Can cities sue oil companies for damages due to climate change?

Lloyd and Mike
CC BY 2.0 Councillor Mike Layton listening to Lloyd Alter going on about something

A Toronto city councillor is going to try.

The City of Toronto sits in a nice part of the world, if you are worried about climate. It is far from the oceans, has lots of fresh water and clean electricity, and people do complain about the cold.

But in the last few years it has been hit by ice storms, floods, and, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, has been hit by six 100-year storms since 2005. Jeff Gray of the Globe and Mail quotes Councillor Mike Layton:

“We could be on the hook for an enormous amount of money, into the billions as a city,” Mr. Layton said in an interview. “I am a firm believer in the notion that polluters should pay.”

The usually wishy-washy mayor was not as wishy-washy as usual, saying through his spokesperson:

Councillor Layton’s motion asks for a report on the long-term cost implications of climate change to the City; the Mayor supports understanding those costs and sees no downside to understanding possible options to recover those costs.

The trouble is, the oil companies are not actually doing the polluting; it is the drivers of the cars that fill their tanks with gasoline that the oil companies sell. They are mostly driving because they do not have serious options, thanks to decisions made by planners and politicians. And the Mayor contributes to climate change every day by refusing to even consider measures that might reduce the number of cars in the City. He is spending a billion bucks to rebuild an elevated expressway, and probably another four billion to build a one-stop subway that was proposed by the late Rob Ford because he hated surface transit like streetcars or Light Rapid Transit. Nor is City Council doing much to add bike lanes or improve pedestrian infrastructure.

Mike Layton is certainly aware of those issues, but he doesn't have the votes to deal with that, and hey, suing the oil companies is a nice diversion from the real climate change issues facing the City of Toronto.


All the latte-sipping downtown elitists are going to support this, but it has a long way to go through staff reports and the Council infrastructure and environment committee, which is chock-full of car-loving suburbanites.

Sure, let's sue the oil companies. But the city can't pretend it isn't complicit, a willing participant in pollution and climate change that won't even consider restoring a tax on cars that Rob Ford got elected to kill. Clean up your own house first.

Can cities sue oil companies for damages due to climate change?
A Toronto city councillor is going to try.

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