A 23 year old woman is suing the Australian government, claiming climate change risk was not disclosed properly when she invested in exchange traded bonds.
Kathleen (Katta) O'Donnell is being represented by Equity Generation Lawyers principal David Barnden, who is also taking registrations of interest from bond holders for a possible class action on the back of O'Donnell's case.
O'Donnell's case and the class action will not be seeking any dollar amount in damages. Instead, Barnden said the case is about whether the government has a responsibility to disclose climate change as a risk in bond information statements.
Barnden is the same lawyer representing Mark McVeigh in his suit against superannuation fund Rest for its alleged failure to address and disclose climate risk appropriately. He has taken on O'Donnell's case on a pro bono basis.
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O'Donnell made an investment of approximately $1000 in exchange traded Australian government bonds through the CommSec app earlier this year.
Her investment came after meeting Barnden when he delivered a guest lecture at La Trobe University in July 2019, where O'Donnell is studying law.
Barnden was speaking to the law students about the McVeigh v Rest case and O'Donnell was so interested in the matter that she approached Barnden for a chat after the lecture and the two kept in touch.
Linking financial risks and climate change was something O'Donnell said she hadn't considered much before hearing the lecture - and it sparked her interest.
"I bought the bonds this year and when I started to understand them I realised how much of a risk climate change is presenting to bonds. Climate change is going to have very real physical impacts on our country and that is going to impact our economy and, in turn, the value of government bonds," O'Donnell told Financial Standard.
"I really think the connection between investment and the economy and climate really needs to be highlighted and well-known because it is a huge driving factor in where we are with climate change."
Now O'Donnell hopes her case will force the government to act on climate change by emphasising the financial and economic consequences of climate change.
"I think if climate change is disclosed as a financial risk it will improve the resilience of the Australian economy and protect investors. We all need to understand the risks we're taking," she said.
O'Donnell grew up in Healesville in the Central Highlands region of Victoria which was impacted by the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 and the bushfires at the start of this year. Both her parents have jobs that are focussed on environmental issues so O'Donnell grew up with a strong environmental awareness.
The family has now relocated to Hurstbridge, on the outskirts of Melbourne, but O'Donnell's interest in the environment has remained strong. A student exchange to Norway recently showing her how other countries are approaching climate change differently than Australia.
"It's great to see a society that takes environmental issues very seriously," she said.
O'Donnell had an internship lined up at the Environmental Defender's Office though it has been delayed by COVID-19. She said she hopes to work in environmental law in the future.
Around the same time O'Donnell first heard Barnden's lecture she switched her super over to Future Super.