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Judge rejects lawsuit claiming B.C. failed to properly report climate change plans

Court hands B.C. government a victory, but finds province unlikely to meet its climate change goals
B.C. Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman (here seen in 2020) fulfilled statutory reporting requirements under the Climate Change Accountability Act, according to a court ruling Tuesday. But the ruling also found that the province is not likely to meet change goals for 2025, 2030. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A court ruling favouring the B.C. government in a dispute over climate change reporting requirements also finds the province is not likely to meet its immediate climate change goals.

Justice Jasvinder Basran of the B.C. Supreme Court offers this assessment while dismissing a suit filed by environmental law charity Ecojustice on behalf of Sierra Club B.C.

The suit claimed the Minster of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman had breached statutory obligations by not including plans for meeting climate change targets set for 2025, 2040, 2050 and the oil and gas sector target set for 2030. The group filed the suit in March 2022 with respect to the 2021 Climate Change Accountability Report.

The Climate Change Accountability Act requires the minister to prepare an annual report and put it before the legislature. The suit sought additional details.

“Provision of this information may well provide enhanced clarity and accountability but in my view, it is not statutorily required,” said Basran in dismissing the suit. “This is because the CCAA clearly articulates that GHG emissions information is only required for the the current year and two subsequent years.”

Basran also dismissed the claim that without the additional information the public and legislature cannot assess whether province is on track to meet its legislative targets. Surveying the available sources, Basran finds they offer information about whether the province will meet its goals for 2025, 2040 and 2050.

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“Specifically, it shows that based on currently enacted initiatives, this target, like all previously established targets, will probably not be met.”

Basran points out that the 2021 climate accountability report estimates that existing initiatives will result in emissions of approximately 55.2 Mt CO2 which is only 40 per cent of the way to BC’s 2030 target.

“This was a larger gap than reported in the previous year’s report,” said Basran.

The 2030 goals call for transportation to reduce GHGs by 27 to 32 per cent, buildings and communities by 59 to 64 per cent, industry by 38 to 43 per cent and oil and gas by 33 to 38 per cent.

Reaction to the ruling itself varies. Ecojustice praised the court finding that the reporting requirements of the CCAA were enforceable for setting an important legal precedent.

“The good news is that the court agreed with us that people in B.C. have a right to hold their government accountable to follow its climate law,” said Jens Wieting, senior forest and climate campaigner and science advisor at Sierra Club BC. “The bad news is that the (court) finds the B.C. government’s reporting to be sufficient to meet the law’s requirements, even though that reporting does not tell us whether B.C. is actually on track to meet all of its climate targets.”

The ministry said in a statement that is is pleased with the ruling. It said that B.C. has some of the strongest climate accountability measures in Canada, ensuring credibility and transparency and one of the strongest climate action plans on the continent through the CleanBC Roadmap to 2030.

“The annual Climate Change Accountability Report uses the latest available data to demonstrate – in great detail – where we see progress, where there are opportunities and what adjustments are necessary to achieve our goals,” it reads.

The ministry also later said in a statement that the judge’s assertion rested on outdated information that predated the launch of the CleanBC Roadmap to 2030.

“Since that time, our government has substantially accelerated our actions and is fully committed to implementing the Roadmap and achieving our targets,” it reads.

The statement says these actions include accelerating legally binding targets for zero-emissions vehicles to ensure 90 per cent of all new light-duty vehicles sold in the province are electric by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2035. It also cited steps to reduce emissions from the oil and gas sector, and requirements for new large industrial projects to show how they can fit within legislated emissions targets to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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