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Federal Government releases its Nature Positive Plan

Federal Government releases its Nature Positive Plan

The Federal Government has released its Nature Positive Plan: better for the environment, better for business (the Plan). The Plan outlines legislative changes in response to Professor Graeme Samuel’s review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) which was released in October 2020. 

The Plan is intended to deliver better environmental protections and laws that are nature positive, accelerate decisions and make it easier for companies to do the right thing and restore integrity and trust in environmental laws and systems. Nature positive means protecting land and leaving it in a better state than we found it. 

The Plan includes:

  • A new and independent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will be responsible for assessing and deciding on development proposals and approvals under the EPBC Act and other Federal laws;
  • Implementing National Environmental Standards for benchmarking environmental outcomes. This will first consider Matters of National Environmental Significance and then First Nations engagement and community engagement and consultation. The standards will also consider regional planning, environmental offsets and compliance and enforcement. Any new project will be required to comply with the National Environmental Standards;
  • Reforms to the National Conservation Planning Framework. This will implement a planning document for each listed threatened species and ecological community that will identify and prioritise threats, recovery actions and important habitats;
  • The introduction of standalone culture heritage protection laws;
  • Consideration of the management models used for National Parks with First Nations peoples;
  • Reforms to the environmental offsets framework to ensure net positive outcomes are achieved. This will include avoiding harm to the environment, reducing or mitigating environmental damage, identifying offsets within a region and making conservation payments to enable better environmental outcomes;
  • Encouraging investment in biodiversity restoration activities by introducing a Nature Repair Market or biodiversity credit scheme. This would operate in addition to the carbon market;
  • Improving regional planning by identifying areas for protection and requiring compliance along with the introduction of a traffic light system for development. Regional planning will play a big role in ensuring cumulative impacts and climate change are considered in projects;
  • Streamlining and simplifying environmental laws including making assessment pathways easier and quicker;
  • Improving access to data and information by creating a Data Division in the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water;
  • Aligning Federal responsibilities with international commitments. This may impact emissions projects, climate change planning and nuclear regulations;
  • Requiring projects to publish their expected scope 1 and 2 emissions, although scope 3 has not been mentioned;
  • Ensuring climate change is a mandatory consideration in regional plans, strategic assessments and species threat abatement plans; and
  • Expanding the “water trigger” to apply to all forms of unconventional gas. Currently it applies only to large coal mining and coal seam gas. This change is not in line with Samuel’s recommendations.

The actions contained in the Plan are quite a high level, so it will be important to review the draft legislation to understand the full impact for organisations looking to plan or develop projects. Draft legislation will be released in 2023 as an exposure draft for consultation and feedback, with the intention of introducing it into Parliament by the end of the year. 

The government also tabled its first annual Climate Change Statement in Parliament this month. At the same time the Minister for Climate Change and Energy announced proposed reforms including:

  • Introduction of fuel efficiency standards to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles. This will set average emissions targets for vehicles manufacturers and distributors;
  • Reforms to the Safeguard Mechanism including a redesign of the mechanisms and introducing a Safeguard Mechanism Credit trading scheme. The Bill for this was introduced in November 2022 and intends to level the playing field between organisations that have made voluntary net zero commitments and those that have not; and

The importance of listening to First Nations people, pre-empting the Voice to Parliament. 
These proposed reforms will have a significant impact on both organisations and how they operate and on our community.

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