Law student tilting at windmills

Sarah Thomson, a law student, is taking the government to court.

In filing an application for judicial review she hopes to get the government to pledge an emissions reduction target that is, in her words, both “lawful and rational.” In other words, larger — so the world might be properly saved. Miss Thomson recently described her reasoning at The Spinoff. In her Coal Action article (the web site is broken and doesn’t accept comments), Sarah explains:

As part of the Paris Agreement, the NZ Government adopted a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 11% below 1990 levels by 2030 (the NDC [nationally determined contribution]). My case claims that this target is unlawful. I’m arguing that the Minister for Climate Change Issues failed to take into account relevant considerations when deciding the target – the Minister considered the cost of reducing emissions in the short term, but not the cost of climate change in the long term if we fail to act. I’m also arguing that the target is irrational because it’s well below what’s needed to strengthen the global response to climate change.

Sarah’s statement reflects the blinkered, alarmist sources of her research. Her most glaring error is imagining that emissions of any level from New Zealand can affect the global temperature, for at a mere 0.2% of all human emissions even our annual emissions are the definition of trifling. She’s keen to underplay that detail for fear of spoiling New Zealand’s display of virtue, but the truth is that with all our effort we contribute only 0.2% of global emissions. Seriously, a small straw to seize.

IPCC don’t have a clue

Her next most obvious error is alleging that the Minister failed to consider the long-term cost of climate change, but that presumes we somehow know what it is. We don’t.

The IPCC is widely acknowledged as the world’s foremost authority on climate change and they don’t have a clue what it will cost. It’s clearly too far in the future. It still hasn’t even picked a winner from the scenarios they study. There are four scenarios, or representative concentration pathways (RCP), named after a possible range of increased radiative forcing values by 2100 relative to pre-industrial values (+2.6, +4.5, +6.0, and +8.5 W/m², respectively). They depend on the global economy, population trends and of course mother nature, and present a range of temperature increases from 0.3°C to 4.8°C. Which are really only guesses.

But that’s a huge range: the highest is 16 times the lowest! If you were an engineer proposing to install a shoreline sewage pump to accommodate population increase in a community, which scenario would you pick to guide your infrastructure specifications and why? Especially, how would you justify using the output of unverified climate models for assessments of future conditions rather than traditional meteorological and sea level records, which engineers have relied on for centuries?

Gold standard of alarm

Inevitably, because it suits their extreme views, most alarmists, who, regrettably, now include our Ministry for the Environment, cite the high numbers for rainfall, flooding, sea level, etc., that come from the over-the-top scenario RCP8.5, and not the lesser scenarios. RCP8.5 is forecast to result in warming of between 2.71°C and 4.91°C from 2000 to 2100. The scenario assumes, improbably, that humankind will take no action whatsoever to reduce emissions — it assumes we’ll use six times more coal than today and it’s called the “runaway emissions” scenario. It is risibly immoderate, yet it’s quoted around the world as a gold standard. It’s a gold standard of alarm, that’s all.

Since the first 16½ years of this century have delivered almost no warming, only a much-denied but in the end scientifically acknowledged hiatus, there remain only 83½ years to achieve this alarming target for 2100.

What does that mean? Well, to achieve the highest temperature increase (let’s round it to 5°C), it means that, on average, each year without fail the temperature must rise by at least 0.06°C, the equivalent of 6°C per century. Has the temperature been rising recently? Yes, on some time scales, while on others, it’s been falling. The New Zealand temperature record shows warming over the last 100 years, according to NIWA, of 0.95°C, about fifty percent more than the global warming of about 0.6°C, though A Reanalysis of Long-Term Surface Air Temperature Trends in New Zealand, 2014, by de Freitas, Dedekind and Brill, all associated with the NZCSC, finds a trend of 0.28 °C per century.

So Miss Thomson claims, without evidence, that the global temperature will soar consistently for the next 82 years at six times its recent local rate and more than eight times the global rate. This is impossible to believe. When might the stupendous rise begin?

The MfE cannot say how much our emission reductions, if we meet our target, would reduce the predicted global temperature increase of 5°C. Miss Thomson claims our reductions will be “insufficient” — but how can she know?

What’s the point of all this?

It’s remarkable that Miss Thomson disputes our emissions reduction target so vehemently that she’s taking the government to the High Court, but she has no idea how much it might reduce the global temperature—and isn’t that rather the point? If her disagreement is based on anything tangible, it cannot possibly be science; it must be politics.

