Young Ontarians launch lawsuit against province after Ford government scales back emissions targets

Ontario cancelled cap-and-trade program, challenging carbon tax imposed by Ottawa

Shaelyn Wabegijig, right, is among the seven young people who are applicants in the lawsuit. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A group of young Ontarians is suing the province over what they say is climate change inaction, arguing that the Ford government has violated their charter rights by softening emissions reduction targets.

The group claims that recent policy changes “will lead to widespread illness and death,” an alleged violation of Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which promises protection for life, liberty and security of the person.

They are calling on the Ontario government to commit to more ambitious emission reductions with the aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 C, a key target set out in the United Nations’ Paris Agreement on climate change.

“Doug Ford is not doing enough to protect our future and it’s just unacceptable,” said Sophia Mathur, a 12-year-old from Sudbury and one of seven applicants taking part.

The claims in the lawsuit have not been proven in court.

“I just want to live a normal life in the future; I shouldn’t have to be doing this, but adults aren’t doing a good job,” she told CBC News.

“I’m afraid that so many species that I love will go extinct,” added Zoe Keary-Matzner, 13, from Toronto. “And that children in the future won’t be able to enjoy nature the same way I do.”

The applicants, ranging from age 12 to 24, are represented by Stockwoods LLP and Ecojustice, a group that specializes in public interest lawsuits in the name of environmental protection.

Their challenge is part of a growing trend in which young people across the globe are suing governments over perceived inaction on climate change.

Sophia Mathur, left, and Zoe Keary-Matzner are among seven young Ontarians who say the Ford government’s climate strategy is jeopardizing their future. (CBC)

Earlier this year, more than a dozen young Canadians launched a similar lawsuit against the federal government. Similar legal challenges have gone to courts in the U.S. and the Netherlands, with varying degrees of success.

This is the first lawsuit filed against a Canadian province over climate inaction.

“Any government that is failing to address the climate emergency in a meaningful way can expect to face litigation of this nature,” said Alan Andrews, climate director at Ecojustice.

Former Environment Minister Rod Phillips oversaw the cancellation of Ontario’s cap-and-trade program and the introduction of lower emissions targets. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

PCs roll back greenhouse gas targets

The group is focusing its lawsuit on the Ford government’s decision to scale back emission targets set by the Liberals in 2015.

The previous plan called for a 37-per-cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The reduction target climbed to 80 per cent by 2050.

Under the Progressive Conservatives, Ontario now plans to reduce emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. There is no longer a 2050 target.

The PCs have also repealed a cap-and-trade agreement that gave companies incentives to reduce carbon emissions. They are also in the process of challenging a carbon tax imposed by Ottawa to take its place.

Rod Phillips, who served as Ontario’s environment minister when the changes were made, said the previous targets and restrictions were ineffective and “killing jobs” in the province.

The Ford government says it plans to leverage Ontario’s private sector to develop green technology, and that its new “made in Ontario” climate strategy will keep the province on track to meet Paris Agreement warming targets

A precedent for success?

The young people behind the lawsuit say the new approach ignores the increasing urgency of climate change.

“People are very focused on other things; on making money, focusing on the economy, that they don’t think about their connection to mother earth,” said applicant Shaelyn Wabegijig, 22.

Wabegijig, 22, says she’s concerned about the preservation of clean air and water if she has children in the future. (CBC)

Wabegijig, who grew up at Rama First Nation near Orillia, said she’s concerned about having children if the effects of climate change continue to worsen.

While the result of the challenge is not yet decided, Ecojustice recently scored a mild victory against the province over the cancellation of the cap-and-trade program.

In a split decision, a three judge panel determined the Ford government broke the law by scrapping the program without public consultations, although the ruling does not compel the province to revive the program.

Mathur said Ford would be wise to take their challenge seriously.

“I hope he’s scared,” she said. SOURCE


Earth set to warm 3.2 C by 2100 unless efforts to cut emissions are tripled, new UN report finds

One expert calls findings of 3.2 C warming ‘terrifying’

Australia has faced devastating — many say unprecedented — wildfires across New South Wales this month. There is concern that climate change has exacerbated wildfires in the country. (Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Without drastic action, our planet is headed toward warming of 3.2 C in less than 100 years, according to a new report.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released its annual Emissions Gap Report on Tuesday — 168 pages, compiled by 57 leading scientists from 33 institutions across 25 countries — calling on governments to act immediately, within the next decade, to limit global warming to 1.5 C or 2 C by 2100.

