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“Climate change is real”: Supreme Court upholds Greenhouse Gas Pollution Protection Act


The Supreme Court today upheld the constitutionality of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Protection Act (GGPPA) in a rare application of the “national concern” branch of the federal power under section 91 of the Constitution, the “Peace, Order and Good Government” head of power. You can read the full decision here.

The Canadian Labour Congress, represented by Goldblatt Partners LLP, successfully intervened in the reference before the Supreme Court. It argued that the collective action problem facing all Canadians was immediate and existential, and justified finding the GGPPA constitutional. Canadian workers have an important and direct interest in a just transition to good jobs in a green economy, and internalizing the cost of greenhouse gasses in part of that strategy.

Chief Justice Wagner wrote for the majority of the Court. He found that the purpose and effect of the GGPPA (the “pith and substance”) is to create national standards of stringency in pricing greenhouse gasses, which is a key policy option in reducing greenhouse gas production and consumption enabling Canada to meet its international commitments to reducing greenhouse gasses.

The Court made some important statements about climate change. It stated that the “essential factual backdrop to these appeals is uncontested. 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.”

Consistent with the CLC’s argument, the Court made comments on the collective action problem that the GGPPA is intended to address. The Court made reference to provinces withdrawing from pan-Canadian agreements to address greenhouse gas emissions, and the fact that the growth in emissions from Alberta and Saskatchewan exceeded the reductions in emissions in other provinces, justified in part the finding of a national concern and implementation of regulatory charges on greenhouse gas production and consumption. The Court also noted the particular impacts of climate change on Arctic, coastal and Indigenous regions and interests.

The effect of the decision will be to ensure the “backstop” under the GGPPA continues to apply to put a price on greenhouse gasses where provinces do not enact their own schemes with sufficient price stringency.

GP’s Simon Archer, Mariam Moktar, Daniel Sheppard and Melanie Anderson represented the Canadian Labour Congress at the Supreme Court of Canada.