Climate accountability and fiscal responsibility

photo: Brian Burger

Multi-year summer droughts. Forest fire smoke turning the sun orange. Winter storms increasing erosion of the shoreline. Coastal communities may not face the same dramatic climate impacts as interior residents driven out by wildfires and flooding, but even here the impacts are becoming evident.

Climate change is probably the single, biggest threat to the health and livability of our coastal and interface (those between forested mountains and the ocean) communities. It has transformed municipalities, turning them into first responders that support our communities as we end up dealing with floods, fires, heat and cold waves, and storm surges. From a city perspective, this means that taxpayers are paying for the infrastructure upgrades and emergency measures that are—and will be—required to curb the effects of climate change in our community.

As communities, we can’t afford ongoing unabated climate change or the growing impacts—environmental and economic—that come with it.

But the reality is that these costs are only going to rise dramatically if we don’t tackle the system that hasn’t given consumers a fair range of options for our energy needs. The challenge with the fossil fuel industry is that not only are their products sold at heavily subsidized prices, but they have been externalizing costs to our shared atmosphere. Fossil fuel producers are currently able to sidestep the true cost of their goods, as they avoid adding liabilities to their balance sheets.

Royal Dutch Shell (through its Canadian subsidiary) recently wrote to the City of Victoria, acknowledging that fossil fuels are warming the globe, without addressing that it may have any responsibility to help the city deal with its climate costs. It is one of the powerful fossil fuel corporations making massive profits from selling products that they know will have climate consequences. In Victoria, the Capital Regional District confirms that even a slight increase in sea level will cause daily business losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s lost revenue for residents and businesses, as well as for the municipalities that are forced into paramedic mode to triage the damage. They certainly aren’t alone: The Province estimated it would cost $9 billion for Metro Vancouver and parts of the Fraser River system to do upgrades due to sea level rise.  

An energy market that is transparent for the consumer and exemplifies the polluter pays principle for the fossil fuel industry would be a game-changer in the fight against climate change. Fossil fuel producers—such as Shell, Chevron, Exxon, Saudi Aramco, British Petroleum—are in a position to be some of the best drivers of alternative and clean energies with their extensive financial resources, relationships with governments, and access to world markets. They could certainly lead the way if they felt inclined but are instead taking baby steps, while still maintaining a core business of oil and gas development.

Shell, for example, is arguably leading its sector and plans to increase its investment in alternative energy to up to $2 billion per year, until next year. However that’s a small share of the some $30 billion the company spends on capital expenditures each year, and on par with what the company is reportedly spending on exploration of new oil reserves in Brazil. Is that sufficient to help move the dial towards a lower carbon future? Is that objective climate leadership? Will measures like these support the transition that our planet needs? Unlikely.

Asking the big carbon polluters to pay their fair share is realistic.

The polluter pays principle is used in many industries because the concept is understandable and deemed fair. More importantly, it’s fiscally responsible for municipalities to have a tool to recover a fair share of our adaptation costs from the corporations that are most profiting from fossil fuel extraction, production and sales.

This is why a growing number of BC municipalities are asking that the largest global fossil fuel companies share the climate change costs they’re downloading to communities. The industry is making enviously healthy profits, while the use of their products are harming our communities and taxpayers are bearing the entire burden. Not only does this winner-takes-all business model leave our communities on the losing end, but industry won’t ever stop developing coal, oil and gas reserves unless they’re forced to be accountable for their products.

Responsible financial city managers must prepare their communities for climate change.

The City of Victoria has taken concrete steps in the right direction by putting in a speed bump to slow runaway climate change, telling the Carbon Majors that their business model needs to shift, and voting in favour of the health and livability of our local environment and economy. They are one of 16 communities to join this effort, and we need as many as possible in BC to coordinate work.

Specifically, the City of Victoria will:

  1. Begin to track the costs of climate change through infrastructure and climate-adaptation planning and management, and include these costs in the annual Update on the Climate Leadership Plan.
  2. Explore legal tools that would enable Victoria to recover the community’s local climate costs.
  3. Endorse a resolution to the next meeting of UBCM to explore the initiation of a class action lawsuit on behalf of member local governments, and ask the province to consider legislation to support local governments to recover costs arising from climate change from major fossil fuels corporations.

We at GSA are working with the communities of Port Moody and Nanaimo to add their voices asking for climate accountability. Can you join our efforts there? Is your community not on the list? If not, email Anna and get your community going.  

One person can absolutely make a difference in this campaign!

16 thoughts on “Climate accountability and fiscal responsibility

  1. go straight to the UN and others who have authoritative powers and implement global policies, procedures and financial penalties and undertakings against all Oil & Gas players. Garnishee their profits and upper management insanely high bonuses, wages and golden cadillac benefit plans.

  2. Victoria may — or may not — have a terrible sewage problem. Experts are divided whether the scenic B.C. capital and its surrounding suburbs should join the rest of North America and treat its sewage, rather than continue its practice of pushing the stuff into the ocean, raw and untreated. The debate has raged for decades, with myriad proposals and sites endorsed and then rejected; they include a controversial $780 million plan that crapped out two years ago.

