In May this year the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released a report on the state of global biodiversity and ecosystem integrity. It was the culmination of three years work across many countries that presents a harrowing picture of environmental health.
It found that the decline of natural systems and ecological processes is accelerating, and a million species are at risk of extinction. It did not however come without hope, finding that change is entirely possible if we strive for transformative, systems level change. This change will need to be a ‘fundamental, system wide reorganisation across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values’.
It is the need for this fundamental shift that is the basis of our environmental work. This is about striving to put an ethic of environmental care and restoration at the forefront of democratic and political decision making. Environmental issues can no longer be neglected as externalities. They need to be front and centre of decision making, through issues like water, transport, land use, planning, food and health just to name a few.
Environmental policy can no longer be limited to the traditional natural sciences, it needs to play a key role in determining broader political, economic and social debates about the kind of future we envisage.
Our policy advocacy is largely responsive to government reform as we engage in as many consultation processes as possible. This year we have been able to contribute to water reform, electricity market reform, climate change, environmental regulatory reform, fracking, housing, biodiversity and land management.
We continue to work with representatives from multiple government departments to provide input on many topical and public interest issues. The interface between environmental causes and issues of justice, wellbeing and health is now clearly established and is central to our theory of change.
A critical part of current policy work is holding government to account to their commitment to implement all the recommendations from the Fracking Inquiry. Many of those recommendations have required changes to key pieces of NT legislation. We have reviewed all of these and provided comprehensive submissions to ensure that the laws are as strong as possible.
While we continue to build momentum for a ban on fracking, it is nonetheless necessary to ensure that government are held to account for their commitment to introduce a robust framework of environmental law. Petroleum activities are now subject to water law and regulated through the Department of Environment. This is a significant technical reform that will improve accountability and transparency across the petroleum industry.
Central to this accountability is appearing before the media to call out the NT Government when they attempt to shirk their responsibilities. We called them out on changes to the Water Act and the Petroleum Code of Practice. All this work adds to the weight of public pressure and scrutiny on the government.
The NT Government has been hit with significant challenges in responding to the budgetary crisis. This has led to a government crying poor and reluctant to commit significant funding that is necessary to support environmental programs. This includes for example, increased resourcing to properly manage the threats posed by buffel grass across the arid zone. This adds another level of difficulty in advocating for environmental issues but there are significant emerging opportunities to bolster the NT economy through large scale renewable energy projects.
Despite all the substantial reform to date, there are still significant policy uncertainties. We are yet to see the full transfer of the regulatory responsibility of mining from the Department of Primary Industries and Resources to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. This has occurred for petroleum but there is no certainty about when this will apply to mining.
We are still waiting on the development of a clear framework for monitoring and compliance of activities that will be regulated under the new Environment Protection Act. An environmental regulatory framework is only effective if there is political will and capability to monitor compliance and enforce breaches.
We are anticipating the release of the draft climate change framework to enable climate change to take a central role in policy and future planning across the NT. We know climate change is projected to severely impact the NT and the organisations and communities of the NT need certainty in how to manage and mitigate those threats. A climate change strategy is needed to provide the foundation on which to plan for the future and improve adaptive capacity and environmental resilience.
While there has been significant reform, there is still a long way to go. Public momentum to bring environmental issues to the front and centre of policy debates continues to grow.
We will continue to advocate for these issues through formal submissions, presenting before the media, meeting with decisions makers and building strong community networks committed to realising the vision of sustainable and healthy communities in central Australia.