Peter A Allard School of Law

Marching for Climate Accountability

Stepan Wood

Stepan Wood


Sep 26, 2019

The Centre for Law & the Environment will be marching in tomorrow’s Global Climate Strike in Vancouver, demanding accountability for climate crimes.

Allard students stand behind banner reading "Climate Criminals: See you in court"

One of my most fulfilling activities as Director of the Centre for Law & the Environment is to teach a seminar on Green Rights and Warrior Lawyers at UBC’s Allard School of Law. I co-created the seminar with environmental educator and author Silver Donald Cameron, to explore the human right to a healthy environment and the rights of nature through the personal stories of attorneys and indigenous legal knowledge bearers around the world who use law to protect environmental defenders and advance environmental justice. Many of these stories are captured in in-depth interviews with Silver Donald Cameron, available on The Green Interview website.

The theme of this week’s seminar was Holding Governments to Account. We looked at the inspirational story of Dutch lawyer and entrepreneur Marjan Minnesma, founder and executive director of the innovative Urgenda Foundation. Urgenda is a cross between an NGO and a social enterprise. It develops, promotes and implements imaginative, practical approaches to achieving a low carbon, circular economy. Law and litigation play a rather minor part in Urgenda’s overall strategy, but Urgenda is most famous for successfully suing the Dutch government for its failure to set adequate targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The Urgenda case is an interesting mix of tort law (the State’s civil duty of care to avoid contributing to catastrophic climate change) and human rights law (the State’s duty to protect Dutch residents’ rights to life, privacy and family life).

The Urgenda case illustrates vividly that governments can be held legally accountable for their decisions not to take effective action to avoid dangerous anthropogenic climate change.

The claimants have won at two levels of court and are awaiting a decision of the Netherlands High Court, which is expected any day.

Government accountability for climate change is a particularly appropriate theme today, in the midst of the September 20-27, 2019 Global Climate Strike. Holding governments accountable for their breathtaking failure to address the climate crisis is the central thrust of the school strikes that began with Greta Thunberg standing alone outside the Swedish Parliament every day for three weeks, and that have grown into a worldwide youth movement.

In today’s class we did not just talk about Marjan Minnesma, Urgenda and the groundbreaking legal ideas of its lawyer Roger Cox. We also watched Greta Thunberg’s angry speech to the UN Climate Action Summit.

Then we put down our books, picked up our tools and made a banner that we will carry in tomorrow’s Climate Strike in Vancouver.

The message on the banner is directed at all the actors–governmental and private–who have until now fuelled the climate crisis with impunity. “Climate Criminals: SEE YOU IN COURT!” This is not an idle threat. It is a prediction and a promise. Climate accountability litigation has already begun in Canada with the pathbreaking Environnement Jeunesse lawsuit by Quebec Youth against the federal government for its failure to take adequate action on climate change. More litigation against governmental and private defendants is on its way in Canada, and the Centre for Law & the Environment plans to do what it can to support such litigation.

Allard students making climate strike banner
Students in the Green Rights and Warrior Lawyers seminar making a banner for the climate strike march


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Stepan Wood


Professor Stepan Wood’s research relates to sustainability, globalization, transnational governance, voluntary environmental standards, climate change, environmental law, corporate social responsibility and social justice. He holds the Canada Research Chair in Law, Society and Sustainability at the Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia, where he also directs the Centre for Law & the Environment.

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