Countering climate catastrophe, reducing nuclear risks and recalling JFK’s “Strategy for Peace”


Against the backdrop of wildfires in Canada that made international headlines and engulfed New York City in a “hazy blanket” of “some of the worst air pollution on the planet,” we consider the role of our financial institutions in exacerbating Canada’s lagging record on climate change.

In an important article entitled Canadian financial institutions are fuelling the climate change crisis (, 18 May 2023), Professor Bruce Campbell (who is also a Rideau Institute board member) writes:

Once again, Canada will almost certainly fail to meet its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 per cent by 2030 in accordance with the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommendations.

He continues:

This is despite the government’s optimistic spin on the release of its latest emissions inventory report. Jerry DeMarco, the environment commissioner in the Auditor General’s office, has criticized the government’s record as a litany of broken promises.

Campbell reminds us that Canada is the only G7 nation with 2022 carbon emissions levels that are above its 1990 levels. It has among the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the world, and its fossil fuel industry is also among the world’s largest.

Canada’s financial institutions are helping fuel the climate crisis

The focus of Professor Campbell’s article is the role of Canada’s financial institutions:

[the] banks, pension funds and private equity firms [that] fund the industry and are therefore helping fuel the climate crisis.

Campbell references the latest fossil fuels report by the non-governmental organization Banking on Climate Chaos, which found that the world’s 60 largest banks invested more than US$5.5 trillion into the fossil fuel industry since the 2015 Paris Agreement was signed.

Looking at Canada in particular, it states:

The Big Five Canadian banks all made the list of Top 20 funders globally after investing more than $1 trillion in fossil fuel companies since 2016.

The Royal Bank of Canada ranked as the world’s largest financier of fossil fuels in 2022, providing fossil fuel companies with US$42.1 billion with a total investment of US$253 billion since 2016 — the fourth highest on the globe.

As for the federal government’s response, Campbell writes:

The federal government has so far been unable to effectively regulate financial institutions’ investments in the fossil fuels industry in accordance with its climate commitments.

That means, in blunt terms:

financial institutions’ assets are at risk. So too are the economy, people’s lives and ultimately the survival of the planet due to catastrophic fires, floods and droughts.

An article in the journal Nature Climate Change estimates that global stranded investor assets — namely, the present value of future lost profits in exploration, production and related services in the fossil fuel sector— exceeds US$1 trillion.

Turning specifically to Canada:

The Canadian loss risk is more than US$100 billion, disproportionately in employee savings locked up in Canadian pension funds.

The federal bank regulator must do much more to support the green transition

Jerry DeMarco, the environment commissioner in the Auditor General’s office (as noted above), argues that the federal bank regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), which oversees climate risks and sets risk guidance priorities for financial institutions, needs to do much more:

  • to recognize the risks of climate change to the financial system and
  • to take action to encourage their transition to net-zero carbon emissions.

High interest rates hinder the transition away from fossil fuels

In April 2023, the Bank of Canada released its first annual climate risk disclosure report to provide guidance on the climate change risks facing the Canadian economy and financial system.

While Campbell acknowledges this is at least a step in the right direction, he raises the concern that the bank’s high interest rate monetary policy hinders the transition away from fossil fuels:

Economic experts argue that high interest rates discourage investments in renewables, keep economies locked into fossil-fuel dependence and slow down decarbonization.

Commitments versus actions

Professor Campbell highlights the discrepancy between the green commitments made by Canada’s largest banks and their actual behaviour, writing:

Canada’s largest banks have committed to voluntarily align their investments and lending with the United Nations target of net zero emissions by 2050 as part of the Net-Zero Banking Alliance. They have also committed to cut emissions financing in half by 2030.

However, these banks haven’t made any commitments to jettison their fossil fuel clients, leading Campbell to conclude:

That makes their net-zero pledges highly suspect, bordering on greenwashing.

Canadian pension funds are a major climate laggard

Professor Campbell draws particular attention to a study by the organization Shift: Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health. It has concluded that

Canadian pension funds have generally failed to align their investment strategies with the Paris Agreement goals and neglected to develop a credible pathway to transition out of fossil fuels.

One reason cited by Campbell is that pension funds are “rife with conflicts of interest”:

The report found that seven of Canada’s 10 largest public pension funds have at least one director who also sits on the board of a fossil fuel company.

Overall, 80 different [pension fund] directors, trustees, executives and senior staff currently hold or previously held 124 different roles with 76 different fossil fuel companies.

