Climate litigation: Exciting victories

“Gradually, then suddenly”. After many years of hard work, climate litigation is racking up unprecedented victories around the world. Both companies (Shell) and governments (Belgium, France, Germany, etc.) have been found to be negligent and in breach of human rights for their inaction and delay on the climate crisis. Other governments (e.g. Australia) have been found to have a duty of care to take action, but have been given an opportunity to do so.

One fundamental factor is the powerful evidence that climate change is already harming local citizens, and will seriously harm today’s young people. For example, the Australian court made a finding of fact that “one million of today’s [4.7 million] Australian children are expected to suffer at least one heat-stress episode serious enough to require acute care in a hospital. Many thousands will suffer premature death from heat-stress or bushfire smoke.” Even judges must have noticed the upsurge of floods, droughts, fires, storms, etc.. And perhaps they are hearing climate despair from their own children.

I am giving a presentation about climate lawsuit court decisions to young lawyers at the Ontario Bar Association next week. For now, I am sharing the slides here.

Climate litigation racking up unprecedented victories
Climate Environment

Ford Fallout: “I’m dreading the day my grandchildren look at me and ask, ‘Why did you let this happen to us?’”

This is Part 9 of a series by Toronto Life.

“You shoot the watchdog when you’re trying to do something without anyone noticing” 

By Dianne Saxe, former environmental commissioner of Ontario

After 40 years as an environmental and energy lawyer working all over the province for clients big and small, I gave up everything I had built to become the third (and, alas, last) Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. My job and my privilege was to tell truth to power. I was the guardian of the Environmental Bill of Rights, and, by law, I provided all Ontarians with a reliable, independent, non-partisan assessment of the provincial government’s energy, climate and environmental policies. 

There is no topic more important, because our home is on fire; people are cutting down the tree of life on which we all depend. My team’s 17 reports (still available on my SaxeFacts website) were designed and illustrated to make Ontario’s successes, failures and options clear and understandable. People across Ontario relied on them, and I crisscrossed Ontario making them accessible. I met with hundreds of groups, from community associations to farm leaders; real estate brokers, municipal councils, and chemists to Cabinet ministers. Our work inspired and strengthened policies and actions across Ontario, by documenting, for example, the disproportionate pollution of indigenous communities, the filth poured into our lakes and rivers, and the energy that we waste. In 15 languages, including three indigenous languages, I gave Ontarians the tools to exercise their environmental rights. And, publicly and privately, I coaxed, cajoled, trained and embarrassed the government into fulfilling its own obligations under the Environmental Bill of Rights.

I was always treated with respect until I delivered a report, in September 2018, documenting how well Ontario’s climate policies and programs had been working, until their destruction by the Ford government. Soon afterwards, the Ford government passed special legislation, part of the misleadingly-named “Act to restore Trust, Accountability and Transparency”, to abolish my office, to break the contract all MPPs had unanimously made with me, and to crush my employees’ union. How did I find out about all this? From the CBC… 

Twelve of us lost our jobs; several are still unemployed. But Ontario has lost much more. The Ford government has revoked our climate law, cancelled cap and trade, abandoned 2/3 of our climate pollution target, and done almost nothing to reach even that. They cut back flood protection in the midst of huge floods. They cancelled 752 contracts for clean renewable power that we will soon need, cut environmental and energy conservation, allowed endangered species to be killed for a modest price and handcuffed municipalities’ abilities to protect natural areas. They turbo-charged urban sprawl, the major driver of Ontario’s climate pollution. 

On almost every part of my energy, environment and climate mandate, the Ford government is making claims that fly in the face of the evidence, and taking actions that are worsening our future. No wonder they wanted to silence me.

The Auditor General now can, if she chooses, fulfill part of my old role, and I hope she will. One of her assistants has a title similar to mine, though he has no budget, staff or statutory role of his own, and does not make himself available to the public. My job was to put the environment first; the auditor general usually evaluates things in terms of money. We’re in a climate and ecological emergency precisely because of the habit of judging everything in terms of money; doing more of that won’t get us out of it.

