I have been thinking a lot lately about poor governance and bad choices when it comes to biodiversity conservation policy. Perhaps its all that latent anger arising from blinkered, backward policies recently implemented by conservative state and national governments in Australia and elsewhere that leads me to contemplate: What would I do if I had the power to change policy?
While I am certain I have neither the experience or complete knowledge to balance national budgets, ensure prosperity and maintain the health of an entire country, I do have some ideas about what we’re doing wrong conservation-wise, and how we could potentially fix things. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list – it is more a discussion point where people can suggest their own ideas.
So here are 16 things I’d change or implement (mainly in Australia) if I were king for a day:
- Given that habitat loss is the most important driver of extinctions globally, I would immediately draft national anti-clearing laws for remnant/primary vegetation. In Australia anyway, anti-clearing laws are state-governed, and there is now a trend in some states to roll back or ‘relax’ these laws such that land-holders can now clear native forests. If there was national oversight of these laws, it would be much more difficult to change policy at the state level.
- I would give the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 a complete over-haul, implementing anti-clearing clauses for threatened species.
- I would implement a strong and binding carbon price that had no exceptions. Targets for reductions would be at least 30-50 % on 2000 emissions levels.
- I would implement a 30% native forest cover target (pre-European extent) for environmental planting restoration paid for from the carbon pricing scheme.
- I would legislate that all privately owned native forests would have an intrinsic carbon value and would be therefore eligible for payment from carbon pricing if maintained in perpetuity (following an insurance-based approach). The requirement for additionality would be waived in this case.
- I would create a Department for Climate Change, a Department of Science and a Department of Sustainability and appoint relevant Ministers.
- I would lift the ban on nuclear energy for electricity generation.
- I would implement a national water neutrality scheme.
- I would make national and state Environmental Protection Authorities require industry to demonstrate that a development would cause no biodiversity loss before proceeding (i.e., they would have to prove that there wouldn’t be a negative effect). This ‘guilty-until-proven-innocent‘ policy would replace the current ‘innocent-until-proven-guilty’ one.
- I would ban all industrial and consumptive activities from the protected area network (e.g., livestock grazing, timber harvest, fishing, hunting).
- I would make all ‘national parks’ actually ‘national‘.
- I would require each relevant government department to have a scientific advisory council that would have to be in the majority for new policies to be implemented. The committee could not include industry representatives.
- I would ban all political donations, no matter the amount.
- ‘Ecology’ would become a required subject in high school (in addition to a normal science unit) up until the final year.
- I would restore natural flows to all existing wetlands where in conflict with irrigation.
- I would remove the dingo and all other barrier fences.
There are many more things one could do, of course. I’m therefore interested in your ideas or arguments for or against what I’ve proposed.