Transcript – Miniseries on Sustainable Development Goals, Episode 1: Climate Action and Sustainable Development Goals with Tom Bui

Alexandre Lévêque: More than 2 years ago, Tom Bui began his nature journey at the Global Issues and Development Branch at Global Affairs Canada. Currently the department’s Director of Environment, he is proud to be a member of both the Global Environment Facility council and the Green Climate Fund board.

Recognized by his peers as a great leader and negotiator, Tom has been a loyal public servant for the past 25 years. In addition to Global Affairs Canada, he has left his mark at Finance Canada; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; and as a finance counsellor at the World Bank Group, an organization that provides a wide array of products and services to countries in need around the world.

Hello, dear listeners. This is Alexandre Lévêque, Assistant Deputy Minister of Strategic Policy at Global Affairs Canada. Welcome to this miniseries on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in which I’ll have the pleasure to discuss with Tom Bui sustainable development and the fight against climate change

Tom, welcome to the podcast.

Tom Bui: Thank you very much, Alexandre. It’s a pleasure to be speaking with you today.

Alexandre Lévêque: Before we begin, I would like to point out that this episode is part of a 3-part podcast miniseries on the SDGs.

To respect Canada’s Official Languages Act, I invite our guest to speak in the language of his choice.

Tom, let’s get into it. I’ve been told that you’re a bit of a storyteller, I find you have a fascinating journey and I’d love for you to share with our listeners a little bit of your story. You were born in Vietnam, came to Canada as a refugee. Tell us a little bit the story of Tom and, and how you got to where you are today.

Tom Bui: Thank you, Alexandre. Yes, it’s true. I grew up in Vietnam. My mother, and my 2 brothers and their families are still in Vietnam. I was a refugee. I am still a refugee. I lived in the refugee camp in Palawan, Philippines, for 2 years.

And once you have gone through an experience like that, it changes you. And so, my journey in life has always been about purpose to be there for people. So I took jobs, for example, out of SFU. I chose the public service instead of Wells Fargo. And that…. I chose the World Bank Group. Then I chose to become the Director for Refugees, or the Refugee Director, at Immigration. And then I was there for Africa. I was there for a lot of people who are voiceless and vulnerable.

And 2 years ago I needed a new position. My friend told me to apply for the position of Director of Environment to become a board member of the Green Climate Fund. Fortunately, she committed to providing me with strategic advice to actually do well as the Director of Environment to fight the climate crisis, but more importantly I would say to protect the only home we have. There’s no Planet B, as Ban Ki-moon said.

Alexandre Lévêque: So that’s a great segue. Tell us what your role is as Director for the Environment Division at Global Affairs.

Tom Bui: I put it down as 3 things. One, all of my specialists actually serve the 3 ministers. They review all development projects. They review all MCs and all TB submissions. They actually look at all new strategies from an environmental integration lens. I have a team that delivers the oceans portfolio: we fight plastic pollution. We also are taking care of the policy suite for environment, climate and now, nature.

Alexandre Lévêque: And for our listeners, “TB sub” is government speak for “Treasury Board submission,” a very important document and part of the process to get the green light to how we’re going to spend the funds.

Tom, why is climate action an important area for Canada and for Global Affairs Canada?

Tom Bui: Climate change is a very, very interesting subject in that it actually can be called an existential crisis. It touches everyone in Canada and around the world. I grew up in B.C. and just, you know, last year there were forest fires and there was a heat wave, a heat dome that killed lots and lots of life.

Personally, my mom, still in Vietnam, cannot go out because of the higher temperatures. The higher temperatures actually would kill her. And that’s why her doctor told her that she can only go out of her house during the night.

Alexandre Lévêque: That’s where we see how it touches people very personally. This is not just a policy file, right? It touches everyone across the planet. How can Canadians contribute to reaching climate action goal?

Tom Bui: You cannot reduce poverty without protecting the health of the planet because quite a lot of food comes from forests, comes from our coastal waters, and so on. Everybody depends on it.

When it comes to Canada and Canadians, what can we do? Canadians have already adopted quite a lot of measures, for example. We are transitioning toward electric vehicles. We are committed to do energy transition. At the city level, quite a lot of buses are actually now electric. And if we can do other things like, for example, use less, recycle more, then the cost of production of the goods and services that we need goes down. And the cost of production actually includes energy that is actually the source of quite a lot of the climate change problems that we have.

Alexandre Lévêque: Can you tell us a little bit about concrete actions, like what kind of actions as Director of the Division you’re in charge of? A couple of examples of concrete actions you’ve actually taken to move the needle a little.

Tom Bui: Concretely, last December, the Prime Minister announced $350 million in new funding for nature conservation around the world to fight climate change, to protect nature in order for nature, biodiversity, food to be there for our generation and generations to come.

In terms of my own decisions as Director of Environment, I, for example, sit on the board of the Green Climate Fund. I approved investments in India to allow for electric, clean mobility solutions, basically cars, buses that run cleanly. Because air pollution, the use of fossil fuels, actually not only hurts the planet, but harms our health.

And the other concrete thing that I did was to approve investments to restore coral reefs. We all know coral reefs are not only the source of food but, they’re a barrier against disasters and bad weather that impact coastal communities.

Alexandre Lévêque:  Tom, is there hope for the future? Is there hope on climate change? What makes you an optimist?

Tom Bui: When I see Greta Thunberg, a teen who fights for her generation and for generations to come, that gives me hope. And I see that people who [have] not devoted, like, decades to climate coming on board in order to contribute what they can to fight this existential crisis for themselves and for their families, for their communities and for all people, that gives me hope. It’s actually the commitment of everyone.

Alexandre Lévêque: Great words to finish on. Tom, thank you for joining us today. It’s a real pleasure to talk with you.

Tom Bui: Thank you, Alexandre.

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