Author

William Leiss

Bio

William Leiss has worked in a consulting capacity with the private sector and the Canadian federal and provincial government in risk communication and risk management for over 30 years. He is also an accomplished author of many books, and a professor emeritus at the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University and Senior Research Associate at the University of Ottawa’s McLaughlin Centre for Population Health Risk Assessment. He has been made an Officer of the Order of Canada (2004) and is a Fellow and a Past-President of The Royal Society of Canada. Leiss has a new book coming out in Spring 2022 from McGill-Queen’s University Press, entitled Canada and Climate Change, which aims to explain the most recent climate change research and climate policy, for a general audience.

 

In your own words can you tell me what you do as a writer and researcher?

 

I came to Canada in 1968 from the US where I got all my degrees and I have been here ever since. I started my career in Regina, at the university. I carried through teaching until 2005, when I had the great misfortune of turning 65 and ran into mandatory retirement. Before then I had been a professor at Regina, York, UofT, Simon Fraser, Queens, and Calgary. I basically just followed my nose and had tremendous opportunities.

During the last eleven years of my career, I held externally-funded research chairs at Queen’s and Calgary. That means a combination of the private sector in the chemicals and oil and gas industries, plus the federal granting councils. They put up about one million dollars a year to support my research programs, and also to pay my salary, so I didn’t cost the university a nickel for the last decade of my career.

 

Wow! Nice and you still got to do all that research and writing in the meantime.

 

Yes, basically I’m obsessed about research and writing. I thought I was greatly blessed to get a chance to get to do what I love to do and be well paid for it. So, I published my first book in 1972, The Domination of Nature, which was a revision of my PhD thesis which had been done at the University of California, San Diego. That book is still in print at McGill-Queens University Press. Actually, all of my books are still in print. Seven titles with McGill-Queens and a couple of other titles. About a dozen books that are authored, and others edited, and so on. A whole bunch of translations. This is the latest book; it will be published just after I have turned 82 and I will never stop.

 

So, your latest book is about Canada and climate change. Do you think the greatest risk currently facing Canadians is climate change?

 

It depends on your time frame. I have to say, first of all, that I’ve wanted to briefly explain that for the last, I don’t know, 30 – 35 years I have taken a risk approach to what I write. Which means that you ask basically two questions:

 

How likely is it that something bad will happen on a large scale? If it does happen how bad will it be?

 

I’ve examined many different health and environmental risks. I’ve examined two dozen cases, including chemicals like dioxins. Smoking risk and tobacco smoking.  A huge list of other things too. I’m basically trying to say, ‘okay, how do we find out about these risks and once we find out about them, how do we manage them and respond to them?’ Basically, the objective is to try to lessen the damage. Some risks you can prevent, such as if you ban a substance, so we banned a substance called PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) a long time ago. They no longer represent a risk when they are no longer circulating the environment.

 

Most things you can’t ban. Some you have to deal with over a long period of time. There was a risk of mad cow disease, caused by infected feed, that would damage your herds significantly, as happened notoriously in Britain. Actually, people could get sick and die as they did in Britain and France. Canada had mad cow disease on a much more limited scale but never enough to cause a serious human health risk; it’s been managed and is basically over with.

 

Other things we have to live with, they don’t go away, like substance abuse and driving. We have made great progress on that in terms of alcohol, but we have new challenges with cannabis use. So, with things like that we just try to manage them but it’s not really going away. That’s the kind of thing you do, you are interested in how society becomes aware of these things and how it evolves possibilities and programs, which means to try to lower the damage as much as you can.

 

In your latest book I read in some of the descriptions that you are trying to tackle explaining long lasting effects of these detrimental events that are not immediately visible such as mudslides – with the climate there are long lasting effects you can’t always see right away.

 

I place climate among the categories of things I call catastrophic risks; those are things that are a really big deal. For example, a massive earthquake is overdue on the West Coast of Canada off Vancouver Island. Scientists understand these cycles, the last one happened around the year 1700 AD and this one is overdue because they understand the cycle, they have records that show it has a cycle. You know it’s going to happen, but you can’t predict when. So, then if you are smart you will try to do things that will try to lessen the damage.

