Climate science is now more certain than ever. Here’s how it can make a difference in Australian court cases


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Laura Schuijers, The University of Melbourne

On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its long-awaited report on the physical impacts of climate change. It painted a terrifying picture of a warming planet increasingly subject to extreme weather events.

If there’s a silver lining to the 3,900 pages of gloom, it’s that there’s still time to avert the worst damage if global emissions are rapidly cut. So what happens if the Australian government continues to lag?

Well, while foreign countries can’t sue Australia under the Paris Agreement, they can apply political and economic pressure, such as through publicly calling our leadership out and applying carbon border adjustments.

But we’re also seeing another important and growing trend: domestic climate litigation.

In fact, Australia is second only to the US in terms of the volume of climate change cases brought before the courts.

In the last few years in particular, we’ve seen Australian cases succeed in influencing action. With this new IPCC report, climate science is more certain than ever, making it more likely this trend will continue.

Avoiding catastrophic impacts

The IPCC report concluded that escape from climate change is no longer possible. And, the report indicates, Australia will be badly hit.

It’s believed our best achievable scenario is to reach net-zero emissions by midcentury, on a global scale. This will hopefully equate with an around 1.5℃ temperature rise above preindustrial levels, which is what the IPCC says is our maximum to avoid catastrophic impacts.

 

Although some countries have made pledges under the Paris Agreement in line with this goal, Australia, we know, is shirking. If all countries adopted targets as weak as ours, global warming would be in the order of 4.3-4.5℃.

While climate change is caused by the actions of many, some are in better positions than others to mitigate it. So it’s no surprise businesses, financial institutions, and governments have been the prime targets of a new wave of litigation.

Courtrooms are changing

Fifteen years ago, the Australian federal court considered the climate change impacts of one particular coal project to be “speculative” and “minute”, citing a “paucity” of detail about the possibility of coal contributing to climate change.

But the situation is changing, and courts are changing with it. One of the reasons for the about-face is the progression of climate science and the availability of new information from advanced modelling. The work of the IPCC is instrumental to this.


Read more: This is the most sobering report card yet on climate change and Earth’s future. Here’s what you need to know


A couple of recent examples of cases show how climate science is becoming more influential in Australian court decisions.

In a case heard this week between the Bushfire Survivors group and the NSW Environmental Protection Authority, a NSW court allowed evidence to be presented from former Australian Chief Scientist Penny Sackett on climate change impacts.

It is the first time this kind of evidence has been allowed in a case about the alleged failure of an authority (the EPA) to perform a statutory duty (the regulation of greenhouse gases). On Tuesday, the Bushfire Survivors asked the court to allow her to comment on the IPCC’s sixth report.

And in a landmark case in May against the federal environment minister, the federal court found Australia’s young people are at high risk of suffering personal injury from climate change in their lifetime, including death and hospitalisation.

The judge was considering a coal mine approval. He said even though one coal mine won’t single-handedly cook the planet, it could serve as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, given climate science tells us irreversible “tipping points” may be reached one day, and it could be soon.

The judge cited the IPCC’s findings, recognising the IPCC as the authority on climate change, and called on one of its authors as an expert witness.


Read more: In a landmark judgment, the Federal Court found the environment minister has a duty of care to young people


How will climate science play into future cases?

What’s happening in Australian courts is part of a bigger global trend.

It’s not just that the volume of cases is increasing, cases are also becoming more creative, exploring new avenues to hold polluters and decision makers to account. These cases are more likely to succeed where a link between actions and impacts can be supported with evidence.

In a case against Shell in May this year, a Dutch court ordered Shell to reduce its emissions by 45% by 2030, relative to 2019 emissions. To reach this figure, the court extensively cited the past work of the IPCC. It concluded Shell’s corporate policy was “hazardous and disastrous” and “in no way consistent” with the global climate target to prevent a dangerous climate change for the protection of people, the human environment and nature.

