Canadian, Ontario governments launch youth consultations on climate issues

It’s almost as if Canadian governments have noticed the international Fridays for Future movement, or the Sunrise Movement in the U.S.! On July 21, both the federal and Ontario government announced the formation of youth councils, to engage with young people on climate issues. The federal Environment and Climate Change Youth Council  was announced in this press release, inviting Canadians between the ages of 18 to 25 to apply by August 18, to participate in consultations regarding climate change, biodiversity loss, and how to better protect the natural environment. “In particular, inaugural members will engage on Canada’s top priorities, including achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and zero plastic waste by 2030.” Applicants must be sponsored/nominated by an NGO or charitable organization which relates to the mandate of Environment and Climate Change Canada. Ten people will be chosen to serve a two-year term on a voluntary basis and meet every four months.  The Youth Council website, with application information, is here.  

In Ontario, high school youth are invited to apply by August 4th to be members of a Youth Environment Council, which will meet monthly from September to April 2021 to hear from expert guest speakers, discuss a range of environmental and climate change issues and provide input to ministry officials, including the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.  Details and an application form are here.

Note to governments: the next Global Fridays for Future Climate Strike will be held on September 24, 2021, under the banner #UprootTheSystem. Demands are explained here.

Teaching climate change in Canada

Education International, which represents 32.5 million educators in 178 countries, launched a “Teach for the Planet” campaign in April 2021, with a Manifesto for Quality Climate Change Education for All .  The Canadian Teachers Federation has endorsed the campaign, raising the profile of climate change amongst Canadian educators.  Earlier, in January 2020, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) held its first Climate Action Summit in response to youth global climate strikes, which resulted in the launch of  OISE’s Sustainability and Climate Action Plan  in February 2021.  Although much of that Plan relates to the operation or governance of OISE as a teaching faculty within the University of Toronto, it also sets out goals and strategies to conduct an inventory of sustainability and environmental content in courses, expand sustainability and environmental content in curriculum, encourage research by faculty, and “consider sustainability expertise as an asset in the hiring of new staff and faculty.”

 “Are Canadian schools raising climate-literate citizens?” (Corporate Knights magazine, Summer 2021), states that at best, K–12 sustainability and climate change content in schools is “uneven,”, and provides an overview of grassroots initiatives amongst educators aiming to improve that situation. Ellen Field, an assistant professor in Lakehead University, is quoted:  “We have a responsibility, especially for those who are educators, to be honest with young people about the reality of the urgency we are facing”. Field  authored an important survey: Canada, Climate Change and Education: Opportunities for Public and Formal Education (2019),  which among many findings, reports that teachers identified the three main barriers to more climate education:  lack of time to include during class; lack of classroom resources; lack of professional knowledge.

Other examples of grassroots activism regarding climate education: Learning for a Sustainable Future (LSF), housed at York University in Toronto is a national non-profit that promotes environmental awareness and social responsibility for students and teachers,  and hosts Resources for Rethinking, an online collection of  lesson plans, books, videos related to environmental, social and economic issues.  (The B.C. Teachers Federation also offers a collection of lesson plans ).

Climate Education Reform BC is  a student-led coalition which published an Open Letter to the provincial education minister in April 2021, recommending 6 points, including revisions to climate change for K-12  curriculum, and support for teacher training.  

The Alberta Council for Environmental Education (ACEE) has operated since 2005, and recently adopted the  K-12 Environmental Education Guidelines for Excellence, published by the North American Association for Environmental Education. ACEE also maintains an online resource centre of teaching materials related to climate change, including professional development materials such as the quarterly Green Teacher magazine .

Historic court decision in Mathur v. Ontario government – Youth Charter challenge for stronger GHG emissions reductions can proceed

Although the Supreme Court decision about Canada’s carbon pricing system on March 25 was undoubtedly historic, it overshadowed the news of another historic legal decision on that date, when an Ontario Divisional Court dismissed the provincial government’s second attempt to stop the youth-led challenge to its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.  In “Youth climate case forges ahead after court affirms historic decision”,  EcoJustice describes that the case of  Mathur et. al. v. Her Majesty in Right of Ontario,  which has now become the constitutional challenge to climate change that has advanced the furthest in Canada.    

