CITES CoP17, by Associate Professor Ed Couzens

 The 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) met in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 24 September to 4 October 2016. CITES is a crucial international convention which covers an essential component of international conservation efforts – international trade in endangered wild species. CITES operates by categorising species for greater or lesser levels of protection from commercial trade, according to their perceived status of endangerment in the wild. Approximately 1,000 species are listed on Appendix I (virtually no commercial trade) and approximately 34,000 on Appendix II (limited commercial trade). The CITES CoP meets every three years in order to consider proposals for listing species, or for transferring species between lists – as well as to decide multiple administrative matters such as how endangered status should be determined, whether certain matters should be researched, and how decisions should be taken.

In 2016 the CoP considered 62 individual proposals for uplisting or downlisting of individual species – many of which required votes on whether they would be adopted or not. Some of the more controversial and/or newsworthy included unsuccessful proposals to open a limited trade in elephant ivory for Namibia and Zimbabwe; an unsuccessful proposal to open a limited trade in rhinoceros horn for Swaziland; an unsuccessful proposal to downlist the peregrine falcon to Appendix II; successful proposals to list silky sharks, thresher sharks and mobula rays on Appendix II; successful proposals to list several pangolin species from Africa and Asia on Appendix I; a successful proposal to list the African grey parrot on Appendix I; and a compromise agreement on a proposal to list the African lion on Appendix I (the lion being listed on Appendix II with certain constraints on trade in products being introduced). 

Given Australia’s valuable and highly endemic biodiversity, CITES is a priority convention for the country. Australia even generally accords higher protection domestically to listed species than is required internationally – implementation being achieved through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. However, this was a quiet CoP for Australia and the country did not become embroiled in any major controversies. Australia put forward two proposals, both of which were successful. These proposals were to downlist from Appendix I to Appendix II the helmeted honeyeater (Lichenostomus melanops cassidix) on the basis that, while critically endangered, international trade is not a threat to the subspecies; and similarly to downlist the Norfolk Island boobook owl (Ninox novaeseelandiae undulata), on the basis that the genetically pure form of the subspecies is extinct and that the remaining (hybrid) subspecies is not threatened by international trade.

The 18th Conference of the Parties will be held in Sri Lanka in 2019.

ACCEL Director A/Prof. Ed Couzens attended as a representative of the Environmental Law Association of South Africa.

Conference Report: ACCEL2016 ‘The Legal implications of the Paris Agreement’ by Akash Bhattacharjee



Hi! I’m Akash Bhattacharjee, the 2016 Research Fellow at the Sydney Environment Institute. This year I’m researching Federal climate change policy in the Department of Government and International Relations for Honours in a Bachelor of International and Global Studies, before I go back to the Sydney Law School next year to finish my Bachelor of Laws.

What are the legal implications of the Paris global climate agreement? I had the good fortune to attend the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law’s (ACCEL) 2016 annual Conference, which addressed just that.

Just another conference on just another summit you say? Nothing of the like. It’s conferences like ACCEL2016 that help to decode the often complex and loaded language of international treaties like the Paris Agreement, outlining the consequences of particular provisions of these instruments for global, national and local communities.

As I begin my research this year into climate policy, this Conference gave me a great backdrop to current movements in the global climate space.

1. Key information

  • ACCEL2016 was a key academic and professional Conference for the Asia-Pacific, held shortly after the drafting of the Paris Agreement.
  • Speakers provided various perspectives on the Paris Agreement, and presented on the implications of soft law approaches under the Paris Agreement; the relationship between environmental justice and agriculture, climate disaster risk-allocation and compensation, and climate finance; as well as domestic implications for biodiversity and compelling governments to act through the common law.
  • ACCEL2016 was attended by leading practitioners, business leaders, academics and members of the general community and will remain in contact with the Centre on future events of a similar kind.

On Thursday the 11th of February 2016, leading practitioners, members of the business community and academia convened for a day as a small climate-aware community committed to enlivening the principles that underpinned the Paris Agreement drafted only 60 days prior. Hosted at the Law Foyer of the Sydney Law School, this was a landmark event in the climate space of the Asia-Pacific, drawing on the experience of its speakers from almost each corner of the planet. ACCEL2016 is the culmination of years of similar types of annual conferences by the Centre, and included experts presenting on a truly international topic on a momentous and delicate occasion in global environmental politics.

2. Introduction

Why was it held? There is a general lack of public awareness or understanding on many climate change matters, especially the recent watershed moment in environmental politics – the drafting of one of the most historic international legal instruments of our time. This Conference creates a space for experts to give a snapshot, from an international lens, of the most critical debates occurring on the meaning of the text and its implications. Given the participants, it also allows for the Sydney Law School to engage with industry and practitioners on what this means for their day-to-day clientele and professional body – a knowledge-sharing exchange desperately needed for a global problem with such a small time window. As a young person, it’s especially encouraging to see that the Conference engages with a virtual public, reaching a wider audience, especially since such international legal instruments are seen as opaque to many communities – drafted in obfuscating, esoteric and jargon-laden language.

