David Shelmerdine is a founding director and deputy chairman of ClimateWorks Australia, as well as the managing director of Laradoc Pty Ltd, a privately owned agribusiness company. Previously, he was the president of the Genevabased Gold Standard Foundation and Deputy Chairman at The Myer Family Company Holdings Pty Ltd. 

"For systems change, we need to be using a strong sustainability model. This will require transforming our food and land use system to not only address climate change, but also restore ecosystems and improve human health."


Like you, your parents and I were born and grew up in what most of us, and many around the world, have known as “the lucky country”. We have amazing and unique biodiversity, bountiful natural resources, beautiful landscapes, and political and economic stability. As an island nation, we have had to adapt, be creative, resourceful and build resilience. 

But industrialisation and globalisation, and the enabling systems humans have built to support them, are destroying our ecology. Our “lucky country” has been responsible for losing more biodiversity than any other developed nation in the past 200 years. This is simply unacceptable and has left us exposed and unprepared for an increasingly uncertain future. 

At the time of European colonisation in 1778 there were approximately 950,000 Aboriginal people caring for the country. Their custodianship of the land dates back over 60,000 years but sadly, there are fewer humans living in, and caring for, the vast tracts of ‘outback’ Australia today than when Europeans first arrived. There is much that Australia’s Indigenous people can teach us. After all, they have been the stewards of our diverse ecology for thousands of years. The recent devastating bushfires across Australia should cause us to lean in and listen to how that history, and their systems approach to managing fire and the land that supported them, can help us in a climate-challenged world.

Most recently COVID-19, now sweeping our planet, is another catastrophic event that is showing us some of the challenges that must be addressed as the world, Australia included, works out how to be resilient in the face of crisis. The pandemic has exposed gaps in the “just in time” system we have all grown accustomed to, and reliant upon, in the many ways we conduct our everyday life. It has shown that some of our manmade systems are no longer fit for purpose.

To ensure the well-being of current and future generations, we must align human ideas and systems with reality and nature. If we are to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement of 1.5 degrees, meet ambitious biodiversity targets and deliver on the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, we need new systems, including ones that will decarbonise the global economy by 2050. 

Australians have made wonderful and important contributions to humanity and a more sustainable world. Our inventions include the bionic ear, solar roof tiles, Wi-Fi technology, Google Maps, the combine harvester and many more. We need to turn this innovation towards how we design and implement big change. That change must include placing real value on our planet’s health and measuring human well-being by our needs being met. 

I am optimistic and optimistic for you, but we must act now. 

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Read the Living Planet Report 2020