Seven young Ontarians announced on November 26, 2019 that they’ve launched a lawsuit against the Government of Ontario for the alleged weakening of its climate targets. This is the first lawsuit filed against a Canadian province over climate inaction.

The applicants, who range in age from 12 to 24, argue that the cutbacks will lead to widespread illness and death, violating Charter-protected rights to life, liberty, and security of the person. The case contends that Ontario’s 2030 target of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels is inadequate, unconstitutional, and must be struck down.

Under Ontario’s 2030 target — impacted by the 2018 Cap and Trade Cancellation Act — the provincial government will allow an increased amount of GHG emissions to be released. This is expected to worsen the climate emergency and contribute to dangerous climate change-related impacts such as heatwaves, floods, fires and poor air quality that will harm the health of people throughout Ontario.

“Climate change is hurting Indigenous and coastal communities that rely on the land and ocean for cultural and physical survival,” said Shaelyn Wabegijig, a 22-year-old applicant from Peterborough. “I do not feel like I am secure or safe in my future, which is why I am committed to fighting for climate action. I do not want to bring children into a world that is dying, or where they’re at risk of illness or harm imposed by climate change.”

The changes in Ontario are arising at the same time when there is scientific consensus for governments to limit warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. Meeting this temperature goal, set out in the Paris Agreement, will require global GHG emissions to halve by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by no later than 2050.

However, the Ontario government has stated that it plans to leverage the province’s private sector to develop green technology, and that its “made in Ontario” climate strategy will keep the province on track to meet the Paris Agreement warming targets.

The challenge is part of a trend in which young people across the globe are suing governments over perceived inaction on climate change. More than a dozen young Canadians launched a similar lawsuit against the federal government earlier this year. The Ontario applicants, who hail from communities across the province, are represented by lawyers from Ecojustice and Stockwoods LLP.

“Ecojustice is proud to support this courageous group of young Ontarians in their legal fight to force the Ontario government to strengthen its climate targets,” said Alan Andrews, climate director with Ecojustice. “Any government that is failing to address the climate emergency in a meaningful way can expect to face litigation of this nature.

Ecojustice is Canada’s largest environmental law charity, operating in offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax. Nader Hasan and Justin Safayeni, of Stockwoods LLP, are veteran constitutional lawyers with a track record of holding government to account at every level court in Canada.

For further information on the Ecojustice lawsuit, click here.

Photo by Emily Chan, courtesy of Ecojustice.

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