3. Conference Engagement

Social media was an important feature of the Conference which made it quite interactive. Across the day, social media traction on the twitter hashtag #ACCEL2016 was caught and engaged with by NSW non-government organisations, national academia and business and was listed as part of twitter lists such as energy law. There was over 120% re-tweeting of hashtag posts, helped along from barristers in attendance to conservationists virtually connecting-in. I even got to pose a question on behalf of a conservationist tweeting-in to Jeffrey McGee on the implications of a global stocktake in 2023 on the Paris Agreement. To add to the social media buzz, it was great to see the multimedia embedding in the tweets, so that Twitter users could get a real feel of the Conference without being physically present!

4. Summary of Academic Points Made
a. Perspectives on the Paris Agreement

Professor Richard Stewart, John Edward Sexton Professor of Law at NYU School of Law and the former Assistant Attorney-General of the United States Justice Department, insisted that there would need to be heightened networks of cooperation and trust for the Paris Agreement to succeed. In addition, there would need to be transnational cooperative and institutional arrangements to reduce greenhouse gases. Why? Since Professor Stewart sees the Paris Agreement as a ‘monument of failure, as well as, a new beginning’ it is essential that we look to involving non-government stakeholders or risk a thin layer of support for the Paris Agreement. Reminiscent of debates around liberal environmentalism, Prof Stewart then went on to outline three perspectives that can shed more light on how to increase stakeholder participation: clubs strategy, institutional linkages and dominant market actors.

Next Dr Jeffrey McGee of the University of Tasmania spoke on the differentiation in the Paris Agreement, spelling out that the first global stocktake of the Paris Agreement would occur in 2023 while each nation’s internally determined national contribution on climate goals would only begin in 2020. While Dr McGee argued these start dates were later than necessary he also posed an important question: the Paris Agreement allows for self-differentiation through a ‘bottom up’ model of emission reduction commitments by member states – is this just powerful interests having their way or have we allowed for a mechanism to develop in which peer pressure can be relied on to ratchet up state ambition over time through the global stocktake process?

Finally, Dr Peter Lawrence of the University of Tasmania – a former First Secretary for the Australian Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva – spoke on the strengths and weaknesses of soft law in the Paris Agreement. Building on Dr McGee’s poignant final question, Dr Lawrence went slightly further to combining the observation of peer pressure with a study into the once-hegemonic, and now shifting, discourse on renewable energy. As diverse energy sources become economically viable, so too will the efficiacy of certain soft law approaches in the Paris Agreement.

b. Justice Implications of the Paris Agreement

Professor Jonathan Verschuuren of the University of Tilburg and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow at ACCEL, spoke on the nexus between food security and climate change mitigation. Arguing for a sharper focus of publics and governments on highly potent greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxides, that form a large part of the agricultural cycle, he also stressed that Australia’s national carbon farming initiative needs to be expanded and stepped up. Additionally, he pointed to a potential link between Australia and the European Union’s (EU) common agriculture policy.

Professor Rosemary Lyster, of the Faculty of Law, University of Sydney, proposed a unique and detailed method of collective responsibility, risk-transfer and compensation for victims of climate risk and disaster. Using a capabilities approach first developed by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, she outlined how climate disaster often relegates victims to socio-economic and other forms of injustice by reducing their ability to freely function and contribute to their society. Her proposed legal regime for this can be found in her newly published book Climate Justice and Disaster Law (Cambridge University Press: 2015):

Dr Kate Owens, a Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Sydney and former environmental law practitioner for state governments and commercial firms across Australia and New Zealand, spoke on the outcomes of the Paris Agreement for global climate finance. Presenting an overview of the state of finance mechanisms around the world as well as key current debates around climate injustices, Dr Owens outlined a number of watchpoints regarding climate finance, Paris and the operationalisation of the Green Climate Fund, and highlighted a range of views as to what kinds of funding should be counted as climate finance, the amounts to be mobilised under the Paris Agreement and how those funds are to be balanced between mitigation and adaptation measures. She then considered some outstanding questions in relation to the future of climate finance, focussing on the Green Climate Fund. Whether or not institutions such as the GCF will adhere to the core principles of climate justice is very much an open question and the difficulties are compounded by a lack of multi-stakeholder engagement of communities directly affected by climate change in member states.

c. Domestic Implications of the Agreement

Roger Cox, advocate in the landmark climate case of Urgenda Foundation v The State of the Netherlands, spoke on how his litigation compelled the Dutch government to pursue a decarbonisation of their economy. The judgment ordered the Dutch government to reduce its emissions by 25% for the year 2020 using 1990 for baseline levels. It is projected, he said, that Australia will over the same period of time overshoot to have increased over 20% in emissions using the same baseline. The central points of his presentation were predicated on the features of the Urgenda Foundation case that are comparable to other nations – namely the exceptional evidentiary value of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Reports and the criteria for imposing a legal duty of care. The finding of the Hague district court underlines the critical importance of engaging the courts in the face of inaction on climate change.

