University Of Tasmania
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Just resilience in Australian climate adaptation laws

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posted on 2023-05-28, 00:17 authored by Wenta, JPC
Climate adaptation presents a major challenge for Australian law. Australian law has typically struggled to adjust to change, and is already pressured by increasingly frequent and intense climate impacts. New approaches will be needed. Adaptation laws will need to support nimble and responsive adjustments to change. They must also enable transformative change where existing approaches are wholly inadequate given the nature and scale of climate impacts. Yet adaptation laws must also help to facilitate fair and equitable allocations of the costs and benefits of climate adaptation. This latter role is often overlooked in analyses of climate adaptation and law. This thesis argues that law will play a crucial role in promoting both resilience and justice in climate adaptation. Drawing on the extensive scholarly literature on resilience thinking and environmental justice, the thesis develops a conceptual framework of 'just resilience' and applies it to Australian law. The conceptual framework emphasises four interrelated principles for simultaneously enhancing resilience and justice in climate adaptation law. To enhance just resilience, climate adaptation laws must (1) address change; (2) account for the distributive effects of climate change and adaptation; (3) promote participation in adaptation processes; and (4) cross sectors and scales. The implementation of the principles will be context-dependent. The thesis therefore applies the principles of just resilience to three case studies of Australia's current climate adaptation laws: (a) fire in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area; (b) water levels in Lake Macquarie, New South Wales; and (c) heatwaves in urban Melbourne. Through a combination of desktop legal analysis and semi-structured interviews with expert practitioners, the case studies explore how existing laws shape resilience and justice in addressing climate impacts in practice. Cross-case comparisons help to emphasise the strengths and limitations of Australia's existing climate adaptation laws. This empirical analysis illustrates how the principles might be pursued in particular contexts, and points to the importance of leadership and information sharing in implementing the four principles of just resilience in practice. The thesis draws together these theoretical and empirical inquiries to examine potential pathways for development and reform of Australia's adaptation laws to meet the demands of a climate impacted future. There is untapped potential for incremental development of existing laws, and the thesis highlights opportunities to implement the just resilience principles through targeted reforms of existing laws. However, the thesis also points to pathways for implementing transformative change where existing legal approaches are inadequate.


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