In Greenpeace of New Zealand v the Charities Registration Board  NZHC 1999 the High Court allowed Greenpeace’s appeal against the Charities Registration Board’s decision on its application for charitable status and held that Greenpeace was entitled to be registered as a charity. The High Court found that Greenpeace’s purposes of protecting the environment through addressing climate change, protecting the ocean, and enhancing the quality of rivers were charitable purposes of public benefit within the meaning of the Charities Act 2005.
In reaching this decision the High Court held that the Board’s approach, which had focused on the complexity of, and multiple views on, the best way to protect the environment, was incorrect. The Court held that that protecting the environment required broad-based support and effort. While almost every action to protect the environment will clash in some way with commercial or other vested interests, this did not mean that advocacy to protect the environment was not in the public benefit. In assessing Greenpeace’s primary purpose of avoiding catastrophic climate, the High Court held that addressing climate change was a classic example of an issue which required broad-based support and effort. Advocacy on this issue could be charitable depending on its nature. Greenpeace’s advocacy in this area focuses on reducing global emissions by limiting fossil fuel use. The Court noted that it is uncontroversial that reducing fossil fuel use is an available measure to mitigate climate change, and any debate is about the extent to which this measure should be pursued in combination with other measures, and in what time frame. Greenpeace’s advocacy was held to be an important part of this debate.