As for private equity firms, which manage funds “beneath the radar for wealthy individuals and institutional investors,” Campbell notes that they

have invested an estimated US$1 trillion in the energy sector since 2010 — the vast majority in fossil fuels.

Where to go from here

In terms of where we go from here, in Professor Campbell’s view the next step is to move forward with  Bill S-243 The Climate-Aligned Finance Act, introduced by Senator Rosa Galvez, which seeks to hold financial institutions accountable for investments that increase climate risk. The bill has passed second reading.

Calling it the gold standard in legislation, Campbell writes:

58 academics, myself included, have written a letter urging senators to move the bill forward by referring it to committee for testimony.

Regulatory capture is at the heart of the problem

Professor Bruce Campbell is an expert on the corporate government power relationship known as regulatory capture.

Drawing on his book The Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster: Public Betrayal, Justice Denied and his recently released edited volume Corporate Rules: The Real World of Business Regulation in Canada, Campbell concludes:

[This] relationship largely explains the government’s failure to effectively regulate banks and pension fund investments.

At the heart of the problem are regulations that benefit the industry at the expense of the public interest:

In this case, the fossil fuel industry and financial institution enablers are able to shape the regulations governing their operations, block or delay new regulations and remove or dilute existing regulations deemed a threat to their interests.

In conclusion Professor Campbell argues, and we strongly agree, that

Countervailing measures must be urgently implemented to combat regulatory capture and ensure the public interest takes precedence over profit.

Some good news on forestry management and fighting climate change

We end our discussion on climate change with an intriguing and eminently manageable proposal to address climate change, outlined in a recent commentary in the Globe and Mail, entitled A counterintuitive climate defence: Harvesting forests to combat emissions (David T. Price and Robin Collins, 5 June 2023).

Price is a retired forest scientist and Collins is a board member of the Canadian Pugwash Group.

The article begins:

If humans stopped emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow and let nature take its course, it could take a million years for the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere to return to pre-industrial levels. Halting our emissions will be hard, but rapidly bringing CO2 levels back down will be stupendously challenging and costly.

Canada’s forests could be an opportunity to help meet this global challenge.

The rest of the commentary explains in detail how this can be done, summarizing the necessary actions in the concluding paragraph as follows:

Using our forests to support global CO2-removal efforts will succeed only if we first identify which forests can be saved. Then we must make a multi-century commitment to protect and manage them as the climate (hopefully) stabilizes.

We highly recommend reading this innovative commentary in its entirety. For those without a Globe and Mail subscription, it is available in in PDF format here with the kind permission of the authors.


We start this section with an article that retired American career foreign service officer Steven Pifer has written for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists entitled The US and Russia must re-assess their strategic relations in a world without New START (, 13 June 2023).

Russian President Putin, on 21 February 2023, stated his country would “suspend” its participation in the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), indicating that it would no longer provide biannual data updates or notifications, nor would it allow on-site inspections provided for by the treaty.

In the ensuing three months, the US government responded by taking similar steps, while reaffirming their commitment to the treaty:

The United States is committed to full and mutual implementation of the New START Treaty…. The United States notified Russia of the countermeasures in advance, and conveyed the United States’ desire and readiness to reverse the countermeasures and fully implement the treaty if Russia returns to compliance.

Both Moscow and Washington maintain that they continue to observe New START’s numerical limits. As Pifer explains:

New START limits the United States and Russia each to no more than 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers; no more than 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM/SLBM launchers and deployed and non-deployed heavy bombers; and no more than 1,550 warheads on deployed ICBMs and SLBMs and warheads counted for deployed heavy bombers (one warhead for each deployed heavy bomber).

However, as Pifer aptly observes:

the absence of data updates, notifications, and on-site inspections will erode their ability to monitor each other’s compliance, particularly regarding the limit on deployed strategic warheads.

On the reasons for President Putin’s suspension of the treaty, Pifer has an interesting theory:

The decision suggests a personal obsession with Ukraine that undercuts other Russian security interests, as Moscow has benefited from New START’s limits and its verification and transparency measures just as much as did Washington.

Notifications continue under other bilateral agreements

The two sides continue to exchange notifications required under other bilateral agreements that could help avoid miscalculation, including the 1988 Ballistic Missile Launch Agreement on advance notification of ICBM and SLBM launches and the 1989 Agreement on Reciprocal Notification of Major Strategic Exercises regarding notification of heavy bomber exercises.

But Pifer warns that

the loss of the information provided by New START’s monitoring provisions will decrease each sides’ confidence in their understanding of the other’s strategic forces. In the near term, it will marginally increase nuclear risk.

