Dutch government announces measures to comply with Urgenda Supreme Court decision; Ontario government seeks to dismiss youth-led climate case

The Urgenda Climate Case against the Dutch Government was the first in the world to establish that a government has a legal duty to its citizens to prevent dangerous climate change.  The case began in 2013, with a District Court ruling in 2015 that the government must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020.  Following appeals by the government, in a December 2019 decision hailed as a landmark, the Dutch Supreme Court ordered the government to reduce emissions by 15 megatonnes in 2020. A timeline with links to all the decisions in the case is maintained by the Urgenda Foundation here .

Now finally, in April 2020, the Dutch government announced how it will comply, accepting 30 of the measures proposed  in Urgenda’s “54 Climate Solutions Plan”. Most importantly, the government ordered a 75% reduction in capacity at the country’s three coal-fired power stations; the full list of actions is summarized in “Climate action under duress: how Dutch were forced into emissions cuts” (The Guardian, May 4) , which also describes the long and contested route to this precedent-setting  achievement.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights noted in a press release after the Supreme Court decision in December 2019 :

“The recognition by the highest Dutch court that the Netherlands’ human rights obligations provide a legal basis to compel stronger and more rapid action by the Government is vitally important. This landmark ruling provides a clear path forward for concerned individuals in Europe – and around the world – to undertake climate litigation in order to protect human rights, and I pay tribute to the civil society groups which initiated this action. …. more ambitious climate action, in all parts of the world, is a human rights obligation rather than simply a policy choice.”

Ontario’s Youth-led climate case

The importance of the Urgenda decision may offer encouragement for the citizens around the world who are seeking to force governments to act on climate change.  In Ontario on April 15, Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General filed a motion asking the courts to dismiss a youth-led lawsuit, as described in  “Ford government files motion to strike down youth-led climate lawsuit” (April 16) . Seven young people are being represented in the case, Mathur et. al. v. Her Majesty in Right of Ontario .  According to the Case Backgrounder by Ecojustice, one of the representatives:  “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. “

Philippines Human Rights Commission delivers landmark decision, holding the Carbon Majors accountable for climate damages – Updated

The Human Rights Commission of the Philippines has concluded its three-year investigation of a complaint led by Greenpeace South-East Asia , and has found that the collective contribution to global heating by 47 coal, cement, and oil and gas companies has violated Filipinos’ basic human rights to life, water, food, sanitation, adequate housing and self-determination. Although the full decision is not yet available – but promised by the end of 2019 – the announcement made by one of the Commissioners at the COP25 meetings  stated that it would be up to individual countries to pass strong legislation and establish legal liability in their own courts, but that “there was clear scope under existing civil law in the Philippines to take action.”

The  Director of Greenpeace Philippines is quoted in the Greenpeace press release:

“The findings are a landmark victory for communities around the world who are at the frontlines of the climate emergency. This is the first ever finding of corporate responsibility for human rights harms resulting from the climate crisis. The outcome goes beyond the Philippines and can reach every single human being alive or yet to be born. However, this is only the beginning. We believe the findings provide very strong basis not just for future legal actions against big polluters, but also for citizens and communities to confront inaction by companies and governments in the streets and in the hallways of power.”

Greenpeace maintains an archive of documents related to this long-running investigation, including corporate responses and expert opinions.  Climate Liability News has published a number of articles, including “Carbon Majors Can Be Held Liable for Human Rights Violations, Philippines Commission Rules” and  “Philippines Climate Case Could Find Fossil Fuel Companies Violate Human Rights” ( 2017), which  provides more background to the case.

Update:  On December 18, The Tyee published “Oilsands Firms ‘Morally Responsible’ for Deaths and Destruction from Climate Disasters”, an interview by Geoff Demicki with Greenpeace’s Naderev Yeb Saño , which “explains what a Philippines human rights investigation means for the fossil fuel industry in Canada.”

Rights-in-a-Changing-ClimateRelated: An authoritative chronicling of  the human rights dimension in UNFCCC decisions and the Paris Agreement appears in  Rights in a Changing Climate by the Centre for International Environmental Law , published on December 5. It includes examples of Just Transition and decent work. The CIEL also operates a Working Group on Climate Rights, with a dedicated website here.

Updates on climate litigation:

“Fossil Fuels on Trial: Where the Major Climate Change Lawsuits Stand Today”  was published by Inside Climate News on November 29, providing a good sum-up of the year, but too early to reflect the landmark Philippines decision, nor the December 10 decision in the suit by the New York Attorney General against  Exxon.  The surprising victory for Exxon is described in  “Judge Clears Exxon in Investor Fraud Case Over Climate Risk Disclosure”  in Inside Climate News, as well as in a New York Times article.

Ontario updates: Advisory Panel on Climate Change appointed; Auditor General pans climate policies; Ontario youth launch new lawsuit

Post updated November 6:

In a November 28 press release,  Ontario’s  Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks announced the appointment of an Ontario Advisory Panel on Climate Change . The press release quotes the new Chair, Paul Kovacs who states: “The knowledge exists to prevent losses from flooding, wildfire and other climate extremes…. “Members of the advisory panel on climate change look forward to working with the Government of Ontario to champion climate resilience. Working together, we can break the alarming trend of rising severe weather damage to homes, businesses and public infrastructure. Action on climate resilience is a critical element of a comprehensive strategy on climate change.”

