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The government argues that Sierra Club of B.C. is ‘misguided’ in seeking court action against the province’s 2021 accountability report on climate.

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The B.C. government has filed a response in court to a lawsuit launched by an environmental group alleging the Environment Ministry’s climate plan failed to adequately address how the government plans to reach greenhouse gas emission targets.

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In the response, filed Friday in B.C. Supreme Court, the provincial government says the issues raised in the suit—launched by Ecojustice last month on behalf of Sierra Club B.C.—are not justiciable.

The government contends that Sierra Club’s complaint—that the government’s plans are insufficiently detailed in the report— are just not to “Sierra Club’s liking,” particularly with respect to the oil and gas sector target. And, it argues, that’s not a reasonable basis for legal action and therefore the court should dismiss the suit.

The Climate Change Accountability Act requires the government to publish annual reports on how it plans to make progress toward all its climate targets. B.C.’s targets are for province-wide GHG emissions to be at least 40 per cent less than 2007 levels by 2030, at least 60 per cent less by 2040, and 80 per cent less by 2050.

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But Sierra Club alleges the 2021 accountability report falls woefully short by failing to include a plan for the 2025, 2040 and 2050 climate targets. It also omits the government’s plan to cut carbon pollution from the oil and gas sector, fuelled mainly by the province’s natural gas industry.

While the report does not contain chapters dedicated to quantifying progress to either the 2025, 2040 or 2050 targets, its supporting material is “replete with information” about how the various initiatives described in the report will achieve increasing reductions over time, the government argues, in the response.

The government claims the Act does not impose any standard of adequacy of the plans to achieve the targets and that the minister’s obligation is to report on the government’s plans to meet the emissions targets “in whatever state they happen to be.”

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Alan Andrews, climate program director at Ecojustice, said to claim the report is replete with detail is “laughable.”

“That was a surprise and really calls into question why they introduced this Act, saying it’s going to deliver transparency and accountability, and now they are arguing that it’s not enforceable through the court. So how does that deliver accountability?” said Andrews.

“They have not come up with a plan for all their targets. And so when a government fails to comply with the law, we have a right to go to court to ask that that law be upheld.”

The government also argues Sierra Club waited more than five months to file its petition challenging the minister’s report which caused unnecessary delays. Andrews said they were waiting for the final part of the report—the methodology—before making any legal decisions.

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The government calls Sierra’s lawsuit “misguided,” and says it “cannot credibly argue” that there are no plans in the report to meet the various emission reduction targets established under the Act.

“I would challenge the minister to point out where in this report are the plans for the 2025, 2040, and 2050 targets,” said Andrews.

Government lawyer David Cowie, who filed the response, has yet to return a message. A date for a hearing on the matter has yet to be set.

Last month, the B.C. Ministry of Environment emailed a brief statement in response to the suit, saying it was proud of its “continent-leading” CleanBC plan and that it was not in a position to comment on the specifics of this matter as the issue may be before the courts.

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British Columbia has approved the construction and operation of two liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects through the environmental assessment process. Another three LNG projects are in the environmental assessment process and are being considered for development in B.C., according to court documents.

Ecojustice lawyers contend that all of these projects will impact B.C.’s ability to meet the oil and gas sector target, as well as its 2040 and 2050 targets.

The petitioners are seeking declaratory relief regarding whether Environment Minister George Heyman failed to meet his statutory obligations under the Act, and/or quashing and setting aside the 2021 report.

Andrews alleges that the ministry’s failure undermines the B.C. government’s climate leadership credentials and risks locking the province into a high carbon future.

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“The public has a right to know if their government has a real plan to tackle the climate crisis,” he said.

In February, the global authority on climate science warned that the climate breakdown is accelerating and the window to avert catastrophe is rapidly closing. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report said the world faces unavoidable climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5 C and even temporarily exceeding this warming will cause widespread destruction, including catastrophic loss of human and animal life and infrastructure.

Greenhouse-gas emissions in B.C. rose to 68.6 million tonnes in 2019 from 66 million tonnes in 2017, according to the climate accountability report. The government estimates that its CleanBC climate actions will reduce those emissions to 55.2 million tonnes in 2030.

ticrawford@postmedia.com

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