People feel helpless.

Greens MP Adam Bandt has introduced a private member’s bill that would render fossil fuel companies liable for damage and destruction caused by climate change.

The proposed law, the Liability for Climate Change Damage (Make the Polluters Pay) Bill 2021, was introduced in the House of Representatives yesterday by Bandt, and seconded by independent MP Andrew Wilkie.

“They knew,” Bandt began his speech. “The big coal, oil and gas corporations knew, in some cases as far back as the 1970s, that their product was causing damage and could kill people, but they went ahead and did it anyway.” He described the bill as a “chance for justice for everyone bearing the brunt of the climate crisis” that would “give survivors of natural disasters the legal right to bring an action against these corporations for damages.”

The bill targets fossil fuel producers and operators of coal-fired power stations responsible for more than a million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in any twelve-month period since 1990. If the bill becomes law, these companies could be liable for ‘climate change damage’, including physical or psychological harm and loss of land or property.

The plaintiff would not have to prove that the defendant’s emissions caused the weather event responsible for the damage. Instead, evidence that climate change “has increased the likelihood of that type of [weather] event occurring” or “has increased the likelihood that type of weather event will be more severe when it occurs and the particular weather event is of that severity” would be “sufficient to demonstrate, on the balance of probabilities” that the weather event was “caused” by climate change.

The bill confers jurisdiction on the Federal Court and states that the court may grant an injunction requiring a defendant to reduce or cease emissions, or may require it to pay damages.

The bill is not expected to pass.