For the first time in Australia, teenagers have launched a class-action lawsuit on behalf of young people around the world to stop the extension of a coal mine in the state of New South Wales.
Anxiety over global warming is driving this teenage campaign to stop the expansion of a coal mine near Gunnedah, 430 kilometers northwest of Sydney, in the state of New South Wales. The class-action lawsuit asserts that Australia’s Environment Minister Sussan Ley, has a legal duty to protect young people and should reject the proposal.
The claimants are between the ages of 13 and 17. They argue that by burning coal, climate change will be made worse, harming their future. Rather than making the claim under environmental legislation, the case asserts the Australian government has a common law duty of care.
The high school students filed an injunction Tuesday in Australia’s Federal Court.
The expansion has been approved by an independent planning commission, which ruled the project was in the public interest, but the final decision rests with federal authorities. The federal government has not commented on the lawsuit because the matter is before the courts.
Sixteen-year-old Laura Kirwan is one of the teenage plaintiffs. She told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. how she was scared about the future.
“I am really worried. Like, climate anxiety, it affects me and I know many, many people that it affects. It is really, really scary to think about the future and not know whether we will have a safe time. I am involved in this case because climate change is really important and is only getting worse. I think that it is really important that the federal environment minister is aware that she should be protecting the younger generations,” Kirwan said.
Whitehaven Coal, the resources company behind the mine expansion, has said it would bring social and economic benefits to the region, including up to 450 jobs and millions of dollars in direct capital investment. It has not yet commented on the lawsuit.
Legal experts believe that, given its complexity, the case will be tough for the high school students to win. If they do, it could have huge ramifications for other new coal mines in Australia, which is one of the world’s major coal producers, selling mostly to India, China and Japan.
In 2019, coal exports were worth about $50 billion. However, the Reserve Bank of Australia has previously noted that there are “some uncertainties for the longer-term outlook for coal exports” because of the shift to renewable energy and the “pace of global economic growth.”
Australia relies on cheap supplies of domestic coal to generate much of its electricity and is one of the world's biggest per capita emitters of greenhouse gas pollution.