When I taught at Simon Fraser University while living in Vancouver in the 1980s, they were actually doing some work on strengthening public buildings like schools and strengthening the bridges that span the areas around Vancouver between Vancouver and North Van because those bridges carry natural gas pipelines which would, in an earthquake, they might rupture and explode causing additional damage. Actually, we are trying to put some money in what is called mitigation to try and lessen the damage but there is nothing you can do to prevent that earthquake from happening. It’s going to happen at some point. They actually have records of native people from around the year 1700 AD that describe a massive tsunami that hit the coast at that time.

Catastrophic risks mean lots of damage, lots of people die, lots of very expensive clean up. Among catastrophic risks, climate change is unique, virtually unique because it’s a type of risk where the really bad things that are either likely, or very likely, or almost inevitable to happen, will not show up for some considerable period of time after the scientists have described that these are very likely to happen. So usually nowadays we talk about really bad things that are very likely and so they are talking about what they call ‘very high confidence level’, 90% or above in terms of likelihood, okay? They say the really bad things are likely to start in 2100. Then they say once they start to happen, you won’t be able to stop it from happening and the bad effects will continue to worsen for centuries thereafter… centuries! Okay?

 

You have a well described risk in the latest document that comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC), that has been producing these climate documents that are called assessment reports. The first one was produced about 25 years ago. The first volume of the 6th assessment report, so this is the 6th cycle to update these reports, came out in August (2021), it is called The Physical Science Basis. It’s the report explaining how the scientists think they know what is going to happen in the atmosphere and what confidence they have in those predictions. It’s 4000 pages long. One book, 4000 pages, you can download the entire thing from the Internet!

 

Most people [laughs] including most government officials, including me, will read what is called the Summary for Policymakers, which is only 150 pages [laughs]. That is published separately but the evidence that the scientists have is argued whether this is a convincing case and if this is going to happen [climate change]. A summary from 1000s maybe even tens of thousands of scientific journal arguments. So, you say okay this has been in usual terms of risk, a well described risk. There are many risks that are not that well described, even yet. But this is well described right?

 

There is evidence that these climate change things have already started to happen, so for example they tell us, we see the signal of climate change and the recent large wildfires that have happened in Canada on the West coast, the US and elsewhere. I will come back to tell you what I mean by signal. We see this thing that is already happening they say, but by far the worst things won’t happen for some time yet. That is the first evidence that we have, that you have a unique type of catastrophic risk. Well, what is different about that?

 

Well, think about a major war as soon as it breaks out you can see it and you can see the worst things that are about to happen. When the US went after Iraq there was huge destruction and huge armies moving, lots of people dead and wounded, okay? So, there is no doubt that this is the impact of that risk and the same with the pandemic, as soon as it started people started to die and the death spread rapidly as soon as it began to take off and governments everywhere had to scramble and even though, like climate change, they knew this was coming because they had a previous experience with a coronavirus called SARS. It turned out to be not too bad; only 800 people died across the whole world, but it was really scary because it was a new type of virus. Probably originating in bats and crossing the species barrier and so after that people got really scared in order to, including Canada, to do a huge effort called pandemic planning because they said there will be another one. It’s inevitable. They did this, a lot of money was put into a provincial family plan. Then in 2018 they said they abandoned the whole effort. They had a special office at Health Canada that was an early warning system set up to look at and have a continuous watch on what was happening around the world. Especially in China because SARS came out of China and so did Covid-19. They were going to watch things happening like if there was any evidence that there was a new and emerging bat virus that might be a Coronavirus. They kept this office going but in 2018 they shut it down at Health Canada.

 

Right before we needed it.

