Lawyers call on MPs to include right to sustainable environment in legislation

12:56 pm on 9 April 2024
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This story has been updated to clarify the content of the open letters

A group of lawyers is calling on politicians to include the right to a sustainable environment in the Bill of Rights Act.

A members' bill proposed by former climate minister and Green Party co-leader James Shaw aims to create the new right and will go to its first reading on Wednesday.

Seventeen non-government organisations and 59 Kings' Counsels have signed open letters supporting the right to a sustainable environment. The NGOS are now asking all MPs to vote in favour of the bill at the first reading.

Lawyers for Climate Action, a group representing 350 legal professionals, is leading the charge.

Executive director Jessica Palairet said no human right could be fully realised without a healthy environment.

"What this right would do is say that the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a fundamental right that needs to be protected when we're looking at introducing new legislation when legislation is being interpreted.

"Just like the right to freedom of movement, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly under the Bill of Rights are protected, we need a sustainable environment for the exercise of all other rights."

She said New Zealand was in the bottom 20 percent of countries that do not recognise the right to a sustainable environment in domestic law.

"Which is all the more surprising given we've actually recognised it internationally before the United Nations general assembly."

Palairet said the climate crisis was imposing significant threats to human rights and those rights needed to be protected in law.

"We know that the window of opportunity for addressing the climate crisis is rapidly closing and that's why it's so important that we recognise this right and join the rest of the world in doing so.

"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has unequivocally confirmed that climate change is causing, and will continue to cause, an increasing frequency of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, floods, heat waves, droughts, water shortages, and the spread of tropical and vector-borne diseases.

"It is difficult to conceive of a more fundamental challenge to the full and effective enjoyment of New Zealanders' human rights than climate change."

Lawyers for Climate Action would like the bill to pass its first reading and get to the select committee stage for wider engagement with the public.