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Mataatua District Maori Council v. New Zealand

Jurisdiction: New Zealand

Principle law(s): Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act (amending the Climate Change Response Act 2002)

Side A: Mataatua District Maori Council (Individual government)

Side B: Government of New Zealand (Government)

Core objectives: Determine whether New Zealand climate change policy violates Treaty of Waitangi with Māori

Representatives of the Mataatua District Māori Council have filed a claim and supporting memorandum in the Waitangi Tribunal, the forum where disputes over the performance of the Treaty of Waitangi between Māori and the government of New Zealand are heard and resolved. The claimants allege that New Zealand has breached its obligations to Māori by failing to implement policies that will address climate change. Specifically, the claimants allege that the Crown has breached the Treaty of Waitangi by: failing to take adequate steps to ensure that New Zealand bears its fair share of greenhouse gas emissions reductions; setting inadequate emissions reductions targets; continuing to ineffectively address New Zealand's emissions through the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZETS); failing to develop policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions outside of the NZETS; and failing to fulfil its Treaty obligations to consult with Māori over climate change policies.

Upon learning from the Tribunal Registry that the claim would be heard after 2020, the claimants filed an urgency application requesting an earlier hearing. That application seeks the following forms of relief:
• a declaration from the Tribunal that the government has breached its treaty obligations;
• a recommendation that New Zealand revise its emissions reduction targets upward to a level that corresponds with keeping the global concentration of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions below 450ppm—the level that corresponds with the 2°C threshold that demarcates a stable climate from a potentially unstable one;
• a recommendation that New Zealand adopt different mitigation policies, including the restructuring or replacement of its Emissions Trading Scheme;
• a recommendation that New Zealand adopt policies that facilitate adaptation in ways specific to locations and resources relied upon by Māori.

It bases these requests for relief on several points of fact and law. The most basic of these is the relationship between sources of GHG emissions and climate changes, and the relationship between climate change and various adverse impacts on locations and resources relied upon by Māori for physical and cultural purposes. The application also points out that New Zealand’s Nationally Determined Contribution, submitted following the Paris Climate Conference in 2015, committed the country to reduce emissions by 11% relative to 1990 levels by 2030. It contrasts this target with the increase of GHG emissions in New Zealand of 24.1% relative to their 1990 levels by 2015 and the current expectation that they will increase to 30% increase by 2020. Further facts noted in the application include that New Zealand’s government encourages oil and gas exploration, controls an entity that mines coal, and controls another entity that is responsible for much of the recent conversion of forests to dairy farms. Having described the factual basis that links government policies adverse climate impacts, the claimants then point out that provisions of the Waitangi Treaty make the government responsible for the “active protection” of natural resources such as forests and fisheries on behalf of Māori. In characterizing that violation, the claimants quote from the recent decision in Juliana v. United States regarding the public trust doctrine and characterize that reasoning as relevant to their claim.

Case documents

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