One of Australia’s most significant public policy challenges is to overcome the systemic degradation of Australia’s land, water and marine resources and reverse the ongoing loss of biodiversity, whilst at the same time managing new pressures arising from a growing population and increasing global demand for more food, fibre, energy and minerals.
Australia can continue to prosper and grow its economy, without degrading its environment. The key is to create the institutional settings and economic signals that stop further damage, lead to the more efficient use of natural resources, and repair those assets that are already degraded.
This is the focus of the Wentworth Group’s work in landscape conservation.
One opportunity to generate investments in the repair of degraded landscapes is identified in the 2009 Wentworth Group blueprint Optimising Carbon in the Australian Landscape.
This work highlights the significant opportunities presented by terrestrial carbon offsets to restore native vegetation in over-cleared landscapes, improve the condition of agricultural soils, repair river corridors, and address salinity. It also puts forward institutional mechanisms to manage the risk of carbon forests impacting on fresh water resources, biodiversity and agricultural land. Many of these recommendations have been incorporated in the Carbon Credits Act 2011, and also in government policies.
Another key area of work has involved responding to the environmental law reform and deregulation agenda that COAG had agreed to in April 2012. Such an agreement would reduce national level environmental protection under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act by giving state governments power to approve projects that impact on matters of national environmental significance.
Working with environmental law experts, the Wentworth Group put forward an alternative suite of reforms that would help deliver COAG’s original goals to “reduce regulatory burden and duplication for business” and at the same time “deliver better environmental outcomes” for Australia.
The Wentworth Group statement Changes to Commonwealth Powers to Protect Australia’s Environment, released in September 2012, recommends:
- Introducing the option for business for a single ‘one-stop-shop’ assessment process to reduce duplication of state and Commonwealth processes;
- Improving national environmental assessment standards to streamline assessment processes; and
- Developing better national guidelines and standards to protect the environment and improve certainty for business.
It also recommends that by far the most effective way to manage environment and development is for Australia to concentrate on developing long-term regional strategic plans to guide land use and natural resource management.
Our current priorities are to work with government on environmental law reform, to progress opportunities for using carbon offsets for landscape conservation, and to put forward other practical solutions to drive more effective public and private investment in the environment and demonstrate the long-term social, economic and environmental benefits of integrating natural resources and land use planning.
The Wentworth Group’s work on landscape conservation has been funded in partnership with The Ian Potter Foundation since 2010.