She claims our reductions must “strengthen the global response to climate change” which of course is blatantly political and outside science. What would be sufficient? Her lawsuit has no scientific foundation. Thus, joining her protest is senseless activism.

Danish statistician Dr Bjorn Lomborg, President of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, published a peer-reviewed paper in the Global Policy Journal in February 2016 that measures the actual impact of all significant climate promises made ahead of the Paris climate summit in December 2015.

Trillions for trifles

His conclusions are startling. If all nations keep all their promises, temperatures will be cut by just 0.05°C. Even if every government on the planet not only keeps every Paris promise, reduces all emissions by 2030, shifts no emissions to other countries, and also keeps these emission reductions going through the rest of the century, global temperatures will be reduced by just 0.17°C by the year 2100. Theoretically. You can’t detect that in the observations, they’re just not accurate enough.

What will be the cost of all this? In a video posted in January, 2017, Dr Lomborg states “the agreement will cost a fortune, but do little to reduce global warming.”

He went on: “The cost of the Paris climate pact is likely to run to 1 to 2 trillion dollars every year, based on estimates produced by the Stanford Energy Modeling Forum and the Asia Modeling Exercise. In other words, we will spend at least one hundred trillion dollars in order to reduce the temperature, by the end of the century, by a grand total of three tenths of one degree.”

I advise Sarah Thomson to learn more about the problem before troubling the government. Still, it’s unlikely the judge will know anything of these matters. What on earth can he conclude?

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19 Thoughts on “Law student tilting at windmills

  1. Alexander K on 30/06/2017 at 2:46 pm said:

    the young lady’s entire premise smacks of utter snowflakery and should be dismissed by he courts as an utter waste of time and our tax dollars.
    I could became very cross if this silly exercise proceeds further.

  2. Richard Treadgold on 30/06/2017 at 3:33 pm said:

    I’m with you, Alexander, but it won’t be that simple.

  3. Magoo on 30/06/2017 at 6:21 pm said:

    If she succeeds then that opens the door for every NZ citizen to sue the govt when the climate change fraud is finally acknowledged, and it won’t be too far away now. As a self employed person I have receipts for all my fuel & electricity purchases for tax reasons (as all businesses do), and I would like a refund of the funds extorted from me on the grounds of climate change fraud. A class action suit by the business community would work quite well.

    I’ve been thinking about sending an email to the minister for climate change Paula Bennett with the empirical science from the IPCC AR5 showing what a farce AGW is, just so I can use it in the future to show that the minister was fully aware of the science but proceeded to extort money from NZ citizens regardless.

  4. Richard Treadgold on 30/06/2017 at 7:55 pm said:

    Yes, that would be a silver lining.

  5. Peter Fraser on 01/07/2017 at 1:24 pm said:

    Is the Minister for Climate Change going to present evidence in her defence

  6. Maggy Wassilieff on 02/07/2017 at 9:09 am said:

    I see the first day of this case got a bit of publicity in the msm, but I’ve seen and heard nothing since.
    Anyone got any details of day 2 and day 3 of this case?

  7. Richard Treadgold on 02/07/2017 at 12:56 pm said:

    Here’s a summary from the second day of the hearing.

    This is by Stuff, from the third and final day.

    I note that defence counsel Salmon makes a false claim about climate refugees:

    “We have had our first climate refugees and there will be more. This is trite, and there are wars already going on in South Sudan, which are being attributed to climate change,” he said.

    This is a long way from trite, as there Is certainly no evidence for this assertion, and simply attributing a war or anything else to climate change does not mean that climate change caused it.

    Justice Jillian Mallon will now consider submissions and return a verdict on whether the Government should revisit current emissions targets. Her judgement is expected back in two months.

    I see the Maoris are jumping on the bandwagon with what appears to be a claim filed with the Waitangi Tribunal. According to counsel for the Mataatua District Maori Council (eastern Bay of Plenty):

    “Under the Treaty of Waitangi, the Crown has a duty of active protection towards Maori in regards to their lands and resources. The allegation is that their climate change policies are breaching that obligation.”

    They might have evidence of a human cause of climate change to support their case but they’re certainly after more race-based special treatment. The truth is the Crown is obliged to protect all of us equally. According to counsel Michael Sharp:

    “The claim raises various issues about how we are already being affected – by the current flooding in the eastern Bay of Plenty and the effect on Maori forestry of course, and fisheries.”

