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The Australian Sharma decision: using tort law to establish a novel duty of care for climate change

February 22, 2022
5:00 PM - 6:00 PM
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The climate crisis is accelerating across the world, fueling rising temperatures and extreme weather events such as catastrophic bushfires, floods, and droughts. Burning coal is the single largest contributor to this crisis and Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter. To make it worse, young people and children are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

In September 2020, eight young people from around Australia, represented by Equity Generation Lawyers, and with the assistance of 86 year-old litigation guardian Sister Brigid Arthur, brought a class action against the Federal Minister for the Environment (Sharma and others v. Minister for the Environment). The plaintiffs allege that the Minister has a duty to avoid causing future harm related to the carbon emissions that would result from the approval of a proposed coal mine extension project in the state of New South Wales known as the Vickery Extension Project. The coal burned from the Vickery Extension Project will result in 100 million tonnes of carbon emissions over the next 25 years, further fueling the climate crisis.

In May 2021, the Federal Court of Australia established a novel duty of care owed by the Federal Minister for the Environment to children to prevent climate harms. While the judgment of a single Federal Court justice is currently under appeal, its close consideration of scientific evidence of climate impacts and recognition of the special vulnerability of children has potentially profound ramifications for the ongoing development of climate litigation, both in Australia and globally. More broadly, the Sharma decision adds to growing momentum for governments to be held accountable for their actions on climate change, effectively calling for a duty to care in the face of inter-generational injustices inflicted by inaction on reducing GHG emissions to safe levels.

Please join us on February 22, 2022 at 5:00pm EST as we discuss the Sharma case, the decision from the Federal Court of Australia, and the pending appeal from the Minister for the Environment. This webinar, moderated by Maria Antonia Tigre, will feature a discussion among three Australian experts on climate litigation. Clare Schuster and Jack McLean are lawyers from Equity Generation Lawyers, the law firm representing the students that brought the Sharma case. Clare and Matt Floro are the national rapporteurs for Australia for the Sabin Center’s Peer Review Network on Global Climate Litigation.

This webinar will cover: 

·An overview of the Sharma & Others v Minister for the Environment case and an update on the progress of the appeal proceedings in Minister for the Environment v Sharma & Others

·A general discussion of tort-based climate change litigation and how, especially in the absence of an enforceable human rights framework, redress for climate-related harms may be sought through tort-based claims. 


* This webinar is part of the Sabin Center’s Peer Review Network on Global Climate Litigation’s monthly webinar series. The Peer Review Network receives financial support from the United Nations Environment Program.