Activist Mike Smith's fight against New Zealand's biggest polluters can go to trial, Supreme Court rules

The Supreme Court has ruled Māori activist Mike Smith's legal fight against some of the country's biggest polluters can go to trial.

The Ngapuhi and Ngati Kahu elder has been fighting against what he calls the "Polluting 7" since August 2019, which is when he first sued the companies.

They include dairy giant Fonterra, energy company Genesis, farmer Dairy Holdings, New Zealand Steel, Z Energy, Channel Infrastructure, and BT Mining.

In 2021 the Court of Appeal struck out his case, but today the Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal and reinstated his claim.

He is seeking a declaration that those companies have harmed his whenua through their polluting activities and wants the court to grant an injunction forcing them to reduce their emissions.

It's the first such case in New Zealand, though there have been similar cases overseas, including one against Royal Dutch Shell in The Netherlands.

Genesis Energy said in a statement that it's disappointed in the decision by the Supreme Court, and that the Court has in effect disregarded the fact that all the defendants have complied with their climate change obligations under the laws of New Zealand.

Z Energy said it acknowledges the Supreme Court's decision to allow the appeal, but that Z's overall position to the litigation remains unchanged.

Fonterra told Newshub it's disappointed with the ruling by the Supreme Court.

"The Supreme Court's decision overrules a decision by the Court of Appeal, which had unanimously struck out all three of Mr Smith's claims as being legally untenable," a Fonterra spokesperson said.

"To be clear, the decision by the Supreme Court does not determine any liability of Fonterra or the other defendants. Mr Smith has not yet been required to present any evidence to support his claims. The Supreme Court has simply said that Mr Smith's claim is allowed to progress through a standard High Court trial."