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Australia court says top official has 'duty' to protect young from carbon emissions

By Kyle Barnett
Australia court says top official has 'duty' to protect young from carbon emissions
"The first respondent has a duty to take reasonable care, in the exercise of her powers ... to avoid causing personal injury or death to persons who were under 18 years of age ... arising from emissions of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere," the judge wrote. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

July 8 (UPI) -- An Australian court ruled on Thursday that the country's environment minister has a "duty" to protect young people from the effects of climate change, as part of a case involving the expansion of a coal mine in New South Wales.

The project near Boggabri in New South Wales has led to legal challenges from several Australian schoolchildren who are concerned that the coal mine poses a climate change-related threat.

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In the ruling Thursday, Australian Justice Mordecai Bromberg said environment minister Sussan Ley is responsible for possible environmental harm if she allows the expansion to move forward. She has regulatory responsibility for the project.

In his declaration, Bromberg said it falls upon Ley "to take reasonable care" to "avoid causing personal injury or death" for Australia's younger residents who may face a harm due to carbon emissions.

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The judgement is expected to affect a large sector of Australian industry, including mining, manufacturing, transportation and energy.

In an earlier ruling, Bromberg said it could be "catastrophic" if global average surface temperatures rise to and exceed 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The judge also ordered Ley to pay all court costs associated with the federal-level case.

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"We are delighted that the law of the land now states that the government has a duty to avoid causing harm to young people," said Anj Sharma, one of the children who brought the challenge, according to The Guardian.

"For young people this decision brings hope and anticipation of a better, and responsible decision making by government," added plaintiffs attorney David Barnden, according to The Guardian. "The ramifications for the minister are clear."

Experts say the ruling shows that courts are taking more of an activist role in shifting public policy about climate change.

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"Court decisions like this one are playing a significant role in shaping the landscape around climate risk for businesses and government decision-makers, and that landscape is shifting at a rapid pace," said Edwina Kwan, a partner at law firm King & Wood Mallesons, according to Financial Review.

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