Categories
Climate

Join me for two great webinars on carbon pricing

Following the Supreme Court decision, upholding the federal carbon pricing law, smart prosperity hosted two great conversations. I moderated the first webinar, on the legal significance of the case, and represented the Green party in the second webinar on the politics of carbon pricing. Both were high quality conversations with knowledgeable people, lots of Insight for the time invested. Don’t miss them.

Our great all-party panel on the Politics of #CarbonPricing after the #SupremeCourt decision was between myself and Mia RabsonKen BoessenkoolGerald ButtsBrian Topp, and Dale Beugin. Watch it now at 

https://institute.smartprosperity.ca/multimedia/politics-carbon-pricing

#climatecrisis #climateaction

Categories
Climate

Carbon pricing win at Supreme Court- now the real work begins

In our growing climate crisis, March 25 was a pretty good day. The Supreme Court of Canada rejected Conservative premiers’ attacks on Canada’s federal carbon pricing law, despite our complicated constitution. This should be the end of the anti-carbon-price dead end. We have a real job to do. 

The climate crisis is an overwhelming threat to human civilization. Its dangers have been clear for decades. We know what climate action can keep a stable climate: it includes slashing our emissions of greenhouse gas pollution by half this decade. 

No question, this will take work. For a century, we have built our infrastructure and our economy around burning fossil fuels. We have a small population, but we are one of the world’s worst carbon polluters both at home and abroad. Canada has profited heavily from digging up fossil fuels, especially petroleum from the oil sands. What Canada does about the climate crisis matters. Having wasted decades without effective climate action, we now have little time and a great deal to do. 

Fortunately, we have some excellent tools. The single most powerful is carbon pricing. It cannot solve the climate crisis on its own, but it levels the playing field between fossil fuels and a cleaner future, it rewards innovation and it reduces cost. When pollution is “free” we get more of it; when polluters pay for their damage, it’s remarkable how quickly they find alternatives. Without a carbon price, we will probably  speed ever faster towards climate breakdown. 

In the teeth of this emergency, the Conservative attack on the carbon price was a terrible waste of time, money and energy. Carbon pricing was a right wing invention, a market-based alternative to government regulation. Nevertheless, the Conservative Party, which just voted again to deny that climate change is real, has made opposing carbon prices a badge of loyalty, without offering anything in return. 

The Conservative premiers who spent millions attacking the federal law dismantled climate action in their own provinces. Doug Ford’s “Environment Plan” emphasizes litter pick up, while driving up emissions and air pollution with gas-fired electricity, highways and sprawl. When Erin O’Toole releases his carbon-price-free plan, I expect him to promise tree planting, nuclear power, and using CO2 to extract oil, expensive measures that will achieve little any time soon. 

Bottom line: the Conservatives do not offer a better alternative to carbon pricing, just delay, denial and greenwashing. No expensive future technology will somehow make everything fine. Planting trees and picking up litter are worthwhile, but continuing to burn fossil fuels as if  pollution  were “free” is a dead end. 

With Conservative provinces refusing to act, the federal Liberals stepped in with the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.The Conservatives turned this into a multi-year,  multi-million dollar turf war, which the Supreme Court has now mercifully brought to an end. The decision is a tough read, primarily concerned with how to squeeze carbon pricing into our constitutional straitjacket after 150 years of federal-provincial disputes. Ultimately, six judges upheld the Act, because do-nothing provinces threaten Canada as a whole. 

Now what? Canadians know we are in a climate crisis and want to see strong climate action, though most wrongly believe that Canada is already an environmental leader. To be honest, the carbon price has been too low (and its future too uncertain) to have driven down our emissions yet. It should have more impact now, with the price scheduled to increase, but many other initiatives are necessary if we are to get off fossil fuels in time. 

We need strong laws and strong regulations. We need a strong climate lens on every decision that governments make. We need transparent climate reporting. We need to disrupt fossil fuel lock-in. We need to protect nature. We need to make it easier, safer and more convenient to choose clean options. And we need to use the climate crisis, wherever possible, as a trigger to make health and inequality better.

