A 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.
On June 6, lawyers presented an application to the Superior Court of Quebec on behalf of ENvironnement JEUnesse . The application seeks authorization to bring a class action against the Canadian government on behalf of Quebeckers aged 35 and under, on the grounds that the government is infringing on their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms by inadequate action to prevent climate change . ENvironnement JEUnesse is asking the Court to order the government to implement a greenhouse gas reduction target and the measures necessary to respect the group members’ fundamental rights, and to pay an amount equivalent to $100 per member of the class action. The application suggests that the money, an estimated $340 million, could be invested measures to address the climate crisis. The Court is now considering the application, with no date given for an expected decision.
“The path to climate justice is intergenerational” is an Opinion piece co-authored by a member of ENvironnement JEUnesse, appearing in the Montreal Gazette. It puts the ENvironnement JEUnesse case in the context of the worldwide Fridays for Future movement, and the Intergenerational Climate Coalition in Canada. The ENvironnement JEUnesse website provides French and English documentation and a timeline, as well as a summary of related cases, such as the Urgenda case of the Netherlands and the Juliana case in the U.S. . The best summary appears in the National Observer. A Canadian Press article, “Young Quebecers present arguments seeking class action against Ottawa” appeared in the Montreal Gazette on June 6 and incorrectly states that this is the first such case in the world by young people – an error which coincides with the latest court appearance on June 4 by the most famous young people’s suit, the Juliana case.
Juliana vs. United States Government: In the case Juliana vs. United States, lawyers for children and young adults in the U.S. rely on the public trust doctrine, accusing the federal government of violating their constitutional rights by failing to take action on climate change and continuing to promote and subsidize fossil fuels. The case originated in 2015 against the Obama government, and continues under the more hostile Trump administration, which argues that court doesn’t have the authority to order the political branches of government to act. Juliana has been called “the trial of the century” and is expected to be precedent-setting – accordingly, it is moving glacially and judges are being cautious, with no date set for a decision. On June 4, one of the three judges, Judge Andrew Hurwitz stated, “You present compelling evidence that we have a real problem. You present compelling evidence that we have inaction by the other two branches of government. It may even rise to the level of criminal neglect. But the tough question for me is do we get to act because of that.”
Reports of the June 4 appearance are in the New York Times in “Judges give both sides a grilling in Youth Climate Case Against the Government” (June 4); “Ninth Circuit judges seem skeptical of role in kids climate suit vs U.S. government ” in Climate Liability News; and “Kids Face Rising Health Risks from Climate Change, Doctors Warn as Juliana Case Returns to Court” in Inside Climate News (June 4) . An historical summary appears in “Question of the century: do we have a right to a livable climate?” in Resilience.
On May 26, at the party conference of the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), Premier Francois Legault announced intentions to “electrify Quebec”, reduce oil consumption by 40 per cent by 2030, and reduce the province’s greenhouse gas emissions by 37.5 per cent by 2030. According to a report from iPolitics , Legault stated “The greatest contribution Quebec can make to save the planet is by helping our neighbours replace their coal-fired, gas fired generators with clean hydroelectricity,” and he is working to increase hydro-electric exports to New York State. Regarding electrification of transportation, he proposed to extend Montreal’s electrified light rail network already under construction to the off-island suburbs; to complete a proposed extension of the Montreal’s subway; new tramways for Montreal and Quebec City; a commuter train link in Gatineau; and greater use of electric buses. He noted that two Quebec companies, Bombardier and Alstom, have the capacity to supply the rolling stock for new rail cars and electric buses. He also announced that Quebec’s electric vehicle subsidies will continue, benefitting rural Quebecers without access to transit options. Although plans are far from specific, Legault promised to finance his green plans from the proceeds from Quebec’s Green Fund, with the revenues from its cap and trade auctions.
In response to the recent proposal for an “energy corridor” from Alberta’s new Premier Jason Kenney to bring western crude oil across Canada, Legault stated “There is no social acceptability for an oil pipeline in Quebec.”
