Carbon pricing win at Supreme Court- now the real work begins

In our growing climate crisis, March 25 was a pretty good day. The Supreme Court of Canada rejected Conservative premiers’ attacks on Canada’s federal carbon pricing law, despite our complicated constitution. This should be the end of the anti-carbon-price dead end. We have a real job to do. 

The climate crisis is an overwhelming threat to human civilization. Its dangers have been clear for decades. We know what climate action can keep a stable climate: it includes slashing our emissions of greenhouse gas pollution by half this decade. 

No question, this will take work. For a century, we have built our infrastructure and our economy around burning fossil fuels. We have a small population, but we are one of the world’s worst carbon polluters both at home and abroad. Canada has profited heavily from digging up fossil fuels, especially petroleum from the oil sands. What Canada does about the climate crisis matters. Having wasted decades without effective climate action, we now have little time and a great deal to do. 

Fortunately, we have some excellent tools. The single most powerful is carbon pricing. It cannot solve the climate crisis on its own, but it levels the playing field between fossil fuels and a cleaner future, it rewards innovation and it reduces cost. When pollution is “free” we get more of it; when polluters pay for their damage, it’s remarkable how quickly they find alternatives. Without a carbon price, we will probably speed ever faster towards climate breakdown. 

In the teeth of this emergency, the Conservative attack on the carbon price was a terrible waste of time, money and energy. Carbon pricing was a right-wing invention, a market-based alternative to government regulation. Nevertheless, the Conservative Party, which just voted again to deny that climate change is real, has made opposing carbon prices a badge of loyalty, without offering anything in return. 

The Conservative premiers who spent millions attacking the federal law dismantled climate action in their own provinces. Doug Ford’s “Environment Plan” emphasizes litter pick up, while driving up emissions and air pollution with gas-fired electricity, highways and sprawl. When Erin O’Toole releases his carbon-price-free plan, I expect him to promise tree planting, nuclear power, and using CO2 to extract oil, expensive measures that will achieve little any time soon. 

Bottom line: the Conservatives do not offer a better alternative to carbon pricing, just delay, denial and greenwashing. No expensive future technology will somehow make everything fine. Planting trees and picking up litter are worthwhile, but continuing to burn fossil fuels as if pollution were “free” is a dead end. 

With Conservative provinces refusing to act, the federal Liberals stepped in with the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act. The Conservatives turned this into a multi-year,  multi-million dollar turf war, which the Supreme Court has now mercifully brought to an end. The decision is a tough read, primarily concerned with how to squeeze carbon pricing into our constitutional straitjacket after 150 years of federal-provincial disputes. Ultimately, six judges upheld the Act, because do-nothing provinces threaten Canada as a whole. 

Now what? Canadians know we are in a climate crisis and want to see strong climate action, though most wrongly believe that Canada is already an environmental leader. To be honest, the carbon price has been too low (and its future too uncertain) to have driven down our emissions yet. It should have more impact now, with the price scheduled to increase, but many other initiatives are necessary if we are to get off fossil fuels in time. 

We need strong laws and strong regulations. We need a strong climate lens on every decision that governments make. We need transparent climate reporting. We need to disrupt fossil fuel lock-in. We need to protect nature. We need to make it easier, safer and more convenient to choose clean options. And we need to use the climate crisis, wherever possible, as a trigger to make health and inequality better.

Today, thank you to everyone who made this victory happen. Tomorrow, we must all go back to work. This case was an unfortunate sideshow. The real battles for meaningful climate action are ahead.

Dianne Saxe 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

This article appeared first in the Toronto Star.


Excellent Massey climate conference

What a great finale we had yesterday to Massey is #MissingCOP26. It’s been an exciting two weeks.

Massey is Missing COP26 climate conference

This fifth and last session of the Massey is Missing COP 26 climate conference, hosted by Rosemary McCarney and myself, focussed on the role of arts and culture in the #ClimateCrisis. Recordings of each session, except the Nov. 16 Enroads workshops, are available on the Massey College website That means it’s not too late to hear a young climate striker interviewing Lloyd Axworthy and David Suzuki, or Kathleen Wynne telling us what really went on in the international climate negotiations in Paris, or which Canadian financial institutions are finally starting to switch to climate smart investments.