Associate Professor Ed Couzens, of the Faculty of Law, University of Sydney and Director of ACCEL discussed the Paris Agreement and its implications for the protection of biodiversity. Using the example of freshwater turtles in the Murray-Darling basin, among others, he showed how climate resilience is a central tenet of the Paris Agreement and as follows, so too are concerns of protecting biodiversity. Importantly, Professor Couzens notes that politicians respond to the body politic. When a national population wants a higher standard of living and is unwilling to deal with the unpleasant consequences of required growth models, these environmental concerns are ‘dumped somewhere else.’ According to Professor Couzens, we need to drive the change by using environmental law as an impetus on both national and international planes. Much in the way interrelationships between species in the natural world are complex, so too is the multiplex (to draw on the terminology used in the presentations of Professor Stewart and Dr McGee) of actors, spheres and planes in the global environmental space that we must involve ourselves in.

Danny Noonan, Sydney Law School JD candidate and former Law Clerk at non-governmental organisation Our Children’s Trust (OCT), presented on the role of constitutions and the public trust doctrine in a post-Paris world. Danny argued that the public trust doctrine is less vulnerable to legislative interference or displacement, but what would be needed in Australia to achieve that would be something akin to native title rights and the Mabo decision. Danny outlined a few key barriers to successful litigation in Australia, as compared to his experiences helping OCT in the United States, such as costs orders and funding arrangements in comparable cases.

Audio files of the presentations are available at the following link:

5. Conclusion

I’ve now been to many public events on related topics now and while each include a modicum of gloom given the nature and size of the climate change problem, there is no better way to address feelings of hopelessness when looking to the problem then by attending an event like this. These conferences allow you to think of problems together, discuss and question the shifts that are taking place in world. Beyond the academic and professional side to it – there is no better place, than a Conference like this, to see change and be motivated to take part in it.

I thank the organisers of the ACCEL2016 for making arrangements for my attendance and continued involvement, beside their organisation of an event of this scale. I also thank all those who got involved on social media and the change-makers I met at the Conference. Now, back to action!

Welcome to SydneyEnviroLaw

Welcome to SydneyEnviroLaw, the blog of the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law (ACCEL) at Sydney Law School, the University of Sydney. ACCEL’s mission is to encourage, promote and support innovative and important scholarship, including teaching, research, consultancy and public interest advocacy, in all areas of climate and environmental law and policy. Our members have wide-ranging research interests, including Climate Disaster Law, International Environmental Law and the Law of the Sea, International Wildlife Law, Judicial Review and Water Law, and teach in a broad range of areas related to environmental law, including in the Sydney Law School’s Master of Environmental Law and Master of Environmental Law and Science programs. More specifically, our recent research has included scholarship on International Law and the Anthropocene, defining climate disasters through a Capabilities Approach, and the role of law in supporting environmental water transactions. The blog will provide updates on the research of academic staff affiliated with ACCEL, as well as guest posts and information about recent developments and events in environmental law and governance in Australia and around the world. This first post introduces our main contributors and their interests. We look forward to sharing our insights on environmental law and governance, and we hope you will enjoy our blog.

2016 promises to be an exciting year. We have already hosted a very successful conference in February on the Legal Implications of the Paris Agreement. The event was an opportunity to bring together leading experts on climate change from around the world and featured keynote presentations from Professor Richard Stewart (NYU School of Law), Professor Jonathan Verschuuren (Tilburg Law School) and Advocate Mr Roger Cox who mounted the litigation in Urgenda Foundation v The State of the Netherlands, and presentations from Professor Rosemary Lyster (Sydney Law School), Associate Professor Jeff McGee (University of Tasmania), Dr Peter Lawrence (University of Tasmania), Associate Professor Ed Couzens (Sydney Law School), Dr Kate Owens (Sydney Law School) and Mr Danny Noonan (Our Children’s Trust). Audio files of all presentations are now available.

Other exciting initiatives in 2016 will include visits from Philippe Sands and Peter Sand later this year, so please watch this space!

Associate Professor Ed Couzens

Profile Pic Couzens

Ed Couzens joined the Sydney Law School in early 2015 from the School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, where he lectured for 14 years and held the position of Associate Professor from 2009. He is an attorney of the High Court, South Africa; and holds the degrees of BA Hons LLB (from the University of the Witwatersrand), LLM Environmental Law (awarded jointly by the Universities of Natal and Nottingham), and PhD (from the University of KwaZulu-Natal).

