Canadian Municipalities Increasingly Support Climate Change Litigation Against Oil And Gas Companies
Vancouver City Council recently passed a motion to fund a proposed class action against various oil and gas companies to recover costs associated with climate change.
This may signal that Canadian courts could soon be asked to rule in litigation by local governments over climate change-related costs.
The motion in Vancouver follows a growing international trend whereby local governments (particularly in the United States and Europe) are commencing litigation seeking to hold fossil fuel companies responsible for the costs associated with climate change.
A win in Baltimore
This issue went before the Supreme Court of the United States last year in BP PLC et al v Mayor and City Council of Baltimore. In a 7-1 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals did not fully analyze whether a climate change tort lawsuit seeking damages against several energy companies operating in the United States should be heard in federal court, instead of in state court. The decision was a welcome reprieve for energy companies facing potential litigation across a multitude of jurisdictions in the United States.
Early stages in Canada
Compared to the U.S., Canadian climate change litigation is still in its early stages.
The Vancouver City Council is the first Canadian municipal government to consider and pass a motion directing city staff to set aside up to $1 per Vancouver resident in the City's 2023 Operating Budget to fund a proposed class action lawsuit seeking to recover climate change-related costs. The motion endorses a campaign led by West Coast Environmental Law and the Georgia Strait Alliance that calls on local governments to fund class action litigation against oil and gas companies to recover the costs municipalities incur as a result of climate change. The campaign suggests these costs result primarily from burning fossil fuels and targets several large companies including British Petroleum, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Saudi Aramco, and Shell.
Other Canadian municipalities have also passed motions to explore options for recovering climate change-related costs from oil and gas companies. The Toronto City Council approved a motion for a report canvassing the city's climate change cost implications and legal avenues for pursuing compensation for those costs. Likewise, the Victoria City Council passed a motion urging the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) to consider initiating a class action lawsuit to recover the costs associated with climate change from oil and gas companies. However, the UBCM has since endorsed a resolution recognizing that litigation may hinder the transition to a net-zero economy.
The door remains open
To date, Canadian courts have not certified any class actions related to climate change.
The Supreme Court of Canada recently dismissed an application for leave to appeal the Quebec Court of Appeal's refusal to certify a climate-change related class proceeding. The Quebec Superior Court left the door open for future litigation, however, finding that the questions raised by the plaintiff, Environnement Jeunesse, were justiciable but that a class action was not the right vehicle.
Time will tell whether Canadian municipalities will advance climate change litigation against oil and gas companies and whether Canadian courts will certify climate change.
For more information please read our blog Canadian Municipalities Increasingly Support Climate Change Litigation Against Oil and Gas Companies