Column: Eight children and a nun may have condemned the future of coal: Russell
A court ruling that Royal Dutch Shell must speed up plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions has rocked the global oil and gas industry, but another ruling in a case brought by eight school-aged teenagers and a nun might end up being more important.
A Dutch court order for Shell (RDSa.L) to significantly deepen its planned emissions reductions has raised fears in the industry of similar lawsuits against other oil and gas majors, and fears that companies are held accountable for compliance with climate change imposed by the target court. Read more
The decision against Shell, coupled with shareholder reprimands against US oil majors Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) and Chevron (CVX.N), made it a bad week for an industry struggling with how to meet the challenge of profitable and sustainable operation in what will likely be a carbon-limited future.
An Australian court fueled the blaze on May 27, ruling that the country’s Environment Minister has an obligation to children to consider the damage caused by climate change when deciding whether or not to approve the expansion of a coal mine. Read more
The Federal Court of Australia released the decision in a class action lawsuit brought by eight teenagers, aged 14 to 17, and an 86-year-old nun acting as their litigation guardian. In the lawsuit, the teens argued that the expansion of Whitehaven Coal’s Vickery Mine (WHC.AX) in the state of New South Wales would contribute to climate change and endanger their future.
Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coking coal used to make steel and the second largest thermal coal for power generation, and the industry – at home and abroad – has become a political battlefield.
The court ruling was only a partial victory, however, as the judge did not grant an injunction to prevent Environment Minister Sussan Ley from approving the mine.
The ruling means the minister will have to consider her duty of care to future generations, with Justice Mordecai Bromberg saying the minister can foresee the possibility of climate damage from the coal mine.
The judge said there is evidence of the “serious damage” climate change can cause to future generations.
“It will largely be inflicted by the inaction of this generation of adults, in what could be described as the greatest intergenerational injustice ever inflicted by one generation of humans on the next,” Bromberg said, according to a report. from the Financial Times.
The Australian federal government has said it will look into the judgment, and the implications are likely to go far beyond a 10 million tonne-per-year coal mine.
The obvious end point of the case is that citizens will be able to sue the government for damage caused by climate change, using the argument that the government was well aware of the risks but took action nonetheless. which have contributed to the increase in carbon emissions.
If the government feels the risk of being sued by its own citizens is high, it may have to admit that it will be difficult to approve more coal.
For its part, Whitehaven Coal has welcomed the decision not to grant the injunction against its mine expansion plan, and will work to secure final approval from the federal government.
The company also made the curious statement that it foresees a continuing role for what it called “high quality coal” in contributing to “global efforts to reduce CO2 emissions.”
The only way that burning coal at the Whitehaven mine could be seen as helping to reduce emissions is to replace even dirtier and lower quality coal, or perhaps if the end user captures all the emissions and emissions. was storing.
There is no evidence to support either claim and Whitehaven’s position contradicts a recent International Energy Agency article which called for an end to funding and project development. of fossil fuels.
The only common factor in the decisions of the Netherlands and Australia is that for businesses and governments, the risks of lawsuits and accountability on climate change issues are not only very real, but also increasing. .
Environmental activists have finally realized that hitting companies and governments with potentially huge responsibilities is a much more effective strategy than having protesters shackled to mining equipment or staging similar high profile but ultimately low impact protests.
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