First Day at World Parks Congress

IUCN World Parks Congress reports

Conservation Council ace reporter Ishbel Cullen, ANU student and volunteer with 350.org, is attending the IUCN World Parks Congress (WPC) in Sydney and providing reports for us. The WPC is a landmark global forum on protected areas held every ten years with over 5,000 people participating this year. It is the world’s most influential gathering of people involved in protected area governance, and sets a global agenda for the following decade. Ishbel is attending as a volunteer and as part of the Young People’s Media Coalition (YPMC) which aims to create and distribute media pieces that provide a youth perspective. Here is Ishbel’s first report and you can provide comments below.

First Day at World Parks Congress

The World Parks Congress, happening for the next week in Sydney, is a once-in-a-decade event. The last World Parks Congress was held in South Africa in 2004 and opened by the late Nelson Mandela.  Organized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the World Parks Congress is the flagship global forum on protected areas, which includes all terrestrial and marine areas legally designated for the conservation of nature. The Congress brings together park rangers, conservation experts, government officials and concerned citizens to foster a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the global protected area network.

The opening plenary, held on Thursday, was a balancing act between applauding achievements and acknowledging some grave realities. However, the emphasis for this session was definitely on the former, creating a positive and self-congratulatory atmosphere. The former Director General of the IUCN, Achim Steiner, outlined the growth in the protected area network over the past decade, which now includes an area equivalent to the size of Africa. There was a live video call to an exuberant marine biologist under water, showing us around the Great Barrier Reef. The Chinese vice minister for Forestry explained that 18% of Chinese territory is in protected areas and there ambitious plans for the future. We even heard the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop waxing lyrical about her heartfelt commitment to Australia’s natural heritage.

The sentiment from this Australian Government Minister would have made many in the audience feel uncomfortable, given the federal government’s many assaults on Australia’s environment were not mentioned. The government’s climate change policy was barely alluded to, which was particularly awkward given the focus on the Oceania, with a number of Pacific head of states giving talks about the impacts of sea-level rise.

The natural world is an eternal source of inspiration for so many of us and the protected area network is a huge achievement that the global conservation movement should celebrate. However, I hope to see the seriousness of the threats to biodiversity, especially the sleeping giant of climate change, openly confronted at the WPC in the coming days. Luckily climate change is on the agenda, unlike another notable gathering happening in Brisbane this weekend.

Nature Conservation Act amendments – 29 October 2014

Late news: Conservation Council was told on morning of proposed debate (30 October 2014) that consideration of the Nature Conservation Bill would be delayed to November sitting. While there seemed to be general agreement on the legislation there were matters to be sorted out between ACT Government directorates. The Conservation Council was pleased delay was envisaged to be only four weeks given the Review discussion paper was dated nearly four years earlier as November 2010.

After many years in development the Nature Conservation Bill 2014 will be considered by the ACT Legislative Assembly on Thursday 30 October 2014.

The Conservation Council welcomes the debate and has made participated in a range of processes with input from several member groups including Friends of Grasslands, Canberra Ornithologists Group, National Parks Association and the Environmental Defender’s Office.

The Conservation Council particularly welcomes the changes which give effect to an ecosystem or landscape approach to biodiversity. This means looking not just at individual species or ecological communities or managing areas of biodiversity within reserves, but rather the broader landscape and also focussing on addressing actual biodiversity outcomes.

The Conservation Council has also put forward some proposals which would further enhance the legislation. These include:

Biodiversity Offsets – assessment / approvals and governance

The Conservation Council has a number of issues on how the new arrangements introduced through the Planning and Development (Bilateral Agreement) Amendment Bill 2014 will deliver intended biodiversity outcomes. While the Conservation Council had previously proposed that biodiversity offset principles, governance arrangements and conditions be incorporated into the Nature Conservation Act (our recommendation 23) we now suggest that the issues are significant enough to warrant separate consideration either via amendments to the new Nature Conservation Act 2014 once passed or the Planning and Development Act 2007, rather than via consequential amendments to the Nature Conservation Bill 2014.

