British Columbia

What's the best way to fight climate change? Maybe not a lawsuit after all, says Victoria mayor

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is having “second thoughts” about whether a lawsuit against fossil fuel corporations is a good idea after the release of a government report on climate change this week.

‘Fighting lawsuits is probably not the best way to spend our time when we've got a planet to save’

Rather than a lawsuit against fossil fuel corporations, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps now wants to see more funding from provincial and federal governments to help cities turn to greener sources of energy. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is having "second thoughts" about whether a lawsuit against fossil fuel corporations is a good idea after the release of a government report on climate change this week. 

The potential legal action was raised in a motion passed by Victoria city council on Jan. 17. 

It argues that because climate change is costing cities money, it is "fiscally prudent" to ask fossil fuel companies to contribute to the cost of events like flooding and extreme weather events.

In the weeks since the motion was passed, Helps has been sending letters to other municipalities asking them to consider supporting a motion at the Union of B.C. Municipalities exploring a class action lawsuit.

But now she's not sure legal action is the best approach to reduce carbon emissions.

"Since we passed the original motion, I have had some second thoughts," she told Carolina De Ryk, the host of CBC's Daybreak North.

"I think there might be more prudent and more timely approaches."

Victoria was one of the first municipalities in British Columbia to pen a letter to oil and gas companies last year asking them to chip in, in proportion to their emissions, to cover growing climate-related municipal expenditures. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Helps says since a new report found that Canada is experiencing warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, she is focused on a faster fix.

A lawsuit could take decades to bring about change, she pointed out.

"Time is running out and fighting lawsuits is probably not the best way to spend our time, when we've got a planet to save," she said.

Reducing carbon pollution

Instead, Helps wants to see immediate action to reduce carbon pollution.

"Scientists have told us we need to reduce carbon pollution 45 percent by 2030 and be completely carbon-free as a global community by 2050," she said.

"If that's the case, we've got to really work on cutting, cutting carbon in every way we can."

She's calling on the provincial and federal governments to help foot the bill in transitioning municipalities towards cleaner energy.  

"Governments that are currently subsidizing fossil fuel industries — rather than subsidizing those industries, [we could ask them to] turn all of that funding to local governments to combat climate change," Helps said.

"That's a more prudent approach, given that the money is being spent by the provincial and federal governments anyways."

The new climate change report says the national annual average temperature increase is projected over the next decades ranges from a "low-emission scenario" of 1.8 C to a "high-emission scenario" of 6.3 C. (CBC News)

'Excellent' idea: city councillor

Trevor Bolin, a city councillor in Fort St John, is one of the people against the idea of the lawsuit.

He had previously put forward a motion, passed by council, saying that it's not the place of B.C. municipalities to threaten lawsuits against fossil fuel companies.

"These are companies that are heavily, heavily invested in both the nation, the province and our municipalities and they provide a ton of jobs," he said.

"Suing these oil and gas companies is not going to be a benefit … it's taxpayers funds that would be used and it's the wrong way to go."

He agreed switching away from fossil fuels is a much better plan than suing the industry and described the idea as "excellent."

Over the past month, municipalities in B.C. have been receiving a letter from Victoria mayor Lisa Helps asking them to consider joining a class action lawsuit against fossil fuel companies to recover the costs of climate change. But now she says she's reconsidering the action, because the need to act to reduce carbon is more urgent. 8:41

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story suggested the motion to consider a lawsuit was solely the decision of the mayor. In fact, the decision was made by the entire council.
    Apr 04, 2019 7:33 PM PT

With files from The Early Edition and Andrew Kurjata

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