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Transformational change: better than a holiday: for 48 years this organisation has worked to protect Australia's wonderful natural systems.

We can proudly point to huge achievements: protected areas of land and sea, and international treaties to which we have contributed significant changes in public attitudes toward the environment. Just this year we have seen our work on climate change result in a price on pollution; the declaration of the world's largest protected marine reserve; and the return of most of the eastern half of Cape York to a combination of national parks and Indigenous management. Yet Australia's natural systems are under greater threat than ever before, and despite our success it is a critical time for our environment and for ACF as an environmental organisation.

I chaired the advisory council that produced the first national report on the state of the environment back in 1996. It said that much of our beautiful and unique environment is in good condition by international standards, while some of our management approaches are global models of best practice.

The report also stated we face serious problems that must be addressed if we are to achieve our stated goal of living sustainably. These problems include biodiversity loss, the degraded state of our inland rivers and productive rural lands, continued pressure on our coastal zones, and spiralling greenhouse gas emissions. Three later reports, the most recent less than a year ago, have reiterated these serious problems are getting worse.

The first report said that the environmental problems are the cumulative consequences of our growing population, increasing consumption, lifestyle choices and the technologies we use. Fifteen years later our population is growing faster than ever, consumption per person is increasing, while we continue to use out-dated and inefficient technologies. This is a critical decade in which we must start to reverse the environmental decline. This will only be possible if we address the underlying social and economic trends that are causing the problems.

Recognising the scale of the problems we face, ACF's council has been working with staff to develop a new approach. While we will continue to work on the urgent short-term issues like the Murray-Darling system, Tasmanian forests and the Kimberley, we will also be seeking to influence transformational change.

We want to see durable solutions to our environmental problems, shaping a sustainable future based on social justice, respect for our natural environment and commitment to a better quality of life for all. Our ambitious goal is to see ACF play a significant role in the transformation of Australian society. It is clear that the current approach is not sustainable. We need real change.

At one level, the new approach is simply an extension and amplification of the change we have seen over recent years in the way ACF works. ACF is no longer simply an advocacy organisation.

The Climate Reality Project has empowered hundreds of Australians to help their communities understand climate change and sensible responses. This paved the way for our work in the Say Yes collaboration, which successfully encouraged politicians to take the first tentative steps to slow our contribution to climate change.

We have worked with civil society groups, to ensure that we promote environmental solutions that embody social justice. We have worked with Indigenous groups, to develop new economic approaches that build on respect for country. Our GreenHome program has empowered thousands of people to take action to cut their energy bills and reduce their environmental impact.

We have been stimulating thinking about an economic future based on respect for our unique natural systems. ACF's 2011 report, Better than Growth, is a cutting-edge document that represents new thinking about our economic future.

But we face serious obstacles. Changes in state governments have seen a renewed emphasis on old-fashioned thinking about economic development. The dishonest calls for the cutting of 'green tape' aim to reduce still further current inadequate environmental protection measures.

The proposals on the drawing board for massive expansion of the export coal industry are environmentally and economically irresponsible. The capacity of community groups to prevent destructive projects has been systematically reduced by decisions to cut funding of such bodies as Environmental Defenders Offices. To remain silent in the face of this concerted attack would be to acquiesce in the accelerating destruction of our natural environment.

ACF is embarking on a major redirection of the organisation.

We are determined to play a major role in transforming Australia this decade. We want to see our country heading in a new direction, phasing out fossil fuels and wasteful resource use and building a genuinely sustainable economy based on renewable energy.

We want stabilising our population and consumption at sustainable levels to be a national goal. We need a new approach to economic thinking, embodying holistic definitions of prosperity and progress with a system of national accounts that include natural values.

ACF is developing projects to make these goals possible. We can't do this alone. Over the next few months we will be consulting you, our members and supporters, about our ideas.

I am sure you will be as excited as we are about the chance to make a difference. We have to get the community engaged and working toward these ambitious goals. We want to support local groups that are already working in these positive directions. All this means we need to improve our effectiveness by drawing on the best thinking we can find, by fostering the development of staff and members, by continuing to learn from our experiences.

As I constantly remind people, the future is not somewhere we are going; it is something we are creating. In this critical decade we need to work together to build a new and revitalised Australia, an example to the rest of the world. I hope to see you on this exciting journey!

Ian Lowe, ACF President
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Title Annotation:Australian Conservation Foundation
Author:Lowe, Ian
Publication:Habitat Australia
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Oct 1, 2012
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