Roughly half Australia’s GDP (49% or $896 billion) has a moderate to very high direct dependence on nature, according to new research that links every Australian industry sector to the ecosystem services they depend on to thrive.

Indirectly every single dollar that flows through the Australian economy depends on the health and survival of natural systems, which are under great threat and in poor condition.  

Those are key findings of new research by the Australian Conservation Foundation, which is supported by climate change investment and advisory firm Pollination and ethical investment manager Australian Ethical and incorporates modelling by IDEEA Group 

The nature-based economy: How Australia’s prosperity depends on nature finds: 

  • Sectors with a very high direct dependence on nature – like agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food manufacturing, construction and water services – generate $293bn per year, or around 16% of Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP). 
  • Sectors with a moderate to high direct dependence on nature – such as mining, real estate, transport and logistics, accommodation and hospitality – contribute $602bn to Australia’s economy, or approximately 33% of GDP. 
  • Sectors that have a high or very high direct dependence on nature are responsible for more than three quarters of Australia’s export earnings, with resources accounting for 69% of Australia’s export share and agriculture another 11%.
  • Western Australia is the state at greatest risk from nature destruction with 67% of its gross economic value having a moderate to very high direct dependence on nature, followed by the Northern Territory and Queensland. “Every Australian business depends on nature, whether they make things out of steel, build houses, grow food, or trade stocks,” said ACF Chief Executive Kelly O’Shanassy.

“For some industries the dependency is direct and obvious, but indirectly, there is not a dollar exchanged in the economy that does not depend on nature. Every worker and consumer needs clean air and water, food, their health and a safe climate.

“And nature is in trouble, which spells bad news for the economy if we don’t reverse nature destruction and the extinction crisis.

“Businesses and governments must account for nature, the destruction of which affects lives and livelihoods – and the performance of businesses and the whole economy.

“Businesses should begin to assess, disclose and reduce their exposure to nature-related risks and shift away from activities that destroy nature toward practices that restore it. 

“Governments need to introduce strong laws that protect nature, set targets and embed nature in decision-making and invest in restoring Australia’s ecosystems,” she said. 

Laura Waterford, Director at Pollination, said:

“Australia’s economic future is fundamentally linked to the health of our ecosystems and biodiversity. We urgently need to invest in nature at scale, and change our business practices to protect and regenerate. Nature is our greatest asset – we must value it.”

John McMurdo, CEO of Australian Ethical, said:

“At Australian Ethical we invest for the long-term financial interests of our customers and recognise that nature loss poses a systemic risk to the stability of financial, economic and social systems. And while the consideration of nature in the language of risks and returns now has real momentum, this report identifies how existing economic models require an urgent overhaul if humanity is to survive and prosper. We absolutely commend ACF for orchestrating this important research that will hopefully open the eyes of people sitting around board tables across corporate Australia and in government, and propel the work needed to address our collective impacts on nature.” 

* This report uses the same methodology as the World Economic Forum’s landmark report that found US$44 trillion of global GDP is dependent on nature.

Read the report

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