we deploy to help industry citizens, the whole economy, transition towards net-zero? And then, we talk to some extent about what a net-zero economy would look like and what the opportunities for Canadians are, the promotion of a better society, a more fair and equal society, including dealing with issues such as Indigenous issues but also gender and other kinds of equity and so on, and the kind of industrial policy and investments that governments need to be making over the next couple of decades to build a strong and resilient net-zero economy in the future. So, really, the big message of this course is we actually know how to do this and it's doable, and here are the steps that we should be taking now in order actually to build this kind of society in the future.

Lawrence Hanson: Thanks very much, James.


Dr. Robin Cox: Thank you. So, I and a team of amazing people worked on building the climate adaptation course. And in some ways, the order of this, the foundation course, mitigation, and then adaptation, is a common order, and I think, in part, adaptation, because we in some ways are only just beginning to think about how we address the impacts of climate change in a good way... and Sarah pointed this out in her opening remarks, as we see the impacts of climate change already increasing in the magnitude and frequency of events, and you really can't be living anywhere in Canada without being conscious of those impacts or at least experiencing them whether you connect them to climate change or not.

So, the adaptation course begins with an introduction to, what do we actually mean by adaptation? What do we mean by climate change impacts? And again, referring back to some comments that James made earlier in his opening remarks, this idea that we need to come to terms with that. These impacts are very local and regional and they will differ across different localities and regions. And often, those impacts are crossing localities and regions. I know here in British Columbia, we've had an atmospheric river, we've had a heat dome, we've had heat waves, we've had many wildfire seasons that have been very destructive, and those cross localities and regions. And so, we have to think about that but we also have to think about how we support specific localities and communities and organizations and governments adapting to those impacts.

So, part of what that requires, and what the course also touches on, is this idea of effective climate risk management, so being able to assess the risk, to understand the risks, and then look at what those risks mean in terms of specific communities and populations with a particular lens around... and it's easy to say words like equity and justice, but we know that... my background's in disaster management and we know that disasters amplify existing patterns of inequality. And so, the impacts of climate change and the disasters that they are fueling and amplifying affect different populations differently, and different populations and subpopulations have different capacities to be able to prepare for that and to be able to manage those risks.

So, we need to be understanding risk management with this equity lens, with this lens of understanding differential impacts. And then, we need to start building our capacity for adaptation. So, that means short-term and very specific adaptation measures. It means longer-term adaptation measures and moving those forward even as, as we've said a couple of times, we don't exactly know what the future is going to look like, but we need to be adapting with the future in mind, so that future thinking, and being adaptive in our solutions themselves, so not imagining that, okay, I've done this, that's good. Yes, it is, but then monitoring and evaluating and seeing how it works and where it's maladaptive or where it's really working well and how you can amplify that. So, the course covers different kinds of adaptation and different kinds of risks, including those sort of immediate risks but also risks and impacts that are secondary and that are tertiary and that are complex and intersect with each other.

So, this is a complex space, which is not said to be overwhelming but I think we need to carry that understanding of complexity even as we try and break it down, and that's true of adaptation and mitigation. We need to be doing adaptation with mitigation in mind, understanding that all our adaptation measures will have consequences around the release of greenhouse gases and how to reduce that, and vice versa, that our mitigation measures also need to be done in such a way that they're adaptive and supporting adaptation over time. And then, we really talk about various key policies. Throughout the course, there is this emphasis on weaving in an understanding of Indigenous knowledges and perspectives, and that is, in part, an equity issue. So, we say reconciliation is climate action, that understanding and working with Indigenous populations and nations to address those issues that have arisen from colonization is really a part of climate action, and also understanding that there's great wisdom in those communities and that Indigenous communities have been adapting for eons, particularly adapting in the context of colonization, so that there's a lot of wisdom there and there's a lot of real deep understanding and connection to the natural world which, in some cases, we have lost. So, that is also woven through the course.

And the course finishes with some ideas and invitations for you to really think about what that can look like in your work with the policies that you're creating, understanding those large policies that we have in Canada, the adaptation strategy being one of them, but also looking at those smaller decisions and climate-informed decisions and climate-informed policies across all areas of the government and how we can contribute to that happening and adopting that climate lens in everything that we do. So, that's really the course in a nutshell.

Lawrence Hanson: Thanks very much, Robin.

Sarah, I think maybe, at one point, you wanted to add about how the courses link together.

