The current Australian keystone environmental act, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is over 20 years old, and despite statutory requirements contained within the act to review every 10 years, little changes have been made. The most recent review was released in 2020, stating that the Act in its’ current form is ineffective and therefore unable to protect the Australian environment at present or within future climate scenarios.
The change in government in Australia has now not only provided the first climate change legislation in a decade, but also declared the EPBC a “broken” Act and seek to introduce sweeping changes including new environmental standards as well as a National Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The creation and implementation of a national EPA has support from grass-roots organisations, who agree with government sentiment that it strengthens integrity of decision-making by providing more independence in contrast to the current system where federal EPA decision making lies within the Environment Minister’s power.
To support amendments, the new environmental standards will align with a more sustainable, regenerative approach, with the Australian Minister for the Environment stating they “will require all decisions to improve the environment, not merely limit damage”. Initial focus will be on areas of national environmental significance, and introduction of a new system of regional planning which will, in turn, inform a traffic light system that dictates where development can or should not occur.
There were also elements in development surrounding offsetting, and creation of an environmental restoration fund, described akin to a “green Wall Street” which would provide a mechanism for businesses to invest in projects distinct from carbon credit or offset schemes.
COP27 fell short on emissions action broadly, and Australia remains a significant emitter and producer however the change in government and subsequent legislative amendments, passed and proposed, seem to be a sign of things to come, with Australia’s more driven approach to both COP27 and COP15 being recognised by other Nation States, as well as a COP15 sidelines agreement with the US where collaboration on a natural capital investigative project aimed at improving biodiversity outcomes.
Recent modeling continues to reiterate the need to consider climate and biodiversity in concert rather than silos. Business in Australia will need to prepare itself for the transformation of projects, and industry more broadly, into nature positive endeavours. Which will need to be supported through high-quality, standardized data for robust decision-making, in the case of these proposed regional planning and natural capital accounting. Coastal and marine projects in the pipeline in particular should be looking towards ethical, nature-positive corporations like Whale Seeker to aid them in achieving outcomes and getting ahead of the curve.
Similarly, the ambitious regional planning system slated to accompany the new environmental act will significantly benefit from standardised aerial imagery which can identify regions of high biodiversity and environmental importance with confidence.
The new keystone federal environmental act for Australia draft is scheduled for release in mid-2023 with the hopes of introduction by end-2023.