Climate Change in New Zealand: Is It Doom or Can We Hope?

(2015) 11 Policy Quarterly 15

11 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2015

See all articles by Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC

Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law

Date Written: November 1, 2015


This article analyses the difficulties confronting the efforts to solve the climate change issue.

It stresses the interdisciplinary nature of the challenge. It asks why, since the state of the science now seems plain, that policy answers have not been forthcoming at the international level. A calculus of the risk analysis that is routine in domestic tort law cases suggests action is warranted.

The prospects for arriving at an international agreement in Paris that solves the problem at the end of 2015, on the basis of the published negotiating text, is analysed. The difficulties are great but a pathway does exist. It cannot be expected, however, that binding international obligations that will hold global warming under 2 degrees Celsius will result from Paris. But Paris may provide a road map to get there eventually. But time is running out. Action in the next twenty years will need to be significant and the longer the time for action is left the harder the problems of adjustment.

Further, the problems of enforcement of such an agreement will be substantial. International law is notoriously weak and there will be room for backsliding, gaming, prevarication and opportunity to secure rewards by free-riding.

The article then goes on to analyse the two New Zealand statutes that are called upon to deal with climate change, the Resource Management Act 1991 and the Climate Change Response Act 2002 and finds them seriously deficient when it comes to making any difference. The result is that New Zealand has adopted a target of reducing its net emissions to 50% below 1990 levels but has no means to achieving that result as matters stand.

Keywords: Climate Change, United Nations Conference on Climate Change, COP21, Environmental Law, New Zealand

JEL Classification: K33, K00, K32, Q33, Q48

Suggested Citation

Palmer QC, Sir Geoffrey, Climate Change in New Zealand: Is It Doom or Can We Hope? (November 1, 2015). (2015) 11 Policy Quarterly 15. Available at SSRN:

Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, 6140
New Zealand

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