Ottawa trying to toss out climate lawsuit from youth activists

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This week:

  • Ottawa trying to toss out climate lawsuit from youth activists
  • A good week for the future of electric cars
  • In 5 years, Alberta could lead Canada in wind and solar power

Ottawa trying to toss out climate lawsuit from youth activists

(Submitted by Haana Edenshaw)

While the federal government restated its commitment to fighting climate change in Wednesday’s throne speech, CBC has learned Ottawa has also urged a judge to throw out a case brought by a group of young Canadians claiming their right to a safe, stable climate has been breached. 

The case, La Rose et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen, was initially filed on Oct. 25, 2019, and has yet to be argued in federal court. It involves 15 youths and teenagers from across Canada who are making a relatively novel legal argument — that their rights to life, liberty, security and equality are being violated because Ottawa has not done enough to protect against climate change.

The hearings are scheduled to begin on Sept. 30 and are expected to last two days.

The stakes are high. If the young people win, a court could force the government to overhaul its plans, reducing Canada’s harmful emissions more rapidly and potentially ending fossil fuel industry subsidies.

“This case — it’s the only way forward,” said 16-year-old Ira Reinhart-Smith of Caledonia, N.S., who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. 

“We can’t wait for the government to keep saying, ‘We’ll make a plan that will be up to the most current science.’ We need them to be forced to make a plan that’s to the current science, because unless the courts are ordering them to do that, we’ve seen in the past they’re not going to follow up on the promises,” Reinhart-Smith told Laura Lynch, host of CBC Radio’s What on Earth

Reinhart-Smith and the others in the case were brought together by Our Children’s Trust, a non-profit public interest law firm based in Oregon that has helped organize similar lawsuits in the United States and elsewhere. 

Another plaintiff in the Canadian case, 17-year-old Haana Edenshaw of the Haida Nation (photo above), is experiencing the effects of climate change on her very doorstep in the village of Masset on Haida Gwaii, off the northwest coast of B.C.

“The water comes right up past our porch, it goes by the door of my room, and it’s really scary because it’s just going to keep on getting worse every year,” Edenshaw said.

Other countries and courts have recognized a constitutional right to a safe environment, but that does not mean Canada will follow suit.

No one from Environment and Climate Change Canada would comment on the case, saying it is before the courts. But in documents filed in the case, lawyers for the federal department acknowledge that “climate change is real … and is having very real consequences on people’s lives. Its impacts will get more significant over time.”

In its arguments to dismiss the case, though, the federal lawyers argue the lawsuit doesn’t target any particular law. “Instead, it asks the Court to decide whether the executive is governing well.” And that, the lawyers assert, is not a proper case to bring before a judge.

There is no explicit environmental right in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The young plaintiffs want a judge to rule that such a right is implicit, as with a number of other rights, such as sexual orientation.

One of the lawyers for the young plaintiffs, Catherine Boies Parker, contends their claim is serious, substantial and rightly argued in a full hearing. 

“It can’t be the case that the government can, without any constitutional constraints whatsoever, continue to engage in” activities that jeopardize its climate targets, which are to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, said Boies Parker.

“Everyone understands now it is causing all of this harm to the plaintiffs. It can’t be that [politicians] get a free pass on that just because climate change is complex.”

Laura Lynch

Reader feedback

“Love your great and informative platform. I also love the chance to give feedback,” wrote Fran Bazos, who lives in Newmarket, Ont., north of Toronto. “I am a member of Drawdown Newmarket-Aurora, a group of over 200 members, that is asking for bold action on climate change. It should be very obvious to anyone now that not only our health and survival depend on our government to act, but our economy cannot thrive unless we deal with climate change now. Time is up! We must all support our federal government in their desire to act positively.”

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The Big Picture: A strong week for electric cars

While it has reduced emissions in the short term, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a dampening effect on a lot of environmental initiatives, as many governments have prioritized health and economic measures over climate policy. But this week heralded a number of bold moves in the realm of electric vehicles (EVs). First, the federal government and Ontario pledged to spend $500 million to upgrade a Ford plant in Oakville to produce EVs. Then, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that his state — the biggest auto market in the U.S. — would ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035. This week, Volkswagen also revealed its first electric offering for the North American market (the ID4, photo below). And there are increasing signs, in Europe and Asia at least, that the cost of buying a zero-emissions car is getting close to parity with traditional cars — arguably the key to mass consumer adoption of EVs.

(Jens Schlueter/Getty Images)

Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

In 5 years, Alberta could lead Canada in wind and solar power

(Todd Korol/Reuters)

Growth in Alberta’s renewable energy sector should continue its upward trend, experts say, with one forecast anticipating a surge of projects that could make the province the Canadian leader in utility-scale wind and solar capacity as early as 2025.

Norway-based research firm Rystad Energy forecasts that 83 per cent of the combined utility-scale wind and solar capacity built in Canada over the next five years will be in Alberta. (That wouldn’t include smaller renewable development, such as residential rooftop solar.)

With the forecast growth, Rystad analyst Felix Tan expects Alberta will have the largest combined total of utility-scale wind and solar capacity in the country by the middle of the decade, overtaking Ontario.

“Alberta is sort of playing catch-up,” Tan said.

According to the data that Rystad tracks, Alberta’s current renewable capacity includes 0.1 gigawatt (GW) of solar and 1.8 GW of wind. By 2025, it expects that to grow to 1.8 GW of solar and 6.5 GW of wind. 

Tan said Alberta’s commitment to stop burning coal to generate electricity by 2030 “opens the door” for wind and solar to play a larger role. He also said the province’s deregulated electricity market creates a favourable environment for solar and wind development.

The market allows corporate buyers to enter into contracts with wind and solar generators directly — something a growing number of companies are expected to seek as they look to green their operations.

Blake Shaffer, an assistant professor in the department of economics and school of public policy at the University of Calgary, isn’t anticipating as much growth as Rystad projects but agrees with the forecast’s direction.

“We’re going to continue to add renewables in this province,” said Shaffer. “And it’s simply a function that the cost of building renewables has just gotten so cheap.”

Shaffer pointed out that Texas, another region with a history in oil and gas, has become a growth centre for renewables in the U.S. He believes Alberta could do the same.

“That’s not because of an intrinsic love for renewables,” he said. “It’s simply that … the frequency with which the wind blows here is high, which makes the unit cost low.” He said Alberta’s solar resources are second only to Saskatchewan.

A number of multimillion-dollar wind and solar projects are planned for Alberta in the next few years. Edmonton International Airport and Alpin Sun announced this summer they are working on an agreement that will see the company develop Airport City Solar, a 254-hectare solar farm on the west side of the airport lands.

Then there’s the massive Travers Solar project in Vulcan County. The $750-million project, led by Calgary’s Greengate Power, will consist of 1.5 million solar panels and generate about 800 million kWh (kilowatt hours) a year, enough to power more than 100,000 homes.

CEO Dan Balaban said if things go to plan, they hope to begin construction later this year. “It’ll be by far the largest [solar project] in Canada,” he said. “And I think there’s certainly the potential for more mega renewable energy projects in this country and in this province as time goes on.”

Tony Seskus

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