British Columbia

B.C. should copy Ontario's new climate-change liability bill, says environmental lawyer

A climate-change liability bill was introduced to the Ontario legislature this week and a Victoria-based environmental lawyer says British Columbia should follow suit.

Bill would allow people to sue fossil fuel companies for climate change damages

The bill is the first of its kind to hold fossil fuel corporations liable for climate damages.

A climate-change liability bill was introduced in the Ontario legislature this week and a Victoria-based environmental lawyer says British Columbia should follow suit.

The Liability for Climate-Related Harms Act of 2018 bill is the first of its kind to hold fossil fuel corporations liable, without proof of fault, for climate impacts and to also allow people to sue companies for climate damages.

Andrew Gage, a staff lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law, says it shouldn't be up to individuals alone to combat climate change — industries that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions should be held responsible.

"Up until now, we have been assuming that taxpayers are going to pay for everything," Gage said.

"We haven't really looked to the industry in the way that we have in the past with, for example, asbestos or lead paint … somehow we just don't expect cradle-to-grave responsibility for fossil fuels and the impacts of climate change "

The bill for climate-related damages is high and only going to increase over time, he told Stephen Quinn, host of The Early Edition.

For example, Gage said Metro Vancouver may have to spend $9.5 billion on flood protection by the year 2100 to deal with rising sea levels, according to a 2012 report by the engineering firm Delcan.

"That's not something our taxpayers can afford alone," Gage said. "We have to have a conversation about whether companies that knew their products were harmful and made billions of dollars of profits selling them anyhow should pay some of those costs."

Similar to tobacco legislation

Climate-change liability is a similar idea to legislation that is used to hold tobacco companies liable for the health costs of tobacco use, Gage explained.

"B.C. was the first province in Canada to pass legislation clarifying how the province could sue tobacco companies to recover the healthcare costs," Gage said. "Something similar could happen with climate change."

The bill is based on an assumption that climate change is caused by human action, through the emission of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

In recent weeks, there has been strong debate in B.C. about the environmental impact of major projects, such as the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline and developing the LNG industry.

Critics of the Kitimat LNG project argue that expanding B.C.'s natural gas industry means more pollution. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

Gage said he doesn't believe a change in legislation would drive away investment in energy projects in the province.

"The proposal is not to penalize B.C. industry or Ontario industry but to demand that [companies] take responsibility for global operations," he said.  

"In many ways, this actually creates less of a penalty for the Canadian fossil fuel industry than many other forms of greenhouse gas regulation."

With files from The Early Edition

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