Ontario was a climate leader until the Ford government was elected. We’ve since become an international embarrassment, and a place where no contract is safe. Despite the Nobel Prize for Economics given for proof that carbon pricing is the best and cheapest policy, they even continue to waste money fighting the federal carbon price, breaking Ford’s promise to drop that attack if Trudeau were re-elected.

Fortunately, my three grandchildren are too young to understand what’s happening yet, but I’m dreading the day when they’ll be old enough to know. When they look me in the face and ask, “Why did let this happen to us?”, what will I say?

Climate Environment

Greenwashing: the Ford government climate plan

Here is our op ed from the Toronto Star, published November 29, 2019, the anniversary of this “plan”.

Again, today, youth-led protests around the world are calling for action on the climate crisis. Today also marks the one-year anniversary of Ontario’s Environment Plan, in which Premier Ford’s government largely walked away from climate action.

Instead, they have damaged or broken most of Ontario’s policies to build a green economy. They cancelled cap and trade, abandoned strong emission reduction targets, repealed our climate law, clawed back grants for clean, quiet electric buses and other clean technologies, forced gas customers to subsidize new pipelines, ordered gas stations to post misleading anti-carbon-price stickers, tore down a wind farm and slashed energy conservation.

They also waste public funds fighting proven solutions, $30 million for the losing fight against carbon pricing and $231 million plus to rip up 752 clean power contracts. If that weren’t enough, they turbo-charged sprawl, the largest cause of Ontario’s climate pollution, attacked conservation authorities and health units, and weakened protections for the wetlands that protect us from floods.

Until the June 2018 election, Ontario’s provincial government was a climate leader. Now it is an obstacle to climate action, and a perfect example of what gets people out in the streets demanding change.

That is why we three – a youth leader from Fridays for Future Toronto, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, and a nonprofit climate advocate – are on the Queen’s Park lawn today to express public demands for urgent action.

We are not alone. 70 per cent of Ontario MPs support carbon pricing, and more than 30 Ontario municipalities have declared climate emergencies. In September, Ontarians marched in youth-led climate strikes across the province, including 50,000 in Toronto alone. Yet, the voices of youth and many others have been excluded, while the government’s door stays open to industry lobbyists.

Ontarians know that pro-fossil, anti-climate policies are dangerous to us here, not just to polar bears and to people in other places. Ontario’s insured losses from catastrophic extreme weather soared to $1.4 billion last year. The Bank of Canada recognizes that climate change is a “key vulnerability” in the Canadian financial system. Health professionals tell us that the climate crisis is the largest threat to human health, and will seriously affect today’s children and youth.

Expert report after expert report has shown that humans must cut our climate pollution in half by 2030 if we want a stable climate. This means cutting our fossil fuel use in half in about ten years. If we do, the opportunities outweigh the costs, and improving public infrastructure and public transportation will benefit us all. The road there starts with climate justice, and including front-line communities who suffer greater climate impacts. Effective action includes pricing pollution, stopping sprawl, and protecting nature.

Instead, the government’s “Environment Plan” is a mishmash of ignoring facts; claiming credit for the actions of others; and weak proposals without follow through. For example, the Plan “forgets” the increased emissions that will come from increasing urban sprawl and natural gas use, and from cancelling clean power and energy conservation.

The Plan predicts lots of electric vehicles. If so, federal EV incentives will deserve the credit. The Ontario government cancelled its EV incentives, which won’t help companies like General Motors decide to make EVs here. The provincial government even repealed the Building Code rule that would have made room for EV chargers in new homes.

Weak proposals include the government’s plan to duplicate and weaken the federal carbon price for industrial polluters, expensively recreating something much like the cap-and-trade system that they cancelled last year. Their proposed “reverse auction” to pay polluters to cut emissions was tried in Australia with little success, and their “Carbon Trust” looks unlikely to work any better.

