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.

16 young people file landmark petition for climate action under the U.N. Rights of the Child

On September 23, climate activist Greta Thunberg made an emotional, unforgettable speech to the on the U.N. Climate Summit in New York City. The full Youtube video is here ;  her words are reproduced by The Guardian in an Opinion Piece titled “If world leaders choose to fail us, my generation will never forgive them”, and stating: “We are in the middle of a climate breakdown, and all they can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth.”  A summary from The Guardian is here .

petition-kids_michael-rubenstein-800New landmark climate litigation

Also on September 23, Greta Thunberg and fifteen other young people from around the world submitted a groundbreaking legal petition to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Respondent countries Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey are the largest polluters amongst the 45 countries in the world which have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and agreed to an additional protocol that allows children to petition the UN directly about treaty violations.

The young people contend that these five countries are violating their rights under the Convention by failing to curb emissions and promoting fossil fuels, despite have known about the risks of climate change for decades.  They are asking the U.N. Committee to make specific recommendations to the five nations about what they need to do to meet their treaty obligations, including changing laws to speed up the response to climate change and applying more diplomatic pressure on big polluters like the United States and China.

The complaint was prepared and filed on behalf of the youth petitioners by the international law firm Hausfeld LLP and the nonprofit environmental public interest law organization Earthjustice – whose press release is here . A dedicated website, Children vs Climate Crisis provides biographies and statements from each of the children, a copy of the 101-page Petition ,and a 338-page Appendix  with detailed statements of the impacts on the petitioners’ lives.

The Earthjustice website  is hosting a petition in support of the children’s case.

Unions, tech workers, and even some employers set to Climate Strike in September

Greta ThurnbergThe wave of support for the youth-led Global Climate Strike has become an ocean. The strike has focal points: on September 20 in the U.S. and most of the world, where iconic climate activist Greta Thunberg will participate outside the United Nations headquarters in New York; on September 27, Greta will participate the strike in Montreal . Indicative of the enthusiasm: the New York City School District announced  that its 1.1 million students will be free to leave school on September 20, with parental consent.   The Toronto District School Board also  posted a policy statement on September 16,  allowing students in Toronto with parental permission to be absent on September 27 without academic penalty. Schools and universities in Montreal (excluding McGill University) are also cancelling classes, as reported by CBC.

And as organizers emphasize, “everyone is welcome and everyone is needed”. Parents, teachers, and the general public are all invited to participate in one of the hundreds of strikes around the world.  For information and news about Canadian strikes, check  #Fridays for Future Canada  or #Climate Strike Canada Twitter feeds.

Climate Strike in Canada, September 27:

According to the on-going list being maintained by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy Canadian unions supporting the climate strike include Unifor, The Toronto Labour Council, and the British Columbia Teachers Federation.  Some others are listed below.

unifor-climate-strike sept2019Unifor approved a resolution supporting the Global Climate Week of Action at their constitutional convention in August, and according to TUED,  Unifor’s National President sent a letter to the union’s members on September 10, encouraging them to to “take part in these important events.” Their press release to members is here.

The Toronto Labour Council has posted a statement on the Climate Emergency on their website, calling on Labour Councils across Canada to be involved in local and national efforts on climate action,  including on September 27th. The statement carries on with the initiatives outlined in their 2016 action plan, Greenprint for Greater Toronto: Working Together for Climate Action .  The Toronto Labour Council is part of the S27 coalition of Toronto activists in support of the strike: their list of demands includes “no worker left behind.” The list of members is here .   

The B.C. Teachers Federation Resolution in support of the strike is here  , along with links to teaching resources related to the climate strike.  The Vancouver Secondary Teachers Association also supports the strike and has posted a detailed position to guide teachers on their responsibilities .

The Confederation Syndicats Nationaux in Quebec are planning to coordinate union support across the province, according to their Convention document from June 2019, La Planete s’invite au travail  (in French only).

The Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo has announced their support, and the University’s administration is expected to follow.

Climate Strikes in the United States and other countries: September 20

The Labor Network for Sustainability is working hard to support the Climate Strikes, including publishing a  Climate Strike Special Issue of their newsletter  on September 12.  LNS highlights climate strike initiatives by: Service Employees International Union; Amazon Employees for Climate Action ; American Federation of Teachers; Alameda Labor Council; Labor Rise; and international initiatives, including support from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Also included in the LNS Newsletter: links to resources, including social media tools, for anyone who wants to support the student climate strikers.

An on-going  list of international union  initatives  is maintained by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy.

The International Trade Union Confederation statement regarding the global week of climate action is here , and a video statement  by Sharan Barrow was released on September 11, calling the climate strike as a “gamechanger” and stating that “our 200 million members around the world are totally behind you” .

An  OpEd by Rosa Pavanelli,  General Secretary of the global federation, Public Services International  appeared in Common Dreams on September 12, titled “Unions: We must back the climate strike”, stating “Under sustained attacks from the right across the world, we were forced to fight to preserve our achievements rather than expand social justice, … The climate strike provides an opportunity to break out of our constraints, to reinvigorate our movement, to learn from young people on the front lines, and to redefine what is possible.”  Another Common Dreams article, “We Must Be Bolder Than Ever’: Labor Federation Representing 30 Million Workers Calls on All Unions to Join Global Climate Strike” describes the support from PSI and other unions.

 

The September/October issue of the Greener Jobs Alliance newsletter  reports on similar sentiments amongst unions in the United Kingdom. From the GJA: “Unions will be backing the Youth Climate Strike on 20 September. The plan, agreed at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) annual conference in Brighton (September 10th), is for ‘30-minute workday campaigns’ across the UK. As Jo Grady, University and College Union, told the conference, ‘The Youth Climate Strikes movement is one of the most impressive forms of mass action in recent years.’ The education union’s general secretary asked, ‘How will young people forgive us if we let them down, whilst they are building a movement at this pivotal moment for the world’s climate?’ Or, as Unite’s Steve Turner put it, ‘Unions will back the school strikes on September 20th. If we don’t, we will be seen as irrelevant.’  Support for the climate strike was part of the  composite motion,  Climate Crisis and a Just Transition .

In Australia, government employees of Victoria have been given formal permission to ask for leave or flexible hours on September 20 to attend the climate strike, and the Australian Education Union, representing teachers,  has endorsed the rally.

Technology workers take a stand with a Digital Strike:  

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice  have established themselves in the past with a shareholder’s resolution urging climate action and an Open Letter to their boss, Jeff Bezos. Now they are also supporting the September 20 climate strike: here is their press release  , here is an article in Wired   , and here is an interview by CNBC with one of the strikers.

Other tech workers are joining in support of the climate strike, including Google Workers for Climate Action , Facebook Employees for Climate Action , and Microsoft Workers for Action .

Not only the workers, but some tech companies are joining in, according to a report from Common Dreams  September 16). A planned “digital strike” is being organized  with many of the largest websites in the world participating, including  Imgur, Tumblr, and WordPress, as well as the websites of the Sunrise Movement, Greenpeace, Burton, and many others. An organizational website offers free coding so that these companies can use their social media platforms to spread the climate strike message by donating ad space, or putting climate change banners on their websites which, on September 20th, will expand to  fullscreen so that the website will effectively be “on strike”.