QUT Climate Business Symposium — 5 September 2017

Research Symposium

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5 September 2017

Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations

Please join members of the Intellectual Property and Innovation Law Research Program for a half-day workshop.

This event is a research workshop focused upon the role of corporations in respect of climate change. The various speakers will consider how managers and corporations interpret and respond to the climate crisis. Professor Christopher Wright from the University of Sydney will give a keynote speech on the ‘Climate Crisis, Corporate Imaginaries and Creative Self-Destruction’. The four panellists will consider the role of business in climate action from a variety of disciplinary perspectives — including law, business, regulation, and the environment.

Chair: Dr Angela Daly

Angela is a Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in QUT’s Faculty of Law and a research associate in the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology and Society (Netherlands). She is a comparative socio-legal scholar of technology and is the author of Socio-Legal Aspects of the 3D Printing Revolution (Palgrave 2016) and Private Power, Online Information Flows and EU Law: Mind the Gap (Hart 2016). She holds a PhD in Law from the European University Institute, which was joint winner of the 2013–2015 Fondazione Calamandrei Frosini prize for best thesis in legal informatics and information law. Prior to QUT, she was previously Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Media and Communications Law at the Swinburne Institute for Social Research.


Professor Christopher Wright

Climate crisis, corporate imaginaries and creative self-destruction

Abstract: In the space of two centuries of industrialization, humanity’s embrace of fossil fuel energy has changed the very chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans with profound consequences. We now face a grim future; large tracts of the Earth rendered uninhabitable, the collapse of global food production, the acidification of the oceans, substantial sea-level rise and storms and droughts of growing intensity. So how has it come to this? How to paraphrase Elizabeth Kolbert, has a technologically advanced society chosen in essence to destroy itself? In this presentation I argue that the particular neoliberal variant of late capitalism that now dominates global political-economy not only obfuscates the need for a fundamental questioning of the capitalist imaginary of endless growth and resource exploitation, but exacerbates the problem by framing business and markets as the only means of responding to the crisis. In essence, the prevailing political view is that capitalism is not a cause of climate change but as an answer to it. In particular, the presentation will focus on three core imaginaries that underpin our creative self-destruction: ‘business as usual’, ‘green business’ and ‘natural capitalism’. The presentation will explore the key dimensions of these founding belief systems, as well as alternative imaginaries that are likely to emerge as the climate crisis worsens.

Dr Nicole Rogers

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Climate change does not play by the rules. As Robyn Kundis Craig has observed, ‘climate change is the trickster of the 21st century.’ 1 Timothy Morton emphasises its ‘uncanny’ nature.

Abstract: What paths, therefore, should researchers pursue in order to undertake research into climate change? While scientific investigation into climate change impacts and research into technological and regulatory partial fixes are clearly important, other sorts of research are also critical if we are to come to terms with climate change as trickster: big picture interdisciplinary research which does not necessarily have any political or commercial value in the knowledge economy.

In this paper, drawing upon Margaret Thornton’s work on the corporatised university, the renegade scientists and utopian visionaries in Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy and the walkaway researchers in Cory Doctorow’s latest novel, I shall reflect upon the possibilities for creative rule-bending research into climate change as trickster within the constraints of contemporary Australian corporatised academia.

Dr Michelle Maloney

Alternative economic imaginaries — too little too late? The New Economy Network Australia

Abstract: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” — R. Buckminster Fuller

If we turn our attention away from the towering steel and concrete, the pollution and the plastic, the sheer violence and noise of contemporary consumer capitalism, and steady our gaze on the quieter spaces — the spaces between the towers and beyond the noise — we can find a prolific blossoming of alternatives to the current capitalist crises. Solar farms, community gardens, democratic social enterprises, urban agriculture, community currencies, platform cooperativism, peer-to-peer support, First Nations community driven sovereignty and economic initiatives, land restoration cooperatives, wildlife protection projects, aquaculture farms nurturing heat resilient coral for a climate changed world … the list goes on.

It is arguable that one of the most important challenges of our time, in this second decade of the 21st Century, is to connect, amplify and strengthen the already diverse elements of the ‘alternative economy’, so that it no longer grows in the shadows and the quiet places, but can replace the destruction of the material and intellectual legacy of industrialization and hyper-consumer-capitalism. The New Economy Network Australia (NENA) was created in late 2016 by around 100 individuals and organisations who see the amplification and strengthening of ‘alternative’ economic approaches as an important way to challenge the current system and create a sustainable, livable future. NENA is ‘under construction’ and in this paper I’ll give an overview of what it is, why it was created and what its plans to do.

Professor Matthew Rimmer

Greenwashing: Trademark Law, Consumer Rights and Internet Domain Names

Abstract: Greenwashing is a pernicious problem, which involves misleading and deceptive representations by corporations in respect of the environment. There are a number of legal responses — spanning trade mark law, consumer rights, and internet domain names.

