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Earth jurisprudence: standing up for the planet

By Kellie Tranter - posted Thursday, 24 September 2009

German climatologists (PDF 2.21MB) estimate that no more than 750 billion tons of CO2 can be emitted by all countries worldwide between now and 2050 to have a 67 per cent (I’ll say that again, a 67 per cent chance) of limiting global warming to 2C, as agreed by the G-8 summit of industrialised nations in July.

They go on to say “.....until the year 2050, each person around the world may only emit between 1 and 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year That is the level India is currently at. In Germany, each person currently emits about 10 tons; in the United States, it's about 20 tons. That gives us a rough idea of how much and how quickly we must limit our emissions. We need to trigger an industrial revolution ...”

Wait a minute ... isn’t Australia’s average output 20.25 tons of C02 per person per year? Oh dear.


It’s no excuse to say that Australia contributes only 1.4 per cent of global emissions: the fact is that if each of the world’s 6.8 billion people emitted CO2 at our rate, global annual emissions would be about 138 billion tons and we would have emitted 750 billion tons by 2015, not 2050.

Have a look at the Stern Review Executive Summary (PDF 309KB) to fathom what a global average temperature rise of 2C translates to in practical terms.

It's about time the Rudd Government and the Turnbull Coalition put aside their adversarial posturing and collectively turn their minds to issues like how, where and when they propose to relocate people living on parts of Australia’s coastlines. How, where and when they propose to psychologically prepare the nation for water, food and energy shortages. And what their joint response will be to the imminent unprecedented nature-imposed depression. A depression that doesn't follow economic theories, that can’t be controlled or manipulated by governments or markets and that ignores historical patterns of economic cycles.

They may also care to reflect on whether or not the environmental rules and regulations in this country seriously address and really attempt to avert the problems we face.

Just as it is easy to forget that politicians make the laws so, too, it is easy for the public to forget the power of people to force the closure of loopholes, demand the prohibition of exclusions or inclusions or, even more fundamentally, drive the philosophy behind environmental laws.

Why should it be acceptable that our Federal law makers have not yet adequately addressed the issue of climate change in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (EPBC Act) to complement other greenhouse initiatives? Why have they not reversed the 2007 amendment to the EPBC Act that defined “impact” in a way that prevents this legislation from being used as a vehicle for public interest groups to hold government and industry accountable.


And when will our law makers strengthen the Corporations Act to require directors to achieve the balance between economic development and environmental protection, a proposition clearly articulated in a 2003 Melbourne University Law Review.

In February this year, after a six-year battle, a federal lawsuit that sought to force two US agencies to address global warming implications of their overseas financing activities was settled.

It was reported that:

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About the Author

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

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