Some background: The case of Mathur et. al. v. Her Majesty in Right of Ontario was first brought by seven youth in November 2019, following the Conservative government’s passage of the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act. The plaintiffs, represented by Ecojustice and Stockwoods LLP, claimed that Ontario’s GHG emissions reduction target is insufficiently ambitious, and that the province’s failure to set a more stringent target infringes the constitutional rights of youth and future generations, under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In November 2020, the Superior Court of Ontario upheld the claims, in the decision which the provincial government sought to overturn. As of March 25, the case can now proceed to a full hearing, though no date has been set.  

Climate Change and the Right to a Healthy Environment in the Canadian Constitution is a legal article which appeared in the Alberta Law Review in 2020. The authors describe and contrast the legal approaches used in the Mathur case and in the LaRose case, which was dismissed by Canada’s Supreme Court in October 2020. Ecojustice has posted frequently on the case, and Alberta’s Environmental Law Centre also featured the Mathur case in a detailed blog in November 2020.

The first and most high-profile youth climate case in the world, is Juliana v. U.S. Government . A timeline is here, reflecting the progress from the initial filing in 2015 till March 9 2021, when Our Children’s Trust filed a motion to amend the complaint and adjust the remedy sought, after repeated roadblocks in the case.

Canada’s youth return to the streets to support global climate protests on March 19

Fridays for Future, the youth-led climate movement inspired by Greta Thunberg, has survived and adapted to Covid with creative online activism.  On March 19, 2021, with the theme ” #NoMoreEmptyPromises”, some youth returned to the streets in modest, socially-distanced demonstrations – 48 strikes across Canada, according to the official FFF statistics. Media coverage included: The National Observer, “Youth activists shut down Bay Street, demanding climate promises be kept” (March 19) , which summarizes actions in Toronto, focused on banking;  “Youth Climate Activists Aim to Rally Support for Indigenous Land Defenders” in The Tyee described the Sustainabiliteens protest in Vancouver, focused on the Trans Mountain Pipeline; and “Fridays for Future Sudbury to take part in Global Climate Strike” in the Sudbury Star.  

Follow Canada’s FFF movement on Twitter here, on Facebook here . A Fridays for Future Newsletter  (subscribe here ) is a new addition to the ongoing global social media presence.

“#Fridaysforfuture: When youth push the environmental movement towards climate justice” appeared in The Conversation Canada in September 2019, describing Canada’s movement before Covid hit. Since then, some notable articles have appeared, including:

The Future Is in Our Hands— Not Theirs” on pages 22-23 in the CCPA Monitor, (February 2020), describing the youth-led Our Time movement.

The Starfish list of the Top 25 Environmentalists under 25, which profiles young climate leaders across Canada. The youth-led Starfish organization also publishes its own online journal, which provides an insight into the issues which are top of mind for youth.

The National Observer maintains a series titled Youth Climate Voices.  It includes a profile of the Indigenous-led project Let’s Sprout in “How to grow a young climate leader  (March 8). “A simple life will make you happy, says young Albertan who traded oil for solar” (March 1) profiles the career transition of a 31-year old former oil and gas worker, and highlights his solar training at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton.

 The IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development) maintains a research theme called Youth voices, which published “What the Next Generation Needs From a Green Recovery”  (Feb. 25),  an interview with Aliénor Rougeot , leader of Fridays for Future Toronto.  She states that “youth would like to be a part of a constant feedback process—instead of us needing to give unsolicited feedback in the streets.”  Her thoughts on Canada’s current climate change policies: “….I’m a little bit afraid of the government seeing youth councils as junior partner councils. They shouldn’t treat it as a separate consultation, but more as “these are the main people we need to get to.” ……. “If you do want a Youth Advisory Board or something similar, simplify the process by making sure to give us a time commitment that is clear …. Try to compensate when you can—it makes a big difference for students or people that do a lot of this work unpaid.”

Another IISD interview appears in “Solving the Injustices Caused by Climate Change” (Feb. 25), in which Jhannel C. Tomlinson focuses on the concerns of rural Jamaicans, particularly women. Ms. Tomlinson is an active participant in at least four youth-led activist groups in Jamaica while she pursues her PhD. 

And a report commissioned by the Alberta Council for Environmental Education was released by Climate Outreach in February, reporting on the climate literacy and attitudes of 170 Alberta students in grades 4 – 12 (ages approx. 8 to 16).  The report, titled Youth Narrative and Voice offers 10 principles and suggested climate narratives to address the eco-anxiety of students which was identified in workshops across the province. The recommendations have been forwarded to the provincial Minister of Education, in the hopes they will be considered in the curriculum review  currently underway.

