Student files first climate change lawsuit against Australian government

Source: Reuters Published: 2020/7/22 18:48:40

A coronavirus-awareness poster is seen outside the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, May 20, 2020. Australians in the state of New South Wales (NSW) will soon be able to enjoy a regional holiday, with COVID-19 restrictions set to lift from next month, offering hope to thousands with livelihoods in the tourism industry. With only a handful of new COVID-19 cases in recent days, NSW state leaders saw fit on Wednesday to announce a relaxing of social distancing laws, effective from June 1. (Xinhua/Bai Xuefei)

A 23-year-old student has filed a lawsuit against Australia's government alleging it has failed to disclose climate change-related risks to investors in the country's sovereign bonds, in the first such action against the Australian government.

According to the litigation filed on Wednesday, Kathleen O'Donnell claims investors who buy Australian government bonds should be made aware of the risks due to climate change that might make it difficult for Australia to pay back its debt.

A spokeswoman for Australia's Treasurer told Reuters the government was aware of the lawsuit.

"Legal representatives are considering the matter. As it concerns current court proceedings the government will not make any comment," the spokeswoman said.

The litigation comes amid a global call for a "green" recovery in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic and as many large investment managers pledge their commitment for net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Climate change has long been a hot button issue in Australia, becoming even more so since summer in 2019 when intense wildfires raged for about four months across large parts of the country, killing 33 people and millions of animals.

"Australia is materially exposed and susceptible" to climate change risks, according to the statement filed with the Federal Court of Australia in Victoria State. 

"Accordingly, (a) those risks are material to an investor's decision to trade in exchange-traded Australian government bonds (e-AGBs) and (b) an investor is entitled to be informed of those risks."

O'Donnell is seeking declaration that the government breached its duty of disclosure and an injunction restraining further promotion of e-AGBs until it complies.

Australia has more than A$600 billion ($428 billion) of sovereign bonds on issue, enjoying a coveted 'AAA' rating from all three major ratings agencies.

Being a leading exporter of coal, the country contributes 1.3 percent of the world's carbon emissions but is the second-largest emitter per capita behind the US. Climate change-related disclosures have become more mainstream globally.


blog comments powered by Disqus