Essay by Eric Worrall
An Aussie law student has forced the government to settle an accusation it breached its duty to investors, by not adding climate risk warnings to new sales of government debt. The consequences will not be what she expects.
Australian government acknowledges risk of climate change to bonds after court case
The federal government has agreed to settle a world-first court case accusing it of misleading investors by failing to disclose the risk climate change poses to its bonds.
- The government has agreed to publish a statement saying climate change may affect its sovereign bonds
- Lawyers say while Australia’s approach to climate change has improved since 2020, more needs to be done
- The court case is a significant step towards acknowledging the risk of climate change to investments, lawyers say
In 2020, Melbourne woman Katta O’Donnell, then a 23-year-old law student, sued the federal government for allegedly deceiving investors, as part of a class action representing current and potential investors in government bonds.
The class action called for a public declaration that the Commonwealth had breached its duty to investors, by not disclosing information about how climate change could hurt the value of government bonds.
However, in the proposed settlement terms published today, the government has agreed to publish a statement acknowledging that climate change is a “systemic risk” that may affect the value of its bonds.
In return, Ms O’Donnell will drop the request for a declaration of misleading conduct.
“The settlement is an important first step in realising the risks of climate change,” Ms O’Donnell said.
“The government must now prioritise effective action on climate change to mitigate those risks.”
Katta, you just broke the green movement.
The problem debt addicted politicians are facing is not climate change, the problem the government is facing is court acceptance that the government believes climate change is a problem, and that they were not properly advising investors of the climate risks associated with buying new government debt.
Which response do you think would be easier?
a) Actually doing something about CO2 emissions.
b) Convincing the courts that the government no longer believes climate change will impact their ability to repay debt.
I’m guessing they’ll go with option b). Obviously they may squirm a bit first, try to fake option a), but courts are pretty good at spotting outright lies.
Katta, I know you are not a climate skeptic, but you have given climate skeptics like myself an incomparable gift – a potential lever for restraining out of control government borrowing and climate rhetoric, by forcing left wing politicians to choose one or the other. Thanks to you, they can no longer have both.
What can I say? If you know a lawyer who enjoys a good legal joke, and would like to smack the Biden administration, or any other green left administration, with a stick of their own making, pick up the phone and convince your lawyer friend to launch a similar case in your country. Make sure you get the courts to insist on making the climate warning as terrifying as possible, really scare off the creditors.