A group of teenagers has taken Environment Minister Sussan Ley to court, claiming her approval of a NSW coal mine violates her duty of care to future generations.
A group of eight teenagers from around Australia are driving a class action against an extension to the Vickery coal mine in regional NSW, given the green light by Ms Ley.
The landmark case, which is in the Federal Court on Tuesday, could have dramatic implications for the future of the country’s energy.
The 16-year old lead complainant Anj Sharma warned the project would burn roughly 370 billion tonnes of carbon emissions over its lifetime if it went ahead.
“She really needs to understand that she’s the one who’s making decisions that we are going to live with, that we are going to have to raise the next generation under,” she said.
“She owes a duty of care to all young people (and) to all marginalised people to make decisions that will guarantee a secure future for us.
“By approving this coal mine she (is) choosing (to) directly violate that duty of care. This is not the path that we can afford to have Australia and the world on.”
The group is headed by their legal guardian, 86-year old nun Sister Brigid Arthur.
The group was approached after the 2019 School Strike 4 Climate marches by lawyers who had been working on case theory “for a very long time”, Anj revealed.
If successful, their case could set a precedent preventing the federal government from approving future coal mines.
Anj said their legal team was “really excited” about its prospects but claimed the group was “building momentum” regardless of its success in court.
“I wish I was a fortune teller, but I really can’t tell you (whether the case would be successful),” she said.
“(But) this is a monumental case whether it wins or not. I’m really proud, and all the other students are really proud, to be doing something against the coal mine.”
Anj said an increasing number of natural disasters globally showed it was time for Australia to shift its energy focus to renewables.
“The world is facing the climate crisis and people are becoming climate refugees. We are at a point right now in the world where we just can’t let that happen,” she said.
“This coal mine will not be the right path to the future.”
Ms Ley declined to comment on a case before the courts.
A similar case brought by teenagers in the Netherlands was successful in 2019 when a Dutch court ordered the government to curb emissions by 25 per cent.
It was the first time a nation was ordered to take action on climate by its courts.
It followed a group of Colombians, aged between seven and 26, successfully suing their government in 2018 over its failure to halt deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
The ruling also established the Amazon rainforest itself had rights, which the government was duty bound to protect.