Report exposes Australia’s shocking environment record

Photo from the Herald Sun
By Jim Hayes

No surprises here. The Morrison government hid evidence that the damage being caused to Australia by climate warming is far worse than it let on. This is the reality revealed in a devastating and latest State of the Environment Report, produced on behalf of this government, and led by expert Emma Johnston from the University of Sydney.

During the lead up to this year’s election the government hid the report. This borders on criminal action and those responsible should be held accountable.

This report departed from previous ones, in that for the first time, there was a shift from recognising a future threat to recognising that the climate crisis has arrived and is with us now.

The Albanese government has chosen to release this at a time when Europe and other parts of thew world are suffering an unprecedented heat wave taking the temperature past 40 degrees centigrade, and Australia’s devastating fires and flooding of the last two years.

Much of the attention has been on the state of the countryside. The report deals with this. It also points out that the urban environment has deteriorated and faces the prospect of much worse, pressuring the survival of native species, and threatening water and food security.

Australia’s urban centres also face an environmental threat

Other than the urban threat, the degradation made much worse by climate change has damaged native species plants, which they have been overwhelmed by introduced species. The number of species on the threatened list has increased by 8 percent since 2016. Up to 80 percent of Australia’s coastal salt marshes have been lost. Australia has lost more mammal special than any other continent.

The report doesn’t mince words when it calls out the lack of political leadership. One example is the failure of the Murray-Darling Basin plan that was supposed to conserve 45o gigalitres of water. It gave way to vested interests. Overall, government has not been doing nearly enough to address the crisis.

“There is insufficient overall investment and lack of coordination to be able to adequately address the growing impacts [and the level of investment in biodiversity conservation do not match the scale of the challenge,” the report says.

The situation demands more protected areas, environmental laws that have impact and are strongly enforced. Australia needs far more investment in environmental solutions.

There must be an end to carbon trading as the proposed answer. It has failed in practice. Carbon trading is really an application of the notion that emissions can be reduced by relying only on the market mechanism and avoiding government responsibility. At most, carbon trading can only be part of the solution.

Australian Academy of Science president Chennupati Jagadeish said the report was “sobering reading” and urged the government to go further on climate change action.

Current Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek will release the Labor government’s policy today. Labor did go into the election campaign with a stronger policy than the Coalition. But critics say this is still not enough, and the State of the Environment Report indicates they are right, and that the Albanese government must lift its game.

It is still not too late. Collaboration between government and the community can make all the difference. Lifting investment, improving data collection, and building community participation in the effort to turn the situation around are critical. Measures must also be taken to ensure major polluters are stopped, that dirty industries and technologies are wound down and replaced by clean ones.

Australia’s future depends on this. And it is in our interests to set an example to the world. Failure to deal with the crisis threatens global economic and social collapse, and at the worst, the survival of humanity.

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