Australia Settles Lawsuit Over Climate-Related Systemic Risks to Sovereign Bonds

August 31, 2023

The Australian government has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit which alleged it had failed to disclose climate change-related risks to investors in the country’s sovereign bonds, court filings showed.

The terms of the settlement, if approved by the federal court, will require the Australian government to make a statement acknowledging that climate change is a systemic risk that may affect the value of its government bonds.

Kathleen O’Donnell filed the suit in 2020 claiming investors who buy Australian government bonds should be made aware of the risks due to climate change that might make it difficult for Australia to pay back its debt.

O’Donnell, who also represented some other bond investors in her class action, did not seek any damages as part of her claim, her lawyers said on Wednesday.

The court in an order dated Aug. 23 asked the parties to send the settlement notice to investors. The court will hold a hearing on Oct. 11 to decide whether to approve the settlement.

“As an investor, I am pleased with the proposed settlement. This is the first time a country with a AAA credit rating has acknowledged climate change is a systemic risk when talking about risks to government bonds,” O’Donnell said in a statement.

O’Donnell, who was a 23-year-old student when she bought the bonds in 2020, argued Australia could be facing frequent adverse climate events in 2050, when her bonds mature.

Though ratings agencies acknowledge the vulnerability of economies to climate change, they have so far been cautious in quantifying those risks in their ratings exercises because of uncertainties about the likely extent of the damage.

Fitch counted climate change as one of the major longer-term risks for government debt after it stripped the United States of its top credit rating this month.

(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney; editing by Lincoln Feast.)

Topics Lawsuits Australia

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