The case brought by Sarah Thomson, 26, began Monday in the High Court in Wellington and is scheduled to last three days. It could be several months before a judge releases a decision.
Thomson is challenging the government over commitments that include a pledge under the Paris climate accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
In court filings, Thomson argued that pledge and the process for reaching it were “illogical, irrational, unreasonable and unlawful.”
She says the government needs to throw out the target and set a new one.
“I want New Zealand to do more,” Thomson said outside the court. “I want the government to take it seriously. I want them to actually care about the future of young New Zealanders because we’re the ones who are going to be dealing with the consequences.”
Climate Change Issues Minister Paula Bennett said in a statement that “we are very comfortable that our Paris target is fair and ambitious, and that it was set only after a thorough process of consultation.”
The government argued in court filings that the Paris agreement is the best way to address climate change on a global level, and that New Zealand is such a small nation that even if it stopped its emissions entirely it wouldn’t make a noticeable difference.
Thomson said she was inspired by other climate change cases worldwide, including a 2015 case in which a Dutch court ordered the Netherlands to slash greenhouse gas emissions. The Dutch government has appealed.
She said lawyers and scientists have helped by doing pro bono work on her case.
“I’m arguing that every single country needs to do its part,” she said.