 

Yeah, so that was typical but anyway they knew it was coming. But when it happened you could see it and you could see that it was going to be a real problem. For most of the catastrophic risks that we face, that is true. That is the first thing that is different about climate change: The worst things that are going to happen are not visible for a long time even though the process that gave rise to this risk began in 1950. So that’s the first thing, that is really important because it’s really hard to convince people to do enough to mitigate the risks. You know they look around and say things look okay and besides in Canada we live in a cold country. What is wrong with a little bit of warming? So, you know give me a break, let’s wait and see whether this is really true or whether this is really true or whether the scientists have gotten [it] wrong. There are also so-called denialists saying, it’s a hoax! Right? It’s like the nutbars in the US with covid, it’s a hoax! People say ‘ah well we are not sure it’s going to happen, and you are telling me it’s going to be fairly expensive to deal with this so why don’t we wait and see. Besides you know we think well we live in a highly technological society, if we discover a problem we will go and fix it.’

 

So, the first thing is this delayed impact, its characteristic for climate change. It lets people say ‘oh you know, okay maybe it’s real’ but when they do public opinion polling, and it gives the public certain estimates on what it will be cost to mitigate climate change they say ‘well you know I don’t really want to pay that,’ and other governments like in Western Canada that are oil producing say things like ‘well we don’t want to do anything right now let’s just wait and see. Besides if you give us a carbon tax, don’t do that then we will sue you.’

 

They did sue the federal government, they spent years suing the federal government it took about four or five or six years before in July of this year [2021] the supreme court said, ‘yes that’s right that is within the federal power, so you stop arguing in court about this.’ They said, ‘well we don’t want anything to do with carbon tax because nobody wants to pay for it.’ Well, we have a carbon tax in Ontario right now, you can see the amount of money on the gas pumps, but the government refunds us the money once a year in our taxes, it doesn’t cost us a nickel, right? If you have a good accountant, you get the money back so what’s the big deal?

 

The first thing is, we don’t really want to do anything, we look around and we don’t see anything. That seems to be a big deal with the climate. You know if you live in the Arctic where the warming is double what it is elsewhere in the world sometimes you can’t avoid seeing it, but who lives in the arctic anyway. So that’s the first thing but the second thing is that the delay is very long, it’s not going to happen next year. The third thing is that scientists argue that ‘well if you wait long enough you are going to be unable to stop it from rolling out [climate change]’.

 

At a certain point, it could be 2050, but within a generation it’s going to reach a point in terms of weighing up the mechanism of action in the world where you can’t stop it from rolling out any longer, no matter what you do. Except if you do really extreme things, like trying to engineer the climate. I will come back to that, that means that you are going to send high altitude airplanes around the world continuously to inject sulphur compounds into the atmosphere, these are the same compounds that volcanoes emit. We know that they block some of the sunlight and so they actually cool the Earth. There was a huge volcano in the Philippines in 1991, Mt. Pinatubo which was one of the largest volcanic explosions in the entire 20th century. That puts enough material in the atmosphere to cool the climate by 1-degree Fahrenheit for 3 years. That’s a big deal! But eventually it goes away, it washes out of the atmosphere and then the warming resumes. The idea in climate engineering is that you have to continuously have high altitude planes injecting sulphur compounds into the upper atmosphere in order to block sunlight. That is a sort of a you know, a big effort, and nobody knows whether it will really work or not.

 

Anyways, the scientists tell you that you can’t see it now but it’s going to happen. If it happens there is a point at which you may find it very, very difficult to do anything about it, and once it starts to fully roll out it will roll out for centuries. It will have huge effects on the entire Earth although much more so in the southern hemisphere than the northern hemisphere. At that point by 2050 we are expected to have 10 billion people on the planet. There will be a collapse in the food supply, there will be a huge dive back in the forests and there will be sea level rise by 2100, maybe up to 6 metres. That means that New York is gone, Boston is gone, most of the major cities like Jakarta in Asia are already at sea level, so that means they are all gone and there are billions of people on the move, billions! Trying to escape the rising seas.

