Climate change litigation

Briefing paper


At a Law Society of NSW Thought Leadership seminar in March 2021, Justice Brian Preston, Chief Judge of the Land and Environment Court of NSW, described climate law as “hot law”. By this, he explained, he meant that “the law relating to climate change and its consequences is rapidly evolving”.

Subsequent events have illustrated just how quickly the law relating to climate change is developing. In the space of three days in May 2021, courts in Australia handed down separate decisions establishing that the federal Minister for the Environment owes children a duty of care in relation to climate change, and overturning water approval for a new coal mine. The same week, a court in the Hague ordered an oil and gas company to reduce its global carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030.

To help make sense of this dynamic area of law, the Law Society established an expert climate change and the law working group in early 2021, which included members of a number of policy committees. This briefing paper – which is informed by the working group’s expertise – is designed to complement two Law Society Thought Leadership events on climate change and the law in 2021, and to shed light on the trends, cases, and future directions of climate change litigation in Australia and abroad.