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Supreme Court rules on constitutionality of carbon pricing law

press release

Ecojustice celebrates Supreme Court of Canada carbon pricing decision

March 25, 2021

OTTAWA/TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED TERRITORY OF THE ALGONQUIN ANISHNAABEG PEOPLE – Ecojustice lawyers welcome today’s Supreme Court of Canada decision confirming that national, coordinated action to price carbon is constitutionally-sound and essential in the fight against the climate emergency. 

In September 2020, Ecojustice lawyers argued that Canada has the duty and the legal authority to ensure that all levels of government do their part to respond to the climate emergency, including by introducing and implementing a national carbon-pricing law.

The Supreme Court agreed, calling climate change a “threat of the highest order to the country, and indeed the world… The undisputed existence of a threat to the future of humanity cannot be ignored.”

The court’s decision upholds rulings out of the lower courts in both Saskatchewan and Ontario, which affirmed the constitutionality of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

Joshua Ginsberg, lawyer with Ecojustice’s law clinic at the University of Ottawa said:

“We are pleased Canada’s highest court has confirmed that the federal government has the legal authority to fight climate change through minimum national standards of price stringency to reduce GHG emissions. 

“Now Canadians can rest assured that all provinces will do their fair share to tackle the climate crisis, getting Canada on the path to meeting our Paris commitments and net-zero emissions by 2050.”

Judgement highlights

  • Parliament has the authority to set minimum national standards of price stringency to reduce GHG emissions, under the “peace, order and good government” clause of the constitution. 
  • The Court found that “Climate change is real. It is caused by greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities, and it poses a grave threat to humanity’s future. The only way to address the threat of climate change is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
  • The Court said that the provinces alone cannot address the climate crisis: Leaving GHG controls to the provinces alone would cause “profound nationwide harm.”
  • The GGPPA imposes a “backstop” that is narrow and specific to address deficiencies in provincial regulation and to address extraprovincial and international harm. It does not give the federal government “absolute and untrammeled discretion.”
  • The Court recognized that “there is a broad consensus among expert international bodies… that carbon pricing is a critical measure for the reduction of GHG emissions…. the evidence reflects a consensus, both in Canada and internationally, that carbon pricing is integral to reducing GHG emissions.”
  • The Act’s impacts on provinces is justified in order to protect the environment, human health, safety and the economy. Not acting federally could lead to irreversible harm, borne disproportionately by vulnerable communities and regions in Canada
  • To date, significant emissions reductions in some provinces have failed the goals of any cooperative scheme because they were offset by increased emissions in other provinces (para 184). Canada failed to honour the Kyoto Protocol and is not on track to honour Copenhagen Accord commitment

Ecojustice uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment. Its strategic, public interest lawsuits and advocacy lead to precedent-setting court decisions and law and policy that deliver lasting solutions to Canada’s most urgent environmental problems. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, Ecojustice operates offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax. The University of Ottawa and Ecojustice are partners in the uOttawa-Ecojustice Environmental Law Clinic, a problem-based educational learning course designed to help train the next generation of environmental law and policy leaders.