Suddenly Sustainable

by Terence Jeyaretnam

There are a plethora discussion papers and communiqués emerging in the policy landscape at the Federal level on sustainable everything.

Of those, probably the most important are the papers on:

  • Issues paper on the development of a sustainable population strategy for Australia
  • Committee Paper on the Inquiry into Sustainable Cities 2025
  • Multi-Party Climate Change Committee – Principles to guide development of a carbon price mechanism

Without you having to read through the volumes of reports, here’s a synthesis of the thinking.

The Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, which is the most top-heavy of the three committees, acknowledges that Australia needs to reduce its carbon pollution, as part of global efforts to combat climate change.  The Committee considers that a carbon pricing mechanism is the most cost-effective and economically responsible way of reducing Australia’s carbon pollution.  Most recently, the Committee has developed a set of eleven principles to guide the development of such a carbon price mechanism.  The principles centre around meeting international objectives while achieving energy security, fairness, simplicity, managing impacts on competitive advantage, budget neutrality and environmental and economic effectiveness.

The Sustainable Cities 2025 Committee sought to articulate a set of principles for sustainable cities of the future: they will be vibrant urban regions which are economically productive, environmentally responsible, and socially inclusive. The vision focuses on conservation, energy efficiency, water management, integrated transport, urban planning that enhances lifestyle and work opportunities and to a lesser extent affordability.

Finally, the Issues Paper on A sustainable population strategy for Australia, which is supported by three panel papers on Demography and Liveability, Sustainable Development and Productivity and Prosperity, sets out how a changing population can influence the environment, economy, and our communities and seeks to find approaches to achieve optimal outcomes for Australia, while balancing these issues.

Suddenly, we find sustainability emerge as a key word in Australian political dictum.  One of the challenges of the word sustainability is that it promotes the notion of having the cake and eating it – that is environmental, social, economic and political harmony, in other-words, a utopian nirvana.  Thankfully, the timescales established being 2011 for a carbon price, 2025 for sustainable cities and 2050 for a population policy, at least give us breathing space.  The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding, but unfortunately, on achieving balanced outcomes, there’s not much in the form of proof that we can draw from past performance.  Notwithstanding, I like the optimism shown.  Now we just need to work out a way of sharing the cake (with others and with future generations) and still being happy!

Terence Jeyaretnam is a Director of Net Balance (,
one of the world’s leading sustainability advisory firms.
Terence is based in Melbourne.