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25 Sep 2021

Sophie McNeill, Human Rights Watch

Australia: Climate change litigation is increasingly used to put corporate actors on notice

"As Australia’s Climate Policy Disappoints, Hope Found in Court", 19 Sep 2021

...In another major ruling in August, a NSW court ordered the state’s Environmental Protection Authority to take steps to safeguard against climate change, requiring the authority to “develop environmental quality objectives, guidelines and policies to ensure environment protection from climate change.”

The case was brought by the Environmental Defenders Office, a nongovernmental legal service organization, on behalf of survivors of the devastating 2019-20 bushfires. The state’s environment minister says he won’t appeal the ruling.

In late August, the Environmental Defenders Office lodged a new lawsuit against the oil and gas giant Santos, on behalf of the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), alleging that Santos breached consumer and corporate laws by claiming to produce clean energy and have a pathway to net zero emissions.

The ACCR says the oil and gas company engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct by telling shareholders in its 2020 annual report that it produced “clean fuel” and provided “clean energy.”

On September 2, news emerged that a Commonwealth Bank investor was suing the lender, demanding to see internal documents on its decisions to finance fossil fuel projects to ensure it has complied with its own environmental framework.

And just this past week, there were two more significant climate litigation developments. In NSW, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision to refuse a coal mine in the Bylong valley, north-west of Sydney. The state’s Independent Planning Commission had dismissed the plan for the 6.5 million tonne-a-year mine two years ago, and a previous court appeal was also rejected in part because of the climate change impacts of digging up the fossil fuel...

The climate crisis has become a human rights crisis, and the continual denial and inaction by successive governments in Australia will not go unchallenged...

Federal and state governments, regulatory bodies and corporate actors have been put on notice. If they don’t take steps to mitigate climate change, they too could end up in Australia’s courts.