The march for climate justice took another step forward this week as the landmark Liability for Climate-Related Harms Act passed second reading in the Ontario legislature and is now on its way to committee for further study.

The private member’s bill introduced by Toronto Member of Provincial Parliament (and former Greenpeace Canada Executive Director) Peter Tabuns would make it easier for governments and individuals to sue fossil fuel companies to recover damages and pay for climate-related infrastructure (like New York is doing).

Greenpeace experts helped with the drafting of the bill because we believe it is important to hold the big polluters accountable for their actions. It is modeled on the legislation passed in Ontario to successfully pursue $50 billion from tobacco companies for health damages because tobacco companies (like oil companies) privately knew about the harms their product caused but publicly denied them.

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time for the bill to be passed before the provincial election campaign launches next month, but it sets an important precedent. According to Canadian Lawyer Magazine:

“Lawyers say that while a new bill being proposed in the Ontario legislature that would open the door to climate change litigation is unlikely to pass, it provides a road map for other governments to pass similar legislation in the future. ....

Now that the bill has been introduced, it is expected that other provinces might explore the merits of exploring similar bills. The fact that it has been introduced suggests it would be easier for a government at another time to pass similar legislation, lawyers say.

If the legislation passes, it could open the door to a wave of climate litigation.”

The legal team at Oslers adds:

“the introduction of Bill 21 reflects a bellwether for future efforts by government to impose liability for climate change-related harms on companies engaged in fossil fuel production. For companies involved in oil and gas production in Canada, this bill reinforces the importance of taking adequate steps to plan and prepare for future climate change litigation.”

This warning should not be ignored. The wave of climate litigation sweeping the world is driven by stronger climate science, investigative journalism exposing the misdeeds of oil and coal companies, and governments that refuse to stand up to big polluters.

See you in court.