Ecosystem  approach  

The Conservation Council recommends to further enhance an ecosystem approach within the legislation the following additional changes be made:

  • Require that the Conservator must take into account findings of the biodiversity research and monitoring program, action plans and reserve management plans in exercising functions under the Act [section  21  (4)
  • Critical habitat – put in place mechanisms that critical habitat identified in action plans is factored into decision-­making

Dedicated  Conservator  position

The Conservation Council welcomes the strengthening of the role of the Conservator and requirement for the Conservator to have suitable qualifications and experience. It remains a high priority for the Conservation Council that the position of Conservator be a dedicated position. While it might be unusual for legislation to specify this the Conservation Council believes that if it is not in the legislation then the Government should make a formal commitment to create a dedicated position.  The PriceWaterHouseCoopers Report on the role of the Conservator (page 2) recommended Creation of Dedicated Position of Conservator.

Other matters

The Conservation Council also provided comments on several other matters including:

  • Transparency / Reporting / Consultation
  • Decision-­making
  • Conservation on private land – Rural Landholders

Our comments as provided to Government and all parties in the Legislative Assembly are attached.

If you want to watch the ACT Legislative Assembly (electronically) as it happens go here.

If you want to watch it later use the Daily on Demand service. You then have fast-forward and replay options.

20141027-Nature Conservation Bill 2014-comments (pdf)

Strategic Bushfire Management Plan and Plans of Management

The Conservation Council provided these comments to all parties in the Legislative Assembly for their consideration of the Emergencies Amendment Bill 2014.

 

Strategic Bushfire Management Plan and Plans of Management

Overview

We note existing provisions in Planning and Development Act 2007, Emergencies Services Act 2004 and Nature Conservation Act 1980 create the possibility of conflict in requirements between the Strategic Bushfire Management Plan and specific Plans of Management. We note our understanding that the current arrangements will be replicated in the forthcoming Nature Conservation Bill 2014.

We are mindful of the legal ramifications to Emergency Services Authority and Commissioner of the current situation. We are also aware of the dilemma that many of the Plans of Management are old and the requirements for regular review are weak. This could be remedied in the Nature Conservation Bill 2014 through more rigorous provisions regarding regular review of Plans of Management. We also support the need for effective and up-to-date Plans of Management to ensure good management of areas of ecological significance.

We do not support conflicts between the Strategic Bushfire Management Plan and Plans of Management. However we also do not support environmental objectives articulated in Plans of Management intended to ensure environmental outcomes should be compromised without due process. Our preference is mechanisms which avoid such conflicts while generally giving equal weighting to provisions of both – the Strategic Bushfire Management Plan and Plans of Management. We note the legal advice that technically it is not possible to give equal weighting to the SBMP and a Plan of Management.

However we do not support a blanket override of Plans of Management as per the current amendment [section 16].
We propose a desirable outcome could be achieved via the need for each of these documents to be cross-referenced at the initial development and at review stages, as well as at specific action points.

We note the Amendment Bill provides for consideration by the Commissioner of Plans of Management in preparing a draft Strategic Bushfire Management Plan. We welcome this as well as the formal requirement to consult with the Conservator and the need for a public report. [section 11]

This however does not address:

  • input and the need for consistency between the SBMP and development of new Plans of Management once the Strategic Bushfire Management Plan is in place; or
  • fire management actions that may arise / be proposed during the operational delivery of the SBMP which are inconsistent with a Plan of Management.

Another amendment could be a requirement for ESA to provide for remedial action to remedy damage in circumstances where they are required to undertake emergency control actions to the detriment of ecological values.

We propose two steps to address this:

  • the Conservator to provide advice on the consistency on a draft (new or review) plan of management with the SBMP. Issue to be addressed is mechanism if the Conservator agrees with a component of a Plan of Management on ecological grounds yet notes it will be inconsistent with the SBMP
  • except in emergency situations the Commissioner must consider the advice of the Conservator and relevant conservation organisations if a significant action is proposed to be undertaken which is inconsistent with a Plan of Management (Part 10.4 Planning and Development Act 2007). The advice and the Commisioner’s decision should also be made publicly available prior to the action being undertaken.

