Anjali Sharma has been named as a finalist for the international Children’s Climate Prize, in recognition of her work leading other students in a class action against the federal environment minister, Sussan Ley.
17-year-old Sharma, a high school student from Melbourne, was the lead litigant in a class action including seven other young students that asked the court to prevent Ley from approving a proposal to expand the Vickery coalmine in northern NSW. The students argued that the environment minister had a duty of care to protect young people from climate change.
On May 27, in a world first, the federal court ruled that Sussan Ley did indeed have a duty of care towards young people in relation to climate change impacts, setting a precedent for future cases. However, the judge did not grant an injunction to prevent the expansion of the coalmine, as he did not believe the minister would breach her legal duty of care.
“Being a finalist for the Children’s Climate Prize is a really big honour and shows that some of the world’s largest institutions and organisations are on board with the youth’s demand for more climate action,” Sharma said. “Institutions like the UN and Australia’s Federal Court have heard our calls, and so have NGOs like the Children’s Climate Foundation.”
Sharma is one of five finalists named for the Children’s Climate Prize, with the other four finalists coming from the US, Kenya and Brazil. The jury for the prize said Anjali is a “colourful example of the power that more and more young people are flexing to achieve change”.
“It also shows how young people can challenge entire industries and sectors by using the law,” the Children’s Climate Prize jury said.
“Anjali’s ability to mobilise is impressive and representative of a growing phenomenon in the world. It takes courage to challenge the current power and established structures and succeed in achieving a ‘duty of care’ in a fossil fuel-heavy country such as Australia.”
“Anjali is a major pioneer and her legal wrangling is historic in Australia. She is an inspiration for how young people can press for tangible changes and is therefore a role model for others.”
Federal environment minister Sussan Ley is currently appealing the federal court’s decision that she has a duty of care towards young people, but in the meantime her legal duty of care remains in tact. In September, she chose to approve the extension of the Vickery coal mine in north-west NSW.
According to the Children’s Climate Prize, the coal mine is estimated to burn 370 million tonnes of CO2 over its lifetime and dig up a total of 168 million tonnes of coal, which will then be exported to Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.
This Friday (15th October), thousands of school students across Australia are planning to strike for climate, with 26 COVID-safe actions expected to occur across the country, as well as 11 online events, organised by the School Strike for Climate Network.
Natasha Abhayawickrama, a 17-year-old student from Sydney said: “We need climate action, and we need it now. That is the message young people and marginalised voices at the front line of the climate crisis have been preaching for many years.”
“As outlined by the IPCC’s report earlier this year, Governments across the world simply aren’t doing enough. Instead their climate INACTION is only further damaging the earth, and contributing to the climate crisis.”
The school climate strike comes two weeks before the international climate summit, COP26 in Glasgow.
“As a young person, I am scared for our future – and I’m shattered and angry that we are continuing to damage the earth and hurt vulnerable communities. It’s hard not to feel hopeless when the Australian Government is failing us every day they continue to choose not to take action,” Abhayawickrama said.