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Creating an environmentally regenerative renewables industry

Think of your favourite place in nature in Australia. Is it the Great Barrier Reef? Or the Outback? Maybe our tropical rainforests? Whatever your answer is, it’s an example of the scale of biodiversity found in Australia. 

In fact, Australia is a megadiverse country: part of a group of ten countries that cover just 10% of the Earth’s surface but account for 70% of its biodiversity. Our megadiverse continent and surrounding seas support 600,000–700,000 native species, and a very high proportion of these are found nowhere else in the world. 

In addition to its stunning beauty, cultural connection and meaning, biodiversity – the variability among living organisms, within species, between species and of ecosystems – is essential to the natural environment, and to human survival, wellbeing and economic prosperity (Convention on Biological Diversity Article 2).

Biodiversity is declining rapidly in Australia. The recently released 2021 State of the Environment report states that more than 1,900 Australian species and ecological communities are known to be threatened or at risk of extinction. Australia holds the record for the highest rate of species extinction among OECD countries. What is driving this alarming trend? There are a number of factors such as land clearing, pollution and invasive species that are putting our ecosystems under severe pressure.

Exacerbating the impacts of each of these pressures is climate change. Climate change impacts ecosystems by causing shifts in temperature and weather regimes, and increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Biodiversity losses reinforce climate change, creating a vicious cycle. In order to stop the rapid, large-scale extinction of species we are witnessing in Australia, it is crucial that we address climate change. 

According to the peak body for climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) and its counterpart for biodiversity, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services:

Unprecedented changes in climate and biodiversity, driven by human activities, have combined and increasingly threaten nature, human lives, livelihoods and well-being around the world. Biodiversity loss and climate change are both driven by human economic activities and mutually reinforce each other. Neither will be successfully resolved unless both are tackled together.

The good news is the renewed commitment to decarbonise the economy. Leading the way is the transition away from fossil fuels as an energy source. Accelerated adoption of new renewable energy is seeing the energy sector shift away from harmful, climate change-fuelling greenhouse gases, and delivering the biggest emissions cuts of any sector of the economy. Renewable energy is also bringing co-benefits to regional communities with jobs and the potential to diversify farming businesses. 

How can renewable energy development deliver its full potential of environmental co-benefits? This is the question that RE-Alliance, along with leading climate and environmental organisations, asked ourselves last year, with a specific focus on Queensland. The vision for an environmentally regenerative renewables industry was born from this allyship and dialogue. This vision is for the creation of a renewable energy industry that “increases biodiversity in Queensland, and empowers First Nations people and regional communities while providing affordable, reliable renewable energy.” 

Following the creation of this vision, there have been a number of workshops with climate and environmental organisations, government and industry to embed a strong framework of environmental principles in the renewables development process – from site selection to avoid areas of key sensitivity, to supporting rehabilitation of species and habitats. The scope of this ongoing dialogue and engagement spans the entire spectrum from policy to practice. Together, we must ensure our rapid transition to renewable energy is a socially and environmentally just one.

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