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Blow to student climate activists

AFP, March 17, 2022 7:00PM Kids News

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Teenage climate activists Izzy Raj-Seppings calls for more government action to tackle climate change during a 2019 protest outside Kirribilli House in Sydney. Picture: AAP Image media_cameraTeenage climate activists Izzy Raj-Seppings calls for more government action to tackle climate change during a 2019 protest outside Kirribilli House in Sydney. Picture: AAP Image


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An Australian court has thrown out a landmark* legal ruling that the country’s environment minister has a duty to protect children from climate change.

Last year’s legal win by a group of high school students had been hailed* by environmental groups as a potential legal weapon to fight fossil fuel* projects such as coal mines.

But this week the federal court found in favour of an appeal by Environment Minister Sussan Ley, deciding she did not have to weigh up the harm climate change would inflict on children when assessing whether to approve new fossil fuel projects.

The judgement overturned a July 2021 ruling by a lower court that found the minister had a duty to “avoid causing personal injury or death” to under 18s due to “emissions* of carbon dioxide* into the Earth’s atmosphere”.

Anjali "Anj" Sharma media_cameraMelbourne teenager Anjali Sharma launched the legal action against Environment Minister Sussan Ley in 2020. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

Anjali Sharma, 17, who launched the legal action in 2020, said the minister’s successful appeal had left the students “devastated”.

“Two years ago, Australia was on fire; today, it’s underwater. Burning coal makes bushfires and floods more catastrophic* and more deadly. Something needs to change,” she said.

Another student involved in the case, Izzy Raj-Seppings, 15, said the court had accepted that young people would “bear the brunt of the impacts of the climate crisis”.

“Climate inaction has devastating consequences* for young people,” she said. “While today’s judgment is disappointing, we will keep fighting harder and louder than ever to demand that those in power protect the most vulnerable* and ensure a safe future.”

The federal court found emissions from the mine at the centre of the case – Whitehaven’s Vickery coal mine in northern NSW – posed only a “tiny increase in risk” to the students.

Minister Ley welcomed the verdict.

“The minister always takes her role as the environment minister seriously,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley Holds Press Conference As Parliament Continues media_cameraEnvironment Minister Sussan Ley welcomed the federal court decision to throw out the earlier court ruling that she had a duty of care to protect children from climate change. Picture: Getty Images

The students’ lawyer, David Barnden, said they were reviewing the federal court’s decision.

If the students decide to challenge the ruling, the case could go to Australia’s highest court, the High Court.

University of Sydney climate and environmental law expert Laura Schuijers said the ruling had “put the spotlight on Australia’s politicians and policymakers to take the proactive* action that the science presented in the courtroom suggests is urgently needed”.

Australia has been at the sharp end of climate change, with droughts, deadly bushfires, bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef and floods becoming more common and intense as global weather patterns change.

LISMORE, AUSTRALIA - NewsWire Photos FEBRUARY 28, 2022: An aerial image of Lismore in northern NSW shows extensive flooding as the region experiences the worst floods in a century. Picture: NCA NewsWire media_cameraAustralia is feeling the impacts of climate change, such as the recent floods that devastated many areas of Queensland and NSW, including the northern NSW town of Lismore. Picture: NCA NewsWire


  • landmark: an event marking an important turning point or stage
  • hailed: praised enthusiastically
  • fossil fuel: fuel that is formed underground from plant and animal remains millions of years ago and is dug up and turned into energy when burnt, creating harmful carbon dioxide emissions
  • emissions: the release of harmful gases into the atmosphere
  • carbon dioxide: one of the main greenhouse gases linked to global warming and climate change
  • catastrophic: sudden and great damage or suffering
  • consequences: results or effects
  • vulnerable: at risk of being harmed
  • proactive: creating or controlling a situation rather than just responding to it after it has happened


Aussie teens fight Government over climate change

Teen climate warriors have their day in court

How kids can make a difference


  1. Which court made this decision?
  2. Who is Australia’s environment minister?
  3. Who is Anjali Sharma?
  4. What year did the students launch their legal action?
  5. Which court could consider an appeal by the students?


1. For or against?
Write a summary of the important information in the story. The purpose of your summary is to help younger kids understand what the story is about.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Civics and Citizenship

2. Extension
What do you think about the decision? Write a list of the reasons why you agree or disagree with the federal court’s ruling.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Civics and Citizenship

Wow word recycle
There are plenty of wow words (ambitious pieces of vocabulary) being used in the article. Some are in the glossary, but there might be extra ones from the article that you think are exceptional as well.

Identify all the words in the article that you think are not common words, and particularly good choices for the writer to have chosen.

Select three words you have highlighted to recycle into your own sentences.

If any of the words you identified are not in the glossary, write up your own glossary for them.

Find a bland sentence from the article to up-level. Can you add more detail and description? Can you replace any base words with more specific synonyms?

Down-level for a younger audience. Find a sentence in the article that is high level. Now rewrite it for a younger audience so they can understand the words without using the glossary.

Extra Reading in environment