Environmentalist taking fossil fuel giants to court as 'everyone's future is at stake'

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

Environmentalist and iwi leader Mike Smith (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu) is facing off against some of New Zealand’s biggest fossil fuel users and suppliers in the Supreme Court this week.

He's suing what he calls the ‘Polluting Seven’ – Fonterra, Genesis Energy, Dairy Holdings, NZ Steel, Z Energy, NZ Refining Company and BT Mining, arguing public nuisance and negligence over their contribution to climate change.

The Iwi Chairs Forum co-chair of climate change took some time from the courthouse to talk to teaomāori.news and summarised the Supreme Court appearance.

He says the case was knocked out at a previous hearing by the Court of Appeal, and so they were now seeking an overturning of that decision by five Supreme Court judges, hoping to open up the door again to allow the case to continue and evidence to be heard.

Smith is arguing that a full trial is needed to take tikanga evidence and principles into account.

“We are rapidly approaching a global extinction event. Unless we urgently arrest the emissions that humankind are producing, our world has increasingly and already become unstable, and will increasingly become unstable over the years. That is a risk to all people.

Seeking injunction

“What we’re seeing is those industries continuously kick the can down the road. They’re not going to willingly walk forward and lean into the problem – they’re going to lean back. We’re just asking the courts to instruct the government to intervene.”

Smith says it’s important to hold the companies accountable because everyone’s futures are at stake.

“We’re seeing countries in the northern hemisphere on fire at the moment. The hotter it gets things just burst into flames. It’s critical.

“We’re completely intertwined with our environment. If our environment goes down the gurgler, we go down with it.”

Smith is hoping for a "suspended injunction" to get the companies to transfer to more sustainable methods and low-carbon emission alternatives. If a court grants an injunction it usual means the activity must stop immediately. Suspended injunctions can give a timeline for it to happen.