The Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law (ACCEL)'s 2018 Year-in-Review Conference attracted more than 60 delegates from government, industry, civil society and academia.
Prominent speakers discussed the implications of key developments in climate and environmental Law in 2017-2018. Topics included climate change and energy; mining and the environment; biodiversity; environmental planning and greener places; coastal and marine issues; and natural resources and valuing nature.
The conference began with climate change and energy, with presenters examining how under the Paris Agreement different states have attempted to meet their commitments, and focused on issues of liability and penalties; migration; and concessions the United States might demand in order not to complete its withdrawal. The focus then shifted to Australia and how the National Energy Guarantee was to operate and on whom obligations would fall, particularly in relation to transferring credits, carry-over of liabilities, and, in the future, the extent to which markets might in the end ‘overtake’ governmental planners. The session also canvassed recent litigation efforts in various countries to hold governments accountable for climate change-related failings.
The following session moved onto mining and the environment, examining puzzling legal aspects of recent judgments relevant to the ongoing ‘Adani litigation’, and identifing various inconsistencies, for example, determining the point in the proceedings at which the Minister ought to have considered ‘Scope 3’ emissions.
The environmental impact on Australia’s biodiversity was also addressed. Australia’s biodiversity conservation laws must respond to the way barriers between native and exotic species are beginning to break down in the face of range shifts and also how species are beginning to redistribute under climate-driven pressures. The new Biodiversity Conservation Act is to do away with previous problematic ‘regulatory silos’, and be able to respond to such shifts.
Shifting to the built environment, a session on environmental planning and greener spaces focused on recent governance and managerial moves toward promoting the values of well-designed built environments and considered what measures can be used to implement ‘green’ strategies in cities such as Sydney. Key aspects of the recent Environmental Planning and Assessment Act reforms were also examined and included changes to community participation, strategic planning and decision making.
Key speakers on coastal and marine issues examined the serious and worsening problem of plastic waste in the marine environment and how a possible international agreement for regulation of marine plastic might be crafted. The session shifted to the current status of the Great Barrier Reef, which is exposed to threats from invasive species, overfishing and climate change-related coral bleaching. The legal aspects focused on what really is meant by ‘marine reserves’ and whether these can be effective where they do not also include ‘no take’ zones.
The final session on natural resources and valuing nature provided insight into recent legislative, political and community-oriented events in the Murray-Darling Basin. The session included a case study on the potential significance of the recent judgment (Costa Rica v Nicaragua, 2018) by the International Court of Justice on calculating compensation for environmental damage – the first such judgment by this court. While the judgment does not bind states generally, it is likely that it will provide a significant precedent in the years to come when national governments regulate issues such as ‘biodiversity offsetting’ and courts wrestle with how to calculate appropriate compensation for environmental damage.
View the ACCEL 2018 Year-in-Review conference program here.