Global court rulings on preventing climate harm 'excite' New Zealand lawyers group

Lawyers for Climate Action spokesperson Jenny Cooper QC said the overseas developments were "significant".
Lawyers for Climate Action spokesperson Jenny Cooper QC said the overseas developments were "significant". Photo credit: Getty Images

By Hamish Cardwell for RNZ

Lawyers demanding action on climate change say recent landmark class action wins overseas will affect how the court sees the issues here.

On Thursday, an Australian federal court ruled the government has a duty of care to protect young people from climate change when considering mine approvals after a case brought by a group of teenagers.

The day before a court in the Netherlands ordered oil giant Shell to cut emissions by 45 percent compared with 2019 levels by 2030.

Though that decision only applies in the Netherlands, experts say both cases set important legal precedents.

Lawyers for Climate Action is a party to the judicial review of the massive Mill Road highway project in Auckland taken over climate concerns.

Spokesperson Jenny Cooper QC said the overseas developments were "significant", and climate activists and lawyers worldwide were very excited.

"This is exactly the kind of thing that we need, and we want to see, so it's definitely something to celebrate.

"In terms of litigation here ... there's definitely ideas we can draw from these proceedings overseas.

"It does give us more confidence when we're thinking about potential actions that could be brought here.

"And I think as well, the judges will be really interested in these cases and interested in the way the law is developing overseas ... so it will have an effect on how the court views the same issues here."

She said the overseas cases showed the law was developing in line with changes in social values and people's expectations about actions needed to tackle the climate emergency.

Cooper would not be drawn on whether the group was considering taking legal action next - but said there were lots of possible avenues.

She said an interesting case to watch in New Zealand was Climate Change Iwi Leaders Group chairman Mike Smith's proceedings against Fonterra and other energy and mining groups, arguing they had a duty of care not to contribute to climate change.

Cooper said her group was 100 percent volunteer-based, with lawyers working pro bono.