On November 19, we explored the rule of arts and culture in the climate transition, and in building public support for strong climate action. This is an important frontier for climate action. Art can touch the heart and energize the soul in ways that science, logic and law just can’t do. To grow a strong public movement for strong climate action, we need art and culture to lead the way.

In his excellent book The Art of Energy, Barry Lord showed that culture and values have always changed as an economy changes its source of energy, and that artists have been at the front line of the change. For most of the last century, we’ve had a society based on consuming oil, and status has come from conspicuous consumption. Now he predicts that, in a society based on renewable energy, status will come from what one protects. Artists are getting there first, and that’s why I’ve invited three artists here today.

Cultural institutions are a lot slower to change, so it’s exciting to see some stepping up. This fall, a group of museums adopted the Bremerhaven Declaration, calling on all world museums to make the climate crisis an important and highly visible part of their work. (  For some, that can be a tough financial challenge. Fossil fuel industries are still supporting cultural institutions to buy social license and access to decision-makers. Should we still allow that? The battle has begun to get oil money out of advertising and cultural events, with The Guardian newspaper one of the first to refuse it. It reminds me of the battle to get tobacco money out of advertising and cultural events. This was an important part of the cultural battle over smoking, but we lost some public events that tobacco money used to pay for. 

How  are Canadian artists and cultural institutions coming to grips with the climate crisis and its moral and cultural shifts? What role do they see themselves playing in building public support for climate action, including this critical year leading up to COP26?

These are the questions that I put to the Canadian Minister of Heritage Steven Guilbeault, Director of the Royal Ontario Museum Josh Basseches, poet Alice Major, and singer songwriters Ron Hawkins and Sarah Harmer.

The last half hour focussed on climate action, what you can do individually and to support collective change. We had great fun in the Dragon’s Den- type pitch competition. Competitors were:

  1. ShiftAction – Protecting your pension and the climate
  2. CleanAir Partnership – Home energy retrofits
  3. Guelph Tool Library – Sharing stuff, not buying 
  4. Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment – Active transportation for health
  5. David Suzuki Foundation – Think global, act on local government
  6. Nourish Healthcare – Plant-based diets

Congratulations to Peoples’ Choice Award winners @ActionShift and the @GToolLibrary!


Cultural institutions and climate crisis

What role can and should cultural institutions play in the climate crisis? There is a valuable new benchmark, the Bremerhaven Declaration on the role of museums in the face of climate change. Here is an easy and useful thing for you to do: write to a cultural institution that you belong to or support, and ask them to commit to this declaration:

It says:

Bremerhaven Declaration on the Role of Museums in Addressing the Climate Crisis

Society stands at a fork in the road, with one fork headed to a future of fear, want and inequality, in a climate-compromised world. The other fork leads to a future where people – as individuals, communities and together –thrive in a sustainable environment, with a stable climate. We must help society to create and follow the latterpath. The map of that path exists in the form of the Paris Agreement, but the path itself does not yet exist: we must create it together, and with greater speed and greater ambition, to minimize the scale and impacts ofclimate change.

Museums, science centres and exhibition centres (referred to as ‘museums’ hereafter) – large, small,wherever they are, and of whatever subject matter – can all play a distinctive role in achieving the aims ofthe Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement through the six elements of Actionfor Climate Empowerment: education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information and international co-operation, as well as by reducing their own carbon footprints.

We welcome the formal recognition of the key role that museums play in achieving the goals of the FrameworkConvention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, by the members of the United Nations at COP24(2018) and COP25 (2019).

We also acknowledge that the members of the world’s science museum and science centre networks, andof the International Council of Museums, have already resolved to take up the Sustainable Development Goals, as a blueprint to address climate change and other sustainability issues.

