The government has welcomed a High Court ruling, with a group of activist lawyers losing a bid to have New Zealand set deeper and steeper cuts in its carbon emissions for the rest of this decade.
The group, Lawyers for Climate Action NZ, went to the High Court challenging advice given to the government by the Climate Change Commission.
Climate Change Minister James Shaw says:“I have always regarded the advice it (the commission) has provided the government as exceptionally high quality – based on rigorous science and expert analysis. Today’s ruling confirms that.”
The non-profit group of about 350 lawyers, law students and legal academics said the current decade is crucial to the global effort to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, as set by international agreements.
It did not contest the government’s target of reaching zero emissions by 2050 but said the commission’s recommendations for getting there did not do enough in the shorter term.
The lawyers said net emissions in 2030 had to be half what they were in 2010, but that the commission’s recommendations would see NZ emissions continue to increase in the current decade to 2030.
They wanted the government to move faster toward the 2050 zero emissions target over the next eight years and sought a judicial review of the commission’s advice in the High Court.
The group said the budgets and advice given to the commission “lack ambition”.
On receiving the court decision Shaw puffed out his chest, declaring the High Court had confirmed the legality of the advice provided by the commission to inform NZ’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) and the first three emissions budgets.
Shaw says he doesn’t believe the intention of these proceedings was ever to slow down or derail the response to climate change. “Rather, it was a way of testing the system, making sure we had the settings right. And I think that’s actually very healthy.
“This particular case has highlighted some potential points of confusion in the way we have set our targets, and that’s something I will be looking into regardless of the outcome.
“Having just returned from COP27 in Egypt, where progress was as frustratingly slow as ever, my focus is now squarely on the need for urgent domestic action to cut emissions, limit warming, and prepare for the climate impacts we cannot avoid.
“The transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient future is a one-in-a-generation opportunity to build an Aotearoa that is cleaner, fairer and more prosperous than it is today – we just need to get on and make it happen,” Shaw said.
The government may have less to congratulate itself on with another decision in what some might regard as a related field: a decision to make changes to the Crown Minerals Act, which lobby groups say “send the wrong message”.
Here, any claim the government might like to make that it is creating greater prosperity is dubious.
Under the changes the government will no longer be required to promote the exploration and development of Crown minerals.
Energy Resources Aotearoa CEO John Carnegie says: “Throughout the world, countries are competing with one another to shore up their energy security. We are in a global contest to attract inward investment and skilled individuals that work to keep the lights on.”
Carnegie says the announcement “comes at a time when we need more investment in gas supply – not less – to support our increasingly renewable electricity system when the wind doesn’t blow, or the sun doesn’t shine”.
Carnegie says the argument that we need to phase out fossil fuels to meet climate goals is “simplistic and misguided”.
Straterra CEO Josie Vidal points out while
most countries with mineral deposits are gearing up to create supply for batteries, to build wind and solar energy production, and to build the infrastructure for a fully electric future, NZ is going in the opposite direction.
“NZ has minerals and can make a valuable contribution to the low emissions future, but we need enabling law.
“The government is conflating mining and emissions, when not all Crown minerals are fossil fuels. In fact, mining is less than 0.5% of NZ’s emissions.”
Straterra is the industry association representing NZ minerals and mining sector. Straterra will submit on the Bill when it goes to Select Committee.
In justifying the move to change the legislation, Energy and Resource Minister Dr Megan Woods says requirements in the CMA for the government to actively promote fossil fuel exploration are out of date.
“ It’s time we changed our laws so that they are consistent with our climate change commitments to phase out polluting fossil fuels and transition to net zero by 2050.”
She says the National government added the legislative requirement to promote mining activities in 2013.
“This is now out of step with the direction the world is going.
“The CMA sets out how the government allocates rights to mine Crown owned minerals for NZ’s economic benefit. While this role won’t change, these amendments will bring the act up to date, allow us to respond to the evolving needs of Aotearoa, and give the sector greater certainty about the future of minerals decision making.
“ Fossil fuels will be phased out in a way that ensures energy remains secure, reliable, accessible, and affordable for all”.
On that assurance from the minister, Point of Order suggests there may be a degree of scepticism in the light of the Ardern government’s failure to deliver on so many of its election promises and commitments.