Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Climate Change: The climate will get its day in court

As the climate crisis has worsened, and the politicians have proven themselves ineffective, corrupt, or both, people around the world have turned the courts to provide a solution and pressure polluters to reduce their emissions. Here in Aotearoa the local case is Smith v Fonterra Co-operative Group Ltd, which alleges that a group of seven major polluters collectively responsible for a third of the country's emissions are committing negligence, public nuisance, and breaching a new environmental duty by failing to cut their emissions. The polluters have of course denied this, arguing sociopathically that the carbon and methane they spew just isn't their problem, and even if it was, they owe no duties to anyone not to do it (in other words, "fuck you"). But today, the Supreme Court disabused them of that, ruling that Smith has an arguable case which should be heard in court:

Iwi leader Mike Smith has won the right to sue seven big polluters for their role in causing climate change, in a Supreme Court ruling delivered this morning.

The Supreme Court reinstated Smith's case, after it was earlier thrown out by the Court of Appeal on the basis there was no reasonable basis for argument.

The climate activist, of Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Kahu, says the group including Fonterra, Z Energy and Genesis Energy (which together make around a third of New Zealand's emissions) have a legal duty to him and others in communities who are being damaged by planet-heating gases.

He wants them to either stop polluting, or start bringing emissions down quickly.

An important feature of the case is the role of tikanga Māori, and how it determines Smith's relationship to coastal land and waters which are being flooded and damaged.

The Supreme Court noted it was not ruling on whether the case had a good chance of succeeding, only that "Mr Smith now gets his day in court".

Which isn't victory - but it is the first step. And the polluters are now going to have to go full sociopath and argue that they owe no duties to anyone, effectively destroying all their greenwash marketing, or that they're doing enough, and expose their emissions reduction plans (if any) to legal scrutiny. And if they win (or just settle) on the latter, those plans become something they can be legally held to.

Of course, there's a third option: buy politicians to legislate legal impunity for polluters. Which would of course be nakedly corrupt as well as sociopathic. Unfortunately, with our current crop of politicians, that can't be ruled out.