Student files a climate crisis lawsuit against Australia

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Student files a climate crisis lawsuit against Australia

Katta O'Donnell, a 5th year law student who owes Australia government bonds, has brought this unprecedented lawsuit forward.

A law student named Katta O'Donnell has brought a lawsuit against the country of Australia for failing to make clear climate change-related risks to investors in government bonds.

“I’m 23, I look to the future and I can definitely see that climate change is here and is going to get worse,” O’Donnell said. “It’s time the government told the public about the impact climate change will have on our future and the economy.”

It is thought to be the first such case in the world.

A Treasury official said they were aware of the case but refused to comment on it.

Government bonds are investments made to the government, which the government repays with interest. However, the suit states "Australia is materially exposed and susceptible" to climate change risks, according to the statement filed with the Federal Court of Australia in Victoria state. As investors, they should be informed of the government's anti-climate change efforts as it will affect the economic standing of the country. The student is seeking a declaration that the government breached its duty of disclosure and an injunction pausing further promotion of such bonds until it complies.

"O'Donnell v The Commonwealth is the first case in the world dealing with climate as a material risk to the sovereign bond market," her lawyers said in a statement.

"I want the Australian government to tell the truth about the risks posed by climate change," Katta O'Donnell told the Financial Times. "I don't want to look towards a future where these types of bushfires are a common occurrence."

“While the current government will be long out of power by the time we can access this money, our financial security … will bear the brunt of its climate legacy,” O’Donnell said.

Inspired by a lecture hosted by David Barnden, the lawyer who would later take on her case, O'Donnell made her case. In an article on SBS:

Through her superannuation fund, Katta learnt that she had invested in government bonds. She was told that government bonds were a safe low-risk investment option, so she invested further.

"I wanted to invest my savings in something," she said, "it's pretty hard for young people to invest in a house these days, it's all very expensive."
"I'm not a huge investor but government bonds are traditionally seen as quite a safe investment."

But Katta says the federal government hasn't disclosed enough about their climate change policy, making her investment a high risk one.
"I got in contact with Barnden later about my rights and about the risks that young people face [when making these investments]," she said.

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