As Australia struggles to keep its Paris Agreement targets on track, the new parliament must transform traditional structures and policies that view nature as a ‘cost’ to instead recognise its ‘value.’
This is the key to unlock the speed and scale of action needed to combat climate change and biodiversity loss, and to unleash all the additional benefits this will bring for economies and communities.
Election campaigns for both major parties focused on their capabilities as economic managers – covering cost of living, wages and housing affordability.
But the state of the environment, a major economic factor, was largely missing from the debate.
Australia can’t seem to kick the habit of seeing nature as somehow separate from (and even an impediment to) the economy.
Meanwhile, innovative and powerful collaborations around the world are seizing the multifaceted opportunities that arise when nature is valued correctly as an economic input rather than viewed as an externality.
Ambitious solutions that authentically protect people, nature and economy need to be incentivised, bringing Australia into step with global trends, where ‘nature-positive’ is the new net zero.
There is a plethora of reports on the economic and social benefits of valuing nature – and the cost of doing nothing about climate change and nature loss (for example, read our White Paper).
But do we really need more reports? In recent years, the impact of climate change has hit home for Australians with brutal force. With the trauma of recent bushfire and flooding disasters still raw, the cost of petrol, housing, energy and food is rising fast, and we’re told 1 in 25 homes will be uninsurable by 2030.
As the new parliament grapples with the debt from a global pandemic, we must consider the natural debt accruing from an increasingly degraded, unstable environment.
Any responsible financial manager would take immediate action to reduce such mounting risk. There is much hope that this government will act – the question therefore becomes, at what speed and scale?
Rather than asking what it will cost to address climate change and nature loss, the two questions we should be asking are: what is the cost of inaction? And by acting, what value could we unlock?
Australia has the knowledge, technology and the natural resources to be a leader in a decarbonising world. We have tutelage from the world’s longest continuous cultures on building reciprocal relationships with Country and each other, if we respect their voices and enable greater inclusion and participation.
If this government seizes the opportunity to lead rapid and coordinated action, then these pivotal years for tackling climate change and biodiversity loss can also create more businesses, more jobs, empowered regional communities, healthier and more productive landscapes, and a more sustainable future.
It isn’t a question of how much the government spends, but how much it enables.
For example, in 1982, the federal government established a National Tree Program to reverse land degradation, and Greening Australia to help deliver it. Forty years on, Greening Australia has grown from a $250,000 operational budget in 1982 to annually leveraging $35-40 million of investment in environmental restoration for Australia.
Government investment in the National Reserve System, meanwhile, has increased the private land conservation network, which is now maintained by private investment and managed by environmental organisations for all Australians.
When governments invest smartly in solutions that value nature, it sure pays off.
No sector in Australia thrives without government support. Governments provide stimulus to industries and act as cornerstone investors, triggering participation in markets.
We need visionary, strategic and catalytic leadership that sees ecosystem restoration as an impact investment.
For example, we should fast-track new nature-based methodologies and markets such as blue carbon and biodiversity credits. The emerging water quality market could use government support right now to catalyse private investment in water quality improvements for the Great Barrier Reef.
Government doesn’t need to provide all the answers or all the cash – it’s about setting the stage for Australia’s world-class industries, scientific institutions and workforce to do what they do best: innovate.
The Albanese government can seize this moment to unlock the scale and pace of change needed to put Australia on a path to economic, social and environmental growth.
This election has shown Australians are ready for change, now it’s time for organisations like Greening Australia to work with the government to deliver.
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