University of Tasmania
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Australia's legal frameworks for biodiversity conservation : facilitating adaptation in a rapidly changing world

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posted on 2023-05-27, 08:59 authored by Phillipa McCormackPhillipa McCormack
Australia is one of the most biodiverse countries on Earth. However, despite well-established legal frameworks for conservation, its biodiversity is in rapid decline. This national 'biodiversity crisis' will be exacerbated by long-term climate impacts such as sea level rise and species redistribution. Climate change will also compound the impact of existing threats such as invasive species and changing fire regimes. Australian biodiversity must adapt as the climate changes, to avoid increasing rates of species extinction and ecosystem collapse. Despite a growing understanding of the implications of climate change for biodiversity, there has been little consideration of how existing legal frameworks for conservation either facilitate or hinder climate adaptation by species and ecosystems. This thesis addresses this gap, using the adaptation strategies most commonly advocated in conservation scholarship as a lens to investigate Australian conservation laws and policies for facilitating climate adaptation. The adaptation strategies are: (1) increasing and enhancing the protected area estate; (2) improving landscape connectivity; (3) reducing non-climatic stressors; (4) translocating organisms at risk of extinction; and (5) engaging proactively with ex situ conservation. This analysis shows that while each adaptation strategy is present in Australia's law and policy, none are designed to respond to climate change or facilitate climate adaptation. This analysis also finds that conservation paradigms underpinning existing laws contribute to the lack of targeted adaptation laws. These paradigms embed a static concept of 'nature' and emphasise the value of 'wild' nature removed from human influence. Implementation of each adaptation strategy demonstrates additional limitations, including a lack of clarity about desirable conservation outcomes for biodiversity and a consistent failure to adequately legislate, implement or achieve adaptive management processes and outcomes. This thesis proposes three principles to guide legal reform. Conservation laws must embody proactive conservation approaches, improve legal flexibility without reducing accountability, and prioritise adaptive management for biodiversity conservation. This novel approach provides practical insights for improving the way adaptation strategies are implemented in Australia, with lessons for countries facing similar conservation challenges under climate change.


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  • Unpublished

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Copyright 2018 the author Portions of chapter 4 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: McCormack, P. C., 2018. Adaptation strategies for biodiversity conservation: Has Australian law got what it takes?, Australian law journal, 92, 546-562 Portions of chapter 8 appears to be the equivalent of a pre-print version of an article published as: McCormack, P. C., 2018. Conservation introductions for biodiversity adaptation under climate change, 7(2), 323-345

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  • Open

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