Canada and Climate Change
Review By Ian Mauro
December 28, 2023
BC Studies no. 219 Autumn 2023 | p. 143-144
Williams Leiss’ newest book – Canada and Climate Change – is a densely packed yet short volume on the history and trustworthiness of climate science and the implications for Canada as we seek to wrangle our emissions and manage ongoing risks. Leiss is a public intellectual – a fellow and past president of the Royal Society of Canada – and his goal in the book is to educate the public so they become convinced “they have a duty to support and fund” (xiv) ambitious climate action. He’s intent on proving that climate science is credible, perhaps a response to the post-truth era, and signals that climate change is a hot topic in the polarizing culture wars brewing globally.
Canada and Climate Change is a timely and important contribution – similar to Andrew Weaver’s Keeping Our Cool: Canada In A Warming World (Penguin Random House Canada, 2008) – that takes readers into the multi-dimensional science-policy issues facing Canada in the context of the Paris Agreement. Leiss reminds us that Canada played a leadership role in setting the foundation for international climate negotiations – that began with the Toronto Conference on the Changing Atmosphere in 1988 – only for the country to perpetually languish at achieving its greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction commitments. Drawing on recent reports, Leiss indicates $60 billion per year “will be needed for Canada to reach net-zero GHG emissions by 2050”, and like Seth Klein’s A Good War (ECW Press, 2020) Leiss acknowledges this will require “a collective level of effort last seen during the Second World War” (73).
Given the importance of deep decarbonization that considers matters of global equity, Leiss’ major contribution in the book is the call for a “Global Decarbonization Bond” that would support “financing of major technology acquisitions and other means of a broad program of decarbonization in developing nations” (103). Leiss believes this would unlock new investors, create a legally binding framework for climate action, and facilitate technology transfer between developed and developing nations (105-106). Acknowledging the complexity of mitigation, Leiss quickly scans the various carbon management approaches, and then attempts to thread the needle on all the book’s content in a final chapter entitled “Canada: Mitigation, Impacts and Adaptation.” It’s an ambitious book with a sweeping title.
When Leiss is speaking about “Canada” he’s mostly referring to the nation-state, and how it and other countries are responding to climate science in the context of international climate treaty negotiations. This book is not about how people living within the borders of Canada are experiencing climate change, which means the discussion about managing and adapting to climate risks is limited. Arguably, the book’s biggest gap is the absence of Indigenous perspectives and considerations, which many would consider essential in any recent volume seeking to address climate change in a Canadian context.
Leiss acknowledges at the onset that presenting a short book on climate change might be seen as a “monumentally foolish endeavour”(xi). Yet he maintains that a Canada-focused book remains useful, which is certainly true given the current momentum federally and provincially – especially in British Columbia and Quebec – and the importance of further advancing climate action from coast to coast to coast. In Canada and Climate Change, Leiss distills down the complexity while dialing up the urgency to act and offers us a road map for why it’s so important to hold governments and industry accountable to their climate commitments – it’s literally a matter of survival for current and future generations.
Leiss, William. Canada and Climate Change. Montreal and Kingston: McGill Queen’s University Press. 2022. 200 pp. $24.95 paper.