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University of Sydney Law School declares climate emergency

11 December 2019
First climate emergency declaration by a Go8 law school
Accepting the warnings delivered by climate scientists about the dangerous state of the earth's climate, the Board of The University of Sydney Law School has voted unanimously to declare a climate emergency.

The declaration highlights the important role that legal scholars and legal institutions have to play in addressing and adapting to the climate emergency.

The motion was moved by Professor Rosemary Lyster, Professor of Climate and Environmental Law and Co-Director of the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law (ACCEL), and seconded by Professor Tim Stephens an Australian Research Council Future Fellow who has a particular research focus on international environmental law.

“In passing this motion, the members of Sydney Law School recognise that as legal academics we have a moral duty to stand up, speak out and express our concern, from a justice perspective, for all of the people, ecosystems and species across the world facing an existential threat,” Professor Lyster said.

“New South Wales is currently experiencing two climate-induced disasters – bushfires that have burnt through 2.7m hectares since the start of the 2019 fire season, causing suffocating and hazardous smoke for weeks on end, while drought cripples more than 98 percent of the state.

“Sydney Law School recognises the devastating environmental, social and economic impacts that climate change and associated extreme weather events is having, and will continue to have, in Australia and globally.”

Professor Stephens said that the declaration affirms the relevance of the climate emergency to Sydney Law School’s core functions of research, teaching and community engagement.

“We recognise the indispensable role of law and legal institutions in Australia and globally in implementing the Paris Agreement and achieving its objectives, and the vital contribution that law teachers and researchers are being called upon to make in developing effective and just responses to the climate emergency,” he said.

“With this declaration, we at Sydney Law School are committing ourselves to educating students about the climate emergency and appropriate legal responses to it.”

In the declaration, Sydney Law School calls on the Australian government, as well as all other governments around the world, to scale up their emissions reduction commitments made under the Paris Agreement. This must be done consistent with the science and implemented in comprehensive climate change legislation covering all emissions and sectors. Governments must also actively prepare their countries for the climate emergency.

“All governments and non-governmental entities, including corporations, must rapidly phase out the use of fossil fuels and transition to a clean energy system while safeguarding the dignity, wellbeing and economic future of workers and communities in carbon intensive sectors,” Professor Lyster said.


Professor Rosemary Lyster is one of the world’s leading climate change lawyers having researched and published extensively in this area for 23 years. Her special area of expertise over the past decade has been in the area of Climate Disaster Law. Professor Lyster has held visiting Professorships at Trinity College, Cambridge and the University of Cambridge Law School. In 2018, she was recognised by the Australian Financial Review as one of Australia’s ‘100 Women of Influence’.

Professor Tim Stephens is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow whose work addresses the role that international law can play in addressing global environmental challenges including climate change and marine environmental protection. He has published extensively in these fields.


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