 

Anyway, so that’s the deal and that’s why despite the fact that we have enormous libraries of material on climate change already, McGill-Queen’s press suggested to me that they could use another book, as long as it has a particular focus that makes it a little bit different than from all the other climate change stuff that comes out. So, my focus is, I’m someone who has done crossover work in academic life. My degrees are in history and philosophy, but I have never taught in either a history or a philosophy department. I have taught in political science, sociology, and communication. With the risk work I developed the ability to do crossover work between science and public policy. I have no training in science so my basic technique was, well I will work closely with scientists and actually co-author with them.

 

So, take the example of the prion diseases, this is mad cow disease in cattle and chronic wasting disease in what they call deer and elk. Right now, this is a very serious problem in Canada and the US. They can’t control it because it happens in the wild population. In a state like Wisconsin, something like 40 percent of the deer are affected. They don’t think it causes human disease, but they aren’t entirely sure. I have done a major review article on risk management of mad cow disease and risk management CWD (chronic wasting disease). How I do that is I become the lead author and I specialize in the fields of communications of risk where I am acknowledged as an expert in risk management. The other authors are biologists, statisticians, epidemiologists, and other specialists. We all do this together although I do put it all together in the overview. So that is a specialist technique I have developed for the last 35 years [crossover work], to take risk topics of all different kinds and work closely with working scientists. I try to do the crossover between science and public policy, so these are issues where you have to know both. You have to be able to understand a lot to describe the risk. To do that you have to have fields like physics, chemistry, and biology – in otherwards basic scientists, and you have to have applied sciences like medicine and engineering. You also have to have the statistics and epidemiology. You need all of it, you can’t do a study of risk management unless you have all of that expertise. Since no individual has that you have to work in groups that work very closely together.

 

So that’s why I thought first of all I can do another book on climate because I had just spent three years of intensive work with some of those people [climate scientists]. People I have worked with for a very long time based in Ottawa, where I used to live and work. I spent three years working on a very long and intense climate change and risk article which was finally published in an academic journal in the early part of this year [2021]. Well, I will just draw on all of this, because you know you amass a huge amount of material to do what amounts to in the end a short article. Journals don’t publish anything more than 8000 words, but I have a huge amount of material which I wrote and researched with my colleagues in order to do a single journal article. So, I could easily expand it to a book. In fact, it only took me a few months to expand it into the basic thing. So basically, I thought well…

 

… and so, I could do this and so basically, I could write for a general audience and I could focus on a very up to date perspective because the last time we had a general book in Canada addressed to the public on climate change was about a decade ago. There is lots of other stuff written but there was still more time to act. In the last few years, a huge amount of new material has appeared both on the science and on public policy, I mean just this year alone since I finished the first draft of my book early this year, I have been updating it up to like last week. An enormous amount of new material has come out on the public policy side because of the lead up to the Glasgow meetings which is just wrapping up now, right? A huge amount of material and a lot of new government promises, big deals, and new promises. Canada, the US, and in fact the entire world have been making new promises this year. It was time to do another book. That is the focus in writing the book for the general public. We still don’t have enough solid public support to drive these promises that our politicians are making. We need to do more in terms of explaining these things to the public and we also have an enormous number of new promises and new studies that need to be summarized. A lot of them are greatly detailed and most people in the public will read them now but they will read the summaries, like I have done. So that is a long-winded explanation for why I have done this.

 

 

Well, that’s fantastic you have given a very good explanation and I think the timing of your book is very, very good. I’m looking forward to reading it.

 

So, let me just give you some bottom line very quickly. The bottom line is, one, it’s a unique type of catastrophic risk, and two, since we became aware of it, we have had great difficulty in keeping the promises we have made. The first promise ever made by a Canadian politician was made by Brian Mulroney in 1988 because he helped to chair a huge international conference in Toronto in 1988 which was very, very important. For the first time ever, he made a promise that Canada was going to reduce its emissions by this date. We didn’t and we have been making promises ever since. We have never kept a single one, right down to the present day. So that’s the second thing. The third thing is when you analyse the newest promises we made this year, you find out by the new studies that have been done, that it is going to be very, very hard to keep those new promises. Those are the three bottom lines to the book.