Today, thank you to everyone who made this victory happen. Tomorrow, we must all go back to work. This case was an unfortunate sideshow. The real battles for meaningful climate action are ahead.

Dianne Saxe 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

This article appeared first in the Toronto Star.

Categories
Climate

Why I am running for the Greens in University- Rosedale

Thank you for the overwhelming warm welcome for my decision to run for the Ontario Green Party in the 2022 election. After 45 years of being meticulously non-partisan, I can no longer stand aside and merely shout at the radio when I learn about yet another environmental collapse or government outrage.

Dianne Saxe at the Ontario Legislature

Why the Green Party?

Because none of the others are taking the environmental and climate crisis seriously. No question, the Ford government has done and is doing real and lasting damage in almost every area of energy, environment and climate policy, as both I and the Auditor General have reported to the Ontario Legislature. Ford’s well-connected donors must be making a lot of money as woodlands, wetlands and farmlands are turned into concrete and asphalt.

The other parties are better, but not good enough. The Wynne government took many positive steps on climate; there are also good elements in the NDP policy platform. But both the Liberal and NDP parties are too timid; environment and climate are somewhere in their long lists of policies and priorities, but nowhere near the top. They have had lots of opportunities to get serious, but instead have chosen to do little. Neither of their leaders is a strong advocate for climate action. Their proposals are for incremental tinkering that simply doesn’t match the science of what we have to do. Given how close we now are to environmental catastrophes, the Liberal and NDP plans remind me of bringing a garden hose to a wildfire when embers are already sizzling on the roof.

The Green Party is clear about the urgency and the priority, plus ideologically flexible about how we get there. No party has a monopoly of good ideas and we’re going to need them all. But we need the Green Party to focus enough political attention on the climate and environmental crises that the public, and the other parties, get serious about them while there is still time.

Why University-Rosedale?

Ok, but why run against a progressive NDP MPP, Jessica Bell, instead of against a Conservative? I have nothing against Ms. Bell, but:

1. I want to run for the Green Party in my own community, where I belong. I have lived, worked and played in central Toronto for most of my life. I was born here; I had my children here. I went to school at Oakwood Collegiate and at the University of Toronto. I shop, sing, swim, volunteer, see my doctor, get physio and go to synagogue in University-Rosedale. As the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, my office was in University-Rosedale. My daughter and her family live in University-Rosedale, as do many of my friends and relatives. Even my bicycle comes from University-Rosedale.

2. None of the ridings in my community are held by Conservatives. All three are currently held by the NDP.

3. I strive to live my values. In University-Rosedale, I can campaign on foot, by bike, and by public transit without having to drive. That is not true of any riding currently held by Conservatives.

4. I don’t want to be a spoiler as Ralph Nader was in 2000, splitting the vote and allowing a do-nothing candidate to be elected. This could happen if I parachuted into a riding with little Green support and a tight two way race between the Liberals and Conservatives. It cannot happen in University-Rosedale, where most voters prefer progressive leaders.

5. The strongest Green Party Riding Association in Toronto is in University Rosedale, headed by Ryan Phillips and Jim O’Reilly. It has been built up by 11 years of hard work by hundreds of volunteers, including long-time candidate Tim Grant. This is going to be a great group to work with, and the best place to make a Green Party breakthrough in Toronto. This is where we can win.

Will I be a great MPP?

What should an MPP know? During the lifetime I have spent in and around the riding, I have had amazing opportunities to learn how Ontario really works.

  • I am skilled at interpreting and using the law.
  • I have worked for all kinds of clients on all kinds of environmental problems and solutions.
  • I have helped charities and nonprofits tackle deeply rooted problems.
  • I have spoken with business, religious, and community organizations all across Ontario.
  • I thoroughly understand government, the Legislature, how laws are made and how they are enforced.
  • I have learned which government can do what.
  • I understand finance, tax and investments.
  • I learned about working conditions and labour relations from my husband, the late Stewart Saxe.
  • I understand business: I have advised 1000 different businesses, sat on corporate boards, run my own business and met a payroll.
  • I host a podcast on green business leaders.
  • I have studied virtually every environmental problem in Ontario at least once, and reported on many of them to the Ontario Legislature.