“By now, we know all we need to know. The science is pretty clear, and very frightening,” said Anne Olhoff, head of strategy, climate and planning and policy for the UNEP DTU (Technical University of Denmark) Partnership. “But we also know we have the technological options that are needed, at least to the short to medium term.”

The report assesses scientific studies on both current greenhouse gas emissions and estimated future emissions, comparing them with possible reduction targets to avoid warming the world more than 1.5 to 2 C.

Some key highlights from the report include:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) have increased 1.5 per cent annually over the past decade.
  • By 2030, annual emissions need to be 15 gigatonnes of CO2 lower to reach the 2 C goal, and 32 gigatonnes lower for 1.5 C.
  • GHG emissions have to drop by 2.7 per cent per year from 2020 to 2030 for the 2 C goal, and by 7.6 per cent per year for the 1.5 C target.
  • To reach these goals, efforts must increase at least fivefold for the 1.5 C goal and threefold for the 2 C.

Of the G20 nations, of which Canada is one, only five countries have committed to Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) set out in the Paris Agreement, which outline each country’s efforts to reduce national emissions to limit global warming to 2 C below pre-industrial levels.

Canada has not committed to a target that is in line with this scenario.

“It has to be not just verbal but some kind of written commitment,” Olhoff said. “It doesn’t have to be passed by law, but it could be a bill under development; it could be more formalized than mentioning it in public.”

That’s what I worry about the most, the conflict and the misery that’s going to happen around the world…. That’s what keeps me up at night.”​​​​​– Jennifer Francis, senior scientist, Woods Hole Research Center

While, during the election campaign Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government would commit to legislate net-zero emissions by 2050 — even stating that Canada would be below the country’s 2030 emissions goal — the current trajectory points to a different story.

In fact, the report notes, with current policies in place, Canada will be at least 15 per cent above target.

It does note, however, that Canada is committed to phasing out coal and implemented a carbon tax in its efforts to reduce emissions. It also notes that Canada’s 2030 emissions are forecast to be 592 megatonnes, which is 223 megatonnes lower than was projected before its rollout of the Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Growth and Climate Change. But it still misses the target of 511 megatonnes.

Dire consequences

Gabriel Filippelli, a professor at the Purdue School of Science in Indianapolis, Ind., who was a senior science adviser for the U.S. State Department from 2013 to 2014, said that the difference between 2 C and 3.2 C warming may seem minor, but that’s anything but the case.

UN’s executive director of environment program points to way forward amid grim statistics 0:36

“It seems mathematically like we’re playing around with numbers, but they are profound numbers,” Filippelli said.

And he doesn’t take those numbers lightly. He knows each fraction of a degree the planet warms means dire consequences, particularly in countries most vulnerable.

“It’s frankly terrifying to me largely because, once again, it’ll be a case where those countries that are the least responsible for the root cause of this … who will be first impacted, and in a major way.”

His concerns are well-founded.

In October 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report, Global Warming of 1.5 C, which looked at the difference between a world that had warmed by 2 C and one that warmed by 1.5 C.

The findings were dramatic.

Coral reefs were project to decline by 70 to 90 per cent at 1.5 C. There was a high risk of irreversible losses at 2 C of warming.

This image from the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence illustrates the coral bleaching of 2017 near Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. It was the second year in a row that the reef experienced a major bleaching event. (ARC Centre of Excellence Coral Reef Studies/Greg Torda)

Millions of people could face poverty, flooding and drought if the planet warmed by 2 C.

But the IPCC didn’t look at a world that warmed beyond than that.

Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Mass., an independent research organization that studies climate change, said that a 3.2 C warming world would cause untold suffering.

“Looking at migration, [a 3.2 C increase] would make what we’re seeing coming out Latin America now into Mexico and into the U.S. look like nothing,” Francis said. “There’s just going to be people suffering in places where it will become literally uninhabitable, where they won’t be able to grow food anymore, where their animals won’t be able to live anymore.

“That’s what I worry about the most, the conflict and the misery that’s going to happen around the world,” she said. “That’s what keeps me up at night.”

