A recent op-ed by fossil-fuel lobbyist Stewart Muir suggests that it is inappropriate for local governments to consider legal options to recover a portion of costs incurred in relation to climate change.
I respectfully disagree. In the context of the climate crisis, which the global scientific community tells us is threatening the capacity of humans and other species to survive and thrive on this small planet, I believe that local governments need to consider using every tool in their toolbox.
In the City of Victoria and the capital region, we are actively pursuing measures to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, including investing in clean-energy public transit and walking and cycling infrastructure, to curb the emissions from transportation that account for more than 50 per cent of community-based emissions in the region.
We are also implementing the B.C. Energy Step Code, to reduce emissions from buildings, while exploring options for incentive programs and regulations to encourage retrofits of existing buildings, including fuel-switching from fossil fuels to renewables and mandating higher standards of energy conservation. Emissions from buildings account for approximately 35 per cent of community-based emissions.
Solid waste is the third major source of community-based emissions, accounting for approximately 10 per cent. In the city and region, we are pursuing options for moving toward a model of zero waste and resource recovery, including the capture of methane from the Hartland landfill, reducing plastic waste and removing organic material from the waste stream.
These efforts can certainly go further, and with sufficient public pressure and political will, we can further reduce emissions in response to the climate crisis.
But there are additional tools available to local governments that need to be considered. One of these tools is the possibility of class-action litigation to recover a portion of costs incurred by local governments and local taxpayers in relation to climate change.
Higher seawalls, larger storm sewers and drought-resistant tree and plant species are just some of the major expenses that Victoria and other local governments are facing as a result of our changing climate.
Should local taxpayers be on the hook for 100 per cent of these costs? Or is it reasonable to consider recovering a portion of these costs from an industry that has known for decades that its activities were contributing to catastrophic global warming (while continuing to extract and sell fossil fuels, resulting in the evitable spilling of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere)?
I believe that litigation is one tool that needs to be considered as part of the local government response to the climate crises. Muir and the fossil-fuel patrons of Resource Works are welcome to disagree. That is democracy. And democratic action by all levels of government offers the only path out of this climate crisis, after decades of inaction by industry.
The legal opinion being prepared by local law firm Arvay Finlay, which includes some of the top litigators in Canada, will identify for Victoria and other local governments whether litigation is a tool that should be responsibly wielded. The opinion is being prepared at no cost to Victoria or any other local government.
In my opinion, it would be irresponsible to halt this examination and refuse to consider this information on potential class-action proceedings, in light of the substantial financial impact of climate change on local taxpayers — at the same time that we intensify our efforts to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions.
Ben Isitt is a Victoria city councillor and Capital Regional District director.