Examining the Evidence

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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. We 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.