Central American migrants, part of the caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, move on a road in Tapachula, Mexico, in March. Climate change is expected to displace millions more people as some areas become uninhabitable. (Isabel Mateos/The Associated Press)

What’s more, she says, it’s important for people to realize the end of the century isn’t really that far away. It is just one lifetime: a mere 80 years from now.

And the consequences from a warming world aren’t relegated to the next century: today’s generations are already feeling the effects.

“It’s here,” Francis said. “It’s not the future.”

The good news

As is typical with any UN climate change report, there is a positive take.

Countries committed to the Paris Agreement and NDCs are set to meet in Madrid on Dec. 2 for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25), and to meet in Glasgow in November 2020 to examine NDC efforts.

But the new report says, countries can’t wait that long. Action needs to be taken immediately.

“We’re seriously behind on this,” Filippelli said. “It’s all doable but … every month that we don’t have aggressive action, we fall, frankly, four months behind.”

The good news, the authors say, is that technology already exists that could help change our trajectory from 3.2 C.

Renewables and energy efficiency is one of the key measures to effectively reduce emissions, and the electrification of heat and energy and even transportation could make major headway.

With that, however, comes a hefty price tag: roughly $1.6 to $3.8 trillion annually over the next decade.

But it will be worth the cost, Olhoff said.

“This is definitely not a world we want to pass on to our children and grandchildren,” she said. “It’s not a world we want.” SOURCE

It Bears Repeating: Renewables Alone Won’t End the Climate Crisis

‘We have to look at downsizing, degrowth, using less.’

We’ve got a ways to go if we choose to reduce emissions by simply replacing fossil fuels with wind turbines. What also matters: using less energy. Photo via Shutterstock.

In a recent column about the dismal Canadian election, I wrote that most Canadians and their lacklustre political parties have no real appreciation of the physical and moral challenges posed by the disruptive force of climate change.

Although the media still portrays climate change as some vague threat to “the environment,” it is really a self-made blitzkrieg that is already destabilizing a highly energy-intensive and complex human civilization.

Greta Thunberg has spoken prophetically: our civilized house is on fire.

But our collective politicians, blinded by ideology and technological illusions, refuse to panic, let alone call the community fire department.

They behave as though they can just build another house somewhere else on Mars, and then watch the conflagration on Netflix.

In that previous analysis, I quoted a Colorado professor, Roger Pielke Jr., who recently noted in Forbes that if we really wanted to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050, and we solely choose wind power as the solution, we’d need to build and deploy 1,500 wind turbines on about 300 square miles every day for the next 30 years.

We can’t do that, of course, because of physics and economics. Pielke was simply illustrating the scale of the challenge if we thought that renewables could do all the work for us.

But a great many readers questioned Pielke’s math; others questioned his motivation. Others questioned my sanity in quoting such a fellow.

Having written about energy for 30 years (and my best scribbling on the matter remains The Energy of Slaves), I thought Pielke’s numbers, which can vary with wind power due to location and size of blades, were largely accurate and conveyed the enormity of the task at hand, especially if we think our energy crisis is just a substitution problem.

Pielke’s numbers are also a reminder that as of 2018, solar power provided only 2.2 per cent of global energy and wind just 4.8 per cent.

In other words, we have a long way to go if we choose to reduce emissions by simply replacing fossil fuels with wind turbines. As the ecologist Bill Rees noted in his recent Tyee analysis, “the green energy transition is not really happening.”

I asked David Hughes, one of Canada’s most esteemed energy analysts, to comment on Pielke’s math, and here’s what he said.

Pielke, he said, ignored some data on existing renewables such as hydro dams but basically his math “is close to correct.” Hughes added that it’s physically impossible to replace all primary fossil fuel energy on a business-as-usual scale with renewables.

To Hughes, the implications are clear: “What this means is that we have to look at downsizing, degrowth, using less. The math doesn’t work to keep the party going with renewables.” Ecologist Rees delivered the same message a week ago in The Tyee.

Note that Hughes is not saying we shouldn’t build lots of renewables. What he is saying is that we need to radically reduce energy consumption and use renewables to actually retire fossil fuel infrastructure. (To date, the evidence shows that we have largely used renewables to consume more energy.)



