Law student going to court over NZ climate change policy

Friday 13th November 2015  The Wireless (also in NZ Herald, stuff, and checkpoint)

Waikato University student Sarah Thomson is taking the Government to court over its climate change policy.

Photo: NZ Geographic

A Waikato University law student is taking the Government to court over its climate change policy.

Sarah Thomson, 24, claims the targets New Zealand is committing at an upcoming UN climate convention in Paris are too low and has filed papers in the High Court in Wellington requesting a judicial review of aspects of the Government’s climate change policy.

The domestic greenhouse gas targets are unreasonable and not in line with the current scientific consensus, and they should have been reviewed following a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last year, she says.

“I’m going to be arguing that there actually is a legal obligation to set those reductions along the lines of scientific consensus.

“The Climate Change Response Act actually says in the ‘purpose’ section that any decision should be made in light of the climate change convention”, she told RNZ.

“We’re challenging the fact that Government hasn’t reviewed its emissions reductions targets, and that the targets that it has set for the convention in Paris are too low and unreasonable.”

New Zealand’s current proposed target ahead of the convention is to reduce emissions by 11 percent, based on 1990 levels, by 2030.

According to Thomson’s case, this target is “unreasonable and irrational”.                                                  She says New Zealand’s Climate Change Response Act requires the minister to review targets whenever the IPCC releases a new report, to make sure that targets are in line with scientific research and consensus on how to mitigate climate change.

There was no evidence any such review had taken place, which would mean the minister had acted unlawfully, Thomson says.

“I am fairly certain [that no review has happened] – all the information goes out onto the government website, and nothing has gone out about a review of that target.”

A spokesperson for Minister for Climate Change Issues Tim Groser says the minister is seeking legal advice and was not in a position to comment further.


Thomson says she had not always been interested in climate change, but following it more over the last few months impressed on her the need to act.                                                                                                  “Just learning more about it has made me realise how important this is, to do something. It’s not really just the legal side of it, but also the human rights side and the environmental side of it too.”

Thomson says the best outcome would be that the Government is forced to set higher, more ambitious targets.                       In the meantime, she was happy to play the waiting game.

“We’re in it for the long haul – I’m keen to keep on taking it all the way through, and the lawyers are too.”

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