Environment Minister wins court appeal against students

Five of the eight young plaintiffs in Sharma v Minister for the Environment (Minister Court)
Five of the eight young plaintiffs. From left: Ava Princi, Izzy Raj-Seppings, Ambrose Hayes, Veronica Hester, Laura Kirwan. Equity Generation Lawyers

The Federal Court has a decided in favour of Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley, overturning an earlier decision that found in favour of eight teenagers who brought a class-action case that challenged a proposal by Whitehaven Coal to extend its Vickery coal mine, near Boggabri in NSW.

The teenagers argued the mine expansion would endanger their future because climate hazards would cause them injury, ill health and economic losses.

Related article: Students win landmark climate case

The minister’s appeal said the primary judge, Justice Mordecai Bromberg, erred in his findings about global temperature rise—an argument backed by the Federal Court’s decision, which determined Minister Ley does not have a duty of care to protect young people from climate change harm when considering fossil fuel projects, such as mines.

The high school students who took the Federal Environment Minister to court have promised to keep fighting for stronger climate action in Australia.

“Today’s ruling leaves us devastated, but it will not deter us in our flight for climate justice,” said Anjali Sharma, 17, one of the students.

“This case demonstrates that young people are determined to be heard on this issue at the highest levels. We’re proud of representing young people in Australia and fighting to hold people in power responsible for their actions.

“Climate change is already wreaking havoc on the lives of Australians. Two years ago, Australia was on fire; today, it’s underwater. Burning coal makes bushfires and floods more catastrophic and more deadly. Something needs to change. Our leaders need to step up and act.”

“While today’s judgment did not go our way, there is still much to celebrate,” said Izzy Raj-Seppings, 15, another student involved in the case.

“The Court accepted that young people will bear the brunt of the impacts of the climate crisis. The Court’s recognition that extraction and burning of fossil fuels will cause future climate impacts is an important step in the fight for climate justice in the courtroom.

“Climate inaction has devastating consequences for young people. While today’s judgment is disappointing, we will keep fighting harder and louder than ever to demand that those in power protect the most vulnerable and ensure a safe future.

Related article: Court dismisses environmental challenge against Woodside

“Regardless of today’s outcome, the ground is shifting. Governments around the world are stopping new coal projects and rapidly shifting to renewables. We call on the Australian government to do the same.

“Our lawyers will be reviewing the judgment and we may have more to say in the coming weeks.”

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