Nature Funding Framework

For people, planet and prosperity — Opportunities for strategic philanthropy in Australia 

Executive summary

There’s no time to waste.

The AEGN’s Nature Funding Framework presents priorities and opportunities for its members to protect, restore and manage nature and realise the full potential of their giving.  

This potential is substantial. With a collective corpus of more than $3.6 billion, the AEGN membership can play — and is playing — a catalytic role in supporting the natural world and the life it sustains. In harnessing this potential, the framework seeks to grow effective philanthropy for the environment and for Australia to become a global leader in the protection, restoration and management of nature on land and in our waterways and oceans.  

White-plumed honeyeaters on Watarrka National Park, Northern Territory. Photographer — Annette Ruzicka

There’s no time to waste. Nature is in crisis, with the 2021 State of the Environment report confirming that the condition of Australia’s environment is poor and deteriorating because of increasing pressures from climate change, habitat loss and invasive species, among other threats. Meanwhile, public funding for environmental protection in Australia has drastically reduced and only five per cent of philanthropic funding goes towards environmental issues. And while some progress has been made, much needs to be done to properly mobilise and resource Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to care for their lands and seas as they have done for millennia. 

Philanthropy has an urgent and vital role to play in scaling up the solutions and interventions to respond to the crises of nature, climate and, inextricably linked, people.

Find out more

Recognising that there is no single source of knowledge, nor single solution, the framework integrates expert voices and ideas drawn from conferences, workshops, ongoing conversations and focused interviews with more than 50 leaders from environmental non-government organisations as well as academia, government and philanthropy. All agree that to arrest the nature crisis and to achieve our Global Biodiversity Framework targets, becoming “nature positive” by 2030, we must be ambitious, systematic and strategic. Big problems demand big solutions and a well-resourced, collaborative approach.  

The framework distils their expertise to identify priorities for transformative change for nature and the most effective change levers — or approaches for action — that funders can deploy now. These include:  

  1. Protect, restore and manage the environment (Applied conservation) 
  1. Strengthen, test and apply laws and policies (Legal) 
  1. Collect and use data to guide strategy (Science, research and monitoring) 
  1. Reframe and amplify the story (Communication and education) 
  1. Energise and involve communities (Participation and agency)  
  1. Build a strong and unified movement (Capacity building and coordination)  
  1. Shift to a regenerative nature-positive system (Economy)  

Some slow-burn approaches, like law and policy reform, aspire to change the system. Others are about testing and scaling a known solution. For all change levers, the framework presents options to inspire and support AEGN members in their funding of priority work for land and inland waters, and for oceans and coasts. It highlights what’s needed and what’s possible, and later in the resource, some big gaps and opportunities, specifically to:  

  1. Expand communications for nature  
  1. Resource First Nations caring for Country  
  1. Support healthy landscapes and people in northern Australia  
  1. Heighten awareness of the ties between human and ecosystem health  
  1. Fund waterways for people and nature  
  1. Leverage political support for a renewed reserve system to protect, manage and restore land  
  1. Set up a collaborative conservation fund for fast and long-term impact  
  1. Explore a whole-of-sector movement-building approach for nature  
  1. Ensure a “site renewables right” rollout  
  1. Invest in business innovation that has a positive impact on nature.  

Together, these interventions represent an overarching opportunity to build a better future — to protect and restore landscapes, to recover species in decline, to build resilience to climate change through nature-based solutions, to reframe the narrative and to deepen connections with the places that are dear to us.  

A framework for funding nature

We know that transformational change – game-changing shifts – will be essential to put theory into practice. We need system-wide changes in how we produce and consume, the technology we use, and our economic and financial systems. Underpinning these changes must be a move from goals and targets to values and rights, in policy-making and in day-to-day life.

WWF Living Planet Report 2022 

The purpose of the Nature Funding Framework is to grow both the quantity and quality of philanthropy in Australia for a nature-positive future. Our hope is for Australia to become a global leader in the protection, restoration and management of nature on land and in our inland waters, oceans and coasts. As part of a global movement, we will contribute to new regenerative food and fibre systems, conservation technologies, land and water protection and restoration, and ocean management, resulting in more nature by 2030 than there was ten years earlier.  

The Nature Funding Framework sits beside the Climate Change Funding Framework, which was developed in 2020. These resources promote priorities and opportunities to the AEGN membership, and connect members with organisations, programs — and with each other. 

Find out more

The AEGN’s Nature Funding Framework presents priorities and opportunities for philanthropy to transform the state of nature and realise the full potential of our members’ giving. We asked experts: “What’s the most important work for philanthropy?”, then collated and synthesised responses and further tested our conclusions.  

In developing this framework, we listened to experts, attended workshops and conferences, and interviewed around 50 leaders from environmental NGOs and the academic, government and philanthropy sectors to identify the priorities for transformative change for nature and the most effective role for philanthropy.  

There is no single source of knowledge, nor is there a single solution. The framework integrates many expert voices and ideas from different backgrounds, recognising the most significant threats to nature: climate change, habitat decline and invasive species. 

