World News

Australia students launch class action to prevent coal mine approval

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Eight young Australian students have brought a class action in the country’s federal court seeking an injunction to prevent government approval of a coal project, lawyers representing the claimants said on Wednesday.

The lawsuit against Environment Minister Susan Ley comes ahead of a decision this month on whether to approve the Whitehaven Coal-owned Vickery coal mine extension project in New South Wales.

“The case is an Australian first, as it seeks to invoke the Minister’s common law duty of care to protect younger people against climate change,” Equity Generation Lawyers said in a statement.

All the claimants are under the age of 18 years and Equity Generation is urging other youngsters from across the world to register for the class action.

“It is the only class action on climate change that includes every single person under the age of 18 around the world as a result of the likely harm each one will experience from climate change.”

Ley’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment while a spokeswoman for Whitehaven Coal declined to comment.

Climate change has been a divisive topic in Australia, which counts coal and iron ore as its two top exports.

The country’s reliance on coal-fired power also makes it one of the world’s largest per capita carbon emitters and just last year it approved a huge new coal mine by India’s Adani Enterprises.

“As a young person, I cannot vote to have my voice heard by politicians,” said 16-year-old Laura Kirwan from Sydney, one of the litigants.

“I believe that the government has a duty to young people to protect our futures from the impacts of climate change, including stopping the climate impacts of the Vickery Extension Project.”

The eight young Australians have all been involved in “School Strike For Climate”, which was initiated by student activist Greta Thunberg in 2018 demanding that world leaders adopt urgent measures to stop an environmental catastrophe.

The injunction comes less than two months after a 23-year-old Melbourne student filed a class action against the government alleging it had failed to disclose climate change-related risks to investors in the country’s sovereign bonds.

Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Lincoln Feast.