The Coast’s arm of the Sue Big Oil movement had a quick win in Gibsons on March 7. Group volunteers presented details at an afternoon town committee meeting on a province-wide campaign to ensure fossil fuel companies pay their share of costs for damage to community infrastructure resulting from climate change. At that evening’s council meeting, there was a unanimous vote for the town to work with other local governments in B.C. to file a class action lawsuit to recover costs from global fossil fuel companies.
More local governments support requests coming
The town is the first Coast local government and first rural B.C. community to make a commitment to setting aside $1 per resident to help pay for that legal action, should it proceed, according to Sunshine Coast Sue Big Oil volunteer, Alaya Boisvert. During the presentation at the committee meeting, she called such a commitment “an excellent investment”.
With success in Gibsons, the group said in a March 8 press release that it is planning to turn its attention and seek similar actions from the District of Sechelt and the Sunshine Coast Regional District, while supporting volunteers organizing in other B.C. communities.
The presentation noted that once local governments representing an estimated one million residents make similar commitments, the court action could proceed. “While we are a small community, we can make a difference," Boisvert said.
Along with fellow group volunteer Dawn Allen, Boisvert asked that council make the initiative “a priority” during its term. They pointed to an estimate made in 2020 by the Insurance Bureau of Canada stating that annual costs for Canadian municipalities to avoid the worst of the impacts of climate change would be in the $5.3 billion range. In contrast, they cited fossil fuel industry profits of $3 billion per day since the 1970s, while the industry took limited responsibility for its contributions toward global warming.
In response to the presentation, youth representative on the council, Cael Read stated “We need to hold them [fossil fuel companies] to account for the inevitable damage that will be coming to our communities.”
Coun. Stafford Lumley raised the issue at the Gibsons council meeting. In the release, he stated that he “hopes their action will inspire other towns to follow suit.”
“Gibsons residents cannot afford the hundreds of millions of dollars associated with climate change. The fossil fuel industry must pay its fair share,” Boisvert said. “From sea level rise impacting foreshore properties, sewage lines and town water supply, to preparing for and fighting wildfires, to impacts on our roads and drainage systems, climate change is only going to get more costly – and it’s only fair that profiteering oil, gas and coal companies pay their share.”
Also quoted in the release was Fiona Koza, Climate Accountability Strategist at West Coast Environmental Law, which is the secretariat to the Sue Big Oil campaign. She stated, “Gibsons is smart to recognize that climate change is unbelievably expensive and going to get worse, and that communities simply cannot afford to foot the hefty bill.”
A growing initiative
“Sue Big Oil community groups are springing up across the province, in Powell River, Nanaimo, Whistler, Greater Victoria, Burnaby, and more, as British Columbians demand that their local governments protect them from the costs of climate change and hold the fossil fuel industry accountable. Our team is here to support all towns, cities and regional districts in joining Gibsons in this class action lawsuit,” said Koza.
According to the Sue Big Oil website, the local governments that are part of the lawsuit will choose which companies to sue. “Under Canadian law, lawsuits can be brought against multinational companies in BC’s courts as long as there is a “real and substantial connection” to the province. The fact that the climate impacts are being felt in BC creates that “real and substantial connection” and allows our local governments to sue international companies under BC law. The Sue Big Oil campaign proposes targeting the world’s largest multinational fossil fuel companies, such as Chevron (a US company), Shell (a UK company) and Exxon (a US company), and even Saudi Aramco (a Saudi Arabian company), as they are responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions,” it states.