C4C hosted its first Biodiversity & Sustainability Forum with Federal Minister for the Environment The Hon Sussan Ley alongside former National MP The Hon Niall Blair from Charles Sturt University, Martijn Wilder from Pollination Group and Dr Peter Burnett from the ANU.
The group discussed the proposed changes to Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act, sustainable agriculture, food security and environmental impacts under a changing climate.
Minister Ley said she was hugely encouraged by the present tone of debate on the environment in Australia: “The divide that was there a few years ago is just not there anymore.”
Minster Ley also said that the Conservative side of politics can do the protection of the environment better than the Left, pointing to the recent $1.8 billion increase in funding in the recent federal budget.
The Minister highlighted three areas of priorities for her and the government: Science (including the science of climate change), bushfire response and the work around national parks including the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. Ms Ley said she was "particularly proud of Australia’s Antarctic division, who was doing incredible work on climate change research and adaptation."
On the issue of the upcoming final report on the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the Minister said it was very important to understand the EPBC reforms were not about devolving the responsibilities to the states: “The Act is not being destroyed, it will have the same object."
Minister Ley said the states would need to meet “strong Commonwealth standards” before any changes are made, “if they don’t meet the standards we won’t be doing this.” The Minister said “ if they are not ready, willing and able to meet the standards we set through Parliament the states won’t be taking this on."
Finally, the Minister said there “will be a strong independent cop on the beat… and there will be compliance” but the model is yet to be decided and was awaiting Graeme Samuel’s final report.
Niall Blair started his presentation by discussing the importance of sustainable farming practices driven by “UN sustainable development goals, climate and reducing emissions.”
He said he was working with farmers and multinationals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “Working with them to improve their soil quality and put organic matter back into the soil and capturing more carbon.”
Niall said he was also focussed on the removal and reduction of waste “right through the production phases. Not looking at it as something that is discarded, but the building blocks of something else.”
He said his work was giving priority to changing the way farmers operated and were viewed in a movement “driven by the consumers and board rooms whom we’re dealing with around the world.”
Martijn Wilder gave his views on the investment side of nature, which since the Paris Agreement had been looking to value nature as an asset class to protect it.
His investment and advisory vehicle Pollination Group has just launched a joint venture with HSBC worth $AUD6 billion over the next five to six years to “work out a way to finance our natural capital. You can’t have a healthy economy without a healthy natural capital base.”
Wilder said while it was harder to invest in biodiversity and wildlife than forestry and water for example, he's hoping they will emerge as their own asset class to complement other natural investment.
“As a lot of the world’s capital is getting out of fossil fuels and looking for a new home, nature is very important.”
Finally, Professor Peter Burnett addressed three major points.
His first was why conserving biodiversity is so hard. Among other reasons were the difficulties in knowing whether something is worth protecting. How do we evaluate the worth of something that cannot speak for itself: “Nature can’t negotiate.”
Professor Burnett said the myriad of local decisions make for a “tyranny of small decisions” that can chip away at the environment. Our decision making needs to be holistic and integrated.
Secondly; he addressed what we might do on this from a broader policy perspective. Professor Burnett said "we need a to have a better understanding of what our natural assets actually are, and a more comprehensive approach to policy at all levels."
Lastly; he addressed Graeme Samuel’s review into the EPBC and whether the former ACCC boss was “on the right path”.
He pleaded with the Federal Government to take the review seriously and take its time with a meaningful response. Professor Burnett said he supported the draft report calling for "a quantum shift on environmental information, and an environmental supply chain and centre of truth.”
Professor Burnet said that the final report would “rest the foundation of environmental standards” in this country and asked for greater Commonwealth and state partnerships on standards.
Thanks to all of those who attend and contributed to the discussions.