Lawyers take legal action against Climate Change Commission

10:11 am on 2 July 2021

A group of lawyers are taking legal action against the Climate Change Commission for not taking urgent enough action with its roadmap for cutting emissions.

"You are Stealing Our Future" at the Climate Strike at Parliament April 2021

"You are Stealing Our Future" at the Climate Strike at Parliament April 2021 Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

Lawyers for Climate Action NZ have asked for a judicial review of the commission's plan to tackle climate change.

Last month, the Climate Change Commission released its final report laying out the proposal for the country to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Among the report's recommendations are that nearly all cars imported by 2035 must be electric vehicles, phasing out coal, and setting a farm emission carbon pricing scheme.

Lawyers for Climate Action NZ spokesperson Jenny Cooper QC told Morning Report that the recommendations fail to address the scale and urgency of the task and are inconsistent with international agreements.

She said the call for a review is meant to prod the commission to take bigger steps.

"It's not because they're the bad guys."

"We don't disagree with the general direction of their advice but what we disagree with is the scale and pace of it."

The Climate Change Commission acknowledged the proceedings filed to have parts of the commission's advice judicially reviewed.

"We have received a copy of the proceedings from Lawyers for Climate Action today, and we will be taking the time to review them," commission chair Rod Carr said in a statement.

"The board and the commission will consider the issues raised, and the board plans to meet next Tuesday 6 July to discuss."

The commission said it had no further statement to make at this time.

Lawyers for Climate Action NZ said that none of the commission's recommendations will help New Zealand achieve its obligations to keep temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees.

"They've set out some good suggestions. Ten years ago, their suggestions would have been absolutely fantastic," Cooper said.

"But unfortunately what they're suggesting, given where we are now, just isn't enough to meet our obligations and our objectives."

The commission's report sets the maximum amount of greenhouse gas emissions over five-year blocks: 2025, 2026-2030 and 2031-35.

Cooper said the commission needs to look harder at meeting global warming targets.

"The starting point has to be look at the science and what that tells us we need to bring our emissions down to, and how quickly if we're going to stay below 1.5 degrees (warming of global temperatures).

"For us that's the starting point and then you work backwards from that to work out how you can get emissions down to that level, rather than saying what could we do to cut emissions without it impinging too much on us and see where that gets us to."

"We can't negotiate with the science. It is what it is."

The group has previously eyed overseas legal cases on climate change as a model for possible action in New Zealand.

Crowds for the School Strike 4 Climate march in Wellington begin to grow in Civic Square.

Crowds for the School Strike 4 Climate march in Wellington begin to grow in Civic Square. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Asked about raising the price on the Emissions Trading Scheme, Cooper said the current scheme isn't robust enough and has "massive gaps" on it, but said all angles need to be considered.

"The other problem with relying just on price is that would have some really severe social consequences.

"Just cutting emissions the way that's the cheapest isn't necessarily going to be the best way to cut them in terms of our overall economy and our overall social well-being.

"We've seen with Covid that we can cope with massive change happening very quickly."

Asked if she thought the legal action would hamper the commission's efforts, Cooper said the commission was begun as a non-political body and needed to provide advice that wasn't afraid of political implications.

"Our concern is that by not coming up with advice that does clearly comply with the 1.5 [degree] requirements and with the science, the commission has almost anticipated the political debate too much."

"There's no doubt that this is going to be a tough transition however it's carried out and that's why we need really good planning and policies.

"I think what's really important here is the public has the opportunity to understand the trade-offs that are being made on their behalf."

"There's absolutely no excuse for New Zealand to be doing less than the average minimum required. That's unfortunately the position that we're in at the moment and under the commission's advice that would continue to be the problem.

"I don't think we can justify that. There's no reason for New Zealand not to pull its weight here."

Lawyers for Climate Action NZ is hoping to have a hearing before the end of the year on their concerns.

The government has until the end of the year to respond to the commission's climate roadmap with its own Emissions Reduction Plan.

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