Australia: Lawyers declare a climate emergency

New South Wales Young Lawyers has declared that there is a climate emergency which poses an unprecedented challenge for human rights, and the Board of The University of Sydney Law School has voted unanimously to declare a climate emergency.

NSW Young Lawyers, which represents more than 15,000 young lawyers and law students in New South Wales, Australia, is calling for effective legal responses at state, national and global levels. The declaration of a climate and human rights emergency is contained in the NSW Young Lawyers Climate Change and the Law Policy Statement, which was launched at the NSW Young Lawyers Annual Assembly on 1 November 2019.

The NSW Young Lawyers Declaration of Climate Emergency


“The Australian Medical Association recognises “climate change as a health emergency, with clear scientific evidence indicating severe impacts for our patients and communities now and into the future.”[1] More than 50 local governments in Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory, have declared a climate emergency.[2]

NSW Young Lawyers recognises that there is a climate emergency, posing an unprecedented challenge for human rights and the rule of law. In order for there to be intergenerational equity and climate justice, as well as interspecies equity and ecological sustainability, the law needs to enable and require Australia to rapidly decrease CO2 (and other greenhouse gas) emissions and to be legally accountable for their adverse contributions to the impacts of climate change.

[1] Australian Medical Association, “Climate Change is a Health Emergency” (3 September 2019)

[2] Climate Emergency Declaration, “Climate emergency declarations in 1087 jurisdictions and local governments cover 266 million citizens” (3 October 2019)

Legal response to climate change
In the Law Policy Statement, NSW Young Lawyers also acknowledges the need for a cohesive and overarching legal framework to adequately address the immediate and long term risks presented by climate change in New South Wales and Australia.

“Laws in New South Wales and Australia should, as much as reasonably possible, seek to implement the principles of ecologically sustainable development and address climate risks by creating opportunities for mitigation and/or adaptation.”

By declaring a climate emergency, NSW Young Lawyers has joined other professional associations, including the Australian Medical Association, more then 50 local governments, the Australian Capital Territory’s Parliament and South Australia’s upper house.

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NSW Young Lawyers Climate Change and the Law Policy Statement (PDF)

University of Sydney Law School declares a climate emergency

“The University of Sydney Law School calls on the Australian government, and all governments around the world, to scale up their emissions reduction commitments made under the Paris Agreement consistently with the science, implement these commitments in comprehensive climate legislation covering all emissions and sectors, and prepare their countries for the climate emergency,” states the declaration which was passed on 6 December 2019.

“The declaration highlights the important role that legal scholars and legal institutions have to play in addressing and adapting to the climate emergency,” wrote the university in an article on its website.

“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,” said Professor Tim Stephens who seconded the motion.

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

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)

“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.”

University of Sydney Law School Climate Emergency Declaration

→ University of Sydney – 11 December 2019:
University of Sydney Law School declares climate emergency
“First climate emergency declaration by a Go8 law school.”