Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Climate Change: Holding polluters accountable

Climate lawsuits are a growing trend, with various people suing their governments in an effort to force real action on climate change. But suits against actual polluters seeking to hold them accountable for the damage they cause are relatively rare (though apparently growing). But now, in New Zealand, Mike Smith of the Climate
Change Iwi Leaders Group is taking our biggest polluters to court:

Smith is alleging that the named companies have committed public nuisance, 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.


The case against the companies is brought by Mike Smith, in his personal capacity, to protect his customary interests in land and resources in Northland. The litigation seeks relief including a declaration that the companies have acted unlawfully, and an injunction requiring each of them to reduce total net greenhouse gases by half by 2030, and to zero by 2050, or to otherwise cease their emitting activities immediately.

The companies named are Fonterra (New Zealand's biggest polluter by far), Genesis Energy, Dairy Holdings Ltd, New Zealand Steel, Z Energy, the New Zealand Refining Company, and BT Mining - basicly a who's who of New Zealand climate criminals. I expect it'll be a difficult case - quite apart from the sheer amount of money and lawyers the companies will throw at it, there's the obvious difficulty of proving direct responsibility for a global problem. And OTOH, that's what people said in the early stages of the legal war against the tobacco industry, and the same logic applies: the polluters have to win every case. Those seeking to hold them accountable need only win once. And as the damages rise and such lawsuits become more common, the hope is that they will have a deterrent effect on polluters and force them to change their behaviour - or risk going out of business and leaving their shareholders with nothing.