Australian Court Dismisses Case Over Government's Duty to Protect Kids From Climate Change

 Australian Court Dismisses Case Over Government's Duty to Protect Kids from Climate Change

Last year, eight teenagers and a nun successfully argued that the Australian government has a legal duty to protect children from the harm of climate change when assessing fossil fuel projects. This landmark case was meant to block the approval of a coal mine expansion in New South Wales by Whitehaven Coal. However, in an appeal against the decision, the federal court ruled against forcing Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley to reject the coal company’s proposal and relieved her of "duty of care” to protect Australia’s children.

The federal judges unanimously ruled that there was not "sufficient closeness and directness” between the minister’s decision and the risk to young people because her level of liability in the approval process for the coal mine could not be determined. However, there is still hope if the teenagers decide to take their case to Australia’s highest court.

ABC: Court rules government has no duty of care to protect future generations from climate change, March 15, 2022.

Guardian Australia: 'We will keep mining', says Australian prime minister Scott Morrison about the future of coal, September 9, 2021.

Why This Matters

Despite overturning the court’s ruling, the federal judges noted that they did not dispute any of the evidence presented in the initial case, including the prediction that "1 million of today’s Australian children are expected to suffer at least one heat-stress episode serious enough to require acute care in a hospital.” Additionally, the coal mine expansion is expected to release 100 more tons of carbon into the atmosphere, dooming Australia’s emission goals. Australia’s youths are not just worried about the prospects of their futures; they are scared for their safety and health as governments continue to dismiss the harmful effects of fossil fuels and climate change.

Reuters: 2021 saw jump in greenhouse-gas emissions, says report, January 10, 2022.

Sky News: What you need to know about coal, November 4, 2021.

TED: End fossil fuels to protect human health, March 1, 2022.

Young People Are Fighting For Their Future

Right now, over 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 -- the largest generation of youths in history -- are facing an uncertain future in the face of climate change. Many are frustrated and disillusioned with their leaders’ abilities to make decisions about the future while holding their best interests in mind. Worldwide, kids are speaking up in classrooms, at home, in the streets, online, and in court to fight for a better world and a cleaner future. Greta Thunberg has inspired millions of people to join climate strikes and organize protests in the name of climate change. Kids in Montana are building a case against the state’s fossil fuel-dependent energy policies. And last year, the Youth4Climate Manifesto was adopted just days before the COP26 event commenced in Glasgow. Young people understand what is at stake with the climate crisis and are proving a willingness to fight for the future they deserve.

60 Minutes: Juliana v. United States - The climate lawsuit, January 23, 2020.

HEI State of Global Air: Air Pollution & Climate Change - The Impacts on Global Health, December 8, 2021.

Cleo Abram: Fracking for Clean Energy. Wait, What?, January 18, 2022.

WW0: A Conversation on Health and Climate, August 6, 2020.