Ed has been recognized as an ‘Established Researcher’ by South Africa’s National Research Foundation for the years 2013-2018. He has taught on the University of Eastern Finland – United Nations Environment Programme Course on Multilateral Environmental Agreements ( every year since 2004; and was the IUCN AEL Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, in January 2015, where he taught a course on ‘international wildlife and conservation law’.

He has been an assistant editor/editor on the South African Journal of Environmental Law and Policy since 2001; and a co-editor on the University of Eastern Finland – United Nations Environment Programme Review of International Environmental Law-making and Diplomacy since 2006. From 2015 he will be an editor on the Asia Pacific Journal of Environmental Law; and a member of the Advisory Board of Transnational Environmental Law. He was the Deputy-Director in 2015 of the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law (ACCEL) at the Sydney Law School; and will be the Director going forward in 2016.
He was an executive member of the Environmental Law Association of South Africa ( from 2010 until 2014; and remains a non-executive member. He has attended more than 40 conferences, presenting papers at most; has attended four Meetings of the International Whaling Commission (2007, 2011, 2012 and 2014) as a member of the South African delegation; and attended the 17th CoP of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (2011).

Ed has also been a qualified Field Guide in South Africa since 1997.

Professor Rosemary Lyster

Profile Pic Lyster

Rosemary Lyster is the Professor of Climate and Environmental Law in the Faculty of Law, and the Leader of the Discipline.

Rosemary is internationally recognised for her research in the area of Climate Law, and has published three books with Cambridge University Press in the area of Energy and Climate Law, including a new monograph Climate Justice and Disaster Law in 2015. Rosemary is also the principal author of Rosemary Lyster, Zada Lipman, Nicola Franklin, Graeme Wiffen, Linda Pearson, Environmental and Planning Law in New South Wales, 3rd Edition (Federation Press: 2012).

In 2013, Rosemary was appointed a Herbert Smith Freehills Visiting Professor at Cambridge Law School and was a Visiting Scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge in 2009 and in 2014. Rosemary is also the Energy and Water Special Editor of the Environmental and Planning Law Journal, which is the leading environmental law journal in Australia. Her affiliations include the IUCN – The World Conservation Union Commission on Environmental Law, comprising environmental lawyers from around the world, as well as the Commission’s Special Working Groups on Energy and Climate Change, Water and Wetlands, and Forests.

Dr Kate Owens

Profile Pic Owens

Kate Owens is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Law, University of Sydney, specialising in environmental law. She researches and teaches in the areas of water law, mining law, International and Australian environmental law and environmental regulation and governance, and is currently writing a book on environmental water markets and regulation. Kate is the Deputy Director of the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law and the Book Review editor for the Asia-Pacific Journal of Environmental Law. Prior to her appointment, Kate practised for a number of years in State Government and leading commercial firms in Australia and New Zealand, providing advice and litigation services in relation to a range of environmental, planning, administrative and public law matters.

Professor Tim Stephens

Profile Pic Stephens

Professor Tim Stephens is Professor of International Law and Australian Research Council Future Fellow at the University of Sydney. He is President of the Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law. Tim teaches and researches in public international law, with his published work focussing on the international law of the sea, international environmental law and international dispute settlement. He has published over 80 articles, book chapters and notes in Australian and international publications and has authored, co-authored or edited seven books. Major career works include The International Law of the Sea (Hart, 2nd edition, 2016) with Donald R Rothwell and International Courts and Environmental Protection (Cambridge University Press, 2009). In 2010 Tim was awarded the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Academy of Environmental Law Junior Scholarship Prize for ‘outstanding scholarship and contributions in the field of international environmental law’. He has been a consultant for several non-governmental organisations, including a long association of work for the International Fund for Animal Welfare in relation to cetacean conservation. In 2014, Tim was appointed, on the nomination of the Australian Government, to the List of Experts for the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation. Between 2010 and 2013 Tim was Co-Director of the Sydney Centre for International Law. Tim has a PhD in law from the University of Sydney, an M.Phil in geography from the University of Cambridge, and a BA and LLB (both with Honours) from the University of Sydney. He is admitted as a legal practitioner in the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

Ably assisted by:
Ms Johanne Brady


Jo Brady joined ACCEL in 2010 as the Administration Assistant. Jo assists with coordinating ACCEL’s annual reports and newsletters, website content and updates, events, and journal administration. Jo is also a PhD candidate for the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research, in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney. Jo graduated from the University of NSW in 2011 with Honours (1) in Sociology and was awarded the Sol Encel prize. Her research focuses on ageing, health and Parkinson’s disease.