Blue tang fish at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville Queensland. Photographer — Annette Ruzicka

If we are to conserve and restore nature, we need to: 

  • move beyond seeing the nature crisis and the climate crisis as separate issues and see them as interconnected, and indeed a crisis of humanity  
  • mobilise Indigenous knowledge systems so that together we can better engage in stewardship of land and caring for Country 
  • recognise the dire condition of our lands and inland waters, and oceans and coasts. 

In “Setting the context”, we look at each of these in turn, along with the role of philanthropy, and provide a background to the issues we are facing in both a global and local context.  

In Approaches for action”, we outline seven change levers and the priorities for philanthropy within each. Some slow-burn approaches, like law and policy reform, aspire to change the system. Others are about testing and scaling a known solution. Some philanthropists will look for additionality or a new and untested innovation to trial. Some will seek the most cost-effective initiative while others will focus on NGO sector development or collaboration for change. To reach our goals, we need to use a range of levers — from advocacy and research to communication and economics. 

Funders may already know which levers resonate for them, or they may want to experiment with new approaches. Some may use this as background information. Others may want to dig into specific actions that we detail here. 

In “Big gaps and opportunities”, we introduce ten under-developed or under-resourced areas that have emerged in our research. Many need further research and feasibility studies involving key organisations and experts.  

In “Considerations for funders”, we share some broader insights from interviewees to help you in your giving journey. Whether you’re a wealth adviser, new to philanthropy, or an experienced funder, these are worthwhile points to consider. 

Following the Conclusion, we provide a Glossary to define terms used throughout the framework as well as Endnote references.

Nothing happens in isolation, and nothing is linear. The individual parts of the framework can be read in isolation, but they are all interconnected. Likewise, the seven change levers overlap and intersect.  

Further, like nature itself, the framework will change over time to reflect the new knowledge emerging. We will periodically update our online member content, and we hope you come back to it time and time again. You are also invited to let us know of new initiatives and updates, and suggestions for future framework editions. We are committed to developing valuable resources for our members to support effective giving and we welcome your feedback. 

There is a huge and urgent role for philanthropy to scale up the solutions and interventions that are critical to respond to the crises of nature, climate and, inextricably linked, people. Now is the time to take action for a nature-positive future. We must accelerate and amplify efforts, while at the same time respecting the distinct rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and principles of equity and justice by centring practices of caring for Country.  

Get to it. Ramp up your giving. Talk to your AEGN relationship manager. Connect with the AEGN community and organisations doing the work, but don’t wait for the one perfect solution. It’s going to take lots of good ideas and good people working together to make a change — there’s no time to waste. 

Setting the context

We need to reimagine our place in the ecosystem; rather than being separate from or above nature, humans sit within natural ecosystems, and we thrive when they thrive: economically, socially, and culturally. We can learn from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to further our understanding of these interconnections via the notion of ‘Country’.

Sustainable Oceans and Coasts National Strategy 2021–2030 

Here, we outline the scale and severity of the crisis facing nature — and by extension humanity — within four distinct environments: land, inland waters, oceans and coasts. These environments are interconnected, but each faces unique challenges.

First Nations peoples’ care for Country can give us a deeper understanding of the interconnections and the management needs of these environments and can inform philanthropy’s role in arresting nature’s decline.  

The nature crisis
Humanity is waging a war on nature. This is suicidal. Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top, top priority of everyone, everywhere.

— António Guterres, UN Secretary General 

It’s urgent. The health of Australia’s environment is poor and deteriorating. Pressures from habitat destruction, invasive species, industry, and development are amplifying one another and being compounded by climate change. Our unique native species and the ecosystems on which they depend face critical decline and collapse.  

The 2021 five-yearly State of the Environment report (SoE report) contains damning insights: 

  • Australia has suffered more known species extinctions than any other continent over the last two centuries and has one of the highest rates of species decline in the world.  
  • Millions of hectares of habitat are being cleared without adequate assessments.  
  • There are more introduced plant species than native species, and invasive animals are increasing their range and impacts.  
  • Most rivers and catchments are in poor condition and overall native fish populations have declined by more than 90 per cent in the past 50 years.  
  • Reefs in some parts of Australia, and the species that rely on them, are in poor condition and continue to deteriorate. In three of the five years covered by the report (2016 to 2021), marine heatwaves caused significant coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.  
  • Around the country, at least 19 ecosystems are showing signs of collapse or near collapse including savanna and mangrove ecosystems in northern Australia, southern Australia’s kelp and alpine ash forests and Macquarie Island’s tundra. 

Globally, nature is also under great threat, and public concern led Australia to endorse the Convention on Biological Diversity and Leaders’ Pledge for Nature. As one of 94 signatories, Australia has committed to a set of urgent actions to put nature and biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030. Subsequently, at the Biodiversity Conference of the Parties (COP 15) in Montreal in December 2022, nations agreed on a path to become “nature positive”, to reverse environmental decline and to ensure there is a net gain of biodiversity in 2030 compared to 2020. Australia also embraced the 30×30 targets to protect 30 per cent of our land and waters by 2030, and to restore another 30 per cent (see the Kunming Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework).  

The role of philanthropy
Philanthropy can signal “the importance of working together and sharing power to drive greater impact, faster.”

