Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Climate Change: A warning shot

Last year, the Thames-Coromandel District Council refused to sign the Local Government Leaders' Climate Change Declaration, with Mayor Sandra Goudie calling it "politically charged and driven". So, climate change activists took them to court. And yesterday, the High Court ruled that the Council must reconsider its decision:

The High Court has quashed a decision by the Thames-Coromandel District Council for its mayor not to sign a declaration of climate emergency endorsed by more than 60 other cities and districts.

Justice Matthew Palmer has ordered the council to reconsider its April 2019 decision not to approve Mayor Sandra Goudie signing the Local Government Leaders' Climate Change Declaration.


Justice Palmer agreed, finding the council relied on one fear raised in a report by the Mayor that signing the declaration could create legal obligations on the council for climate change action when it also had to analyse wider issues and consider consulting the public.

"The council did not do the analysis or consider consultation with the district, as required by law."

That's a victory, though its still open to the Council to do the analysis and decide not to sign. But the bigger victory is that the Judge ruled that decisions about climate change deserve the highest level of scrutiny, similar to human rights decisions. And that is going to matter. The Zero Carbon Act, passed in November last year, enables court challenges if decision-makers fail to take climate change into consideration where they should have. More importantly, it relies on judicial review to hold the government to account over its decisions on budgets and reduction plans. And the court has effectively just issued a warning shot, saying that those decisions are going to be subjected to the highest level of scrutiny (and the lowest level of deference) is challenged. And hopefully, that will encourage the government to do the right thing in May when the first budgets are decided, and make a challenge unnecessary.