Municipalities asked to explore climate lawsuit targeting fossil-fuel corporations

B.C. local governments should explore launching a class-action lawsuit against major fossil fuel companies to recover costs arising from climate change, a Victoria councillor says.

Councillors this week supported a call from Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt for city staff to start tracking costs and expenditures incurred by the city in relation to climate change and report them annually in the Climate Leadership Plan.

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They also supported forwarding a resolution to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities and the Union of B.C. Municipalities calling on the UBCM to explore initiating a lawsuit on behalf of local governments and encouraging the province to support local governments in recovering climate change costs from major fossil-fuel corporations.

The motion arose from a response from Shell Canada president Michael Crothers to Mayor Lisa Helps’s call to local oil and gas companies for help in covering the growing bills associated with climate change.

According to a report commissioned by the Capital Regional District in 2015, storm surges combined with a one-metre rise in sea level — which is projected by the year 2100 — could result in business disruption losses of $415,557 per day.

Victoria was one of the first municipalities in B.C. to write to major oil and gas companies seeking compensation.

Crothers said Shell “has long recognized the climate challenge and the essential role of energy in sustaining and driving the world’s economy, raising living standards and improving lives.”

“Although Shell is still primarily an oil and gas company, and we expect global demand for oil and gas to continue to grow, we have invested billions of dollars in a range of low-carbon technologies, including carbon capture and storage, biofuels, hydrogen, solar and wind power,” Crothers wrote.

He said the company established its New Energies business in 2016 to focus its efforts and explore opportunities and plans to increase its investment to $1 billon to $2 billion a year to 2020.

Only Coun. Geoff Young voted against Isitt’s proposal for the lawsuit. Councillors Jeremy Loveday and Sharmarke Dubow (Together Victoria) were absent.

“As long as we require these hydrocarbons, I think the idea that we would be penalizing those producing them is not a reasonable one,” Young said.

“My wider concern is this kind of action really detracts from the significant actions that we should be taking, which is, essentially, ensuring a proper level of the carbon tax and … ensuring proper charges are made for road use.”

Coun. Laurel Collins, who ran as a member of the Together Victoria slate, said she “vehemently” disagreed that the city shouldn’t be looking at producers, noting that approach is used in recycling.

“We need to also be looking at producer responsibility when it comes to fossil fuels,” she said.

“It should in no way detract from the multi-pronged approach we need to take when it comes to addressing climate leadership.”

Helps said she wouldn’t be comfortable supporting the motion if the city didn’t have a “very strong climate leadership plan that takes us to getting off fossil fuels by 2050 at the very latest.

“I also don’t think that that’s soon enough,” she said.

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