Australian environmental report tallies lost land, species
Canberra (Australia)- A five-year government report found Australian environment continues to deteriorate due to climate change, resource extraction and other causes, prompting leaders on Tuesday to promise new laws and enforcement.
The State of the Environment report also adds political pressure on the government to set a more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target when Parliament resumes next week for the first time since May 21 elections.
The previous conservative government received the report in December but decided against making it public before the elections.
The centre-left Labor Party won on pledges, including more significant action on climate change.
It wants a target to reduce emissions by 43% below 2005 by the end of the decade enshrined in law when Parliament sits on July 26.
Several unaligned lawmakers want a more ambitious target. Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the report sent a “powerful message that we need to do better, but she rejected calls for deeper emission cuts.
“On the 43% target, we promised the Australian people. We’re going to keep our promise to the Australian people,” Plibersek told the National Press Club.
She said she would introduce new environmental protection laws to Parliament next year, and the government would create an agency to enforce them.
The government will also target 30% of Australia’s land, and surrounding sea as declared protected areas. It wants to create an east Antarctic marine park.
“I am optimistic about the steps we can take over the next three years. Legislating strong action on climate change is a great start,” Plibersek said.
The wide-ranging report found that the number of endangered Australian species had increased by 8% since the 2016 report.
The report said that that number would increase substantially after wildfires in 2019 and 2020 destroy vast tracts of southeast Australian forests.
Kelly O’Shanassy, chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation, an environmental organization, said land clearing was the primary cause of habitat loss.
“There’s nothing in this report we don’t know. This is the fourth State of the Environment Report, and every time, it’s told us that the environment is getting worse and worse and worse because we’re not taking the action we need,” O’Shanassy told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
She welcomed the government’s commitment to law reform.
“That’s what we need to do pretty quickly. Otherwise, these endangered species will go extinct, and they’ll do that in our lifetimes,” O’Shanassy said.