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Australian Court Overturns Ruling Requiring Mine Approvals to Weigh Climate Harm


FILE - Coal is dumped onto a stack at a mine near in Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley, Australia, Nov. 2, 2021.

An Australian court on Tuesday overturned a groundbreaking ruling from last year that required the country's environment minister to consider the harm to children from climate change as part of the approval process for a coal mine.

The full Federal Court decided in favor of an appeal by Environment Minister Sussan Ley against a judge's ruling that she had a duty of care to avoid harming children when weighing approval for a coal project.

"As to the posited duty of care, the Full Court is unanimous in the view that the duty should not be imposed upon the Minister," three Federal Court judges ruled on Tuesday.

The original ruling, which related to approval of a coal mine extension in the state of New South Wales, was seen as setting a precedent for other mine applications.

The case was brought by eight school children and a nun seeking to require Australia's environment minister to protect children from future harm caused by climate change.

Some of the children had gathered outside the court in Sydney to await the ruling and were left in tears when the decision was announced.

"Today's ruling leaves us devastated, but it will not deter us in our fight for climate justice," Anjali Sharma, 17, one of the students who brought the original case, said in a statement.

Chief Justice James Allsop said the duty should not be imposed because of the "indeterminacy of liability and the lack of proportionality between the tiny increase in risk and lack of control and liability for all damage by heatwaves, bushfires and rising sea levels to all Australians under the age of 18, ongoing into the future."

The court also said the duty should not be imposed because it did not fit with the role imposed on the minister under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which governs mine approvals.

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