Fonterra, Genesis Energy and Z sued for 'failing' to protect against effects of climate change

A environmental activist and iwi leader has filed court proceedings against New Zealand's top carbon emitters for failing to protect the country against climate change, saying they have committed a public nuisance. 

Mike Smith, chairman of the Climate Change Iwi Leaders Group, alleges seven companies have been negligent or breached other legal duties by emitting greenhouse gases, and by not doing enough to reduce those emissions in the face of scientific evidence that their emissions have caused, and will continue to cause harm. 

Smith filed proceedings at the High Court at Auckland against Fonterra, Genesis Energy, Dairy Holdings Ltd, New Zealand Steel Ltd, Z Energy, The New Zealand Refining Company Ltd and BT Mining Ltd. 

Mike Smith is suing seven companies for failing to protect New Zealanders against climate change. (FILE PHOTO)
Andrew Gorrie
Mike Smith is suing seven companies for failing to protect New Zealanders against climate change. (FILE PHOTO)

"Māori are particularly vulnerable to climate change, being disproportionately represented amongst the poor, who will be the hardest hit," Smith said. 

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"Rising sea levels, coastal erosion, flooding and storm surges will irrevocably damage low lying coastal communities, and warming oceans and ocean acidification will damage traditional resources, including fisheries," Smith said. 

Fonterra has been named as one of the companies.
Fonterra has been named as one of the companies.

The new court proceedings follow Smith's attempts to sue the Government in July, saying it had failed to protect New Zealanders against climate change. 

While Smith acknowledged the Government's efforts in enacting the Zero Carbon Act, he said steps to tackle climate change did not go far enough and was asking the courts to intervene.

"The urgency of climate change means we need far greater action and we need it now, and not just from government but also across the private sector," he said.

"It's not good enough just to set far off targets, especially ones that let our biggest polluters like the agricultural sector off the hook so they can have a bit more time to turn a profit. The fact is we are out of time and are now looking at damage control."

The case against the seven companies is brought by Smith, in his personal capacity, to protect his customary interests in land and resources in Northland.

He hopes for an injunction requiring each company to reduce total net greenhouse gases by half by 2030 and to zero by 2050, or to otherwise cease their emitting activities immediately.

No date has yet been set for the proceedings.