We recognize the widespread interest in and concern about climate change across society. We hear theincreasing calls for support and empowerment from communities everywhere, to enable people to knowwhat they can do, have the motivation to act, and the skills and opportunities to act to address climate change,in their own lives and with others. We acknowledge that, in 2019, museum professionals working with climatechange have informed the United Nations of ten key lessons learnt by museums during 2016-19:

  • The importance of acting now: there is no time to waste.
  • The importance of confident and competent staff.
  • The great importance of reliable, up-to-date information and science, including basicinformation on climate change.
  • The great importance of a focus on solutions, not problems.
  • The importance of making climate change and climate action personal and relevant, aswell as understanding the big picture.
  • The importance of acknowledging people’s emotions and feelings.
  • The importance of community, and empowering people to participate fully in society.
  • The importance of engaging everyone.
  • The importance of co-ordination and collaboration between museums and partners.
  • The need for support from governments, government agencies and funders.

Having explored these points in Klimahaus® Bremerhaven 8° Ost at the international symposium ‘How To…?From Climate Knowledge To Climate Action’ we wish to make the following recommendations to museumseverywhere.

The Sustainable Development Goals are an unprecedented opportunity, for institutions, communitiesand other stakeholders to identify the challenges most relevant to their context and that draw mosteffectively on their strengths to meet these challenges.

Science, art and the humanities are all crucial for understanding and addressing climate change. Scientists, curators, designers, artists, authors, philosophers, historians, geographers, communities andpeople as individuals, all have a role to play in this endeavour. Their voices must be heard, and they should beempowered to use them.

Climate change requires radical creativity and radical collaboration, everywhere.

Museums are stronger and more effective when they make a collective impact, working with one anotherand other sectors, and empowering communities and young people. Existing movements such as Fridays forFuture, and annual dates such as Earth Day or International Museum Day, are ready-made opportunities that can help museums to collaborate with one another, and with their communities, in a joint effort to amplifyvoices and climate action.

Museums only exist within the context of their communities. Forming strong connections with individuals, groups and all of society, and listening to and addressing people’s concerns, is crucial. Museums andcommunities can be equal partners in imagining and working towards shared goals, ambitions and visions,and help share and create rich, powerful stories. They should also lead by example, and embrace climateaction across their institutions.

Effective climate education has to provide all of the necessary knowledge, motivation and practical skills.Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) offers such an approach,

embracing the importance of a positive relationship as part of the natural world; respect for others, diversity anddifference; human rights; and citizenship. ESD recognises that learning is lifelong, and happens in manylocations, including museums. Making ESD a core approach in museums can help museums becomeeffective resources for lifelong learning, and to connect with people’s heads, hearts and hands, to addressclimate change in their own lives.

Museums can help people to imagine a better future, focussing on creative, imaginative, collaborative andhopeful – rather than fearful – experiences, to help address climate change. Climate education andempowerment can be made to be enoyable and fulfilling, turning concerns into meaningful, everyday action.

We need to create and support sustained dialogue, among museums, with policy workers, with othersectors, with communities and people as individuals . This involves careful listening, to understand andaddress the interests, concerns, needs and suggestions of people, and a commitment to climate actionevery day, everywhere. We need to share our experiences and ideas with one another, and develop ourclimate responses together.

The need for support from governments, government agencies and funders

Society must expect us to provide and support climate change education, awareness, participation, access toinformation and co-operation as a priority. While we acknowledge that museums can already offer a greatdeal to climate education and action, we also recognize that they must be empowered to play these roles insociety. Museums need support and guidance from policy makers, local and national governments, through effective climate change education policies, plans, financial and other resources. We would welcome mechanisms that can help us share and tell our collective story. We stand ready to play our part,and we ask our funders, stakeholders and potential partners to play theirs to help us to do so, as we commitourselves to addressing the defining challenge of our times, together.

The international symposium ‘How To…? From Climate Knowledge To Climate Action’ was held atKlimahaus® Bremerhaven 8° Ost on 24th and 25th September 2020.