 

In what we have talked about in how, especially in the age of Trump, the pandemic, and misinformation, as well as fake news — does the denial of climate change in the spread of misinformation add or compound the risk of climate change projections, and the goals as well as the way we are able to achieve them?

 

Absolutely because this denialism and very active work behind the scenes to spread misinformation has been going on pretty much since the public first heard from politicians about climate change, like Brian Mulroney, we are talking about over 30 years ago. Ever since they first heard about it, others have been working behind the scenes to spread misinformation and this is largely the oil and gas industry. They have been funding so-called skeptics and denialists. Some people claim scientific expertise and don’t really have it. They have been funding groups, including groups in Canada, to spread misinformation, such as saying ‘it’s not us, it’s the sun that is causing global warming.’ So, I have in my book a nice little diagram from the authoritative US scientists that actually know something, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the best government group of climate scientists in the entire world. There is a little diagram that goes back to 1880 which shows the warming trend and the planet on one line and what is called a solar insulation on the other, that is how much sunlight is striking the Earth and they have been moving in opposite directions since 1950.

 

So, you want evidence, there it is, so what are you talking about [the fossil fuels corporations]? The oil and gas industry has been funding these people for some time and in fact right now, or at least last week in Washington DC, I think it was the House of Representatives held public hearings where they had the CEOs of all the oil and gas majors in a virtual conference. They asked them about why they are still doing this [laughs] it happened last week. So yes, it has been troublesome, these are people with a lot of money to spend. They spent a lot of money on this, they have been spreading this stuff for a long time and in the age of social media where people look to the internet to either get their opinions, or to find out what some people are thinking, they get what is called confirmation bias. Do you know that term?

 

Yes, and they find themselves in echo chambers.

 

Yes, and a lot of people, not everybody, but a lot of people search for information where it confirms what they already believe. So, they do this, and this stuff shows up, this skepticism and so-called denialism on the internet. It has a certain type of impact. Some of the effects are real, some people will express it saying no I don’t believe that or it’s a hoax, right? Or it just weakens peoples resolve when governments tell them, ‘well you have to start paying for this one way or another’ and they say ‘well can’t we wait I don’t really want to do that yet, let’s wait,’ so it becomes a direct impact or a subtle impact. So, yes it has an impact, and it still has an impact.

 

Do you think it really just comes down to solely being about money or do you think some of these oil and gas companies actually understand the basic concept of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, but they try to deny it or work against it because of money? My other question is, do you think the rights of citizens to have accurate and truthful information regarding such catastrophic events, trumps the rights of the freedom of speech in those that spread misinformation purposefully?

 

Yes of course they know the truth. We have evidence from academic studies that shows that they do. They know it and they still try to undermine the effectiveness of scientific knowledge. The second thing is more difficult since I don’t believe, unlike the US Supreme Court, I don’t believe that corporations have the right to free speech, only individual people do, it’s a moot question. There is no right to free speech of corporations, they have no right to mislead the public and I think they ought to be penalized for doing so. In that case in terms of individuals of course they have the right to express opinions, but I don’t think that includes the corporate sector.

 

Is there anything useful that the average person can do to fight climate change, or do you think it’s primarily the actions of these large corporations that have to be checked by the government?

 

Well, action on climate change is what we call mitigation right? It’s the attempt to head off further warming because we can’t do anything about the warming that is already existing. So, actions by governments, by corporations, and by individuals, all sectors are relevant here. It’s not one or the other. Individuals can do things sometimes subsidized by governments, you can now buy an electric vehicle or a hybrid. That is already available except that you know there are certain disadvantages, but in any case, it’s already available. Not a lot of Canadians do that, as opposed to a country like Norway where I think half of all new vehicle sales are electric vehicles. That’s an example of what individuals can do. Corporations can commit themselves to doing something because major industries are huge emitters, including the oil and gas industry itself. They can do things, for example, they could switch certain processes from fossil fuels to non-emitting sources.

