Q&A with Robb Barnes

Welcome back to the second of four Q&As with CAPE’s program directors where we get a behind-the-scenes peek at how CAPE is mobilizing for change! Today we hear from Robb Barnes, director of the Healthy Futures Climate Program, talking about the urgent need for this health-focused approach to climate advocacy.

Image of Robb’s son, William, gazing into a smoke-filled sky overlooking the Ottawa River while cyclists pass below
Robb’s son, William, gazes into a smoke-filled sky overlooking the Rideau Canal.

How has your campaign or program built momentum with our community’s support?

The CAPE community is amazing. As CAPE’s first-ever full-time climate campaigner, I get  to help build the Healthy Futures Climate Program from the ground up. Since starting, I’ve interacted with many CAPE supporters in many different ways. These include:

  • Gathering health expertise from physicians to make a case for climate action,
  • Working to support and amplify the presence of CAPE leaders at international climate conferences,
  • Working with regional committee leaders to issue regionally relevant climate communications and to get a stronger sense of the regional dimensions for the climate file,
  • Working with physician advocates to engage policymakers on key climate issues, and
  • Working with all CAPE supporters to test and amplify campaign messaging.  

What keeps you motivated to deliver on your campaign or program objectives?

As with many people thinking and acting on environmental issues, the reasons motivating me are very personal. I feel an obligation to do my part to make the world a better place for my six-year-old son, William. 

Because of the accelerating climate crisis, William is growing up in a world that is radically different from the one I experienced as a boy. It’s a world of heat waves, extreme weather and wildfire smoke. William got his first facemask at the age of one, a year before COVID hit, when wildfire smoke filled the air while we were visiting family in BC. 

Climate change is an existential challenge. As a global civilization, we need to get this right if we want to have hope for a healthy and safe world for future generations. 

I feel extremely fortunate to have been born at a time and place where I could do something about this massive problem. When I ask myself how best to make a difference, I’m hard-pressed to come up with an answer that does not involve working for a well-connected and well-respected non-profit organization like CAPE. I especially like the opportunity to draw new voices into the climate discussion and to connect with audiences who might not see themselves as part of the environmental movement.

We are in this climate crisis together but thanks to your support, we are building solutions together too.

What challenges have you encountered, and how are you overcoming them?

Right now, there are so many climate policy files, and so many allied organizations who see CAPE as a valuable partner on their issues of concern, that it’s a constant challenge to ensure CAPE’s energy and expertise are applied in the best possible ways. 

That said, we’ve identified a range of key policies that will move the needle on climate and health, while strengthening and supporting the climate work of CAPE’s regional committees. If we can focus on these priority areas and make the health frame for climate policy crystal clear to the public and policymakers, we can drive a series of major wins – especially over the next year and a half. 

This approach is already bearing fruit. We’ve established momentum, key messengers and strong partnerships across a wide range of major climate files. In each case, we’re working hard to make the health case for ambitious climate action. 

What’s on the horizon that our community can get behind?  

There’s a lot happening at the federal level right now, and a limited time to get some major policy wins over the finish line. In particular, there will be a slew of advocacy opportunities for a strong oil and gas emissions cap, new methane regulations and new rules for clean electricity. Success here would mean that Canada can make good on some of its international climate commitments. At the same time, we need to adapt to climate impacts by focusing on response to wildfires and extreme heat. 

We’ll be rolling out a major campaign tying all of these threads together in the coming weeks, and I hope the community can find a number of ways to engage here.

Profile of Robb Barnes, Director of the Healthy Future Climate Program at CAPE

Robb Barnes
Climate Program Director