Gone are the days when climate change enthusiasts were hippies residing in Motueka, or millennials championing cycling in inner city suburbs.
Lawyers for Climate Action NZ Inc may have only been running for six months, but 250 lawyers, students, and legal academics are determined to raise public awareness, use their legal skills, and to lobby the government.
It's no surprise that the organisation's modus operandi is to use the law to ensure a better future.
Jenny Cooper QC is running the show as president, with fellow QCs James Every-Palmer as Treasurer and Stephen Mills as a committee member. (Stephen Mills represented Colin Craig and participated in a sailing trip with Supreme Court Justice Terence Arnold, which gave rise to the rejected application for recall of the Craig v Williams judgment this year.)
Why is climate change the plat du jour among lawyers?
In a financial sense, legislators are responding to climate change, which means businesses, manufacturers, and clients could be adversely affected. This means that directors now have a legal obligation to consider climate change risk. And with risks, there is often a flow on need for legal advice. Perhaps this sounds like a cynical view to assume all passion derives from financial motivations.
There's Jordan Hamel, a chap who's legally inclined and is a member of Lawyers for Climate Action. His poem, 'Why I kidnapped Neve Ardern Gayford' offered some insight into why lawyers - irrespective of political affiliations - are sinking their teeth in the issue.
For example: "The truth is, I did steal the prime minister's baby. I'm building a rocket ship, and I'm taking her to Mars because by the year 2040 the world will be completely irreparably broken...the rising sea levels will have the audacity to wash away our favourite middle class GrabaSeat destinations.
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"I am not a clean green person person. I am part of the problem. We are a society of hypocrites. On the way home from a climate change rally I bought four types of caged meat in non biodegradable plastic, I poured 10L of overpriced petrol into the Whanganui river, and I punched three native birds for no reason. It's easy to ignore the abstract until it's staring in the face. So yes I stole Jacinda Ardern's baby, because if we can't care about the most famous child in the history of Aotearoa, how are we going to care about the rest?"
Fellow bright young thing, and committee member Duncan Ballinger said it's because our society, our laws, and institutions are at risk, so naturally lawyers have some skin in the game.
"One thing that strikes me is how climate change is often framed as an individual issue - I should try and eat less meat and drive less, for example. But it's the broader policy kind of scale that's going to make a real difference. It's thus really important that we have good overarching laws to respond effectively to climate change.
"It's an area where lawyers' expertise and skills can be used. And as things rapidly change for the worse, lawyers will be needed to provide legal assistance to people."
Consequently, in his capacity as a committee member, Ballinger drafted a submission on the Zero Carbon Bill this year. The organisation lobbied for a number of changes, including: for there to be an enforcement mechanism in the instance the 2050 targets weren't met; the 2050 target and emissions budgets needed to have a mandatory requirement so to influence public decision making; and for there to be a provision around international shipping and aviation carbon emissions.
"International shipping and aviation is a bit tricky. The whole world is confused as to how this can be fairly measured. Say you've got an aeroplane carrying cargo and passengers going from the US to New Zealand. It stops in the Pacific. Do those emissions go to the original country, the plane's country of origin, or the nationality of passengers or cargo? And what about the stop in the Pacific?"
Nothing substantial on the issue came from the Paris agreement. But as it stands the Zero Carbon Bill has included a provision that requires the government's new Climate Change Commission to investigate the problem and issue a report in a couple of years once the Act is in force. "We will need to solve the problem at some point. In all honesty I don't know what should be done, but it's good that we start thinking about it."
The organisation had two of the three wins, with the organisation's request for the Act to have a stronger enforcement mechanism not being taken up following last week's third and final reading. "It's an exciting time. We've seen some good changes. I suppose you can't have everything go your way."
What next for Lawyers for Climate Action NZ Inc? They're planning to weigh in to whether the government should implement mandatory climate-related financial disclosures. The organisation is also involved with the Government's review of the Resource Management Act, which is headed by retired judge Randerson J.