B.C. subsidies to fossil fuel industry more than $830 million last year

LNG Canada, set to become one of the largest greenhouse gas emitting projects in the nation, is a notable beneficiary of the province’s vast array of tax breaks, credits and giveaways that a new report by the International Institute of Sustainable Development says is undermining climate action

Fracking B.C.
Fracked gas development in northeast B.C. near Farmington. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

The B.C. government is undermining its own climate action plan by granting hundreds of millions of dollars a year in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, according to a report released Monday that singles out the LNG Canada project as a notable recipient of the largesse.

The report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development documents a wide array of subsidies that contribute to increased fossil fuel production and use in B.C. ­ — subsidies that in the fiscal year 2017-18 totalled more than $830 million, write authors Vanessa Corkal and Philip Gass.

These subsidies include at least $268 million in provincial tax exemptions for that one year period, according to the report, Locked In and Losing Out: British Columbia’s Fossil Fuel Subsidies, which notes calculations are conservative because not all data related to provincial spending on fossil fuel subsidies is publicly disclosed.

Fossil fuel producers also claim millions of dollars in credits each year to reduce their royalty payments, and B.C. has accumulated up to $3.1 billion in outstanding credits, the report says.

Corkal called B.C.’s fossil fuel subsidies the “elephant in the room” as the provincial government touts its climate action plan, CleanBC.

“There is no getting around it: these subsidies promote the production and consumption of fuels that cause climate change,” Corkal said in a statement that accompanied the release of the 35-page report.

“They encourage increases in the same pollution that other policies aim to reduce.” MORE


‘No excitement at all’ as oilpatch interest wanes for drilling rights auctions

Sales of Crown drilling rights have fallen off dramatically in Western Canada this year.

In Alberta, twice monthly auctions are on track for a record low with two sales left to go in 2019. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press)

A key indicator of future oil and gas drilling activity in Western Canada is sliding lower as the industry deals with a lack of pipeline capacity, Alberta oil production curtailments and difficulty accessing capital markets.

Sales of Crown drilling rights — needed to allow energy exploration on land where mineral rights are held by the province — have fallen off dramatically in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan this year.

“When drilling rights are going well, it tends to mean somebody has found either a good reservoir or a good way to produce a known reservoir and so you get a lot of excitement,” said Richard Masson, an executive fellow with the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary.

“This says to me, there’s no excitement at all right now. People are doing little bits of infill land buying but there’s nothing that looks like a very prospective play that would excite the industry and excite new capital to come in.”

In Alberta, which produces about 80 per cent of Canada’s oil and about 70 per cent of its natural gas, twice monthly auctions are on track for a record low with two sales left to go in 2019. Through 11 months, the province has raised $100 million by selling rights on 616,000 hectares.

The current low mark was set in 2016, when $137 million was paid for the rights to drill on 937,000 hectares, the lowest since the auction system was adopted in 1977.

The high was in 2011, when a bidding frenzy for lands for the Duvernay underground oil-bearing formation resulted in $3.5 billion spent to buy rights on 4.1 million hectares.

…Industry insiders say the declines are mainly due to the lack of new pipeline capacity to allow more oil and gas production, and the resulting loss of confidence by investors that has starved the sector of debt and equity funding. Production limits in Alberta imposed by the government to better align supply with pipeline capacity are another overhang on activity. MORE

Nova Scotia imagines a clean energy future

A wind turbine is framed by a sun dog, an atmospheric phenomenon, on Dalhousie Mountain, N.S. on Friday, April 23, 2010. File photo by The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan

It argues “an effective emergency response to reducing carbon emissions” needs to occur in an era when leading climate scientists have warned carbon use must be limited to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5 C.

The modelling exercise imagines an electricity grid supplied 90 per cent by renewable energy, and eight out of 10 buildings given major retrofits to reduce energy consumption.

The 61-page report, prepared by consultant Ralph Torrie, sees over 40 per cent of power generation coming from wind and roughly the same amount coming from hydroelectricity by 2030.

The report suggests a second transmission line should be built to New Brunswick, which would allow Nova Scotia to import hydroelectricity from Quebec. SOURCE


Ottawa formally criticizes Indigenous-children compensation ruling

Justice Minister David Lametti is sworn in at Rideau Hall on Nov. 20, 2019. Photo by Kamara Morozuk

The Trudeau government argued Monday that a Human Rights Tribunal decision ordering Canada to compensate First Nations children for racial discrimination was improper, and said it wanted to move ahead with settling a related class-action lawsuit.

