CARBON CHANGE: Canada on the Brink of Decarbonization,Dennis McConaghy, Dundurn Press Toronto, 2022

In his 2019 book BREAKDOWN: The Pipeline Debate and the Threat to Canada’s Future,[1] Dennis McConaghy argued that, despite the polarization that has emerged in the climate policy debate, Canada “can and must, find a consensus that balances credible and proportionate climate policy.”[2] Three years on, it is clear from McConaghy’s most recent book,[3] CARBON CHANGE: Canada on the Brink of Decarbonization, that, in his view, Canada is far from having achieved that balance.

It is to be emphasized at the outset that McConaghy is no climate change denier. On the contrary: “Climate change risk is real and serious…and it is clearly attributable, for the most part, to human activity.”[4]

However, he is just as unequivocal that the current focus of climate policy on “decarbonization” — meaning that “hydrocarbons could no longer be produced or consumed”[5] — should be reconsidered. Rather, he argues, the focus should be on dealing with the risk of climate change, applying a cost/benefit analysis “predicated on carbon pricing set via carbon taxes on emitted GHGs and applied consistently across the world’s developed economies.”[6] McConaghy makes a convincing case.

First, he takes aim at the United Nations (UN) process directed at reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. That process allocates targeted emissions reductions to those developed countries that are major emitters, “while allowing others, such as China and India, to be ‘free riders’”; the process should be “reinvented.”[7] Along the way, he provides a valuable review of the emergence of the UN approach, from the formation of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, through the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and the 2015 Paris Accord to the 2021 Glasgow Conference of the Parties, showing how earlier “targets” morphed into “decarbonization.” Further, he identifies the impact that these developments in the UN process have had on proposed energy infrastructure projects in Canada, particularly in the period 2019 to March 2020.[8]

Second, McConaghy argues:

Decarbonization is simply too costly for the risk that the world actually faces. The world would be better off living with some risk of extreme weather events and less probable high-impact discontinuities in global climate.[9]

He notes that the UN process has never spelled out the net cost of decarbonization[10] and points to the conclusion of a 2022 McKinsey Consulting report that reaching net-zero emissions would require nothing less than “a transformation of the global economy.”[11]

McConaghy also draws instructive lessons from comparing policy responses to the challenge of climate change to responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, beginning in 2020. He notes that in both cases “independent, unconstrained actions by individuals, businesses, or states can create risk and collateral damage to others — refusing vaccinations in the case of Covid-19; consuming increasing amounts of hydrocarbons in the case of climate change.”[12] However, while Covid-19 “poses an immediate risk to virtually all of humanity,”[13] the world accepts the residual risk that results from the realization that zero Covid-19 is not a reasonable objective.[14] He asks: “Can this reality inform living with a 3°C global temperature increase?”[15] He notes that, despite the “florid language” describing climate change as a “crisis,” a “catastrophe,” a “code red for humanity” and an “existential threat,” the IPCC has never explicitly stated that an increase of 3°C would mean human extinction.[16] After reviewing the precedent struck by certain elements of Canada’s response to Covid-19, he worries about the potential for ’climate lockdowns’ as a logical complement to the primary objective of decarbonization, without analyzing the costs and benefits.[17]

The climate debate is one of the most extreme manifestations of the destructive polarization infecting much of society, imbued with zealotry, intolerance and denial. Clearly, climate change presents a serious global challenge that must be met with a rational, informed response. BREAKDOWN: The Pipeline Debate and the Threat to Canada’s Future should make an invaluable contribution to formulating such a response.


* Energy Regulation Consultant, Co-Managing Editor Energy Regulation Quarterly.

  1. Rowland J. Harrison, K.C., “BREAKDOWN: The Pipeline Debate and the Threat to Canada’s Future, Dennis McConaghy, Dundurn Toronto, 2019” (2019) 7:4 Energy Regulation Q, online: ERQ <>.
  2. Ibid at 5.
  3. See also Dennis McConaghy, “DYSFUNCTION: Canada after Keystone XL Dennis McConaghy, Dundurn Toronto, 2017” (2017) 5:2 Energy Regulation Q, online: ERQ <>.
  4. Dennis McConaghy, CARBON CHANGE: Canada on the Brink of Decarbonization (Toronto, Ontario: Dundurn, 2022), at 2.
  5. Ibid at 1.
  6. Ibid at 3.
  7. Ibid at 2.
  8. McConaghy was the TransCanada executive with lead responsibility for the Keystone XL Project, supra note 3.
  9. Supra note 4 at 41.
  10. Ibid at 130.
  11. Ibid at 37.
  12. Ibid at 120.
  13. Ibid at 131.
  14. Ibid at 129.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid at 130.
  17. Ibid at 139.


Leave a Reply