An organization of young people in Queensland, Australia called Youth Verdict has brought a rights-based climate lawsuit against the Galilee Coal Project. It is the first climate lawsuit challenging a coal mine on human rights grounds and the first legal challenge brought by youth against a coal project in Australia.
Youth Verdict, which uses the law to fight for the rights of young people, filed its case on May 14 in Queensland Land Court. The youth plaintiffs are objecting to the Galilee Coal Project because coal mining contributes to climate change, which they argue infringes on their fundamental human rights, such as the right to life and the right to culture as protected under the Queensland Human Rights Act.
“The human rights of my generation are threatened by coal mines that drive climate change and cause prolonged droughts, intense heatwaves, more frequent floods and deadlier bushfires,” Mel McAuliffe, co-founder of Youth Verdict, said in a press release.
Waratah Coal company, owned by Australian billionaire Clive Palmer, is developing the Galillee project and is the defendant in this case. The coal project consists of four underground mines and two open cut surface mines as well as a railway line to transport the coal to an export terminal. According to Youth Verdict, the mining project is expected to generate 2.9 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions over its 30-35-year lifespan. The project would also use up 770 billion liters of groundwater and would destroy a large area of a protected nature reserve in central Queensland. The Bimblebox Nature Reserve filed its own legal challenge against Waratah Coal late last year.
Both the Australian federal government and Queensland state government have approved the Galilee Coal Project. Final environmental approval is pending before the Queensland Land Court.
In February 2019 a land court in New South Wales struck down a proposed coal mine by a company called Gloucester Resources Limited. The court based its decision on the mine’s expected contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. It was the first time a coal mine has been rejected in Australia due to climate impacts. The judge in that case also noted the injustice and inequity the coal project would cause “both within the current generation and between the current and future generations.”
Youth Verdict is hoping the Queensland court will similarly recognize the harm that the Galilee project will cause to younger generations.
“Youth Verdict is launching a court case that will be fighting against [Clive Palmer’s] coal mine to protect our human rights,” Youth Verdict member and Townsville student Billie Tristam said in a press release. “We will be protecting our families, our generation and the next generation.”