Montreal announces 2030 targets to phase out oil heating in buildings: The city of Montreal is one of hundreds of Canadian municipalities which has declared a climate emergency – and has been under flood emergency warnings throughout May. On May 6, in a press release, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante announced that the city is developing a plan to reach carbon neutrality for all municipal buildings by 2030, for all new buildings by 2030, as well as for all existing buildings, by 2050, and have earmarked $4 million by 2021 for the effort. A CBC report states that environmentalists are disappointed at the slow pace and weak level of ambition , and one of the key city councillors resigned, calling for stronger “war measures” against climate change, including a tax on meat, no airport expansion, and planting a half-million trees. The tree-planting proposal seems particularly urgent, given the heat wave deaths in Montreal in 2018 – 42 officially attributed to heat by Quebec’s chief coroner, but with that number still under investigation, and the possibility of a public inquiry. “Life and Death under the Dome” (May 23) in the Toronto Star quotes Montreal Public Health official estimates of 66 heat-related deaths that summer. It also explains what the city’s public health officials have done to analyse the causes and patterns – identifying vulnerable populations and areas – and calling for a greening of the city on a massive scale, including trees, roofs and architecture .
Update: On May 22, the Government of Canada and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities announced an investment of $2,777,960 in four green infrastructure projects in the Greater Montreal Area, including Laval. Most of the investment will go to infrastructure and re-naturalization through tree planting, to mitigate the heat island effect and flooding in the city.
On April 17, young people and millennials launched a new national campaign to work for a Green New Deal for Canada, in a “massive economic and social mobilization”. The stated goal of the group, Our Time, is “to organize and mobilize a generational alliance of young and millennial voters that’s big enough and bold enough to push politicians to support a Green New Deal in the lead up to the 2019 election.”
Our Time is supported by 350.org and launches with “hub groups” already established in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax. (A brief article by the Halifax organizer is here ). It aims to form a national network from across different communities, causes, movements, and generations –it states clearly that older people are welcome in a supporting role.
“What do we mean when we say we want a “Green New Deal for Canada?” traces the growth of the priorities, from the Good Work Guarantee outlined in December 2018 to the policies under consideration as of March 2019. These include four pillars for a GND for Canada: “it meets the scale and urgency of the climate crisis; it creates millions of good jobs; it enshrines dignity, justice, and equity for all, ensuring climate solutions lift up all communities and reflect the reality that frontline, marginalized and Indigenous communities are bearing the brunt of fossil fuel and climate impacts; it works in service of real reconciliation — respecting the rights, title and sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples.”
The Our Time campaign has been described in “As Youth-Led Campaign Kicks Off, Poll Shows Majority of Canadians Want a Green New Deal, Too” in Common Dreams (citing a North99 poll on Canadian attitudes to Green New Deal in early April 2019, here ). Another recent poll, by Ipsos was reported in “Climate And Environment Emerge As Top Public Concerns Before Canadian, Australian Elections” in The Energy Mix (April 24) , and shows the timeliness of the Our Time focus on political action. Ipsos reports that Canadian concern about climate change at 48% is higher than the global average (37%), and Canadians ranked their top five policy issues as: health care, the economy, housing, taxes, and climate change (in that order).
Climate activism in Quebec: An update on activism in Quebec’s social contract for the climate comes in “Quebec’s ‘Climate Spring’ speaks to broad support for environmental action” published in iPolitics on April 17. “In the span of a few months, 317 Quebec municipalities, representing almost 74 per cent of the population of Quebec, have endorsed a Declaration of Climate Emergency; close to 268,000 individuals have signed a pact to individually and collectively minimize their footprint and pushing for the adoption of a climate law; and a class action on behalf of all Quebecers 35 and under has been filed against the federal government for inaction on the climate file. Thousands marched twice in the bitter cold of late 2018 to demand climate action.” And as the WCR reported, the greatest turnout in Canada’s Fridays for Future demonstrations on March 15 was in Montreal, with 150,000 marchers . The presence of the Extinction Rebellion in Quebec is reported by the Montreal Gazette in “The clock is ticking and environmentalists aren’t going to take it anymore” (April 22). Extinction Rebellion held its first meetings in Montreal in January, held workshops on civil disobedience and on the psychological toll of climate change, and demonstrated in Montreal on April 17. The article also profiles Sara Montpetit, a 17-year-old student who “has emerged as Montreal’s answer to Greta Thunberg” and has been leading weekly strikes as part of the Fridays for Future movement. Finally, the article highlights the French-language website Chantiers de la Duc which proposes 11 action plans, related to the Citizens’ Declaration of Climate Emergency.