Further reading and links:

Tokyo Protocol

ICOM Resolution on Sustainability and Agenda 2030, Transforming Our World

UNFCCC (2018). Decision 17/CMA.1, Report of COP24


Great conversations on climate podcast

I hope you have subscribed to my Green Economy Heroes podcast, also called my climate podcast. Every week, I interview a Canadian green economy business leader who is making a living building the green economy. I talk to people of all ages from right across Canada in many walks of life. It’s amazing and inspiring how many ways there are for business people to make a real difference in the climate crisis.

Please rate and review this climate podcast, and will you please tell your friends?

In October, I learned more about carbon capture and storage, including its controversial use to enhance oil recovery from ageing oil wells. Steve Oldham of Carbon Engineering makes a case for considering this Canadian innovation a blessing, not a curse. What do you think?

Climate Environment

Royal Ontario Museum getting energized about climate

This week, the Globe and Mail ran a fabulous two page spread about the growing engagement by the Royal Ontario Museum with the climate crisis. This new initiative has been triggered by the generosity of Allan Shiff, with whom I have had the pleasure of working for the last year. Now, finally, after much effort, the search for the new curator is underway.

Equally important, existing curatorial staff at the ROM are getting energized about using their collections to tell climate stories. The Globe article tells brief climate stories that feature 14 different artefacts from the full range of ROM collections, both human history and natural history: varve clay, red knot (bird), art made of trash, religious paintings.

Sascha Priewe, Associate Vice President of Strategic Initiatives & Partnerships, has been tasked with getting climate-related programming underway even before the new curator arrives. It’s not a moment too soon.


Royal Ontario Museum getting ready to hire its first Curator of ClimateChange.

Exciting news: #RoyalOntarioMuseum getting ready to hire its first Curator of #ClimateChange. Warmest congratulations and thanks to the visionary donor, Allan Shiff.

#climateaction #fossilfuels #greentransition

Climate Environment

My Climate Story

Because of the convention of using round numbers, predictions about the climate crisis often talk about what will happen by 2100. I have never met a politician who expects to be alive, much less in power, in 2100. 2100 is many election cycles away, much too far away to matter to them. By Dianne Saxe

Who does 2100 matter to?

Grandchildren in canoe at sunset

I have three small grandchildren and my youngest is expecting again. Her baby will be 29 when 2050 arrives, preparing to set up, provide for and protect a family of his own. That will be harder for him than it was for me. Unless we change course, his world will be hotter, weirder, less beautiful, less stable and less safe than it was when I was 29. And on New Year’s Day, 2100, he will only be 79, younger than my mother is now.

Honestly, I cannot imagine what he and his family will face on that day. As Philip Alston, the special rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Council, summed it up, we have already reached the point where the best case for 2100 is widespread death and suffering. The worst case is humanity on the brink of extinction, triggered by the choices that people made during my lifetime.

My eldest grandchild is six now, whip-smart and starting to understand how the world works. I dread the day when he comes to understand how our selfishness, greed and apathy stole so much of his future. What will I do when he turns to me and cries, “How could you let this happen to us? You knew.” He will be right.

Climate Energy

Climate risks for financial supervisors

Listen to my interview with Anatol Monid (formerly of Financial Services Commission of Ontario about the significance of climate risks for financial and banking supervisors around the world.

Climate Energy Environment

Green Economy Heroes podcast

Looking for some hope in hard times? Don’t miss my new podcast on Green Economy Heroes.

Since 2015, I’ve talked with hundreds of audiences across Canada about the climate crisis. A few years ago, most audiences were just learning that we have a crisis. Today, you probably already know that. Now you are more likely to be wondering, is it too late? Where can we find some hope?

The only recipe I know for hope is to first look the facts in the face, and to then work with other people on concrete action. Because the climate crisis affects almost everything, there are a huge number of ways to take action. The good news is that there are amazing people in Canada who are making a living doing exactly that. They are building the green economy that we need to reduce our climate pollution, creating green jobs and helping us get ready for what’s coming.

