Australia is facing an “environmental crisis” and its government must now act without delay, according to the lead author of a report that is sounding the alarm over the declining health of the country’s ecosystems and endangered species.
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said her government would undertake a systemic overhaul of the national approach to environmental protection, which she described as her “one go” to formulate a response that To rise to the challenge.
The task ahead of them is whether their commitment to reforming the country’s environmental laws and their commitment to protecting 30% of Australia’s land and oceans by 2030 as conservation areas and restoring habitat can prevent the deterioration.
Bushfires in New South Wales. (PAA)
Co-author Professor Emma Johnston said that had highlighted the need to strengthen the resilience of ecosystems in the face of the pressures they face.
“It’s designed to reform our next steps and for us to really take a hard look at ourselves and understand the urgency of the environmental crisis,” she told SBS News.
“We are facing a situation where it is death by a thousand cuts across Australia, so we absolutely need better coordination and more investment in environmental management. But we also have need for systems in place and availability of data.”
The State of the Environment Report is a mandatory assessment prepared by a panel of independent scientists every five years.
His latest findings describe the “poor and deteriorated” decline facing the environment due to increasing pressures from climate change, habitat destruction, pollution and resource extraction, which act to intensify the pressure on ecosystems.
On Tuesday, Ms Plibersek introduced the National Press Club to explain how Labor intended to respond.
She said an overhaul of regulations and more investment were needed to protect the environment.
“What the environment really needs is a modified system,” she said.
“Without structural change, we will resign ourselves to another decade of failure without the tools we need to arrest our decline.”
Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek at the National Press Club in Canberra. Source: AAP / Mick Tsikas
The government will provide a of the law on the protection of the environment and biodiversity by the end of the year.
Ms Plibersek said her plan to reform the country’s environmental laws must then become a reality by 2023.
But she has so far declined to go into specifics about how the regulations will change, saying more consultations are needed to consider the response.
Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said the pledge would amount to “the biggest reform of national environmental law in our history”.
“I think they should take the time to do the reforms right,” she said.
“But the schedule they have put together makes me nervous because every day counts. But they have to do it right and they should take some time to get it right.
“Damage is being done to nature at the moment if there is anything that can be done to ensure that we protect natural areas…then it must be done.”
The report’s findings detail how Australia “currently lacks a framework” to provide “holistic environmental management” to integrate “disconnected” national, state and territorial legislative and institutional systems.
“Better data coordination and the introduction of national environmental standards will provide a direct mechanism for agreement across all jurisdictions, leading to improved environmental reporting at all levels,” the report says.
“Australia’s strategies and investments in biodiversity conservation do not match the scale of the challenge, and the condition and trend of Australian ecosystems and species continue to decline.”
He also called for greater recognition of the role of indigenous rangers in conservation efforts and said funding arrangements were inadequate to meet the needs of managing indigenous lands and seas.
“We will only have one chance”
Ms. Plibersek stressed that her government’s response intends to focus on three pillars – protecting, restoring and managing the environment.
“People don’t believe the Commonwealth protects the environment,” she said.
“There is an almost universal consensus that change is needed.”
She said that response would involve the government undertaking “fundamental reform” of the country’s domestic environmental laws to put in place “explicit goals about what we value as a country and what our laws should protect”.
“But we’ll only have one attempt, so I have to make sure that the right changes that I come up with and that we take people with us,” she said.
The Labor government would also expand Australia’s “national domain” by setting a target to protect 30% of its land and 30% of its oceans by 2030.
It would also aim to double the number of Native Guards by 2030 to 3,800 people.
Greens environment spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young supported the need for legislative change, but also called for a halt to habitat destruction, ensuring that projects threatening environment are not approved.
“This is code red for our environment and we need urgent action now – it’s an emergency,” she told SBS News.
“It is fueled by the climate crisis and is now on the verge of having a very negative impact on humanity.”
Greens spokesperson for the environment, Sarah Hanson-Young, called Australia’s environmental situation a “code red”. Source: AAP / MATT TURNER/AAPIMAGE
Australia’s environment is ‘bad and deteriorating’
The report’s grim findings include a warning that “every aspect” of Australia’s environment is under pressure, and many are in decline.
This includes showing that land temperatures have risen 1.4C since consistent records began – its impact evidenced by coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.
It also details how its biodiversity is being decimated, with Australia having lost more mammal species than any other continent.
Threatened ecological communities have increased by 20% over the past five years, fueled in part by the impact of catastrophic bushfires.
Since 2016, some 202 species of plants and animals have been listed as threatened.
The previous coalition government first received the report in December last year but refused to release it before the election.
Liberal environment spokesman Jonno Duniam said Ms Plibersek did not give details of the government’s plan for a ‘new environmental protection authority, its stance on the use of coal , the phasing out of forestry and many other critical issues”.
“Australians are looking for practical measures and sensible solutions that help our natural environment, and the serious plans and programs through which these are implemented,” he said.
Asked if the report had changed Ms Plibersek’s view of Labour’s plan to cut emissions by 43% by 2030, she said the commitment would remain.
“We must deliver on our promise to the Australian people,” she said.
Professor Johnston said climate change was a key driver of pressure on Australian ecosystems.
“I cannot stress the importance of acting as quickly as possible – not just as a nation – but as a world to reduce carbon emissions,” she said.
“The environmental crisis has been erupting for some time now and we are really running out of time.”