Beating around the bush: How Australia’s national environment law is failing climate and nature

27.09.23 By , , and

Right now, Australia’s environment is under grave threat from climate change; facing some of the greatest risks in human history. Accelerating climate change is also turbocharging other threats like habitat destruction and proliferation of invasive species. Collectively, this is pushing many natural places around the country to the brink of ecological collapse.

Australia’s main national environment law – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 – is supposed to protect the animals, plants, landscapes and ecosystems that are our shared natural endowment. It is failing in this essential task, in no small part because the law does not explicitly address climate change. Like a house caught up in a wild storm without a roof, our key environmental law does not provide any direct protection from the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving dangerous climate change.

The law is also failing to protect the environment in other ways: forests are being cleared, habitats lost, invasive species are running rampant. A wide range of animals and plants are being pushed to the brink of extinction because of a piecemeal approach to project approvals and a lack of enforcement or accountability for good environmental management.

It’s time to fix this. Australia needs a strong national environment law which properly deals with climate change and genuinely protects nature, to help prevent runaway global warming and shield our precious biodiversity from its impacts.

Beating around the bush: How Australia’s environment law is failing climate and nature collates the scientific evidence that explains how climate change harms nature, and the impacts already being experienced by species and landscapes that our environment law was designed to protect – like one-of-a- kind plants and animals, and iconic places like the Great Barrier Reef (see, for example, Climate Council 2019).

Informed by climate science and expert policy insights, this report also outlines the priority improvements our Federal Parliament should urgently make to Australia’s national environment law in order to fix its fundamental flaw on climate change.

During this make-or-break decade for action, we have an opportunity to fix our national environment law and help prevent the worst impacts of harmful climate change. If we get it right, this can be a reform that delivers a lasting legacy for us all.

We protect the things we hold dear, and right now Australia’s environment needs legal protection from climate damage.

Download the summary for policy makers here

Key Findings:

1. From koalas to the great river red gum, Australia is home to some of the most remarkable plants, animals and ecosystems on our planet. Sadly, widespread climate damage is already evident.

2. Escalating climate change is harming our environment in many ways; and poses an unprecedented threat to the Australian plants, animals and places that our national environment law was set up to protect.

3. Our national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, is failing. It has a massive fundamental flaw when it comes to climate change, which is leading to perverse outcomes.

4. As the most significant threat to our environment, climate change needs to be embedded throughout an updated law that specifically shields our precious biodiversity and nature from its impacts.

Download the summary for policy makers here