Climate Change: Canadian Legal and Policy Responses

AuthorJamie Benidickson
In broad terms, the response to climate change has t wo major dimen-
sions. On the one hand, mitigation measures are directed towards the
challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing
to climate change. Simultaneously, alongside measures to mitigate the
factors and processes th at contribute to climate change, effort s are also
underway to facilitate ad aptation to the impacts and effects of clim ate
change that are alre ady apparent and continuing. Domestic mitigation
and adaptation initiative s in Canada unfold against a backdrop that not
only involves international commitment s, as discussed i n Chapter 4,
but now also includes acknowledgment by the Federal Court of Appeal
that greenhouse gases “are harmful to both health and the environ-
ment and as such, constitute an evil t hat justif‌ies the exercis e of the
crimina l law power.1 Following a brief review of climate change infor-
mation, drawing heav ily upon Assessment Report s (AR) prepared by
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Ch ange (IPCC), this chapter
surveys Canad ian responses at the federal level, in intergovernmental
settings, in a number of provinces, and within the municipal rea lm.
1 Syncrude Cana da Ltd v Canada (Attorney General), 2016 FCA 160 at para 62
[Syncr ude].
Climate Cha nge: Canadian Legal a nd Policy Responses 397
For the benef‌it of policy-makers, experts f rom the physical sciences
associated wit h the IPCC summarized t heir understanding of the con-
tribution of human activity to changing atmospheric conditions in t he
2013 Assessment Report (AR5):2
Human inf‌luence on the cl imate system is clear. This is evident f rom
the increasi ng greenhouse gas concentr ations in the atmosphere,
positive radiat ive forcing, observed warm ing, and understandi ng of
the climate system.3
Human inf‌luence ha s been detected in warm ing of the atmosphere
and the ocean, in c hanges in the global water c ycle, in reductions in
snow and ice, in global mean se a level rise, and in ch anges in some
climate ext remes. This evidence for human in f‌luence has grown since
AR4. It is extremely likely th at human inf‌luence has bee n the domin-
ant cause of the obser ved warming since the mid-20th centur y.4
With reference to future developments, IPCC AR5 observed that:
“Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause fu rther warming
and changes in all components of the cl imate system. Limiting climate
change will requi re substantial and sustained reductions of g reenhouse
gas emissions.”5
The Paris Agreement aff‌ir med a mitigation target or objective of
“hold ing the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2
degrees C above pre-industrial levels,” but in addition noted the signif‌i-
cance of “pursuing efforts to l imit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees
C above pre-industrial levels, recogni zing that this would sign if‌icantly
reduce the risks and impact s of climate change.” In relation to the more
ambitious 1.5°C goal, the IPCC prepared a Special Report in 2018.
The anticipated sectoral impacts of climate change on agriculture,
forestry, and f‌isheries, for example, have been exam ined from the Can-
adian perspect ive.6 On a broad scale, ecosystems and habitat are bei ng
2 TF Stocker et al, e ds, “Summary for Policym akers” in Intergovernmenta l Panel on
Climate Cha nge [IPCC], Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basi s (Cam -
bridge: Cambr idge University Press, 2014), online:
images/report/ WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf.
3 Ib id at 15.
4 Ibid at 17.
5 Ibi d at 19.
6 Geologic al Survey of Canada, Terrai n Sciences Division, Climate C hange Impacts
and Adaptat ion: A Canadian Perspective (Ottawa: Cl imate Change Impacts and
Adaptation Prog ram, 2004).

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