New Zealand Law Student Challenges Government on Climate Change

Jul 11, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

The New Zealand government pledged under the Paris climate accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to pre-2005 levels by the year 2030. Now a New Zealand student, Sarah Thomson,  is attempting to force the country to hold itself to a higher standard by taking it to court, according to a report from the AP. Here’s a closer look at the case, along with Thomson’s rationale for taking this unusual measure.

Could New Zealand Be Doing More?

According to 26-year-old Thomson, the process through which New Zealand determined its climate change targets was “illogical, irrational, unreasonable and unlawful.” So much so, she proposes, that the government should discard the pledge and set all new targets. “I want New Zealand to do more,” Thomson explained. “I want the government to take it seriously. I want them to actually care about the future of young New Zealanders because we’re the ones who are going to be dealing with the consequences.”

Thomson is not alone in her beliefs nor her advocacy. She has been joined by lawyers and scientists, who have added their pro bono work to the effort. Her inspiration for action, meanwhile? A 2015 case in the Netherlands which led a Dutch court to mandate the cutting of greenhouse gas emissions. 

“Fair and Ambitious”?

In response to Thomson’s allegations, the New Zealand government has argued that the Paris agreement was the best way to take action, and that even if the country ceased all emissions, its small size would nullify the change. Countered Minister Paula Bennett, “We are very comfortable that our Paris target is fair and ambitious, and that it was set only after a thorough process of consultation."

The case was brought before the court in late June, but it may be months before a decision is reached. And while New Zealand may be in the spotlight this time, Thomson’s stance holds all nations accountable. “I’m arguing that every single country needs to do its part,” she said.

Read more about studying law in New Zealand.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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