Impact on strategic stability

In Pifer’s view, the increased nuclear risk in the near term will come from

an overall loss by both sides of broad understanding of the other’s strategic forces.

That, in turn, could encourage “worst-case assumptions” and the prospect of a destabilizing arms race, with some US senators already calling for the US to withdraw from the treaty.

The Biden administration has time to consider what to do

Arguing that the Biden administration has time to consider what to do, Pifer cites a 2012 Pentagon report that states:

Russian deployment of additional strategic warheads, which, even if significantly above the New START Treaty limits, would have little to no effect on the U.S. assured second-strike capabilities…

The Russian Federation, therefore, would not be able to achieve a militarily significant advantage by any plausible expansion of its strategic nuclear forces, even in a cheating or breakout scenario under the New START Treaty.

Pifer explains:

That conclusion stemmed largely from the large number of survivable deployed strategic warheads that the United States routinely maintains on ballistic missile submarines at sea. The same is probably true of Russia with its ballistic missile submarines and mobile ICBM force.

He also explains that the 2012 Pentagon assessment “likely pertains today” since

US and Russian strategic forces have not changed much in number or quality over the past decade. comments:

Consider for a moment what the Pentagon report is revealing about the massive “overkill” built into the sheer numbers of deployed nuclear warheads on both the Russian and American sides.

A small ray of hope

Steven Pifer ends his article with a “small ray of hope,” albeit one that has yet to yield concrete results. He refers to the 2 June 2023 statement by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan that

we have stated our willingness to engage in bilateral arms control discussions with Russia and with China without preconditions.

Unilateral steps to reduce nuclear risks: the JFK example

In an article in National Interest entitled Biden Must Heed JFK’s Lessons on Rolling Back Nuclear Dangers, Harvard professor Matthew Bunn, on the 60th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s 1963 “ A Strategy of Peace” speech, recalls:

Speaking only months after the [Cuban Missile] Crisis….

Kennedy made the case that the horrors of a potential nuclear holocaust made it urgent to find a path to peace and that doing so required both sides of the Cold War to change.

But he did not stop there:

He announced that the United States would unilaterally stop testing its nuclear weapons until a treaty banning such tests could be reached.

Inferring lessons from the speech and the positive diplomatic efforts it unleashed, Professor Burn urges the White House to take several unilateral steps in the nuclear domain to reduce tensions with Russia.

These measures could include:

  • taking a portion of U.S. nuclear missiles off alert,
  • committing to not being the first to use nuclear weapons unless the very survival of the U.S. and its treaty allies are at stake, and
  • pledging that the U.S. would never deploy its missiles where they could reach Moscow or Beijing in just a few minutes.

In support of his proposals, Bunn argues:

None of those steps would endanger U.S. security. If reciprocated, each of them would improve security significantly. comments:

There is considerable irony in the proposal for the US to adopt a qualified or caveated no-first-use policy, reflecting as it does comments made by President Putin which the US harshly condemned, despite the fact that current US — and NATO — policies do not rule out first use.

Also recalling the Kennedy speech is Harvard fellow Nicole Grajewski, who  writes:

The relevance of Kennedy’s speech to the current U.S.-Russia arms control situation is clear: it calls for a return to diplomacy, open dialogue, and a recognition of shared interests, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

She cites Kennedy’s assertion in his speech that

Our problems are man-made, therefore they can be solved by man.

She concludes:

As we look forward, the spirit of Kennedy’s speech might serve as a beacon, inspiring a recommitment to arms control for “a more practical, more attainable peace.”

In the meantime nuclear arsenals grow, globally

On 12 June 2023 the renowned Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) launched its annual assessment of the state of armaments, disarmament and international security.

Their press release states:

A key finding of SIPRI Yearbook 2023 is that the number of operational nuclear weapons started to rise as countries’ long-term force modernization and expansion plans progressed.

Nuclear arsenals are being fortified around the world

SIPRI states:

The nine nuclear-armed states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and Israel—continue to modernize their nuclear arsenals and several deployed new nuclear-armed or nuclear-capable weapon systems in 2022.

Elevated nuclear competition dramatically increases the risk of use

Matt Korda, Associate Researcher with SIPRI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programme and Senior Research Associate with the FAS Nuclear Information Project, comments:

Most of the nuclear-armed states are hardening their rhetoric about the importance of nuclear weapons, and some are even issuing explicit or implicit threats about potentially using them … dramatically increas[ing] the risk that nuclear weapons might be used in anger for the first time since World War II.

