Listen to my interview with experienced municipal public servant Ilmar Simanovskis, P.Eng, MBA, on how the public sector works.
As he describes the episode:
Dianne Saxe is an environmental lawyer who has an extensive career in advocating for environment, climate and sustainability in our society both locally and globally. In her private practice and as the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Dianne has come to understand much of the issues threatening our planet. Her message is clear and her concerns real as the effects of climate change become more and more visible around us. But she also has hope and optimism in a brighter future if we all appreciate the impact our activities have on our environment and take personal responsibility for our daily actions. She is optimistic that together we will make a difference…in her view we have to.
The Law Society of Ontario, which regulates Ontario lawyers, has finally announced my Law Society Medal. The prize was originally to have been awarded in May. Thank you to all my colleagues for recognizing my work as an outstanding Canadian environmental lawyer.
Their website says:
“Called to the Bar in 1976, Dianne Saxe is being recognized for her exemplary dedication and leadership to the development of environmental law in Ontario. As a pioneer in this area of law, she is one of Canada’s most respected environmental lawyers with more than 40 years’ experience in writing, interpreting and litigating Ontario’s energy, environment and climate laws.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.