It helps that I grew up watching my father, Dr. Morton Shulman, be an outspoken and effective MPP. And there is always more to learn.

What should an MPP say? I speak truth to power. I have been punished for it, but it has not stopped me. I explain complex problems in memorable ways that people understand. And because of this, I have been privileged to earn peoples’ trust.

How should an MPP start? By listening.

Can we win?

Yes, we can win in University-Rosedale in 2022, if those who care work together and start now. After Mike Schreiner, I am the most winnable candidate that the Green Party has in Ontario. With my unparallelled training and experience, I am the best person to represent this riding, and to find a way forward in difficult times.

The Green Party knows that attacking nature makes us unsafe. There is much to be frightened and angry about in Ontario today; many of us struggle with climate despair. Voters can tell that something is wrong, that we are being lied to, that the Ford government is degrading Ontario in some of the same ways that Trump has done. When you think about what we are leaving our children, how do you feel?

Do you want to keep feeling like that? I don’t. How do we change it? Action feels better than anxiety, especially concrete action with friends. Let’s make the Green Party a warm, welcoming, invigorating place to turn anger and despair into energy.

Let’s start now. I am delighted to announce that, thanks to Lyndsey Lewis, my new website is up, votefordianne.ca. And that’s where you come in. We need your time, your talent, your network and your financial support. June 2022 isn’t very far away. To have a winning campaign, we will need hundreds of volunteers, thousands of new Green Party members and $100,000. I am asking each of you to do three things this month:

  • volunteer for something you’d like to do,
  • ask at least ten people to join the Green Party of Ontario, and
  • make a campaign donation of what you can afford, or ask others to do so.

It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be worth it.

Categories
Climate

Excellent Massey climate conference

What a great finale we had yesterday to Massey is #MissingCOP26. It’s been an exciting two weeks.

Massey is Missing COP26 climate conference

This fifth and last session of the Massey is Missing COP 26 climate conference, hosted by Rosemary McCarney and myself, focussed on the role of arts and culture in the #ClimateCrisis. Recordings of each session, except the Nov. 16 Enroads workshops, are available on the Massey College website https://www.masseycollege.ca/programs-and-events/programs/massey-missing-cop26/.. That means it’s not too late to hear a young climate striker interviewing Lloyd Axworthy and David Suzuki, or Kathleen Wynne telling us what really went on in the international climate negotiations in Paris, or which Canadian financial institutions are finally starting to switch to climate smart investments.

On November 19, we explored the rule of arts and culture in the climate transition, and in building public support for strong climate action. This is an important frontier for climate action. Art can touch the heart and energize the soul in ways that science, logic and law just can’t do. To grow a strong public movement for strong climate action, we need art and culture to lead the way.

In his excellent book The Art of Energy, Barry Lord showed that culture and values have always changed as an economy changes its source of energy, and that artists have been at the front line of the change. For most of the last century, we’ve had a society based on consuming oil, and status has come from conspicuous consumption. Now he predicts that, in a society based on renewable energy, status will come from what one protects. Artists are getting there first, and that’s why I’ve invited three artists here today.

Cultural institutions are a lot slower to change, so it’s exciting to see some stepping up. This fall, a group of museums adopted the Bremerhaven Declaration, calling on all world museums to make the climate crisis an important and highly visible part of their work. (https://saxefacts.com/cultural-institutions-and-climate-crisis/).  For some, that can be a tough financial challenge. Fossil fuel industries are still supporting cultural institutions to buy social license and access to decision-makers. Should we still allow that? The battle has begun to get oil money out of advertising and cultural events, with The Guardian newspaper one of the first to refuse it. It reminds me of the battle to get tobacco money out of advertising and cultural events. This was an important part of the cultural battle over smoking, but we lost some public events that tobacco money used to pay for. 

How  are Canadian artists and cultural institutions coming to grips with the climate crisis and its moral and cultural shifts? What role do they see themselves playing in building public support for climate action, including this critical year leading up to COP26?