Climate Youth in the Courts: Victory in Ontario, dismissal in Canadian court, and an appeal to the Supreme Court of Norway

The Environmental Law Centre of Alberta has been monitoring climate litigation cases worldwide, but events have overtaken their latest summary blog Climate Litigation in Canada and Beyond –Where Are We in 2020?  (Nov. 9) , which discusses the dismissal of the LaRose case in the Federal Court of Canada (more on that below). On November 12, Justice Carole Brown of the Superior Court of Ontario issued a landmark decision , allowing the case of Mathur et al.  to proceed to trial under Canada’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.  The case is thoroughly described in a Backgrounder from the Ecojustice, who represent the seven youth. Their claim is that their rights were violated when the Ontario government under Doug Ford  passed the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act in 2018, weakening GHG emissions reduction targets for the province. According to Ecojustice, “The lawsuit aims to strike down Ontario’s current 2030 target as unconstitutional and enshrine the right to a safe, healthy climate as part of the right to life, liberty and security of the person in Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This would require the Government of Ontario to set a new target in line with the scientific consensus, and revise its policies accordingly.”  The decision to allow the case to proceed is a first for Canada.

Federal Court of Canada dismisses an earlier youth-led case, LaRose vs. Her Majesty the Queen

On October 27, Justice Michael D. Manson of the Federal Court of Canada dismissed the case of LaRose vs. Her Majesty the Queen, and in the words of law professor Jason MacLean, slammed the door on big, “holy grail” climate cases in Canada. The LaRose case was filed in 2019 by 15 youth who used the Public Trust doctrine under section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to argue that the federal government is violating their rights to life, liberty and security of the person, and failing to protect essential public trust resources. Further, they call on section 15 of the Charter regarding equality, alleging that  youth are disproportionately affected by the effects of the climate emergency.  Although Justice Manson agreed that “the negative impact of climate change to the Plaintiffs and all Canadians is significant, both now and looking forward into the future,” he declined to allow the case to proceed because the questions raised “are so political that the Courts are incapable or unsuited to deal with them.” Lawyers for the case will appeal.  The legal organizations supporting the LaRose case reacted to the decision: the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation (CELL) here , and U.S.-based Our Children’s Trust here . Our Children’s Trust also maintains a timeline and compilation of documents here.

The LaRose case was summarized in “Kids facing effects of climate change are taking their governments to court” in The Conversation (Nov. 2019), with an explanation of the public trust doctrine.  After the decision, a brief summary appeared in  “Federal judge tosses youth climate case against Ottawa” (National Observer, Oct. 27). In  “Why the youth climate court case failed and what’s next for Canadian climate policy” (The Conversation, Nov. 3) Jason MacLean, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of New Brunswick, summarizes the case and concludes that the federal court’s decision “slams the door”, but also looks for broader hope in the prospects for more specific, smaller climate cases – referring to “The Unsexy Future of Climate Litigation” (Journal of Environmental Law, 2018) for his framework, and citing the current example of the Grassy Mountain coal mine project in Alberta as an example of such a specific case.

Previous attempts by Canadian youth to fight for climate rights in courts include ENvironnement JEUnesse, which is currently under appeal after being denied the right to proceed by the Quebec Superior Court in 2019 .

Rebellion is a new documentary episode by The Nature of Things, a flagship production of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It profiles some of the youth involved in the Canadian court fights.

Youth in Norway take their climate case to the Supreme Court

In a case known as People vs. Arctic Oil , Young Friends of the Earth Norway (also known as Nature and Youth) have challenged their government’s 2016 decision to license oil drilling in the Barents Sea of the Arctic. Their challenge, now before the Supreme Court of Norway in November, is being described by Greenpeace Norway (a co-plaintiff),  as internationally precedent-setting, potentially as important as the Urgenda decision in the Netherlands. The New York Times reported on November 5  that it is  being called “the case of the century” in the Norwegian press. The court case finished in mid-November, with a decision expected in early 2021.

The Sabin Center Climate Case Litigation Database offers an archive of all official documents in the Norwegian case, and  Greenpeace Norway provides a chronology and a layman’s summary of the case decisions in English.  The Greenpeace website also provides the new information that the government’s decision to issue oil licenses was based on incorrect economic analysis and that  “Ministry of Petroleum and Energy has been sitting on updated calculations they did not present to the Parliament, which shows that the profitability of the oil fields is questionable.”