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Australia overturns landmark climate change ruling that protected kids from pollution. One teen plaintiff still sees an upside

March 16, 2022, 9:19 AM UTC

You’re on your own, kiddos.

Yesterday, Australia’s Federal Court reversed a landmark ruling that found the country’s environment minister had a legal “duty of care” to consider the health effects on children when approving new fossil fuel projects.

The original verdict was issued last May in a case a group of teenagers—aided by an 87-year-old Catholic nun—brought against the government to prevent the expansion of the Vickery coal mine in New South Wales.

Although the lawsuit didn’t stop the mine project, the judge presiding over the case determined that Environment Minister Sussan Ley had a duty of care to protect future generations against climate change and must consider that factor when approving new projects.

Ley appealed the ruling, arguing the court had overstepped its authority by imposing a judicial order on policy issues. On Tuesday, all three judges on a federal appeals court voted in her favor, excusing Ley, and future environment ministers, of that duty of care.

The three judges had different reasons for overturning the verdict.

Justice Jonathan Beach said there was not ”sufficient closeness” between Ley’s decision to approve the mine expansion and any “reasonable foreseeable harm” to human health.

Justice Michael Wheelahan said there was too much “incoherence” between the law and the minister’s obligations to rule that she had a duty of care.

Chief Justice James Allsop said there was “no dispute” over whether climate change harms human health but thought elected officials should be left to decide policy matters alone.

According to the World Health Organization, roughly 4 million people die prematurely each year as a result of air pollution. Last year’s verdict against Minister Ley was an important milestone in setting legal precedent for recognizing and assigning blame for the detrimental health impacts of pollution.

Izzy Raj-Seppings, a 15-year-old and one of the eight teenagers who brought the lawsuit against Ley, said there was “still much to celebrate” in the ruling from the appeals court.

“The court accepted that young people will bear the brunt of the impacts of the climate crisis,” she said, arguing that represented an important step in climate litigation.

CARBON COPY

Carbon pickling

The discovery of Ernest Shackleton’s near-pristine shipwreck last week, a century after the Endurance sank, was another edifying moment for the team at carbon-capture startup, InterEarth, since it demonstrated how salt water can trap carbon for centuries. The team at InterEarth wants to develop a carbon market for burying trees in highly salty brine—essentially pickling the wood to prevent it from decomposing and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. InterEarth says it can scale the tech to bury 1 billion tons of carbon a year: about one-36th of our current global output. Bloomberg

OPEC finds oil unpredictable

U.S. oil dropped back below $100 a barrel Tuesday, after plunging 20% from its peak during last week. Brent crude slid back down to around $100, too, defying banks that stoked fears of imminent $200 or $300 prices. Now OPEC says the tumult in markets presents a challenge for predicting future demand and, as a result, future supply. Unable to pin down numbers, the cartel of oil producers has postponed its monthly market update. WSJ

Australia gets into rare earths

Australia is unlocking new funding to develop a domestic industry for refining rare earths, in hopes of stealing some market share from China. Rare earths are spun into magnets that are critical for all sorts of tech, including electric car motors and missile systems, and China has developed a virtual monopoly on processing the metals. But China achieved that market dominance because rare earth refineries are dirty, polluting plants that other nations didn’t want. Bloomberg

Old methods, new buildings

Roughly 8% of global carbon emissions are produced by the cement industry, and the global preference for glass-clad skyscrapers has driven surging energy demand for air conditioning systems. Now, London’s Barbican Centre is preparing an art exhibition on how traditional architecture—like the woven reed huts of the Ma’dan, which floated on wetlands in Iraq before Saddam Hussein reduced them to desert—can inform more sustainable building practices. FT

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

5 energy stocks to buy now as Europe tries to ditch Russian oil by Shawn Tully

Gas could top $5 per gallon over the next six months. But experts warn the economic ripples could be even more dire by Will Daniel

ESG is not enough. It’s time to add an H by Michelle A. Williams and Patricia Geli

Shell’s board is about to get hit with a ‘paradigm shift’ lawsuit over its failure to live up to the Paris accords by Sophie Mellor

Hydrogen power could help wean the world off Russian oil and gas sooner than you think by Bernhard Warner

How Frontier’s merger with Spirit will impact the agenda of the ‘world’s greenest airline’ by Ambreen Ali

CLOSING NUMBER

38%

The International Energy Agency says the amount of electricity produced by hydropower needs to double by 2050 for the world to meet its net-zero climate goals. But the $1 trillion worth of current planned hydropower expansions will only boost global capacity by 38%. Making up the difference will be challenging and, potentially, deadly. According to Bloomberg, energy providers have already tapped most sites in developed economies suitable for building hydropower dams. That means future dams will increasingly be built in hazardous areas—such as the Himalayas, where landslides destroyed two dams last year—or on sites prone to drought.

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