This Plan also jeopardizes Canada’s climate ambition and reputation. Canada is one of the ten largest climate-polluting countries on the planet, and much of that pollution comes from Ontario. The policies that the Ford government cancelled were critical to Canada meeting our international commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Bottom line: The “Environment Plan” is greenwashing, an attempt to hide this government’s indifference to the climate crisis which threatens young people’s future. Youth leadership is inspiring Ontarians across the province to call them on it, and to demand real facts, honest conversations and strong climate action.


Dianne Saxe – Former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario
Allie Rougeot – Fridays For Future Toronto Coordinator
Sarah Buchanan – Clean Economy Program Manager, Environmental Defence

Climate Energy Environment

Urban Sprawl: Ontario’s Oil Sands

Urban sprawl creates congestion, drives our air and climate pollution and destroys wetlands, woodlands and farmland.

It worsens our climate crisis, and so one of the best things municipalities can do is to stop urban sprawl.

Here are the slides from my keynote presentation to the Ontario Professional Planners Institute. To see the temperature spiral run on slide 30, the source is Climate Lab Book.

Many more details are available in chapter 4 of my last energy report, available on the reports page at


What I told the Toronto climate rally Sept. 27

Many people have asked for notes of my rousing talk at Friday’s climate rally in Toronto, in front of Queen’s Park. So here they are. Does anyone have a better photo?

“I am so proud to see you all here today.
Are you doing the right thing by striking today? Yes, absolutely!
We adults need to be shaken out of our selfishness, greed and apathy.

You already know we’re in a crisis.

Our home is on fire! (the crowd roars it back)
Our home is on fire! (the crowd roars it back)
Our home is on fire!!! (the crowd ROARS it back)

We are almost out of time.
We adults are polluting the climate faster and faster every year.
Half the climate pollution in the atmosphere, we put there in just the last 30 years.
AFTER we had the science, AFTER we knew that it would steal your future
And Canada is one of the world’s top 10 climate polluters.

If you want the kind of safe, manageable world that we had growing up, we cannot let the planet warm more than 1.5°. At the rate we are going, we are probably going to blow past the carbon budget for that in just 8 years.
It is almost too late.

So I am frightened about the climate crisis. Are you frightened? (“Yes!” the crowd roars)
And I am angry at everyone in power who is not taking it seriously, including the bigshots in this Ontario Legislative Building. Are you angry at them? (“Yes!” the crowd roars)

What governments do matter. Elections matter. In Ontario, the provincial government was a big help in the climate fight a year and a half ago, but is now the biggest obstacle we have. They ignore the science, they tell lies, and they are helping to steal your future.

Now there is another election. It matters enormously. Do you promise to vote? (“Yes!” the crowd roars)

I will only vote for someone who takes the climate crisis seriously. Will you promise to vote for someone who takes the climate crisis seriously? (“Yes!” the crowd roars)

We need lots of tools, but one of the ones we need most is carbon pricing. Last year, right after the Ford government tore up our carbon price, the Nobel Prize for Economics went to the man who proved that carbon pricing is the cheapest tool and the best.

I will only vote for someone who supports carbon pricing. Will you promise to vote for someone who supports carbon pricing? (“Yes!” the crowd roars)

We all have to reduce our own carbon footprints, to get ready for what’s coming and to speak up. Please talk about climate, talk about carbon pricing. Talk to your friends, to your family, to anyone else you know, especially in the suburban ridings where elections are decided.

And this is how to do it:

Simple clear messages
Repeated often
By a variety of trusted voices.

What you’re doing matters. You’re fighting for our future.
Be good to each other
Have fun
But don’t stop
Don’t let the people in power off the hook.

Our home is on fire.
What do we want? Climate action
When do we want it? Now!”

climateStrike #climateCrisis


Why I support climate emergency declarations

This letter is to express my strong support for the proposed climate emergency declaration by the City of Greater Sudbury.

