A landmark judgement on climate change – Minister must consider young people

The Australian Federal Court heard a case this week that may have ripple effects around the world. The court found that the Environment Minister owes a duty of care to Australia’s young people not to cause them physical harm in the form of personal injury from climate change.

Eight young people had brought a class action on behalf of all Australian children and teenagers against the Environment Minister, Sussan Ley.

They argued that the Minister should not approve extensions to a coal mine as it would endanger their future. Whilst the young people were not able to stop the Minister from being able to approve the extension, they did make the case that climate change was reasonably foreseeable and could cause them catastrophic harm.

During the Federal Court’s live-streamed summary, the court found that one million of today’s Australian children are expected to be hospitalised because of a heat-stress episode, that substantial economic loss will be experienced, and that the Great Barrier Reef and most of Australia’s eucalypt forest won’t exist when they grow up.

The court concluded:

It is difficult to characterise in a single phrase the devastation that the plausible evidence presented in this proceeding forecasts for the children. As Australian adults know their country, Australia will be lost, and the world as we know it gone as well. The physical environment will be harsher, far more extreme and devastatingly brutal when angry.

As for the human experience – quality of life, opportunities to partake in nature’s treasures, the capacity to grow and prosper – all will be greatly diminished. Lives will be cut short. Trauma will be far more common and good health harder to hold and maintain.

None of this will be the fault of nature itself. It will largely be inflicted by the inaction of this generation of adults in what might fairly be described as the greatest inter-generational injustice ever inflicted by one generation of humans upon the next.

To say that the children are vulnerable is to understate their predicament.

HonJustice Mordecai Bromberg

Read the full article in The Conversation by Laura Schuijers, Research Fellow in Environmental Law, The University of Melbourne.