Monday, March 09, 2020

Climate Change: Polluters on trial

Last year, Mike Smith announced he was taking our biggest polluters to court over climate change. Now, it looks like the case is actually going to go to trial:

An environmental activist and iwi leader has been granted permission to continue court proceedings against New Zealand's top carbon emitters over claims they've failed to protect the country from climate change.


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.

The companies sought to have the claims thrown out. But a recently-released judgement shows that while a judge has dismissed Smith's claims the companies have been negligent and caused public nuisance, he allowed the third claim, that they had breached other legal duties, to proceed to trial.

If he succeeds, it will effectively create a new duty on companies to minimise emissions and cease damaging the climate system, and a new tort if it is breached. I think the odds are difficult, not least because these companies are rich and can simply afford to throw more lawyers at the problem than Smith can. But as I noted when this case was first announced, the polluters are in the same situation as the tobacco companies: they need to win every case, while we only need to win once. And even the risk of that happening should help force behaviour change from these environmental criminals.