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BC Premier asked to streamline climate lawsuits against Big Oil

Monday, July 16, 2018

VANCOUVER, BC, Coast Salish Territories – More than 50 BC environmental, Indigenous, human rights and faith organizations sent a letter to Premier John Horgan today asking that the province enact a Liability for Climate-Related Harm Act, clarifying the legal responsibility of fossil fuel companies for the consequences of their products.

The legislation – modelled on BC laws that define the legal liability of tobacco companies for cigarette deaths – would confirm that Chevron, Shell and other global fossil fuel companies must pay their fair share of the costs BC communities are experiencing due to climate change.

“Wildfires, floods, mountain pine beetle, the costs of raising seawalls. Our communities are facing a rising tide of impacts and costs linked to global fossil fuel pollution, and this legislation will help us confront them,” said Andrew Gage, Staff Lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law and the author of the letter. “A Liability for Climate-related Harm Act will also be a powerful tool in fighting climate change, ensuring that the Chevrons and Exxons of the world have a financial incentive to stop working against a sustainable future.”

The demands that BC enact a Liability for Climate-related Harm Act are part of growing global movement demanding that fossil fuel companies pay for their share of the harm caused by their products:

  • In April, the Ontario Legislature debated an NDP-introduced Liability for Climate-related Harms Act.
  • Over the past year, 10 communities across BC, as well as the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities, representing 53 local governments and a population of over 800,000, have sent letters to 20 of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies demanding that they pay a fair share of climate costs.
  • New York City, King County (in Washington State), San Francisco and other communities in the U.S. (and Peru) are suing fossil fuel companies for climate-related costs; Rhode Island recently became the first U.S. state to file such a lawsuit.

“Our communities can no longer carry the burden of climate change alone. Despite being some of the lowest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, Indigenous peoples’ cultures, health and well-being are being forced to contend with the devastating impacts of climate change,” said Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, Secretary-Treasurer of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC). “Our communities, territorial lands and sacred areas are under constant threat by the environmental fallout of the mining and fossil fuel industries, deforestation, rising waters, environmental destruction and degradation, the extinction of vital flora and fauna and the extermination of our sacred medicines. Those that profit most from this destructive industry must be held responsible.”

“Across the province we're seeing the impacts of climate change in our local communities," said Matthew Carroll, Co-Executive Director of the West Kootenay EcoSociety, one of the organizations that signed the letter. “We had record-breaking wildfires last summer, and devastating flooding this spring in places like Grand Forks, and the costs are enormous. More and more communities and businesses are doing our part and working to transition off fossil fuels. It's only fair that the companies that have caused the problem, and made huge profits along the way, now pay their fair share of the costs.”

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Click here to view a copy of the letter sent to Premier Horgan and full list of signatories.

Click here to read Ontario’s Liability for Climate-related Harm Act (Bill 21).

Click here to read West Coast Environmental Law’s Taking Climate Justice into our own Hands report, which proposes language for liability legislation.

See below for additional quotes from signatories.

 

For more information, please contact:

Andrew Gage| Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law
250-412-9784 (office); 250-380-8207 (cell), agage@wcel.org

Anjali Appadurai| Climate Change Communications and Engagement Specialist, West Coast Environmental Law
604-328-6443, aappadurai@wcel.org

Kukpi7 Judy Wilson| Secretary-Treasurer, Union of BC Indian Chiefs
250 320 7738

Anna Barford| Community Organizer, Georgia Strait Alliance
anna@georgiastrait.org

Matthew Carroll| Executive Director, West Kootenay EcoSociety
250 354 1909 x203, matthew@ecosociety.ca

 

Additional quotes from signatories:

Local communities are sending letters to the carbon majors, in response to citizen concerns regarding the cost of climate adaptation. We are supporting this letter to bring the provincial government on board to support local communities in taking action, to use legislation to clarify the rules for the courts, and to help hold fossil fuel companies accountable for the damage their products have done.”

– Anna Barford, Community Organizer, Georgia Strait Alliance

“As citizens of a coastal community facing increasing climate change costs we believe it is good and prudent public policy to streamline the process for establishing legal liability for those costs.”

– Don Fodor, Climate Action Powell River

“A precedent for corporate accountability has been established with Big Tobacco in the U.S. and Canada being held accountable for the damage that their products caused. Much of the billions of dollars of court awards and settlements went to the people who were victims of tobacco. Big Oil is no less responsible.”

– Tony Brumell, Coalition to Protect East Kamloops, Kamloops

“Our communities are already being hammered by floods and fires while the handful of companies most responsible for the climate crisis enjoy massive profits. BC urgently needs a way to hold these pollution profiteers to account.”

– Peter McCartney, Climate Campaigner, Wilderness Committee

“British Columbia can and should be a global leader in holding big polluters accountable for their campaign to delay and weaken efforts to stop global warming. Just like tobacco companies, oil companies should have to pay their fair share of the costs of adapting to climate change because they hid what they knew about the harms caused by the product they sell.”

– Keith Stewart, Senior Energy Strategist, Greenpeace Canada

“For too long we have permitted fossil fuel companies to avoid accountability for the enormous human, environmental and economic costs of the climate change harm they are causing. This failure to hold fossil fuel companies liable sends a green light for them to continue destructive practices and shift the costs onto the backs of communities and tax-payers. We owe it to our communities and to future generations to take action. We call on the BC government to pass legislation which holds fossil fuel companies liable for climate change-related harm they cause.”

– Kathleen Ruff, Founder, RightOnCanada.ca

"For decades the fossil fuel industry has benefited from the Canadian public's financial largess and we believe that now it is time for the industry to pay back and help fix the climate related problems they helped to create."

– Des Nobels, Chair, Friends of Wild Salmon, North Coast

“The current market structure fails to adequately address the sources of carbon pollution. The impacts of climate change disproportionately affect the poor and the vulnerable. Our hope is that the Liability for Climate-related Harm Act will require polluters to pay a fair share of climate-related liabilities and incentivize the shift towards an economy powered by renewable energy that works for all.”

– Earthkeepers: Christians for Climate Justice

“The mounting costs of adapting to climate change are astronomical and should not be borne solely by Indigenous peoples, ordinary citizens and others who can least afford to pay. We support the enactment of new legislation holding fossil fuel companies liable for the damage they have caused, both to make possible recovery of the costs of adaption and also to incentivize more environmentally responsible practices.”

– Hannah Askew, Executive Director, Sierra Club of BC