A group of high school students have won a landmark case in the federal court, where it was ruled that federal environment minister Sussan Ley has a duty of care to protect young people from harm caused by climate change.
The eight teenagers brought a class action against Minister Ley in September last year, asking the court to prevent her from approving a proposal to expand the Vickery coalmine in northern NSW. They alleged approving the mine expansion would breach Ley’s duty of care to Australian children.
In a world first, the court accepted evidence brought by experts that carbon emissions released from mining and burning fossil fuels will contribute to wide-ranging harms to young Australians. The court’s judgment means that Sussan Ley has to recognise her duty of care to protect young people from climate change when making decisions about the proposed coal mine expansion.
The judge did not go so far as to grant an injunction to prevent Ley approving the Vickery mine expansion, but called upon the parties involved to come together over future decisions about the proposed project.
In his judgement, Justice Mordy Bromberg said the minister’s duty of care to young people should be considered when making decisions.
“The evidence demonstrates that a reasonable person in the position of the minister would foresee that, by reason of the extension project’s effect on increased CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere and the consequential increase in global surface temperatures, each of the children is exposed to a risk of death or other personal injury,” he said.
“The evidence therefore establishes an essential precondition for the law of negligence to recognise a duty of care owed by the minister to each of the children.”
One of the teenagers in the case, Ava Princi, who is 17 years old, said she was “thrilled” by the judgement.
“I’m thrilled because this is a global first. We understand it 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,” Princi said.
“My future – and the future of all young people – depends on Australia joining the world in taking decisive climate action.”
“But this case is not over. While the Court stopped short of preventing the Minister from approving the Vickery mine extension today, it has ordered parties to come together to find a way forward. We are still optimistic that the climate harms from this mine will not happen.”
Laura Kirwan, another student involved in the class action, said it was a victory for young people everywhere.
“The case was about young people stepping up and demanding more from the adults whose actions are determining our future wellbeing,” she said.
“Our voices are powerful and I hope this case inspires more young people to push for stronger, faster and deeper cuts to carbon emissions.
“Our futures depend on it.”