As a result of the largest scientific collaboration in human history, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the climate crisis that humanity faces is now beyond reasonable doubt. A generation after they were first predicted, the impacts are now increasingly visible in Canada and around the globe. Fires, floods, droughts, storms, wind and extreme heat are becoming increasingly severe. In Ontario alone, insured losses from extreme weather events, each one of which cost them over $25 million, exceeded $1.3 billion in 2018.

On top of that, the Insurance Bureau of Canada reports that governments incur about $3 in damage to infrastructure and other public services, for every dollar of those insured losses. Plus, uninsured financial losses by individuals, companies, and institutions are often estimated to be one to three times as large as the reported insured losses. And all these figures only cover losses measured directly in money, omitting health damage and a wide range of environmental losses.

In the face of this crisis, it is beyond tragic that the current Ontario government has retreated so far from the climate commitments and climate action that Ontario had belatedly begun. Our climate law has been revoked; our ambitious (but not strong enough) climate targets have been slashed, and virtually all programs to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario have been greatly weakened or abandoned. With a federal election looming, the future of federal climate action is also uncertain.

In these dispiriting circumstances, municipal climate leadership is of great importance. Municipalities are at the front line of much climate damage. Municipalities, as the owners and operators of most of Ontario’s infrastructure, quickly feel the impacts of physical damage from extreme events. They are also much more vulnerable to liability lawsuits than senior levels of government. Climate change also exacerbates inequalities, disproportionately affecting the poorest and most vulnerable, often increasing social welfare needs just when the municipality itself is least able to meet them. In many ways, it is municipalities, rather than the senior levels of government, that have the most to lose from climate inaction and paralysis.

Municipalities can also do something about it. They have a substantial role to play in both climate adaptation and mitigation. Municipalities have a lead role in land-use planning, the major driver of greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario as documented in chapter four of my 2019 energy conservation report. Municipalities also have large direct fossil fuel footprints, and play a highly visible leadership role in their communities.

It is therefore exciting to see so many Canadian municipalities joining others around the world to declare climate emergencies. This includes more than 350 in Quebec plus Halifax, Vancouver, Ottawa, Kingston, Hamilton, West Nipissing, Richmond, London, Burnaby, Nanaimo, Burlington, Halton Hills, St. Catharines, Bracebridge, Capital Regional District, Central Kootenay, Edmundston, Islands Trust, Mahone Bay Town, Moncton, Powell River, Sooke District,  and Old Crow.

Greater Sudbury can be a leader in Northern Ontario and be among the early municipalities in Ontario to declare a climate emergency.

Greater Sudbury has experience as an environmental leader. Sudbury’s regreening expertise is recognized worldwide. Its regreening story has inspired many people and has shown that dramatic change is possible with leadership and action.

A municipal climate emergency declaration is wholly justified on the science and by the current “do almost nothing” approach of our provincial government. A declaration will not, of course, be enough by itself. It has to be followed by real action. I encourage the council of the City of Greater Sudbury to collaborate with other municipalities across Canada who are facing up to the reality of our climate crisis, and exploring what they can most effectively do about it.

If I can be of any assistance in that search, please let me know.


Who’s declared a climate emergency?

It is exciting to see so many large and small Canadian municipalities joining others around the world to declare climate emergencies. Of the 594 declarations reported, 398 come from Canada. This includes 366 in Quebec including Quebec City and Montreal, plus Halifax, Vancouver, Greater Sudbury, Ottawa, Kingston, Hamilton, West Nipissing, Richmond, New Westminister, Victoria, The Islands Trust Area, London, Nanaimo, Burlington, Halton Hills, St. Catharines, Capital Regional District, Central Kootenay, Edmundston, Islands Trust, Mahone Bay Town, Moncton, Powell River, Sooke District, Old Crow and Wolfville. Others have recognized a “climate crisis”. Vancouver is leading the way in showing how a climate emergency declaration can be turned into meaningful municipal action, in terms of what municipalities directly control, in terms of their collaboration with others, and in terms of the importance of their leadership by example.
Many details available at

Who’s next?