Today I am talking with Elaine Johnson from the Environmental Defenders Office about climate litigation in Australia. With a unique situation as a rich country on the frontlines of climate impacts and a coal exporter, Australia has emerged as a world leader in climate litigation and 2022 was a bumper year.
Among the big headline wins was the Tiwi Santos case which barred oil and gas company Santos from offshore drilling in the Northern Territory, and another which shut down billionaire Clive Palmer’s plans for a coal mine in Queensland.
As this field matures, we are seeing new frontiers emerge and one of the most exciting trends is lawsuits on greenwashing.
So watch out in 2023 for the lawsuit against Santos for misleading and deceptive claims in its net zero plan.
Despite the impact of these lawsuits, Elaine cautions that the biggest challenge is the stranglehold of the industry narrative on the media. That narrative asserts that coal is part of the transition, that Australian coal is cleaner than coal from other places, and that coal is a part of the national identity.
Don’t miss our conversation on this exciting, and fast developing field.
🗒 And you can find a full transcript of our conversation over on the podcast website here.
What we talked about:
2:25 Why Australia has a big role to play in reducing emissions as historically the country has been a big exporter of coal, oil and gas. But it is also one of the driest continents on earth, and vulnerable to climate impacts.
4.40 Elaine talks about an ongoing case, which is a world first, challenging gas company Santos for misleading and deceptive claims in their corporate net zero plan for 2040.
12.40 Landmark human rights case in 2022 in Queensland in which youth group including First Nations Australians defeated Clive Palmer’s plans to build a massive coal mine, invoking threat to human rights of young people and First Nations Australians.
16.30 This case involved an important innovation in how evidence is heard. First time ever that the land court which hears all the applications for mining projects in Queensland, was invited to hear from First Nations witnesses on country, and welcomed on country. The court is now looking to formalize that process in court rules.
21.56 This judgement was a historic and memorable day. Judge thanked the communities for welcoming the court onto their country and for everything she had learned through that experience.
22.50 What are the main challenges? How are vested interests fighting back?
Narrative is the biggest challenge: industry has well crafted narratives that are constantly brought up in mainstream media that say that coal is part of the transition.
Lawyers can address parts of those claims, but they need partners across the spectrum of civil society to achieve the needed transformation.
28.00 Regulators in Australia are taking a keen interest in the wake of the net zero challenge to Santos to investigate what other misleading claims they should explore.
29.15 New trend to watch: corporate accountability for loss and damage. As we start to see impacts of climate change being felt in Australia and the Pacific there will be more claimants bringing cases against carbon majors.
32.30 Elaine observes that the tide has turned in the last 12-24 months, in part because of the intense impacts of climate change that Australia has experienced in recent years plus the strength of attribution science. Its been slow, but she’s surprised by the number of big wins in the past 12 months.
34.33 To challenge the industry narrative will take more than legal cases, and the Australian media needs to do more.