The Federal Court has ruled that Environment Minister Sussan Ley has a duty of care to protect young people and future generations from climate change, and it’s all thanks to the efforts of eight Aussie high schoolers who acted on behalf of young people everywhere.
The landmark court case was launched last year, and while the teens weren’t able to stop the expansion of Whitehaven Coal’s Vickery mine in northern NSW like they first set out to do, the ruling we did end up with is still a world-first and has set a massive precedent for climate justice in Australia.
You’d think it’s the Environment Minister’s job to, you know, take care of the environment, but in Australia that hasn’t always been the case. That’s what the teens argued by pointing to Ley’s attempts to approve the mine extension, which was also approved by NSW authorities in August last year.
“I am thrilled because this is a landmark decision,” 17-year-old Ava Princi, one of the students behind the legal action, said from Sydney.
“This is the first time a Court of law, anywhere in the world, has recognised that a government minister has a duty of care to protect young people from the catastrophic harms of climate change.”
The eight teens were backed by 86-year-old nun Sister Brigid Arthur, who acted as their litigation guardian, and lawyers from Equity Generation.
Justice Mordecai Bromberg pointed out that, in the most literal sense, the children are more likely to be hospitalised from heat stress, for example, than previous generations due to human-induced climate change. He linked this risk to the approval of the coal mine expansion.
“The 100 million tonnes of CO2 attributable to the burning of coal from the extension project is likely to cause a tiny, but measurable increase to global average surface temperatures,” Justice Bromberg said in his judgement on Thursday morning.
“In doing so, it would increase the risk of global average surface temperatures increasing beyond on 2 degrees Celsius and the risk of global surface temperatures being propelled into an irreversible 4 degree Celsius territory.
“In my assessment, that risk is real, meaning that it may be remote, but it is not far-fetched or fanciful.”
That 100 million tonnes of CO2 comes not just from building the mine extension itself, but from burning that coal all over the world. In other words, this is a court case which had an international scope.
However, Justice Bromberg also said the Environment Minister approving Whitehaven’s Vickery coal mine extension wouldn’t go as far as to breach that duty of care .
Nevertheless, the fact that he even acknowledged that Ley has a duty of care in the first place is a big deal for young people not just around Australia, but all over the world. After all, climate change affects us all.
“This is a victory for young people everywhere,” another one of the teens, 17-year-old Laura Kirwan told reporters.
“The case was about young people stepping up and demanding more from the adults whose actions are determining our future wellbeing.
“Our voices are powerful and I hope this case inspires more young people to push for stronger, faster and deeper cuts to carbon emissions.”