Anjali Sharma on why young voices matter, and taking the government to court

Anjali standing on a podium.
By Maki Morita,
12 March 2024

If there’s anyone who can prove the power of student activism in fighting for climate action, it’s Anjali Sharma. At just 17 years old, Anjali made headlines for launching a class action legal case against Australia’s Environment Minister at the time, Sussan Ley, for failing to protect young people against future harm caused by climate change. The climate crisis is disproportionately affecting young people and People of Colour, and with time running out, Anjali is passionate about advocating for radical change, now.

I was lucky enough to chat with Anjali about her climate activism, the importance of listening to young voices, and how we can all get involved in taking action. 

MAKI MORITA: Can you tell us a bit about the outcome of the class action legal case you launched against the Environment Minister, and what it means to you 3 years on?

ANJALI SHARMA: The Federal Court initially ruled in our favour, finding that Sussan Ley did in fact owe young people a duty of care to protect us from the impacts of climate change. This was a novel finding, and one that I’m sure none of us expected — it came with the realisation that we had changed Australian climate law and potentially put in place an extra hurdle for all new fossil fuel projects. However, shortly after this decision, the government appealed this verdict, and on appeal the court overturned its earlier decision, extinguishing the existence of this duty. Therefore, while ultimately the court found that there was no duty of care owed to young people by the Federal government, at both instances the court accepted all the evidence put to them about the impacts of climate change. The court accepted that young people will be worst affected by climate change, and accepted all climate science before it, which forms a really strong precedent which can be built upon by future cases like mine.

Additionally, the case led to a legislative campaign, which is currently ongoing. In their judgement, the Federal Court refused to find that this duty of care existed due to the belief that it wasn’t their job to impose this duty, but rather the job of parliament to legislate it. I’m now working with Senator David Pocock, who has tabled a bill to this effect.

Three years on, this court case demonstrates to me more than ever what young people can do when we have the resources and support. It’s not accessible for all young people to sue the government or work with politicians, but when we are empowered to, look at the difference we can make.

“My advice to young people is to find what you’re passionate about… and use that as your form of activism. There isn’t just one way to be an activist — find the way that works for you.”

You were involved in the case with a group of other teenagers. How did you all come together in taking action? What advice would you give to teens out there that want to get involved with student activism? 

We all started out with School Strike for Climate organising student protests, and then were given the opportunity to take on this court case. We jumped on board immediately because we were all passionate about the law! My advice to young people is to find what you’re passionate about — it might not be the law, it might be art, writing, music, journalism, engineering, science — and use that as your form of activism. There isn’t just one way to be an activist — find the way that works for you.

Students in school uniforms holding posters at the School Strike for Climate in 2018. The signs read "The climate is growing more than our government", "There's NO PLANet B" and "Cool kids saving a warm planet".

Students at the 2018 School Strike for Climate. Photography by Julian Meehan, sourced via Wikimedia Commons.

People in power don’t seem to take teens that seriously or always listen to their needs. What would you tell them about the importance of teen voices? 

Young people are the ones who will have to live out our lives in a world intricately shaped by the policy decisions made today. It is us who will bear the brunt of the consequences of the decisions our politicians make, and it follows therefore that we deserve a much greater say in how our world will look.

Young people aren’t a political football, or a group that politicians can tokenise or disingenuously claim to represent and listen to. We aren’t just your advisory groups. Young people have both the knowledge and the passion needed to be able to look up to those in power and call for the changes we want to see.

Do you think we’re taught enough about the climate crisis at school? If you could redesign our high school curriculum, what would you change? 

Schools, when talking about the environment and sustainability, place a lot of emphasis on individual responsibility. Personally, at school, I was taught a lot about the importance of recycling, of taking shorter showers and of turning off the lights or the tap when brushing my teeth. 

While individual mechanisms to live a more sustainable lifestyle are important, if I could redesign the school curriculum I would make sure that young people are aware of how little they contribute to the climate crisis in comparison to large polluters and fossil fuel companies. I believe that placing responsibility where it deserves to be placed wouldn’t just help increase accountability for these companies, which are often politically empowered to extract, exploit and export, but would also help alleviate the sense of eco anxiety and climate guilt that many young people feel at their own actions.

“Young people have both the knowledge and the passion needed to be able to look up to those in power and call for the changes we want to see.”

What are some steps teens can take to fight the climate crisis? Are there any initiatives, collectives, resources etc. that you can recommend to budding climate activists? 

There are amazing general youth organisations such as School Strike for Climate and Australian Youth Climate Coalition which are always willing to work with new people, as well as Seed Mob for young Indigenous climate activists. And also, there are so many groups with their own initiatives to help tackle the climate crisis — and I can’t recommend joining one more! This goes back to finding your niche, or your passion — and then finding people with similar interests who also want to use their passion to fight climate change, and then doing it together.

Support Anjali’s case that the government has a duty to protect young people from climate change by signing this petition. You can also follow @dutyofcarecampaign for updates.

2021-04-22 – MAKI – collection 13 & 14-41
About the author
Maki Morita

Maki joined the Victorian Women’s Trust in 2021 and is the editor of Rosie. She is responsible for managing the Rosie blog, contributing articles, managing Rosie’s social media platforms and is involved in the overall strategic planning of the project. Maki is passionate about elevating the voices of young feminists and promoting intersectional feminism. In her spare time she enjoys reading, watching trashy TV and more recently crocheting.

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