Now is the time for a major re-write of legal frameworks to ensure a world where nature thrives.
New reports, informed by input from EDO’s legal experts, have shone a light on the inadequacies of key biodiversity conservation and native vegetation laws.
As we stare down triple crises (climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss), and as the global community comes together and commits to halting extinctions and protecting and restoring nature, there is a clear need for all Australian jurisdictions to increase their ambition, overhaul environmental laws and put nature and communities first.
New independent report finds NSW needs nature positive laws
Since their inception more than 6 years ago, EDO has been highly critical of NSW’s biodiversity conservation and native vegetation laws. We have long argued that the laws, which feature inadequate environmental safeguards, discretionary decision-making and weak biodiversity offsetting rules, are putting our native wildlife and natural landscapes at risk.
The 5-year statutory review of the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (BC Act) undertaken by an independent panel of experts led by Dr Ken Henry AC, has found that the BC Act “is not meeting its objects and is very likely never to do so”.
This new report is just the latest in a long list of dire assessments of the regulatory framework in NSW, including analysis by the NSW Audit Office, NSW Natural Resources Commission and various NSW Parliamentary Inquiries.i
EDO engaged as a key stakeholder in the 5-year statutory review, building on a body of EDO work examining the highly problematic laws.ii Our key concerns and recommendations for reform are set out in our submission to review: EDO Submission to the Statutory Review of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.
Concurrently, a review of the land management provisions of the NSW Local Land Services Act 2013 also took place. EDO’s submission to that review similarly sets out key concerns and recommendations: Submission to the Statutory Review of the native vegetation provisions (Part 5A and Schedule 5A and Schedule 5B) of the Local Land Services Act 2013.
EDO supports the broad thrust of the BC Act Review Panel’s findings, including recommendations to:
- give the BC Act primacy over competing pieces of legislation;
- fully involve First Nations Peoples in the design and implementation of policy and programs designed to conserve and restore biodiversity;
- amend the BC Act to proactively address climate change impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems;
- address cumulative impacts of biodiversity loss and loss of ecosystem connectivity;
- guide and promote investment in conservation and restoration activities; and
- provide a single spatial tool to clarify regulatory expectations.
See our comments on the release of the report here.
While the findings from the review of the LLS Act are not as far-reaching, those laws need to be considered in the broader regulatory context, with Dr Henry ultimately concluding that “ a major reset in public policy thinking” is needed and that a “nature positive vision implies a substantial re-crafting of the (Biodiversity Conservation) Act, and also of other pieces of legislation affecting land use in the State.
The report confirms EDO’s position that the BC Act needs to be substantially amended to be consistent with national and international policy ambitions to halt extinctions, reverse forest loss and degradation, and ensure the integrity, connectivity and resilience of all ecosystems are maintained, enhanced, or restore.
WWF Trees Scorecard 2023 ranks Australian jurisdictions on tree protection and restoration
In 2021, over 100 countries, including Australia, pledged to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030 through the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use (Glasgow Declaration).iii
WWF-Australia commissioned EDO to undertake an analysis of the various legal frameworks across Australia that regulate land clearing to see how they match up against the Glasgow Declaration. Our Analysis of Vegetation Management Regulatory Frameworks in Australia examines land clearing laws across all Australia jurisdictions, highlighting key issues and areas for improvement.
EDO’s analysis was used by WWF-Australia to inform its Trees Scorecard 2023. The WWF Trees Scorecard 2023 presents an overview of how state, territory and federal governments are performing in tree protection and restoration. It highlights where governments are standing tall and where more action needs to be taken. The scorecard shows New South Wales and Queensland sit at the bottom of the leaderboard, with South Australia placing first.
Opportunities for nature laws
While the findings of these latest reports may be dire, there is reason for hope. The international community is coming together to take action for nature, with strengthened international commitments in response to the biodiversity extinction crisis. For example:
- Kunming-Montreal Global biodiversity framework: The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was adopted during the 15th Biodiversity Conference of the Parties (COP 15) in December 2022.iv The GBF sets out 4 goals including that “the integrity, connectivity and resilience of all ecosystems are maintained, enhanced, or restored, substantially increasing the area of natural ecosystems by 2050” and “human induced extinction of known threatened species is halted”. It also sets out 23 targets including targets of conserving 30 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas, and of marine and coastal areas, by 2030.
- Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use: During the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow from 31 October – 12 November 2021 over 100 countries, including Australia, pledged to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030 through the Glasgow Declaration. The Declaration includes six key commitments, including to conserve forests and accelerate their restoration; and to reverse forest loss and degradation while ensuring robust policies and systems are in place to accelerate the transition to an economy that is resilient and advances forest, sustainable land use, biodiversity and climate goals.
- Leaders’ Pledge for Nature: In September 2022, Prime Minister Albanese, announced that Australia would sign on to the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.v Under the pledge, political leaders have committed to undertake urgent action, as part of the UN Decade of Action to achieve Sustainable Development, to put nature and biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030. vi
Australia has signed on to each of these agreements and there are key opportunities for governments to step up right now and lead a major re-set of nature laws. For example:
- The Federal Government continues to develop its once-in-a-generation reform of our national environmental laws;vii
- The NSW Minns Government has committed to “fix the biodiversity offset scheme, strengthen environmental protections and stop runaway land-clearing”viii and now has Dr Henry’s recommendations as a springboard for action.
- The South Australian Government is developing a new Biodiversity Act.ix
- The Western Australian is implementing its new Native vegetation policy for Western Australia which provides it an opportunity to update its laws in line with its commitment to achieving a net gain in native vegetation.x
EDO’s ongoing work
There is much work to be done to bring Australia’s Federal, state and territory nature laws in line with international ambition and the response needed in the face of the biodiversity extinction crisis. EDO’s team of legal experts will continue to examine current laws, develop recommendations and advocate for significant change in the way our legal system responds.
Stay up-to date on our work on EDO’s website.