The Environment Defender's Office has brought proceedings against the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) on behalf of the Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action, a community group representing bushfire survivors from the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires. The proceedings seek to force the EPA to establish a climate policy, based on its statutory role which includes a requirement to prepare policies to protect the environment. The group will be arguing that the EPA as lead environment regulator in NSW failed to establish such policies in relation to climate change.
In other jurisdictions, there have been similar proceedings brought by activist groups, seeking to compel government action on climate change. This has found some success, including the Urgenda litigation against the Netherlands government. Similar litigation in Juliana v United States is still ongoing.
The group bringing the Australian litigation, Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action, includes local small business owners and community members whose businesses and homes were destroyed by bushfires. It is widely agreed that climate change contributes to worse bushfire conditions, which can intensify the scale of bushfires. As such, it is a timely reminder that extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change have significant economic and social impacts on businesses and the community alike.
EDO chief executive David Morris said the case, in the Land and Environment Court, would seek to force the EPA, which does not have a climate policy, to use its powers to keep communities safe from the increasingly severe impacts of a warming world. Mr Morris said the EPA was chosen as a test case among similar agencies nationally in part because of a section of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997. That section requires the agency to “develop environmental quality objectives, guidelines and policies to ensure environment protection”. "It's an opportunity for the EPA to recognise they have a legal obligation to take action," he said. "They should have a policy and a plan to address the greatest threat to the environment."