#ClimateFail: Turnbull Government abandons any pretence of climate policy

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(Image via @FoEAustralia)

'A mountain of strategies, plans, reviews, meetings of ministers and promises substitute for any action at a time when climate change is wreaking havoc on the environment and wildlife.'

Sue Arnold

A MASSIVE BETRAYAL of environmental issues is now entrenched in Federal and state government policies.

The failure to provide adequate funding in the Turnbull/Morrison 2017 Budget should eradicate any lingering doubts over the attitude and policy failures of this appalling Coalition Government and the spin-off impacts at the State level. The Budget miserliness is a clue to a much bigger picture.

In essence, the environment has been pushed to the back of the bus. International obligations under conventions that Australia has ratified are ignored. Entire forests must have disappeared to provide for the mountains of paper and verbiage paying lip service to Australia’s unique biodiversity and environmental heritage.  

In 2010, the Federal Government published 'Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy' under the auspices of the National Resource Management Ministerial Council (NRMMC). The strategy stretched from 2010-2030 and was tasked to the National Biodiversity Strategy Review Task Group. 

The report is described as:

' ... the guiding framework for governments to conserve our national biodiversity to 2030. It provides an overview of the state of Australia’s biodiversity and outlines collective priorities for conservation.'

Not only is the strategy a national framework for biodiversity conservation, it also acts as Australia’s principal instrument for implementing the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity

Ten national targets were identified in the strategy to be completed by 2015:

  1. achieve a 25% increase in the number of Australians and public and private organisations who participate in biodiversity conservation activities; 

  2. achieve a 25% increase in employment and participation of Indigenous peoples in biodiversity conservation;
  3. achieve a doubling of the value of complementary markets for ecosystem services;
  4. achieve a national increase of 600,000 km2 of native habitat managed primarily for biodiversity conservation across terrestrial, aquatic and marine environments;
  5. 1,000 square kilometres of fragmented landscapes and aquatic systems are being restored to improve ecological connectivity;

  6. four collaborative continental-scale linkages are established and managed to improve ecological connectivity; 

  7. reduce by at least 10 per cent the impacts of invasive species on threatened species and ecological communities in terrestrial, aquatic and marine environments;
  8. nationally agreed science and knowledge priorities for biodiversity conservation are guiding research activities;
  9. all jurisdictions will review relevant legislation, policies and programs to maximise alignment with 'Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy'; and
  10. establish a national long-term biodiversity monitoring and reporting system. 

No prizes for guessing how few or if any of these targets were met.  

In the meantime, the NRMMC disappeared, as did the National Biodiversity Strategy Review Task Group. A spokesperson from the Department of the Environment and Energy was unable to detail who exactly did away with these two bodies, but it appears that under PM Tony Abbott at the 2013 COAG meeting, COAG agreed that its council system should be streamlined and refocussed on COAG’s priorities over the next 12–18 months. 22 councils were reduced to eight, including the eradication of the Council on Environmental Regulation Reform.

Nevertheless, in 2015 as required under the strategy, a review of the first five years conducted by the Australian Government, State and Territory governments and the Australian Local Government Association examined the operation and implementation of the strategy.  

The results are a damning indictment of not only a national failure to uphold any of the ten national targets but also a failure by state and local governments.

This review was not released until November 2016, as agreed at a meeting of the Federal, State and Territory environment ministers known as the "Meeting of Environment Ministers" (MEM), which replaced the NRMMC.

These are the key findings:

  • The strategy did not engage, guide, or communicate its objectives to all audiences in a useful way.
  • The strategy is too focused on preventing the loss of biodiversity in natural terrestrial environments and does not consider biodiversity contributions across all landscapes.
  • The strategy has not effectively influenced biodiversity conservation activities.
  • There was no ongoing oversight from jurisdictions to facilitate and coordinate implementation of the Strategy.
  • An implementation plan, including allocation of responsibility for actions, has not been established and coordinated implementation of the Strategy has been ineffective.
  • The expectation that a new, stand-alone monitoring and reporting framework would be developed for the Strategy was ambitious and did not build on existing efforts.

The Threatened Species Summit was held in July 2015 with the Federal government committing $6.6 million of funding as a down payment on delivery of the first threatened species Strategy.

Unfortunately, neither the Budget 2015-2016 or 2016-2017 specifically identify any funds allocated to a threatened species strategy.

Yet according to the government:

' ... the summit reinforced the new national focus on threatened species. For the first time ever, threatened species have an Australian Government policy framework with hard and measurable targets.'

The summit brought together state and territory ministers, relevant business leaders, scientific and conservation management experts and non-government organisations.

The November 2016 MEM meeting, under the guidance of Minister Greg Hunt, was to 'advance the protection of species and habitats, improve the environment for human health and discuss climate change'.

Under the meeting report heading 'Biodiversity', Australia’s unique species are described as an international treasure and a national asset.  

The action plan identifies the key action areas for the Australian government as:

  • tackling feral cats;
  • safe havens for species most at risk;
  • improving habitat; and
  • emergency interventions to avert extinctions.

Targets to measure success are:

  • 2 million feral cats culled by 2020;
  • 20 threatened mammals improving by 2020;
  • 20 threatened birds improving by 2020;
  • protecting Australia’s plants; and
  • improving recovery guidance.

A list which can only be described as a bunch of vague motherhood statements, with no plans or details of funding for any target achievements.

An analysis of the Federal Government’s Listed Key Threatening Processes demonstrates a bizarre list, which completely fails to include loss of habitat, the primary cause of extinction. The focus is on damage caused by rabbits, goats, fire ants and cane toads. Human created developments such as mining, forestry, dams and other environmentally damaging practices are ignored.

Listed species are required to have recovery plans under the Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act l999 (EPBC). Under the Act, the minister can and does delay recovery plans for up to six years. There is no legal process that allows the public interest to force the minister to speed up the finalisation or implementation of any Recovery Plan.

The procedure to nominate listing a species starts off with a minimum time frame of 4.5 months to overcome bureaucratic hurdles and an infinite time for the Minister to make a final decision. 

His decision does not have to take into account any recommendations made by the Threatened Species Committee.

There is little doubt that the environment has become the lowest policy priority for state and Federal governments.

Instead, a mountain of strategies, plans, reviews, meetings of ministers and promises substitute for any action at a time when climate change is wreaking havoc on the environment and wildlife.

You can follow Sue Arnold on Twitter @koalacrisis and Koala Crisis on Facebook here.

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