Newcastle Law School is contributing to public debate on climate change

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Given the scientific consensus that an urgent and significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is required to avoid catastrophic environmental and economic consequences, Newcastle Law School encourages its students, alumni and staff to support efforts to promote immediate and sustained action to reduce emissions. Here are some recent developments that illustrate how members of the Newcastle Law School community have been taking up this challenge.

Jacqui Svenson

Law student Kelsey Gray has assisted one of her teachers (Dr Elena Aydos, a Senior Lecturer in the Law School) on important research into the effectiveness of the Australian Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). Elena and Kelsey’s paper was published late last month in the Carbon & Climate Law Review. It concluded that unfortunately the ERF is not only costly and unsustainable, it has also been ineffective in achieving meaningful emissions reductions.

As for alumni, law graduate Katrina Bullock (class of 2013) works as General Counsel for Greenpeace Australia. She has recently been in the media discussing the energy company AGL’s court action against Greenpeace, including this interview on Radio National on 1 June. Greenpeace has been running a campaign accusing AGL of inappropriately promoting itself as pro-environment, when AGL is actually Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitter. AGL alleged in court that Greenpeace’s campaign breached AGL’s intellectual property rights, but AGL’s court action was largely unsuccessful.

As for staff, Jacquie Svenson is one of the law school’s Clinical Teacher/Solicitors. As well as having a core practice in advice and representation for community groups and individuals opposing fossil fuel projects, Jacquie regularly gives media interviews on the issue and convenes a local community action group. On 27 May, Jacquie co-authored an article in The Conversation about an important climate change case. Eight teenagers had taken the Minister for the Environment to court, seeking an injunction to stop her approving a proposed extension to a coal mine in northwest NSW. Although the injunction was not granted, the judge did find that when the Minister makes decisions that could lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions, she has a duty of care toward future generations. In the absence of a successful appeal or legislative change, this will likely have important implications for future ministerial decision-making and climate litigation.

Dr Tim Connor is a Senior Lecturer in the law school. On 28 May, Tim was interviewed by Cosmos magazine about another important case: a Dutch court has ordered Shell to cut its carbon emissions to 45% of 2019 levels by 2030 – again on the basis that Shell has a duty of care to minimise harm to future generations. This follows an increasing number of cases in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly Holland, where reductions in carbon emissions are being achieved through the courts.

And stayed tuned for Elena’s soon to be published book Carbon Markets Around the Globe: Sustainability and Political Feasibility. The book is co-authored with Dr Sven Rudolph of Kyoto University and promises to make an important contribution to debates regarding how best to regulate carbon emissions.

Climate change poses a huge threat to current and future generations and we all need to do what we can to address it. Newcastle Law School is keen to play its part.

Photo: Jacqui Svenson, Solicitor, Newcastle Law School & Legal Centre

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.