Australian govt to face charges over climate harm

David Pocock, an independent senator, plans to push for establishing a “duty of care” in Australian law, which would mandate that governments consider the impact that climate change will have on young people when making decisions.

The senator for the ACT will launch his first private members’ bill, which demands new criteria to be established in Australia’s Climate Change Act. This comes when July is on track to become the hottest month on record for the entire planet.

When making decisions that could considerably raise greenhouse gas emissions, such as facilitating or funding the development of projects, the federal government would be required to consider the health and well-being of young people and future generations under the plan’s terms.

It would place an obligation on decision-makers to refrain from making actions that represent a significant risk of harm to the health and welfare of children already living in Australia as well as children who will live there in the future.

“Climate and biodiversity will be the things that we get judged on by young people and future generations,” said Pocock.

“This is the thing that’s going to be important to them. What choices have we made in the present to ensure that they will have the best possible future?”

According to the proposal, the new conditions would be codified into law as part of the Climate Change Act and would be applicable to decisions made under a total of six other pieces of legislation, such as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the Infrastructure Australia Act, and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Act.

The senator’s initiative follows several weeks of record-breaking heat in the northern hemisphere, which has contributed to the spread of wildfires.

The growth of fossil fuel projects, which are the primary cause of the current global disaster, is still being supported by governments across the globe, including the government of Australia.

A high-profile federal court verdict in 2021 concluded that the then-environment minister, Sussan Ley, had a duty of care to safeguard young people from the effects of the climate crisis. The case had been brought by a group of young Australians and an octogenarian nun. Following an appeal by the previous government, that verdict was reversed by the entire bench of the federal court in the previous year.

When Anjali Sharma took the initiative to take legal action against Ley, she was only a junior in high school. She stated that once the initial ruling of the court was reversed, she began reaching out to attorneys and other advocacy organizations, such as environmental and other groups, to inquire about the possibility of a duty of care being codified in law. After that, she went to see Pocock at his office.

According to what she had to say, “This bill is another example of young people taking back their power in the face of climate change.”

“It is really important to have this statutory duty of care because it will be a legal mechanism to ensure decision-makers really have to consider the impact of climate harm when making significant decisions that could affect climate systems. This statutory duty of care is really important.”

Pocock explained that the purpose of his measure was to “plug a gap” in Australia’s statutory framework, which had been revealed as a result of the court decision.

He expressed his concern over recent decisions made by the Albanese government to approve new or expanded coalmines, as well as its financial backing of $1.5 billion for the proposed Middle Arm industrial precinct in Darwin Harbour. An investigation conducted by Guardian Australia revealed that the Middle Arm industrial precinct was seen as “key enabler” for export of gas from Beetaloo basin, despite the fact that it was marketed as “sustainable.” He stated that he was concerned about both of these developments.

“For me, this is trying to change the way that we do make those decisions and actually saying to future Australians and young people: we are going to put you first,” Pocock said. “For me, this is trying to change the way that we do make those decisions.”

The introduction of the bill will occur at the same time as the commencement of a “duty of care” campaign at the grassroots level, which will be supported by environmental and community organizations as well as concerned citizens.

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