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Government sued over climate change policy

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 25/06/2017

<span style="color:#333333;font-size:13px;background-color:#ebebe4;">&nbsp;Climate Change Issues minister Paula Bennett</span> © Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images  Climate Change Issues minister Paula Bennett The geopolitical ramifications of climate change will be unprecedented and the New Zealand government should be doing more to reduce its effects, lawyers suing the government over its climate targets say.

Hamilton law student Sarah Thomson is seeking a judicial review of the government's climate change targets in a three-day hearing in the High Court at Wellington.

Ms Thomson rejects that because New Zealand is small in size and population that it can't review and set more ambitious targets than are currently in place for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting the extent of global warming.

In his opening statement on Monday, her lawyer, Davey Salmon, said they didn't want the court to set new targets, but for the government to "go back and make the decision properly".

In evidence backing her claim, Ms Thomson's legal team presented the court with thousands of pages of climate science reports, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), which runs at more than 10,000 pages.

"It's breathtaking in its complexity and its detail, and I can say incredibly depressing and alarming to read," he said.

There have been developments since the report but for the sake of the case "fortunately, they're more alarming", he said.

Mr Salmon argued the government was unreasonable in setting its climate change targets, including aiming to limit global warming to two degrees celsius.

"The (Paris Agreement and AR5) goal was not to aim for 2C, the goal was to stay well under 2, aim for 1.5 and ... if we're right on that then this decision becomes very easy," he said, arguing decision makers were misdirected.

Developing countries should be doing more to limit the effects of climate change, particularly New Zealand given the impacts resulting rising sea levels will have on Pacific islands like Tokelau, the court heard.

Mr Salmon said the AR5 document was clear on the effects of climate change that are easy to see in the near future - population displacement in Tokelau and Dunedin and the Great Barrier Reef collapse.

"Those are still the easy ones to imagine. The harder one is what happens when tens of millions migrate across lands because of food and water shortages," he said.

"Those are stresses on geopolitical stability that has no precedent. It is impossible to read these documents and not be frightened."

The government's statement of defence reportedly denies the government needs to set stronger targets.

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