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Bill Fossil Fuel Firms for Climate Costs, Consider Suing, Campaign Urges BC Cities

‘The impacts in a lot of communities are very real,’ says lawyer Andrew Gage.

By Andrew MacLeod 25 Jan 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

An environmental law group is launching a campaign to press municipal governments in British Columbia to force fossil fuel companies to help pay for the impacts of climate change.

“There’s a moral and legal obligation to pay for harm their product is causing,” said Andrew Gage, staff counsel with West Coast Environmental Law.

WCEL has organized more than 50 community groups from throughout B.C. to sign a letter about the Climate Law in Our Hands Initiative. The letter — which is available along with the list of signatories on the WCEL website — is being sent Wednesday to 190 municipal governments in the province, as well as regional districts and the Islands Trust.

“Climate change is already reshaping and impacting B.C. communities in profound and frightening ways,” the letter says. “As unchecked fossil fuel pollution continues to push global temperatures ever higher, we are frightened for our communities, for communities around the world, and for the world we leave our children.”

There is, however, hope, says the letter. “If the fossil fuel companies — whose products are the major drivers of climate change — had to pay even a fraction of the associated climate costs, they would not be able to out-compete renewables and would pivot towards sustainable alternatives without delay.”

Just three companies — Chevron, ExxonMobil and Saudi Aramco — are responsible for nearly 10 per cent of the human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, it says, referencing work by climate consultant Richard Heede. And about 90 entities, most of them fossil fuel companies, have caused two-thirds of the emissions.

“Like the tobacco industry before it, Big Oil relies on the perception that individual consumers are responsible for climate change while pocketing billions of dollars in profits from products that they know are disastrous for our atmosphere and communities around the world,” reads the letter.

Municipalities can take leadership on demanding accountability from the companies that produce fossil fuels, says the letter.

Gage said that B.C. communities face costs related to climate change, including from an increased likelihood of wildfires, drought and flooding. For example, a 2012 B.C. government report found Metro Vancouver should expect to spend $9.5 billion by the year 2100 to deal with rising sea levels.

“The impacts in a lot of communities are very real,” Gage said.

The letter asks municipal officials to write to fossil fuel companies asking them to take their fair share of responsibility for climate change. “This demand can take the form of a detailed invoice for climate costs or a letter simply enquiring as to the company’s position on paying a fair share,” it suggests.

It may, however, be necessary for local governments to use the courts to demand accountability, it says. “Bringing this case will make it clear that fossil fuel companies cannot avoid a legal conversation about accountability — and if we win, we will set a precedent that could change the world — putting us on a global path that will avoid more dangerous climate change.

“Whether we realize it or not, our communities are facing a tidal wave of costs, debt and disaster relief arising from the many effects of climate change,” it said. “It is time to ask whether we alone are going to bear those expenses, or whether the companies that have made billions of dollars creating this situation also bear some responsibility.”

Gage said, “This is the beginning of a broader conversation we want to see happen here and elsewhere over the coming years. It’s a conversation the fossil fuel industry doesn’t want to see happen.”  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics, Environment

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