Justice Minister David Lametti and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller issued a joint statement on the matter Monday morning, saying they were seeking a “comprehensive settlement on compensation,” the same day the government argued in Federal Court that the order by the Human Rights Tribunal should be put on hold.

This latest approach by the government was almost immediately criticized as a needless delay tactic by Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, which filed the human rights claim alongside the Assembly of First Nations.

“It’s again the same old story where they say, ‘We’ll talk about things.’ There’s no commitment that changes children’s lives in what the ministers have offered today,” said Blackstock.

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, in 2017. File photo by Alex Tétreault

Scope of proposed class action lawsuit debated

In September, the tribunal found that Ottawa had been “willful and reckless” with First Nations children who suffered racial discrimination since 2006, including being unnecessarily separated from their families.

It ordered the government to pay at least $40,000 each to affected individuals and at least $20,000 to some parents or grandparents. With approximately 50,000 affected people, the government has calculated that this might add up to $8 billion.

The government said the scope of a proposed class-action lawsuit it highlighted on Monday, called Xavier Moushoom and Jeremy Meawasige v. The Attorney General of Canada, goes back to 1991, and so will capture more years of abuse than that of the tribunal ruling which goes to 2006.

But Blackstock countered that the class action only dealt with First Nations children, and not their families. “It doesn’t deal with the pain and suffering that their families went through when those children were wrongfully separated from them,” she said.

The BC Assembly of First Nations also said Monday evening that the federal government’s claim that the tribunal ruling was too narrow amounted to a stalling tactic.

“The federal government is using every tool available to them to avoid or delay carrying out the ruling made by the tribunal instead of meeting their obligations to compensate these victims of their negligence,” said Regional Chief Terry Teegee.

Government says ruling does not address issues

Following his government’s re-election this fall, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he had “heard the critiques” that Ottawa needed to be doing more on Reconciliation, and he agreed.

“I am impatient as well about closing the gaps,” he told National Observer during a press briefing. He reiterated that “no relationship is more important to me than the one with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.”

Last month, when the government filed for a judicial review of the tribunal’s decision, it said that while it agreed with the compensation, the distribution scheme was also important to get right.

Miller, a Quebec MP who was shuffled into the role of Indigenous services minister last week, made that point again on CTV News on Monday.

“The issue here isn’t whether the victims of discrimination, Indigenous victims, younger children and families are not due compensation. It’s a question of form and manner,” he said.

Miller and Lametti wrote in their joint statement that the tribunal ruling “does not properly address all issues around appropriate compensation.” For instance, they said, “it only includes individuals impacted from 2006 onwards, while the proposed Moushoom class action goes back to 1991.”

The class action model, on the other hand, allows individuals “the chance to have their interests represented, to address the interests of all impacted individuals and to allow parties to arrive at an appropriate resolution of past harms,” the ministers wrote.

In court on Monday, government lawyer Robert Frater expanded on that idea, saying the issue at hand was about “systemic” discrimination, while the tribunal’s ruling did not recognize any “individual experience.”

‘Nothing stopping Canada’ from paying twice

Blackstock told reporters the fact that compensation might not all be uniform shouldn’t stop money from going out the door. “The answer is not taking away the money from the children who have suffered, it’s adding more money into the pile for those who have suffered more,” she said.

She also challenged the government’s argument that the tribunal decision didn’t go back far enough.

“There’s nothing stopping Canada from paying out the compensation the tribunal ordered, and then also providing additional compensation to children going back to 1991,” said Blackstock.

“They don’t need to say, ‘We’re going to pay these kids nothing, until we get some kind of settlement … for the rest of the kids.’”

NDP MP Charlie Angus said the Trudeau government needed to stop spending taxpayer dollars fighting the issue in court.

“It’s pretty rich for the government to say, ‘Hey, we really want to work with First Nations kids whose lives have been destroyed through chronic, systemic, reckless underfunding — so we’re here in court to fight a ruling that’s defending these kids,’” he said.

The court will continue with the issue on Tuesday. SOURCE