Law student loses case against govt's climate policy

9:51 pm on 2 November 2017

Waikato law student Sarah Thomson has indicated she will appeal her case challenging the last government's climate change policy.

Sarah Thomson's during the climate change case at the High Court in Wellington in June.

Sarah Thomson's during the climate change case at the High Court in Wellington in June. Photo: Supplied / Sarah Thomson

The High Court has dismissed a legal challenge relating to the previous government's climate change policy.

Thomson went to the High Court in Wellington in June asking it to judicially review the policies and order the government to reconsider its decisions.

Her lawyer Davey Salmon suggested there was a human rights aspect to the case and cited the hardship which would be caused to the New Zealand-administered territory of Tokelau as a result of rising sea levels caused by climate change.

He said the economic modelling done for the government had enabled production of a graph showing the cheapest climate change option New Zealand could take relating to GDP growth.

Mr Salmon said the model "smel very bad" and showed this country was not prepared to do a sensible share of the heavy lifting needed to lower our greenhouse gas emissions.

The Crown in turn suggested Justice Mallon should exercise restraint, saying it would be difficult for the Court to assess the social ramifications involved against the political issues and international considerations that needed to be taken into account.

Its lawyer Peter Gunn said the government was not contesting the seriousness of the climate issue, but the real question was how well equipped the Court was to examine government processes.

In a decision today Justice Mallon ruled the Minister responsible was required to consider what, if any, changes had occurred between United Nations' climate change reports in setting the emissions targets and did not do so.

"However this cause of action has been overtaken by subsequent events. The new government has announced it intends to set a new 2050 target. Court ordered relief is therefore unnecessary."

Regarding the other two matters before the Court, Justice Mallon ruled the former minister did not make any error in which the Court could intervene.

"The international framework has been followed. It has not been demonstrated the Nationally Determined Contribution decision was outside the Minister's power under this framework."

"That is not to say another Minister would have assessed the appropriate 2030 target in the same way and reached the same decision. Nor does it prevent New Zealand from doing more between now and 2030 than contemplated in its NDC decision."

"The international process envisages review and demonstrated progression by developed countries including New Zealand. Quite apart from the international process, New Zealand remains free to review its 2030 target ... as it considers appropriate."

Justice Mallon said it was up to the new government to weigh the competing factors and reach a view about the appropriate targets going forward.

In a statement, Ms Thomson welcomed the judgment and said it put the onus on the new Climate Change Minister to go back to the drawing-board regarding emissions targets.

She said the 2030 target she was challenging still needed to be urgently amended and she would ask Green Party leader James Shaw whether he was prepared to defend his predecessor's approach.

"The new government's net zero carbon ambitions for 2050 are great, but time is not on our side. What we really need now is rapid action; we need to know when we're going to change the 2030 target and how we're going to get there".

Ms Thomson indicated she would appeal against today's decision.

Justice Mallon suggested each side should be responsible for its costs.

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