Young climate activists will challenge the Ontario government in court over greenhouse gas targets

Ontario has set dangerously low greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and is therefore discriminating against young people, who will bear a disproportionate burden of climate change, say seven young activists in a lawsuit against the government.

Their constitutional challenge, backed by environmental lawyers from Ecojustice, is to be heard Monday in Ontario Superior Court.

“While climate change is global in scope, how decisions are made provincially and at all levels is of fundamental importance to solving this problem which affects us all,” said one. of young people, Shaelyn Wabegijig, at a press conference on Sunday.

“We are here today to deal with the dire situation we find ourselves in and are able to tell our children that we have done everything we can, while we can, to change our course.”

The crux of the lawsuit dates back to 2018, when the newly elected Progressive Conservative government repealed legislation from the former Liberal government that established a cap and trade system to reduce emissions. This law set a target of reducing emissions by 37% below 1990 levels by 2030.

The Conservatives replaced that target with a target to cut emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. Reducing the target by percentage and moving the base year will achieve 200 million tons more, according to the young experts.

It is a ‘dangerously high level of greenhouse gas emissions’ and violates the charter’s life and safety of the person articles, as well as discrimination on the basis of age, alleges the court case.

“Young people – and, in particular, young people under the age of 18 – and future generations will bear a disproportionate burden of the most devastating impacts of climate change because of their unique characteristics and the fact that the increasing nature of climate change impacts climate means the most devastating effects will occur in their lifetime,” the activists and their attorneys state in their written arguments.

Ontario government asks court to dismiss lawsuit

The Ontario government is asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing against “judicial review of environmental and climate policy.” There is no constitutional right requiring a government to take certain actions now to prevent future climate-related damage, government lawyers argue in written submissions.

Ontario isn’t contesting man-made climate change and its risks to people’s health, but for the lawsuit to succeed, the young people would have to prove that the province’s new target would cause or contribute to that damage – and they don’t, say government lawyers.

The Ontario government is asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing against “judicial oversight of environmental and climate policy.” There is no constitutional right requiring a government to take certain actions now to prevent future climate-related damage, government lawyers argue in written submissions. (Yan Theoret/CBC/Radio-Canada)

“It is fanciful to imagine that invalidating Ontario’s plan and target could avert the damage from anthropogenic climate change,” they write, saying Ontario’s emissions are less than 1 % of world total.

“None of the nominees’ experts have proven that the damage in Ontario caused by climate change would be avoided or even measurably mitigated if Ontario set a different target or proposed a different plan for the year 2030.”

But the young people question the credibility of government experts on this point, saying they “do not recognize the collective action aspect of the global warming problem”.

“They focus on Ontario’s relatively small fraction of GHGs on a global scale instead of the fact that jurisdictions like Ontario must take action to avert climate catastrophe,” the youth lawyers write in their arguments. .

This case is a chance to impress on Ontario and the rest of the country why strong emissions reduction targets are needed, said Zoe Keary-Matzner, one of the young people involved in the lawsuit.

“In my 15 years, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t deeply concerned about climate change and the fate of the world,” she said at the press conference. “I just wish my government felt the same way.”

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