Court clears climate emergency challenge for take-off

The High Court has dismissed an application by Thames-Coromandel District Council (TCDC) to strike out a judicial review challenge to its decision not to declare a climate change emergency.

The action is being brought by Hauraki Coromandel Climate Action Incorporated (HCCA). TCDC’s attempt to get $25,000 from HCCA in security was also declined on the basis that that the amount was “inappropriate” and might preclude HCCA from pursuing its claim.​

Background

HCCA alleges that TCDC erred in law and acted unreasonably when it resolved in April 2019 not to sign the Local Government Leaders’ Climate Change Declaration 2017.

The Declaration commits signatory Councils to develop and implement ambitious action plans that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their territory, prepare their communities to respond to the physical impacts of climate change, and work with central government to deliver on national emission reduction targets.

TCDC Mayor Sandra Goudie had prepared a report to Council recommending against signing the resolution having taken the view (contrary to Local Government New Zealand advice) that the Declaration was potentially legally binding. She also considered that the Council was already committed to working on many of the programmes outlined in the Declaration.

HCCA’s statement of claim against TCDC, filed on 28 June last year, alleges among other things that:

  • the Mayor’s recommendation against signing the Declaration was based on a flawed understanding of the scientific consensus of the impacts of climate change and failed to take sufficient account of that consensus, and
  • the TCDC has not adopted a climate change mitigation policy, although climate change effects will be significant in the Thames-Coromandel District.

Decision

The High Court dismissed the strike out application and TCDC’s application for $25,000 in security for costs. Gault J said:

“The claim that TCDC’s decision involved a failure to take into account relevant considerations and/or was unreasonable, in the sense of irrational, is not so clearly untenable that it cannot possibly succeed”.

The Court found that Declaration was not a commercial contract so subjective views were not relevant. It left open the matter of the Declaration’s legal effect as it did not have evidence of the Declaration’s factual matrix, but said it was doubtful whether the email correspondence between the Mayor and LGNZ would be admissible in determining that question.

TCDC’s attempt to secure $25,000 from HCCA in security for costs was also declined on the basis that that the public interest dimension and the proceeding’s relatively narrow focus outweighed TCDC’s interest in covering costs and the fact that HCCA members did not stand to personally benefit from the Declaration.

TCDC is analysing the decision before considering its options but one Councillor is now seeking to reopen discussions on whether to sign the Declaration.

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Related topics: Environment, planning & resource management; Climate change; Local government

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