According to a government report, the state of Australia’s environment is poor and has worsened over the past five years as a result of pressures from climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, and mining. The report warns that the natural world holds the key to human survival and well-being.
The state of the environment report, which scientists completed last year but which the Morrison government withheld until after the federal election, found that some Australian ecosystems had undergone abrupt changes over the previous five years, with at least 19 of them now exhibiting signs of collapse or being on the verge of collapse.
Despite efforts by the federal and state governments to address the decrease, the report found that there was insufficient financing for environmental protection and that there had been a lack of cooperation between the various government agencies to adequately manage the threat’s cumulative effect.
In a speech to the National Press Club on Tuesday, the environment and water minister Tanya Plibersek will release the five-year report. She called it a “shocking document” that told “a story of crisis and decline in Australia’s environment, and of a decade of government inaction and willful ignorance.”
She declared, “I won’t be burying my head in the sand.” The environment is now again a top focus under Labor.
According to the World Economic Forum, which was referenced in the report, environmental deterioration is increasingly seen as a threat to humanity and has the potential to “bring about social collapses with long-lasting and catastrophic effects.”
Important Points from The Environment Report
- Following 175 species being added to the list between 2011 and 2016, 202 animal and plant species have been recognized as vulnerable items of national environmental interest since 2016. This has occurred even while the rate of new species discovery and description has significantly decreased during the previous ten years. More species still exist that are unknown than are known.
- While 21 priority species’ trajectories have improved as a result of a government threatened species policy, many other species did not. As the effects of the devastating 2019–20 bushfires, which killed or displaced between 1 billion and 3 billion animals, became more apparent, the list would grow significantly in the following years.
- In the developed world, Australia has one of the fastest rates of species decline and has lost more mammal species than any other continent. Australia has around 100 species that have been classified as extinct or extinct in the wild. Introduced species, habitat loss, and clearance of habitat were the main causes of extinction.
- With an increase in the areas dedicated to forestry and crops, about half of the nation is currently used for grazing. Since 1990, more than 6.1 million hectares of prime native forest have been cleared—an area larger than suburban Melbourne. Nearly 290,000 hectares of primary forest and 343,000 hectares of regrown forest were cut in the five years leading up to 2019.
- There are more exotic plant species in Australia than native ones. Over the past 50 years, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent in an effort to control invasive species, illnesses, and introduced species.
- Due to drought and water exploitation, the Murray-Darling Basin’s water levels reached record lows in 2019. Native fish populations have decreased by more than 90% over the previous 150 years, a trend that appears to be continuing, and rivers and catchments are generally in poor condition.
A Little Staghorn Coral on The Great Barrier Reef that Has Bleached
Ocean heat waves in 2016, 2017, and 2020 led to widespread coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. (The report was completed before this year’s March major bleaching.) A critical point is rapidly approaching where ocean acidification, which is brought on by the uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, will result in the demise of young coral.
Reefs all around the nation were in a bad and declining state, as were the animals that depend on them. Rising sea temperatures have sent sea urchin populations south, destroying kelp beds along the country’s southeast coast and endangering 150 reef species and rocky reef habitats.
In places close to metropolitan centers, waterways, beaches, and shorelines are typically in bad condition, whereas more distant areas tend to have better conditions. With 86 percent of populations being categorized as not being overfished, the larger marine ecosystem is generally in better form than the terrestrial environment.
Many low-lying places, notably the Kakadu wetlands, have been impacted by sea level rise. Mangroves are displacing saltmarshes along much of Australia’s coast.
Australia has the third-largest cumulative loss of soil organic carbon worldwide, behind China and the US, due to changes in land use, which has an impact on the climate issue.
Despite the objections of Traditional Owners, the destruction of Indigenous history continues at an unsustainable rate. Nearly half of the nation’s protected lands are owned by indigenous people, yet they have limited access to funding and other essential resources for managing their country.
Compared to other established cities worldwide, the majority of major Australian cities are expanding more quickly. Urban heat, traffic, pollution, and trash have all increased due to the rate of growth, and the demand for water and energy resources is also on the rise.
At least 19 Australian ecosystems are on the verge of or have already experienced collapse. Ecosystems across the continent, including those in Antarctica and the subantarctic, are collapsing. A sudden change is the disappearance of Tasmania’s enormous kelp forests.
Between 2000 and 2017, almost 93 percent of the vulnerable species’ terrestrial habitat was destroyed without being reported to the federal government for evaluation under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
Dr. Terri Janke, a well-known Indigenous lawyer, Dr. Ian Cresswell, an environmental scientist at CSIRO, and Prof. Emma Johnston, the deputy vice-chancellor for research at the University of Sydney, were the report’s primary writers.
They emphasized that the natural world—which provides food, water, air, and raw materials—is inextricably linked to the world of people.
“With dwindling biodiversity and a fast-changing climate, the situation for our ecosystem is generally getting worse. All of us will be impacted by this. Understanding, preserving, and restoring the health of our ecosystem is in our own best interests, they declared.
“We are also accountable for it. Beyond what we directly use it for, our environment has intrinsic value.
According to the report, improving the environment would call for national leadership, integrated management across federal, state, and territorial systems, new financing sources, and greater monitoring and reporting.
Plibersek stated to the ABC on Tuesday that the country’s environmental laws needed to be changed because they were ineffective and because the government had sufficient information on the severity of the issue. She claimed, “If we continue doing what we’re doing, we’ll keep receiving the same results.
The minister stated that she planned to build on the results of a statutory review by the former head of the competition watchdog, Graeme Samuel, and submit reforms to environmental laws, including the establishment of the Environment Protection Agency, to parliament next year.
According to Sarah Hanson-Young, the environment spokesman for the Green Party, the report demonstrated that “this is an emergency and in an emergency, you take emergency action.”
She claimed that it detailed a “litany of environmental wreckage fueled by climate change and years of denial and neglect” and that it was time to reform the law to take climate change into account when planning new fossil fuel developments.
If the minister is truly worried by this report, she will act right away to stop polluting projects that are causing the climate disaster and ensure that no more crucial habitat is destroyed, according to Hanson-Young.
Prof. Chennupati Jagadish, president of the Australian Academy of Science, said the study was depressing to read and that the situation for the environment was bleak, with many natural systems’ critical thresholds expected to be crossed if global warming persisted.
Jagadish urged for the establishment of an independent organization to monitor wildlife and biodiversity data, claiming that the report demonstrated “severe underinvestment” in the scientific knowledge and capabilities required to comprehend the state of the environment. In order to respond to the climate catastrophe more quickly, he suggested that Australia review its promises to reduce emissions.
Australia’s “total failure of environmental and conservation management” has been proven, according to Prof. Euan Ritchie of the Centre for Integrative Ecology at Deakin University, who called the research authoritative, long overdue, and authoritative.
But he said that it was still possible to alter the course. “We stand to earn huge social, cultural, economic, and environmental benefits if we act now and tighten and enforce environmental laws, offer substantially higher investment to promote the protection and recovery of the environment and threatened species, and better interact with people,” he said.
A representative for Sussan Ley, the deputy leader of the Liberal Party and former environment minister in the Morrison administration who received the report in December, justified the decision to withhold its release until after the election. He said that the Coalition had “implemented various policies which preserved Australia’s natural environment” and that the report had been handled within the prescribed legislative deadline.
Tanya Plibersek must follow Sussan Ley’s example of following the advice of professionals and scientists in protecting the environment, the spokesman said.
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