Dr. Sarah Birch: Yeah, just to sort of pull out a couple of themes that I heard there that I think are pretty evident to any of you listening, and Robin made the point really brilliantly that there's just so many ways that our ability to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change overlaps and intersects with our capacity to respond to the impacts of climate change to protect communities, and we have historically kept those very separate and we can't do that anymore. We have to move much more quickly towards thinking about those two simultaneously. For instance, wouldn't it be a shame, to put it mildly, if we rebuild, after a flood or a fire, homes that are deeply inefficient or reliant on fossil fuels for heat. That is an opportunity. All of our building back, all of our infrastructure investments present this remarkable opportunity to also advance progress on greenhouse gas reductions, and every time we don't do that, we're missing an opportunity. So, thinking about those two simultaneously are so important and I think we all made efforts to do that through throughout our courses.

And I would also draw it back to a point I think James made earlier on in this session, which is that a lot of things matter to us. Our physical health matters to us, the vibrancy of nature, biodiversity matters to us, good jobs and a prosperous economy matter to us as well as addressing climate change whether through tackling the causes or the consequences of climate change. All of those things matter to us. So, we have this opportunity to advance progress on all of those priorities simultaneously if we succeed in collaborating really well and thinking across boundaries and being deeply strategic. So, this is one of those kind of once in a lifetime, once in a generation opportunities to make meaningful progress on lots of things that matter to communities, and learning this kind of stuff is just the first step, I think.

Lawrence Hanson: Thanks very much, Sarah.

So, I'm going to... I have a couple questions, and maybe just for each of them, I'll just kind of go around to each of you and just maybe look for some fairly quick responses to maybe hard questions. So, I'll apologize in advance, but I want to come back to uncertainty that's come up a little bit in our discussion today.

And James, for example, you said we kind of know where we kind of need to go and what's there, but I am wondering, and I'll try not to be too much of a policy wonk here but, there are these big sort of... how do we think about... there's always going to be some uncertainty about timing when technologies become available. So, when I was last here, it was very much about moving from coal to natural gas and electricity. But of course, that's still emitting, and we now need to be thinking about capture and storage and small modular reactors. And I mean, we talk hydrogen but there's issues about how you produce the hydrogen in a non-emitting way or all these kind of things.

On the mitigation side, direct air capture, like how do we think about... even if things are there, we have to make choices and priorities and maybe make some bets on what we think is most likely. And so, I'm wondering what that looks like on a mitigation and on an adaptation side where we have kind of a sense of where things are going but we can't be completely sure about... how do we prioritize in the face of uncertainty in terms of something as massive as adjusting to adaptation? These are both societal projects, mitigation and adaptation. Simultaneously, they're both huge. How do we think about that kind of uncertainty and kind of pursuing both a mitigation and adaptation agenda at the same time? And maybe I'll start with you, James.

Dr. Sarah Birch: You're muted again, James.

Dr. James Meadowcroft: Thanks for the easy question. I'll confine myself to the mitigation side. So, Sarah made the point that many of the technologies, the first line of technologies that we need to deploy in order to dramatically reduce our emissions, are already quite well-known and quite well-developed. There are other more exotic technologies that are still kind of in the R&D phase or the early demonstration phase that we're probably going to need after 2040 or something like that, when we get there, but the big chunks of our emissions, some of them we know and some of them, the way to get them down is relatively straightforward. So, about 12% of emissions of Canada come from light duty vehicles, so that's like cars and pickup trucks and things like that. We know that if you electrify those vehicles, you can reduce all carbon emissions at the point of combustion... at the point of use, sorry, at the end use phase.

And we also know how to decarbonize the electricity system. Many provinces, Canada, are already essentially net-zero in their electricity systems, Quebec, B.C., Manitoba, and others. There are a couple of provinces that have a problem because they have some coal still and maybe quite a bit of gas. So, obviously, Alberta and Saskatchewan are the two biggest there. So, they are going to have much more difficulty but we know a whole raft of ways to make net-zero electricity, starting with wind and solar and hydro. And then, there are other things like wave, tidal, deep geothermal, nuclear, fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage, and some other offset.

So, the core technologies to do that are there. Yes, small nuclear reactors may play... small modular reactors may play an important role. They're not... you can't buy one off the shelf today but there are lots of things you can buy off the shelf today. So, let's start deploying them, wind turbines, you can buy off the thing, grid scale and home roof scale solar, you can buy practically at Home Depot, but certainly, you can buy them ready-made, electric vehicles, production is ramping up all around the world as new battery plants go in and things like that. So, I agree there is uncertainty about some of the mid-term technologies but we can start by really focusing on mass rollout of the ones that we do know, and that gives us some time to get more experience with the other technologies and drive their costs down so that when we do deploy them at scale, it won't be prohibitively expensive.

Lawrence Hanson: Thanks, James.


Dr. Sarah Birch: Yeah, I mean, it's a really important question. What are we uncertain about and what do we know for sure? And I guess, I mentioned it earlier, but in the fundamentals course, we establish very clearly that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are very clearly going up. We've known this for a long time and we know the connection between the concentrations, the amount of that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and warming at a global scale. We also know that we have ruled out other natural explanations for that, for the warming that we are seeing and experiencing. It's very clearly due to human activities. So, we have a foundation from which to launch to the next set of questions, which James is starting to take us to with the technologies that we need to make the first chunk of progress.

