EDO clients, Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action(BSCA) is celebrating today’s ruling from the NSW Land and Environment Court that the NSW Environment Protection Authority has a duty to take serious action on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
It is the first time that an Australian Court has ordered a government to take meaningful action on climate change.
“This is a significant win for everyone who has been affected by bushfires,” said Jo Dodds, Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action President.
“BSCA members have been working for years to rebuild their homes, their lives and their communities. This ruling means they can do so with confidence that the EPA must now also work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state. Global warming is creating the conditions that can lead to hotter and fiercer fires, and all of us need to work to make sure we’re doing everything we can to prevent a disaster like we saw during 2019 and 2020.
“We are extremely grateful to the Environmental Defenders Office for their tireless efforts in pursuing the case.”
BSCA sought to compel the NSW EPA to develop policies that measure and regulate greenhouse gasses in the state. As part of the case, BSCA presented expert scientific evidence from former Australian Chief Scientist Professor Penny Sackett on the links between bushfires and climate change.
“This is a very significant legal decision,” EDO Director of Legal Strategy Elaine Johnson said. “This is the first time an Australian court has ruled on a government agency failing to perform a statutory duty to address climate change.
“What it means is that the court has found the NSW Environment Protection Authority is compelled by its own legislation to seriously address the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
“As our lead environmental regulator, the EPA has the power to take immediate action on climate change, for example, by putting a price on carbon, or requiring industry to reduce emissions to safe levels through the licences. Now, the EPA has been ordered to take action.
“The most recent IPCC report confirmed that the next ten years are critical, and we need to be pursuing urgent and deep reductions in emissions now in order to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change.
“Today’s decision is a major step forward in holding government to account on climate policy.”
The court’s ruling means that the EPA has been ordered to develop environmental quality objectives guidelines and policies to ensure protection from climate change.
The EPA has been ordered to pay BSCA’s costs.
Elaine Johnson is the Solicitor on Record for BSCA and Matt Floro is the Senior Solicitor with carriage of this matter. EDO would like to thank Richard Beasley SC and David Hume of Counsel for their generous assistance.
Climate Evidence Presented
The case marked the first time an Australian court has allowed evidence on climate change to be heard in a case involving an alleged failure by a government agency to perform a statutory duty.
Former chief scientist Professor Penny Sackett told the court that:
“We know we’re in a dangerous situation now. I personally don’t want it to be any more dangerous.
“1.5 (degrees warming) is not a magical temperature … however, the thing that does distinguish it is that … this is still a target that we can meet. When I say we, I mean globally, the world.”
The court also heard that EDO’s clients would like to tender further evidence from Professor Sackett in light of the IPCC’s dire 6th report on climate change, released on the day the hearing began.
Richard Beasley SC told the court, “We already know that the NSW environment is suffering under the impacts of climate change right now. We know that the impacts are likely to get much greater without extraordinary measures being taken.
“There could hardly be more significant pollutants now for the environment than greenhouse gas emissions. And so we say that the duty imposed on the EPA is one that must respond to the level of threat that the NSW environment faces.
“The threat is of significant damage to the environment, not just to NSW, but the globe, if there is temperature rise of 1.5 degrees or more. The science is just clear on that, and frankly, it’s been clear for a while.”
The three-day hearing took place in August before Chief Judge Preston in the NSW Land and Environment Court.
Empowering the NSW EPA to Prevent Climate Pollution
Last year, EDO published a report: Empowering the EPA to prevent climate pollution.
In this report, we examine how the NSW EPA can put in place mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions using its existing powers to control pollution and waste.
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