Government should have done more on climate change

A decision was released today in the case that Sarah Thomson took against the previous Government  alleging they had taken inadequate action over climate change.

Stuff:  High Court says previous National Government should have done more on climate change targets

Justice Jillian Mallon released her decision on Thursday after Waikato law student Sarah Thomson took former Environment Minister Paula Bennett to court in June over alleged inadequate action to address emissions targets.

The High Court dismissed the judicial review. But in her written decision, Justice Mallon acknowledged that when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fifth assessment reports in 2014, the Government failed to undertake a satisfactory review of its 2050 emissions targets.

“However this cause of action has been overtaken by subsequent events,” Justice Mallon said.

Because National lost power at the last election, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s new Labour-led government had already announced its intention to set a new 2050 target, court-ordered relief was ruled unnecessary.

Government lawyers had argued the court was not in a position to make a judgement on the government’s target setting, because they could not comprehend the many economic and social implications. But Justice Mallon did not agree.

One of Thomson’s lawyers said on Thursday this was hugely significant, because it emphasised that all future decisions that were made in this area were susceptible for review by the courts.

“Notwithstanding the complex nature of these decisions, the courts retain a crucial oversight role to ensure that the decisions meet minimum standards of lawfulness and rationality.”

Should the Court be able to stipulate which policies a Government should implement, and to what degree?

On two other actions, which related to the 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) emissions targets, Justice Mallon was not convinced the minister made any error for which the court could intervene.

“The international framework has been followed. It has not been demonstrated the NDC decision was outside the minister’s power under this framework,” she said.

“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 (or any other target) as it considers appropriate.

“The community has elected a new Government and it is for that new Government to weigh the competing factors and to reach a view about the appropriate targets going forward. For these reasons the application for judicial review is dismissed.”

So the Judge has left it up to the incoming Government.

Sarah Thomson said the ball was now in newly-minted Minister for Climate Change James Shaw’s court to ensure targets were changed quickly.

“This is something we can’t waste time on.”

I have serious reservations about using courts for what is effectively political activism.

Will this be a one off? Or will it encourage others to try to force the Government’s hand?

Climate change in court today

Climate change features in a court case starting in Wellington today. Hamilton law student Sarah Thomson is taking a judicial review against the Minister of Climate Change issues, saying they have failed in their ministerial duties by not setting adequate emission targets.

The case was announced in 2015 when Tim Groser was minister. Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett has now taken over the portfolio.

Thomson at The Spinoff:  Why I’m taking the NZ government to court

I realised that politicians can’t always be trusted to act in the best interests of the people or the planet, and felt compelled by an irresistible force to do somethingwrites Sarah Thomson, ahead of a date at the High Court in Wellington this month.

She has raised $10k at Givealittle: Stand with Sarah for the Climate

Sarah Thomson is courageously taking the government to court to review their inadequate climate change target. Please help with her costs.

Newshub in 2015:  Govt sued by law student over climate change

Sarah Thomson, 24, has filed judicial review proceedings against the Minister of Climate Change Issues, claiming Tim Groser has failed his ministerial duties by not setting adequate emission targets.

“All the world’s scientists agree that climate change is real, that humans are causing it, and that urgent action is needed, but I can’t see our government taking it seriously,” Ms Thomson said.

“The science shows that New Zealand’s emissions targets just aren’t good enough to avoid dangerous climate change. Scientists agree that the reductions are too small and will take too long.”

She says the High Court will be asked to review the legality and reasonableness of New Zealand’s emissions targets under the Climate Change Response Act 2002.

Prime Minister John Key has dismissed the legal action as “a joke”.

“If we’re getting sued, I hate to think what’s going to happen to the United States and Australia and other countries because their climate change targets are lower than ours,” he said.

This has to be a publicity stunt.

It would not be good for our democracy if an individual could effectively dictate Government policy on major issues through the court.