Meet the Climate Hub Advisory Panel: Dr Justine Bell-James
Dr Justine Bell-James is an Associate Professor with The University of Queensland (UQ) and completed her PhD with the Queensland University of Technology on sustainable land management in 2010. Justine currently teaches environmental and property law at UQ and researches legal mechanisms for the protection of the coast under climate change. Her past research covers a range of fields including legal, policy and insurance responses to coastal hazards and sea-level rise. A particular area of interest for Justine is how the law can facilitate ‘blue carbon’ projects in Australia and overseas.
Can you please explain what ‘blue carbon’ is for our residents?
Blue carbon is the term for carbon which is naturally stored in mangroves and salt marsh vegetation, an important source of food security and coastal protection in many communities. The research I have done on this previously was around the legal issues involved with implementing blue carbon projects to reduce carbon emissions. I have also investigated what barriers are in place that stop us increasing our stores of blue carbon, such as complications caused by legal property boundaries and tidal boundaries. Sometimes it is not very clear where the ownership lies for a piece of land, and there may have been alterations to the landscape over time.
What are you currently working on?
My current research looks more broadly at ecosystem services provided by wetlands (i.e. more than just carbon storage) and how we can protect these by law. Currently, most ecosystem services aren’t well recognised in legal frameworks, and our project is considering why this is the case.
How could our region benefit from blue carbon projects?
In the Whitsunday region there are a lot of coastal ecosystems and also a lot of modifications from agricultural practices, for example sugar cane drains and ponded pastures. There has been a lot of momentum around identifying sites where farmers and other agricultural producers may wish to change their land use and restore mangrove and salt marsh vegetation, for example by reconverting ponded pastures. For example, the Queensland Government has a program called the Land Restoration Fund which launched in January last year and aims to reduce carbon emissions in farming and land management practices. Producers can earn carbon credits through ‘carbon farming’ methods, for example storing carbon in trees and soils, and ponded pastures has been one of the scheme’s priority areas.
What has been the most surprising find during your research?
One of the most interesting things about climate change law is that you need to be across so many existing areas of Law. Climate Change law is not its own area of Law yet, and there are so many different aspects to it. For example I am currently looking at Queensland’s new Human Rights Act legislation in relation to climate change impacts – I never imagined I would be researching Human Rights in this field!