Tag Archives: climate change

Climate Change in the Courts

A recent ruling by a court in Australia is garnering international attention for considering the impact on climate change as a factor in its dismissal of an appeal by a coal mining company against a decision denying its application to establish an open-cut coal mine.

The decision, Gloucester Resources Limited v Minister for Planning [2019] NSWLEC 7, referred specifically to the impact that increased greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) would have on climate change, noting that “the GHG emissions of the coal mine and its coal product will increase global total concentrations of GHGs at a time when what is now urgently needed, in order to meet generally agreed climate targets, is a rapid and deep decrease in GHG emissions. These dire consequences should be avoided.” Gloucester Resources Limited v Minister for Planning [2019] NSWLEC 7, para. 699.

While the impact of GHG emissions on climate change was not the sole factor relied upon by the court in issuing its decision, the inclusion of GHGs’ impact is noteworthy. In an article on Bloomberg, Martijn Wilder, an environmental lawyer at Baker McKenzie, noted that this was “one of the first times a mine has been rejected on climate grounds.” James Thornhill, Coal Developers Take Note: Climate Change Killed This Coal Mine, Bloomberg (Feb. 8, 2019), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-08/coal-developers-take-note-climate-change-killed-this-coal-mine.

David Morris, the chief executive of the Environmental Defenders Office which had joined the case noted that while this is a “case-specific” judgment that will not be binding on future decisions, “it will weigh heavily on the minds of decision makers [who assess fossil fuel projects]”. Michael McGowan and Lisa Cox, Court rules out Hunter Valley coalmine on climate change grounds, The Guardian (Feb. 7, 2019), https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/feb/08/court-rules-out-hunter-valley-coalmine-climate-change-rocky-hill.

Judge Preston, who authored the decision, also notably rejected the “market substitution” assumption, an argument that was rejected by the 10th Circuit as irrational in WildEarth Guardians v. US Bureau of Land Management, 870 F.3d 1222 (10th Cir., 2017). The market substitution assumption is an assumption that approving the proponent’s coal leases “would not result in higher national GHG emissions than… declining to issue the leases because the same amount of coal would be sourced from elsewhere even if the leases were not issued.” Gloucester Resources Limited at para. 542. Judge Preston noted that

“[There is a] logical flaw in the market substitution assumption. If a development will cause an environmental impact that is found to be unacceptable, the environmental impact does not become acceptable because a hypothetical and uncertain alternative development might also cause the same unacceptable environmental impact.” Id. at para. 545.

For more on climate change litigation, see Alice Venn, Courts can play a pivotal role in combating climate change, The Conversation, (Oct. 12, 2018), https://theconversation.com/courts-can-play-a-pivotal-role-in-combating-climate-change-104727 and check out the following:

Sophie Marjanac, Lindene Patton, Extreme Weather Event Attribution Science and Climate Change Litigation: An Essential Step in the Causal Chain?, 36 J. Energy & Nat. Resources L. 265 (2018).

Marc Zemel, The Rise of Rights-Based Climate Litigation and Germany’s Susceptibility to Suit, 29 Fordham Envtl. L. Rev. 484 (2018).

Daniel Bodansky, Jutta Brunnée and Lavanya Rajamani, International Climate Change Law (Oxford Univ. Press, 2017).