Politics

These Teens (And A Nun) Are Taking The Government To Court Over Climate Change

They're fighting to stop the Environment Minister approving a NSW coal mine expansion

Izzy Raj-Seppings

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A group of young Aussies have launched a class action suit against our Federal Environmental Minister, arguing she has a duty of care to protect the next generation from climate change.

Eight teenagers — with the help of an 85-year-old nun — have filed an injunction to stop Sussan Ley approving a coal mine expansion in north-west NSW, arguing the carbon emissions would jeopardise their future.

The class action was launched in the Federal Court of Australia yesterday, and includes every single person under the age of  18 around the world.

The eight Aussies who launched the case have all been involved in School Strike 4 Climate, who organised last year’s massive climate change walk out at schools across the country.

“I’m joining this case because a decision to approve the Vickery Extension Project and its climate impacts would be a decision made in complete disregard for the futures of young people and the state of our country,” one activist, 16-year-old Anj Sharma, said.

“Every single year, we have seen our country face so much turmoil, with fires that destroy more and more property, floods that take lives and storms that cause so much destruction.

“Every consecutive summer is labelled as ‘the worst summer this country has ever faced,’ and yet instead of addressing this crisis, more mines are being given the green light. This has to stop and I am proud to be doing something to help stop it.”

Why Have They Launched This Class Actions?

One of the plaintiffs involved is 13-year-old Izzy Raj-Seppings, who made headlines last year when police ordered her to move on by police while at a climate rally outside the Prime Minister’s Kirribilli House.

She hopes the court action will force the government to listen to young people, and said they would not give up until they take proper action on climate change.

class action climate change

Avav Princi, Izzy Raj-Seppings, Ambrose Hayes, Veronica Hester and Laura Kirwan are part of the class action.

Year 12 student Veronica Hester is also part of the class action, and hopes it will help set a precedent for future coal mines. She’s worried about the health impacts of climate change, but also the economic ones.

“I am worried about job security, high food prices from lower food supply, worsening recessions, and lower quality of life. I want to live in a country that prioritises long-term economic growth and securing my generation’s future,” she said.

“By allowing the Vickery Extension Project and other projects like it that cause climate change, the government is acting immorally and being economically short-sighted.

“The Australian government should prioritise competitiveness and long-term economic growth in a world that is inevitably moving towards renewable energy.”

Another climate activist, 14-year-old Bella Burgmeister, has also authored a book to help kids understand the climate crisis.

“Our government is still approving these mines knowing they are a direct cause of rising temperatures, increasing CO2 levels,  extreme nature events, ecosystems disappearing and food and water shortages. It is time to put our futures before fossil fuels and profits,” she said.

“We want what you had — a clean and healthy planet for a clean and healthy life.”

David Barnden from Equity Generation Lawyers, who are representing the students pro-bono, said the action provides the opportunity for young people around the world to take part — if you’re under 18 you can support them by joining the case here.

“The government fully understands the causes and implications of the climate crisis. Young Australians should be protected from the harm they will face from climate change,” David said.

Sister Brigid Arthur has also joined as the litigation guardian for the students, who are all aged between 13 and 17. She is a Brigidine Sister, and is also the co-founder and coordinator of the Brigidine Asylum Seekers’ Project.

What Mine Are They Worried About?

The mine in question is the Vickery coal mine, north of Gunnedah in NSW. Last month operators Whitehaven Coal were controversially given approval to expand the mine by the Independent Planning Commission (IPC).

Their application to build the extension is now before Environmental Minister Sussan Ley, who must decide whether to give it final approval or not. The class action has asked for an injunction on her decision, which is expected this month.

After a public hearing in July the IPC ruled the expansion was in the public interest, and the associated impacts could be managed.

The approval came a day after the NSW Resources Regulator announced it was taking Whitehaven to court for allegedly breaching mining approvals at another site last year. It’s the third legal action that’s been bought against them this year — one for allegedly taking water it wasn’t entitled to, and another for allegedly failing to offset the forests it destroyed.

Nothing to worry about there, I’m sure.

Whitehaven Coal is the leading Australian producer of premium-quality coal, and operates four mines in the Gunnedah Coal Basin.


Feature Image: Avav Princi, Izzy Raj-Seppings, Ambrose Hayes, Veronica Hester and Laura Kirwan are part of the class action.