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Young Australians want the right to a healthy environment enshrined in law

Young Australians are unhappy their right to a healthy environment is not enshrined in Australian law, new research by the Australian Conservation Foundation shows.
14 November 2023

A poll of 1,700 Australians aged 13–24, conducted as part of the research, reveals:

  • Nine out of ten young people believe they have a right to a healthy environment.
  • 74% believe climate change will make their lives harder and the same percentage say the federal government should do more to address the problem.
  • Two thirds believe the federal government should pay more attention to their views on climate change.

The research report recommends the Australian government:

  • Enshrine the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment in a standalone federal human rights act. 
  • Integrate the consideration of children’s rights into the national environment law by strengthening the principle of intergenerational equity to specifically include the climate consequences of actions, legislating strong and enforceable national environmental standards, creating an independent national EPA, stopping land-clearing and native forest logging, maintaining the nuclear installation ban and increasing public participation through increased options to challenge decisions. 

“Australia is falling behind other nations by failing to enshrine in law the right to a healthy environment,” said Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Kelly O’Shanassy.

“No Commonwealth, state or territory law expressly recognises the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment,* even though this right is recognised in 161 other countries.

“A growing movement of children and young people are raising their voices for a safe, liveable future, taking action on the streets and in the courts.”

The research will be released in Canberra on Tuesday 14 November by ACF, Save the Children, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and Senator David Pocock, accompanied by young Australians calling for the right to a healthy environment to be enshrined in law.

“I think young people have every right in the world to a healthy and safe climate,”  said April Harrison, who survived the Black Saturday bushfires as a young girl on her family’s property in Kinglake, Victoria. 

“We are the ones that are going to have to be here and create the solutions and deal with the problems once a lot of the older generations are gone.

“We are the next generation of people that are going to have to create all these solutions to problems we did not create ourselves. 

“Young people have opinions and voices and ideas that are valid and important and need to be heard. People need to start taking us seriously and listening to us.”

Save the Children Australia CEO Mat Tinkler said: 

“It is a great injustice that children are the worst affected by climate change, despite contributing to it least and usually being overlooked regarding decisions about it.  

“As a major global emitter, Australia’s continued heavy reliance on coal, oil and gas comes at the cost of protecting the lives and wellbeing of children and future generations.

“Protecting the environmental rights and health of children should be enshrined in law to make sure our country is a place for children to flourish for many generations to come.”

*The ACT government recently introduced a Human Rights (Healthy Environment) Amendment Bill 2023 and the NSW Climate Change (Net Zero Future) Bill 2023 includes in its guiding principles: Action to address climate change should be consistent with the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

Media contacts: Josh Meadows 0439 342 992, Gus Goswell 0422 868 961.

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