U of T Law prof's book explores climate policy through the lens of Canadian law and institutions

Andrew Green, Metcalf Chair in Environmental Law at U of T's Faculty of Law, says institutions have an important role to play when it comes to addressing climate change (photo by Dewey Chang Photography)

Andrew Green finds reasons for hope when it comes to addressing climate change. 

In his recent book Picking Up the Slack: Law, Institutions, and Canadian Climate Policy, Green, a professor in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law, explores how the law and legal institutions are shaping our current response to climate change.

The book delves into the complexity of the issue in the Canadian context. For example, Green examines the difficulties caused by the discretion embedded in our environmental laws by the diffusion of responsibility for climate law and policy, as well as the deference of courts and the public to government decisions. He also discusses how courts have an increasing role to play and the potential of deliberative processes and social norms for improving climate policy and altering individual behaviour.

“The book is something I wanted others to draw hope from – to be realistic, looking at the problem of climate change and finding ways in which we can move forward,” says Green, who holds the faculty’s Metcalf Chair in Environmental Law.

The book brings together Green’s research in areas that include domestic environmental law, Canadian climate change law and policy, and natural resources law. It also draws from economic, political and philosophical literature to develop a framework for Canadian institutions to take action.

“We know that things have to change and we're not acting fast enough,” says Green, who practised environmental law prior to becoming a law professor at U of T and will speak about the shifting role of Supreme Courts and their role in assessing climate policy at the faculty’s upcoming conference, Law in a Changing World: The Climate Crisis, on March 3.  

"The question is why? Climate change is the same problem as other environmental problems – just on a larger scale. How decisions are made – and all the processes to get there – are all elements in telling this story.”

Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change was at the centre of new policy development, notes Green, and it returned to the forefront when concerns around the pandemic began to subside. But now, he says, a potential economic recession threatens to push climate change off the top of the agenda.

“You can’t make a stable environmental – or any kind of policy – in that way,” Green says.

Climate change remains polarizing for many, with some worrying we are not acting fast enough, while others warn we are making too many changes too quickly. But Green says our institutions can help us navigate this path.

“For example, one province may fear a reduction in their ability to use its natural resources would prevent them from building a better health-care system,” Green says. “Yet, the risk-sharing nature of Canadian federalism is to try and help reduce that fear of transition. Things like the equalization system or stabilization program were built to help different regions when they faced various types of risk.”

Green says Canadians need to think more broadly about the direction of the country’s climate-change policy. He says narrow thinking has led to an “iron law”  that dictates the economy always wins when it is pitted against the environment.

"What do we need as Canadians to live full lives? Of course, it includes markets and economic transactions. But it also includes education, health care and a clean environment,” he says.

“We need to think about how we build our institutions in a way that foster a broader vision for what we want."

Green also believes people can contribute through their own choices, building trust and momentum through small actions that can make a difference and lead to greater support for large-scale changes.

“Signaling commitment – such as through divestment – is also important,” he says. “We need to be willing to make changes where we think it’s important for ourselves and for future generations, as a sustainable society.”

Universities have a central role to play in fostering change, he adds.

“When you think of U of T, you think of the wonderful people across the different faculties who are working on climate-change issues – and the students, obviously, are a huge source of inspiration and hope, and effort in this area.” 

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