Last week, a groundbreaking hearing between Students for Climate Solutions and the Minister of Energy and Resources began.
The Victoria University group is suing Minister Megan Woods for her decision to grant permits for onshore oil and gas exploration in the Taranaki area, a ruling the students argue is unlawful considering the New Zealand government’s national and international obligations.
In June 2021, the Government issued two onshore permits authorising oil and gas companies to search for fossil fuels in Taranaki, until 2031. These permits were authorised despite the Government’s 2018 announcement banning oil and gas exploration for offshore sites and the 2020 ‘climate change declaration of emergency.’
This decision came just six weeks after the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a vital report stating exploration permits must end immediately if countries were to successfully reach net-zero by 2050, and limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.
“Our Government announced a ban on offshore oil and gas exploration and declared a climate emergency, which at the time, seemed almost revolutionary,” says Our Seas Our Future (OSOF) policy coordinator Gemma Coutts.
“For them to turn around and grant these permits… well it’s a huge slap in the face. Those announcements feel like empty words.”
The students claim that not only do the permits go against the country’s national commitments to the Zero Carbon Act and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, but they also fail to meet Aotearoa’s international obligations with the Paris Agreement. Let alone, consider the recent IPCC reports.
“Our Government stated that they considered climate change before granting the permits, but only at a national level,” explains Coutts. “Considering Aotearoa is a signatory to the Paris Agreement – and many other international environmental agreements, this is just irresponsible to not consider international implications from allowing additional oil and gas exploration.”
Further, evidence has come to light that government consultation with iwi prior to the issue of these permits was limited and when consultation was held, iwi expressed serious concerns about the impacts of fossil fuel extraction. This is in part due to the limited legislation surrounding oil exploration. While banning offshore drilling is a step in the right direction, countering this progress by increasing onshore permits is detrimental to the nation’s progression towards a net-zero future.
“The Government knows that if we are to have a chance at limiting our global heating, then these types of explorations cannot continue,” continues Coutts. “OSOF believes further legislative changes are needed to ban all forms of oil and gas exploration, and a more robust public and iwi consultation process is required to accurately reflect the community’s values in Aotearoa’s legislation.”
“We’ve been told time and time again we have the technology and the capability to lower our emissions across the motu – however this isn’t going to happen if our Government can’t commit to making robust decisions about our emissions and fossil fuels.”
“While it’s incredible to see the students standing up for their futures, it shouldn’t be up to them,” Coutts explains. “We need a government that takes strong, substantive action, not just say they will.”