Extinction Rebellion: why and what does law have to do with it?

25 September 2019

ACCEL Environmental Law Seminar Series

'Extinction Rebellion: why and what does law have to do with it?'


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About the event

Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a socio-political movement which is using civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance to protest against the climate emergency, biodiversity loss, and the risk of social and ecological collapse. In 2019, two major scientific reports have been released which support XR's concerns. The IPBES Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has told us that biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history with around 1 million species already facing extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss. Without such action, there will be a further acceleration in the global rate of species extinction, which is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.

Meanwhile, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Climate Change and Land Report states with high confidence that since the pre-industrial period, the land surface air temperature has risen nearly twice as much as the global average temperature. Climate change, including the increased frequency and intensity of extremes, has adversely impacted terrestrial ecosystems while also contributing to desertification and land degradation in many regions. Yet around the world and in Australia, Extinction Rebellion activists are being met with police action, arrests, fines and the prospect of civil damages.

At this event, experts will talk about the many ways that legislation in Australia has been wound back to water down the protection of biodiversity and facilitate the accelerated clearing of land and native vegetation. Amnesty has even been proposed for those who have cleared land illegally. Given government reaction to Extinction Rebellion protests, the relationship between law and civil disobedience will also be addressed by a legal philosopher.

Chair: Professor Rosemary Lyster, Professor of Climate and Environmental Law and Co-Director of the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law, The University of Sydney Law School

Rosemary Lyster is the Professor of Climate and Environmental Law at the University of Sydney Law School and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law. Rosemary's special areas of research are Energy Law and Climate Justice and Disaster Law. She has published prolifically in this area including two recent books: Rosemary Lyster and Robert M. Verchick (eds.) Climate Disaster Law (Edward Elgar: 2018) and Rosemary Lyster Climate Justice and Disaster Law (Cambridge University Press: 2015). In 2018, Rosemary was selected by the Australian Financial Review as a '100 Women of Influence' in the Public Policy category. In 2015, Rosemary was appointed by the Victorian government to a three-person Independent Review Committee (IRC) to review the state'sClimate Change Act 2010 and make recommendations to place Victoria as a leader on climate change. The government accepted 32 of the 33 recommendations and enacted the Climate Change Act 2017 (Vic).


Associate Professor Nicole Graham, The University of Sydney Law School
Title: 'Biodiversity on Private Agricultural Land in NSW - the artificial cleave between private property and environmental regulation'

The Native Vegetation Act 2003 NSW was repealed in 2017 and replaced with the Local Land Services Amendment Act 2016 and the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. The reforms respond, in part, to concerns from agricultural 'stakeholders' that the 2003 Act unnecessarily over-regulated their land-use decisions. The reforms have, amongst other things, aimed to provide 'greater flexibility and discretion' to private landholders in self-assessing activities in relation to biodiversity impacts caused by agricultural land use practices. The reforms have weakened previous protections and resulted in greater biodiversity loss. Since more than 90% of land in NSW is privately held, biodiversity protections on private land effectively determine the state of biodiversity in NSW. Underpinning the biodiversity law crisis in NSW is the seemingly intractable tension between public environmental regulation and private property rights in agricultural land. This tension is informed by a model that assumes a zero-sum battle between private landholders and regulators. Behind the ideological debate is, however, the quiet and mostly unrecognised work of a growing number of farmers to adapt mainstream agricultural land use practices to local geographical contexts, leading to improved environmental outcomes. Far from environmental activists, these farmers are leading innovators in the agricultural sector whose approaches foreground the importance of biodiversity to successful and sustainable commercial agriculture.

Associate Professor Nicole Graham teaches and researches in the fields of property law and theory, and legal geography at Sydney Law School, The University of Sydney. Nicole's research addresses the agency of law in landscape change through the exercise of property rights: e.g. to farm, irrigate, mine, and deforest. She has written on the relationship between property law, environment and culture through the lens of the concept of place. Nicole has received teaching awards for her work teaching property law and is also recognised as a highly effective First Year Law specialist.

Dr Astrida Neimanis, The University of Sydney
Title: '
Things We Forget in an Emergency: A Feminist Decolonial Perspective'

More and more voices declare that climate change is the defining crisis of our era, and perhaps of human existence: it is an emergency in need of urgent address. Meanwhile, groups who have historically been dispossessed of material and cultural connections to lands and waters, or who have borne the brunt of inequitable access to or control over resources, remind us that environmental crisis is a symptom of longstanding deformed relations not only with the natural world, but with each other. Drawing on a number of contemporary examples, this talk unpacks the view that climate emergency cannot effectively be understood, let alone turned around, if its urgency means we fail to address entrenched issues of colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, and the militarisation of everyday lifeā€”in other words, those systems that arguably brought us to this point.

Astrida Neimanis is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies and a Key Researcher with the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney on Gadigal land. Frequently in collaboration with other writers, artists, educators, cultural institutions and community groups in Australia and internationally, her work develops feminist, embodied and experimental responses to environmental questions. Her books includeBodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology(2017) and the co-edited collectionThinking with Water(2013). Together with Jennifer Mae Hamilton, Astrida initiated the COMPOSTING Feminisms Reading and Research Group, which has hosted approximately forty meetings and events in Australia and beyond since 2015.

Dr Piero Moraro, Charles Sturt University

Title of presentation: 'Disobey or disappear'

Most Western democracies (including Australia) profess their commitment to respecting the right to protest while, at the same time, introducing harsher and harsher anti-protest laws. We are told that citizens can only engage in 'civil' disobedience, and that we must beware of 'extremists' and 'green collar criminals'. This is puzzling, for the protesters targeted by these laws are indeed acting 'civilly'. In this talk, I shed some light on the notion of civil disobedience, aiming to address some misconceptions about it (e.g. the role of nonviolence). I then consider the Extinction Rebellion movement, and suggest one reason why some media may be portraying it as 'extremism' rather than as civil disobedience.

Piero Moraro is a lecturer at the Centre for Law and Justice, Charles Sturt University. He has written extensively on civil disobedience, and his academic articles have appeared in Law and Philosophy, The Philosophical Quarterly and the Journal of Applied Philosophy. His book Civil Disobedience: a Philosophical Overview (Rowman and Littlefield International) was published in August 2019.

Click here for the seminar flyer

The ACCEL Environmental Law Seminar Series is organised by the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law and the Sydney Environment Institute at The University of Sydney.


Time: 6-7.30pm

Location: Common Room, level 4, Sydney Law School, New Law Building, Eastern Avenue, Camperdown

Cost: Free, however registration is essential. See link top of page

Contact: Professional Learning & Community Engagement

Phone: 02 9351 0248

Email: 28553f68503f363e5b2423021f3e07081a1a330807400d4d