Professor Sarah Pearson, Paul Ramsay Foundation  

Philanthropy has a crucial role to play in building a nature-positive future. The independence and political freedom of philanthropy, along with its agility and higher risk threshold, means it can fund where other funding cannot. Philanthropic trusts and foundations also have enormous additional capacity to put capital into impact investments that can catalyse change and support the work of partner environmental organisations.  

Currently, only five per cent of philanthropic funding goes to environmental issues. The Australian Government has supported the goal of doubling philanthropic giving by 2030, an initiative supported by the AEGN. There is great value in government and philanthropy working in partnership, but philanthropy should not be an alternative to core government funding. In addition, business investment and markets can provide valuable finance, alongside political commitment, public funding and strong policy and environmental legislation.  

Environmental non-government organisations (eNGOs) and First Nations organisations do critical work, and this needs to continue. These organisations should be supported to build their capacity; effective programs could be scaled up and big opportunities need to be seized. It is critical that these organisations have the capacity to resource new initiatives without taking funds away from existing successful programs and core support.  

Climate, nature, people — interconnected and indivisible

The wellbeing of people and the health of the planet are inextricably linked. Nature underpins virtually every part of our lives, providing food, medicine, energy, clean air and water, recreation and cultural and spiritual fulfilment.  

Australia’s prosperity depends on nature. Roughly half of Australia’s GDP (49 per cent or $896 billion) has a moderate to very high direct dependence on nature, and indirectly all businesses rely on nature at some point in their value chain.

Right now, nature is imperilled, which means that humanity, society and business are too. The crisis of nature is compounded by and interconnected with the climate crisis. While all countries will feel the impacts of these crises, remote (often First Nations) communities, island states and developing countries are most at risk.

The science is clear: unless we stop treating the climate and nature emergencies as two separate issues, neither problem will be addressed effectively.  In fact, nature-based solutions can mitigate against climate change by around one third of the emissions reduction target required by the international treaty on climate change, the Paris Agreement. A nature-positive future must co-exist alongside a just energy transition to net zero emissions. This can prevent further catastrophic climate change and safeguard the collective wellbeing of humanity.  

The ramifications of these multi-crises cannot be underestimated, with the impacts of climate change cited as “the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century”, and environmental degradation a risk to humanity that could “bring about societal collapses with long‑lasting and severe consequences”. Converting negative trajectories to positive ones to achieve our global sustainability agenda will require new ways of thinking and acting.

Southern Brush-tailed rock wallaby on Mt Rothwell Biodiversity Interpretation Centre, Victoria. Photographer — Annette Ruzicka
Global goal for nature

This urgent challenge requires systemic change underpinned by bold leadership and collaboration across science, industry, government and eNGOs. Globally, governments widely agree that we need to halt and reverse nature loss (measured from a baseline of 2020) so that by 2030 nature is visibly and measurably on the path of recovery. 

By 2050, nature must have been supported to recover so that thriving ecosystems and nature-based solutions continue to support the diversity of life and play a critical role in halting climate change.

Nature-based solutions are actions that “leverage nature and the power of healthy ecosystems to protect people, optimise infrastructure and safeguard a stable and biodiverse future”. Indeed, nature-based solutions can simultaneously respond to climate change and strengthen disaster risk-reduction measures, food and water security, economic sustainability, biodiversity protection and human health.  

For people, planet and prosperity
The loss of nature affects all of society, “eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life.”

Sir Robert Watson, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) 

The intersections between health, wellbeing and environment are being recognised on the world stage. The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a plan of stewardship action “for people, planet and prosperity”. In 2022, the United Nations General Assembly recognised that “everyone, everywhere, has the right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.” For the first time, Australia’s five-yearly SoE report referenced the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, acknowledging the connections between people, nature and climate. 

Australia is also coming into line with forward-thinking democracies, including Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales with the new Measuring What Matters wellbeing framework. Of the 50 indicators covered in Australia’s wellbeing dashboard, 12 are deteriorating, including biodiversity.

Environmental stewardship and caring for Country is not new; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have operated in this way for millennia. There is much we can learn from First Nations communities, who must be front and centre when it comes to developing and delivering nature-based solutions, policies and programs. Though a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Australia continues to be criticised for not recognising and implementing its standards in a formal and comprehensive way, including the right to self-determination.

A note on the Sustainable Development Goals  

In 2015, United Nations Member States across the globe issued an urgent call for united action to improve the lives and wellbeing of the world’s people and our planet. At the heart of the agreement are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which “recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests”. Today, the SDGs provide a way for funders to map their work against a global outcome to help tackle the root causes of the disadvantage they seek to address. The following SDGs align with the overall outcomes in this framework, and many of the priority actions are closely linked to various SDGs: 

  • 2 – Zero hunger 
  • 3 – Good health and wellbeing 
  • 6 – Clean water and sanitation 
  • 8 – Decent work and economic growth 
  • 10 – Reduced inequalities 
  • 11 – Sustainable cities and communities 
  • 12 – Responsible consumption and production 
  • 13 – Climate action 
  • 14 – Life below water 
  • 15 – Life on land 

A note on the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework Targets 

In 2022, in Montreal Canada, almost 200 countries — including Australia — agreed to a new 10-year Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), the vision of which is a world of living in harmony with nature where “by 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people”. The GBF has 23 action-oriented targets to deliver before the end of 2030, contributing to four longer-term goals to 2050. Many of the priorities we identify for funding in our Nature Funding Framework are relevant to multiple GBF targets.  

