Biodiversity Loss & Business Action Symposium

(8.15am, Wednesday 8 October 2014, National Australia Bank Sydney, 255 George Street)

Biodiversity Loss and Business Action: Valuing Natural Capital to build solutions to address the environmental challenge

Thank you Andrew [Peterson,MC] and good morning everyone.

I'd like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of this land and pay my respect to their Elders. I also acknowledge the people of 200 nations who live in our city.

I'd like to congratulate Sustainable Business Australia and Flora and Fauna International on this terrific new enterprise, and commend the many prominent organisations involved with it—including Federal and State Government agencies, financial institutions and environmental groups.

I expect the Initiative will play a vital role in raising awareness of biodiversity and sustainability issues amongst the Australian business community. It will be an important addition to the work of Sustainability Business Australia to grow sustainable business strategies.

The initiative's goal is to integrate sustainability into business operations, and to take advantage of the opportunities to save money and develop new markets while reducing emissions and resource usage.

This is a very necessary and timely initiative - the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found that climate change is presently impacting on natural and human systems in all continents and oceans, threatening the breakdown of food systems, eco-systems and widespread species extinctions.

At the City we have a suite of business programs - City Switch, Better Buildings Partnership and Smart Green Business - that work with tenants, commercial property owners and businesses to slash greenhouse emissions and save money on energy bills.

To use just one example, the City's Better Buildings Partnership is a collaboration of landlords who own nearly 60 per cent of Sydney's office space. Between them they have reduced their emissions by 31 per cent since 2006 and saved $25 million in the last year alone.

We have also adopted an Urban Ecology Strategic Action Plan in March.

Importantly because our local government area is the most urbanised in Australia and almost all of the original vegetation and other natural features have been removed or modified. As a result, biodiversity has been greatly reduced from its original state.

Despite that, many indigenous plants and animals remain, and there is substantial potential to conserve and enhance the habitats that support them.

The ecological health of our City affects both the diversity and abundance of plant and animal species, and the quality of life for residents and visitors.

Biodiversity improves our air quality; purifies water; controls stormwater runoff; maintains healthy soil, minimises urban heat and recycles waste.

Connecting our city with the natural world makes it a more liveable and enjoyable place to be. A thriving urban ecology is vital for human health and well-being as well as economic prosperity.

Some of the early actions in our Urban Ecology Plan already underway include bush regeneration at Sydney Park and a trial of community tracking for microbats, one of the priority fauna groups identified in the Action Plan.

For many of our residents, our parks and open spaces are the only chance they get to encounter plants and animals in their everyday lives. We are committed to providing fantastic green open spaces for everyone to enjoy.

Sydney Park is just one of our many success stories. This beautiful park - once a quarry for brickmaking in the late 1800s and early 1900s and a garbage dump in the 1980's - is now home to the highest population of native bird species in the City of Sydney area.

Species such as blue tongues lizards and the eastern bentwing bat - a vulnerable species in NSW - have been spotted there.

A $10.5 million upgrade in the park (water harvesting project and landscaping) will allow 850 million litres of stormwater to be captured and cleaned each year. This will provide a sustainable water supply for the park's future needs and improve wetland rehabilitation.

We are also physically greening our city. We're working towards our target of a 50 per cent increase in urban canopy by 2030, and have planted over 9,000 trees since 2005.

Incorporating nature into the densely populated areas of our city provides habitat for our birds and insects and offsets the urban heat island effect from rising temperatures.

These trees are also reducing summer temperatures, controlling stormwater runoff, and filtering pollutants and carbon from the air.

The City's green roofs and walls policy is the first of its kind in Australia and we are encouraging many more of these living systems across our urban landscape.

We now have over 100,000 square metres of green roofs and walls. These vibrant, living spaces are a beautiful addition to our buildings. They also reduce power bills and greenhouse gas emissions.

These are just some of the measures the City of Sydney has put in place to become a more resilient and sustainable city of the future.

We cannot discuss improving biodiversity without also discussing the challenge of climate change.

Climate change is the biggest threat that faces our cities, our nation and our planet.

Without immediate action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and invest in climate change adaptation, the ecological, social and economic systems that support human civilisation are at risk of collapse.

Leading scientists agree that we've reached a critical decade. The choices we make over the next ten years will influence the world our children and grandchildren inherit.

We know that the time for action is now - across communities, business and all levels of government.

The City of Sydney has the most ambitious targets of any level of Australian government. We are committed to reducing carbon emissions by 70 per cent by 2030.

We have already reduced the City's emissions by 21 per cent since 2006 - and measures are in train to reduce emissions by 26 per cent by 2016.

Research recently presented to the UN shows near-zero carbon energy systems can be achieved across 15 major countries by 2050 - including Australia - while sustaining strong business and economic growth.

That's why initiatives such as the Australian Biodiversity and Business Initiative are so important.

We've heard all sorts of claims in recent years about how calamitous environment initiatives are for the economy, but as I'm sure everyone in this room knows, they bring opportunities for business growth and efficiency - and successful, modern businesses must also manage the risks.

The challenge is to increase wider business awareness of these opportunities, and integrate biodiversity considerations as a routine feature of business decision-making.

Congratulations on this very significant initiative. I wish you every success to bring about action for the future of our planet and our businesses.

Thank you.