Australia’s biodiversity is at risk with the federal government approving the majority of large projects before biodiversity offsets are in place, according to new research by Annika Reynolds, Visiting Fellow at The Australian National University (ANU).
Reynolds warns the process is allowing applicants to finalise biodiversity packages that compensate for any potential environmental impacts on threatened species and ecological communities after their project is approved, and potentially commenced.
They said the ‘back to front’ process seriously undermines efforts to sustain and protect irreplaceable Australian ecosystems.
“The reliance of the federal government on post-approval biodiversity offsets is alarming,” Reynolds said.
“Decision-makers are approving projects without being certain that the environmental impacts of that project will ever be compensated, risking biodiversity decline among Australia’s threatened species and ecological communities.
“It undermines the capacity of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth), or EPBC Act, to deliver ecologically sustainable development outcomes.”
The research shows that in 2021, offsets were not finalised in 54 per cent of approvals under the EPBC Act. Far from being a one-off, the study finds that there has been a reliance on post-approval offsetting arrangements across all years assessed, going back to 2011.
While environmental impact assessments are critical to preserving biodiversity, the research finds that “administrative practice, driven by governments seeking to streamline development approvals, is undermining the integrity of the environmental impact assessment process.”
“The 2020 independent review of the EPBC Act indicated that post-approval arrangements for offset management was an issue and this study confirms the widespread reliance upon such condition-setting, despite warnings by the ANAO that proponents are increasingly unable to satisfy the conditions of their approval because of biodiversity offset unavailability,” Reynolds said.
“This is an issue that needs urgent attention from the federal government and policymakers, particularly in light of the government’s commitment to preventing further extinctions of Australia’s iconic flora and fauna.
“With the looming spectre of global urbanisation and climate change, a robust environmental impact assessment process is critical to ensure these challenges are addressed.”
The research is published by the Environmental Impact Assessment Review.
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