Climate Change Champion Takes Government to Court
Sarah Thomson is suing the Government over its weak climate targets. Megan Hubscher finds out why.
It’s a modern-day David and Goliath scenario and New Zealand’s media is paying attention.
Last year  law graduate and former Kiwi Conservation Club member Sarah Thomson announced she would sue the government over its “irrational” climate change targets. The 25-year-old claimed ministers had failed to set emissions targets that reflect the science on climate change and called on the Government to review the targets.
She was quickly adopted as a national climate champion, appearing alongside well-known environmental activists such as Lucy Lawless and Robyn Malcolm, at the Auckland Climate March last November.
She is currently preparing for the High Court hearing, due to take place in June [the hearing is on from 26-28 June 2017].
Speaking on the phone from Hamilton, Sarah takes a few seconds to think over what makes her different from all the other New Zealanders who aren’t attempting to litigate against the Government right now.
“I don’t know. Climate change is a really scary thing, and there doesn’t seem to be enough being done about it. It is really urgent. This is something we all need to act on now – so why not me?”
In fact, Sarah’s background is steeped in conservation and environmental activity. Her father is the inventor of the Philproof Bait Station and was featured in the November 1996 issue of Forest & Bird magazine, alongside his young family, including – yes – a small blond six-year-old child, armed with a potato peeler, trimming the edges off her dad’s newly manufactured bait stations (see image below).
Sarah says she received the KCC magazine while growing up but “I only went to one KCC event, because I was too shy. I just hid behind my father’s legs, and cried!” That shy little girl is now a confident law graduate who laughs and says she’s never thought of herself as an activist:
“I’d describe myself more as a concerned citizen,” she says.
“That kind of activism, trespassing and tying yourself to buildings, isn’t my thing. I’m not that courageous. But using the law is really effective. The Government can’t ignore you if you call them to court. They have to face a legal challenge. They have to turn up.”
The Thomson family was frequently “dragged out” (Sarah’s words) on tramps and work expeditions to places such as Great Barrier, Waiheke, and the Mercury islands, while her father carried out pest control and other conservation work.
Sarah credits her exposure to the outdoors as a child with helping create an awareness of our amazing and fragile environment. But she didn’t enter law school with any preconceived notions of what she might end up doing.
In fact, after the case ends, Sarah has no plans to work in law. She wants to see some of the world and then has some ideas for starting a sustainability-focused business. “There’s more than one way to make a difference,” she says. And her message for today’s KCC kids? “The planet needs you. There are a lot of young people out there doing awesome stuff – for example, helping making their school sustainable. You’re never too young to make a difference.”
*A Givealittle page has been set up to raise money to cover Sarah’s court costs. Auckland law firm LeeSalmonLong is acting pro bono in the case.
This article first appeared in the Autumn 2016 issue of Forest & Bird magazine, join today and receive a free subscription.Join Now