These are the questions that I put to the Canadian Minister of Heritage Steven Guilbeault, Director of the Royal Ontario Museum Josh Basseches, poet Alice Major, and singer songwriters Ron Hawkins and Sarah Harmer.

The last half hour focussed on climate action, what you can do individually and to support collective change. We had great fun in the Dragon’s Den- type pitch competition. Competitors were:

  1. ShiftAction – Protecting your pension and the climate
  2. CleanAir Partnership – Home energy retrofits
  3. Guelph Tool Library – Sharing stuff, not buying 
  4. Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment – Active transportation for health
  5. David Suzuki Foundation – Think global, act on local government
  6. Nourish Healthcare – Plant-based diets

Congratulations to Peoples’ Choice Award winners @ActionShift and the @GToolLibrary!

Categories
Climate

Can smaller businesses become carbon neutral?

Yes, many smaller businesses can become carbon neutral, depending on their current carbon footprint and the infrastructure/technology alternatives available to them. Many more will be able to do so as better infrastructure and technology becomes available. (The individuals referred to are all interviewed on my podcast.)

The first step is almost always to become more efficient. For example, it’s amazing how many businesses are both heating and cooling the same space. Consider a commercial kitchen, which often becomes ferociously hot especially in the summer because conventional gas cooktops give off a lot of heat. Induction cooktops cook the food without cooking the cooks, and produce better indoor air quality which might support the health of the workers. In other spaces, old fashion lighting may give us a lot of heat, when LED lights can provide the same illumination without heat. On my podcast, Bruce Taylor’s interview describes other examples where he’s been able to save clients quite a bit of money by eliminating waste of energy, water and materials.  

The second step is to eliminate or destroy high global warming potential gases that are leaking into the atmosphere, such as refrigerants, anesthetics, methane. These gases can do an enormous amount of climate damage, and can be captured or destroyed comparatively inexpensively. In many cases, the captured gases have an economic value, e.g. anaesthetics can be cleaned and reused; methane can be burned for energy (see Audrey Mascarenhas interview).

Third, figure out the business’ remaining direct carbon footprint, and reduce as practical. In Ontario,  half of the average carbon footprint comes from just four things: driving, heating leaky buildings, flying (before Covid), and meat. Increasingly, there are good alternatives to each. Meat is the easiest part, because there are so many good meat substitutes available. Virtual technology makes it easier to dramatically reduce flying, though admittedly zoom is not the same as being there. For driving, electric vehicles increasingly have a lower total cost of ownership, especially for those who drive long distances, because of reduced maintenance, dramatic reduction in fuel cost, and the likelihood of increased durability because there are so few moving parts. EVs also tend to be more fun to drive. (And, as David Roberts explains, there are other business benefits from being a better neighbour; EVs are much quieter, don’t smell, therefore better neighbours than diesel buses, which is helping with their social license.) There are also lots of options for reducing fossil fuel use in buildings, including adding solar (Mike Andrade; Richard Sefton), and joining a district heating system where possible (see Catherine Thorn’s interview).

Fourth,  look for opportunities to sell low carbon services or products. Carbon Cure in Halifax sells technology that strengthens concrete by displacing some of the expensive cement with captured CO2. This saves their customers money and sequester carbon at the same time. Woodland Biofuels expects to sell the world’s cheapest liquid transportation fuel, by making it out of construction waste. Their plant isn’t even built yet and the entire product output is already sold. Brandon Moffat is  turning food waste into low-carbon fertilizer, electricity and natural gas.

Fifth step is to buy from greener suppliers. For example, Canada’s big banks are huge fossil fuel funders, but equivalent banking services are available from Desjardins Financial, which has made serious low-carbon commitments, and is steadily delivering them. Most smaller businesses can choose a lower-carbon financial institution. Similarly, there are lower carbon alternatives available for a huge range of goods and services that smaller businesses buy, from steel to cheese to trucking to electricity.

The sixth step, for those who want to be carbon neutral now, is to offset their residual emissions. This can be done by buying good quality carbon offsets from a certified source. (Please note that I can rarely support some of the cheaper offsets, such as treeplanting.) Some businesses can directly restore a damaged ecosystem. For example, Bryan Gilvesy made his cattle ranch more profitable and resilient by replanting native tall grass prairie, which his heifers happily eat in August when conventional pastures wither in the heat. It also allowed him to eliminate pesticides because the prairie attracts birds which eat the bugs, plus the deep roots of the prairie plants also sequester a lot of carbon.

