Author: Stephen Quinn
Media Outlet: CBC News
Councillors in the District of Saanich voted unanimously this week to try holding some of the world's largest fossil fuel companies accountable for climate change in their region.
Council pledged to send a letter to 20 large companies involved in extracting fossil fuels, asking them to pay their share of the municipality's climate change costs.
The non-profit group West Coast Environmental Law is one of the organizers behind the initiative and it hopes more municipalities will follow Saanich's decision.
"Almost all of B.C.'s municipalities are already experiencing climate costs either directly, or because they're having to pay to upgrade their infrastructure to prepare for the expected impacts of climate change," said staff lawyer Andrew Gage.
"Until now the assumption has been the taxpayers will pay 100 per cent of the cost of preparing for climate change even though these companies have made hundreds of billions of profits producing the products that gave rise to climate change. That's just bad economics."
Gage says the letter is a way of demanding accountability — although he admits it is unlikely companies will voluntarily pay their share simply as a result of the letter.
"These letters are the first step in a conversation," he said.
And if the letter leads to nothing, he says, there are other municipalities — including San Mateo County in California — which have actually sued fossil fuel companies over rising sea level.
"The more people who are talking about the fact that it can't just be taxpayers paying for these impacts that are going to get ever-greater and ever-increasing, the companies ... will recognize they have to engage in that. There's a risk to them if they don't."
Saanich, a coastal community of 113,000 people on Vancouver Island, is particularly concerned that rising sea levels could lead to coastal erosion and flooding along its shoreline.
The District of Highlands, a community of 1,900 people also on Vancouver Island, sent a similar letter to fossil fuel companies in early July.