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Sarah Thomson vs. The Minister for Climate Change Issues

Country/Territory
New Zealand
Type of court
National - higher court
Date
Nov 2, 2017
Source
UNEP, InforMEA
Court name
High Court of New Zealand
Seat of court
Wellington
Judge
J Mallon
Reference number
CIV 2015-485-919 [2017] NZHC 733
Keyword
International agreement-implementation National implementation/transposal Legal proceedings/administrative proceedings Climate change
Abstract

 

First, the plaintiff requested an order for the Minister for Climate Change Issues to review New Zealand’s 2050 greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target based on Section 225 of the Climate Change Response Act, which requires a review following the publication of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, and Section 224, on administrative law grounds. The Court ruled that this order was unnecessary given that the new government had announced it would set a new 2050 target. Second, the plaintiff sought an order declaring that the Minister’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) decision was unlawful, on the grounds that the Minister failed to consider: the cost of dealing with the adverse impacts of climate change in a “business as usual” situation; the adverse impacts on citizens living in at risk areas; and the scientific consensus that the combined NDCs of Parties to the Paris Agreement fall short of preventing a dangerous climate system. Third, the plaintiff pled that the NDC decision lacked a reasonable basis for believing the NDC would strengthen the global climate response and avoid a dangerous climate system. Ruling on the second and third causes of action, the Court found that the government had followed the international framework and no errors required judicial intervention. The application for judicial review was thereby dismissed.

 

Environmental Legal Questions:

  • Does Section 225 require a Ministerial review? S. 225 obliges the Minister to review the target following publication of any IPPC Report or report of a successor agency.  The new government, however, announced intentions to review the 2050 target after the hearing. The Court thus did not issue the relief sought.
  • Is the Minister required to exercise her discretionary power under Section 224? S. 224 required the Minister to set a target, which the Minister did by setting the 2050 target by gazette. In addition, the Minister was permitted to set, amend, or revoke a target “at any time.” The Court indicated that a statutory power is to be exercised in accordance with its purpose. It is also to be interpreted consistently with New Zealand’s international obligations where that interpretation is available. The Court found that to give effect to the Act and to New Zealand’s commitments under international instruments, and in light of the threat that climate change presents, the publishing of a new IPCC report requires the Minister to consider whether a target set under S. 224 should be reviewed. The Minister must therefore consider whether information in an IPCC report materially alters the information against which an existing target was set. The new government, however, announced intentions to review the 2050 target after the hearing. Thus, the Court thus did not issue the relief sought.
  • Did the Minister follow the international framework in its target decisions? The Court stated that scientific analysis shows that New Zealand’s 2030 target is somewhat less ambitious than its 2050 target and the EU’s target, and that this may increase the costs of New Zealand reducing its emissions over time. However, that does not mean it is inconsistent with the global temperature goal under the Paris Agreement, such that the NDC does not meet New Zealand’s international obligations. The Court stated that the new government intends to amend the 2050 target and that amending the 2030 target may follow. It is open under the international framework to review the 2030 target and under national legislation to set a new 2030 target or other targets that are considered appropriate in light of economic, environmental, social, and international considerations involved. The Court did not find errors in the former government’s decision and did not seek further submissions due to the intentions of the new government.  
Full text
New Zealand - Sarah Thomson v Minister of Climate Change Issues.pdf
eeb4bcef-c776-49b1-8f7b-23d77c358ded.pdf