 

There are many ways climate science will be instrumental to the success of future cases. The evidence released so far by the IPCC shows us different warming scenarios under climate change, each depending on the actions we take now and in the near future.

Chapter 3 of Monday’s IPCC report is dedicated to spelling out the now “unequivocal” influence of humans. This type of evidence could support cases seeking to force government action, as well as cases against businesses for failing to disclose and mitigate climate risk, and for greenwashing.


Read more: Communicating climate change has never been so important, and this IPCC report pulls no punches


Next year, the IPCC will release its findings on impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. This could support cases relating to fire, flood, and sea-level rise, including human rights cases, property, planning, and insurance cases.

Climate change will unfortunately be costly, and litigation can help determine who should take action, and who should pay.

The more Australia’s governments and businesses lag on climate change, the more litigation we are likely to see. And, the greater the extent leadership decisions are at odds with the science, the stronger plaintiffs’ cases will be.

 

 

The Conversation

 

Laura Schuijers, Research Fellow in Environmental Law, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Article: Japan – Nuclear Threat at Fukushima Contained


The following link is to an article reporting on the latest at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The situation is said to be contained, however this would seem to be only to a certain point.

For more visit:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/26/us-japan-nuclear-idUSBRE84P0DQ20120526

Holiday Planning: NSW Road Trip 2010


The planning for my holiday is now well and truly underway, with the holiday now being referred to as my ‘NSW Road Trip 2010.’ There is also a website address for viewing my itinerary and for following my progress. It has been a rushed process in the end, organising this road trip, so there will yet be some changes to the itinerary.

I am expecting changes in far western NSW due to road conditions, especially given recent weather conditions out that way, including the widespread rain and flooding that has taken place. Given I have only got a small rental for this trip, I am not really prepared to take the car onto certain roads (which I believe will be part of the rental agreement anyway).

At this stage I am expecting to miss Ivanhoe and head for Mildura instead. I also expect to miss Tibooburra in the far northwest corner of the state, as the Silver City Highway is largely dirt. With these probable changes to the itinerary, I will also miss driving through the Menindee Lakes area, which really was something I was hoping to see – another time perhaps.

On another ‘track,’ I found our that the hottest February temperature experienced in Ivanhoe was around 48 degrees Celsius. No, not the reason I am thinking of bypassing Ivanhoe – most centres out west have similar temperatures in February anyway.

The website:

http://www.kevinswilderness.com/NSW/nswRoadTrip2010.html 

NEW SOUTH WALES NATIONAL PARKS UNDER THREAT???


The New South Wales government is now considering some level of development in the national parks of New South Wales. Just what level of development that may be is yet to be made clear. It is understood that the development may include accommodation projects, various commercial enterprises and guided bush walks.

Tourism Minster Jodi McKay, a former news reader with NBN television, is waiting on a report from a government commissioned taskforce looking into ways that tourism can be increased in the state’s national parks.

The planned tourism development of national parks is a major step away from the ‘wilderness’ goals of recent times and represents a threat to the wilderness values of national parks and world heritage listed areas.

However, a certain level of development may be appropriate, given the serious deterioration of many of the amenities and signage within New South Wales national parks. Many access routes are also seriously degraded following years of poor management.

Perhaps a quality New South Wales national parks and reserves web site could be developed, with the current web site being quite dated and not particularly useful for visitors to the national parks of New South Wales. Quality information on the attractions and access to each national park would greatly improve the tourist potential of New South Wales national parks.

If quality visitor brochures/leaflets on such things as camping facilities, access routes, walking trails and park attractions could be developed and made available via PDF documents on the web site, potential visitors could plan their trips and this would certainly increase visitor numbers to the national parks.

Quality content and relevant up-to-date information on each national park, as well as well maintained access routes and facilities would encourage far more people to visit the national parks and give visitors a memorable experience.

BELOW: Footage of the Warrumbungle National Park in NSW.