Members of the Advisory Panel come from a variety of sectors including non-profits, agriculture, insurance, and reflect the Panel’s focus on adaptation and conservation concerns. Neither green advocacy groups nor workers are represented. The brief bios of panelists are here :  Chair Paul Kovacs is founder and Executive Director of the  Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction at Western University; Vice-Chair Lynette Mader is the Manager of Provincial Operations for Ontario for Ducks Unlimited Canada and an expert on species-at-risk.  The other eight Panel members include Blair Feltmate , head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo and Chair of the Government of Canada Expert Panel on Climate Adaptation and Resilience Results.

ontario auditor general 2019The Advisory Panel was announced on the one-year anniversary of the Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan.   On December 4,  that policy initiative was reviewed when the provincial Auditor General tabled her annual report in the Legislature, including  Volume 2:  Reports on the Environment . In 183 pages and three chapters, the report provides an overview of  1. environmental issues in Ontario; 2. Operation of the Environmental Bill of Rights, and 3. Climate Change: Ontario’s plan to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions. The report details the government’s performance and finds that it has double-counted emissions reductions in some cases, over-estimated potential impacts of its own policies,  and is nowhere near able to meet its own 2030 emissions reductions targets.   The National Observer summarizes the report in “Ontario Auditor General slams Doug Ford’s climate policies”  and an analysis at the  TVO website tells a similar story in  “Ontario’s Auditor General gives the Tories’ climate plan a failing grade”.  This latest report follows on the previous  highly-critical report of the outgoing Environmental Commissioner,  A Healthy, Happy, Prosperous Ontario: Why we need more energy conservation  (March 2019), and  the Failure to Launch   report in October 2019 by Environmental Defence.

Youth launch lawsuit against Ontario government

All of these negative findings won’t help the government as they prepare to defend themselves against a new  climate change lawsuit by Ontario youth  who claim that the  Ford government’s softening of emissions reductions targets “will lead to widespread illness and death,” and thus has violated their charter rights under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Seven  applicants from communities across Ontario, ranging in age from 12 to 24, are represented by lawyers from Ecojustice and Stockwoods LLP .  Details are in the Ecojustice  Case Backgrounderan overview of the action appears in the National Observer in  “These Ontario kids are taking climate protest from streets to courthouse” (Nov. 26).

mathur v province of ontario

Canadian youth sue federal government seeking stronger climate action

Larose plaintiffs 2019Just days after the federal election, on October 25, fifteen Canadians aged 10 to 19 launched a lawsuit in federal court, seeking a court-ordered plan for climate change based on the best available science.  The plaintiffs, from seven Canadian provinces and the Northwest Territories, announced their suit in Vancouver at the Fridays for Future climate strike alongside Greta Thunberg and recounted their personal experiences, including asthma, Lyme disease, mental health challenges, and injuries from wildfire smoke.

The Statement of Claim   in La Rose v. Her Majesty the Queen alleges that by failing to  protect essential public trust resources like air and water,  the Canadian government has violated the children’s right to life, liberty and security of the person under Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also alleges that the government has violated Section 15 of the Charter, since youth are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change.   A press release from the David Suzuki Foundation includes quotes from some of the individuals involved; the case was widely reported in the following sources:  the CBC , The Energy Mix ,  the National Observer, Toronto Starand the Vancouver Star  .

This is the second climate change case brought by Canadian youth: in 2019,   ENvironnement JEUnesse brought  a class action suit on behalf of Quebecers under the age of 35, which argued that the Canadian government was violating the class members’ fundamental rights by failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to ensure a safe climate. In July 2019, the Quebec Superior Court dismissed the petitioners’ motion because it rejected the nature of the class , namely, the age limit of 35 years. The case is under appeal.

 

The children in La Rose v. Her Majesty the Queen  are represented by the B.C. law firms of Arvay Finlay LLP and Tollefson Law Corporation, and supported by the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation (CELL) , the David Suzuki Foundation, and Our Children’s Trust in the U.S., which pioneered the pending landmark youth case of Juliana vs. United States.  Our Children’s Trust compiles information on climate change lawsuits around the world including Australia, Belgium, Columbia, France, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, the Philippines, Uganda, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at New York’s Columbia Law School maintains a database of cases in the U.S., and a separate database from the rest of the world – approximately 1400 climate lawsuits against governments and fossil fuel corporations in more than 25 countries.

Climate change litigation in Canada: ENvironnement JEUnesse is under appeal

environnement jeunesse demonstrationA September blog published by legal firm Aird Berlis  summarizes the July 2019 decision of the Quebec Superior Court in Canada’s youth climate change litigation: ENvironnement JEUnesse v. Canada.  The environmental group  ENvironnement JEUnesse also summarizes the progress of the case, which sought to represent Quebecers under the age of 35 in a class action suit, arguing that the Canadian government was violating the class members’ fundamental rights by failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to ensure a safe climate. In July 2019, the Quebec Superior Court dismissed the petitioners’ motion because it rejected the nature of the class proposed by the petitioners, namely, the age limit of 35 years. Lawyers for ENvironnement JEUnesse filed an appeal of the decision in August and await a hearing. The French-language decision is here ; an unofficial English-language translation posted by Columbia Law School is here .  ENvironnement JEUnesse  sees itself as part of the global movement of climate litigation begun with the Urgenda decision in The Netherlands, and summarizes other cases around the world on its English-language website. The French-language website is much more informative – in addition to updates on the case, it posts news on the Quebec climate youth movement and its  annual conference.