A groundbreaking case has been filed against New South Wales The government is seeking to nullify an important water-sharing scheme in the Murray-Darling Basin, on the grounds that decision makers have failed to properly consider climate change.
This case, which is the first of its kind in the world, will be closely watched by countries like the United States that are also trying to address the allocation of scarce water resources between agriculture and the environment, in a world affected by climate. they change.
He can also, for the first time, force states and Murray Darling Basin An authority to deal with the consequences of a projected 40% reduction in inflows into the river system that feeds Australia’s main food bowl.
“Our rivers and the ecosystems they support are in crisis,” said Chris Gambian, chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales, the environmental group that made the case.
“We are at the forefront of the impacts of climate change, and we say the government has an absolute duty to ensure that water is allocated to ensure the health of the environment. If keeping the river alive is not our number one priority, it doesn’t really matter what our second priority is.”
The NSW NCC represents the Environmental Advocates’ Office (EDO), which has brought a case in the NSW Land and Environment Court to challenge the validity of the Rivers Border Water Sharing Scheme (WSP).
Bret Walker SC, one of Australia’s most famous silks – who chaired the Royal South Australia Commission on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan – agreed to represent the environmental group.
The Border River watershed lies along the border of New South Wales and Queensland and includes the McIntyre and Severn rivers. The watershed is home to endangered species such as the eel catfish, the Australian painted archer and the sand curlew.
NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey, who approved the WSP, and NSW Environment Minister Matt Keane, who provided the approval, were both named as participants.
“Our client claims that under their own laws NSW government ministers are required to properly consider climate change, including future climate change, when developing a water-sharing scheme,” said Emma Carmody, management attorney at the Office of Environmental Advocates.
“By relying on historical climatic data for the watersheds, we argue that they fail to do so, including with regard to calculating the maximum watershed extraction limit from the river.”
She said the NCC would ask the court to consider impacts beyond border rivers, including surrounding floodplains, rivers and communities, particularly the Barron Darling/Barka River. This is because some of its flows come from the border river catchments.
“Our client will further say that the rights of children and future generations to enjoy and benefit from healthy and efficient river systems require the minister to properly take into account climate change and develop a water-sharing plan that reflects the possibility of a hotter and drier future,” Karmody said.
The attorney said there was ample evidence that the rivers and floodplains of the North Murray-Darling Basin were too much.
“This situation has now been exacerbated by climate change, which is making it hotter and drier,” she said. We cannot make decisions about our precious water resources that ignore this reality. In fact, our client claims it is required by law.”
The Gambia said climate change is not an abstract phenomenon that may occur in the future.
“This is happening now, and our riverine communities in New South Wales are feeling the brunt of it every day,” he said.
“Just 18 months ago, many NSW towns were entirely dependent on groundwater or water to be trucked in. Other towns are dangerously close to running out of water. This is the challenge for public officials at the moment. We believe the NSW government has failed. in the line of duty to meet this challenge.”
The National Coordination Committee wants the court to find the plan invalid and force the government to submit a new plan.
The EDO says the government has large-scale models of climate change that are referenced in the recent NSW Water Strategy, but it did not use this work when developing the border rivers water-sharing scheme.
The issue could have a significant impact on all future water-sharing plans at Murray-Darling. Comment obtained from the Minister of Water and the Minister of Environment.
Courts are increasingly willing to insist that policymakers take into account climate change and the activities that contribute to it.
in 2019 in Rocky Hill caseThe New South Wales Land and Environment Court has ruled that planning authorities could prevent mine development based on emissions from coal extracted from the project.
In response, the NSW government announced plans to limit the powers of the Independent Planning Commission and said it would proceed to stop consideration of scope 3 emissions for mining projects.
In August 2021, in a case brought by a group of bushfire survivors, a court in New South Wales Government Environmental Protection Agency forced To take stronger action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.