A group of kids allege that Ontario Premier Doug Ford's emissions plan violates their rights to a safe climateOntario Premier Doug Ford's government has rolled back climate policies, which a group of young people say violates their fundamental rights. Photo credit: Martin Oullet-Diotte/AFP via Getty Images

By Dana Drugmand

A group of young Canadians have filed a climate lawsuit against the province of Ontario, claiming that the government’s rollback of climate policies under Ontario Premier Doug Ford violates their fundamental rights. 

The new lawsuit, Mathur et. al. v. Her Majesty in Right of Ontario, challenges the weakening of Ontario’s 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. The province, under Ford’s conservative government, enacted legislation last year that ended a cap-and-trade program and lowered the 2030 target from a 37 percent reduction (below 1990 levels) to a 30 percent reduction compared to 2005 levels. The new target, plaintiffs say, is “dangerously inadequate” and will lead to significantly more carbon emissions as a new UN report shows countries must slash their emissions quickly to avoid catastrophic levels of global warming. 

The plaintiffs include seven young people ranging in age from 12 to 24. Their lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, seeks a court order requiring the government to set a science-based emissions reduction target that aligns with the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. They claim the government’s failure to act on climate in response to scientific warnings contributes to a dangerous level of climate change that violates their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Specifically, they allege violations of their rights to life, liberty and personal security, as well as violation of the Charter’s equal rights protection    

“Ontario’s climate rollbacks pose an unacceptable risk to the life, liberty and security of all Ontarians,” said attorney Nader Hasan, whose firm Stockwoods LLP, along with the nonprofit group Ecojustice, is representing the young plaintiffs. 

“These rollbacks are unconstitutional and will condemn entire generations to shouldering the frightening health impacts the climate crisis,” Hasan said. “Because government won’t act on its own, we’re asking the courts to order this government to wake up and take action.”

The Ontario lawsuit is the latest in a wave of legal actions from young people demanding governments do more to prevent catastrophic climate change. A group of young Canadians filed suit against the federal government last month, a case modeled after the landmark American youth climate lawsuit Juliana v. United States. Several other youth climate cases are pending at the state level, including in Alaska, Florida, Oregon, and Washington. 

Young people in Norway, represented by the organization Nature and Youth, are challenging the Norwegian government’s licensing of offshore oil drilling. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and 15 other young people from around the world filed a children’s rights petition with the UN in September targeting Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey, seeking to compel those countries to take stronger climate action. 

Young people and children will be disproportionately impacted by climate change, and a recent study in the medical journal The Lancet confirmed that failing to rein in GHG emissions risks worsening health problems for children worldwide

The Ontario lawsuit references these expected climate-related health impacts, such as the spread of infectious diseases, rising mental health impacts, worsening air pollution from wildfires, and increases in death and illnesses from extreme heat. 

“I do not feel like I am secure or safe in my future, which is why I am committed to fighting for climate action,” said Shaelyn Wabegijig, 22 year-old plaintiff from Peterborough, Ont. “I do not want to bring children into a world that is dying, or where they’re at risk of illness or harm imposed by climate change.” 

Alan Andrews, climate director with Ecojustice, said that governments should be prepared to face more climate lawsuits.

“Any government that is failing to address the climate emergency in a meaningful way can expect to face litigation of this nature,” he said

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