Accelerating renewables for nature, climate and resilient communities

26 February 2024

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Site renewables right. It sounds deceptively simple, but can Australia rapidly transition to renewable energy while also protecting its biodiversity?

Ensuring a “site renewables right” rollout is identified as a key priority within the AEGN’s framework, and it’s an issue of increasing concern for many in the environmental sector, including nature funders.

“We’ve been advocates and supporters of renewables for decades; it’s about the industrial fixes that are happening,” says experienced environmental funder and AEGN member Bruce McGregor (Melliodora Fund). “Clearing rainforest in northern Queensland to put up wind farms is a bit threatening to the tropical ecosystems in the north, so those sorts of issues are really important to get right.” 1

A nature-positive approach

For the 50-plus experts who contributed to the Nature Funding Framework, “getting it right” broadly speaking means taking a “nature-positive” approach; one that envisions a future with more nature than we have now, rather than a continual erosion of the natural world. But when it gets down to practicalities, is it possible to build a nature-positive grid?

“Yes, absolutely,” says Eytan Lenko, CEO of Boundless Earth, a for-purpose organisation established by fellow tech entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes. “There’s definitely a lot we can do, but just because we’re leaving it so late in Australia, we’re going to be in this incredible rush to build things, and while we have a bit of headspace, now’s the time to start doing that planning.”

This pre-work includes getting the settings right for the assessment of renewable projects, an outcome many are hoping to secure through the current reform of national environmental laws. Several pilot projects — including one spear-headed by the Queensland Conservation Council supported by the Melliodora Fund and others — are developing bioregional plans under the EPBC Act that will help inform those assessments and steer projects away from biodiversity hotspots.

Where philanthropy can play a role

Through its philanthropic ventures, Boundless is seeking to accelerate Australia’s renewable grid and remove some of the obstacles in its path “like permitting, transmission rollout and social licence to operate, which is a huge area where philanthropy can play,” says Eytan.

“How do we authentically help local communities get the information they need to understand the benefits — and actually ensure they get the benefits of the renewable infrastructure that’s being built out? There’s a bunch of projects in there [in Boundless’s grantmaking portfolio] about nature-positive renewables, and how we ensure that developers understand the best practice to build renewables in the way that helps rather than harms nature.”

One of these projects, led by the Melbourne Biodiversity Institute, is working with a range of partners to develop and trial tools and protocols for assessing and reducing the impacts of renewable infrastructure on biodiversity and cultural values at a national scale. The project is seeking additional funding via the AEGN’s Project Clearinghouse to deepen the public campaign to build community support for nature-positive renewables and develop a detailed policy brief for governments.

“Philanthropy is uniquely placed to support collaborative projects like these that bring together sectors and ideas, and share learning to help solve problems and balance good outcomes for nature and people,” says Eytan. Indeed, several AEGN members are already applying this approach to great effect.

Social licence to operate under threat

“Disinformation undermining the social licence for renewables has been identified as one of the key things standing in the way of Australia making the energy transformation we need,” says Sue Mathews (Mullum Trust). “That wind turbines kill whales is only the most recent in an intensifying string of untruths being peddled to communities anxious about their future by self-interested fossil fuel interests and opportunistic politicians.” 2 3

To counter this, Mullum Trust and Diversicon Foundation are supporting the Community Power Agency’s socially responsible renewable energy development short-course. Accredited and run by Griffith University, the course trains renewable developers how best to approach, negotiate and work with communities to achieve positive outcomes for all — including biodiversity protection as well as a fairer deal for farmers around new transmission lines. 4

To date, more than 120 practitioners have completed the course, with demand now far exceeding available places. “This is a wonderful achievement for the project, and right now, it’s needed more than ever,” says Sue. Community Power Agency is seeking funds to redesign and trial a new format for the course so more people can get skilled-up more quickly. It also plans to establish an online Community of Practice for alumni to deepen peer-to-peer learning and problem solving.

The role of critical minerals

Siting renewable infrastructure well is one thing; how this infrastructure is made in the first place is another, with equally significant environmental impacts.

Critical (or transition) minerals play an important role in producing many of the technologies required for the transition, including wind turbines and solar panels. These minerals will help us keep global heating to 1.5 degrees, but if we’re going to learn from the mistakes of previous mining booms it can’t be “extraction as usual”. Rather, mining and processing these minerals must be done with care for the environment and water resources and with the free, prior and informed consent of Traditional Owners.

“This is a complex area, and the stakes are high,” says Reichstein Foundation CEO Rachel Ball. “It’s critical that a strong and coordinated civil society voice influences the future of transition mineral extraction in Australia.”

Jubilee Australia, with support from the Reichstein Foundation and others, is working towards this end, leveraging its 2023 Greenlight or Gaslight report to build a collaborative campaign designed to ensure equitable transition minerals mining lies at the heart of the just transition.

A framework for action

Viewed together, these projects and philanthropic interventions represent an overarching opportunity to build a better future — to protect habitat and wildlife, build resilience to climate change and deepen connections with the places we hold dear.

“Countless reports have shown that Australia’s environment is in decline,” says AEGN CEO Amanda Martin. “Our Nature Funding Framework shows Australian funders what they can do about it and is an invitation to them to rise to the challenge in a clear, focused and collaborative way.”

If you’re funding in the “right site” space and want to share projects you’ve funded, or are interested in learning more, contact Margie Jenkin, the AEGN’s Environmental Program Manager (Nature), at

Nature Funding Framework launch (Brisbane)
Join us in Brisbane on Monday 11 March to hear from sector experts and connect with other funders and environmental organisations. The event will include a discussion on Queensland-based bioregional pilots and mapping work underway to facilitate a site-right renewable rollout across the state. Register to attend


1. K Al Khawaldeh, ‘Conservationists rubbish plan to build a windfarm near protected north Queensland rainforests’, The Guardian, 22 April 2023, accessed 19 February 2024.

2. M Wedesweiler, ‘Donald Trump and dead whales: What’s behind misinformation on wind farms?’, SBS News, 18 November 2023, accessed 19 February 2024.

3. The Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner recently reported (pdf) that poor consultation practices were undermining community support for the renewable rollout.

4. Farmers for Climate Action, Farm powered: opportunities for regional communities in the regional energy boom (pdf), October 2022, accessed 19 February 2024.

Projects to fund on the Project Clearinghouse

Fundseeking organisation: Carbon Zero Initiative
Submitted by: Rebecca Chew, Boundless

Fundseeking organisation: University of Melbourne
Submitted by: Rebecca Chew, Boundless

Fundseeking organisation: Queensland Conservation Council
Submitted by: Mary Maher

Fundseeking organisation: Community Power Agency
Submitted by: Sue Mathews

Fundseeking organisation: Jubilee Australia Research Centre Ltd
Submitted by: Rachel Ball, Reichstein Foundation


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