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Article

4 Dec 2022

Author:
Justine Bell-James, The Conversation

Australia: Historic legal victory against Waratah Coal on human rights and climate change grounds

Youth Verdict team outside Brisbane Land Court 26 April 2022

25 November 2022

In a historic ruling today, a Queensland court has said the massive Clive Palmer-owned Galilee Basin coal project should not go ahead because of its contribution to climate change, its environmental impacts, and because it would erode human rights.

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Youth Verdict’s success today builds on this momentum. It heralds a new era for climate change cases in Australia by youth activists, who have been frustrated with the absence of meaningful federal government policy.

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[...] Queensland land court President Fleur Kingham [...] concluded that the project poses “unacceptable” climate change risks to people and property in Queensland.

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[...] Kingham decided the importance of preserving the human rights outweighed the potential A$2.5 billion of economic benefits of the proposed mine.

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A major barrier to climate change litigation in Queensland has been the “market substitution assumption”, also known as the “perfect substitution argument”. This is the assertion that a particular mine’s contribution to climate change is net zero, because if that mine doesn’t supply coal, then another will.

Kingham rejected this argument. She noted that the economic benefits of the proposed project are uncertain with long-term global demand for thermal coal set to decline. She observed that there’s a real prospect the mine might not be viable for its projected life, rebutting the market substitution assumption.

This is an enormous victory for environmental litigants as this was a previously entrenched argument in Australia’s legal system and policy debate.

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Kingham found approving the mine would contribute to climate change impacts, which would limit:

  • the right to life
  • the cultural rights of First Nations peoples
  • the rights of children
  • the right to property and to privacy and home
  • the right to enjoy human rights equally.

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