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A 'duty of care' update: climate change is a war on kids.

The ultimate goal of climate action is to leave future generations a safe planet to live in, and the government has perhaps lost sight of that.
A 'duty of care' update: climate change is a war on kids.

This week I've been back writing with RenewEconomy and there was an important development in Australian climate policy that I’m keen highlight for my lovely Tempests and Terawatt subscribers.

On Thursday, there was a Senate inquiry hearing into the climate change 'duty of care' Bill that has been put forward by independent senator David Pocock.

You can read my full write up about the hearing at RenewEconomy, including an explanation of what the Bill is setting out to achieve and some of what the hearing heard.

The clear takeaway from Thursday’s hearing is that it is evident the Albanese government is laying the groundwork to oppose the Bill.

Labor representatives on the Senate committee, as well as climate change department officials who appeared during the hearing, said they had concerns about the bill. This included suggestions that it may have 'perverse outcomes' and that it is better for the government to target climate action through specific emissions reduction policies.

With the Coalition also steadfastly opposed to a climate 'duty of care', it appears that David Pocock’s proposed legislation is doomed to be defeated.

I've written about the 'duty of care' issue here previously (I wrote a whole research paper about it), and the legal hurdles that exist in establishing that such a duty exists regarding climate change.

The argument is that climate change is a significant and foreseeable risk to the health and wellbeing of future generations, and that government decision makers - particularly the federal environment minister - have a duty of care to protect children and future generations from those harms when exercising their ministerial powers.

Currently, Australia’s environment laws do not require the environment minister to consider the future climate impacts when deciding whether to approve a new coal or gas project - which is an obvious and significant gap.

Legislation establishing the duty is necessary, as the courts have said they are effectively hamstrung by the need to draw sufficient connections or 'closeness' between an individual fossil fuel project (or a decision of the environment minister whether to approve that project) and the resulting, globally dispersed, impacts of climate change.

For many, this connection is logical and clear, but from a legal perspective, it's more complicated, and it has proven difficult to establish the climate ‘duty of care’ under the existing tort of negligence.

The government's main argument against enshrining a climate 'duty of care' in legislation - is that it is more 'efficient' to tackle climate change through direct policies like the Safeguard Mechanism or the Emissions Reduction Fund.

This argument is based on the flawed assumption that the only important thing is reducing emissions. The government is getting the means and the ends the wrong way around.

The end goal is not creating a planet that is harmful to people in the future. Reducing emissions is a means to achieve that goal.

The 'duty of care' question is about requiring government decision makers to consider how to best protect young people and future generations from the impacts of climate change. It directly addresses the most important goal of climate action.

The duty would oblige government to not just consider how to reduce existing emissions, but also deeply question whether new coal or gas projects need to be developed at all (they don't).

The goal is to leave future generations a safe planet to live in, and it's revealing that the government has perhaps lost sight of that.

A brush with Barnaby

I spent a bit of time earlier this month at Parliament House in Canberra, surreptitiously there on the day an anti-renewables rally converged on the lawns.

Somehow it’s unsurprising that Barnaby Joyce railed against wind and solar farms, labelling them as "industrial dumps" - and then the next day he was found splayed out on the street in Braddon. Barnaby is a strange lad and probably shouldn’t have been deputy prime minister. Twice.

I have more to share about the 'reckless renewables' rally soon, but suffice to say it was an odd gathering of right wing politicians, fossil fuel lobbyists and conspiracy theorists (not that there's much difference between those three groups...).

It is clear is that opposition to renewable energy, and the broader energy transition, is set to feature at the next federal election. The climate wars are not over, and they’re about to have a flavour of a pro-nuclear war about it.

More on that to come.