    Which is poppycock. The facts are that there’s been no global warming this century, and so little before that that any current flooding is from natural causes alone, not our SUVs. Same goes for trees and fish (Maori or other kinds), guaranteed.

  8. Richard Treadgold on 02/07/2017 at 1:07 pm said:

    Peter Fraser,

    Is the Minister for Climate Change going to present evidence in her defence

    Any evidence would be related to the government’s emission targets, not climate science, if that’s what you’re referring to. It would be great to see that, but it’s the last thing any of these parties want. Facts that show their pet passion to be unjustified would put quite a damper on their party.

  9. Maggy Wassilieff on 02/07/2017 at 4:33 pm said:

    Goodness, I can’t follow any of that..
    Has a case been presented, let alone refuted?
    Obviously my brain functions quite differently from those of lawyers.

  10. Richard Treadgold on 02/07/2017 at 5:24 pm said:

    Sorry! The Stuff link from the third day in my last comment gives an idea of each side’s arguments. It’s obviously not complete but that’s all we have so far. That’s about all I can offer. I seem to recall there’ll be no more information out of the legal system until the decision is released, so unless some other witness publishes further observations we’ll learn nothing new until then. I don’t think the official transcript of the hearing is available yet but I’ll check.

  11. Andy on 03/07/2017 at 11:41 am said:

    Who is paying for this?

  12. Richard Treadgold on 03/07/2017 at 4:23 pm said:


    Who is paying for this?

    Good question, don’t know. I can’t see it funded with public dollars, and if Greenpeace were involved they’d be marketing it quite heavily I think. I suspect at least some of it is pro bono, as was the NZCSC application. Sarah’s in the business, as it were, so probably knows a few lawyers.

  13. Magoo on 03/07/2017 at 10:40 pm said:

    I have an associate who is an experienced business lawyer (just retired) and he said the only grounds for successfully suing the govt is for breach of your human rights – any other reason is doomed to failure. He said the worst the court can do in this case is find the govt SHOULD do more, but courts have no authority to order the govt to actually do so.

    He also said the court will most likely order Sarah Thomson to pay court costs should she lose.

  14. HemiMck on 04/07/2017 at 5:23 pm said:

    Just watching Australia Sky News. The Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets are certainly working. Business users are looking at 100% increase in electricity prices at contract renewal.

    No country is less able to “convert to renewables” in more than a token manner; western economy and big energy user, no more hydro , no geothermal and massively dependent on fossil fuels of which they have centuries of supply. The 20% of electricity by 2020 was actually an impossible target from day one. The pricing mechanism to attempt to drive it farcical.

    Almost a definition of how to shoot yourself in the foot.

  15. Simon on 06/11/2017 at 10:02 am said:

    A good article on climate change litigation in the Economist this week. Basically , these cases are hard to prove because of the probabilistic nature of the attribution. That hasn’t prevented the number of cases increasing dramtically though.

  16. Andy on 06/11/2017 at 11:06 am said:

    It’s a shame that she didn’t win. I was hoping for a legally binding decision to ban all cars, for example.

  17. Richard Treadgold on 06/11/2017 at 11:17 am said:

    Yes, Andy, of course you were. Sorry you missed out.

  18. Richard Treadgold on 06/11/2017 at 11:32 am said:


    That hasn’t prevented the number of cases increasing dramatically though.

    The cases are increasing because of a feeding frenzy; they incite each other. Doesn’t mean any of them are soundly based. I like your phrase “probabilistic nature of the attribution”. Sounds properly scientific, but nicely covers up the absence of scientific proof of warming, don’t you think? How do our airborne emissions dangerously warm the ocean? Found any papers yet?

    Then the Economist comes up with a doozy:

    Campaigners seek to argue that these deep-pocketed firms, and not their customers, are ultimately responsible for the emissions, just as cigarette-makers were held liable for their products whereas retailers who sold them on to consumers were not.

    The only emitters of any significance are the consumers, the producers don’t use the stuff. But the principle is to go after the money, and money possessed by millions of people is impossible to get your hands on. Still doesn’t mean the producers burned the petrol, any more than they smoked all the cigarettes.

    Wool over the eyes, but who’s doing the pulling?

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