Mapping Human Rights-Based Climate Litigation in Canada

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Human Rights, Transnational Corporate Accountability, Climate Litigation, Canada


In line with global trends, there has been an increase in human rights-based climate litigation brought in Canadian courts in recent years. A federal state comprised of ten provinces, three territories, and diverse Indigenous peoples (First Nations, Inuit, or Métis), Canada provides a rich and multifaceted case study. In our article, published in a special issue of the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, we consider three different dimensions of Canadian climate litigation: substantive human rights arguments; procedural environmental human rights claims; and the potential of transnational corporate accountability human rights-based claims.

It is no surprise that the experience of climate change across the Canada is not uniform, given its geographic scope and diversity. For example, the Inuit have been long aware that climate change poses a serious threat to human rights as evident from the petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2005. More recently, the wildfires and extreme heatwave in Western Canada and concern over flooding and sea-level rise among coastal communities has drawn attention to the urgency of adaptation. However, the economy remains heavily tied to the fossil fuel industry particularly in Alberta and in Newfoundland & Labrador, and Canadians have among the highest per capita CO2 emissions in the world. Canada has repeatedly failed to meet its own inadequate climate mitigation targets, yet a 2007 legal challenge to this failure was held to be non-justiciable. More recent legal challenges to federal carbon pricing legislation came from provinces who viewed it as federal overreach, however the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada held in favour for the federal government in 2021, noting in passing that climate change is a serious threat to Indigenous peoples, including their ability to maintain traditional ways of life.

Against this background, our article considers emerging trends in human rights-based claims.


This blog post is based on an article co-written by Sara L. Seck with Lisa Benjamin.