October 1, 2018 (TORONTO) — Today, Greenpeace Canada urged all parties in the Ontario legislature to support the Liability for Climate-Related Harms Act, a private member’s bill proposed by NDP Member of Provincial Parliament Peter Tabuns.
“Any politician in Ontario who claims to stand up for the little guy should support legislation that clears a path for fossil fuel companies to pay their fair share of the costs to protect our communities from the ravages of climate change,” said Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist for Greenpeace Canada. “Any government that is unwilling to lead or even follow others in the fight against global warming should get out of the way of those who are prepared to tackle the climate crisis.”
The proposed bill is consistent with the wave of climate litigation sweeping the globe that was highlighted by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario in her 2018 Greenhouse Gas Progress Report released last week. It noted “The demand for accountability for climate change has contributed to a wave of legal challenges washing over governments and big climate polluters around the world. Over the last few years, the number of lawsuits has increased, and complainants are starting to win some battles.”
These cases have been launched in response to three recent developments:
- Scientists have gotten better at establishing a link between the burning of fossil fuels and impacts like sea level rise or the severity of individual events such as flooding from hurricanes.
- Better data on the contributions of individual fossil fuel companies to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
- Investigative journalism has exposed how companies like ExxonMobil claimed for years that climate science was too uncertain to warrant government action and financed a multimillion-dollar disinformation campaign to manufacture doubt about climate science. Yet privately, they were incorporating the science they were publicly dismissing into business plans to protect their drilling operations in a warming Arctic.
The proposed Liability for Climate-Related Harms Act is modeled on similar legislation that enabled the province to pursue $50 billion in health care costs from the tobacco industry. That legislation was enacted because the tobacco companies knew about the addictiveness of cigarettes and the health damages they caused, deceived the public by misrepresenting the risks, failed to warn the public about the dangers of smoking and did not take all available steps to reduce the risks caused by their products. This is equally true of many oil, gas and coal companies.
“As national and provincial governments falter or even backtrack on climate action, citizens and municipalities are increasingly looking to the courts to enforce the polluter-pay principle,” said Priyanka Vittal, legal counsel with Greenpeace Canada. “This legislation would clarify the rules for individuals or communities seeking to hold big polluters accountable in the same way that tobacco companies have been successfully sued to help cover health care costs.”
This is the second time the Liability for Climate-Related Harms Act has been introduced at Queen’s Park. Greenpeace legal experts contributed to the drafting of the bill.
– 30 –
For more information:
Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada
Steve Cornwell, communications officer at Greenpeace Canada