1 June 2021

Great news: “The federal court of Australia has found the environment minister, Sussan Ley, has a duty of care to protect young people from the climate crisis in a judgment hailed by lawyers and teenagers who brought the case as a world first. Eight teenagers and an octogenarian nun had sought an injunction to prevent Ley approving a proposal by Whitehaven Coal to expand the Vickery coalmine in northern New South Wales, arguing the minister had a common law duty of care to protect younger people against future harm from climate change. Justice Mordecai Bromberg found the minister had a duty of care to not act in a way that would cause future harm to younger people.” The judge described the impact of climate change as “catastrophic”: “Perhaps the most startling of the potential harms demonstrated by the evidence before the court, is that one 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. Many thousands will suffer premature death from heat stress or bushfire smoke. Substantial economic loss and property damage will be experienced. The Great Barrier Reef and most of Australia’s eastern eucalypt forests will no longer exist due to repeated, severe bushfires.” And this evidence was not controversial: “An independent expert witness put the loss at between A$125,000 and A$245,000 per person. The calculation was a conservative one, and did not include health impacts which were assessed separately. The evidence was accepted by both the federal government’s legal team and the judge. That it was uncontested represents an important shift. No longer are the financial impacts of climate change a vague future loss — they’re now a tangible, quantifiable harm.”