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Conservation biologists warn that we are in the midst of a great extinction crisis. Biodiversity Law is an emerging field, examining legal regimes designed to conserve Earth’s endangered forms of life. We will voyage to foreign intellectual lands – e.g. environmental ethics, conservation biology – and take a few real voyages to see biodiversity law in action. We will examine the nuts and bolts of Australian and foreign legal regimes with an attempt to discern most effective legal practices to conserve biodiversity, grounding our analyses in in-depth case studies. Our investigations will be framed by two overarching questions: What is the legal framework for preserving life on Earth? What should be the components of the legal framework for preserving life on Earth?
Principal topics will include:
- A short primer on principles of environmental ethics and conservation biology and how these principles inform the practice of Biodiversity Law;
- Understanding the threats to biodiversity the law must confront;
- In-depth study of Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) to understand how this law interacts with Australian State and Territorial law to protect biodiversity;
- Consideration of Australian court cases that have interpreted the EPBC’s (and other biodiversity protective legal) provisions as applied to threatened species and ecosystems;
- Comparative studies of United States, South Africa, and other national legal approaches to, and court decisions on, biodiversity conservation;
- Attention to Australian (and foreign) biodiversity facing particular challenges (Great Barrier Reef, isolated marsupial populations, cetaceans) and how the law is (or is not) meeting those challenges;
- Analysis of the Convention on Biological Diversity,and other international treaties including how they are implemented in domestic law;
- In-depth case study on global wildlife poaching and smuggling;
- Discussion of “ownership” of biodiversity, including the rights that indigenous populations have to biodiversity;
- Discussion of market mechanisms designed to incentivize biodiversity conservation;
- Examination of non-legal means to preserve biodiversity;
- Synthesis of best practices for how to preserve and steward life on Earth.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will be able to:
- Understand and critique with sophistication the ethical frameworks underlying laws to preserve life on Earth;
- Explain the basic tenets of conservation biology and how those tenets inform biodiversity law;
- Be able to critically analyse, interpret, and assess how the law does and does not successfully confront multiple, interconnected threats to biodiversity;
- Name the primary tenets of the EPBC and assess in detail how Australia's flagship conservation law addresses threats to biodiversity;
- Analyse with sophistication how the EPBC works in coordination with State and Territorial law to protect biodiversity;
- Critically reflect on the legal strengths and weaknesses of an "endangered species" approach to managing biodiversity;
- Explain and be able to apply the primary tenets of international agreements to conserve biodiversity
- For a given biological entity (e.g. a particular population, species, ecosystem), be able to assess in detail how domestic and international law do or do not work together to provide a safety net for that biological unit;
- Critically evaluate the role of market mechanisms for preserving biodiversity;
- Explain and interpret in practice the legal rights that indigenous peoples possess to use or benefit from biodiversity;
- Cite pertinent, foreign domestic legal protections for biodiversity protection, and critique these as models for how other nations, including Australia, might manage biodiversity resources;
- Analyze the role climate change plays in affecting biodiversity, and critically reflect upon how legal regimes are or are not accounting for biodiversity's future in a changing climate;
- Analyze and assess the role that NGOs, corporations, and International Financial Institutions play in Biodiversity Law;
- Synthesize and derive complex, integrated legal prescriptions for how we should construct a legal regime to preserve life on Earth.
Last updated: 11 February 2021