Ancient and new Legal landscapes: Customary law and climate change, a Vanuatu case study

Kirsten Davies*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Legal landscapes are changing as the unprecedented threat of global climate change calls for more responsive and adaptive approaches to the law. This paradigm shift requires adaptation of legislative approaches to sustainable development focused on securing the future for generations dependent on viable ecosystems. As we address the perverse legal problems surrounding the impacts of climate change, looking to localised approaches, traditional ecological knowledge and customary law may help to inform future pathways surrounding the protection of coupled human and nature systems. Parallels can be drawn between domestic customary law and contemporary approaches in pedagogy, such as socio-ecological legal resilience. As one of the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change, The Republic of Vanuatu and its practice of customary law together with French Civil and English Common Law, offers the critical attributes as a case study location. Through examining Vanuatu case law, the following questions are raised: is customary law integrated with Western law? And if so, how is customary law treated by the judiciary, as law or fact? A shift in thinking can be seen through the landmark Bob v Mala [2015] case where the court concluded that questions of custom will involve fact and may also involve questions of law. As the planet struggles to adapt to the impacts of climate change, practices of customary law will assist processes of restoring human-nature relationships and informing the construction of new legal landscapes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-67
Number of pages25
JournalAsia Pacific Journal of Environmental Law
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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