Student Sarah Thomson's legal case against Government emissions targets wraps up

Sarah Thomson leaves the High Court at Wellington for the last time with legal team Sam Humphrey, Michael Heard, and ...
GED CANN/FAIRFAX NZ

Sarah Thomson leaves the High Court at Wellington for the last time with legal team Sam Humphrey, Michael Heard, and Davey Salmon.

Former Environment Minister Tim Groser made the most important decision he would ever make after a consultation process that was "peripheral and brief," a court has been told.

That was the message from lawyer Davey Salmon, as he summed up his case in the High Court at Wellington on Wednesday on behalf of Sarah Thomson, who is suing the Government over what she claims are its inadequate greenhouse emission targets.

Salmon used his closing statements to re-highlight some of the perceived shortcomings in the Government's target setting.

Student Sarah Thomson spoke to a small crowd outside court on Monday.
MONIQUE FORD/FAIRFAX NZ

Student Sarah Thomson spoke to a small crowd outside court on Monday.

The first was the implicit reliance on not-yet-invented "Star Trek" technologies to achieve targets.

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Government lawyer Peter Gunn had pointed to bovine methane vaccines and electric cars as examples of future innovations. But Salmon argued neither of these removed greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Sarah Thomson arrived at court on Monday with lawyers Davey Salmon, left, and Michael Heard, when the case against the ...
MONIQUE FORD/FAIRFAX NZ

Sarah Thomson arrived at court on Monday with lawyers Davey Salmon, left, and Michael Heard, when the case against the government's emissions targets began.

"[They] are not carbon capture or carbon storage solutions ... negative emissions are needed."

Earlier in the case, Gunn questioned the practicality of a judicial review on the grounds that the political, scientific and economic complexity behind emissions targets was too great.

Salmon countered that argument by saying the judicial review was the public's only chance to scrutinise targets. He also called into question the very modelling the Government used to inform its targets.

His objection hinged on how the costs of different options were calculated.

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Salmon said the three scenarios - continuing with business as usual, a 10 per cent reduction below 1990 emission levels by 2030, and a 40 per cent reduction - only looked at the cost of reductions, but not the cost of failing to act or the benefits of greater action. 

"The model smells, and it smells bad, and it smells in a way the court is competent to judge," he said.

"It's wrong because it ignores a relevant factor, and that's fatal."

Gunn defended the Government's current goal of an 11 per cent reduction below 1990 levels by 2030, and said 40 per cent would cost an extra billion per year.

Salmon said the extra cost was reasonable, when put in context of New Zealand's current GDP of $264 billion.

Whether the case constituted a human rights issue was also picked upon during the final day of court precedings. Government lawyers argued that with no immediate threat to human life or imprisonment, the case did not warrant to be heard on those grounds.

Salmon disagreed.

"We have had our first climate refugees and there will be more. This is trite, and there are wars already going on in South Sudan, which are being attributed to climate change," he said.

The court could be cynical of current Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett's intention to take further action on climate change, given her lack of action so far, Salmon said.

Current Government targets include reducing emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Thomson said the case had been the most real discussion on climate change ever had so close to Parliament.

"Even the Crown said this is the biggest issue facing New Zealand," she said.

"The importance of the case has only just hit now, after hearing it all discussed in the court."

Justice Jillian Mallon will now consider submissions and return a verdict on whether the Government should revisit current emissions targets.

A judgement is expected back in two months.

 - Stuff

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