Why A 23-Year-Old Is Suing The Government Over Climate Inaction

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Katta O’Donnell is a 23-year-old who is suing the Australian government for climate inaction.  

She’s been making waves since the lawsuit was filed last year, and the case is due to head to trial in a few months.  

So why is Katta pursuing this line of action against the government? And what should we know about this kind of climate activism? 

Climate Change Risk And Investors

Katta is taking legal action against the Government over its failing to disclose climate risk to investors 

I’ll actually just let her explain it.  

Katta O’Donnell: People can buy government bonds on the stock exchange and it’s pretty much the government promoting a product. But when they’re doing so, they’re not telling people about the risk that climate change is going to have on the economy, and when climate change does impact the economy. So for example, the bushfires last year cost over 100 billion dollars and that was just one event. 

I’m saying the government needs to be telling people about these risks when they’re promoting government bonds because if they’re not telling people about the risks then they’re misleading people.” 

A government bond is basically a way that investors can lend money to the government for a set period of time and receive interest.  

Bonds are supposed to be a low risk investment. Most of us have some investment in government bonds because most superannuation funds have some proportion of members’ money in them.  

Katta’s lawsuit is a class action, meaning that she’s representing everyone that has government bonds. It’s a massive undertaking and she’s taken the case on as pretty much a full time job.  

KO: “I do get a bit of climate anxietynot just from knowing there’s going to be bad weather but the worst thing is seeing that no one’s doing anything about itI think that it’s reallyreally important that individuals and companies and everyone out there is just doing what they can at the moment. 

Governments’ Accountability For Climate Change

Katta isn’t the only one who’s decided that suing for the climate is the best course of action.  

In fact, the lawyer leading Katta’s case recently helped 25 year old take legal action against Rest Super last year for failing to protect retirement savings from climate change.  

Rest have now pledged to align all their investments with a target for net zero emissions by 2050.  

But the trend is even bigger than that 

There have been hundreds of cases around the world of young people taking governments or corporations to court for infringing on their rights and future through climate inaction 

Back in 2019, one case in the Netherlands set a precedent when the Supreme Court ordered the government to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25% within two years.  

It was the first case to establish that governments owe their citizens a legal duty to prevent climate change.  

There was another ground breaking case in Columbia, where 25 young people won a lawsuit against their government for failing to protect the Amazon.  

The Supreme Court decided that deforestation was violating the rights of the youths and the rainforest and ordered the government to cut it out. 

Still, the way that Katta is suing the Australian government is unique even amongst all these other cases because of the grounds she’s doing it on.  

And this approach to climate activism in general is really different from say, the student-led climate strikes.  

KO: I think with a lot of activism it’s sort of reactionary and we’re responding to something that’s happening. But with this case, it’s proactive in that it’s affecting something that is really important to the government. 

Climate change is going to affect everyoneeveryone’s going to feel it. We already are feeling it. I have family and friends who lost their lives and lost their homes in the bushfires in Black Saturday in 2009. Last year the bushfires were even worse and it’s just really terrifying to know that’s the future and we’re not even acknowledging it in our politics and in our legislation really. SoI think that it’s really important that legal minds and the leaders of the country are turning their minds to this problem.” 

The Takeaway 

Katta’s first court date is due to be set in the next few weeks and it will be so exciting to see how this unfolds because it could set a massive legal precedent for the way that Australia views climate change.  

But the cases of these amazing young people are also a really grim signal. Young people shouldn’t have to spend hours of their lives in a courtroom to remind governments that they owe people a sustainable and healthy future 

Governments should already understand and acknowledge that, and do their goddamn jobs.