The legal protection of human rights is growing stronger in Australia, and an emerging issue is whether human rights law should be at the centre of climate action and sustainable development.
This will be one of the topics discussed at the University of Southern Queensland’s Environment and Human Rights - Legal Paradigms Symposium on Friday, February 18, 2022.
In October 2021, the United Nations’ top human rights body voted resoundingly to recognise that a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment was a human right.
While human rights and environment protection is an established linkage, symposium co-convenor Dr Rhett Martin said the right to a healthy environment is not formally recognised in any of Australia’s laws.
“The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment has stated in a 2020 report to the Human Rights Council that the right to live in a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a ‘fundamental human right,’ and recognised by many UN Member States, although not yet expressly by Australia,” Dr Martin said.
Among the topics that will be addressed at the symposium include the human rights-based legal challenge against Waratah Mining Pty Ltd proposed coal mine in central Queensland.
In 2020, a group of young activists called Youth Verdict challenged the coal mine, proposed by Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal Pty Ltd, on the grounds that it breaches human rights by fuelling climate change.
It is the first time in Australia a coal mine has been challenged in courts on human rights grounds.
Waratah Coal failed in 2020 to have the case dismissed, and the matter may go to full hearing soon.
Dr Martin, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland, will discuss the implications of the case at the forthcoming symposium, focusing on whether grounds provided in the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld), could lead to similar challenges to fossil fuel projects.
“We’re starting to see an increasing number of international decisions highlighting a common theme of human rights linked to climate change,” said Dr Martin, who specialises in environmental and sustainability law.
“This case will be relevant in determining a link between mining approvals, contribution to climate change and breach of human rights and has potential to be an important precedent.
“This includes complex questions about the role of courts in responding to the effects of climate change compared to the role of the Parliament.”
The symposium will include a series of talks from local and international keynote speakers, including Associate Professor Stephen Humphreys from the London School of Economics. Professor Humphreys was the Commissioner of the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Commission on Environmental Law. Other keynote speakers are Professor Benjamin Richardson of the University of Tasmania, an internationally renowned environmental law expert, Professor Sarah Joseph from Griffith University, who is a human rights law specialist and Rebekah Leong, principal lawyer in the Legal Research and Policy team at the Queensland Human Rights Commission.
Symposium co-convenor Professor Noeleen McNamara concluded: ‘Clean air, water and food are essential human needs – we must act to protect them.’
What: University of Southern Queensland’s Environment and Human Rights - Legal Paradigms Symposium
When: 8.30am – 5pm, February 18
Where: Online via Zoom
Registration for online attendance is free and may be made here. Further information on symposium content and program details can be made directly to symposium co-convenor Dr Rhett Martin.