Australia is suffering a devastating environmental disaster that will wipe out “the land we grew up with” as koalas and other iconic animals face extinction, the authors of a landmark report warn.
The Scott Morrison administration tried to keep the “pop and depressing” report on the state of the environment a secret and refused to publish it before the May federal election.
But the 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 the Australian environment,” she said.
“We are the worst continent in the world for the extinction of mammals.”
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, written last year but kept hidden, is a five-year health check of Australia’s natural ecosystems, and the news is nothing short of bad.
The report finds that the Australian 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 “creepy and depressing” and the summary warns: “In general, the state and trend of the environment in Australia is poor and deteriorating.
“Our inability to adequately manage pressure will continue to result in species extinction and a deteriorating ecosystem.”
They warn that abandoning the environment will also damage the country economically, and that the tourism industry will collapse if Australia’s unique wildlife is destroyed.
Eight out of ten of the country’s 400 mammal species, such as the platypus, are found only in Australia, but 39 mammal species have gone extinct since colonization.
Now there are even more that are on the brink of extinction, including the now officially endangered koala.
The number of species classified as threatened or upgraded has increased by eight percent since 2016 and is set to increase again after the Black Summer wildfires in 2019, it warns.
Another 17 mammals, 17 birds – including the Gang Gang Cockatoo – and 19 frog species have either been added to the endangered list or upgraded to the critically endangered list.
“We need to increase our investment nearly 20 times to actually prevent further species loss,” says conservation professor Brendan Wintle.
“Unless we see a really dramatic increase (in funding), we’re going to see many, many more extinctions in the next 10 years.”
New Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek will release the 2,000-page study on Tuesday after admitting she was alarmed by the findings.
Former CSIRO director Dr Ian Cresswell – one of the three lead authors – says a lack of national leadership and investment to tackle the crisis has cost the nation and it must stop.
“We will lose the Australia we grew up with to future generations if we don’t really start tackling some of the environmental problems,” he said.
The report describes “abrupt” changes in ecological systems 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 endangered species trying to survive in shrinking and degraded ecosystems that are ineffectively managed on too little money, it says.
The report says Australia does not have a comprehensive plan to manage the environment and instead relies on a jumble of systems across different levels of government.
Monitoring of endangered species and communities is ‘usually inadequate’: up to 46 percent of endangered vertebrates, 69 percent of endangered plants and 70 percent of endangered ecological communities are not monitored at all.
Meanwhile, between 2000 and 2017, 7.7 million hectares of habitat for terrestrial endangered species were cleared.
But almost all of that — 7.1 million acres — wasn’t assessed under federal environmental laws.
Ecologists warn that the government will have to tackle industry and agriculture to have a significant impact on environmental protection.
The latest report includes new chapters on climate and extreme events for the first time, including recent floods, heatwaves on land and sea, droughts and wildfires.
‘In previous reports we talked about climate effects in the future,’ says co-lead author and professor of marine ecology Emma Johnston.
“But in this report, we document the large-scale impacts of climate-related extreme events across the country.
“That has exacerbated the existing threats – land clearance, invasive species, pollution.
‘The layering of climate effects on top of that – that is mainly the cause of the deterioration and the depressing trends for those ecosystems.’
The number of new species listed as endangered or listed for a higher threat category — such as the now officially endangered koalas — has risen eight percent since 2016 and is set to rise again due to Black Summer wildfires, it warns.
The report also charts the decline in federal government spending on biodiversity as risks mount.
Biodiversity spending remained between $400 and $500 million a year from 2010, falling below $300 million in 2018-19, and has been below $400 million since then, the report said.
Ms Plibersek says Australians deserve the report her predecessor Sussan Ley received last year. Ms. Ley declined to release it despite appeals from the authors.
The environment minister will use an address from the National Press Club on Tuesday to release the report and explain how Labor will respond
“I look forward to setting out our government’s report and plans,” she said. “Some of the really disturbing things here go to species loss.
“The environment is in a bad state and it’s going backwards and if we don’t do anything to change what we’re doing now, we’ll continue to see that decline.
“We’ve lost rainforest, we’ve lost a significant amount of forest from land clearing, but also from those catastrophic wildfires that we’ve seen.
‘Plastics pollute 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.
‘That is bad for the environment, biodiversity.’
She added: ‘Non-native plants now outnumber native plants in Australia and you’re like oh, who cares?
“Well, the agricultural industry spends about $8.3 billion a year on weed control.
“Right now, our environmental laws don’t protect our environment, but they don’t meet the needs of business either.
“It’s just one example of the kind of human cost of this environmental destruction.”
The report, written by 37 expert authors, is a comprehensive assessment of the state of the environment, the pressures it faces and how well or not it is being managed.
Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Kelly O’Shanassy warned the report’s findings should be a call to action before it’s too late.
“Nature is under pressure like never before, and wildlife habitats are still being destroyed — largely by indiscriminate land clearing for agriculture, mining and residential areas,” she said.
“The animals we all love, like the koala, are under threat because we continue to destroy their homes. We must protect their habitat, not destroy it.’