Ahead of COP26, five brave young Australians from youth, First Nations and disability communities facing acute harm from climate change, have lodged a trio of human rights complaints with the United Nations (UN) over the Australian government’s failure to act to meaningfully cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
The complaints are made jointly to the UN Special Rapporteurs for Human Rights and Environment, the rights of Indigenous people, and the rights of persons with disabilities. They make the case that the Morrison government’s globally-criticised 2030 emissions reduction target, fails to uphold the human rights of every young person in Australia, particularly those at acute risk from climate harms including young First Nations people and people with disabilities.
In the novel complaint, the group share their hopes for a safe future where they have equal opportunities, can enjoy good health, and can fully practise their Culture. They also outline their jarring personal experiences of extreme weather events, acute mental health risks, and their fears for their future and the future of the people and Country they love.
The complaint also includes detailed research and evidence of these harms, including from First Nations and disability researchers, as well the landmark Sharma and Ors v Minister for the Environment case that underscore the harrowing physical and mental toll that government inaction on climate change will have on all young people.
The group, represented by lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia, is calling on the UN Special Rapporteurs to make urgent inquiries with the Australian government about its inaction on the climate crisis and subsequent failure to meet its international human rights obligations to these young people.
The group of young Australians making the complaint said:
“We are speaking up for every child across the country. We have the right to a bright future where we are safe, healthy and can practise our Culture on Country. The Australian government is meant to represent us all but right now it is ignoring the clear realities of what climate change means for us.
“It’s time the Australian government faces the reality that their inaction on climate change is a violation of human rights that puts young people like us at serious risk of mental and physical harm.
“We want climate justice for us and for young people, First Nations people and people with disabilities across the Country. That means a much stronger emissions target by 2030 and a seat at the table so we can have a say in the decisions that affect our future.”
EJA Senior Climate Specialist Lawyer Hollie Kerwin said:
“Our clients deserve a government that is dedicated to securing a safe future, where they can thrive with the people and in the places they love. The dreams, experiences and legitimate fears of these young people make it clear that the time for the Australian government to step up and act is well overdue.
“Instead, the Morrison government’s failure to set emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement and make no greater commitment for Australia’s 2030 emission reduction targets, will continue to put them at risk. It’s a human rights issue, very close to home, that can’t be ignored and must be addressed immediately.
“The rights of groups who are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis – young people, people with disabilities, and First Nations people – are protected under numerous UN Conventions that Australia has ratified. The evidence we have provided on behalf of our brave young clients, shows that in failing to take meaningful action on the climate crisis, the government has failed to uphold its human right obligations in these agreements.”
The complaint comes a week before COP26, one of the most important global summits to determine the future of the climate and as the Australian government is grappling internally with its emissions reduction targets.
Australia is the worst performer of all developed nations when it comes to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and has made no commitment to strengthen a 2030 target which is vital to preventing the worst effects of climate change.
Quotes from the complainants, Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network, and the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, along with our clients’ asks of the UN can be found here.
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