SYDNEY - For the first time in Australia, teenage activists have launched a class action lawsuit on behalf of young people around the world to stop a large coal mining project 430 kilometers north-west of Sydney. A trial started Tuesday in the Federal Court in Melbourne.
The campaign to take the Australian government to court over coal mining was prompted by the Black Summer bushfires that burned from mid-2019, which was Australia's driest and hottest year on record, to March 2020. They were the most intense fires ever documented in Australia.
The teenage plaintiffs insist Environment Minister Sussan Ley has a duty to protect them from global warming. They argue the expansion of coal mining in the state of New South Wales will worsen climate change and harm their future.
One of the claimants, 14-year-old Izzy Raj-Seppings, wants to inspire other young people around the world.
"Hopefully it empowers everyone to keep fighting for climate justice," she said. "I think our case shows people all around the world that if you fight hard enough your voice can be heard and that this struggle for climate justice isn't over yet and there is still so much we need to accomplish."
The claimants are younger than 18 years of age and are supported by a so-called litigation guardian, Sister Brigid Arthur, who is an 86-year-old nun.
The class action lawsuit could set a precedent that stops Australia approving new fossil fuel projects. The coal mining company involved said the teenagers' case has no merit and should be dismissed. It said in a statement that 450 jobs would be created by the multi-million-dollar project. The resources firm insisted "major employment-generating investments" that would boost Australia's recovery from COVID-19 should not be delayed "by legal claims that have no substance."
Legal experts believe that given the complexity of the case, stopping a major mining project will not be easy.
Coal generates much of Australia's electricity and is one of its biggest exports. Its longer-term future, though, is uncertain because of a global shift to renewable energy.
The federal environment minister has agreed not to make a final decision on the expansion plan until the trial is over. The hearing in the federal court is expected to last for five days, but a judgement may not be delivered for several months.