Law student sues climate minister over poor emissions targets
A 24-year-old Hamilton woman is suing the Government over its emissions reduction targets, saying they do not go far
enough to tackle climate change.
Sarah Thomson, who just completed a law degree at the University of Waikato, has just filed judicial review proceedings
against the Minister for Climate Change Issues. She claims that Tim Groser has failed his ministerial duties by not
setting emissions targets that reflect the scientific consensus on climate change.
The High Court will now be asked to review the legality and reasonableness of New Zealand’s emissions targets.
The case has been filed in the lead up to the 21st United Nations climate conference in Paris, where the world’s
governments will meet in attempt to agree a new international framework on climate change to replace the Kyoto Protocol
that would take effect in 2020.
It also comes on the back of the landmark legal ruling in the Netherlands in June, where a group of Dutch citizens
successfully sued their government for failing to properly act against climate change.
Thomson has always loved New Zealand’s outdoors, walking bush tracks around Hamilton with her father as a child. She
can’t understand why New Zealand, with so much going for it, isn't standing up to be a world leader.
“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”, says Thomson.
“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”.
Climate minister Groser is among representatives New Zealand is sending to Paris, where he will table the Government’s
non-binding proposal to commit to a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2030.
New Zealand’s proposed target has been widely criticised by environmentalists for being weaker than some of our previous
targets, and is far less than scientific consensus says is needed. When compared to the 1990 baseline, that targets have
always been measured against until now, this new proposal is actually only around an 11% reduction by 2030.
New Zealand has previously indicated it would commit to a 10-20% reduction by 2020 if a comprehensive global agreement
could be agreed.
Thomson says even though New Zealand is a small nation, it should not be excused from taking action on climate change.
“The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that we have signed up to recognises that developed countries
need to take the lead on cutting emissions. New Zealand could be an international leader in taking action on climate
change. Instead, we currently produce some of the highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions per person in the world.
The Government seems to have no real plan to change this. How can we ask other countries to clean up if we won’t?”
Thomson says it’s the Government’s inaction on climate change that has compelled her to do something about it herself.
“I’m concerned about climate change and what it will mean for me and my children in the future. Like many New
Zealanders, I look forward to the experience of having a family of my own. I want to bring my children up in a safe
world, where they can live without fear and enjoy all the amazing natural wonders that our planet has to offer”, she
“That’s why I decided to bring this case. I just felt I had to do something. I want to be able to look my children in
the eye and say that I didn’t just stand by and watch this happen.”
Thomson wants to see the Government acknowledge that climate change is happening, take it seriously, and have some real
action plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
She is also calling for others like her to take action.
“In order to solve the problem of climate change, we need a collective effort. We need as many people as possible to
stand up and voice their concerns on the issue. The more people we have out there doing something, the better chance of
success we will have”, Thomson says.
“We can still do something to slow climate change down, but we have to do it now.”
The case will be heard in the High Court in Wellington.