Youth climate activism across Canada keeps growing: WCR covered Canadian youth climate activism for the March 15th global Fridays for Future strike here . Some more recent articles have appeared in advance of the Canada-wide Fridays for Future strike scheduled for May 3 :
“Meet the youth climate strikers leading Canada’s Fridays for Future movement” from Ecojustice (April 24)
“Student organizers report back on March 15 climate strike” in Rabble.ca (March 21)
“2019 is the year young people rise for climate justice” in Medium (April 9) – which describes the Powershift: Young and Rising event in Ottawa in February 2019.
“Young people banding together to demand more action on climate change” in the Halifax Chronicle Herald (April 22) – which includes the Halifax activities of the global youth climate group iMatter.
Two new articles describe the first examples of climate change litigation in Canada. In “Climate change litigation arrives in Canada”, lawyers from Osler’s, a Toronto-based law firm, summarize two example of climate change litigation to arise in Canada: the claim by Quebec youth against the government of Canada, and the January 16 decision by the council of Victoria, B.C. to endorse a class action lawsuit against fossil fuel companies. The second article appeared in Climate Liability News , and provides more detail about the municipal movement for climate accountability.
As the WCR blog reported when the case was launched in November 2018, the first Canadian lawsuit was filed by ENVironnement JEUnesse (ENJEU) in the Quebec Superior Court on behalf of people under the age of 35 and resident in Quebec. They are claiming that the federal government has infringed on the rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Québec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by failing to take adequate action to prevent climate change. The ENJEU website places their action in the context of the global litigation movement begun by the Urgenda case in the Netherlands, and the Juliana case in the U.S., and like them, faces a long road of legal procedures.
Victoria endorses a class action lawsuit for climate change damages: The more recent example of Canadian climate litigation comes from Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, which on January 17 endorsed a class action lawsuit against oil and gas producers for climate-related harms. This is described briefly in the Osler article (Feb. 5), in “Next Climate Liability Suits vs. Big Oil Could Come from Western Canada” in Climate Liability News on January 22, and in greater detail in a Globe and Mail article (Jan. 17). Also in January, Vancouver city council voted to declare a climate emergency , and according to the Globe and Mail article, is considering whether to join with Victoria in the class action lawsuit. Also in January, the city of Halifax in Nova Scotia became the third major city to declare a climate emergency – with city staff tasked with figuring out how the city can set up a climate change directorate, with a goal of net zero carbon before 2050.
As both the Osler and the Climate Liability articles state, Vancouver and Victoria have been encouraged by the Climate Law in Our Hands campaign organized by West Coast Environmental Law – a campaign which began in 2017, and has enlisted 16 municipalities to send “Climate Accountability Letters” to the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, asking that these companies pay a fair share of local costs related to climate change adaptation. In September 2018, the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (of which Victoria is a member) sent a climate accountability letter on behalf of its 53 local government members.
Perhaps other Canadian municipalities should consider such actions. “Evaluating the quality of municipal climate change plans in Canada”, first published online in November 2018 in Climatic Change, catalogues and evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of climate change plans in eight dimensions, in sixty-three Canadian municipalities. The conclusions: Canadian municipal climate change plans currently prioritize mitigation over adaptation; implementation, monitoring, and evaluation are relatively weak aspects ; and municipalities have given insufficient consideration to the element of stakeholder engagement in the climate change plan-making process. Highest ranked cities were in Ontario: Kingston, followed by the Waterloo Region, and Hamilton. New Westminster, British Columbia was identified as most needing improvement.