‘Stop the rapid loss of nature’: Labor warned to clamp down on biodiversity offsets in environment law overhaul | Environment #Stop #rapid #loss #nature #Labor #warned #clamp #biodiversity #offsets #environment #law #overhaul #Environment

The Australian government should significantly constrain the use of biodiversity offsets under its environmental law reform agenda and stop them being used for critically endangered wildlife, according to a report by a partnership of 11 universities.

The Biodiversity Council also called on the Albanese government to define the term “nature positive” in law and set targets for what it will mean in practice, warning that without a clear mandate in legislation the term “will simply become another political slogan”.

The council’s report has been released as the government resumes consultation on Wednesday with experts and stakeholders about its plans to overhaul Australia’s environmental laws. It is part of the group being closely consulted on the detail of the laws.

The reforms are part of the government’s so-called “nature positive plan”, which includes a goal to protect 30% of Australia’s land and sea areas by 2030 and the establishment of a nature repair market after legislation passed parliament in the final sitting week for the year.

The report by the Melbourne University-based Biodiversity Council identifies 10 major changes it says are needed to “fix Australia’s broken environmental laws to stop the rapid loss of nature”.

They include overhauling Australia’s system of biodiversity offsetting to curtail the use of offsets, which are intended to compensate for habitat destruction caused by development elsewhere.

An investigation of offsetting by Guardian Australia triggered multiple inquiries in New South Wales in 2021 after identifying offsets that had been promised and not delivered, as well as so-called “double dipping” on offsets in areas that already had some form of protection and restoration activity.

The council said the government must limit the use of offsets to “impacts on nature that we can replace – otherwise, nature positive will remain forever out of reach”.

The report said this should include preventing the offsetting of critically endangered ecosystems and species, ensuring offsets for any habitat destruction benefit the same species or ecosystem and establishing a “list of matters that can be offset” so the onus is on government and developers to demonstrate that offsets actually work.

It recommended that offsets focused on restoring and creating new habitat and so-called “averted loss” offsets – which involve protecting existing habitat – be abolished.

“We know that the existing system has relied heavily on biodiversity offsets, and that this has failed to stem the destruction of nature in Australia,” said Martine Maron, a Biodiversity councillor and University of Queensland professor.

“We need to limit the use of offsets so they are genuinely used as a last resort and implemented based on the best available scientific knowledge, and we need the government to be prepared to say ‘no’ to those developments that would destroy some of our most special places and habitats.”

The report comes after environment groups warned the government against adopting a change that would allow developers to pay into a fund instead of identifying direct offsets for their developments.

The Biodiversity Council called on the government to set benchmarks and deadlines against which its progress in protecting and restoring the environment could be measured – similar to the way targets have been enshrined in the Climate Change Act.

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The report also urged the government to create a new role for a land and sea country commissioner to be a public advocate for the protection of First Nations culture and heritage. It proposed the establishment of a new listing category for protection of culturally significant species and ecosystems.

Dr Jack Pascoe, a Yuin man and co-chief councillor of the Biodiversity Council, said there were many species and places of cultural importance without significant protection.

“For example, species like humpback whales are not protected by the act because they are not considered at risk of extinction,” he said. “If we wait for things to reach imminent risk of extinction before we conserve them we will have very little left.”

The government is planning to introduce legislation to parliament next year.

It originally proposed releasing an exposure draft of new laws at the end of this year but that has been significantly delayed. Instead it is conducting selective consultation on draft legislation with environment and industry groups.

One major reform to the laws, an expansion of the water trigger, was passed last week after negotiations between the government and Greens.

The environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, said she welcomed ideas from “environment groups and business as we fix Australia’s broken environment laws”.

“This is a complex piece of legislation. I am determined to get it right.”

#Stop #rapid #loss #nature #Labor #warned #clamp #biodiversity #offsets #environment #law #overhaul #Environment

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