First Nations peoples’ enduring care for land and sea Country
The scientists are seen as experts, but our mob have been doing this for thousands of years. Don’t look at us as the victims — see us as the heroes. Centre us as the experts — protecting Country.

Amelia Telford, Seed Mob 

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, nature is inseparable from culture, history, agency, equity and wellbeing. The phrase “caring for Country” embodies more than 60,000 years of kinship-based reciprocity between Indigenous people and their lands, waters, plants, animals, ancestors, laws, Songlines and more. The physical, mental and spiritual health of Indigenous communities is interwoven with the health of Country, as expressed by the phrase, “When we look after Country, Country looks after us”. 

All of the Australian continent is Country. As such, “caring for Country” encompasses all of Australia — its cities, regions and remote places. Australia’s diverse Indigenous population live everywhere, for instance 37 per cent of our Indigenous population live in Australia’s major cities. Every city has Traditional Owner groups that work to fulfil their cultural obligations to Country and promote the wellbeing of local Indigenous communities.

Today, the contemporary settler state is slowly beginning to recognise and embrace First Nations connection to Country. For example, under Australian law, First Nations people own, manage or have rights to 438 million hectares of Country — 57 per cent of Australia’s land mass. Indigenous rights remain constrained in large areas of this estate, and while the pace of legal recognition of First Nations connection and interests in all Country is too slow, progress is being made.  

It’s no coincidence that many of the most ecologically and bioculturally diverse places in Australia are those where First Nations connection to Country has been less impacted by colonisation and where rights and obligations to care for Country have been recognised and supported. First Nations caring for Country is based on knowledge systems that have co-evolved with place, resulting in ways of being, knowing and doing that have persisted for millennia. The environmental crises we face are exacerbated when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are prevented from caring for Country. Healing the relationships between First Nations people and Country is a practical approach to solving the biodiversity and climate crises we now face globally. 

The SoE report notes the wellbeing of First Nations communities is impacted when people are separated from Country and cannot practise culture. Poor health, low life expectancy and other social circumstances impact the ability of First Nations people to practise and maintain stewardship of Country. “People are strong and healthy when they are on Country, connected and fulfilling their cultural obligations. Country is healthier too.” Concomitantly, biodiversity and ecosystem function tend to decline in places where people and Country are separated, or First Nations practices of care are impinged.  

Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) are land and sea Country managed by First Nations groups under voluntary agreements with the federal government to help protect and promote biodiversity and nature, alongside living cultural connections. More than 87 million hectares of Australia’s landmass and five million hectares of oceans are in IPAs — an area that equates to 50 per cent of the National Reserve System. The IPA program is critical for protecting Country, and without it, Australia cannot meet its international commitments to protect nature and reduce emissions. While this program receives funding from the Australian Government and is generally acknowledged as a success, it still lacks the necessary resources to fully realise its potential.  

The Nature Funding Framework has largely been shaped through a Western prism. The AEGN values Indigenous knowledge systems and approaches, which are holistic and intrinsically nurture and sustain nature. We will continue to improve the way we weave these systems and approaches into our work through ongoing partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to better shape how our members can fund First Nations–led work.  

Land and inland waters in decline
You cannot cherish the right hand and chop off the left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators; you cannot conserve the waters and waste the ranges; you cannot build the forest and mine the farm. The land is one organism.

Aldo Leopold, writer and environmentalist  

Australia is a biological treasure trove. Our continent is home to around eight per cent of the planet’s known species and is one of 17 countries recognised as “megadiverse”. Many of our terrestrial species are uniquely Australian and our animals are the most evolutionarily distinctive in the world. Australia’s inland waters also support globally significant biodiversity and are vitally important for agriculture, industry and communities. Yet this biological wealth is being depleted at an alarming rate. With so many unique species, we have an important national responsibility to maintain the planet’s biological diversity and safeguard our future. 

Australia’s extinction record is worse than that of any other continent. Since colonisation, at least 38 species of mammals have disappeared. Eighty-seven per cent of these were endemic to Australia, meaning that they exist nowhere else in the world. This trajectory of mass extinction is compounded by climate change, invasive species, habitat loss, introduced pathogens and pollution. As natural habitats degrade, native species become less resilient and more susceptible to these pressures. Alarmingly, in 2021, scientists reported 18 out of the 19 ecosystems they studied from Australia to Antarctica are collapsing.

Native forests are still being logged, while land clearing continues apace for agriculture, mining, housing developments and increasingly, energy transition. In Queensland, land is being cleared at a rate of 567 Melbourne Cricket Grounds each day, which is on par with clearing in the Amazon rainforest. The problem is not Queensland’s alone: between 2000 and 2017, some 7.7 million hectares of habitat were cleared across Australia and 93 per cent of this clearing was not referred to the Australian Government for assessment or approval.  

