King for a day – what conservation policies would you make?

29 11 2013

CrownI 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:

  1. 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.
  2. I would give the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 a complete over-haul, implementing anti-clearing clauses for threatened species.
  3. 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.
  4. I would implement a 30% native forest cover target (pre-European extent) for environmental planting restoration paid for from the carbon pricing scheme.
  5. 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.
  6. I would create a Department for Climate Change, a Department of Science and a Department of Sustainability and appoint relevant Ministers.
  7. I would lift the ban on nuclear energy for electricity generation.
  8. I would implement a national water neutrality scheme.
  9. 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.
  10. I would ban all industrial and consumptive activities from the protected area network (e.g., livestock grazing, timber harvest, fishing, hunting).
  11. I would make all ‘national parks’ actually ‘national‘.
  12. 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.
  13. I would ban all political donations, no matter the amount.
  14. ‘Ecology’ would become a required subject in high school (in addition to a normal science unit) up until the final year.
  15. I would restore natural flows to all existing wetlands where in conflict with irrigation.
  16. 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.

CJA Bradshaw



8 responses

6 01 2014

Some good ideas in here, which could be implemented in a fairly straightforward fashion. Some others… Well I assume as King you would have complete rule and no pesky governments or constitution to deal with!


4 12 2013
Tom Barrett

Some good ideas. I would also add to this list a scheme that rewards farmers who manage their land sustainably and can demonstrate that their management practices protect or enhance all ecosystem benefits including biodiversity, water and soil conservation.


3 12 2013

I agree with Tom but would make this broader, strengthening significantly Australia’s approach to biosecurity issues.
I would also put some of the funds from a carbon tax into investing in renewable energy R&D, and into commercialising it, which would all be part of a renewable energy plan to diversify and increase the use of renewables quickly.
Implement a program to subsidise rainwater tank installation in every household. And it would need to be a big subsidy not the poxy state-based one we get offered in South Australia, so it becomes affordable for most Australians.
Give state EPAs some legal power so they are no longer ‘toothless tigers’.


30 11 2013
Robert Lawrence

Your 16 points are all good.

In the Australian context it is also vital to shut down the coal industry and stop exporting coal to other countries.

This would need to be complemented with a change to relying on a combination of nuclear energy and renewable energy, both within Australia and supported internationally.

There would need to be a nation wide community consultation to restructure the economy. Australia should aim to lead the world in the nuclear power.

This seems like an unlikely dream, but so is giving the world a decent future. We need to have vision for what the would could be.


30 11 2013
Robert Lawrence

I like this list, but I would add that I would implement a strategy for the rapid phasing out of coal mining. No new mines would be approved. Coal mining companies would need to provide a management plan for the closing down of their operations in order to get permission to continue mining beyond a year. All existing coal mines should be closed within 10 years (ie before 2024), complementing the building of a nuclear power industry replace the energy supply.


30 11 2013
Alejandro Frid

To all these good ideas, I would add the following (which admittedly may be more relevant to Canada, where I live, than to Australia, where I lack experience.)

1) Ban new infrastructure for fossil fuel extraction and transport, combined with the orderly phase out of existing infrastructure so that we can transition to renewable energy. Combined this with subsidized re-training programs for former fossil fuel workers, who clearly have the right to make a decent living but will have to shift industries.

2) Subsidize/promote orderly development of large-scale alternative energy projects, including wind, tidal, and wave energies, and biofuels produced from waste products.

3) Reduce consumption of metallurgical coal by: a) revising building codes to require commercial buildings last 100-200 years (rather than 50 years, as currently done), b) revising manufacturing regulations so that we stop over-building cars and other products that use way more steel than they need to perform, c) subsidizing car and bicycle co-ops, d) funding libraries so that, along with books, they also loan tools.

4) Invest heavily in eradicating the root causes of poverty, which ultimately contribute to environmental degradation.

5) Empower Indigenous People, who in Canada are innovative leaders in conservation approaches that integrate science and traditional knowledge. (see, for instance, the organization I work for (

I have a billion more suggestions, but I better leave room for others, plus I better stop goofing off and get back to my day job…


29 11 2013
Claire Wordley

When working in Australia I noted the small dams built for widescale sheep and cattle farming attracted lots of kangaroos and emus, which were sometimes shot as competitors to the domestic animals in the horribly over-grazed ranches and left to rot. I suggest a drive to encourage Australians to eat kangaroo and emu rather than cattle and lamb – the landscape in some areas could be restored to a fairly natural state with dams to encourage wild animal breeding, then a few trained marksmen could shoot the roos and emus for sale in butchers and supermarkets. This system would probably have more resilience to drought years as well.


29 11 2013
Tom Keen

Banning domestic cats would probably help our birds, small mammals, and reptiles. Or at least, enforcing that they are kept inside or in an enclosure at all times.


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