Why US Climate Lawsuits Against Big Oil Matter in Canada

Date: Friday, May 26, 2023
Complete Article: SueBigOil.ca


The past few weeks have seen a couple of important developments in the U.S. court cases brought against fossil fuel companies for the costs of climate change, [as] the U.S. Supreme Court refused applications by fossil fuel companies to halt climate lawsuits filed against them by state and local governments. This means these cases, which are aimed at recovering climate costs, will continue.

And on May 12th, a group of Attorneys General representing 16 states filed submissions in San Francisco and Oakland’s case against fossil fuel companies.

What do these developments mean for Canada and for BC’s Sue Big Oil campaign, which is pressing local governments here to file similar lawsuits?

The decision on these technical issues regarding level of court does not have a direct legal impact on cases in Canada. However, the U.S. Supreme Court’s [decision] … means that a number of court cases will be moving forward much more quickly, which is both legally and politically relevant here.


Cases in Hawaii and Massachusetts are already in the pre-trial discovery stage, meaning that the fossil fuel defendants are soon going to have to disclose documents and evidence about what they knew about climate change and how they acted.

Documents are coming to light showing that in 1989, Shell staff literally warned the company executives that business-as-usual climate projections could result in a collapse of civilization.


U.S. political discourse has a way of spilling over into Canada. Lawsuits against tobacco companies arose in Canada only after successes by state governments in the U.S. normalized the concept here in Canada.

The fact that political leaders with 40+ governments, as well as 16 State Attorneys General, are actively talking about the importance of holding fossil fuel companies accountable for their role in causing climate change could well have an impact on Canadians and our sense of what is possible.


At the end of the day, a BC class action lawsuit against fossil fuel companies that the Sue Big Oil campaign calls for will be based on Canadian law, not what is going on in the United States. Legal experts, including West Coast Environmental Law, are clear that such a case has a strong basis in existing legal principles.

But at the same time, dozens of lawsuits unfolding in the U.S. against these same companies will have a legal and political impact. The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions not to rescue fossil fuel companies from these legal fights will almost certainly have a positive impact on our own efforts to hold fossil fuel companies accountable in this country.

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