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Rethinking legal objectives for climate-adaptive conservation

Jan McDonald, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania; Centre for Marine Socioecology
Phillipa C McCormack, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania
Aysha J Fleming, CSIRO Land and Water; Centre for Marine Socioecology
Rebecca M.B. Harris, Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, University of Tasmania
Michael Lockwood, Geography and Spatial Sciences, School of Land and Food, University of Tasmania


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This paper examines conservation objectives in Australian law in the context of climate change. The rate of climate change and the scale and extent of its impacts on natural systems drive the need to re-evaluate current conservation objectives, from basic concept definitions, to overarching goals and values, to the way they are operationalized at all levels. We outline the case for reform of objectives in the legal framework for conservation and discuss three key strategies that would facilitate this transition: (1) acknowledgment in conservation law of system dynamism; (2) focus on ecosystem function, stability, and resilience; and (3) an explicit recognition that systems operate across multiple scales. Law reform is a slow process, but the potential of climate change to drive transformational changes means that urgent action is needed to overcome the limitations of current objectives and in the legal framework itself.

Key words

Climate change adaptation; conservation law; conservation objectives; law reform

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087