Australia faces a devastating environmental crisis that will wipe out “the country we grew up in” as koalas and other iconic animals face extinction, the authors of a landmark report warn.
Scott Morrison’s government tried to keep the “harsh and depressing” state of the environment report secret and refused to release it before the general election in May.
But new Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek will release the 2,000-page study on Tuesday after admitting she was alarmed by the findings.
“It’s a shocking document – it tells a story of crisis and decline in Australia’s environment,” she said.
“Some of the really disturbing things in here are due to the loss of species. We are the continent with the worst mammalian extinctions on the planet.’
Australia’s environment is sick and getting sicker as the combined effects of climate change, pollution, land clearance and mining take a dangerous toll, says a landmark report
The State of the Environment report is a five-year health check of the natural ecosystems that underpin every aspect of life in Australia, and the news is overwhelmingly bad.
The report found that Australia’s environment is sick and getting sicker than the combined effects of climate changePollution, land clearance and mining are taking a dangerous toll.
The report’s researchers admit it is “bleak and depressing” and its summary warns: “Overall, the state and development of Australia’s environment is poor and deteriorating.
“Our inability to adequately manage pressures will continue to lead to species extinction and ecosystem degradation.”
They warn that neglecting the environment will also hurt the country economically, as the tourism industry faces ruin if Australia’s unique nature is destroyed.
The number of new species listed as threatened or upgraded to a higher threat category — like the now officially endangered koala — has risen 8 percent since 2016 and will rise again because of the Black Summer bushfires, she warns.
New environment minister Tanya Plibersek will release the 2,000-page study on Tuesday after admitting she was stunned by the results.
Former CSIRO Director Dr. Ian Creswell – one of the three lead authors – says a lack of national leadership and investment to deal with the crisis has cost the nation and must stop.
“We’re going to lose the Australia we grew up with for future generations if we don’t really start looking at some of the environmental issues,” he said.
The report details “abrupt” changes in ecosystems over the past five years, with climate change adding a devastating new layer to the accumulation of other threats.
The result is a growing list of threatened species trying to survive in shrinking and degraded ecosystems that are ineffectively managed with insufficient funds, they say.
According to the report, Australia lacks a framework to comprehensively manage the environment, instead relying on a jumble of systems at different levels of government.
Monitoring of threatened species and communities is “largely inadequate” with up to 46 percent of threatened vertebrates, 69 percent of threatened plants and 70 percent of threatened ecological communities not being monitored at all.
Meanwhile, between 2000 and 2017, 7.7 million hectares of habitat for land-based threatened species were cleared.
But almost all of it — 7.1 million hectares — hasn’t been rated under federal environmental laws.
The latest report includes, for the first time, new chapters on climate and extreme events, including recent floods, land and sea heatwaves, droughts and bushfires.
“In previous reports, we’ve talked about climate impacts mostly in the future tense,” says Emma Johnston, co-chief author and professor of marine ecology.
“But in this report, we document far-reaching impacts from extreme climate events across the country that have exacerbated existing threats — land clearance, invasive species, pollution.
“The superimposition of climate impacts on top of that — that’s what’s primarily causing the degradation and depressing trends for these ecosystems.”
The number of new species listed as threatened or upgraded to a higher threat category — like the now officially endangered koala — has risen 8 percent since 2016 and will rise again because of the Black Summer bushfires, she warns
The report also shows the decline in federal government spending on biodiversity amid rising risks.
Since 2010, biodiversity spending has remained between US$400 and US$500 million per year, then fell below US$300 million in 2018-19 and was below US$400 million thereafter, the report said.
Ms Plibersek says Australians deserve to see the report her predecessor Sussan Ley received last year. Ms. Ley refused to release it despite calls from the authors.
The Environment Secretary will use a National Press Club address on Tuesday to release the report and explain how Labor will respond
“I look forward to presenting the report and our government’s plans,” she said.
“The environment is in bad shape and it is deteriorating and unless we do something to change what we are doing now, we will continue to see that decline.
“We’ve lost rainforest, we’ve lost a significant amount of bush to land clearing, but also because of these catastrophic bushfires that we’ve seen.
“Plastic is polluting our oceans, we have coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef. We see that the vast, beautiful kelp forests in our southern oceans are also being affected by the warming of our oceans.
“It’s terrible for the environment, for biodiversity.”
Written by 37 experts, the report is a comprehensive assessment of the state of the environment, the pressures it is facing and how well or not it is being managed.