Each Green Economy Hero podcast features someone you’ll enjoy getting to know. We will explore who they are, what their business are doing, and how it is making a difference. We will hear about their challenges, their successes, and their dreams. And we’ll learn their advice on how you too can start and build a green business.


Questions on personal carbon footprints

A very attentive reader asked some excellent questions about my very last ECO work product, the factsheet on individual carbon footprints. We are so glad to see it being used. Here are the questions and the answers:

“I’ve recently been poring over your “Reducing My Footprint” report (it’s SO helpful!) and have a couple questions regarding the breakdown of overall Ontario emissions: 

  • Question 1: In the Appendix, you mention that about 1/3 of Ontario’s GHG emissions (within-geographic-boundary, I presume) are from fossil fuel combustion in people’s personal vehicles and home furnaces. You then mention the issue of multi-unit dwellings and how the report decided to treat all residential heating as a direct source of emissions. Does this mean that all residential heating-related emissions were included in this 1/3, regardless of the energy source (ie including electric heat and wood as well as fossil fuels)? Or just that all fossil-fuel based residential heating was included, regardless of dwelling type?

Answer to Question 1:

The “residential heating” stat is the per capita emissions from all residential building fossil fuel use. Electric heating would be captured in the tiny electricity wedge. Emissions from wood is not included. So it is calculated as an average across building types, as opposed to a median representing one particular building or fuel type. That said, we translated the average into equivalent natural gas emissions as an example.

  • Question 2: Also in the Appendix, you mention that in 2009, Ontario’s consumption-based emissions were estimated to divide out to 19 tonnes per person, although this includes emissions that are not controlled by individual-level lifestyle choices. I calculated that, with a 2009 population of 13 million, this would equate to 247 million tonnes of consumption-based emissions, only 143 million of which would be attributable to individual lifestyle choices if we assume that Ontarians in 2009 had a similar lifestyle-based carbon footprint as you calculated them to have in 2016: 11t. That means that 104 million tonnes are left to be attributed to consumption-based emissions that are NOT controlled by individual-level lifestyle choices. I know you mention one example of such an emission source to be government spending, but that seems to me to be a LOT of emissions (42% of our total consumption-based emissions) to be associated with government-spending! Unless I don’t have a full conception of what all the government spends money on. What else would be in this category? I am trying to figure this out.

Answer to Question 2:

The main take-away – due to the nature of the data available, it was not possible to put together a comprehensive list of each type of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission source excluded from the average carbon footprint of an Ontarian, relative to Ontario’s per capita consumption-based emissions. However, the emissions associated with government spending would unquestionably be an important part of such a list. Approximately 40% of Canada’s GDP is government spending.

Footnote 78 of the backgrounder (and the “average emissions” textbox on p. 21 of the backgrounder) specifies in detail how the “other goods and services” wedge was calculated. This wedge includes the embodied GHG emissions of goods and services not covered in the other wedges. It was calculated using Statistics Canada household spending data for Ontario along with GHG emission factors from an Environmentally-Extended Input-Output Life Cycle Inventory model (see footnote 77 for a description of these types of models). The types of emission categories included in the “other goods and services” wedge, each with a different GHG emission factor, were based on the CoolCimate Network GHG calculator that was put together by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley (these emission categories were then matched with the Statistics Canada household spending categories). It is not clear to what extent the emissions associated with these categories (listed in footnote 78) are representative of those from all the goods and services that individuals consume. It is possible that other categories should also be included – however, the GHG emission factors for any such categories were not available.

As the data used for the carbon footprint estimates in the report were compiled from many sources that used different measurement techniques and modelling, substantial uncertainty should be expected (see “How certain are these numbers?” textbox on p. 29). This is especially the case for the “other goods and services” wedge.

Moreover,  specific emissions gap you calculated might be an overestimate because it compares 2009 consumption-based emissions (i.e., the 19 tonne per capita estimate based on a 2016 paper by Dolter and Victor) with the 2016 emissions calculated for this report. Ontario phased out coal-fired electricity between 2005 and April 2014.

Hope this helps. Do let us know how you are using our report.

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