Vancouver city council passes motion to back climate lawsuit against big oil companies
The city would allocate up to $1 per resident to support the 'Sue Big Oil' campaign
Vancouver city council passed a motion Wednesday to allocate funds toward a potential climate lawsuit against major oil companies in Canada.
The motion brought forward by Coun. Adriane Carr was passed in a 6-5 vote and will set aside up to $1 per Vancouver resident — or up to approximately $700,000 — to support a class action lawsuit against fossil fuel companies.
"I think it's time to make sure all the burden of climate change doesn't land on local taxpayers and big oil pays their fair share," Vancouver Mayor Stewart Kennedy told CBC.
The campaign, launched in June by environmental groups West Coast Environmental Law and Georgia Strait Alliance, is called 'Sue Big Oil,' and its aim is to take big oil companies like Shell and Chevron to court for their role in climate change.
The groups are calling on B.C.'s local governments to help fund their class action lawsuit against global fossil fuel companies.
Andrew Gage, an environmental lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law, says they do not have a timeline for filing the lawsuit, and that pursuing it will depend on the kind of reception they receive from other municipalities.
If they pursue the lawsuit and win, the city would recover a share of the money, which will go toward efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change, like implementing sea-wall repairs or building infrastructure to protect people from extreme heat.
According to statistics from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), the oil and gas, and transportation sectors continue to be Canada's largest sources of carbon emissions. In 2019, the oil and gas sector produced 26 per cent of national emissions.
Gage says his firm is thrilled with the decision. He hopes it will encourage other municipalities to pursue similar lawsuits.
"I think we're going to see it more and more because communities, local governments are experiencing massive climate costs," he said.
"And if taxpayers have to pay all of those costs ... That's going to be a real problem."
Not everyone is on board
Coun. Lisa Dominato was one of five who voted against the motion.
She says that while climate change is an important issue the city should continue to act on, allocating resources to a lawsuit might be the "wrong tool in the toolbox."
"We have many, many pressing priorities locally … I would have preferred to have seen that $700,000 invested in things like EV infrastructure or the electric vehicle fleet for the city, retrofits of our own buildings," she told CBC.
"But instead that money is basically going to be held in trust and for an unknown date for an unknown class action lawsuit."
So happy Council passed my motion to support class action law suit against Big Oil (6:5 vote). Goal is getting polluters to pay for <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Climate?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Climate</a> damage costs to cities. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/vancouver?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#vancouver</a> now spending $50M/year to fix roads, infrastructure from extreme weather. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/vanpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#vanpoli</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ClimateEmergency?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ClimateEmergency</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/fb?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#fb</a> <a href="https://t.co/XvWPNv71kP">https://t.co/XvWPNv71kP</a>—@AdrianeCarr
Coun. Rebecca Bligh agrees that there are more tangible ways to spend money when it comes to climate change.
"We are suing big oil but then lining up at the gas station to fill up our city vehicles. It doesn't make sense," Bligh said.
Similar lawsuits have been successful
Gage says while this is the first time a city in Canada has committed to support a lawsuit like this, it's not the first of its kind worldwide.
An environmental advocacy group in the Netherlands filed a lawsuit against oil giant Shell for its role in the climate crisis in 2020 — and won.
The famous litigation that exposed tobacco companies for lying about their products being harmful was also successful.
The tobacco industry example was presented in the motion to Vancouver city council, pointing to how it helped mitigate the root problem, similarly to what could be done with fossil fuel companies in regards to climate change.
"As we've seen with cases with Big Pharma and the cigarette companies ... these are worth getting into and often it's up to cities to lead the way," said Kennedy.
- An earlier version of this story said the city would allocate $1 per resident to support the lawsuit. In fact, the motion would allocate up to $1 per resident.Jul 21, 2022 8:27 PM PT
With files from Baneet Braich, Raluca Tomulescu, Courtney Dickson and Kelly Crowe