The seventh and even more important step is for small businesses to speak up, individually and through their associations, to demand that governments take strong action to create the infrastructure and technology to support a low carbon transition.  The climate crisis is a collective problem and it cannot be solved by individual humans or by individual businesses. Individual action is an important place to start but a terrible place to stop.

Categories
Climate

Cultural institutions and climate crisis

What role can and should cultural institutions play in the climate crisis? There is a valuable new benchmark, the Bremerhaven Declaration on the role of museums in the face of climate change. Here is an easy and useful thing for you to do: write to a cultural institution that you belong to or support, and ask them to commit to this declaration:

https://www.klimahaus-bremerhaven.de/fileadmin/Veranstaltungen/Internationales_Symposium_2020/Bremerhaven_Declaration.pdf

It says:

Bremerhaven Declaration on the Role of Museums in Addressing the Climate Crisis

Society stands at a fork in the road, with one fork headed to a future of fear, want and inequality, in a climate-compromised world. The other fork leads to a future where people – as individuals, communities and together –thrive in a sustainable environment, with a stable climate. We must help society to create and follow the latterpath. The map of that path exists in the form of the Paris Agreement, but the path itself does not yet exist: we must create it together, and with greater speed and greater ambition, to minimize the scale and impacts ofclimate change.

Museums, science centres and exhibition centres (referred to as ‘museums’ hereafter) – large, small,wherever they are, and of whatever subject matter – can all play a distinctive role in achieving the aims ofthe Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement through the six elements of Actionfor Climate Empowerment: education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information and international co-operation, as well as by reducing their own carbon footprints.

We welcome the formal recognition of the key role that museums play in achieving the goals of the FrameworkConvention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, by the members of the United Nations at COP24(2018) and COP25 (2019).

We also acknowledge that the members of the world’s science museum and science centre networks, andof the International Council of Museums, have already resolved to take up the Sustainable Development Goals, as a blueprint to address climate change and other sustainability issues.

We recognize the widespread interest in and concern about climate change across society. We hear theincreasing calls for support and empowerment from communities everywhere, to enable people to knowwhat they can do, have the motivation to act, and the skills and opportunities to act to address climate change,in their own lives and with others. We acknowledge that, in 2019, museum professionals working with climatechange have informed the United Nations of ten key lessons learnt by museums during 2016-19:

  • The importance of acting now: there is no time to waste.
  • The importance of confident and competent staff.
  • The great importance of reliable, up-to-date information and science, including basicinformation on climate change.
  • The great importance of a focus on solutions, not problems.
  • The importance of making climate change and climate action personal and relevant, aswell as understanding the big picture.
  • The importance of acknowledging people’s emotions and feelings.
  • The importance of community, and empowering people to participate fully in society.
  • The importance of engaging everyone.
  • The importance of co-ordination and collaboration between museums and partners.
  • The need for support from governments, government agencies and funders.

Having explored these points in Klimahaus® Bremerhaven 8° Ost at the international symposium ‘How To…?From Climate Knowledge To Climate Action’ we wish to make the following recommendations to museumseverywhere.

The Sustainable Development Goals are an unprecedented opportunity, for institutions, communitiesand other stakeholders to identify the challenges most relevant to their context and that draw mosteffectively on their strengths to meet these challenges.

Science, art and the humanities are all crucial for understanding and addressing climate change. Scientists, curators, designers, artists, authors, philosophers, historians, geographers, communities andpeople as individuals, all have a role to play in this endeavour. Their voices must be heard, and they should beempowered to use them.

Climate change requires radical creativity and radical collaboration, everywhere.

Museums are stronger and more effective when they make a collective impact, working with one anotherand other sectors, and empowering communities and young people. Existing movements such as Fridays forFuture, and annual dates such as Earth Day or International Museum Day, are ready-made opportunities that can help museums to collaborate with one another, and with their communities, in a joint effort to amplifyvoices and climate action.

