Bushfire survivors win landmark climate change case against NSW EPA

In a landmark ruling and a win for a bushfire survivors group, the Land and Environment Court has ordered the New South Wales Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to take steps to safeguard against climate change.

Bushfire Survivors For Climate Action (BSCA) took the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to court over its climate change policy, arguing the that the EPA had not done enough to stop the pollution of the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.

The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) represented the group and director Elaine Johnson said her client was "really thrilled" with the decision, and that the EPA could respond in a number of ways.

"EPA could put a price and caps on carbon," she said.

The Nature Conservation Council called it a landmark decision that would "send a chill through the state's most polluting industries, including the electricity and transport sectors".

Chief executive Chris Gambian said it should be up to the EPA and not politicians to regulate pollution.

"We hope that [Thursday]'s decision results in the effective regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and gets the state on track to net zero well before 2050," he said.

No emissions regulation ordered

Justice Brian Preston's decision highlighted the EPA's duty to protect the environment from climate change, but did not find that the EPA should act on specific targets.

"This does not demand that such instruments contain the level of specificity contended for by BSCA, such as regulating sources of greenhouse gas emissions in a way consistent with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels," he said.

In its defence the EPA had argued that is had "developed numerous instruments to ensure environment protection in many ways, some of which incidentally regulate greenhouse gas emissions, such as methane from landfill", but that was not enough for Justice Preston.

The EPA issued a statement saying it was reviewing the judgement and implications.

It said the authority was an active government partner on climate change policy, regulation and innovation and was a part of the whole-of-government approach to climate change.

"The EPA is involved in work that assists with and also directly contributes to measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change [and] supports industry to make better choices in response to the impacts of climate change," the statement said.

The authority said it was committed to supporting and implementing the NSW government's Climate Change Policy Framework and Net Zero Plan through its recently released Strategic Plan and Regulatory Strategy.

The EPA has 28 days to appeal the decision




August 2021