Iwi leader Mike Smith has won his case in the Supreme Court against some of New Zealand’s biggest climate polluters. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court has found that companies may be liable to property owners for their contributions to climate change.
Smith is suing fossil fuel and dairy companies, including Fonterra, Genesis Energy and Z Energy for public nuisance and negligence for their contributions to climate change. The companies applied to strike out his claim but after years before the courts, the Supreme Court has found that Smith’s case has merit and can proceed to a full trial in the High Court.
Smith (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu), who is the climate spokesperson for the Iwi Chairs Forum, says he is delighted with today’s decision and it is a vital step in holding climate polluters to account.
“These companies are actively contributing to climate change by emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere with no immediate plans to stop. They are putting profit ahead of the billions of people all over the world who are already suffering the effects of climate change. The planet is burning and we need to hold those responsible to account,” he says.
The Supreme Court decision is an orthodox application of established laws. Its decision on public nuisance involved an application of hundreds of years of settled case law which protects private property rights from polluters’ actions.
Smith is also suing the New Zealand Government for failing to take effective action on climate change. That case is awaiting a judgment from the Court of Appeal following a hearing in October last year.
“We’re facing a climate emergency. The latest advice from the IPCC has told us in unequivocal terms that we are on the brink of catastrophe and it is now or never to rein in emissions. We’ve got to pull out all the stops to turn things around,” Smith says.
The case is just the latest in a mounting wave of climate cases against companies globally. In the Netherlands, the Hague District Court ordered Shell to reduce its emissions by 45% by 2030 (including not just its own emissions but those of its customers). In January, a court in Norway issued an injunction blocking development of three oil and gas fields and forbidding the state from granting any new permits on those fields.
“We are in a global war against those responsible for the climate emergency and we are seeing the courts play an increasingly important role in enforcing the rights of those directly affected by it,” says Smith.
“Today, the New Zealand courts have recognised that these climate polluting companies need to face a full trial and that they may be breaching important duties to our people.”