To reverse this decline, we must not only increase conservation and restoration actions but also examine land use by extractive industries, housing development and agriculture, and prioritise transitioning to sustainable production and consumption.  

Globally, food production contributes 22 per cent of all carbon emissions and demand is only increasing. In Australia, agriculture covers more than half our land, and is responsible for around 13 per cent of domestic carbon emissions. Food production is also the single biggest cause of land conversion and biodiversity loss. The WWF has likened conventional food production and its impact on nature loss with the role of fossil fuels in climate change.

To drive change at scale, all facets of society — farmers, landholders, business, government and the community — need to engage with the issues and collaborate on solutions. Habitat retention and restoration is key, along with ongoing management and mitigation of threats such as invasive species control and biosecurity. The integrity and function of our ecosystems cannot be measured by any one species — a whole-of-ecosystem approach is needed. 

Conservation efforts often overlook or underappreciate the importance of inland waters. Inland waters are home to the greatest number of threatened species and ecological communities in Australia (per unit area) and provide us with fresh water, which is fundamental to all life, including of course, human life. 

Australia is the driest inhabited continent on Earth yet almost every sector of the economy depends on water as do the hundreds of thousands of plant, animal, and fungi species. Despite water being such a precious resource, Australia’s inland waters have been grossly mismanaged, a consequence of divisive politics, a lack of robust and transparent data, and vested interests. Compounding pressures include over-extraction for irrigation and other uses, climate change and extreme weather events, agricultural runoff, deoxygenation of rivers by bacteria, land clearing, grazing along waterways and mining activities.  

Transformational change to safeguard the future of fresh water in Australia must be underpinned by water justice for First Nations communities. Australia’s current water framework, the National Water Initiative (NWI), does not recognise Aboriginal interests, rights or responsibilities to water. First Nations groups have rights to just 0.12 per cent of groundwater allocations in the Murray–Darling Basin. In arid and semi-arid zones, many sacred sites relate to water. It is essential that the rights and management of sufficient cultural water flows are returned to Traditional Owners for the spiritual, cultural, environmental and social outcomes these provide.  

Major wetlands cover an estimated 5.5 million hectares in the Murray–Darling Basin. Sixteen wetlands within the Basin are recognised under the Ramsar Convention as globally significant for their role in supporting unique plants and animals, including migratory birds. The natural flow regimes that created these wetlands have been disrupted, in some cases catastrophically, after more than 100 years of river regulation and water extraction, predominantly for irrigation. With a changing climate, many farmers are building bigger dams, diminishing downstream flow, and when rainfall is low, environmental flow allocations are among the first to be cut. 

Strong and integrated policy, planning, management and regulation are all crucial for land and inland waters, including both surface and groundwater resources. The rollout of renewable energy and mining of critical minerals will mean new pressures on water access.  

Inadequate water management not only contributes to environmental decline but also leads to poor water quality, including contamination by heavy metals, salt and bacteria, for local communities, often in remote areas.  

From advocacy and education to water monitoring and community action, philanthropy can play a key role in water conservation. 

Pelicans on Gayini during flood event, here approx. 20,000 have come to feed and breed. Photographer — Annette Ruzicka
Oceans and coasts in decline
Our very existence is on the line. The ocean is the blue heart of the planet. Thirty percent (protected) by 2030 is a good start, but I say half, as soon as we can get there. How much of your heart do you want to protect?

Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue 

With a coastline stretching 33,000 kilometres, Australia is home to a great diversity of marine species and ecosystems. Some 33,000 marine species are known to occur in Australian waters, many of which are unique to our nation. These marine ecosystems provide services that underpin our wellbeing, support valuable marine industries and hold deep meaning for all Australians, especially the Traditional Owners of sea Country. Yet our oceans and coasts face a series of cumulative pressures, including the overarching impact of climate change. 

Oceans play a critical role in regulating the planet’s climate, acting as a heat sink and absorbing carbon dioxide. Additionally, 50 per cent of the world’s available oxygen is produced by phytoplankton. And while oceans influence the global climate, climate change in turn has immense effects on the oceans, including acidification, changes in circulation and currents, and warming ocean temperatures — an ocean–climate nexus. 

Flanked by the Pacific, Southern and Indian Oceans, and the Timor, Tasman and Coral Seas, Australia’s coastline encompasses more than 1000 estuaries that foster some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. Dotted along our coastlines are around 9200 island havens that house many supporting ecosystems and species that are found nowhere else on Earth.

These oceans, islands and coasts are the unceded territories of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Their practices and knowledge systems over millennia have sustained healthy ecosystems and the ongoing survival of First Nations peoples and culture.  

Today, marine and coastal ecosystems in Australia face overlapping pressures — changing water temperatures, acidification, pollution, overfishing, impacts of non-native species, increased nutrient levels from land runoff and marine weeds, and habitat and biodiversity loss. Eighty-seven per cent of Australia’s population lives within 50 kilometres of the coast, and the pressures of development are impacting coastal environments.

Meanwhile, rising sea levels are inundating coastal land, and extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and intense. Climate change is affecting entire ecosystems and species in our oceans and on our coasts. 

