Vancouver city council was packed Thursday (June 27) evening with passionate people advocating in favour of a motion to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for the costs of climate change.
More than a dozen people from all walks of life—from young environmental activists to environmental experts, and from a young mother to a grandfather—were lined up to speak before council on why they believe it should vote for this measure.
A 16-year-old high schooler, Luca Pan, spoke forcefully before council, saying he is “scared [of the climate change] because my future is in jeopardy and not much is being done to secure it”.
“Why is it thrown to waste side when it comes to people with big money and people with power? I'm talking about fossil fuel companies,” Pan said. “In their world, they make mistakes, fund misinformation campaigns to pretend it didn't happen, and then leave the mess to us, walking with the money in their pockets.”
Environmental activist Uma Le Daca-Jolicoeur, 16, said before council that because of climate change, as a young person, she has to make “radical” changes in her life and that she is thinking that “having kids, one day, could be cruel because of the world they would grow up in”.
"The hardest part about this is that people like me aren't the main contributors to climate change," she said. "Fossil fuel companies are. So why wouldn't the people with the biggest footprints and the most power be held accountable to pay for repairs on the damage that they are inflicting?
“People who benefit the most from the fossil fuel industry and its damage to the environment should be held responsible for their actions,” she added. “The way I see it, paying their share is the least they can do. The people with the most power are not doing their part and are not even taking responsibility for their own actions.”
Yvon Raoul, a retired teacher, was another speaker before council advocating in support of the motion.
Raoul, a grandfather of seven, said that he is “extremely worried” about the future of his grandchildren.
“I'm also here because I'm a taxpayer. I don't mind paying taxes, but I resent the fact that some of my taxes will go to subsidize the oil barrels," Raoul declared. "I will get even further mad because these people when they make a mess, we have to cover the costs. That is simply not fair."
UBC professor and the director of the Centre for Law and the Environment, Stepan Wood, is coauthor of an open letter written by 28 leading experts supporting the motion.
He told council that “it is imperative [for local governments] to explore all reasonable avenues to recover the costs [of climate change] so that they don’t fall entirely on taxpayers.”
“The companies that make and sell the fuels—that they know would cause climate change while resisting regulations and misleading the public about the problem—must bear some of the responsibility for the resulting costs. And that fair share can be determined by the courts,” Wood argued.
For 24-year-old Mitch Stookey, who lives with his wife and two kids in Mount Pleasant, the rapidly changing climate is “terrifying”.
All Stookey wants for his kids is to have “clean air, clean water, healthy food, and above all be safe”.
“I honestly believe that all of that is severely being threatened,” Stookey added. “Every day, I fear for my kids. I fear for the people suffering from climate change the most, who did the least to deserve it. I fear for our city. I can't stop thinking about it.”
As the speakers finished delivering their arguments before councillors, the politicians approved the motion with seven votes in favour and four votes against.
OneCity councillor Christine Boyle, a cosponsor of the motion, said that the decision to hold fossil fuel companies accountable is a step to protect taxpayers from footing the full bill of climate-change costs.
“This pursuit of action is the only way that we can protect taxpayers from massive public costs in terms of dealing with the impacts of climate change in our city," she said. "It is our responsibility to pursue these strategies.”
Green councillor Adriane Carr, who also voted in favour of the motion, described the decision as laying the “groundwork” for future governments to “have options on the table to dealing with the costs and impacts” of climate change.
However, NPA councillor Rebecca Bligh, one of the four who voted against the motion, “wholeheartedly believe[s] that this is not the right way to do it.”
“We cannot be both punitive and also require partnerships to address the very real impacts of our dependency on fossil fuel,” Bligh argued.
Others who voted against were the NPA's Melissa De Genova, Lisa Dominato, and Sarah Kirby-Yung. The only NPA politician to vote in favour was Coun. Colleen Hardwick.
The motion directs Vancouver’s mayor to write a letter to the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, demanding that they pay their fair share of climate change costs.
It also directs 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”.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who voted in favour of the motion, is hoping that “some of the responses back [from his letters] will be how these companies are changing”.
Vancouver is the 24th municipality in B.C. that joined the letter-writing campaign asking the world’s 20 largest fossil fuel companies to pay their fair share in covering the climate change costs.
According to a report, Vancouver will spend $1 billion in the next 80 years in building seawalls and dikes to fend off rising sea levels.
The same report has estimated 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.