National | Climate Change

Supreme Court lets Mike Smith sue seven corporates over climate change damage

Mike Smith

Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Kahu’s Mike Smith has won his day in court to sue seven New Zealand companies for climate change-related damage.

The climate change spokesperson for the Iwi Chairs Forum today heard the Supreme Court had declined to strike out his claims, which Fonterra, Genesis Energy, Dairy Holdings, NZ Steel, Z Energy, Channel Infrastructure and BT Mining had wanted.

Smith is now back to square one – he first made the three civil court claims against the companies under tort law in 2019. Tort law redresses a wrong done to a person and provides relief, usually money.

Now his case is allowed to be heard, he is seeking remedy for public nuisance, negligence and breach of duty of care through climate change. He also argues that the companies’ actions breached tikanga.

The Court of Appeal threw out his causes of action on the basis there was no reasonable basis for argument and said the magnitude of the climate change crisis “simply cannot be appropriately or adequately addressed by common law tort claims pursued through the courts”.

The Supreme Court disagreed and reinstated the claims but said that was not a commentary on whether the claims would succeed when heard.

Smith is arguing the seven companies are responsible for more than a third of NZ’s total reported greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to warming the Earth. He says he, his whānau and iwi would bear the cost of dealing with the harm the companies’ emissions caused to land and fisheries from rising sea levels and higher temperatures.

By way of remedy, Smith wants the companies to agree to reach their peak emissions by 2025 and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

His claim asserts that the companies have not only failed to commit to reducing their emissions enough but that they had also actively lobbied against rules for reductions.

Justices Susan Glazebrook, Ellen France, Helen Winkelmann, Joe Williams and Stephen Kós made no order on costs.