Australia is facing a devastating climate change crisis which will wipe out ‘the country we grew up with’ as koalas and other iconic species face extinction, warn the authors of a landmark report.
Scott Morrison’s government tried to keep the ‘stark and depressing’ State of the Environment report a secret and refused to publish it before May’s federal election.
But new environment minister Tanya Plibersek will release the 2000-page study on Tuesday after admitting she was stunned by its findings.
‘It is a shocking document – it tells a story of crisis and decline in Australia’s environment,’ she said.
Australia’s environment is sick and getting sicker as the combined effects of climate change, pollution, land clearing and mining take a dangerous toll, a landmark report says
The State of the Environment report is a five-yearly health check on the natural ecosystems that underpin every aspect of life in Australia, and the news is resoundingly bad.
The report found Australia’s environment is sick and getting sicker as the combined effects of climate change, pollution, land clearing and mining take a dangerous toll.
The report’s researchers admit it is ‘stark and depressing’ and its summary warns: ‘Overall, the state and trend of the environment of Australia are poor and deteriorating.
‘Our inability to adequately manage pressures will continue to result in species extinctions and deteriorating ecosystem condition.’
They warn that abandoning the environment will hurt the country economically too, with the tourism industry facing ruin if Australia’s unique nature is destroyed.
Former CSIRO director Dr Ian Cresswell – one of the three chief authors – says a lack of national leadership and investment to tackle the crisis has cost the nation and it needs to stop.
‘We’re going to lose the Australia that we grew up with, for future generations, if we don’t truly start dealing with some of the environmental problems,’ he said.
The report details ‘abrupt’ changes in ecological systems over the last five years with climate change adding a devastating new layer to the accumulation of other threats.
New Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has called it shocking. She will use a National Press Club address on Tuesday to explain how Labor will respond
The result is a growing list of threatened species trying to survive in shrinking and degraded ecosystems that are being ineffectively managed with too little money, it says.
The report says Australia lacks a framework to manage the environment in a comprehensive way and instead relies on a jumble of systems across different tiers of government.
The number of new species listed as threatened or up-listed to a higher category of threat – like the now officially endangered koalas – has increased by eight per cent since 2016 and will jump again due to Black Summer bushfires, it warns.
Despite that, monitoring of threatened species and communities is ‘mostly inadequate’ with up to 46 per cent of threatened vertebrates, 69 per cent of threatened plants and 70 per cent of threatened ecological communities not monitored at all.
Meanwhile a staggering 7.7 million hectares of habitat for land-based threatened species was cleared between 2000 and 2017. But almost all of that – 7.1 million hectares – wasn’t assessed under federal environmental laws.
The latest report includes, for the first time, new chapters on climate and extreme events including recent floods, terrestrial and marine heatwaves, droughts, and bushfires.
‘In previous reports we talked about climate impacts in mostly the future tense,’ says co-chief author and professor of marine ecology Emma Johnston.
‘But in this report we document wide-scale impacts of climate-related extreme events across the nation and that has compounded existing threats – land clearing, invasive species, pollution.
‘The layering of climate impacts on top of that – that’s primarily what is causing the deterioration and the depressing trends for those ecosystems.’
The number of new species listed as threatened or up-listed to a higher category of threat – like the now officially endangered koalas – has increased by eight per cent since 2016 and will jump again due to Black Summer bushfires, it warns
The report also charts the drop in federal government spending on biodiversity at the same time risks have been increasing.
Since 2010, biodiversity expenditure remained between $400 and $500 million per year, then dipped below $300 million in 2018–19, and has been under $400 million thereafter, the report says.
Ms Plibersek says Australians deserve to see the report, which her predecessor Sussan Ley received last year. Ms Ley refused to release it despite calls from its authors.
She will use a National Press Club address on Tuesday to release the report and explain how Labor will respond
‘I look forward to outlining the report and our government’s plans,’ she added
The report, written by 37 expert authors, is a comprehensive assessment of the state of the environment, the pressures it’s facing and how well, or not, it is being managed.
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