Lawyers and scientists come together to discuss climate change

September 10, 2019
Panel moderator and speakers with the Presidents of the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Law.

The Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Law jointly sponsored a symposium on climate change and the law at the Federal Court Sydney on 22 August.

It was based on a hypothetical set of facts. The moderator was Justin Gleeson SC, who questioned a panel of three Fellows from each Academy.

Below are some extracts of the panellists' responses to questions posed during the discussion:

University of Sydney Law Professor Rosemary Lyster:

“So it really is a question of why governments continue to approve new coal mines because governments signed up in 1992 under international law to the United Nations framework convention on CC where they agreed to do everything possible to bring down greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

“What decision makers need to do, when they are considering whether or not to grant permission to new coal mines is to take into account international law, the scientific evidence and they need to interpret the statutes under which they are either going to grant or not grant consent.

“Most statutes have a legal requirement that decision makers take into account, in one way or another, the principles of ecologically sustainable development.”

Australian National University Emeritus Professor Will Steffen:

“If Australia was serious about the Paris target no new fossil fuel developments, be it coal, gas, unconventional gas or oil are permissible. We already have far more carbon facilities in operation today than we need to blow the Paris budget.”

Macquarie University Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Lesley Hughes:

“To argue that you can ship off coal somewhere else to be burnt and therefore absolve oneself of responsibility is morally unacceptable.”

The Panel consisted of:

  • Professor Lesley Hughes, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research), Macquarie University
  • Professor David Karoly FAA, Leader of the NESP Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub, based in CSIRO
  • Professor Rosemary Lyster, Professor of Climate and Environmental Law, University of Sydney Law School
  • Professor Jacqueline Peel, Professor of Law, University of Melbourne Law School
  • Professor Will Steffen, Emeritus Professor, Australian National University
  • Professor Erika Techera, Professor of Environmental Law, University of Western Australia Law School

Watch a 10-minute summary of the discussion or watch the full symposium.

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