The Precautionary Principle: A Thrill Ride on the Roller Coaster of Energy and Climate Law


  • Associate Professor Rosemary Lyster is the Director of the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law, University of Sydney. She is also a Legal Consultant to Mallesons Stephen Jaques.

    Eric Coonan, who contributed to the discussion on uranium mining, is a Ph.D. candidate in the Faculty of Law, University of Sydney.


The International Energy Agency has reported that, in 2007, fossil fuels were the source of 66% of global energy production, while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that 60% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in 2004 were carbon dioxide emissions from the stationary energy sector. This article relies on recent case law in Australia to assess the extent to which the precautionary principle is a relevant consideration for development consent authorities determining applications for energy-generation facilities, including coal-fired power stations, coal mines, wind farms and uranium mines. What emerges is that there is really no certainty that the precautionary principle will be applied consistently by Australian courts to determine the legal responsibilities of decision makers assessing energy projects. In this sense, the precautionary principle has taken a thrill ride on the roller coaster of energy and climate law in Australia.