And I would also just sort of, I guess, implore us to move as quickly as humanly possible on those, especially also the ones like nature-based solutions and such that deliver multiple priorities simultaneously, rather than holding off on accelerating our uptake of those solutions in favour of technologies that, as James said, are not there yet. They're not widely available, the costs are prohibitive, etc. And I understand the desirability of some of those solutions, like direct air capture and carbon capture and storage but we have... but the solutions that we do have at our fingertips can also deliver so much more for us, right? We have improved air quality. We can have improved biodiversity. There's lots of things that come along with weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels in the very short term that are very desirable. So, we don't want the perfect to be the enemy of the good, we want to move... or the enemy of the done in this case. We want to move as quickly as we can with what we know so far, which is a lot.

Lawrence Hanson: Thanks very much, Sarah.


Dr. Robin Cox: Yeah, thanks. I think the first thing I would say is that, yes, there is uncertainty but there has always been uncertainty. We as humans live with uncertainty and sort of pretend that there is certainty, the phrase, the only thing certain is death and taxes, but it's true that we are constantly adapting to changes in our lives, unexpected losses or unexpected opportunities, micro and macro changes. So, we are adaptive creatures and that comes back to some of the competencies, the creativity and innovation, and being able to critically analyze what's going on. I think the other thing that I would say about uncertainty, particularly on the adaptation front, is that we actually know a lot of what we need to do.

As I mentioned earlier, I come from a disaster management background, and there was a question in the chat earlier about building back better which is a phrase that is being used a lot these days. We know a lot of what we need to do is, yes, we need the technology on the mitigation side and we need some technology on the adaptation side, but a lot of what we need are the social economic changes that support healthy communities, that support health equity, that support equity across the economic inequities. So, I think, in many ways, we have some certainty, some really foundational knowledge about what we need to do. And so, it comes back in part to having the courage to do it, making informed choices, taking informed risks. It's not about just trying things haphazardly, but in some way, it is about gathering as much information as possible, recognizing there's never going to be all the information you need, all the partners at the table that you wanted, all the resources that you hope for, and still taking action in that context.

And I think in the Resilience by Design Lab, we use design thinking a lot, and part of that is that ethos of being able to gather information from multiple perspectives and multiple sources, talk about it, work together in a deep meaning way, not just sort of superficially gathering together but really working together across differences, across disciplinary and sector silos and boundaries, and then coming up with an evidence informed choice and enacting it. So, the other component of working with uncertainty is robust monitoring and evaluation of the choices that we make so that we can see how they're working and we can adapt and adjust as needed, as things unfold.

So, I think really working with uncertainty is about having courage, working with the evidence, working with the information we have, collectively taking action based on that courage, and being able to adjust course as we move forward with any adaptive measure that we take, and that is always going to be true. Regardless of how well an adaptation measure is and how well it does, it will need to be adapted as circumstances, as society changes, as impacts changes, as the climate changes.

Lawrence Hanson: Thank you very much. So, listen, I feel like we've only scratched the surface in the discussion today, which is, in a way, a good thing because it means that we leave people in their appetite and get them ready to go and look at these courses. So, I really want to thank you, Sarah and Robin and James, for being with us today and sharing messages about both climate literacy and ways to think about the issues and to sort of sensitize public servants to the importance of these issues.

I want to also... We would also like to thank our virtual attendees for taking the time to participate in this event, and we hope you enjoyed it and learned something new.

Again, I really encourage everyone to register for these three courses, and I think our excellent panelists today are the best advertisements one could imagine for doing so. Please share your thoughts on today's session by completing the electronic evaluation. And now, I'll just put... in a way of coming attractions, I'll note that there's always some excellent further things coming from the school.

And looking at its catalogue for future things, I will note that on November the 8th, there will be a Virtual Café event on leadership reflections with Jocelyne Bourgon, who was in fact the Clerk of the Privy Council when I joined the public service and is a really remarkable person, and she'll guide participants on how to cultivate and enhance talent and leadership within the public service. On the 23rd and 24th, there'll be a Policy Community 2023 Conference on transforming the policy landscape, the rise of adaptive policymaking.

The School has other events to offer, and I encourage you to visit its website to stay informed and register for any future learning opportunities.

Again, thank you to our participants, our panel members today, to all of you who joined virtually. I think this was a really rewarding session. Thank you to the School. Thank you to the folks here, to Environment and Climate Change and other departments who were also very helpful in getting these courses in place, and I look forward to hearing about how everybody does going through these courses which will be a huge value. Thank you all and have a great afternoon. Merci.

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