2019 AGM Policy Proposal - Climate Action

Proposed 2019 AGM Policy in relation to action on climate change

Policy motion considered at the NSWCCL 2019 Annual General Meeting, 23rd October 2019

The NSWCCL affirms its support for urgent action at the federal and state levels to combat the severe threats to the Earth’s biological inhabitants posed by anthropogenic climate change.

The Council acknowledges the science on climate change recently set out in the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC. Specifically, we accept that it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming in the atmosphere and oceans since the mid-20th century, leading to profound changes in the global environment that are already producing significant damage and disruption for millions around the world.[1] Avoiding the worst effects of climate change will require substantial reductions of greenhouse gas emissions such that global warming is kept to under 1.5 to 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels, a threshold which the world has approximately 11 years to meet.[2] Australia legally committed itself to reaching that target in the 2015 Paris Treaty, along with virtually every nation on earth.

The Council does not endorse any partisan set of policy prescriptions to achieve this. Nevertheless, it is dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, which has seen Australia’s total emissions rise year-on-year under the Coalition government.[3] Lower than expected emissions over the last decade, which will see Australia meet its 2020 Kyoto Protocol obligations, are not a result of Coalition policies.[4] Experts have argued that current policies are insufficient to meet Australia’s Paris targets of 26 and 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.[5] The Adani-Carmichael coal mine, which will be one of the largest in Australia, has passed through the government approval process.

At the recent climate strikes, the largest protests on Australian streets since the Iraq War demonstrations, the young strikers had three central demands:

(1) No new coal, oil and gas projects, including the Adani mine;

(2) 100% renewable energy generation and exports by 2030;

(3) Fund a just transition and job creation for all fossil-fuel workers and communities.

The Council notes these demands with approval.


Justification - Why should NSWCCL get involved in climate change activism?

Although it is not often conceived of in this way, climate change is in fact a serious human rights issue, and squarely within the remit of the NSWCCL. A Joint Declaration of UN Human Rights Treaty bodies recently stated that “climate change poses significant risks to the enjoyment” of human rights.[7]

A healthy and stable climate is a prerequisite to the exercise of human  rights. Moreover, failure to act on climate change could constitute violations of a number of key human rights treaties to which Australia is a signatory.

The primary international human rights treaty pertaining to civil liberties is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966. This treaty guarantees, amongst other things, the right to life (Article 6), the right to privacy, family and a home life (Article 17(1)) and the right to minority cultural identity and practice (Article 27). By failing to take real action on emissions reduction, Australia may be in breach of all three provisions. 

In relation to the right to life, the Human Rights Committee, which can hear complaints about breaches of the ICCPR, commented last year that Article 6 requires States to take action against conditions that may threaten the right or prevent individuals living a life of dignity; conditions which include the degradation of the environment, the deprivation of land, resources and territories of indigenous peoples, and frequent natural disasters.[8] It also explicitly stated that “implementation of the obligation …depends, inter alia, on measures taken by State parties to preserve the environment and protect it against harm, pollution and climate change caused by public and private actors.”[9] The Committee has long expressed a view that States’ obligations create an active duty to protect the rights from abuse by others.[10] In relation to the right to culture, there may be several minority groups in Australia whose rights are being violated, including Torres Strait Islanders, who are seeing their cultural practices threatened by rising sea levels and increased extreme weather events.[11] With respect to the right to privacy, family and the home, it is arguable that by its acts and omissions, Australia is violating the rights of citizens to not be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with those things.[12]. A case arguing such breaches of the ICCPR on behalf of a group of Torres Strait Islanders is currently before the UNHRC.[13] Finally, given the HRC has commented previously that the right to freedom of movement (Article 12) engenders an obligation on states to prevent internal displacement,[14] the ICCPR may be breached by Australia when or if groups are internally displaced by climate change.[15]

Furthermore, the human rights of children may be at risk from climate change. On September 24th 2019, a group of 18 child plaintiffs from around the world filed a complaint under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the most widely ratified human rights treaty) to the UN Committee tasked with overseeing compliance with that treaty. This complaint alleges, in particular, that their rights to life, health and culture have been violated.[16]

The above ignores further possible human rights violations under the Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966, which are less obviously civil liberties issues per se.

Lastly, it would be an unacceptable abdication of this Council’s responsibilities towards future generations to shirk from a strong position in support of radical action on climate change. The Council has always seen its raison d'être as defending the rights of vulnerable people. In this case, young people constitute a vulnerable minority, subject to the discretion and excess of the generation currently in command of our governments and economy. It is incumbent upon us to stand up for them.

[1] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report

[3] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-11/fact-check-coalition-emissions-reduction-angus-taylor/10936652

[4] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-11/fact-check-coalition-emissions-reduction-angus-taylor/10936652

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/02/australia-wont-reach-paris-target-without-action-on-transport-lng-and-coal-expert-says

[6] https://lowyinstitutepoll.lowyinstitute.org/themes/climate-change-and-energy/

[7] https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24998&LangID=E

[8] Human Rights Committee, ‘General comment No. 36 (2018) on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life’ (CCPR/C/GC/36, 30th October 2018), at

https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/1_Global/CCPR_C_GC_36_8785_E.pdf, 6.

[9] Ibid 15.

[10] Ibid 5.

[11] Owen Cordes Holland, ‘The Sinking of the Strait: Thee Implications of Climate Change for Torres Strait Islanders’ Human Rights Protected by the ICCPR’ (2008) 9 Melbourne Journal of International Law 405, 424-5.

[12] ICCPR Article 17(1).

[13] Client Earth, Human Rights And Climate Change: World-First Case To Protect Indigenous Australians (2019) <https://www.clientearth.org/human-rights-and-climate-change-world-first-case-to-protect-indigenous-australians/>

[14] HRC, Addendum: General Comment No 27 (67): Freedom of Movement (Art 12), UN Doc CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.9 (1 November 1999) [7].

[15] Owen Cordes Holland, ‘The Sinking of the Strait: Thee Implications of Climate Change for Torres Strait Islanders’ Human Rights Protected by the ICCPR’ (2008) 9 Melbourne Journal of International Law 405 427.

[16] https://theconversation.com/with-15-other-children-greta-thunberg-has-filed-a-un-complaint-against-5-countries-heres-what-itll-achieve-124090