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Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault holds a press conference at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland on Nov. 2, 2021.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The COP26 climate summit opened with the usual warnings about the dire state of the planet.

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres didn’t mince words, saying the effects of warming temperatures are being felt in every corner of the globe, negatively impacting four billion people already.

“Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper,” he told delegates in Glasgow, Scotland. “We are digging our own graves.”

Broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough also gave a dire-sounding speech that moved some delegates to tears.

The next two weeks of the conference will elicit warnings just as ominous and depressing. Reports will be issued anew chronicling the path we must chart to reverse course and save the planet from the calamity for which it is heading.

It’s difficult to digest the solemn, frightful messages coming out of COP26 and not think of the response in this country to the recent federal cabinet shuffle, which saw former environmental activist Steven Guilbeault installed as the new Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Someone who has been fighting for action on climate change his entire adult life is now in charge of the file – the horror of it all.

Steven Guilbeault got the gig he wanted. Will he be able to handle the heat?

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It didn’t take long for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to prove true to form, suggesting Mr. Guilbeault would bring in a radical agenda that would put “hundreds of thousands” out of work. One Alberta columnist referred to Mr. Guilbeault as “Green Jesus” throughout a piece about his appointment.

Others, meantime, suggested Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was setting up a confrontation with Alberta reminiscent of the ugly fight his father instigated back in the early 1980s with the introduction of the National Energy Program.

I’m sorry if I don’t share the same pessimism and sense of dread others do about Mr. Guilbeault’s new role. On the contrary, I think he’s precisely the person we need for the moment in which we find ourselves – someone not likely to compromise his principles and convictions (at least not completely) in the name of political expediency; someone who won’t abide governments in this country kicking the climate issue down the road.

On Monday in Glasgow, Mr. Trudeau reaffirmed his pledge to institute a hard cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector. Two years ago, this area accounted for 26 per cent of Canada’s total emissions. Since 1990, emissions from this sector have nearly doubled. This is not sustainable. Yet, there was Mr. Kenney objecting to the Prime Minister’s announcement, saying Alberta wasn’t consulted – even though it was a Liberal campaign promise.

The Alberta Premier did, however, announce a slate of new clean technology projects that will reduce emissions by seven million tonnes by 2030. Every little bit helps, I suppose, but they will have to come down by far more than that if we’re going to stand any chance of meeting our national CO2 commitments (a reduction of 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and achieving net zero by 2050).

This will not be easy. But we have no choice. This country is warming at twice the rate as the rest of the world. That is a scientific fact. We are the fourth highest CO2 polluter per capita in the world, according to a new report by the United Nations.

Mr. Guilbeault represents the clearest signal yet that Mr. Trudeau is no longer content with simply talking a good game while failing to make any real progress in reducing emissions. Rather, this is him staking his political legacy around climate action. For that matter, Mr. Guilbeault is too.

The new environment minister has the toughest file in cabinet – though the job of convincing the public of the steps necessary to meet our goals and commitments may not be as challenging as some have suggested, even in Alberta.

Calgary’s new mayor, Jyoti Gondek, said one of her first priorities would be declaring a climate emergency in the city. Her Edmonton counterpart, former federal Liberal cabinet minister Amarjeet Sohi, said he also intends on making climate change a top item on his agenda.

There are millions of people across this country, including many in the Prairies, who understand that we risk leaving future generations with unimaginable conditions unless we do something now.

“We must do more, and faster,” Mr. Trudeau said in his speech to the COP26 summit.

And he has chosen Steven Guilbeault to put his words into action.

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