#15 Australian student sues the government to climate-proof her pension


Climate litigation is on the rise all over the world, and Australia is the global hot-spot for climate lawsuits.

One of the most interesting cases going on there right now is a world-first involving a 23-year old student from Victoria who is suing the Australian government for failing to disclose climate change risk to sovereign bond investors.

To understand the case, and its implications, I talked to David Barnden, who is the founder of Equity Generation Lawyers, and he represents Katta O’Donnell in the O’Donnell v Commonwealth which was brought last year.

Let's pause for a moment to reflect on how this case is unusual and potentially game changing. Its the first time anyone has sued a government anywhere on failing to disclose climate risk on sovereign bonds. What’s more, sovereign bonds are traditionally seen as very safe investments, and they are key components of all pension funds.

But guess what? In 2019, the Swedish central bank decided to dump Western Australian and Queensland bonds from their portfolio because of climate risk concerns.

I talk to David about how this unusual case came about, what the stakes are and what the rest of the world can learn from it.

Our conversation really gets to the heart of some big questions about the relationship between the law, the state and the interests of capital and the public. Cases like O'Donnell v Commonwealth are not just about a new type of climate action, they could - potentially - transform the way capitalism is encoded into the law.

Personally I find this topic very exciting, so I hope you enjoy our conversation.