Law Student Files Suit Against the Australian Government Over Financial Risks of Climate Change

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A 23- year-old Melbourne law student sued the Government. This was for failure to disclose the risks involved in climate change and the value of government bonds. This is a class action suit and a first of its kind. The Australian national Government is being sued. This is for lack of transparency in the risk handling.

Background

Kathleen O’Donnell v Commonwealth of Australia &Ors. is the first suit of its kind. The applicant brought the action in the Federal Court of Australia. The application also names the Secretary to the department of treasury as a respondent, as well as the CEO of the Australian Office of Financial Management. The applicant is an investor in eAGBs (Exchange-traded Australian Government Bonds). The applicant also represents other investors of eAGBs. The action comes as a response to the recent extreme events of climate change that have occurred in Australia. Australia has been battling bushfires which killed an estimate of 1 billion animals. As well as alarming changes in the Great Barrier Reef.

Australian Government Bonds

The bonds are like shares but with the Government instead. Money is invested and lent to build infrastructure and fund other purposes. Some of the purposes are health, crisis management and national security. Australia has the concept of investment through compulsory superannuation. The government bonds are an investment where superannuation occurs. They are usually considered to be the safest form of investments.

Arguments 

The applicant connects the climate change in Australia to the value of the government bonds that have been invested in. It seeks the material impact analysis of the risks in investment. The disclosure of the information would alter the value of the bonds for the investors. The investors have a right to this information. The application does not seek damages. But seeks a declaration of breach of duty by certain officials. The application also seeks an injunction on the promotion of the bonds. The promotion is to be resumed only after the information update of risk.

Implications

The Australian Financial Industry Regulator discussed the foreseeable risks of climate change and Government Bonds in 2017. The Government has been regulating companies to disclose climate change impacts on shareholders. But has been withholding to do the same. Experts project for a floodgate of litigations to open after this suit. The link between climate change and the financial risks in the real world of investing is exponential. This would mandate the Government to be more transparent as an implication of this suit. The case is backed by many heavy hitters in law and has the potential to make big changes.


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