Climate Change

Australia’s court finds government has duty to protect young people from climate change

Australia’s court finds government has duty to protect young people from climate crisis

Photo: School Strike 4 Climate Australia

Published

May 28, 2021

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Published:

May 28, 2021

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The Federal Court of Australia has ruled environment minister Sussan Ley has a duty of care to protect Australia’s youth from the climate crisis. This is the first such decision in Australia, and some say first in the world.

The judgement is the outcome of a claim filed by eight Australian teenagers who sought an injunction so that minister Sussan Ley couldn’t allow Whitehaven Coal to expand the Vickery coal mine in northern South Wales. They claimed she has a duty of care to protect them and other Australian children against future harm from climate change.

Judge: The minister had a duty of care to avoid decisions that would cause harm to present and future young people

Judge Mordecai Bromberg found the minister had a duty of care to avoid decisions that would cause harm to present and future young people, but he did not grant the injunction on coal mine expansion. He also estimated that burning the coal extracted from the expansion of mine could add 100 million tonnes of CO2 or around 20% of Australia’s annual climate footprint.

Australia’s court finds government has duty to protect young people from climate change
Photo: School Strike 4 Climate/Facebook

Bromberg said the impact of the Vickery mine on global carbon dioxide emissions and average temperatures was “tiny but measurable”, SBS News reported.

“In my assessment that (climate change) risk is real – it may be remote but it is not far fetched or fanciful,” he said.

Judge: More than 1 million of today’s children would require acute care from heat stress because of global warming

The children’s lawyer, Equity Generation Lawyers’ David Barnden, said he considered the judgment a victory.

“The court has found the minister owes a duty of care to younger children, vulnerable people, and that duty says the minister must not act in a way that causes future harm of climate change to younger people,” Barnden told reporters.

According to Barnden, the judge said it was “startling” that more than 1 million of today’s children would require acute care from heat stress at some point in their lives because of global warming, abc.net.au reported.

Young people stepping up and demanding more from the adults

One of the children, 17-year-old Ava Princi, said the case was “about young people stepping up and demanding more from the adults whose actions are determining our future wellbeing.”

She called on Ley to ensure the coal mine extension never occurs.

“This is the first time a court of law anywhere in the world has recognized that a government minister has a duty of care to protect young people from the catastrophic harms of climate change,” she told reporters.

Princi said her future and the future of all young people depends on Australia stepping away from fossil fuel projects and joining the world in taking decisive action.

Because of their age, they were represented in court by 86 year-old Marie Brigid Arthur, a sister of the Brigidine Order of Victoria.

Government is considering the judgment

A spokesman for Ley said the government was considering the judgment and that it would have “more to say in due course”, but noted it rejected the application for an injunction against the minister to prevent her from making a final decision on the mine extension, the Guardian reported.

Whitehaven Coal has announced the judgment is dismissing proceedings seeking to prevent the Federal Environment Minister from granting approval for the company’s Vickery Extension Project, according to a  stock exchange filing.

The company did not mention the duty of care finding. It added it sees coal as a solution for CO2 reduction.

“The company sees a continuing role for high-quality coal in contributing to global CO2 emissions reduction efforts while simultaneously supporting economic development in our near region. There is strong market demand for the high-quality product of the type Vickery will produce,” the statement reads.

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