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Michael McSweeney Speech to Environmental Defence Gala 2014

February 20, 2014


Thank you very much Laurie.

On behalf of the Cement Association of Canada and our members across the country, it is a real honour to be the Presenting Sponsor of tonight’s Gala. Here with me tonight are Bob Cartmel, CEO of Lafarge Eastern Canada and Chairman of the CAC Board, Baudouin Nizet, CEO of Holcim Canada and Marty Fallon, CEO of St Marys Cement.

It is, of course, also a great distinction to be sharing the stage with Bruce Cockburn, a Canadian icon, a global ambassador for peace and the environment, and an all around extraordinary individual.

I’m willing to bet when Environmental Defence first released the program for tonight’s event, 90% of you found yourself digging through your music collection, or perhaps, like me, searching your old cassette tapes and seemingly ancient records we still have in storage!  How many of you like me found and played Bruce’s iconic song “If a Tree Falls.”? It remains as poignant today as it was when it was first released over 25 years ago.

Hard to believe that song was released in 1988. For those of you in the room old enough to remember, the years before and after were a tumultuous time in environmental history – it was the time of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Exxon Valdez and Gulf War oil spills. It was a time of growing protest movements against logging practices here at home and abroad. And just a few years later, in 1993, clear cutting in the pristine Clayoquot Sound, on Canada’s west coast, would spawn the largest environmental protest this country had ever seen.

There were also some successes to celebrate. 1988 was the year the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer came into force – it was the first globally binding environmental treaty to enshrine the precautionary principle in law. Canada had just enacted the original Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and, of course, it was around that time that the Brundtland Commission released the report Our Common Future and, together with the Earth Summit in 1992 and the Canada/U.S. Acid Rain Treaty, helped lay the foundation of the global sustainability movement.

Fast forward to more recent history: Fukushima, Deep Water Horizon, and, here in Ontario, proposals to reverse line 9, a move that could threaten the shared goal of securing a “swimmable, fishable and drinkable” Lake Ontario, which is so precious to all of us.

If it sounds all too familiar, it does. But while the ebb and flow of environmental progress has been in some ways very predictable, the challenges we face today have never been more daunting.

Most would agree that climate change is unlike any threat we have ever faced.  You've only had to experience this winter anywhere in the world to know that.  Record rains and floods in the United Kingdom, brutally cold winters in Canada and all 50 States and an incredible drought in California that our friends Ed Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal talk about in their award-winning documentary Watermark.  As President Obama said today, "Climate Change is real."

The political will, financial resources and economic restructuring required to mitigate climate change and, equally importantly, to adapt to the now unavoidable effects of climate change is truly dizzying.

The cement and concrete industries have been doing their part and are more committed than ever to finding solutions and working together with environmental and community groups to do so. In the past 20 years, our trajectory has been consistently in the right direction – we are cleaner, we are more efficient, and we produce far fewer GHGs per tonne of cement. Equally important, we are more transparent and increasingly focused on product-based solutions to building a sustainable and resilient society. Our sector has many accomplishments to be proud of, even as we know there is still much left to do.

But when the challenge is as large, complex and urgent as climate change, it’s not enough to focus only on our own story.  If one thing has become crystal clear since the environmental movement began, it’s that major progress on sustainability must come from active collaboration across sectors, as challenging as this can be. When it comes to sustainability, there are a lot of moving pieces – technological, economic, policy and governance – that can only effectively be brought together when we work together, when we build relationships and when we demonstrate that we all care. Or as Bruce Coburn says "we all need to do whatever we can to look out for our neighbor's welfare."

Now more than ever, we must resist the calls to return to a time when even the most dedicated and rational voices in the environmental community were seen as obstacles to progress. For someone like me, who's been active in public affairs for over 30 years, I remain shocked that actions in support of the environment and talking, and talking and talking to people about the environment could be considered “radical” in Canada in 2014.

For these reasons, we deeply value our relationship with Environmental Defence, an environmental group that is an honest broker of principled, evidence-based approaches to inspiring the systemic and urgent change we need. Whether working toward best practices for quarry siting and management under the Cornerstone Standards Council, or to helping our industry find regulatory and policy solutions to reducing the amount of coal our industry uses, Environmental Defence is there as our partner.  We can only achieve these and other policy shifts when we work together.

Thank you very much for allowing us to sponsor your second Gala tonight and to share in the music and passion of Bruce Cockburn, a true environmentalist.


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