Why 'transformative change' is needed on environmental stewardship policy

Global Assessment report and the need for 'transformative change'

Oscar Pearse

Oscar Pearse


The Gauge | Oscar Pearse says an environmental stewardship report card released this week highlights the need for dramatic policy change.


Like a nerdy kid in a black t-shirt, awaiting the midnight screening of the latest Avengers blockbuster, at 10pm last night I hit the refresh button again.

I was waiting for the latest 1800 page Global Assessment report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform Services (IPBES). This unparalleled document is like the whole of life-science's first ever report card on humanity's stewardship of the planet.

To say it is depressing is an understatement. A million species threatened by extinction, 23 per cent of the planet's soils degraded, global biomass of wild animals declining by 83pc, and live coral areas halving in the past 150 years.

In Australia, we sadly lead the way. The federal Government's own reports note that in the past 200 years half of all mammalian extinctions have happened on our continent, and our abundance of threatened bird species has halved in only 30 years. Of the 30pc of the continent covered in forest pre-colonization, about half remains.

In the past few generations our species' demand for food and energy has and is now driving the most rapid declines in biodiversity seen since the dinosaurs went bust. We have truly made a new geological age, the Anthropocene, a period in which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

So it is little wonder that as the 2019 federal election reaches its midpoint, that environmental issues have come to the fore of policy debates. And as agriculture manages 61pc of the area of the nation, there is no surprise that we are a key element of this political battle.

RELATED READING:Rabobank's plan to feed 10 billion people by 2050

On the one hand we have the bombastic Barnarby, who 18 months ago lauded his own efforts to get an 'ag review' of the EPBC. Since September last year, insiders from the Canberra bubble tell me that the Craik reviews findings were positive for agriculture, with major funding commitments over a billion dollars and ag input into threatened species/ecosystem listing to make them more practical for farmers. However, Joyce and the Nats were unable to convince Environment Minister Price to approve and release the report before the election, so we may never know.

On the other hand, we have the anti-farming ideologues of the LEAN (Labor environmental activist network) firmly on the tiller of the ALP, with Joel Fitzgibbon keen for the failed Queensland government vegetation legislation to now be adopted nationally. Meanwhile, Tony Burke has announced $50 million to form new legislative bodies and arrangements to replace the EPBC, but in a $100 million announcement on programs did not mention farmers or agriculture once.

Both major parties are simply tweaking how hard the legislative stick will be wielded against the agriculture sector. We are between a rock and a hard place.

Both major parties are simply tweaking how hard the legislative stick will be wielded against the agriculture sector.

Before the election madness began a sole voice of reason began to push for solutions. In its report last night IPBES called for "transformative change", through which nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably. A single lobby group in Australia is driving that towards that.

That organisation wasn't a traditional greenie group. It was the National Farmers' Federation.

In its 2030 Roadmap, the NFF gave strategic policy routes to create better environmental outcomes on farm lands. A KPI of this strategy is for the net benefit for ecosystem services equalling to 5pc of farm revenue. This huge goal ($5 billion to farmers per annum) would come about through implementation of a cross-sectoral Agricultural Sustainability Framework (and industry groups from beef to grains are already well on track), establishing a government-backed Environmental Stewardship Fund and the introduction of a "Green Loan" to fund sustainable farming practices. The transformative change needed.

Bruce Pascoe's book Dark Emu shows that the pre-colonisation landscape and biomes were heavily anthropogenic. That Australian ecosystem health relies in large part on active management by humans to be maintained. And now only farmers can fill that void on agricultural lands. The urban voters of Australia have to engage with this vision, and to know they can't simply click their fingers and laws will magically make biodiversity improve.

It is only through NFF's policy options, through collaborative commercialised options for farmers to address both the negative and positive externalities of agricultural production, that biodiversity loss in this country can be turned around. Through community and consumer cost sharing in which farmers are no longer carrying the rest of the country's responsibility for environmental management. But ecosystem recovery can never come through the poorly formed legislation that some left leaning groups seems hellbent on pursuing.

On Wednesday this week, Minister Littleproud and prospective Minister Fitzgibbon will hold the agricultural policy debate at the National Press Club. Let's hope they both commit to NFF's vision for a National Agriculture Strategy - developed in close consultation with industry and endorsed by COAG - and make sure the requisite funds for agriculture to do our work for the environment are made available.

Regardless of who wins the federal election, let's hope for our own sakes, and that of future generations, that change happens. Otherwise farmers and perhaps our species itself will, like a costumed bunch of Marvel characters, be in its own Endgame.

- Oscar Pearse is a 6th generation farmer at Moree in NSW, a member of the NSW Farmers Association's Native Vegetation taskforce, and can be contacted via Twitter at @Oscarthefarmer


From the front page

Sponsored by