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British Columbia Challenging industries to advance technologically – and environmentally

The Pacific Northwest Economic Region's mission statement strikes an important balance: "To increase the economic well-being and quality of life for all citizens of the region, while maintaining and enhancing our natural environment."

Not that long ago, if I asked a group of government officials and business leaders if climate change was real, not every hand would be in the air. Today, with the number of scientists, governments – including all of the G7 countries – and religious leaders recognizing the need to address climate change, it is unnecessary to debate whether or not there is a problem.

Climate change is real – and it is as devastating as it is expensive.

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In 2014, there were eight environmental disasters with losses exceeding $1-billion each across the United States. These included a drought, a flood, five severe storms and a blizzard.

PNWER has been able to engage both Canada and the United States in building consensus on initiatives critical to economic efficiency and, as the above disasters demonstrate, our future.

Abraham Lincoln said that the best way to predict your future is to create it. Canadians and Americans share this sentiment. We, as individuals and as a community, have the ability to leave our planet better than we found it.

My hometown of Dayton, Ohio, is also the hometown of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Their legacy extends beyond the airplane. It is also manifested in the "Kitty Hawk Moment," marking when the seemingly impossible becomes real.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a solar-powered plane flew across the Pacific – from Japan to Hawaii. You might point out that the plane is just a prototype, and that it is small; not ready for commercial use. This plane's flight showed us what is possible. This was a Kitty Hawk Moment – but not just for one country, for the world.

Granted, advances in technology can be disruptive. Many times it means that today's approaches will become obsolete. Ask the horse and buggy driver. Companies and industries that don't evolve cease to exist.

For those industries facing the challenge of change, I recognize it can be painful. However, I invite you to see these challenges as opportunities, propelling us toward a more robust economy and a cleaner environment.

The first successful solar trans-Pacific flight is just the beginning. We need to move beyond fossil fuels. We need what seems impossible to become reality.

The fate of our planet depends on this. Ice packs are melting, sea levels are rising, water levels are depleting, and species with which we've shared our home are facing extinction.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have made addressing climate change a priority. Secretary Kerry stated at COP-20 in Lima, "If we continue down the same path that we are on today, the world as we know it will change profoundly, and it will change dramatically for the worse."

It is time for the world to approach this problem with the co-operation, the urgency and the commitment that a challenge of this scale warrants.

And we should start here, in the Pacific Northwest.

Earlier this month, President Obama said: "We are taking steps to make North America the most competitive region in the world. We are harmonizing our regulatory systems, speeding the pace of cross-border movement of goods and people, pioneering technological advances, and fostering entrepreneurship and innovation."

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We should extend this revolutionary partnership into our energy sector, not only to become more competitive, but also to make our consumption more efficient, our resources more resilient, and our sources less polluting – in short, to make our world better.

There is real opportunity in this objective. Investments in renewable energy exceeded $310-billion last year. This is where North America's endowment of natural resources meets innovation and creativity.

We will drive this innovation through the economy. Last week, in Toronto, former vice-president Al Gore outlined the potential for growth in the green economy. The future of our jobs is tied to this growth.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are working towards more inclusive and sustainable growth. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is in its final stages of negotiation, will create a Pacific marketplace unparalleled in history. TPP will open markets and enhance competition, which offers consumers better choices at lower costs. The more we engage with each other, the more we can positively influence the future of our planet.

The United States-Canada relationship is deep, abiding and of unrivalled proportion. Where we work together, we are highly successful, and climate change is one of those areas where our co-operation will pay huge dividends.

So, as we look forward to tackle the challenges of our future, I bid you to look back upon the history of this region. The Pacific Northwest and the Mountain West are known for their risk-taking and transformative solutions. The original pioneers of our shared lands embodied this spirit. Today, we have the opportunity to tap into that spirit and lay down a path to a better continent. The time is now for the revival of the Pacific Pioneer.

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This op-ed is a condensed version of U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman's speech delivered at the Pacific Northwest Economic Region's Annual Summit in Big Sky, Mont.

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