Withheld Australia report shows ‘shocking’ ecological crisis

Australia’s natural environment is in a state of rapid decline as climate change, habitat loss and invasive species destroy ecosystems and native animals, according to a new report.

The 2021 State of the Environment report released by the government on Tuesday found not a single indicator of Australia’s ecological wellbeing had improved since 2016, with the number of vulnerable and endangered species increasing by 8%.

The study said a failure to address the environmental warning signs, including the threat of climate change, would “result in species extinctions and deteriorating ecosystem conditions, which are reducing the environmental capital on which current and future economies depend.”

Among the ecological areas which were ranked as “deteriorating” in the report prepared by independent experts were Australia’s land and soil quality, inland water supply, native vegetation and water and air quality.

Minister for the Environment Tanya Plibersek described the report’s findings as “shocking.” She said the former government, which lost power in a May election, had delayed its release in an attempt to suppress the unflattering findings for as long as possible.

The report was originally presented to former minister Sussan Ley in late 2021, but was not released before the May election. Ley’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Bloomberg News.

“The report is indeed very disturbing reading,” Plibersek said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “It says that our environment is in a poor state and its getting worse and if we don’t change the laws and the systems that we have to protect it, that decline will continue.”

Speaking at an address to the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday, Plibersek said the Labour government would set a goal of protecting 30% of Australia’s land and oceans by 2030, through adding them to the country’s national estates.

“Too much clearing of habitat has already occurred. Too many ecosystems and species are under threat,” Plibersek said on Tuesday.

One of the report’s authors, Emma Johnson, deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Sydney, told ABC Radio that Australia had a “biodiversity crisis” and a “climate crisis,” both of which needed urgent action from the government and the community.

Johnson said the decision by the former government to delay the release of the report by seven months had delayed “action by seven months.”

‘Grim reality’

Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at Deakin University Euan Ritchie said in a statement the report confirmed the “grim reality of Australia’s utter failure of environmental and conservation stewardship.”

“These events are all symptomatic of governments and society not acting on the science and evidence to sufficiently address key threats to biodiversity and promote a more sustainable future,” he said.

However, Ritchie said it wasn’t too late to take action to protect Australia’s environment.

In the report, the authors recommended taking more rapid action on climate change and collaborating more closely with Indigenous Australian communities. In addition, the report authors called for a nationwide framework to help coordinate on environmental issues.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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