First, this paper considers the role of trade mark law in respect of green branding, environmental messaging, and greenwashing. It considers the action of the United States Patent Trade Mark Office in respect of ‘green’ trade mark applications, which have been descriptive, generic, and misleading. It also examines the response of IP Australia and the High Court of Australia to trade mark applications in respect of the colour ‘Green’. It also highlights the use of certification trade marks to promote credible and authentic eco-labels — such as the Nordic Swan EcoLabel, the Wind-Made Label developed by Vestas and Bloomberg, and the Carbon Trust’s Carbon Footprint.

Second, this paper examines the role of consumer regulators in regulating greenwashing, carbon scams, and astroturfing. The Federal Trade Commission in the United States has issued revised ‘Green Guides’ to tackle the problem of greenwashing. There has been a striking complaint by Forest Ethics against the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. The ACCC has also developed guidelines in respect of green marketing, and has taken action on occasion. The Advertising Standards Authority in the United Kingdom has also been active in addressing false and misleading advertising.

Third, this paper examines the role of Internet Domain Names in respect of environmental communication. It provides a case study of the successful bid by Big Room in respect of the Dot Eco application.

Dr Hope Johnson

Intellectual Property, Climate Change, and Food Security

Abstract: It is estimated that almost 1 billion people in the world are food insecure. These people are primarily rural smallholders in the developing world. The causes of structural food insecurity are complex and inter-related. Amongst them are(i) the expansion of intellectual property rights, which has disrupted traditional farming practices, the development of (ii) export orientation in food production, (iii) rural poverty, (iv) land grabs and now (v) climate change. The impact of climate change on food insecurity is two-fold. Firstly, the availability of arable land will reduce as the climate declines. Secondly, some states have begun positioning themselves for this scenario by buying up agricultural land in the developing world. Both of these factors will only heighten food insecurity in the developing world. A coordinated global response is required to safeguard the livelihoods and welfare of the food insecure. This must involve a reassessment of the legal framework within which food security has been allowed to become imperilled.

Parallel Tracks? The National Relationship between Intellectual Property and Climate Change — Professor Abbe Brown, University of Aberdeen, Scotland. QUT Faculty of Law, 17 August 2017


Climate change has been recognised through international agreements, most recently the Paris Agreement, as a key problem of contemporary society. Technology and its role in dissemination and sharing is one means of addressing this, as can be seen for example from the increasing importance accorded to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change’s Technology Mechanism. The fact that technologies may be the subject of intellectual property rights, held in private hands, receives limited attention in climate change negotiations and certainly in final form documents. The problems arising from this have been explored by scholars (Rimmer, Barton) as have arguments that issues could be addressed through taking new approaches to the fragmentation of international law and to treaty interpretation (Frankel, Young, Grosse-Ruse Khan). Yet the relationship between climate change, technology and intellectual property is actually taking place at a national level, and this issue is underexplored. The paper being discussed in this presentation forms part of a book project addressing this, taking the UK jurisdictions as an example. Reference will be made to UK intellectual property legislation and its limited engagement with climate change; and to climate change legislation from Westminster and from Holyrood which imposes obligations on states and on public authorities to meet targets, to report on actions taken and to have regard to technology when setting targets and budgets and when making energy efficiency and low carbon plans. A strong policy theme in Scotland and at UK level is to encourage developing a variety of technologies rather than to be dependent upon one. Yet policy and legislation are silent about the potential for the impact of IP. Drawing on this framework, this presentation will present a hypothetical case study drawing from actual events. It will discuss the potential for conflict, for court adjudication and for new judicial approaches; and will make some preliminary suggestions for new court based relationships between intellectual property, technology and climate change which would be of transnational relevance.


Dr Abbe E. L. Brown is a legal researcher and teacher at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. From 1 August 2017 she will be a Personal Chair. Abbe’s main research interest is the laws relating to intellectual property and innovation, their intersection with other legal fields, and the impact of this on key societal challenges. Key publications are Intellectual Property, Human Rights and Competition: Access to Essential Innovation and Technology (Edward Elgar 2012), the edited collection Environmental Technologies, Intellectual Property and Climate Change (Edward Elgar 2013) and several editions of the respected OUP textbook Contemporary Intellectual Property: Law and Policy.

Funding sources for her research include the Modern Law Review, the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland and the Wellcome Trust. Before returning to academia, Abbe practised as a solicitor specialising in intellectual property, competition (including ACCC v Boral) and commercial litigation in London, Melbourne and Edinburgh.

Abbe’s current projects involve intellectual property, climate change and technology; intellectual property, disability and personhood; and with Professor Charlotte Waelde a forthcoming edited collection Intellectual Property and the Creative Industries. In July and August 2017 she is spending time in Australia working on her forthcoming monograph Intellectual Property, Climate Change and Technology: managing national legal intersections, relationships and conflicts.

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