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Australia: Climate Change Leader or Laggard?

07 December, 2015

Together, we can use the law to hold government to account on climate change for a brighter future.

Now, more than ever, our community needs expert legal help to address climate change.

When Urgenda said they were taking the Dutch government to court to hold them accountable for climate change, almost everyone thought they had no chance of succeeding.

Everyone except for the dedicated Urgenda staff and supporters lead by director Marjan Minnesma, two of the world’s leaders in climate litigation; and 887 members of the public who joined the organisation as co-plaintiffs in the case.

Against many odds, Urgenda won the landmark climate change legal challenge and forced the Dutch government to adopt more stringent climate policies, including the reduction of global emissions.

Around the world, groups are getting increasingly savvy in using the law to stop pollution and ensure action on climate change. This can be seen in the US, where gridlock in Congress has led to lawyers stepping in where politics is failing. The Sierra Club’s ‘Beyond Coal’ campaign is a prime example of this.

It’s no secret Australia is seriously lagging behind the developing world here.

Our Governments are actively avoiding considering the climate change impacts of the expansion of our fossil fuel industry.

Prime Minister, Tony Abbott:

“The climate change argument is absolute crap, however the politics are tough for us because 80 per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger.”

We know that Australia is already one of the largest per capita emitters on the planet.

Our greenhouse gas emissions are about twice the Netherlands at 549 mt CO2 eq (compared with 195 Mt in Netherlands).

Plus the Australian Government has plans to reduce emissions by just 5% from 2000 levels by 2020 and is about to announce a post 2020 target.

Yet experts say we need to cut our emissions by at least 40% below 2000 levels by 2025 and at least 60% by 2030 as well as aim to reach zero admissions by the middle of the century.

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When community opposition falls on deaf ears, citizens are increasingly turning to the courts to hold government and industry to account.

And with commercial lawyers out of reach for ordinary citizens they turn to the community legal services of lawyers at EDO Qld and NSW, putting us at the forefront of the climate change legal movement in Australia.

Recently we hosted Urgenda director Marjaan Minnesma to talk to citizens and lawyers in Australia about how they achieved their win.

“When governments fail in their duty to act to protect their own people, increasingly it’s down to us to step up and protect ourselves,” Ms Minnesma said, adding: “One of the most effective avenues to bring about change is through the law. The legal system is there to defend us and there is little more important today than defending us against climate change.”

In EDO Qld Australian citizens have expert lawyers who are willing to help you tackle the issue of climate change.

We acknowledge we can’t replicate the Dutch case exactly, owing to differences in our constitution and international obligations, but what we can do is investigate and instigate other legal avenues to hold our government to account.

We are already taking great strides to achieve this, such as taking government to court in climate change litigation over the approval of new coal mines and the protection of natural assets like the Great Barrier Reef.

In fact, EDO Qld and EDO NSW has been working at the forefront of climate change cases for the past decade and we can confidently say that public interest in using the law to tackle climate change is stronger now than ever.

EDO Qld casework dates back to 2006 with Queensland Conservation Council Inc v Xstrata Coal (the Newlands Coal Mine Case). EDO NSW bought the first-ever climate change case to court in Australia, read more about their work here.

Since then, our case work includes Wandoan Coal Mine Case, the Alpha Coal Mine Case and most recently what we believe to be the largest case of its kind in Australian history, the objection to the proposed Adani Carmichael coal mine.

In response to this growing movement, we want to ensure that EDO expert lawyers can be there to help communities use the law to take action on climate change.

Together, we can use the law to hold government to account on climate change for a brighter future.

Environmental Defenders Office Queensland (EDO Qld) gives a strong legal voice to the environment when needed most.

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