Museums only exist within the context of their communities. Forming strong connections with individuals, groups and all of society, and listening to and addressing people’s concerns, is crucial. Museums andcommunities can be equal partners in imagining and working towards shared goals, ambitions and visions,and help share and create rich, powerful stories. They should also lead by example, and embrace climateaction across their institutions.

Effective climate education has to provide all of the necessary knowledge, motivation and practical skills.Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) offers such an approach,

embracing the importance of a positive relationship as part of the natural world; respect for others, diversity anddifference; human rights; and citizenship. ESD recognises that learning is lifelong, and happens in manylocations, including museums. Making ESD a core approach in museums can help museums becomeeffective resources for lifelong learning, and to connect with people’s heads, hearts and hands, to addressclimate change in their own lives.

Museums can help people to imagine a better future, focussing on creative, imaginative, collaborative andhopeful – rather than fearful – experiences, to help address climate change. Climate education andempowerment can be made to be enoyable and fulfilling, turning concerns into meaningful, everyday action.

We need to create and support sustained dialogue, among museums, with policy workers, with othersectors, with communities and people as individuals . This involves careful listening, to understand andaddress the interests, concerns, needs and suggestions of people, and a commitment to climate actionevery day, everywhere. We need to share our experiences and ideas with one another, and develop ourclimate responses together.

The need for support from governments, government agencies and funders

Society must expect us to provide and support climate change education, awareness, participation, access toinformation and co-operation as a priority. While we acknowledge that museums can already offer a greatdeal to climate education and action, we also recognize that they must be empowered to play these roles insociety. Museums need support and guidance from policy makers, local and national governments, through effective climate change education policies, plans, financial and other resources. We would welcome mechanisms that can help us share and tell our collective story. We stand ready to play our part,and we ask our funders, stakeholders and potential partners to play theirs to help us to do so, as we commitourselves to addressing the defining challenge of our times, together.

The international symposium ‘How To…? From Climate Knowledge To Climate Action’ was held atKlimahaus® Bremerhaven 8° Ost on 24th and 25th September 2020.

Further reading and links:

Tokyo Protocol

ICOM Resolution on Sustainability and Agenda 2030, Transforming Our World

UNFCCC (2018). Decision 17/CMA.1, Report of COP24

Categories
Climate

Great conversations on climate podcast

I hope you have subscribed to my Green Economy Heroes podcast, also called my climate podcast. Every week, I interview a Canadian green economy business leader who is making a living building the green economy. I talk to people of all ages from right across Canada in many walks of life. It’s amazing and inspiring how many ways there are for business people to make a real difference in the climate crisis.

Please rate and review this climate podcast, and will you please tell your friends?

In October, I learned more about carbon capture and storage, including its controversial use to enhance oil recovery from ageing oil wells. Steve Oldham of Carbon Engineering makes a case for considering this Canadian innovation a blessing, not a curse. What do you think?

Categories
Climate Environment

Royal Ontario Museum getting energized about climate

This week, the Globe and Mail ran a fabulous two page spread about the growing engagement by the Royal Ontario Museum with the climate crisis. This new initiative has been triggered by the generosity of Allan Shiff, with whom I have had the pleasure of working for the last year. Now, finally, after much effort, the search for the new curator is underway.

Equally important, existing curatorial staff at the ROM are getting energized about using their collections to tell climate stories. The Globe article tells brief climate stories that feature 14 different artefacts from the full range of ROM collections, both human history and natural history: varve clay, red knot (bird), art made of trash, religious paintings.

Sascha Priewe, Associate Vice President of Strategic Initiatives & Partnerships, has been tasked with getting climate-related programming underway even before the new curator arrives. It’s not a moment too soon.

Categories
Climate

Royal Ontario Museum getting ready to hire its first Curator of ClimateChange.

Exciting news: #RoyalOntarioMuseum getting ready to hire its first Curator of #ClimateChange. Warmest congratulations and thanks to the visionary donor, Allan Shiff.

