Australia’s Environment Minister Doesn’t Have to Care About the Kids, Court Rules

A federal appeals court rolled back a previous environmental win for young climate activists.

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 Residents look on as flames burn through bush on January 04, 2020 in Lake Tabourie, Australia.
Residents look on as flames burn through bush on January 04, 2020 in Lake Tabourie, Australia.
Photo: Brett Hemmings (Getty Images)

Australian judges to youth: Drop dead.

An Australian federal court recently ruled that the country’s Federal Environment Minister does not have a “duty of care” to protect young people from climate change when considering the expansion of fossil fuel projects.

This ruling overturned a 2021 class action win from a group of eight young activists and a nun, who took Environment Minister Sussan Ley to court on behalf of all Australian children. They argued that the minister “owes Australian children a duty of care” when considering fossil fuel projects, which could negatively impact these children in the future.

Alongside their 2021 class action suit, the group of teens applied for an injunction to stop the minister from approving the extension of a coal mine in New South Wales, ABC News reported. The teens argued that the coal mine expansion could release an extra 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That amounts to about 20% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, which would only worsen climate change and make their futures more unstable.


Despite the staggering evidence of future harm, federal judges said that the duty of caring for the future of young people in the country shouldn’t be imposed on the environment minister.

“[The new ruling] does not change the science. It does not put out the fires or drain the floodwaters,” said teen activist Anj Sharma, the Guardian reported. Sharma helped lead the class action against Ley.


The 2021 lawsuit is just one of many where young climate activists have taken their governments to court. Last year, Germany’s highest court sided with young activists who sued to challenge the country’s 2019 climate law. And in 2020, a Melbourne college student sued the Australian government for failing to disclose climate-related risks to investors looking to purchase government bonds.

The recent ruling in Australia comes less than a month after the country’s eastern coast was pummeled by torrential rains and some of the worst flooding in Australia’s recorded history that killed more than 20 people and displaced thousands. Climate change has also worsened bushfires. Australia’s 2020 bushfires displaced or killed more than 3 billion animals and killed more than 30 people.


“It will not deter us in our fight for a safe future,” Sharma said in front of the courthouse this week. “The Federal Court today may have accepted the minister’s legal arguments over ours, but that does not change the minister’s moral obligation to take action on climate change.”