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Tell big polluters to pay up

Flash flooding, raging wildfires, deadly heat waves: weather disasters like this are hurting people across Canada and will only get worse with climate change. Faced…

Take action


In the 5 years that I’ve lived in Toronto, like millions of my fellow Torontonians, I’ve gone through heat waves, floods and wind storms.

In addition to the emotional and health-related distress we  experience when these kind of disasters happen, our city also experiences financial distress. A single weather disaster cost us nearly a billion dollars in damage… and climate change will only make things worse.

Flooded GO train evacuated by police boats during 2013 floods. © Tom Ryaboi

Who should help pay for these climate change-related costs is a question that cities across North America are struggling with.

It turns out, one of Toronto’s best opportunity for keeping the city safe and resilient has been hiding in plain sight: the oil companies that knowingly created the climate crisis.

Here are 6 evidence-based reasons why the City of Toronto should explore legal action against oil companies that could hold them financially responsible for the costs of the climate crisis they helped create.

Ask Toronto City Council to hold big polluters financially accountable for climate change-related costs.

#1. Climate change is impacting Toronto now, and it’s going to get worse.

According to the City of Toronto’s own assessment, we already have a “hotter, wetter, and wilder” Toronto due to climate change [1]. Plus, the City’s Medical Officer of Health [2] and the Canadian Medical Association [3] have identified climate change as an important health concern, increasing risks related to heat waves, air pollution, mental health and more.

#2. Dealing with climate impacts is expensive … and insurance won’t cover it all.

The July 2013 storm resulted in over $850 million in insurance claims, making it the most expensive disaster in Ontario’s history [4]. And, the Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates that for every dollar in insured damages to homes and businesses, governments must spend three dollars to repair infrastructure [5].

#3. A few big polluters are responsible for the lion’s share of greenhouse gas emissions.

New research has shown that the largest 25 fossil fuel producers are responsible for the majority of the world’s human-caused greenhouse gas pollution since 1988 [6]. That list contains big multinational and state-owned oil companies like Saudi Aramco, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP.

#4. Oil polluters knew their products would cause climate change, but tried to deceive us.

Oil companies have known that burning fossil fuels would lead to climate change for at least 50 years. They spent millions to deceive the public and policymakers as part of a sophisticated, decades-long effort to delay and prevent action to reduce the demand for their products [7].

#5. Other cities are suing oil companies over climate costs.

Over a dozen cities, states and counties in the United States, including New York, San Francisco and Baltimore, are suing oil companies for their role in global warming-related damages [8]. In Canada, 20 local governments have sent climate accountability letters to 20 of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, asking these companies to pay a fair share of local costs [9].

#6. Fairness and accountability: Finding Big Oil’s missing fair share.

History shows that those who mislead the public, the market, or the government about the risks of their products, or the availability of safer alternatives, can face substantial legal liability. Tobacco companies are paying over US$200 billion in the United States to cover tobacco-related health care costs [10] and are being sued for CDN$50 billion in Ontario [11].

Just like Big Tobacco, Big Oil hid what they knew about the harms caused by their products and they should pay their fair share of the costs. The more our local government has to spend cleaning up after climate-fuelled disasters, the less money there will be to invest in the things that make our lives better — like better public transit, affordable housing and social services.

If, like me, you want a safer and more resilient city, email Toronto City Council and ask them to explore legal options to make Big Oil pay their fair share of climate change-related costs.

Together, we can make it happen.


Legal counsel – Greenpeace Canada

1. https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/8e13-180503_Final_PRA_summary_vDIGITAL.pdf

2. City of Toronto (15 November 2016). URL: https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2017/pe/bgrd/backgroundfile-99379.pdf

3. Canadian Medical Association (7 December 2018). URL: https://www.cma.ca/its-public-health-emergency-cma-board-member-authors-lancet-report-health-impacts-climate-change

4. Natural Resources Canada (2017). URL: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/earthsciences/pdf/assess/2016/Chapter-9e.pdf

5. Insurance Bureau of Canada (16 January 2019). URL: http://www.ibc.ca/on/resources/media-centre/media-releases/severe-weather-causes-190-million-in-insured-damage-in-2018

6. Griffin, Paul (2017). The Carbon Majors Database CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017, Climate Accountability Institute.

7. Affidavit filed by Oreskes, Supran et al. in lawsuit by Counties of San Mateo and Imperial Beach against Chevron et al. (January 2019). URL: https://www.sheredling.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Center-for-Climate-Integrity-Amicus.pdf

8. Climate Liability News (2 August 2018). Despite Two Dismissals, Climate Liability Lawsuits Only Just Getting Started. URL: https://www.climateliabilitynews.org/2018/08/02/climate-liability-lawsuits-nyc-san-francisco-oakland/

9. West Coast Environmental Law (1 March 2019). URL: https://www.wcel.org/media-release/20-local-governments-ask-20-fossil-fuel-companies-pay-share-local-climate-costs

10. State of California Department of Justice. URL: https://oag.ca.gov/tobacco/msa

11. Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General. URL: https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/tobacco_litigation.php