The Australia Federal Court ruled on May 27 that Australia’s government will need to ensure that children are not harmed by its decisions to approve coal projects, in a landmark ruling that could have big implications for the country’s fossil fuels industry.
What is Happening?
- The case was initiated by eight schoolchildren and a nun. The decision by the court came as it dismissed a request for an injunction to stop Canberra approving a controversial coal mine.
- The applicants had asked the court to prevent Sussan Ley, Australia’s minister for the environment, from taking a decision on whether to grant approvals for the coal project. The mine in New South Wales is expected to produce 10 million tonnes of coal annually over 26 years, enough to generate roughly 500m tonnes of CO2.
- Judge Mordecai Bromberg agreed that Ley had a duty to take “reasonable care” not to cause children in Australia injury when using her powers to grant coal mine approvals, adding that evidence demonstrates children are extremely vulnerable to “severe harms” caused by climate change.
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He said, “It will largely be inflicted by the inaction of this generation of adults, in what might fairly be described as the greatest intergenerational injustice ever inflicted by one generation of humans upon the next.”
Chris McGrath, an expert on climate litigation, told the Financial Times, “This is a historic win, which will ensure government ministers and even companies have to consider their duty of care to children when making decisions on projects linked to climate change.”
- The court case was led by a group of high school students aged between 14 and 17 and Brigid Arthur, a nun who acted as their litigation guardian.
Ava Princi, a 17-year-old student and one of the litigants, said, “I’m thrilled. We understand this is the first time a court of law, anywhere in the world, has ordered a government to specifically protect young people from the catastrophic harms of climate change.”