Climate change activist Jeanette Fitzsimons summarises the findings of the legal case brought in May this year to the High Court at Wellington.  Sarah challenged the then National government’s weak climate change targets.


Many readers will be aware of Sarah Thomson’s legal challenge to the National Government’s pathetic climate change target.  Although  the judge ultimately didn’t order a review of our 2050 and 2030 targets, there are still lots of wins to celebrate. Justice Mallon’s decision says:

–  the Minister had an obligation to review the 2050 target in light of recent science—in particular, the AR5 report—and failed to do so. She confirmed that ministers, whether for climate change or otherwise, have a duty to review important, long-term decisions when the science and facts underpinning those decisions change.

– contrary to the claim by the Crown’s lawyers that the 2030 target was in the realm of policy and ‘politics’, and beyond the court’s expertise, in law the 2030 target could be reviewed by the Court.  Even though setting an emissions target requires the weighing up of complicated economic, social, political and policy factors, the courts can still scrutinise such decisions.

In the judge’s own words:

The Courts have recognised the significance of the issue for the planet and its inhabitants and that those in the Court’s jurisdiction are necessarily among all who are affected by inadequate efforts to respond to climate change

…This approach is consistent with the view that justiciability concerns depend on the ground for review rather that its subject matter. The subject matter may make a review ground more difficult to establish, but it should not rule out any review by the Court.

The importance of the matter for all and each of us warrants some scrutiny of the public power, in addition to accountability through Parliament and Elections.”

In the end, Justice Mallon declined to order a review. In part, this was because our new Government has announced it will pursue a 2050 carbon neutral New Zealand.

This decision sets legal precedents for challenging governments on many other environmental issues. Many people recognised the importance of this and contributed to the Givealittle page for Sarah’s costs. However, although the lawyers generously donated their time, there is still a shortfall of $2,355 for court costs, travel, paperwork and other out of pocket expenses.

If you can help us clear this debt and take the burden off Sarah’s shoulders, please contribute on the Givealittle site


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