Innovative Plan to Help NQ Environment

Cairns Airport will help to regenerate and protect threatened species and their habitats as part of a groundbreaking Australia-first agreement.

The unique biodiversity plan is one of a number of initiatives linked to a new Sustainability Linked Loan (SLL) launched in partnership with Westpac, Commonwealth Bank and NAB. It comes ahead of National Threatened Species Day, which marks the death of the last remaining Tasmanian tiger and highlights all native animals and plant species that face a similar fate.

“Cairns is the only place in the world where two natural UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites sit side-by-side; the Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef. The natural environment is one of this region’s greatest assets,” North Queensland Airports Chief Executive Officer Richard Barker said.

“These natural assets are not only ecologically important; they are also socially and culturally important and underpin the region’s economy. An alarming number of plant and animal species present in Far North Queensland are listed as threatened, with habitat loss identified as a leading cause.

“Cairns Airport landholdings includes a significant amount of the region's intact coastal forests, with potential to be a stronghold for threatened species in the region. We are seeking to enhance the habitat of at least three threatened species here, in partnership with the Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation’s Yirrganydji Land and Sea Ranger program.”

The SLL will allow North Queensland Airports (NQA), which includes both Cairns Airport and Mackay Airport, to align its environmental priorities to its financing, by linking the cost of borrowing to achieving key sustainability targets within a specified timeframe. The biodiversity target in the agreement is understood to be the only one of its kind in Australia and is similar only to a couple of others around the world.

Mr Barker said NQA would work closely with the Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation to maintain and improve key habitats within Cairns Airport, to help protect biodiversity and for better carbon sequestration and climate change adaptation outcomes.

Other initiatives linked to the agreement include the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to Net Zero by 2025, and support of First Nations peoples including by prioritising procurement from contactors with a defined percentage of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander employees.

“This agreement will accelerate our commitment to achieving long-term, ambitious environmental and social targets,” Mr Barker said.

“The initiatives reflect the importance of addressing climate change, our stewardship of important natural habitat and the opportunity we have to ensure that Australia’s First peoples are empowered to contribute to our operations.”

Eliza Mathews, Head of Sustainable Finance for Westpac Institutional Bank, said Westpac was excited to partner with NQA on its first Sustainability Linked Loan, which rewards the Airport for delivering emissions reduction and environmental land management initiatives.

“NQA’s leadership to be one of the first companies in Australia to commit to biodiversity targets as part of an SLL is particularly impressive,” she said.

“With the launch of the Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures, we’re seeing increasing focus on biodiversity and natural capital from investors and issuers, and NQA’s SLL is a great example to follow as this focus becomes more common in the sustainable finance market.”

Sally Reid, Executive General Manager Global Client Solutions at Commonwealth Bank, said NQA’s innovative sustainability targets would build on a broad and long-running sustainability programme, and commit the company to reaching for ambitious outcomes in this important sphere.

"NQA is the first Australian organisation to set a target to support the recovery of endangered species
populations, breaking new ground for the domestic sustainable finance market and highlighting the importance of preserving species diversity as part of securing a sustainable future,” she said.

“We also commend NQA on engaging First Nations peoples to help meet and report on these targets as this honours the skills and knowledge of the indigenous community and recognises that they are best placed to lead this important work as the traditional custodians of Australia."

NAB Group Executive, Corporate and Institutional Bank, David Gall said NAB was proud to support NQA to establish this ambitious and innovative Sustainability Linked Loan.

“The opportunities are significant for the North Queensland community, with its airport now setting unique sustainability targets aimed to create meaningful change in the areas of emissions reductions, biodiversity and indigenous engagement,” he said.

“We congratulate NQA for being the first organisation in Australia to set these targets that helps address climate change, restore natural habitat and provide meaningful employment for First Nations peoples in Cairns and Mackay.”