    A new report released on Wednesday recommends a new sewage treatment facility on an industrial site in downtown Victoria, near the city’s famous Inner Harbour, with a potential construction cost of more than $1 billion. A regional committee meets Friday to consider the recommendation. In the meantime, and for the foreseeable future, the region will continue to discharge an average of 82 million litres a day into the ocean that surrounds it. Here is a history of Victoria’s sewage struggles.

  3. In order to demonstrate its sincere desire to adfress major environmental degradation the do-gooders better find a way to immediately stop dumping untreated sewage into the ocean before embarking on costly Don Quixotesque legal adventures against powerful multinationals….who have infinitely more resources than a medium size Canadian municipality

  4. Alberta keeps making ads on CBC television for the Kinder Morgan pipeline. They extol how environmentally-friendly it would be. But they do NOT point out that nobody has figured out how to clean up bitumen. Why isn’t Alberta refining its oil into a cleaner product? Also, the coast is in an earthquake subduction zone. I saw what happened to the coast after Alaska’s 9.2 earthquake. I don’t think that any pipeline could have withstood the amount of that earth movement. You know all about the increased tanker traffic that we don’t want. We don’t want to wreck out coastline and fishery.

    Last Sunday morning, on CBC radio, Michael Enright spoke about the pipeline, but he didn’t really mention why so many of us in BC are opposed to it. Those reasons should be given on national radio and television.

    • Repeat, and repeat and repeat, ad nauseam. and have you noticed how deceptive those ads are? while the voiceover talks about tankers, the image is of kayakers in a blissful clean/industryfree piece of scenery. Images of gambolling horses, unpolluted grasslands…..hey what about images of the hell-on-earth created where Alberta digs this stuff up, polluted water, and NO fish, NO wildlife, NO green, just death

    • I totally agree with, the ads from Alberta don’t mention anything about the increase in bitumen carrying tankers if that freaking pipeline goes thru. It is not just the pipeline and what would happen to the oil storage units in Burnaby if and when an earthquake hits!

  5. I am SO glad to learn about a Canadian city taking up this challenge!! We don’t hear specific goals like yours even from our Prime Minister, only vague generalities; so kudos to you + every good wish. I will support you (here in Ontario, on a frugal seniors’ budget) by reading + sharing your posts. Thank you for all you do for our Mother Earth!!

  6. Normally it would be the users/buyers that would pay, through a govt consumption sales tax or similar, not the suppliers/vendors. Energy companies are supplying the consumer demand for fossil fuels… if there were no buyers, there would be no issue.

    • Thanks for your comment!
      The polluter pays principle puts the onus on the producer so that the products that consumers choose have a price that reflects the entire cost of the product. It is a great economic and accountability tool to build in incentives for systems change and pollution reduction on a large scale. Consumers haven’t had a fair price on any energy product because we have been paying part of the costs of fossil fuels and products through our taxes instead. Fossil fuel producers have known since the 1970s that their products were having an incredible impact on the atmosphere, and were actively lobbying decision makers to keep the full costs out of the price at the pump.

  7. Canada accounts for 2% of the worlds emissions – why are you not going after the other 98% – Why just an attack on Canada? Does the wind not blow US pollution over the border into BC? I was raised in Victoria and even way back then the city of Port Angles used to complain to Victoria about what was floating over to them. But the Victoria residents always said no as they didn’t want their taxes to go up. It will be interesting to see how this tax payer lawsuit goes? But am puzzled that no one out there wonders why millions and millions of dollars are pouring in from US funded groups to finance these attacks on Canadian energy, as they have the cleanest oil and gas productions in the world. And lastly how absurd is it for people in BC get behind this idea instead of looking in the mirror and taking responsibility to cut back or make choices in their lives to get off petroleum products What happen to taking personal responsibility?

    • Hi Pat – this campaign doesn’t focus on Canadian companies. The ask is to international groups including Chevron, Saudi Aramco and BP. Our sense is that we need to work together with producers so that we can all move towards a fossil free economy. Canadian municipalities need to reduce our greenhouse gas footprint in working with these global stakeholders, and those who have profited can certainly help pay their fair share of damages. The climate crisis is too urgent and serious to wait until one actor has perfectly clean hands to recuperate costs.

      Thanks for your comments!

    • Most countries in the world only produce one to two percent of the co2 produced. That all ads up to about half the total. Every country needs to radically reduce GHG emissions. We are in a climate emergency! As a fossil fuel producing nation it is even worse because our product goes on to make more co2 even if it is not within our borders.

  8. I think we could start by reducing huge profits leaving Canada for US & Malaysia fossil fuel producers. If there was truly a “price on pollution” there would be effective remediation of huge oilsands toxic scar on our planet. Realistic royalties for Canada would go a long way to righting some wrongs.

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