Smith v Fonterra and the Climatization of Tort Law

Modern Law Review, Forthcoming

12 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2024

See all articles by Sam Bookman

Sam Bookman

Harvard University, Law School

Date Written: April 21, 2024


How should tort law respond to climate change? In Smith v Fonterra, New Zealand's Supreme Court provided some important answers. This note summarises the decision, and situates it within broader debates about the function of tort law, and its necessary evolution in response to climate change. The Supreme Court's decision hints at possibilities for the "climatisation" of tort law, and highlights the double life of tort law, as both a backward-looking mechanism of corrective justice, and a forward-looking mechanism of risk regulation. And as climate-related harms intensify, the question will be how, rather than if, tort law evolves to meet the challenge. Smith may be one of the first cases to ask that question, but it will not be the last.

Keywords: tort law, climate change, New Zealand Supreme Court, public nuisance, Smith v Fonterra

Suggested Citation

Bookman, Sam, Smith v Fonterra and the Climatization of Tort Law (April 21, 2024). Modern Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Sam Bookman (Contact Author)

Harvard University, Law School ( email )

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Cambridge, MA 02138
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