The Federal Court has ruled that the Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley does not have a duty of care to protect young people from climate change harm when considering fossil fuel projects such as mines.
Federal Court’s ruling on Tuesday overturned a previous landmark decision in favour of eight teenagers, led by the Indian-origin 17-year-old, Anjali Sharma, who had brought a class-action case that challenged a proposal by Whitehaven Coal to extend its Vickery coal mine in NSW. While the judge did not prevent the mine expansion, he agreed the minister did indeed have a duty of care to children in the face of the climate crisis.
Anjali Sharma said the ruling had left her devastated but did not deter her fight for climate justice.
“Not sure who this will even reach lol but i’m lying in bed literally devastated. I’m angry. It’s not every day that the Federal #EnvironmentMinister decides to argue that she doesn’t have to care about climate impacts on children, and it’s not every day she wins. What the hell.”, Anjali wrote on Twitter.
“Woke up and cried all over again because yesterday still doesn’t feel real. Won’t ever forget looking at one of my lawyers after the judgement – who fought so hard – only for her to say “Anj, i’m so sorry.” These are not the people that should be sorry.”, she added.
The teen activists were praised for their keen pursuit of change and the ‘Sharma decision,’ as the judgment is popularly known in Australia, was hailed as a big win. Although the court’s May 2021 ruling noted Minister Ley had “a duty to take reasonable care to avoid causing personal injury,” it did not pass an order against the expansion of the coal project.
Their case attempted to stop the expansion of the Vickery coal mine in New South Wales, which is estimated to add an extra 170 million tonnes of fossil fuel emissions to the atmosphere.
Who is Anjali Sharma?
Anjali Sharma was born in Lucknow, India and has been living in Australia since the age of 10 months. She is a high school student of Melbourne’s Huntingtower School. The 17-year-old has made headlines not just for her climate activism, but also for taking Australia’s environment minister to court in a class action suit over a mining project in New South Wales. Her concern for the environment, she says, came after the havoc-wreaking floods in South Asia in 2017.
“I saw my family in India deal with the effects of climate change and severe floods. It really made me angry that Australia, as a country, was not doing the things it should be doing to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change,” she told SBS in 2021.
In the court case, Sharma and Others v Minister for the Environment, Anjali’s team of activists was represented by Equity Generation Lawyers and supported by an 86-year-old nun, Sister Brigid Arthur, who was her litigation guardian. The case was seeking an injunction from the federal court to block the expansion of the mine.
Despite the outcome, Anjali’s team of young climate activists has not ruled out further court action and said they would continue fighting for stronger climate policies.