Nature plays a huge part in tackling climate change. There is a lot of distracting dialogue saying that we must sacrifice nature to have a renewable powered future. This is false. Protecting nature is a critical part of the solution.

Last year the United Nations Secretary-General told the world that we now live in the era of global boiling and that “the level of fossil fuel profits and climate inaction is unacceptable”.

We are living in the critical decade for action on climate change. Every fraction of a degree of warming avoided matters. We have the solutions to transition away from fossil fuels, right here, right now.

At ACF, we believe in the power of a renewable future. We can transition to renewables with the speed and urgency it requires without destroying nature.

Here’s how:

We can't save the climate by destroying nature. Nature is part of the solution.

There’s no need, on our already over-cleared continent, to knock down rainforests or destroy threatened species' habitats for renewable energy projects. There are more than 52 million hectares of severely degraded land in Australia. Now's the time to make that land part of the climate solution.

Left: Australian bush. Right: Bird's eye view of  masssive forest clearing

Nature isn’t just a victim here – it can be a powerful climate solution.

Nature destruction is fuelling Australia’s extinction crisis. Healthy forests, oceans, wetlands and mangroves store carbon and help limit climate damage, as well as being home to the wildlife we love.

Renewable energy, when it’s well-sited and managed, is a benefit to nature. It helps combat global warming fuelled by burning gas and coal, which poses a grave risk to nature and is already pushing some species towards extinction.

Three billion animals were killed or displaced during the Black Summer fires. If we don’t phase out coal and gas urgently, we will lose so much more.

We need to make sure nature is protected and thriving as we leave polluting coal and gas in the ground and build our sun and wind powered future.

Read ACF's full list of principles for an energy transition that is good for nature and people.

The energy transition must be good for people and nature.

The transition to a renewable powered Australia must be done in partnership with the Traditional Owners who have cared for their Country for thousands of generations. This knowledge should guide our transition to an Australia powered by wind and solar. Traditional Owners must approve and benefit from energy projects built on their Country. They must be involved in the creation and throughout the life of energy projects.

The First Nations Clean Energy Network is already doing great work on this. Local communities should benefit from affordable energy and jobs from renewable energy development in the region.

Gladstone local Jaclyn McCosker and an ETU worker

Communities like Gladstone in rural Queensland will be relied on to power the transition to renewables. It's critical that everyone in the town's community benefits from the transition. Photo: Tom Kinsman.

We’re going to need more renewable energy generation, storage and distribution networks.

And we're going to need them fast to replace coal and gas and their climate-wrecking pollution.

It's a massive job and energy experts tell us that to achieve a net zero Australia and exports, we require many times the electricity that is generated today, all of which must be renewable or zero emissions. So yes, we don’t just have to just slash pollution in Australia, we have to stop the export of coal and gas.

Australia's exports of coal and gas generate about two and a half times more pollution than is generated in Australia. No matter where Australia’s exported gas and coal is burnt, it’ll come back to bite us and contributes to bleaching the Great Barrier and Ningaloo reefs, drying out the Murray Darling Basin, turning our cities into furnaces and harming people. 

The good news is that we have sound solutions ready to go. ACF’s Sunshot report demonstrated that renewable-powered exports can cut our exported emissions, unlock hundreds of thousands of jobs and pump $89 billion into our economy by 2040.

We were also pleased to see the recent federal budget include $168.1 million to ‘prioritise approval decisions for renewable energy projects of national significance’, including $20.7 million to ‘improve engagement with communities involved in the energy transition.’

The Australian Government needs to lead, plan and act.

Our national government and the parliament must lift their game. They need to give Australia the best possible chance to have an orderly, fair and awesome transition into a better, renewable-powered country.

A decade of national governments denying and delaying climate action means the speed and ambition of action must be even greater. The Albanese Government can create a national plan that sets a higher climate action ambition and plan, laying out how between now and 2030 the renewable transition can minimise negative impacts and maximise benefits for people and nature.

Rooftop solar in urban neighbourhood.

As renewable projects are built to slash pollution for a safer climate future, our elected representatives must ensure nature is protected. Photo: Damien Goodman.

What would be in this plan? Things like this:

  • New energy projects should be built on already disturbed or cleared land, close to metropolitan and regional infrastructure hubs.
  • New energy projects should be built away from precious wildlife habitats and protected parks and reserves.
  • Government investment in generating the data on environmental values needed to inform good decisions early would make a huge difference.

It is critical new nature laws are passed to lift the rigour and environmental integrity of all new development.

As the new renewable projects are built, our elected representatives should make sure nature is protected. That should be the case for all projects. We’ve been campaigning for a decade to reform Australia’s outdated national laws. The Environment Minister has recently introduced ‘stage 2’ nature law reforms which include a new national regulator called the Environment Protection Australia (EPA). We have advocated for an EPA for many years and support the need for a strong, independent and well-resourced regulator. It’s critical that this EPA is strong, and the next stage of reform lifts the rigour and environmental integrity of all new development. rigour and environmental integrity of all new development.

Finally, it is through working together that we can have the biggest impact.

Each one of us is and can be a champion advocating for the protection of nature and climate. Our ACF community of more than half a million people continue to stand up and take action for a better future. This advocacy is critical. Ultimately, renewables will take the place of coal and gas.

Our governments and businesses must make decisions that are good for nature and people. They – and we – must act with greater urgency and higher ambitions if we’re to stop, then draw down the climate and nature-wrecking pollution being generated by the coal and gas sector.

Seven principles for energy that is good for nature and people

  1. Urgently replace coal and gas with renewables and zero emissions energy infrastructure to help solve the climate crisis.
  2. No project should harm Australia’s high-value ecosystems and habitats.
  3. All projects should avoid harmful impacts to nature, and where impacts are unavoidable, deliver sustainable and durable gains for nature.
  4. Minimise damage to nature by placing energy infrastructure on already disturbed ecosystems, close to cities and regional industrial precincts.
  5. Maximise energy productivity to minimise energy generation and transmission needs.
  6. Free, prior and informed consent of Traditional Custodians should be attained, and First Nations Peoples should benefit from developments on their Country.
  7. Communities, particularly local communities or affected communities should benefit.

Read ACF's joint position statement.

Paul Sinclair

Campaigns Director at the Australian Conservation Foundation.