: Climate Change AND Australia: Warming to the Global Challenge

Climate Change AND Australia: Warming to the Global Challenge

Justine Bell

Climate Change and AustraliaBen Saul, Steven Sherwood, Jane McAdam, 
Tim Stephens and James Slezak;
Federation Press, 2012; 246 pp; $39.95 (paperback)

Climate change is a pressing global issue, demanding a 
multi-pronged approach which draws on science, law, economics and politics; it is dependent upon public support. Climate Change and Australia is the latest addition to a growing literature on the challenges posed by climate change and the potential means to address these challenges. The aim of the book is ‘to provide a clear, readable account of what climate change means for the future of Australia, its region and the world’ (p 3). One of the most interesting features of the book is its interdisciplinary approach, bringing together authors from science, economics, geography and law.

The first two chapters explore the science and the physical and economic impacts of climate change. Chapter 1 neatly encapsulates the complexities of climate science, describing the greenhouse effect, and the uncertainty surrounding future warming and future impacts. Chapter 2 builds on this discussion, by describing in detail the potential future impacts for Australia, including changes in weather patterns, sea-level rise and impacts on resource availability.

The next two chapters move from science to law and economics. Chapter 3 examines international responses in chronological order, starting with early environmental agreements in the 1970s, moving to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 and the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, followed by the most important developments since then. It summarises the more complex features of the international regime in clear and easy-to-understand terminology and concludes with the observation that the lack of a clear international response should not be a reason for delaying national action. Chapter 4 then moves on to an analysis of legal responses to climate change in Australia, detailing the political difficulties involved in introducing measures to cut emissions, before providing an overview of the current approach, namely, the recently introduced carbon price. Chapter 4 also addresses the economics of climate change policy, comparing direct action to market-based approaches.

The last two chapters essentially present as case studies, examining some of the more problematic consequences of climate change, being climate change displacement and climate conflict due to factors such as resource scarcity. Chapter 5 focuses on the international law issues surrounding climate change displacement, including refugee status, statelessness and human rights. It then provides an overview of international and domestic legal responses, ultimately calling for better legal frameworks which address the issue on a regional basis. Chapter 6 is concerned with the potential for conflicts arising from climate change impacts, calling for international law reform.

The book meets its aim of being readable. Each chapter opens with a one to two page list of key issues, summarising the main content of the chapter. The scientific, economic and legal issues are presented in an accessible format, using language comprehensible to a lay reader. The interdisciplinary approach of the book adds to the readability by translating complicated scientific projections into anticipated impacts on the environment, weather and ecosystems, and the implications for humans. These anticipated outcomes are then addressed through a discussion of the legal tools necessary to minimise or avoid negative outcomes. This clear link between science, human impacts and necessary legal responses is something not adequately communicated to the public via other methods, such as through the media. This book therefore provides a strong basis for convincing members of the public of the need for measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as the carbon price.

The only criticism I have of the book is that it would have benefitted from a concluding chapter linking together the various themes. Chapter 3 concludes with a call for global action, through international and domestic responses. This call could have been emphasized much more strongly through a stand-alone chapter, drawing on the potential impacts exposed in Chapters 2, 5 and 6. Chapters 5 and 6 also deal with fairly specific issues as opposed to the more general approach adopted in the first four chapters, and a conclusion would have put these case studies more firmly in context.

On the whole, though, this book is a good addition to the literature on climate change. Appropriately marketed, it could be an excellent resource for interested members of the public. It would also be a useful resource for university courses adopting an interdisciplinary approach to climate change issues, as well as researchers familiar with science, law, economics or policy, but seeking an overview of the other disciplines.

JUSTINE BELL is based at the Global Change Institute, University of Queensland.

(2012) 37(4) AltLJ 294
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