These challenges require adaptive, holistic and integrated environmental management that is co-designed and implemented with Indigenous-led organisations. However, coastal zone management, which includes both land and sea, is often convoluted, involving multiple levels of government.

On paper, Australia has one of the largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) networks in the world; however, protections vary across jurisdictions, and the experts we interviewed agreed that partially protected areas do not adequately provide the protections needed for marine species, and are largely ineffective.  

To regenerate our oceans and coasts, we need a range of approaches from advocacy and local stewardship to research, new technologies, adaptive management plans and regenerative economies. Philanthropy can play a significant role in ensuring healthy oceans and coasts that move us to a nature-positive future by 2030.  

7 levers for change

Nature needs us to act, now. Our lives, and our environmental life-support system, depend on it. In this section we outline seven change levers that philanthropy can deploy to protect, restore and manage nature, along with priorities and specific opportunities for land and inland waters, and oceans and coasts.  

We need a range of approaches to shift the dial in different ways for different outcomes. They all matter, and we need to pursue multiple actions simultaneously. We know what needs to be done. What we need now is urgent action by individuals, organisations and governments.  

Read about the key levers below, along with priorities and specific opportunities for philanthropy for land and inland waters, and oceans and coasts.

  1. Applied conservation — Protect, restore and manage the environment.
  2. Legal — Strengthen, test and apply laws and policies.
  3. Science, research and monitoring — Collect and use data to guide strategy.
  4. Communication and education — Reframe and amplify the story.
  5. Participation and agency — Energise and involve communities.
  6. Capacity building and co-ordination — Build a strong and unified movement.
  7. Economy — Shift to a regenerative nature-positive system.
Humpback Whales in Ningaloo Reef, WA during breeding season. Photographer — Annette Ruzicka

Considerations for funders

To successfully restore nature, the environmental sector needs to have the resources, strategies and talent to make change happen as quickly and effectively as possible.  

Building the capacity of eNGOs is fundamental, as is supporting coordination, but there are other important factors for funders to consider too. In this section we share nine insights from interviewees, in no particular order. 

1. Ask organisations what they need

Some funders develop their strategies and ask NGOs to apply for grant funding, critiquing applications against selection criteria. A more collaborative and trust-based approach is to ask organisations what their priorities are and what they need. Organisations are likely to have well-developed and researched programs and expertise. Be guided by their priorities to ensure alignments and efficiencies. 

A collaborative approach could also include other possibilities, such as funders providing low-interest loans, guaranteeing finance for a legal challenge or joining the board. 


Who are you asking what they need?

Amanda Martin talks to Bec Milgrom, Executive Director of impact investing company Tripple, about how their investing and grantmaking work together; shaking up traditional processes; and why there can’t be climate justice without First Nations justice.

2. Fund justice, equity, diversity and inclusion

We need greater cultural and linguistic diversity in the environmental sector, including First Nations and migrant communities, and people of varying abilities, ages and political views. When leaders, staff and volunteers in organisations come from diverse backgrounds, the movement for change deepens, ideas expand and new communities are given agency. Strategies for the philanthropic sector to address diversity and inclusion are introduced in ‘From Colour Blind to Race Conscious: A Roadmap to Action Diversity and Inclusion in Australian Philanthropy’

3. Provide flexible, multi-year support

Rather than impose conditions on where and when funding can be spent, eNGOs have a great need for untied, multi-year funding. When eNGOs can decide where their funding is spent, it will go where it’s most needed. Flexible funding for indirect costs might be spent on core positions or operating expenses, strategy or systems upgrades, or wages to provide better continuity for program delivery.  

If you are funding specific projects or programs, ensure adequate resourcing for indirect costs including IT, finance and HR. Read more in Paying What It Takes: Funding Indirect Costs to Create Long-Term Impact.”

4. Scale up existing organisations rather than create new ones

Unless there is good reason, rather than fund the establishment of new entities, philanthropists should consider scaling up existing organisations that are well placed to do the work. Funders should also consider supporting mergers, partnerships or networks that have sector support, redirecting precious resources rather than sustaining organisations that are no longer strategic.

5. Recognise the limitations of measurement

Measuring impact will be more difficult with certain approaches. It is relatively easy to quantify the hectares of weeds controlled but far harder to measure how advocacy has influenced biosecurity policy reform that will avert new weed infestations. Systems change approaches are generally a slower burn approach with huge and long-lasting impacts. Understand the difference you aspire to make, and measure what matters. And if you want specific and additional data from the organisations you support, or a monitoring and evaluation framework, provide extra funding to cover related costs.  

6. Fund advocacy and litigation

Advocacy and legal action (particularly test cases) can be a high-risk approach, but these actions can be enormously effective in redefining the laws and how they are applied. Advocacy can include researching the information that will inform the claim for change, mobilising the public, direct action, lobbying politicians and countering vested interests. Organisations like the Environmental Defenders Office and Environmental Justice Australia are essential to enable litigation, but cases often won’t be pursued without well-supported NGO clients who have strong leadership, staff and potentially a guarantor who can cover costs if the case is lost. Litigation and legal advocacy often rely on access to specialist and expert evidence which can be costly to obtain. 