Background:

Emergencies Amendment Bill 2014

The Emergencies Amendment Bill before the Assembly proposes that if a strategic bushfire management plan is inconsistent with a plan of management, the plan of management has no effect to the extent of the inconsistency.

Current situation – Nature Conservation Act 1980 and Emergencies Act 2004

Section 77(3) of the Emergencies Act 2004 provides that “the strategic bushfire management plan has no effect to the extent to which it is inconsistent with any plan of management in force under the Planning and Development Act 2007, part 10.4 (Plans of management for public land) in relation to an area of unleased territory land or land occupied by the Territory”. This includes both reserve management plans and public lands.

Section 5(1) of the Nature Conservation Act 1980 provides that the “Act does not apply to the exercise or purported exercise by a relevant person of a function under the Emergencies Act 2004 for the purpose of protecting life or property, or controlling, extinguishing or preventing the spread of fire.”

In effect if a Plan of Management had specific requirements relating to bushfire management then the plan of management would take precedence over the Strategic Bushfire Management Plan. For example, Chapter 7.2.3 of the Namadgi Plan of Management outlines a range

This does not create an impediment to bushfire mitigation activities yet ensures that they are performed in an environmentally sensitive manner. Section 5(1) provides for legal protection in emergency situations.

Proposed Situation – Nature Conservation Bill 2014

The Nature Conservation Bill 2014, currently before the Assembly, provides the Act will not apply to relevant persons protecting life or property or controlling, extinguishing or preventing the spread of fire [section 7]. We have felt this provision allows for appropriate action in emergency situations.

A Consequential Amendment to the Emergencies Act maintains this arrangement [Schedule 2, part 2.3]

Cat Containment- Cat-alyst for media attention

Canberra has been abuzz with talk of cat containment this week with the possibility of Canberra becoming the first Australian city to ban cats from roaming free if options from a report on Responsible pet ownership and the protection of wildlife: Options for improving the management of cats in the ACT are explored. This media coverage has been fantastic for the Conservation Council’s community education program on the impacts of cats on Canberra’s wildlife. The more Canberrans talk about cats and their experiences of roaming cats hunting, fighting and getting injured, the more people will realise that it is better for our wildlife and our feline friends, to keep our cats inside or in our backyards day and night.

It all started Friday (10/10/14) with a Canberra Times article by John Thistleton. The article ‘Time is up for Canberra fat, unrestrained cats’  talks about cat management options in Canberra and highlights the need for further community education – cue the Conservation Council and our awareness building campaign.

This was followed up with a story about our friend Lyn Goldsworthy from the Frank Fenner Foundation and how she keeps her cats from roaming and hunting-  ‘Lyn Goldsworthy is a conservationist who loves cats but makes sure birds are out of reach’.  Lyn’s story is great as she demonstrates how affordable and easy keeping cats from roaming can be – as simple as supervising our cats on a leash in the backyard. There is no denying that Lyn’s cat Teagha is a content contained cat.

It quickly became apparent that this story has legs! Soon, we were talking to Marcus Paul from 2CC Canberra (who by the way contains his cat) and hearing cat containment discussions on ABC 666 and Radio National.

ABC News Canberra picked up the story Monday night ‘Canberra cat containment could be extended city-wide’ and followed through with the story on Lateline and ABC morning news – ‘Canberra cats may have to stay indoors’.

The reaction we have seen from all this media coverage has been overwhelmingly positive – which doesn’t surprise us given that a telephone survey from 2011 found that 65 percent of ACT residents support cat containment in new suburbs and 91 percent of residents think there are benefits to the community if cats are contained with the key benefit being reduced risk to wildlife.

If you want to keeping following our community education program on cat containment, follow us on Facebook for weekly ‘Fursday’ posts!

