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Young people betrayed by Australian climate inaction

Image Credit: AYCC.

YOUNG Australians are owed an environmental duty of care by the Federal government, a Melbourne court found in July.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley has an obligation to all Australians under eighteen to “Avoid causing personal injury or death arising from emissions of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere” Justice Mordecia Bromberg found.

The decision followed a case brought by eight teenagers that sought an injunction to block the expansion of the Vickery coalmining project.

The bid to block the Vickery project was rejected, but the Judge affirmed the children’s concerns for their future.

“As Australian adults know their country, Australia will be lost and the world as we know it gone as well,” he wrote.

 “Trauma will be far more common and good health harder to hold and maintain.”

Edie McAsey, volunteer at the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) says the Federal government’s obligation to protect young people’s future goes without saying.

“It seems so obvious,  of course, there’s a duty of care,” she said.

“But to see a court say it was great.”

The Australian government quickly announced that they would appeal the decision.

This week, Minister Ley announced the third new coal project to be approved in just one month.

With global climate talks in Glasgow less than four weeks away, the NSW Mangoola mine expansion project has been given the green light.  

This follows the approval of the Vickery mine extension near Gunnedah and the expansion of underground mining near Woolongong.

According to NSW Independent Planning, additional coal from the Vickery mine extension will create roughly 100 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gasses, equal to the amount created by Australian domestic transport each year.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to confirm whether he will attend the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow next month, citing his extended periods in 14-day quarantine due to international travel this year.

More than 100 world leaders will attend the summit in person, as international pressure mounts on Australia to commit to a 2050 net zero target.

“If you can go to Hawaii during ravaging bush fires, if you can go and trace your ancestry in the UK in middle of a global pandemic when people are stranded, when students haven’t been able to return to study in Australia, you can show up to COP26,” Ms. McAsey said.

“If anyone had any doubt about how little this government cares about young people and climate, that should resolve those doubts.

“To not show up is criminal.”

AYCC is a youth-run organisation with a mission to build a movement of young people fighting for climate justice.

Through investment in skill building and training for students, AYCC mobilises young people to win campaigns to build a clean future.

In the lead up to COP26, AYCC is running climate justice centred training workshops for young people, including videography and content creation and guidance for engaging your MP.

“Australia is already being called the villain of COP26,” said Ms. McAsey.

“It’s embarrassing. 2050 is a long time away.

“And there’s a lot that’s going to happen in terms of changes of government in the meantime.

“The infighting with the Nationals and Liberals about making a 2050 commitment is an illusion of progress, a distraction, because 2030 is what counts right now.”

The 2021 IPCC Climate report warned that emissions must be reduced by 45 per cent by 2030 to prevent global warming above two degrees Celsius, signalling an urgent code red for humanity.

Eliza Booth is a volunteer and organiser for Citizen’s Climate Lobby in the Melbourne bayside electorate of Goldstein.

This electorate is witnessing a strong push for an independent MP to better represent its constituents on climate action.

“Environmental issues are becoming more or less non-partisan and even your conservative voters want to see change in that space,” Ms. Booth said. 

“An overpowering government leads to corruption so it’s important to have independents to ensure our democracy is functioning, to have people who aren’t forced to tow a party line and can hold issues like this in the balance.”

Liberal MP for Goldstein Tim Wilson has endorsed the idea of Scott Morrison snubbing the COP26 talks.

The Goldstein Citizen’s Climate Lobby is composed of under 25s committed to lobbying Tim Wilson, the new assistant minister for emissions reduction, to combat regressive climate policy within the Liberal party.

“Young people have expressed their opinion and their fear for the future, the government just doesn’t see young people as powerful enough to vote them out,” Ms. Booth said.

“I have confidence we will see some change.”

Despite a formal legal obligation to Australia’s young people, Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley and the Australian government are yet to commit to a net zero target and continue to endanger the environment further with coal and gas projects.

Whether the climate will be a central issue at the upcoming election remains to be seen, as a new cohort of young Australians reach legal voting age.

A recent Lowy poll showed 78 per cent of Australians support the 2050 net zero target.

“What gives me hope is that a lot of young people who care about climate issues have turned eighteen between now and the last election,” Ms. McAsey said.

“For people who are turning eighteen now the climate has never not been the fundamental issue in their political upbringing.”

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Amelia Costigan

Amelia is a freelance writer and researcher who writes about the intersections of politics, the media and popular culture. In her academic research, she has studied the complex relationship between social media and democracy. Amelia also works as an English and Literature tutor and has a passion for education policy.

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