Students drop appeal of environmental ‘duty of care’ decision

Eight students who took the federal environment minister to court over climate change responsibility have decided their next step.

The eight students who took the federal environment Minister to court over climate change responsibility have decided they won’t be challenging the federal government in the High Court.

In May 2021, the Federal Court found in a landmark judgment the Environment Minister did have a duty to not cause Australian children personal injury when approving a coal mine expansion.

Initially a victory for climate action, the decision was overturned last month in an appeal led by the Environment Minister Sussan Ley.

“We should never have needed to file this case in the first place,” the students wrote in a joint statement released on Tuesday.

Anjali Sharma, Luca Saunders, Isolde Raj-Seppings, Laura Kirwan, Bella Burgemeister, Tomas Webster Arbizu, Ava Princi, Veronica Hester and Ambrose Hayes are the eight litigants in the case.

The full court bench reasoned federal environment laws do not require Ms Ley to protect people from climate change, claiming the risk of climate damage as a result of the minister’s decision is minuscule.

The students said that after exhausting all other avenues, including school strikes and protesting, they had no choice but to launch the legal battle.

“It is reprehensible that the Federal Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, then subsequently used public money to take us back to court and appeal this duty of care,” the students wrote.

The students remain firm in their belief the Environment Minister owes a moral duty of care to protect children from the detrimental impacts of climate change, including worsening extreme weather like floods and fires.

“Politicians, as per their job description, should owe a duty of care to wider society. This is why we elect them,” they wrote.

One victory remains for the students following the appealed decision – that is, the full bench of the Federal Court unanimously rejected the Minister’s attempts to challenge the court’s findings of facts.

“The nature of the risks and the dangers from global warming, including the possible catastrophe that may engulf the world and humanity were never in dispute,” the court noted in its March decision.

“Eventually, we will be old enough to hold the government to account at the ballot box, too,” the students’ statement read, a month out from the next Federal Election.

Four of the eight students have turned 18 years old and will be eligible to vote in May.

“We may become the barristers and solicitors sitting adjacent to them in a courtroom, the journalists exposing the truth on prime time television or even a candidate vying for a seat in parliament,” they said.

“They will not forget our names.”

Originally published as Students behind environmental ‘duty of care’ case slam costly court appeal

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