Young Australians overwhelmingly want the right to a healthy environment enshrined in law to keep pace with standards overseas.
Nine out of 10 people aged 13 to 24 think they have a right to a healthy environment, with three in four believing the federal government must do more to address climate change, Australian Conservation Foundation research has found.
More than 160 countries have legislated a right to a healthy environment, but no Australian jurisdiction has done so.
The ACT has begun legislating a right to a healthy planet, while NSW lists it as a “guiding principle” of climate action.
“Australia is falling behind other nations by failing to enshrine in law the right to a healthy environment,” Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said.
“This right is recognised in 161 other countries … a growing movement of children and young people are raising their voices for a safe, liveable future, taking action on the streets and in the courts.”
Anjali Sharma, one of the lead litigants in the 2021 class action against then-environment minister Sussan Ley over her duty of care to children regarding climate change impacts, said this was a “massive policy failure”.
“Doctors have a duty of care to their patients, teachers have a duty of care to their students and yet there is no policy mechanism that compels our elected representatives to ensure that they exercise their power in a way that means us, as young people, have a safe and liveable world to carry on,” she said on Tuesday.
A report released on Tuesday with Save the Children and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition calls on the Australian government to enshrine the right.
It wants the government to strengthen intergenerational equity principles by considering children’s rights in national environment law.
Two-thirds of those surveyed think the federal government must pay more attention to their views on climate change.
Independent senator David Pocock has a bill before parliament that would require decision-makers to consider the health of children when making significant decisions, and to factor them in to coal and gas policy.
“The time has come for us to take seriously the concerns and futures of young people,” he said on Tuesday.
“Duty of care is inevitable.”
“It’s at this point we either decide to have some leadership and make it happen now, or kick this can down the road and continue not to listen to young people and not to take them seriously.”
Asked if the right to a healthy environment should be legislated, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said “nature needs a voice”.
“I don’t think Australia can keep fronting up to international conferences, signing up to pledges like zero extinction without understanding what a rights for nature framework will eventually have to require,” she said.
Alex Mitchell and Kat Wong
(Australian Associated Press)