Professor Graeme Samuel’s 2021 report on the effectiveness of the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1991 (EPBC Act) found that it had largely failed to protect biodiversity. The government is now working towards amending the act to make it more effective.
A recent article in The Conversation listed broad requirements for improving the effectiveness of the EPBC Act to prevent further species loss as well as working to hasten environmental recovery. Three of these five listed requirements are discussed below.
The current Act ignores the issue of the impacts of climate change on biodiversity which means the federal environment minister is not required to consider developments such as new or expanded coal mines and gas fields and their climate impacts on biodiversity. As climate change clearly threatens biodiversity, a climate trigger should be included in the amended Act.
A second requirement is the need to provide effective habitat protection. This is urgently needed for threatened species such as swift parrots, koalas and greater gliders who are being driven towards extinction because their habitats are being destroyed or fragmented. And in Australia’s north biodiversity is increasingly threatened by the development of industries such as cotton and fracking for gas which involve extensive land clearing as well as water extraction.
Also discussed was the importance of the new Act not devolving federal approval powers to state and territory governments - something the former federal government was planning to do. Given the track record of some state and territory governments, this passing the buck could have disastrous consequences as well as leading to inconsistency across the country.
A third requirement was the importance of establishing an independent umpire which operates at arms length from government. Hopefully the government’s commitment to creating a national Environmental Protection Agency will ensure that the independent umpire is impowered to prevent any political interference by governments leading to over-riding of the biodiversity protection laws.
It will be interesting to see the legislation when it is unveiled.
- Leonie Blain
Published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Clarence Valley Independent , November 29, 2023