The SIPRI press release also quotes Wilfred Wan, Director of SIPRI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programme:

With billion-dollar programmes to modernize, and in some cases expand, nuclear arsenals, the five nuclear weapon states recognized by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty seem to be moving further and further from their commitment to disarmament under the treaty.

SIPRI also draws attention to the “major setbacks” to nuclear arms control and disarmament diplomacy as a result of Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

SIPRI Director Dan Smith writes:

In this period of high geopolitical tension and mistrust, with communication channels between nuclear-armed rivals closed or barely functioning, the risks of miscalculation, misunderstanding or accident are unacceptably high.

There is an urgent need to restore nuclear diplomacy and strengthen international controls on nuclear arms.

Webinar discussion on nuclear risk reduction

For an excellent expert discussion of the challenges in reducing nuclear risks that are inherent to their possession, we recommend the online discussion on “Nuclear Risk Reduction: Myths and Realities?” that was held on 14 June 2023, organized by the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation and Atomic Reporters.


  • Andrey Baklitskiy: Senior Researcher in the WMD Programme at UNIDIR
    • the thinking at the UN
  • Francesca Giovannini: Executive Director of the Project on Managing the Atom at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs
    • the academic perspective
  • Alexander Kmentt: Ambassador and Director of Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, Austria
    • the practitioner perspective

Moderator: Tariq Rauf: Member, Board of Directors of Atomic Reporters

The recording of this excellent discussion is now available by clicking on the arrow below. 

Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant situation “serious” but safe for now

For the latest on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, see the report of 16 June 2023, which summarizes the situation as follows:

The head of the UN atomic energy agency [Rafael Grossi] has said the situation at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine is “serious” and that ensuring water for cooling was a priority of his visit, adding that the station could operate safely for “some time”.

Iran and nuclear talks

SIPRI, in its latest annual yearbook, referenced above, is pessimistic about any revival of the Iran nuclear deal, noting:

Iran’s military support to Russian forces in Ukraine and the political situation in Iran also overshadowed talks on reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 agreement meant to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

However, the Arms Control Association offers a more positive take in their 14 June 2023 update, writing under the heading A New Opening for Nuclear Talks?

The space for negotiations between Washington and Tehran over Iran’s advancing nuclear program may be opening up after U.S. and Iranian officials expressed support for reaching an agreement and Iran took limited steps to increase monitoring of its nuclear program.


Beyond the focus on nuclear arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, the SIPRI Yearbook also provides a sobering assessment of the continuing deterioration of global security over the past year. They write:

The impacts of the war in Ukraine are visible in almost every aspect of the issues connected to armaments, disarmament and international security examined in the Yearbook.

However, they also go on to say that the Ukraine war

was far from being the only major conflict being waged in 2022, and acute geopolitical tensions, mistrust and division had been growing long before Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbour.

In the words of SIPRI Director Dan Smith:

We are drifting into one of the most dangerous periods in human history. It is imperative that the world’s governments find ways to cooperate in order to calm geopolitical tensions, slow arms races and deal with the worsening consequences of environmental breakdown and rising world hunger. comments:

The SIPRI Yearbook is an invaluable compendium of cutting-edge information and analysis on developments in armaments, disarmament and international security. Funded by governments, including Canada, and independent foundations, SIPRI has steadfastly maintained its objectivity and independence.

It is high time the Government of Canada recommitted to establishing a government-funded, but arms length, independent Canadian institute on international peace and security.


The SIPRI Yearbook is perhaps best known for its annual data on developments in world military expenditure, international arms transfers and arms production.

In that context, in an upcoming blog post, we will consider Canada’s 2022 Report on Exports of Military Goods, released on 31 May 2023.

In the meantime, we provide this tweet from Project Ploughshares:

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Alberta forest fire) is a public outreach project of the Rideau Institute linking Canadians working together for peace. We depend on your donations as we accept no funding from government or industry to protect our independence. Thank you for your support….     

Tags: Atomic Reporters, Bank of Canada annual climate risk disclosure report, Banking on Climate Chaos, Bill S-243 The Climate-Aligned Finance Act, Bruce Campbell, climate catastrophe, David T. Price, Environment Commissioner Jerry DeMarco, exports of military goods, greenhouse gas emissions, Harvesting forests to combat emissions, JFK: A Strategy of Peace, Konrad Adenaur Stiftung (KAS), Matthew Bunn, Nature Climate Change, Net-Zero Banking Alliance, Nicole Grajewski, nuclear risk reduction, Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), regulatory capture, Robin Collins, Senator Rosa Galvez, Shift: Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health, SIPRI Yearbook 2023, Steven Pifer, Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant