Australia leads continents in mammal extinctions, says climate report


SYDNEY – Australia’s unique wildlife is under increasing threat from wildfires, drought and climate change, according to a much-anticipated expert report described as “shocking” by the country’s new environment minister. country.

The world’s driest inhabited continent has already lost more mammal species than any other continent in the past 200 years roughly when mass industrialization took off and continues to have one of the highest rates of species decline among developed countries, according to a State of the Environment report released on Tuesday.

“While this is a hard read, Australians deserve the truth,” said Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek. “We deserve to know that communities at risk have increased by 20% over the past five years, with places literally endangered by catastrophic fires.

The government-commissioned review by a an independent panel of scientists was completed last year but was held back by the previous Conservative Coalition government – which lost power after May’s election in part because it resisted tougher emissions cuts of carbon.

Australia was one of the last developed countries to commit to net zero emissions by 2050. (The then Prime Minister Scott Morrison joked: “I’m not holding a pipe, mate “, when asked about his decision to vacation in Hawaii during the devastating fires of 2019.)

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Polls show that the increasing frequency and ferocity of natural disasters has pushed concerns in Australia about climate change to an all-time high.

Scientists have warned that devastating wildfires such as the ones Australia experienced in 2019-20, which killed 34 people and destroyed thousands of homes, could become regular occurrences. An estimated 1-3 billion animals have been killed or displaced by the fires.

In February, one of Australia’s most iconic animals, the koala, was officially upgraded from threatened to endangered along the country’s east coast.

The country has also been hit by a series of severe floods in recent months, raising questions about how to prepare Australians to live in places where ‘once in a century’ floods are increasingly common.

Tuesday’s report found that at least 19 Australian ecosystems are showing signs of collapse or near collapse. For the first time, Australia now has more alien plant species than native ones, Plibersek said. Meanwhile, marine heat waves have caused massive coral bleaching in the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef.

As a historic and deadly heatwave scorches Western Europe, the report contained an important warning for Australian cities, many of which are growing at a faster rate than metropolitan areas in other wealthy countries. This growth has led to an increase in urban heat, waste and pollution and has put pressure on increasingly scarce resources such as water and energy, the report’s authors said.

These maps show how excessively hot it is in Europe and the United States

Sydney, the commercial capital, has lost more than 70% of native vegetation cover to development, the experts wrote.

Urbanization is likely to lead to increased deaths, poorer sleep patterns and productivity, they said.

Between 2000 and 2017, Australia cleared more than 19 million acres of habitat for endangered species across the country – much of it in small increments that meant no assessment under environmental laws, according to Plibersek.

“After a lost decade, after a decade of decline, we cannot waste another minute,” said the Minister of the Environment.

The Greens and other lawmakers the government is leaning on in the Senate are pushing the centre-left Labor government to ensure that a bill seeking a 43% cut in emissions from 2005 by 2030 is just a floor.

The Greens want a more ambitious 75% cut but have signaled their willingness to back the legislation if the target is set at the minimum with obligations that cannot easily be undone by future governments. Independent lawmakers are also calling for a mechanism to strengthen the targets over time as an “insurance policy” against future administrations.

Plibersek said on Tuesday that “too many urgent warnings had been ignored or kept secret” by the previous administration.

Jonathon Duniam, a lawmaker who speaks for the Opposition Coalition for the Environment, denied that the previous government failed to act on the climate and challenged Plibersek to “continue his work…rather than engage in partisan accusations and games. .”

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