On October 25, 2021, Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) submitted a complaint to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, and Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities over the Australian government’s inaction on climate change. The complaint was submitted on behalf of five young Australians aged between 14 and 24 years old. It relies on the particular climate vulnerability of young people, First Nations people and people with disabilities, as climate change exacerbates existing inequalities and directly undermines their health and cultural rights.
The complainants rely on the recently recognized right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment by the U.N. Human Rights Council and the Paris Agreement’s acknowledgment that climate change is a human rights issue. The complainants assert that the Australian government is in breach of the Paris Agreement and multiple United Nations instruments, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It further relies on the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s recent decision in Sacchi v. Argentina, noting the particular harms of climate change to children and the government’s heightened obligations. The potential rights violations include the right to health, life, family relations, adequate standard of living, education, freedom from any form of violence or exploitation and recreation and play, as well as the right to a healthy environment. The complainants also argue that the material contribution of Australia to climate harms violates the rights of First Nations peoples’ and disabled people as recognized in international law.
The complaints ask the Special Rapporteurs to seek explanation from Australia on (i) how the country’s climate inaction is consistent with the human rights obligations, (ii) how the current conduct is compatible with human rights of young Australians and a 1.5oC pathway, and (iii) how the current Nationally Determined Contribution has involved young people in Australia and whether the State will establish a permanent forum to include young people from impacted communities. The complaint further asks the Special Rapporteurs to urge Australia to set a 2030 target that is consistent with its human rights obligations.