Seminar: Are Climate Impacts Environmental Impacts?



Singleton Railway Station and Coal Train" by Mister Mackenzie/Wikimedia Commons, used under licence CC BY-SA / Cropped from the original.” 

Are Climate Impacts Environmental Impacts? Court Review of Complex Environmental Knowledge and Impacts


Wednesday 26 February 2020, at 9 am - 5 pm 


Metsätalo Building, Room 6 (Unioninkatu 40) 

You can also follow the seminar online - the stream can be accessed here

The seminar is free of charge. However, we wish you register for the seminar here

Seminar description

Most environmental adjudication is forward-looking and the environmental impacts of any planned project must be estimated in advance. The environmental impacts of significant industrial activities are estimated in environmental impact assessments (‘EIAs’), which are utilised in subsequent environmental decision-making. Administrative authorizations draw on these assessments and if reviewed in the court, it is for the judges to consider whether the scientific side is robust enough for deciding on the matter.

Traditionally, climate impacts have not been counted as environmental impacts that could be considered in the environmental judicial review. This reality, at the root of all climate litigation, serves as the backdrop of our one-day seminar.

Are climate impacts environmental impacts? Could climate impacts be evaluated in the EIA, and in the subsequent judicial review? How has the scope of ‘accepted’ environmental impacts been delineated, spatially or temporally speaking? Which are direct, which indirect impacts, and do cumulative effects play any role? How do the courts address the inherent uncertainty prevalent in all scientific knowledge production, or understand other environmental models apart from climate change models, which are numerous but often not discussed in detail by the courts?

The day revolves around one case where climate impacts were taken into account: the Rocky Hill (Gloucester Resources Limited v Minister for Planning [2019] NSWLEC 7) ruling from the New South Wales Land and Environment Court, whose Chief Justice Brian Preston gives the keynote presentation. The speakers come from different jurisdictions, offering an opportunity to examine how the answers hinge on the niceties of administrative legal systems. Or do they?

The seminar will be streamed online. 

For queries please do not hesitate to contact Tiina Paloniitty, tiina.paloniitty at


9:30 Welcome                        

               Tiina Paloniitty (Postdoctoral Fellow at HELSUS and Faculty of Law, University of Helsinki)

SESSION I: About the Rocky Hill Ruling (Moderator: Tiina Paloniitty)

9:35 Opening Words

              Kari Kuusiniemi (President of the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland)

9:45 Contemporary Issues in Environmental Impact Assessment

              Brian Preston (Chief Judge, New South Wales Land and Environment Court, Australia)

10:15 The Australian Climate & Energy Law Context of the Rocky Hill Ruling

              James Prest (Senior Lecturer, Australian National University)

10:45 The Promise and Potential of Local Environmental Justice in the Wake of Rocky Hill (pre-recorded video)

             Amanda Kennedy (Professor, Queensland University of Technology) 

10:55 Discussion

11:15 Coffee

SESSION II: Scientific Evaluations in the Two European Courts (Moderator: Mariolina Eliantonio)

11:45 EIA in the Case Law of the European Court of Justice

              Agustín García-Ureta (Professor, University of the Basque County)

12:15 The ECtHR: The Role of Scientific Information in Environmental Jurisprudence

              Heta-Elena Heiskanen (Ministry of the Environment, Finland)

12:45 Discussion

13:00 Lunch

SESSION III: …Or Was There a Hill at All? Moderator: Elina Vaara

14:30 Prediction in the Wild

              Alkistis Elliott-Graves (Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow, Centre for Philosophy of the Social Sciences (TINT), University of Helsinki)

15:00 The Scientific and Legal Mechanisms for Addressing Model Uncertainties: Negotiating the Right Balance in the Finnish Judicial Review?

              Tiina Paloniitty (Postdoctoral Fellow at HELSUS and Faculty of Law, University of Helsinki) 

15:30 Discussion

SESSION IV: Views from the Hilltop Moderator: Tiina Paloniitty 

15:45 Beyond Environmental Law: Complex Scientific Assessments in Other Fields of Administrative Law

              Mariolina Eliantonio (Professor, Maastricht University)

16:15 Roundtable Discussion: Towards Holistic Impact Assessment?