A court in Australia has rejected a coal company’s bid to dismiss a youth climate lawsuit challenging the Galilee Coal Project in Queensland on human rights grounds. The lawsuit, filed in May by a group called Youth Verdict, will now be able to proceed in Queensland Land Court under the state’s new Human Rights Act. This is the first time a coal mine has been challenged over human rights violations due to the climate crisis.
The Galilee Coal Project, an initiative of billionaire Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal company, is expected to generate almost 3 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Climate scientists say avoiding the worst impacts of a warming planet requires a rapid shift away from fossil fuels, especially coal. The Galilee project already has federal and state approval but awaits a final approval from the Queensland Land Court. Youth Verdict wants the project nixed, arguing that developing new coal projects will worsen the climate crisis and disproportionately harm young people.
Waratah Coal, the defendant in the case, moved to strike or dismiss the youth plaintiffs’ human rights claims. The judge ruled on August 28, 2020 to deny the motion to strike, clearing the way for the case to advance and for the court to consider the plaintiffs’ rights-based objections to the coal project.
“As young people, we feel it is our right to object to the impacts of new fossil fuel projects on our human rights and we’re pleased that Clive Palmer’s attempt to stop that has failed,” Youth Verdict spokesperson Monique Jeffs said in a press release. The Australian-based environmental law firm Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) is representing Youth Verdict and a conservation group called the Bimblebox Alliance in their legal challenges to Clive Palmer’s coal project.
“This decision has upheld the new Human Rights Act against an application which would have limited the application of the law and constrained the ability of charities to take action to protect human rights,” EDO principal solicitor Sean Ryan said of the court’s decision to deny the motion to dismiss.
“Young people have the right to stand up for a safe and healthy future,” Jeffs added. “New fossil fuel projects must consider the impact to human life, and that includes Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal project.”