Climate Change, Agriculture and the Law- ‘It’s a Legal Minefield’

climate change

Unless you are living under a rock you will have heard media stories about farmers protesting against coal seam gas exploration taking place on their land. This is a very complex issue with a variety of viewpoints and stakeholders – but one of the fundamental problems is that many landholders feel they don’t have a voice in terms of what is happening on their land. In Australia, unlike other jurisdictions (such as some states in the USA), landholders do not own what is underneath the surface of their land. This means that if a landholder has precious minerals or metals underneath their land, they don’t own the rights to these. Instead, these entitlements belong to the Commonwealth. This same principle is relevant to coal seam gas that in some instances can be found approximately 300-1000 metres below the earth’s surface.

If a company has a licence to explore a parcel of land for coal seam gas this will usually give the miners a right to go onto land in order to look for the precious gas. Understandably, some landholders are not happy about mining companies coming onto their land to look for gas. This has created conflict between a number of different entities, including farmers and mining companies.

When Associate Professor Amanda Kennedy and Dr Amy Cosby looked into this issue, they found that the consultation and regulatory frameworks are very restrictive and narrow in terms of how landholders can object to companies exploring for gas and minerals on their land. In effect, landholders are given little opportunity to raise concerns about what will happen on and with their land.

In the broader context of climate change and agricultural sustainability, the pursuit of extractive development has become a complicated policy issue. Apart from legal considerations, landholders often have emotional and social connections to their land. In many cases, the land is not just a business asset for farmers – it is often also their place of residence, and may have been held within the family for several generations.

Another complex issue in terms of climate change and agricultural law is the impact of climate change on invasive species. Invasive species take the form of both weed species and invasive animals such as wild dogs and foxes. Arguably, the onset of climate change is accelerating the rates of invasive species which are having a sometimes devastating impact on the livelihoods of farmers. Apparently due to Australia’s unique climate conditions invasive species have acclimatised and in some cases jeopardised the survival of native species of animals and plants.

Professor Paul Martin, Associate Professor Amanda Kennedy, Dr Amy Cosby and Dr Elodie Le Gal from the Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law at UNE recently explored these and many other issues in an edited book that explores the complex issues relating to climate change, agriculture and the law. The book focuses on issues including food security and climate resilient development.

The book is available online at: http://www.e-elgar.com/shop/research-handbook-on-climate-change-and-agricultural-law

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