#climateaction #fossilfuels #greentransition

Categories
Climate

Irish supreme court orders climate action

Good news: Supreme Court of Ireland has ordered the Irish government to comply with Ireland’s #climatelaw. That means the government must, with full public consultation, adopt a specific, transparent plan showing what Ireland will actually do over the next three decades to get to net zero by 2050.

The government had pretended to comply with a vague plan for 2017-2022 that promised to study options while allowing emissions to rise.

Sound familiar?

This is the second national Supreme Court, after the Netherlands, to order governments to comply with climate laws, keep their word, and make (not duck) hard choices. Good news for climate litigators around the world, including the youth plaintiffs in Canada.

For more details: This article appeared first in Lawyer’s Daily.

Courts getting serious about climate

A decade ago, when the climate crisis was perceived to threaten only polar bears, future generations, and poor countries far away, judges refused to get involved. They saw climate action as a matter of public policy, the exclusive jurisdiction of elected governments. After all, the appropriate role of courts is to interpret and apply law, not to make policy or to allocate budgets.

Today, as the climate crisis grows in urgency and power, it increasingly affects the lives, health, wellbeing and prospects of people alive in wealthy countries. Many people understand that, for today’s children, the best case now is widespread death and suffering while the worst case is humanity on the brink of extinction during their lifetimes. Financial markets are becoming alarmed, with trillions of dollars already divested from fossil fuels. Meanwhile, many governments have made climate commitments that they only pretend to keep.

In this context, it is not surprising to see courts beginning to recognize climate risks as questions of law.

There are more than 1000 climate related lawsuits around the world. Some have successfully blocked construction of fossil fuel infrastructure. Others are directed at companies or investors who keep funding fossil fuels and hiding climate risks. For example, a trial will begin in November against the Australia Retail Employees Superannuation Trust, alleging that the pension fund breaks two laws by failing to disclose climate risks to its investments. Yet other lawsuits are underway by local governments seeking billions of dollars in damages from the Carbon Majors, the fossil fuel giants whose products cause much of the world’s climate damage.

All of these lawsuits matter. But the most important are those that seek to compel government action, because of the overwhelming importance of governments in directing our collective response to the climate crisis. On top of hundreds of cases in the US, climate cases against other governments include:

Two such cases are pending in Canada, both brought by young Canadians who have already suffered from climate damage and rightly fear much more ahead. In both cases, (La Rose v. Canada and Mathur v. Ontario) government lawyers are trying to throw the case out of court without a trial.

Will our courts give these young plaintiffs a fair trial? Or toss them out unheard?

Some judges, notably in the US, are still saying “not our problem”.  But courts around the world increasingly recognize that judges can and should decide some climate law cases without unfairly trampling on the proper role of governments. This includes decisions from the High Court in New Zealand, the High Court of Lahore, Pakistan, and the Supreme Court of Justice of Columbia. A Quebec Superior Court ruled that a youth class action, if properly defined, would be properly before the court to claim that Canada’s inaction on climate change breaches their Charter rights.

The tide turned in December 2019, with a powerful and enormously influential decision from the Dutch Supreme Court. In Urgenda et al. v The State of the Netherlands (Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment), the court ordered the Dutch government to protect its citizens by keeping its commitment to reduce GHG emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2020. The government admitted the commitment, but had ducked the politically difficult steps to achieve it. Only after the court decision did the government order 75% cuts to three new coal-fired plants, put limits on livestock, and provide incentives to homeowners.

Now the Irish Supreme Court has added another strong precedent. On July 31, 2020, it ordered the Irish government to comply with Ireland’s climate law. The law requires the government, with significant national consultation, to adopt a transparent, 30-year plan that “specif[ies]” how the Irish economy will become “low carbon, climate resilient, and environmentally sustainable” by 2050. The government had pretended to comply with a vague five-year plan to study options while allowing emissions to rise. The court quashed this as grossly inadequate. “[T]he Plan falls a long way short of the sort of specificity which the statute requires.”

Thus, courts have an essential and proper role when governments make climate commitments but only pretend to keep them. That is good news for climate litigators around the world, including the courageous youth plaintiffs in Canada.

Monday, August 3, 2020

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