MELBOURNE: A collective action against a coal mine extension starting Tuesday could make it more difficult to approve coal mines in Australia on the basis of generational equality and climate change, if claimants prove successful.
The landmark lawsuit, filed by a group of eight teenagers from across Australia, began Tuesday in Melbourne Federal Court and is expected to run for five days, but a judgment may not be issued for several months.
The students argue that Australian Environment Minister Susan Lee has a duty to protect them from climate change and that the expansion of the White Haven Cole coal mine in New South Wales will contribute to climate change and jeopardize their future.
“In society, there is an expectation that large coal mines like this will be approved at the federal level and that is precisely why we are concerned,” said David Barenden of the Equity Generation attorney.
“It’s about the emissions and contributing to climate change and the harms inflicted on children today.”
Lee’s office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment, but she told local media that she was unable to comment while the case was in court.
The Fickry Open Coal Mine will mostly produce mineral coal for the steel industry as well as some high quality thermal coal and is awaiting final approval from the Minister.
It will create 450 current jobs during operations with a net economic benefit to the country of 1.2 billion Australian dollars (930 million US dollars), according to estimates by Whitehaven.
“Our position regarding the lawsuit … is that the legal action has no basis and should be rejected,” said managing director and CEO Paul Flynn in a statement.
“As the Australian economy begins to recover from the effects of Covid-19, it is imperative that major job-generating investments in the economy not be delayed by unfounded legal claims.”
Government figures show that coal is Australia’s second most valuable export, with an estimated value of A $ 37 billion in the fiscal year through June.
Climate change has been a divisive topic in Australia, which is one of the world’s largest per capita emitters of carbon. The country’s Conservative government won two consecutive elections based on a program to support Australia’s dominant fossil fuel sectors.