 

So, in the electricity sector in Canada we already have 80% of our electricity coming from non-emitting sources because we have a lot of hydroelectric, solar wind, and nuclear. Large producers can do things and governments can do a great deal. They can set objectives, like targets to sort of encourage the process along and give huge subsidies. You know if you buy an electric vehicle, you get a big chunk of money back from the government, so subsidies are a thing, they can also do infrastructure changes. They can be responsible, even though they are not doing it yet, they can be responsible for building a huge number of electric charging stations, which we will need if you are having a lot of people with electric cars. We still don’t have a lot of those around. Also, since one of the strategies the government knows we have to do in Canada as a whole, we have to either double or triple our supply of electricity. If you want to switch people off of fossil fuels, in the transportation center that means switching to all electric, that means even electric big trucks. This year I think some vehicle manufacturer is coming out with a tractor unit that is all electric. Soon our tractor trailers, our big semis will all be electric. Governments will have to encourage that, and they may have to subsidise it, but we will need two or three times the amount of electricity to accomplish all this. But we don’t have the infrastructure right now to do that. That will be a massive investment that is tens of billions. So, everybody — public sector, private sector, individuals… Everybody has something to do on climate change.

 

In thinking about the recent summit in Glasgow, Justin Trudeau said he wants to end exports of thermal coal by 2030 and to get net-zero gas emission by 2050 and he wants to give 185 million dollars for coal miners to transition to clean energy. He claims that Canada is leading the way on climate. Do you find that Canada is leading the way on climate?

 

No. N… O…. Capital N…O… Canada has said a lot, promised a lot, done very little. If you look at who has been the best actor on the planet since promises started being made, there is a clear winner, the European Union. Absolutely without a doubt, with evidence, if you look at evidence, there it is, they are the people who are the leaders. Canada is not a leader. Canada is not the worst, but it is not and never has been a leader except in making promises.

 

I know you mentioned in some of your previous articles that Canada never fulfilled their commitments from the Kyoto meeting, and we are sort of ‘dead in the water’ as it was put. Do you think we are still dead in the water and just making more and more promises?

 

As of the last time, there was a certified number for Canada’s emissions, it was 2019. These things are done after the fact because you have to spend some time tallying everything that has happened in a certain year — 2019 was the last time and certainly, the last pre-pandemic number. What is going to happen is that 2020 will show a large decrease in Canadian emissions. It could show as much as 11% but it’s going to go back up again. 2019 was the last certified pre-pandemic number and Canada had the same emissions in 2019 as it had in 2005. We have plateaued for a very long time and have not succeeded in making reductions. People have forecasted, like the International Energy Authority which is a major group that does forecasts, that by 2022 and 2023 Canada and the rest of the world will be back to pre-pandemic numbers and emissions will still be rising in 2023.

 

Do you think the pandemic had a negative, positive, or indifferent effect on the climate from what you have seen in your studies and how it has affected it?

 

Indifferent. It’s a blip. There was a hope that it could have a long-term impact. A so-called green recovery. That’s not going to happen. Emissions will continue rising in 2023.

 

A lot of people have been describing Canada’s climate plans and their new goals as very ambitious. Would you say that they are any more ambitious than any of the other 150 countries that signed the climate agreement, or do you think it’s because we have been so stagnant in our past promises that people are describing it as ambitious?

 

It depends what you mean by ambitious. If somebody says you are ambitious it could be it’s because it’s the difference between you and somebody else. So, what does it actually mean? As you know, as you just mentioned, in terms of the now, the brand-new thing that happened this year, net-zero by 2050, as you said 150 countries have signed onto that. That’s probably a pipe dream, right? Anyway, that’s ambitious but that is the virtue of the whole world that is now ambitious. The 2030 promises are a separate set of promises. Canada is more ambitious than many others for the same reason that it was more ambitious way back in 1997 at Kyoto, it’s because the US made certain promises, right? Joe Biden made the promises on Earth Day in April. All of a sudden Trudeau came back with very close to, but not quite, but close to the same promises. We did that in 1997 at Kyoto when Chrétien told his negotiators to beat the Americans. So, the Americans have said, we are going to be five per cent below 1990 emissions at Kyoto. Canada and Chrétien said, tell them we are going to be six per cent, then the US said we are going to be seven per cent. Then everybody went home, and the US never ratified their protocols.

