Passing the torch to Glen MurrayCanada must blaze path to climate leadership in Trump era

Oped - Aug. 5, 2017 - By Ed Whittingham

Published in Edmonton Journal (August 4, 2017).

Ed Whittingham speaks at unGALA 2017. Photo: Greg Paupst

This week, I passed the Pembina Institute’s executive director torch to Glen Murray. Judging by the media frenzy following the announcement, it’s a name many Canadians recognize.

Murray most recently served as Ontario’s environment and climate change minister, but his accomplishments run much deeper and longer than that. He served as mayor of Winnipeg from 1998 to 2004, president and CEO of the Canadian Urban Institute, chair of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, and columnist for the Toronto Star. As an Ontario cabinet minister between 2010 and 2017, his portfolios included Infrastructure; Transportation; Training, Colleges, and Universities; and Research and Innovation.

It’s a timely appointment for us. When the Donald Trump administration in June confirmed that the United States will pull out of the Paris Agreement, it signalled to the rest of the world that not only was the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter not interested in pursuing this historic multilateral effort to tackle climate change, but that it was also not interested in any further discussions. The announcement came on the heels of the United Nations’ annual mid-year intersessional meeting in Bonn, Germany, where we saw a rise in the number of countries that have introduced legislation to help achieve their Paris Agreement commitments.

Canada’s contribution — the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change — was rightfully well received by the international community. But with the U.S. refusing to do its fair share, we all need to do more.

Energy issues will play a key role in Canada’s efforts to combat climate change, and environmental non-governmental organizations such as the Pembina Institute need to adapt to be as effective as possible in the Trump era. For us, that means bolstering our effectiveness nationally and internationally, while maintaining our strong Albertan roots.

Glen Murray

The appointment of Murray as my successor earlier this week reflects that direction. The Pembina Institute has been reinforcing its presence in Ottawa in recent years, and an executive director with unparalleled experience in municipal and provincial policy and a deep international rolodex will help the organization blaze a path for the country in line with the future trajectory of energy issues.

Murray’s appointment comes at a time of major transition in Alberta, which in recent years has been playing a leading role in Canada’s fight against climate change. In fact, Alberta has made an impact internationally with its climate leadership, and a leader like Murray — an environmental and social activist, and respected Prairies politician—is well positioned to lead the Pembina Institute in this time of opportunity. 

Emerging from a grassroots movement in response to the 1982 Lodgepole sour-gas well disaster, the Pembina Institute has brought Alberta environmental activism to the national stage. As a long-time community activist — a founder and original member of the management team of Canada’s first HIV/AIDS community health centre — Murray is ideally suited to lead the team of bright, energetic change makers that I leave behind.

Alberta’s transformation aligns with broader global trends and the need for Canada to provide climate leadership on the international stage, but many of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead will be unique to the province. Alberta’s people and industries need to be well positioned for long-term success, and an Alberta-based environmental organization, such as the Pembina Institute, led by a national leader who has the respect of subnational leaders south of the border and internationally bodes well for our future.

It has been an honour and a pleasure to lead the Pembina Institute for the past six and a half years. I’d like to thank everyone for their interest and support, and offer my hearty congratulations to Murray on his appointment as the institute’s next executive director.

Ed Whittingham is the former executive director of the Pembina Institute, Canada’s leading clean energy think-tank.

This op-ed originally appeared on page A10 of the Edmonton Journal on August 4, 2017.

Ed Whittingham

Ed Whittingham was the Executive Director of the Pembina Institute until 2017.


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