Will We Ever Have Paris? Canada's Climate Change Policy and Federalism 3.0

44 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2017 Last revised: 30 Aug 2018

See all articles by Jason MacLean

Jason MacLean

Faculty of Law, University of New Brunswick; School of Environment and Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan

Date Written: November 30, 2017


We have entered a new climate reality. In order to stave off the most dangerous and disruptive impacts of climate change, we must quickly dispense with business as usual in favour of a rather unusual law and politics. The historic and highly ambitious agreement concluded pursuant to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris in December 2015 sets the stage for just such an unusual law and politics. In order to fulfill the aspirations of the Paris Agreement, countries must respond with equally ambitious domestic mitigation measures. In the Canadian context, this calls for a new, aspirational conception of climate federalism capable of encouraging and empowering citizens to participate equally alongside their elected representatives amid the surrounding sources of social and economic power in collaboratively fashioning collective commitments to a sustainable future. After retracing the regrettable history of Canadian climate change and sustainable development policy, ranging from the federal government’s penchant for passing the buck to the provinces (federalism 1.0) to so-called federal-provincial cooperation, harmonization, and further federal retrenchment (federalism 2.0), this article articulates an aspirational conception of federalism capable of meeting Canada’s climate change commitments (federalism 3.0). The results of the application of this new federalism to Canada’s initial but potentially path-dependent climate policies and decisions taken in the early days of the post-Paris era, however, are far from encouraging. Canada’s initial climate policies and decisions fall significantly short of fulfilling the aspirations of either the historic Paris Agreement or the promise of a new constitutional law and politics, amounting instead to a kind of formal, “check-the-box constitutionalism.” Instead of true democracy, we are given “Deliverology”; instead of Paris, we are promised pipelines. Unless we immediately change course, the harm to both our constitutional culture and our climate may well be irreparable.

Keywords: climate change, Canada, federalism, deliverology, environmental law

Suggested Citation

MacLean, Jason, Will We Ever Have Paris? Canada's Climate Change Policy and Federalism 3.0 (November 30, 2017). (2018) 55:4 Alberta Law Review 889, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3080710

Jason MacLean (Contact Author)

Faculty of Law, University of New Brunswick ( email )

41 Dineen Drive
P.O. Box 4400
Fredericton NB E3B 5A3, New Brunswick E3B 5A3

School of Environment and Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan ( email )

College of Education
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N 5A7

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