‘Trifecta’ Needed to Save Great Barrier Reef
6 April 2016 at 9:06 pm
The Queensland Government gave the go ahead for the Adani coalmine as scientists warned that Australia is unlikely to meet water quality targets for the Great Barrier Reef. But a CSR expert believes a joint approach could balance the seemingly conflicting objectives.
The Palaszczuk government approved three mining leases to Carmichael coalmine in the Galilee basin, which is set to create thousands of jobs in the state and generate $21.7 billion.
Despite the conditions that the government has said are in place to protect the reef, conservation groups have warned that the project will increase the risks to the world heritage-listed site, including climate change and pollution.
Jill Riseley, founder and managing director of Meliora Group, a strategic advisory firm specialising in corporate sustainability, said long-term strategy and collaboration is needed to ensure job creation while protecting the environment
“It’s sort of a battle of wills going on, whereas, at the end of the day, everyone would want a sustainable reef, so it seems that there hasn’t been a systemic approach to investment,” Riseley said.
“I think there definitely is a way of balancing it, but I think it’s also a challenge of balancing long-term and short-term outcomes
“If you look at Queensland as a state, their main industries would be mining, tourism and agriculture.
“And when you look at the number of small businesses that are the lifeblood of the economy, that are absolutely linked to tourism, and absolutely linked to the Great Barrier Reef, there’s a real need at the moment to look at the systems in quite a holistic way.”
She said that the Queensland Government’s outlook was too short-sighted.
“Obviously the government’s decision was very much linked to the employment opportunities,” she said.
“But when you look at what the threats to the reef are – climate change is number one, pollution, unsustainable fishing, industrialisation – there doesn’t seem to be an appropriate balance of the short-term benefits versus long-term sustainable outcomes.
“If the reef disappears then there’s a huge loss economically, let alone the travesty environmentally.”
However, Riseley also said that government regulation was not enough to protect the reef.
She said that any group that impacts the reef, in either a positive or negative sense, needed to be involved in the process.
“Government needs to be involved, but I don’t think you can’t regulate your way through everything, and I don’t think the government has the resources to regulate everything,” she said.
“Obviously they have checks and balances in place and environmental approval is one of them, but… there really needs to be a trifecta collaboration going on.
“There’s huge numbers of people whose livelihoods depend on a thriving and prosperous reef, there’s government at a state and local and federal level, and then the huge number of conservation groups that do amazing job at protecting the reef.
“There needs to be a lot more collaboration and looking at, in the next 10 years, how we are going to ensure that the reef is protected and sustainable.
“Without a collaborative approach, all you’ll get is regulation, and regulation is a really blunt tool and often doesn’t work effectively.”
The approval for the country’s largest coalmine came as scientists said that the water quality targets set in the Reef 2050 plan, submitted to Unesco last year, were unlikely to be met.
Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science said that agricultural run-offs were entering the reef’s waters, and that voluntary adoption of best practices was insufficient.
Riseley said that the industry needed greater resources in order to implement sustainable processes.
“To improve any sort of process from an agriculture perspective there are costs involved in doing that, and possibly the resources haven’t been put there to ensure people are able to improve their practices so the water quality is the quality that it should be,” she said.
“How you do that is, again, working out what’s the best path forward, and ensuring that all parties are genuinely committed to deciding up to that.”
In regards to the coalmine, Riseley said that Adani, and potential future projects, would face challenges in securing capital because of the growing sustainable investment consciousness.
“They’re looking at coal, and coal isn’t nearly as attractive as it used to be as a project to invest in,” she said.
“And then it’s in a high-risk area if something goes wrong – the reputational damage of impacting the reef.
“The coalmine in question is only 50 kilometers south from the Whitsundays and 19 kilometres from the nearest reef, and that’s a high-risk project for an investor.
“No one wants to be held responsible for damaging the reef, so it would be one of those projects that would be looked at with a fine-tooth comb from investors.”
She predicted that, regardless of government response, environmentally questionable projects would struggle to get off the ground in the future.
“I think what we’ll start to see in the future is that these projects aren’t viable simply because people aren’t prepared to put up the capital and be involved in these projects anymore, and as a result the projects won’t proceed,” she said.
“Not because there isn’t government approval, not because you can’t get the workforce, but actually because the investment environment and the investment criteria is at the moment rapidly changing.
“I know from an ESG [environmental, social and governance investment] perspective people would be treading very carefully before touching that project.”