By Anja Fuechtbauer
While the nation holds its breath and follows national and global developments of the coronavirus, in Australia the deadline to submit comments on the discussion paper for the review on the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) is approaching fast (17 April 2020). And with an Environment Condition Score (ECS) for 2019 of just 0.8 out of 10 (the 0.8 is not a typo) released on March 30, we’re now more than ever in need of solid and ambitious environmental policies. Our ecosystems are collapsing due to climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction, the very things that the EPBC Act are meant to stop.
Why is the EPBC Act important?
The EPBC Act is a cornerstone legislation of Australian environmental law and policy. The topics covered under the EPBC Act are far-reaching and are meant to address topics of national environmental significance as well as the provision of a coordinated approach to managing the environment and meeting international commitments. Issues of land use, invasive pest management, and climate change adaptation and prevention are, amongst others, part of the EPBC Act. The Act is meant to ensure that the principles of ecologically sustainable development are taken into account in the policy and decision-making process of other policy areas, for example, energy or agriculture.
Is the EPBC Act still sufficient to safeguard Australia’s natural heritage and ecosystems?
This is debatable. It’s also exactly why providing feedback to the review panel is important. A study called ‘Lots of Loss with Little Scrutiny’, published by Ward et al in June 2019, found that since the introduction of the EPBC Act 20 years ago “7.7 million hectares of potential habitat and communities were cleared in the period 2000-2017” of which 93% were not referred to the Federal Government for Assessment. The study further states that the Act is ineffective at protecting habitat, and also recommends requires strict enforcement and monitoring to stop an increasing extinction rate. The Australian Environment report indicates the number of threatened species has increased 36% since 2000, and just now we are also recording the third mass bleaching event of the Great Barrier Reef. And with the recent unprecedented bushfires, we lost over 1 billion vertebrates and more than 30% of the habitat of 191 species. The pressure on the environment—and the legislators—is on.
National average values for 15 environmental indicators: numbers represent the relative change from 2000-2018 average conditions (Source: Australia’s Environment in 2019 via https://www.wenfo.org/aer/).
How does the review work?
Every ten years, the EPBC Act has to be reviewed by an independent panel of experts who assess if the EPBC Act has reached its stated goals. It also makes recommendations to the government for the years to come. The review panel is taking comments and feedback onboard until next Friday (17th April 2020). Once submissions are closed, the panel will review and evaluate the feedback and include it in their report to the government in October which will be tabled in parliament and publicly released.
Why is it important to provide feedback and to voice your opinion?
The review process relies on feedback from interest groups, Indigenous Australians, academics, and the general public. If you’re concerned about the state of affairs of our environment, then voice these concerns and notify our representatives. As backcountry adventurers, we often see first-hand what the impacts on our environment are. Reporting these findings and concerns back to the policymakers and lawmakers will help protect what we so cherish and love.
You can read the discussion paper and make a submission to the review here: https://epbcactreview.environment.gov.au/resources/discussion-paper The discussion paper page offers a talk through of relevant topics and guiding questions that can be answered as part of the feedback process. If you’re unsure what to include in your submission, The Wilderness Society offers a guide on ‘what to include in your submission’ with suggestions and recommendations via https://www.wilderness.org.au/make-your-voice-heard?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=organic-social&utm_campaign=epbc&utm_content=do
And remember, submissions close 17th April 2020. This is a once-in-a-decade opportunity. Have your say and encourage others to do the same.