Friends of the Earth Australia welcomes the release of the national State of the Environment report. Although required to produce them every five years, the previous Coalition government held up the release of the report, delaying Australia’s ability to respond to the biodiversity crisis outlined in the document.
Australia has produced a national state of environment report every five years since 1995. They assess every aspect of Australia’s environment and heritage, covering rivers, oceans, air, land and urban areas. They show that our natural environment is in continuous decline.
This report is the first to consider how our declining natural environment is impacting on the health and well-being of Australians. It is also the first to include Indigenous co-authors.
The report makes it clear that climate change threatens every ecosystem on the continent. It also highlights the continued decline in the condition of our natural environment. A stand out point is that the number of plant and animal species listed as threatened is 1,918, which is an increase from 1,774 in the previous report. The authors warn that ‘we expect more species extinctions over the next decades’.
The report also highlights the fact that our current investment in environmental protection, and our environmental laws has not been able to halt the current decline in individual species and overall decline in ecosystem health. We need to rebuild our national environmental laws so they are fit for purpose in the 21st century, are enforceable, and include a climate trigger.
At a local level, the exemptions of the Regional Forest Agreements (RFA’s) from the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act have ensured the steady decline of native forest species within Victoria. In order to bring forest ecosystems back from the brink of collapse, we urgently require strong leadership from the new environment minister and an immediate abolishment of the RFA’s, nationally ending all native forest logging. We require urgent action to reverse the terrible threats of climate change, bushfires, and native forest logging impacting wildlife and ecosystems across the continent.
The report demonstrates that Australia has lost more mammal species than any other continent, and has one of the highest rates of species decline in the world. More than 100 Australian species have been listed as either extinct or extinct in the wild. Loss of habitat is listed as one of the key drivers. One such species affected is the Southern Greater Glider, which was recently uplisted to Endangered. Species such as this iconic mammal require significant action to recover diminishing populations. They require stronger protections from extractive industries.
Apart from strengthening our ability to protect natural environments from impacts such as land clearing, logging and mining, it highlights the dire threat posed by climate change. It notes that while many Australian ecosystems have evolved to rebound from extreme “natural” events such as bushfires, the frequency, intensity, and compounding nature of recent events are greater than what they have experienced throughout their recent evolutionary history. For example, marine heat waves caused mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef multiple times in recent years. Such frequent disturbances leave little time for recovery.
There are several obvious messages that the government must heed:
- We cannot be approving any more fossil fuel projects if we are to have a hope of avoiding catastrophe climate impacts
- We need to build our capacity to protect threatened ecosystems from extreme events such as wildfire
- We require national leadership, integrated management across federal, state and territory systems, new forms of funding and improved monitoring and reporting
- States should no longer be exempt from the EPBC Act to protect climate wrecking extractive industries
- An independent Environmental Protection Agency must be established
- Ecologists list land clearing as a top cause of wildlife losses - we must stop broad acre land clearing as a matter of urgency
- We must adequately fund the recovery of Australia’s threatened species and the restoration of our degraded ecosystems
- Immediately end all native forest logging nationally.
Environment minister Tanya Plibersek is expected to respond to the report’s bleak findings at her appearance at the National Press Club in Canberra today.
Cam Walker, campaigns co-ordinator. M: 0419 338 047
Alana Mountain, FoE Forest Collective Coordinator. M: 0430 069 640
Further resources and information
Australia must increase its ambition on climate change (letter to the PM and Climate Change Minister here).
Australia must increase its ability to protect our ecosystems from wild fire (policy suggestions here).
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