In a recent court case in Australia (as reported by outlets like the Guardian and ABC News), a group of teenagers sued to stop the expansion of a coal mine, asserting the Australian Environmental Minister owes future generations a duty of care regarding greenhouse emissions and the current Climate Crisis.
While the teenagers ultimately lost the case, the judge ruled that a duty of care to future generations exists, while also ruling there was no breach in this case. The importance of this ruling is not lost though.
Australia is the fifth largest producer of coal in the world at 550 million tons (as of January 2021), and has 14% of the world's proven coal reserves. Australia's coal exports have steadily increased as global demand rises, however, Australia has a long history of mining for export.
With this ruling, the door has been opened to litigation against companies in one of the biggest coal-producing nations on Earth. With each decision the Environmental Minister makes regarding whether or not to approve coal mines and expansions, a duty of care exists to future generations. The Environmental Minister must not breach that duty by approving projects that would only serve to increase the Climate Crisis thus bringing injury and death to future generations.
If litigators can prove that projects will contribute to the Climate Crisis and successfully convince the finder-of-fact in court, then litigation in Australia's courts will become a powerful tool in combatting the Climate Crisis.