Climate change, human rights and constitutional law: do recent cases in the Netherlands and the US translate to Australia?

Thursday, 31 October, 2019 - 16:30 to 17:30

Increasingly, courts around the world have held that inaction on climate change infringes constitutional rights or supra-constitutional rights. In 2018, in the Dutch case of Urgenda Foundation v The Netherlands, the Hague Court of Appeal held that, by failing to take more drastic action on climate change, the Netherlands had breached its duty to protect the lives of Dutch citizens under article 2 (right to life) and to protect the right to home and private life under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In the United States, attention has focused on Juliana v United States, currently moving through the US court system. In that case, a group of people are claiming that the US Government's fossil fuel policies have produced an atmosphere with dangerous levels of greenhouse gases, thereby violating the federal public trust doctrine and the federal constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. In 2016, the US District Court made headlines when it refused to dismiss the proceeding and found a constitutional right to a stable climate system.

Can these recent cases translate to the Australian context, or do they reveal a new Australian exceptionalism? Will Urgenda find application at the sub-constitutional level to the Charters of human rights that now apply in the ACT, Victoria and Queensland? Can the public trust doctrine in Juliana be adapted to the Australian Constitution?


Chair: Stephen Keim SC

Stephen Keim SC was called to the Bar in July 1985 and took silk in 2004. Stephen has a broad practice and has worked in most areas of law. His experience puts him in the perfect position to chair an event at the intersection of environmental law and constitutional law, having appeared in countless planning and environmental cases as well as in constitutional law cases, most recently in the High Court in Spence v Queensland and Love v Commonwealth.


Urgenda Foundation v The Netherlands — Dr Chris McGrath

Dr Chris McGrath was called to the bar in 2000, and practices principally in environmental law. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Queensland's Global Change Institute. He has published a number of books and articles about environmental law, and appeared in high-profile environmental cases such as Australian Conservation Foundation Inc v Minister for the Environment [2016] FCA 1042.

Juliana v United States — Kent Blore

Kent Blore is a Principal Lawyer in the Constitutional Law Team at Crown Law and joined the bar in 2018.