CHRIS GAMBIAN - CHIEF EXECUTIVE, NATURE CONSERVATION COUNCIL OF NSW
ADDRESS TO THE NATURE CONSERVATION COUNCIL OF NSW ANNUAL CONFERENCE
SATURDAY, 6 NOVEMBER 2021
Delegates, ladies and gentleman.
I’ve travelled here this morning from Bidegal country in Sydney’s south, on the northern
banks of the George’s River. And I speak to you now from Gadigal land, here in
Chippendale. I pay my respects to ancestors and elders of all of the first nations across our
It is an honour to serve the conservation movement in Australia as Chief Executive of this
organisation. Indeed, I can scarcely think of an honour greater than the trust and confidence
of dedicated citizens who invest themselves in the challenge of changing the world.
Thank you for the ongoing generosity of spirit and friendship you offer me every day. Thank
you for the work you put in: sometimes hard, frustrating, thankless work. Sometimes lonely
work. But always delivered with passion, always persevering, and always grounded in the
hope that something better is possible. I hope I can live up to the example you set.
Friends, I want you to close your eyes and take yourself back in time to 1992. For some of
you that is close to an impossibility because 1992 pre-dates you. Others were babies.
Bill Clinton was not yet President of the United States. John Major occupied Downing
Street. The Keating years in Australia had only just begun. There had not yet been a Mabo
decision or a Redfern Speech.
Mark Zukerburg was 8. Jeff Bezos had hair. It was the year Billy Ray Cyrus first sang about
his Achy Breaky Heart. The average house price in Sydney was $183K.
Now, this trip down memory lane is not merely recreational. This is a business trip. 1992
was also the year the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was first
signed by 154 nations at the Earth Summit in Rio. And 1992 is as far into history as 2050 is
into the future. 1992 was a long time ago, and 2050 is a long time from now. Too long.
At today’s conference you will be asked to adopt a new Climate and Energy Policy for the
Nature Conservation Council. It comes about after painstaking work by the NCC Climate and
Chief Executive Address to NCC Annual Conference, 6 November, 2021
Energy Working Group, in collaboration with the NCC staff, and is based on the best
scientific advice we can lay our hands on.
It has a simple message: emissions reduction is an existential and urgent necessity, and the
sooner we get to net-zero, the better. The climate and conservation movement in NSW has
argued for decades now the need for dramatic action on damaging climate change.
The grassroots organisations and activists at today’s conference have much to be thanked
for because NSW has done well in recent times to set upon a serious pathway to net-zero.
The current target of a 50% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2030 is good, and stands
out in Australia for its ambition.
A simple comparison to the Federal Government says it all. Dragged kicking and screaming
to a commitment to net-zero they don’t really believe in, the Morrison government has no
credible plan for climate action, and absolutely nothing additional to say beyond the efforts
already being made in NSW and the other states.
Matt Kean has demonstrated that climate action can be core business for a Coalition
government, and he has raised the standard for all Australian governments, and indeed
future Australian governments. But this is not the time to slow down. This is not a time to
rest on the laurels of what has been committed. The time is not yet ripe for bows and
Today we set our leaders, and ourselves, a new challenge: a 75% reduction in greenhouse
gas emissions by 2030, net-zero by 2035. Now let’s be clear: this is a very tough mountain to
climb. Economically, socially and yes, politically. Glib commitments that will never be
measured against actual action are of very little use to anyone. The hard work of making the
case for change, changing minds and changing hearts, needs to be done. Policy asks that are
dreamed up without a consideration to how they can realistically be achieved are not worth
the paper they are written on.
But NSW can do this. It is time to commit to the end of the coal industry, joining the over 40
nations who have done so this week in Glasgow. It is time to end land clearing and native
forest logging, give real effect to the deforestation agreement that Australia has sign up to.
It is time to invest in land restoration and a transformation of the agricultural sector, so that
we can improve farm productivity and profitability whilst radically improving sustainability.
And it is time to set a date to end sales of combustion engine motor vehicles.
Just a year ago, the NSW Government had a target of a 35% reduction in greenhouse gases
by 2030. Today that target is 50% -- not because of a suite of new policies and initiatives,
but because the momentum for change is building. More and more, the opportunity that
climate action presents, not just the cost, has captured the imagination of the community
and business alike.
Clean energy is cheaper, not just better for the environment. Reducing greenhouses gases is
better for our health, not just the climate. Protecting and restoring forests has the dual
benefits of rescuing biodiversity and rescuing the planet. The decarbonising revolution
currently underway, like the technological and industrial revolutions before them, present
unimaginable opportunities for business and jobs.
Chief Executive Address to NCC Annual Conference, 6 November, 2021
But we also need to recognise that this is a big ask. We won’t get there if all we do is keep
raising the bar as if the only barrier to change is political will. If we set this as a pass/fail test
for our politicians, and don’t do anything to bring the rest of the community along with us,
then it is we who will have failed. This is a debate that needs to be won in Barwon, as well
as Balmain. We need to inspire action in Blacktown, not just Newtown. We will win the
culture war when we make room in our movement for people from every walk of life across
the grand diversity that spans modern NSW.
From bushwalkers, scientists and hippies, to women in hijabs and sarees, men in high-vis
and just Mums and Dads trying to get by. Our movement is for everyone, and the race to
net-zero by 2035 will be won when we enlist the enthusiasm of the whole community.
That’s the hard work, and that’s the work we have started.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: NCC will be strong when your organisations are strong.
Despite the difficulties of COVID, we have stepped up our work to recruit new people into
the movement and develop up the capacity of grassroots activists. We are well on our way
to our goal of engaging 600,000 of our fellow citizens in the work of the conservation
We need to take this work wider and further than we have ever imagined. And we need to
build the collective resources of the movement so that we can be the organisations we need
to be in order to meet the challenges we face.
We need to build a war chest – not just for NCC but for all the organisations here today –
capable of matching the deep pocketed opponents we face. Self-imposed frugality is an
affectation if it means we also forego winning. I didn’t come here to lose, and I don’t think
you did either.
We have plenty of challenges ahead:
- We need to back in NPA and the Invasive Species Council and see Kosci protected;
- We need to help NEFA and HCEC knock off the dreadful woodchip terminal proposal
- We need to see Coastwatchers and SERCA through the fight to save the south coast
forests from logging;
- We need to strengthen Healthy Rivers Dubbo and the Inland Rivers Network so we
can get end of system flow targets set and met in the Murray Darling basin;
- And we need to do everything we can to make sure Colong wins in its fight to stop
the raising of the Warragamba Dam.
To say nothing of all of the dozens of battles we are all currently fighting.
Nature has never needed a more powerful voice. Ambition, solidarity and hard work are
how all of us here will continue to be that voice.
6 NOVEMBER 2021