The students are using a never before trialled approach that essentially says the federal government has a common law duty of care to protect younger people against climate change, as emissions continue to increase and climate deteriorate.
The eight young Australians are seeking an injunction against federal Environment minister Sussan Ley to stop a NSW Vickery coal mine extension project from going ahead. Ley is the minister giving final approval on the extension project and the group have brought a class action to invoke her common law duty of care to protect younger people against climate change.
The judgement is not expected for months, but the class action against the coal mine would make it more difficult for coal mines to be approved in Australia on the basis of intergenerational equity and climate change, if the teens and the nun prove successful.
The group are working with Victorian firm Equity Generation Lawyers in the class action and are supported by Sister Brigid Arthur, an 85-year-old Catholic nun connected to the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project.
Laura Kirwan, 16, one of the group says that:
"THE CLIMATE CRISIS WILL DISPROPORTIONATELY IMPACT YOUNG PEOPLE AND THE GOVERNMENT HAS A DUTY TO YOUNG PEOPLE TO PROTECT OUR FUTURES FROM THE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE, INCLUDING STOPPING THE CLIMATE IMPACTS OF THE VICKERY EXTENSION PROJECT."
This new case is a class action, claiming that the eight young people claiming to represent every person in the world under the age of 18. David Barnden from Equity Generation Lawyers, who is representing the students, said the impacts of climate change on youth go "over and above regular people" because of their age.
Barnden is a specialist in climate litigation and is also representing Katta O'Donnell in her action against the Federal Government as well as 26 year-old Mark McVeigh, who is suing super fund REST for not doing enough on climate change. Barnden says:
"IF WE WIN AND IF WE CAN INJUNCT THE MINISTER FROM MAKING A DECISION TO APPROVE IT, IT COULD HAVE HUGE RAMIFICATIONS FOR OTHER NEW COAL MINES IN AUSTRALIA.
AND IT MIGHT MEAN THE END OF ANY NEW COAL MINE IN AUSTRALIA.
WE'RE PLAYING TO WIN."
If it proceeds, additional coal from the mine extension will create roughly 100 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gasses, according to the NSW Independent Planning Commission — or about as much as is created each year in Australia by all forms of domestic transport combined.