Community Legal Centres NSW Position on Climate Justice
Climate change impacts most severely the very people and communities that community legal centres make it our core business to represent: people who experience social and economic discrimination and disadvantage. Our constituencies are those that are the first and hardest hit by extreme weather conditions. People experiencing financial hardship, First Nations people, people who are homeless, people with disabilities, people living in rural, regional and remote communities are time and time again left with inadequate protection from climate catastrophes such as bushfires, flooding, extreme heat or cold, hailstorms, and more. For just one example, the bushfire crisis of the 2019-20 summer left many people experiencing homelessness and people with disabilities with inadequate support to evacuate and be safely sheltered from the blazes.
The recent bushfires have reminded us of the legal dimensions of natural disasters. Alongside the physical and psychological impacts, crises like these can create or exacerbate serious legal issues, including problems with insurance claims, housing and tenancies, income and social security, credit and debt, family violence and family law, destroyed documents and wills, and more. Right now, community legal centres across NSW are working hard on the frontlines of local responses to the bushfire emergency to provide assistance to people and communities in the wake of this crisis.
This summer’s bushfire crisis has been unprecedented and devastating. It has destroyed or damaged a staggering number of homes and properties and taken too many lives. It was only due to a sudden, significant rainfall event (complete with flooding) that the Currowan fire was finally extinguished after it had already burnt 500,000 hectares. Unfortunately, runaway climate change will only increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather conditions.
The Community Legal Centres NSW 2020-2023 Strategic Plan sets out our Vision as “a fair and inclusive NSW with access to justice for all, and a strong and resilient community legal assistance sector.” Our work is underpinned by our commitment to contributing to justice outcomes for First Nations Peoples; sourcing solutions to problems from the communities experiencing them; working in ways that are collaborative, principled and that strengthen democracy; and building the capacity of our members to provide quality services and advance social justice in their communities. Our strategic plan commits us to achieving our vision by advocating for progressive law reform and social justice directly to government and in the broader community, by supporting and building the communities we are part of, and by being at all times a strong, principled and community-led organisation.
Community Legal Centres NSW is part of a national coalition of CLCs that recognises the need for action. We represent members at the forefront of advocating legal protections for the environment as well as centres working directly with communities as part of bushfire recovery processes.
NSW Young Lawyers, of which many staff in the community legal sector are members, has recently joined other professional associations, including the Australian Medical Association, in declaring a climate emergency. NSW Young Lawyers have published a position statement declaring that climate change is a human rights emergency, in line with the position set out by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2018.
Consistent with our strategic plan and the expectations of our members, Community Legal Centres NSW is committed to supporting our members to respond and assist their communities following disasters, and amplifying wider efforts to advocate for law and policy changes that will help protect, support and empower the people and communities we represent. We see responding to climate change as a critical step in the pursuit of justice for all. We need to be a voice in the national conversation about climate change, and the need for an urgent, adequate and just response.
The Climate Justice Alliance in early 2020 put out a call for action and investment on a scale to match the current climate crisis. In February 2020 people, organisations and communities peacefully rallied across Australia, to call for these initiatives:
- 100% renewable energy - reduce emissions now. Build a 100% publicly owned renewable energy system by 2030. Just transition for communities and guaranteed jobs for affected fossil fuel workers. Fund good low-emissions jobs in transport, manufacturing, disaster relief, health, education, energy, and climate adaptation.
- No new fossil fuel or nuclear projects. End subsidies to these industries.
- Fund our firies - support communities. Increase funding and resources to cope with longer and more intense fire seasons. Pay rural firefighters and reverse cuts to parks and fire services. Guaranteed homes and jobs for fire-affected communities.
- First Nations justice. Funding for Indigenous-led land management with jobs on country to repair ecosystems, reduce emissions and reduce fire risk. Land and water rights for Indigenous peoples.
Community Legal Centres NSW supports these initiatives and others that highlight the justice dimensions of climate change and the need for a just response.