7. Support organisations that are a good personal fit for you

Various philanthropic structures exist, from foundations and sub-funds to private ancillary funds and individual donors. There is also a range of organisations to fund, which vary in purpose, structure, income and capacity. Conduct your own due diligence and consider what you’re seeking in an organisation, such as primary objectives, governance structure, size or stage of development, or organisational values and culture. Look for organisations that align with your values and priorities and give with a clear intention. 


Funding a deeper connection

Angela Whitbread’s philanthropy is driven by a profound respect for the vibrant web of life that sustains us all. Here she reflects on the power of philanthropy to restore, protect and bring us closer to nature.

8. Use your networks and influence to advocate for change

Aside from philanthropy, you can do a lot to influence actions that impact on the protection, restoration and management of nature. As a shareholder or board member you can push for change from within companies, including decisions about how the company operates, investment guidelines, procurement policies, partnerships and sponsorships. If you have a personal or professional relationship with local, state/territory or federal members of parliament, you can talk to them about how decisions they make are impacting on nature. As an advocate for nature, you can write submissions, be a champion for change and tell your story to bring others along. If you’d like to know more, AEGN’s Advocacy Manager can support you. 

9. Help grow environmental giving

The environment receives a small fraction of philanthropic funding and an even smaller proportion of overall revenue compared with the rest of the charitable sector. If the sector is to respond successfully to the existential challenges we face, we need to increase not just the quality of giving, but the quantity. Social research tells us that people’s attitudes and behaviours are influenced by their peers. Members are in a unique position to inspire others by talking about their own philanthropy, the important work that is supported and the satisfaction that comes with giving. Please encourage potential members to get in touch with the AEGN to find out more and help grow our collective impact.  


There is no doubt that Australia’s environment is in a dire state, and the threats it faces are inherently linked and are exacerbating one another. Our challenge is urgent, and the actions that got us here will not get us where we need to go next.  

Through background research, interviews with subject matter experts and further reviews, we have compiled what we understand to be the priorities for philanthropy to transform the state of nature and realise the full potential of our members’ giving.  

The experts we interviewed agreed that to arrest the nature crisis and to become nature positive by 2030, we must be ambitious, systematic and strategic. Big problems demand big solutions and a well-resourced, collaborative approach. To get there, we have outlined seven key levers for change, all of which are important and interconnected. We have also detailed specific funding priorities for land and inland waters, and oceans and coasts.  

Among the priorities we have identified, ten big gaps and opportunities stand out. These require further research or investment to determine the next steps to enable transformative change.  

We hope this resource helps AEGN members to accelerate action and scale solutions by working together and with eNGOs, academics, government, business and local communities. Only when we act collectively will we achieve a future where the climate is safeguarded, and both people and nature thrive. 


Biodiversity credits or certificates A tradable personal commodity that is issued to landholders for projects that enhance or protect native biodiversity (Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries). 
Blue carbon The carbon captured by coastal ecosystems and stored in biomass and sediments (Australian Government Department of Energy, Climate Change, the Environment and Water). 
Blue economy  The sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystems (The World Bank). 
Citizen science Public participation and collaboration in scientific research with the aim to increase scientific knowledge (Australian Citizen Science Association). 
Critical minerals Metals and non-metals that are considered vital for the economic well-being of the world’s major and emerging economies, yet whose supply may be at risk due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, trade policy or other factors (Parliament of Australia). 
Conservation covenant A permanent legal agreement placed on a landholder’s Certificate of Title to ensure long-term conservation and protection of native remnant vegetation and habitats. The covenant runs with the land in perpetuity (National Trust WA). 
Ecosystem integrity The ability of an ecosystem to support and maintain ecological processes and a diverse community of organisms. 
Ecological restoration The process of repairing sites in nature whose biological communities and ecosystems have been degraded or destroyed. 
Ecosystem services The benefits provided to humans through the transformation of resources (or environmental assets, including land, water, vegetation and atmosphere) into a flow of essential goods and services, such as clean air, water and food (Constanza et al. 1997). 
Environmental non-government organisation (eNGO) A non-governmental organisation, usually a not-for-profit, in the field of environmentalism. 
Environment protection authority A government agency responsible for regulating activities that could damage the environment. 
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act An Act of the Parliament of Australia that provides a framework for protection of the Australian environment, including its biodiversity and its natural and culturally significant places (Australian Government Federal Register of Legislation). 
Greenwashing The practice (usually used by corporations) of putting a positive public spin on practices that are environmentally unsound. 
High conservation value Biological, ecological, social or cultural values of a landscape or ecosystem that are considered outstandingly significant or critically important, at the national, regional or global level. 
Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) Areas of land and sea Country managed by First Nations groups in accordance with Traditional Owners’ objectives. IPAs deliver biodiversity conservation outcomes for the benefit of all Australians, through voluntary agreements with the Australian Government (Australian Government National Indigenous Australians Agency). 
Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) Sites contributing significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity, in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems. The Global Standard for the Identification of KBAs (IUCN 2016) sets out globally agreed criteria for the identification of KBAs worldwide (International Union for Conservation of Nature). 
Key threatening process A process that threatens or may threaten the survival, abundance or evolutionary development of a native species or ecological community — for example, invasive species, climate change and habitat loss. 
Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) A framework adopted at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) to help countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and define a pathway to reach the global vision of a world living in harmony with nature by 2050 (Convention on Biological Diversity). 
Marine protected areas (MPAs) A defined region designated and managed for the long-term conservation of marine resources, ecosystems services, or cultural heritage (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). 
National Environmental Standards Standards that prescribe how activities at all scales, including actions, decisions, plans and policies, contribute to outcomes under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. At the time of writing (2023), the standards are undergoing reform. 
National Reserve System (NRS) Australia’s network of protected areas, which is made up of reserves owned by governments, Indigenous lands, protected areas run by non-profit conservation organisations and ecosystems protected by farmers on their properties. (Australian Government Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water). 
Natural Resource Management (NRM)/Catchment Management Authority (CMA) Organisations established by state governments to manage and coordinate the sustainable use and protection of land, water, vegetation, and other natural resources within specific regions. 
Nature-based solutions Actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously benefiting people and nature (International Union for Conservation of Nature). 
Nature positive The state in which nature — species and ecosystems — is being restored and is regenerating rather than declining. 
Ramsar ConventionA treaty between nations broadly aimed at halting the worldwide loss of wetlands and conserving, through wise use and management, those that remain. The signing of the Convention took place in 1971 in the Iranian town of Ramsar.
Site Renewables Right An interactive online map created by the Nature Conservancy, which synthesises engineering, land-use and wildlife data. The tool helps companies and communities identify locations where renewable energy can be located without impacting wildlife and natural habitats. 
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) A set of 17 global goals established by the United Nations to address pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges. The SDGs provide a comprehensive framework to guide international efforts toward creating a more just, prosperous, and ecologically balanced future for all (United Nations Development Programme). 
Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) An initiative focused on the financial impacts of nature-related risks and opportunities. The TNFD is being developed to help financial institutions, businesses, and investors assess and disclose their dependencies and impacts on nature (TNFD). 
Threat abatement plan Plans that establish a national framework to guide and coordinate Australia’s response to key threatening processes registered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Implementing the plan should assist the long-term survival in the wild of affected native species or ecological communities. 
Threatened species Species that are vulnerable to extinction in the near future. There are three categories: Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable. Species are assigned to categories based on geographic range, population size and population decline/increase, and extinction probability analyses. 


