Greens Leader Adam Bandt has introduced a Bill into the House of Representatives – Liability for Climate Change Damage (Make the Polluters Pay) Bill 2020 – which will make fossil fuel companies liable for damage from the climate crisis, granting climate victims such as recent bushfire survivors or tourism businesses affected by fires or reef bleaching the right to sue thermal coal, oil and gas companies for damages. Governments would also have the right to bring actions in their own right or on behalf of affected persons.
In Australia, regulators and lawyers have already advised that directors and companies may have climate-related liabilities, and in other countries actions have been commenced against fossil fuel companies for climate damage. This Bill will clarify the situation under Australian law.
Major fossil fuel producers and the owners and operators of coal-fired power stations will be liable for climate change damage. They will be liable in respect of all emissions since 1990 (when the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was released and after which all emitters should have known the consequences of their pollution), or from any earlier time that the company had actual knowledge itself off the effect of its pollution. Companies will be liable in respect of the total emissions from their products, including Scope 3 emissions. Survivors of climate crisis events from 1 July 2019 will be eligible to sue polluters for damages.
Greens Leader Adam Bandt said:
“The world’s biggest polluters have known for decades that their products would harm life and threaten other businesses, yet they kept on selling them.
“Coal, oil and gas companies are decimating agriculture and tourism and wiping out homes and communities.
“The law made asbestos companies pay and now it’s coal, oil and gas’ turn.
“Fossil fuel companies are a direct threat to other Australian businesses and they should start to pay for the damage they have knowingly helped cause.
“The burning of coal, oil and gas has fuelled this summer’s devastating bushfires and floods, and worse is yet to come.
“When you do the wrong thing, especially when you knowingly do the wrong thing, there must be consequences.
“Coal, oil and gas are the tobacco and asbestos of our time.
“It shouldn’t be left to individuals, governments and other businesses to cover the costs of the damage fossil fuel companies have caused.”