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August 25, 2019 | Examining the Evidence

Stewart Muir is founder and executive director of the Resource Works Society, a Vancouver-based group open to participation by British Columbians from all walks of life who are concerned about their future economic opportunities. He is an author, journalist and historian with experience on three continents including a financial editor of The Vancouver Sun responsible for mining and markets coverage. Since Resource Works was established in 2014, the group has gained international recognition for its practical approach to the public challenges of responsible natural resource development and use.

Do climate lawsuits serve the interests of municipalities and local residents?

Since January, 2017 a campaign has been underway to hold fossil fuel companies financially ‘accountable’ for the effects of a changing climate on BC communities by taking several actions including writing demand letters to the top 20 fossil fuel companies and connecting with other cities to explore options for legal action against such companies.

Through our work, we at Resource Works have given a lot of thought to the idea of lawsuits and demand letters aimed at oil companies. Our climate litigation objective: persuade provincial governments to change the law to allow litigation against fossil fuel companies.

Problem is, there is no sign that this could actually happen. Climate litigation favors conflict over collaboration. Climate Litigation Strategy for Municipal Councils know that civic officials are continually seeking the best path forward in times of change. This policy brief sets out a few facts about the litigation campaign and proposes a path to address climate concerns while working collaboratively with those who are positioned to contribute to the solution.

The experience of other municipal governments in recent years tells us that an adversarial and legalistic approach will result in a poor outcome – not to mention significant taxpayer-funded legal costs and distraction from more effective solutions. Dividing residents on this issue is one approach, another is to unify residents of the city, the province, and the country around values they share.

Setting aside the adversarial campaigning and focusing civic efforts on finding ways to work together to address climate impacts seems the most reasonable and most productive way forward for communities in BC. Communities are already doing significant work towards ameliorating the impacts and effects of climate change and these efforts shouldn’t be undermined or minimized to promote more confrontational campaigns.

Local governments in B.C. have to bring climate change into their long-term planning, but suing fossil-fuel companies to recover costs would be a waste of time and money.

Read the report

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August 25th, 2019

Posted In: Resource Works

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