1 Flex your local muscles and hold fossil fuel companies accountable! | West Coast Environmental Law

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Flex your local muscles and hold fossil fuel companies accountable!

2 February, 2017

On January 25, 2017 West Coast and over 50 other organizations from around BC wrote to 190 local governments asking them to take action to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for its role in causing climate change. If you agree, it’s time for you to get involved too – by asking your Mayor and Council and other local government officials to respond to, and act on, this letter.

If you’ve been wondering whether your local actions can be meaningful in the global fight against climate change, this is the answer. The initiative is called Climate Law in our Hands – and its main goal is to start a much-needed conversation about the fossil fuel industry’s responsibility to pay for the harm their products are causing to communities around the world. Because we would live in a much more sustainable world if the fossil fuel industry recognized that it will one day soon have to pay its fair share of the harm that climate change is causing our communities. 

When BC communities demand global accountability from fossil fuel companies, we can have a global impact in the fight on climate change. 

Dear BC Local Governments: Climate accountability, please!

We were blown away that more than 50 groups in BC supported the call for fossil fuel industry accountability. Our joint letter, sent to 190 local governments across the province, was signed by women’s groups, faith groups, public health groups, and environmental groups, from both urban and rural BC.

Our letter represents a first step in rejecting the powerlessness that we all feel in relation to the climate crisis. We are frightened of what climate change is doing to our communities and to the communities of the world. But it is not true that we can do nothing about it. 

The fossil fuel industry has made hundreds of billions of dollars in profits on the assumption that it can escape responsibility for the harm caused by its products. Fossil fuel companies desperately want to avoid a conversation about whether they should be paying a “fair share” for their role in causing climate change. Like Big Tobacco before it, Big Oil would rather insist that only the individuals who use their products are responsible, all the while making massive profits, and hiring lobbyists and public relations firms to work against real climate action. 

The #1 thing that BC communities can do to fight climate change is to recognize that climate impacts – floods, wildfires, shifting weather patterns – are harming our communities in ever increasing ways, and then use our power to demand global accountability from the fossil fuel industry for that harm.  As the letter to local governments explains:  

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. BC communities can play a key role in demanding accountability from the fossil fuel industry for the harm that they are causing our communities, and challenge the myth that the fossil fuel economy can continue business as usual despite the destruction it is causing to our atmosphere.

What we’re asking local governments to do in the short term is simple:  send a letter of their own – a climate accountability letter. You can help by asking your local government to write, on all of our behalf, to Chevron, Exxon and 18 other large fossil fuel companies and ask those companies to commit to pay their fair share to address climate impacts in your community.

Chevron’s operations and products, for example, are responsible for about 3.34% of the human-caused greenhouse gases in the global atmosphere today, so let’s ask them to pay for 3.34% of the costs of your town or city preparing for climate impacts (for example, municipal spending on wildfire interface, shoreline protection and flood protection). The operations and products of the 20 biggest fossil fuel corporations represent about 30% of human-caused greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 

Climate accountability letters will pave the way for a broader conversation about accountability. The letter we sent also asked the local governments to also consider the possibility of a class action lawsuit against fossil fuel companies for climate impacts. In the replies we’ve received from individual councillors, we’ve learned that some are considering the possibility of bringing a resolution to the Union of BC Municipalities on the issue – which we think is a great idea.

Your mission… should you choose to accept it

BC’s municipalities and regional districts have received the letter. They need to hear that this idea is supported by members of their communities – that we agree the fossil fuel industry needs to answer for its role in causing climate change.

We encourage you to write to your Mayor and Council, and to your regional district Board of Directors.  Tell them that you want them to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for local climate impacts by sending a climate accountability letter. 

To help you get started, here are some ideas about what your letter to your local government might look like (.docx). You can get emails and mailing addresses for your Mayor and Council here and for your Regional District Directors here. In some municipalities you can then attend the Council meeting and stand and speak briefly to your letter (if this interests you, you’ll want to check the rules for your municipality). 

Calling or emailing individual councillors to ask them whether they will vote to send climate accountability letters is also very useful. 

If you do send a letter to your local government, please copy us on it, as we’d like to be in the loop: agage@wcel.org; West Coast Environmental Law Association, #200-2006 West 10th Avenue, Vancouver, BC V6J 2B3, attn: Climate Law in our Hands.

If you want to go further, we’re looking for groups that are willing to appear as an official delegation – to give your Mayor and Council a presentation about why they should send climate accountability letters. Let us know if you would like to do this, and we’ll do what we can to help with scheduling (and coordinating with other groups that are interested), as well as getting the word out to others in your city, town or region so that they can come out and support you.

Finally, if you want to explore how to become more involved in this initiative going forward, please sign up at climatelawinourhands.org.

We’re hugely excited by the potential of Climate Law in our Hands to start a much-needed conversation about the moral and legal responsibility of the fossil fuel industry. We hope that you will join us. 

By Andrew Gage, Staff Counsel