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Climate change court is now in session

​FILE PHOTO: People take part in a climate change strike in Toronto, Ontario, Canada September 27, 2019.

FILE PHOTO: People take part in a climate change strike in Toronto, Ontario, Canada September 27, 2019.

REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

The Ontario Court of Appeal is hearing a case brought by seven youth climate activists and backed by the environmental charity Ecojustice against the province’s Conservative government. The challengers want a more aggressive and “science-based” climate plan from Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government.

The plaintiffs argue that the province is violating their Charter rights to equality, life, liberty, and security of the person. A judge dismissed the case last spring but noted that the province’s plan was not exactly rigorously rooted in scientific evidence. Now the plaintiffs are seeking an appeal, and this is just one of dozens of similar climate-related cases in Canada.

The lawsuits are similar to a landmark case in Montana in which youths successfully sued the Treasure State over their constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment under state law. As a state-based case, the ruling does not apply nationally – plus, the state is appealing. Still, it was the first of its kind in the US, setting a precedent and opening the door to future cases that could have further-reaching effects. In December, the US District Court in Oregon agreed to hear Juliana v. United States, another climate-policy court challenge similar to the Ontario and Montana challenges. The difference? These plaintiffs argue that federal laws are violating constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.

Could the future of climate policy be shaped by the judicial branch? There are now over 1,800 climate litigation cases in the US, and if the Ontario appeal is successful – which could require Ontario to set more ambitious emissions reduction targets – more will surely be filed in Canada too.


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