27 May 2021

Australian court says mine approvals must consider climate harm

8:22 pm on 27 May 2021

An Australian court ruled the country's environment minister has an obligation to children to consider the harm caused by climate change as part of her decision-making in approving the expansion of a new coal mine.

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(File image). Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

The Federal Court of Australia made the ruling in response to a class action suit brought by eight teenagers that argued the expansion of Whitehaven Coal Ltd's Vickery Project in New South Wales (NSW) state would contribute to climate change and endanger their future.

In his ruling, Justice Mordecai Bromberg said that the minister could foresee the possibility of future harm caused to the children in the case by the increase in carbon dioxide emissions from Whitehaven's expansion and therefore must recognise a so-called duty of care, or moral obligation, to the children, when approving it.

Ava Princi, 17, one of the students that brought the suit, said she was "thrilled" by the judgment because it was the first of its kind.

"We understand it is the first time a court of law, anywhere in the world, has ordered a government to specifically protect young people from the catastrophic harms of climate change," she said.

However, the court stopped short of issuing an injunction to prevent the minister from approving the expansion.

Whitehaven welcomed the decision not to issue the injunction and said it would work towards getting the federal environment protection approval for the expansion, sending its shares 3 percent higher to a more than one-month high.

The NSW regulator approved the expansion in August, from which Whitehaven plans to increase coal extraction by nearly 25 percent, but will hold off on making any final investment decision this year.


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