 

World Environment Day Dinner 2014

Want all the details about our 2016 World Environment Day Dinner? Click here to read on…

On Saturday 31 May 2014 the Conservation Council ACT Region once again hosted its annual World Environment Day Dinner. The spectacular setting this year was the National Arboretum where about 250 guests enjoyed the magnificent setting and views over Canberra.

As our major fundraising activity the annual dinner has become a regular event on the Canberra calendar and this year was again voted a great success.  The dinner started with champagne and canapés, and continued with a delicious three course meal of seasonal and local produce prepared by regional food hero Janet Jeffs and her team from Ginger Catering. Professor David Lindenmayer, a passionate advocate for landscape ecology and conservation science for over 30 years, gave an inspirational address. Our fundraising auction included a range of donated gifts including a gorgeous quilt made by our Board Secretary Christine Goonrey.

Many guests thought the venue was the best yet and most enjoyed the food and music provided by Shortis and Simpson. The evening raised over $20,000 for our work in the ACT and region, making it the largest in both number of participants and amount raised for a single Conservation Council fundraising event.

As always, we relied on the generous support of our staff and volunteers in organising the event as well as working at front of house and behind the scenes in the kitchen. We’ve now completed an evaluation so that we can make next year’s event even better! Some suggestions are to have more time for mingling and conversation (it’s a wonderful opportunity for people working to protect the environment and promote sustainable development to come together to celebrate our achievements – and just catch up). Better table seating arrangements, a larger screen for presentations and some changes to the auction are other suggestions we’ll take on board for planning the dinner next year. Save the date now – Saturday 30 May 2015. We look forward to seeing you there.

Divesting for a safe climate

Last year when the Environment Collective at the Australian National University (ANU) and Fossil Free ACT (350.org Canberra) put in applications to become member groups of the Conservation Council ACT Region the decision was pretty easy. Yes. Though it did raise a question – so their key campaign focus is on getting ANU and the ACT Government to divest from ‘investments’ that support coal, oil and gas projects. So what about us as the Conservation Council holding our investments, our funds, in one of the large banks funding fossil fuel projects?

So we did some analysis on sustainability grounds and also practical considerations. The answer again was pretty simple. Yes. We could make the switch to another bank, it would be good for the environment and make no real difference in our banking arrangements.

So in December last year the Conservation Council decided to switch from a big bank funding fossil fuel projects to a bank which did not. We were actually surprised at the number of alternatives we had.

It was simple to switch to an ethical bank and we learnt along the way that switching your bank doesn’t have to be a fuss. So no excuses, just do it!

That is why the Conservation Council ACT Region is strongly supportive of the National Day of Divestment. We need all individuals, institutions, business and government to take action to address climate change.

The Conservation Council is a passionate advocate for climate change action. We believe that reductions in order of 25-40% in greenhouse gas emissions in the medium term are required globally if we are to stay within a global temperature increase of less than 2 degrees and hence limit the more dangerous impacts of climate change. A key part of that is keeping some 80% of fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

Here in the ACT, we have Australia’s most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction and renewable energy targets. We have a 40% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 on 1990 levels. We have a 90% renewable energy target by 2020. This is a cause to celebrate. However, our job as an advocacy organisation which has worked hard for these targets, is to make sure they are delivered. Achieving these targets is necessary however undermined if the ACT Government invests in fossil fuels in other places. We support 350.org Canberra’s Fossil Free ACT campaign and call on the ACT Government to divest from coal, oil and gas in order to fully address its commitment to tackling climate change at the local level.

We encourage other non-government organisations out there, big and small, to make a stand for a safe climate and divest. Institutions that choose to divest from corporations engaged in the extraction of coal, gas and oil are choosing not to profit from climate change. Let’s make our money work for a renewable energy future.

To keep in the know about the ACT region’s climate change actions and issues sign up to our monthly newsletter and please donate to support our work. Plus if you want to know more about an organisation making a switch away from fossil fuel investing banks to fossil fuel free investments please contact us at [email protected]