Endnotes and related links are below, with the context for these references available in the full Nature Funding Framework PDF download.

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The AEGN is grateful to everyone who has contributed to the development of the Nature Funding Framework through interviews, workshops and conferences. Other ongoing conversations and reports have also provided valuable background and context that has helped inform this resource.

Our thanks to all those from First Nations organisations, from the environmental NGO sector, academia, business and government who have shared insights to help us understand where philanthropy can have the greatest impact for nature. Contributions from members of the Australian Land Conservation Alliance, the Biodiversity Council and the Places You Love Alliance have been significant.

Special thanks to the authors of the 2021 State of the Environment report, and particularly chief authors Professor Emma Johnston, Dr Ian Cresswell and Dr Terri Janke.

We also thank the AEGN Nature Working Group for their input and support and everyone who reviewed and tested the framework. Your suggestions have been invaluable.

Thanks to all AEGN members who provide core ongoing support for our work and to donors to the Nature Program:

  • Blue Sky Environmental Trust
  • Graeme Wood Foundation
  • Isaacson Davis Foundation
  • Jaramas Foundation
  • Melliodora Fund, Australian Communities Foundation
  • Rendere Trust
  • Spinifex Trust
  • TREE Fund

Finally, thank you to photographer Annette Ruzicka whose beautiful imagery has brought the framework to life.

For image descriptions, download the Nature Funding Framework (pdf).

Levers for change

Nature needs us to act, now. Our lives, and our environmental life-support system, depend on it.

Lever 1: Applied conservation

Protect, restore and manage the environment

Lever 2: Legal

Strengthen, test and apply laws and policies

Lever 3: Science, research and monitoring

Collect and use data to guide strategy

Lever 4: Communication and education

Reframe and amplify the story

Lever 5: Participation and agency

Energise and involve communities

Lever 6: Capacity building and co-ordination

Build a strong and unified movement

Lever 7: Economy

Shift to a regenerative nature-positive system

Latest news

PODCAST: ‘Speaking up for nature’ with Bruce and Ann McGregor
PODCAST: ‘Thinking seven generations ahead’ with Adrian Appo OAM
PODCAST: ‘Philanthropy’s forgotten child (the environment)’ with Intrepid Travel’s co-founder and Chair, Darrell Wade
PODCAST: ‘On having enough’ with Tash Keuneman, Keuneman Foundation
PODCAST: Shifting systems – the great powers of small funders with Sue Mathews

Philanthropy has an urgent and vital role to play in scaling up the solutions and interventions to respond to the crises of nature, climate and, inextricably linked, people.

— Amanda Martin OAM, CEO, AEGN 

Take nature funding to the next level

If you’re a philanthropist, the AEGN can help connect you with strategic environment funders, impactful projects that need your support and a like-minded community that wants to safeguard the future of people and the planet.