Does inaction on climate change violate Canadians’ human rights?

  • November 16, 2020
  • Laura Lepine

Does inaction on climate change violate Canadians’ human rights? If the Netherlands are any example to follow, the answer may be yes.

In The Netherlands vs Urgenda, the Dutch Supreme Court found that an inadequate response to climate change can violate human rights. The court imposed a legally binding target – and a deadline – on the government: a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% from 1990 levels by the end of 2020.

In Canada, climate change cases have not been successful. However, that hasn’t stopped litigants from reformulating their arguments and trying again.

Urgenda may be useful to new litigants, since the court concluded that climate change is a real and immediate threat to life. Similarly, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria have all found the right to a healthy environment in the constitutional right to life.

In Canada, the right to life is protected by section 7 of the Charter. The Supreme Court of Canada has also historically considered international human rights law as a baseline (or minimum) when interpreting the scope of Charter protection.

You can read more about Urgenda and its implications for Canadian climate change litigation in this article by Professor Karinne Lantz of the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University here (link).

For more information about Canada’s framework of climate change legislation and what a challenge to climate change action could look like under section 7 of the Charter, you can read a research paper by bakerlaw’s Laura Lepine here (link).

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