Speakers left hanging for hours as clock runs out on input on council motion seeking to recover costs of climate change

Those who weren't heard have to return to Vancouver City Hall once again

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      For the second day, a motion at Vancouver city council that asks fossil fuel companies to foot the bill of climate change costs was referred to the next day’s meeting.

      That's because council run out of time at its Wednesday (June 26) session to hear from all the speakers.

      The motion was expected to be debated at a standing committee, and at least 20 people had registered to speak.

      But only one person on the list got the chance to voice an opinion before council as the clock hit 10:00 p.m. and the meeting recessed for the day.

      The sole speaker, West Coast Environmental Law staff lawyer Andrew Gage, encouraged council to vote in favor of the motion.

      Gage argued that fossil fuel companies should pay their fair share of climate change costs, adding that local governments “have the right to demand accountability, not only from Canadian companies but from global fossil fuel companies for their global emissions”.

      West Coast Environmental Law has prepared a list of the 20 largest fossil fuel companies that it considers most responsible for rising greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

      “The motion uses some simple tools to challenge the assumption that taxpayers should be paying all of those costs,” Gage told council. “I appreciate that Vancouver unanimously declared a climate emergency, but it’s got to be hard for Vancouver—and the world as whole—to make the deep cuts required in our fossil fuel use as long as these companies continue to make an awful lot of money while taxpayers are expected to pay the full costs of the harm.”

      Vancouver resident Helen Brown, a mother of two children, was on the speakers’ list and waited for hours at Vancouver City Hall while carrying her seven-month old daughter on her arms. She didn't get the chance to voice her opinion.

      She told the Straight that she doesn’t want a “terrifying future” for her children, adding that “I'm here because I'm very concerned about the climate crisis, so I want to lend a voice to the current motion.”

      “Some of those scientific reports [about climate change] are probably the most terrifying things that I have ever read,” Brown said. “What it does is it changes the picture of the future, [which will be] quite different from what we have now and what I had through my life. And it is not really a future that I want for my children.”

      West Coast Environmental Law staff lawyer Andrew Gage urged council to approve the motion seeking payments from corporations for costs associated with climate change.

      If the motion is passed by council, Vancouver would become the latest municipality in B.C. asking fossil fuel companies to cover climate-change costs.

      The motion would direct Vancouver’s mayor to write a letter to the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, demanding they pay their fair share.

      While the motion before Vancouver city council doesn’t direct the city to launch lawsuits against fossil fuel companies, it would direct the mayor to send letters to the provincial and federal governments asking them to “enact legislations holding fossil fuel companies liable for climate-related harms cost by their contribution to climate change”.

      OneCity councillor Christine Boyle, cosponsor of the motion, said on Tuesday (June 25) that asking fossil fuel companies to pay  their fair share of the increasing costs of climate change is “reasonable”.

      "Right now, these costs are being paid 100 percent by taxpayers,” she said “This motion is about sending a signal that fossil fuel companies and their investors need to incorporate the true costs of climate change into their business decisions."

      So far, 23 B.C. municipalities have voted in favor of holding global fossil fuel companies accountable and demanding that they pay their share of climate costs.

      Richmond is the latest city in B.C. to join the letter-writing campaign.

      On Monday (June 24), Richmond city council passed a motion directing its mayor to ask the provincial government to enact a "Liability for Climate-Related Harms Act" confirming the right of local governments to recover a fair share of climate costs from global fossil fuel companies.

      A report released in 2012 estimated that Vancouver will spend $1 billion between now and 2100 in building seawalls and dikes to fend off the rising sea levels.

      The same report said that municipalities throughout Metro Vancouver will have to spend a total of $9.5 billion over the same period to protect themselves from the rising sea levels.