 

It seems more like a political pissing contest rather than helping…

 

[Laughs] Oh Christ. Then Canada of course made the promise of negative six per cent emissions and never of course got anywhere close to that. As you know Harper withdrew. The only country in the world to ever first ratify and then withdraw. The only country. That is our performance today. So, are our goals ambitious? Yes. Are we likely to be able to reach them? No. But we should try [laughs hard].

 

At this point I am grateful for all this terrific information, but it is also very troubling information. So, to try and counteract that, is there anything positive that you know of that is going on in the fight against climate change?

 

At least we have a federal government who is serious. That we should be very grateful for because it’s possible that we could not have. You know we just had an election. Nobody knows what’s going to happen, it’s still a minority, but we had an election where the other major party, the Conservative group, had a policy conference in March of 2021 and there was a motion presented to the conference. The motion affirmed that climate change is real, but it was voted down. It was not approved [laughs]. So, we could have had that government right now, so we should be grateful for that, we should be grateful that we have certain provincial governments, notably British Columbia and Quebec who have been very strong in Canada trying to do a lot better than it has. We’ve had governments in Ontario who have already made the step to get off of coal fire electricity plants some time ago. We did that. That is a major accomplishment, no one should belittle that. But the main thing is that you know, and now we have for the first time ever, like a bunch of other countries, our federal government passed a law putting these climate targets into law. Now of course we know that that’s more symbolic right? But still symbols are important, we have done that. For the first time ever, we have an interim reporting requirement in the lifetime of a sitting government. In other words, up until this point promises have always been made under the law of NIMTOF (not in my term of office). In other words, every promise for a time in the future when this government is likely not to be in office anymore and some of its members will have passed on to their ultimate reward in heaven.

 

So, they get the positive benefit of creating these goals and things but then it becomes someone else’s problem to deal with once they leave office.

 

Yeah, we have for the first time ever, we have an interim reporting target date to see how we are doing. The future interim reporting date is in 2026 for this government. That’s progress too, in other words we have to be grateful for what we have. We can tell the truth that mainly our targets are going to be very, very difficult to reach. We can hope by saying that clearly, we can spur more ambition and more dedication to doing the very best we can to reach them. That’s extremely important.

 

I think that is part of why we have decided to do this climate series because it’s always a relevant topic. Now more than ever when its being recently revisited by governments and new information is coming out all the time, we are trying to highlight these perspectives, like the ones that you are explaining to me. I really appreciate it.

 

This is the critical time. The last sentence in my book is, “the clock is ticking.” As of now every day counts. It has been 33 years since the world Toronto conference of 1988 which was a huge event. It actually led to the formation of the United Nations framework convention on climate change in 1992. Canada was a major participant. Mulroney, who was still in office, was also at a so-called Earth summit, the Rio conference where Canada was a major player again under Mulroney. Mulroney made sure that Canada was the first G7 country to ratify the framework convention. So, we were there at the beginning, and we deserve credit for that, and I say that clearly in my book. But it’s been 33 years, right? So as of now, every day counts.

 

My last question is do you have any questions for me or is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you would have liked to talk about?

 

I’ll say one more thing in addition to things Canada has done. We should recognize that we have a group of very senior Canadian scientists that have been participants in the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) from the beginning and make extremely important contributions to the science of climate change. There are also centres at Victoria and so on where important work continues to be done. This should be noted we have an extremely important group of university and Environment Canada based scientists who have made major contributions to the science of climate change. They are important people, and they continue to do important work. Also, on the public policy side we have good scientists working on economic analysis and so on.

 

December 27th, 2021 

Interview by Evan Mardell

Edited by Santana Bellantoni, Hope Latta

 

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