The Australian Conservation Foundation has finally named the elephant in the room of sustainability –  population growth. It said yesterday it would bid to make population recognised as a key threat under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) and has called for Australia’s growth to be stabilised by mid Century.

Greens Leader Bob Brown said he also supported a halt to Australia’s population growth but that humanitarian immigration should continue.

Aaron Gadiel, chief executive of The Urban Taskforce which represents urban developers, said the ACF was effectively trying to declare human beings a noxious species.

“This means a taxpayer funded scientific committee will now have to gravely debate whether or not human beings should be added to a list currently occupied by rabbits, unmanaged goats, feral pigs and the European red fox,” Mr Gadiel said.

The ACF has called on the Federal Government to set population policy to:

  • Stabilise Australia’s population by mid-century.
  • Increase humanitarian migration and continue to support family reunions, but substantially reduce skilled migration.
  • Return Australia’s overall migration to 1990s levels.
  • Adequately fund strategies to minimise the environmental impact of population growth.

ACF director of strategic ideas  Charles Berger said Australia could not rely on better planning alone to protect the environment.

“Rapid population growth makes sustainable planning nearly impossible, so stabilising Australia’s population by mid-century should be a national policy goal,” Mr Berger said.

Bigger population made it harder to reduce greenhouse pollution, protect natural habitats near urban and coastal areas and ensure a good quality of life for all Australians.

“More people means more roads, more urban sprawl, more dams, more transmission lines, more energy and water use, more pollutants in our air and natural environment and more pressure on Australia’s animals, plants, rivers, reefs and bushland.

The ACF said there were four areas where human population growth was directly affecting native species and ecological communities:

  • the coastal wetlands of South East Queensland,
  • Mornington Peninsula and Westernport Bay in Victoria
  • the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia
  • Swan Coastal Plain in Western Australia.

Greens Leader Bob Brown broadly agreed with the ACF.

He recently said that The Greens would move in the Senate to establish an independent National Inquiry into Australia’s Population to 2050.

“Australia’s population should be determined by the capacity of our environment and our infrastructure.

“Australia cannot support an increase in population to 35 million by 2050.”

However, Senator Brown said that Australia should increase its humanitarian immigration program, and reduce skilled migration program.

“Global population is expected to grow from 6.8 billion people now to 9.2 billion by 2050 and Australia should be taking a lead in finding global solutions.

“That should include increasing Australia’s overseas aid budget to 0.7 per cent of GDP now with more funding for literacy and reproduction health programs for women and girls.”

The Urban Taskforce’s Aaron Gadiel said Treasury forecasts are that population will rise from 22 million to 36 million by the middle of the century, although this will represent a decline in the current level of population growth – from 2.1 per cent in 2008-09 to 0.9 per cent in 2049-50. ”

The birth rate included a birth rate of 1.9 children for each woman, because men and women were likely to live longer and becasue  Australia “attracts talented and skilled workers from all over the globe.”

“These are all fundamentally good things,”Mr Gadiel said.

“The growth of a human society should never be equated with the problems caused by feral cats, cane toads and gamba grass.”

A low or declining population would “mean extreme ageing problems, greater demands for publicly funded social services and a reduced ability to meet these challenges.”

He said immigration helped with the challenges of an ageing population.

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