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Climate litigation

What does it mean for Chevron when glaciers have the right to sue?

3 May, 2017

Last month, several major natural features were recognized – by governments and courts – as legal persons. First, the New Zealand government enacted a new law declaring the Whanganui River a legal person. A couple of days later, the Uttarakhand High Court, in India, granted personhood to the Ganges and Yamuna rivers. And shortly thereafter the same Indian Court made a further order granting personhood to all of the rivers, glaciers, forests and other natural features of the Himalayas.  

We’ve written about the possibility of lawsuits by climate impacted communities against fossil fuel companies for their contribution to climate change, but this raises the fascinating possibility that India’s glaciers – or the Whanganui River or other natural features – could be the plaintiff in a climate lawsuit.


The Gangotri Glacier in India, which was recently granted legal personhood. (Photo: Prashant Menon)

TransCanada’s NAFTA claims are based on the old normal

28 January, 2016

Earlier this month TransCanada announced that it would be claiming compensation under the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. This is a significant moment in our collective transition from the world as it has been, to the world as it needs to be. Your view of the legitimacy of TransCanada’s demands depend on whether you view fossil fuel use as normal and inevitable or if you recognize the billions of dollars of harm, and loss of life, that Keystone XL pipeline would have caused.

Earlier this month TransCanada announced that it would be claiming compensation under the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. This is a significant moment in our collective transition from the world as it has been, to the world as it needs to be.

Did Canada show up at the Paris climate talks with its pants on?

11 December, 2015

As a lawyer I’m supposed to be able to give a pundit’s opinion on just how well Canada is doing, and whether we are working towards a strong and fair international agreement.  But the reality is that it’s surprisingly difficult to tell, even here in Paris. That’s partly because I’m still learning, partly because key discussions about what countries are offering and giving up are occurring behind the scenes, but mostly because everything is intertwined and constantly in motion.

In general, Canada is doing well in some very important areas. However, it is difficult to give an unqualified endorsement.  The new government seems not to have grappled with some more challenging questions of fairness and Canada’s contribution to climate change. As such is aligning itself with unhelpful and aggressive positions – especially in its efforts to limit discussions about how to help the world’s most vulnerable communities.

During the recent Canadian election a spokesperson for the Conservative Party said that if Justin Trudeau arrived at a key debate with his pants on he would have exceeded expectations. In fact, Mr. Trudeau not only found his pants, but impressed a great many Canadians and was elected Prime Minister on October 19th.

Dutch climate court win – What does it mean for Canada?

26 June, 2015

Earlier this week (June 24th) a Dutch court ordered the Dutch government to ramp up its climate change plans – to achieve at least a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions relative to 1990 levels by the end of 2020. It’s an incredible win – one that is being rightly celebrated by climate activists around the world. In our view, the Dutch decision is a key win in global efforts to use the courts to fight climate change, and will encourage climate activists around the world.  However, court cases filed in countries around the world – including Canada – will need to be based in the legal traditions of those countries, and won’t necessarily be a carbon copy of the Dutch case.

Earlier this week (June 24th) a Dutch court ordered the Dutch government to ramp up its climate change plans – to achieve at least a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions relative to 1990 levels by the end of 2020. It’s an incredible win – one that is being rightly celebrated by climate activists around the world. 

Dutch judicial lessons for Canada

26 June, 2015

In the recent Dutch court decision ordering the Dutch government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% (relative to 1990 levels) by 2020, the court made some specific findings that might be relevant to Canada and the Canadian government. Here's 5 of the most Canada-relevant findings from that precedent setting decision. 

In a recent post, I wrote about the broad significance of the recent Dutch court decision ordering the Dutch government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Albertans, not Exxon Mobil, are paying the price for carbon

4 July, 2013

It’s safe to say that Exxon Mobil, and other companies responsible for large amounts of greenhouse gas pollution, don’t intend to pay for the $3 Billion to $5 Billion to clean up Alberta’s floods, or any climate-change related costs suffered by Alberta or other jurisdictions. But asking Canadian taxpayers to pay is not economically sustainable.  As extreme weather events, flooding, rising sea levels, spreading disease, crop failures and other impacts become real, we’re simply not going to be able to afford the cost. A real price on carbon, paid by greenhouse gas polluters, would both create an economic incentive to reduce emissions, and, equally significantly, could help fund disaster relief, and the implementation of measures to help make Canadian communities more resilient to the impacts of a changing climate. 

“We have spent our entire existence adapting. We'll adapt.  [Climate Change is] an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution.” – Rex Tillerson, CEO, Exxon Mobil

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