The expansion of a coal mining project in Australia is making the government appear as if they are not holding up to their responsibility of preventing future harm brought on by climate change. This is all due to the work done by eight teenaged environmentalists, led by the Indian-origin 17-year-old, Anjali Sharma.
Though the court in its May ruling noted Ley had “a duty to take reasonable care to avoid causing personal injury,” it did not pass an order against the expansion of the coal project. The ‘Sharma decision,’ as the judgment is popularly known in Australia, was hailed as a big win for the teen activists and they were praised for their keen pursuit of change.
According to Sharma, the coal mine is estimated to burn 370 million tonnes of CO2 over its lifetime and dig up a total of 168 million tonnes of coal, which will then be exported to Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley, however, chose to give a nod to the coal project. The decision was backed by the government during a heated court case fuelled by Sharma, seven other teenage activists, and Sister Brigid Arthur, an 87-year-old nun and former teacher who volunteered to be their litigation guardian.
“Climate change is already wreaking havoc on the lives of Australians. Two years ago, Australia was on fire; today, it’s underwater. Burning coal makes bushfires and floods more catastrophic and more deadly. Something needs to change. Our leaders need to step up and act,” warned Sharma through they legal team’s statement.
But who is this high school student who is taking on the Australian government with such rigour?
Anjali Sharma’s Parents hail from a small town in India and moved to Australia when she was a toddler of a mere 10 months. Her inclination towards seeking change in environmental efforts, she says, came after the havoc-wreaking floods in South Asia in 2017.
“I saw my family in India deal with the effects of climate change and severe floods. It really made me angry that Australia, as a country, was not doing the things it should be doing to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change,” she told SBS.
She made sure she educated herself, mostly via the internet. “Growing up in Australia I consider myself really fortunate,” she said. “I got an education that helped me make sense of what was happening,” Sharma was quoted as saying in the report.
Her passions have led to Sharma being one of the five young activists to be nominated for the prestigious Children’s Climate Prize out of global participants, the other four finalists coming from the US, Kenya and Brazil
Anjali Sharma is still in school and says her parents are proud of the work she is doing. She hopes to study environmental laws.
Her actions last year sparked a wave of climate activism across Australia as well. On October 15 2021, thousands of school students across the country planned to strike for climate reform, with 26 COVID-safe actions planned to occur across the country, as well as 11 online events, organised by the School Strike for Climate Network.
The resultant unrest has made Australia prone to international criticism, affecting its position of power.
Unusually for a developed nation, most of Australia’s power is supplied through coal plants. This makes the nation vulnerable to the mechanisms of mining companies – out of the $40 billion coal exports recorded by Australia in 2020, a paltry 1% makes its way back to the government, which depends on coal mining communities as consolidated vote banks.
The result? Australia’s 2030 target for emissions is an alarming 50% lower than the already-conservative numbers set by the United States and the United Kingdom.
Down but not out, Sharma and her team stand by their goals, and will continue to champion the cause.
“Today’s ruling leaves us devastated, but it will not deter us in our fight for climate justice,” said Sharma in a statement released by the group’s lawyers.