Protect children from climate change
Legal27/05/2021 12:00:00 AM

Novel duty of care owed to protect children from climate change and associated injury (Fed)

In representative proceedings commenced in the Federal Court of Australia, a group of eight Australian children have been successful in part in their claim of negligence against the Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley.

His Honour Bromberg J found the existence of a novel duty of care, that the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment owes Australian children a duty of care when approving the extraction of coal from a coal mine extension and a duty to protect children from the risk of personal injury from climate change, such harm being reasonably foreseeable.

His Honour dismissed the associated application for an injunction to block the Minister from granting an extension to a coal mine in rural New South Wales.

The representative proceedings were directed to providing relief to children, as distinct from all persons, on the basis that the children are vulnerable to a known, foreseeable risk of serious harm, which the Minister can control, but they cannot. In addition, the applicants argued that harm will occur in the future and mainly towards the end of this century when global average surface temperatures are forecast to be significantly higher than they are currently and that it is at that time that, unlike today’s adults, today’s children will be alive and will be the class of persons most susceptible to the harms in question. Further, that today’s adults have gained both previously unimaginable power to harm tomorrow’s adults, and the ability to control that harm and that a correlative responsibility ought to be imposed to protect them from what they say is a serious threat of irreversible future harm.

Source: Sharma by her litigation representative Sister Marie Brigid Arthur v Minister for the Environment [2021] FCA 56, 27 May 2021.