The 6th national State of the Environment report makes for sobering reading.
The outlook for the Australian environment is grim: critical thresholds in many natural systems are likely to be exceeded as global warming continues.
With Australia failing to halt species decline and with our biodiversity management systems broken, now is the time to establish a new national information system led by an independent agency to manage our nation’s biodiversity data.
Only through the establishment of such an agency will we actually understand and be able to choose steps to slow down or reverse biodiversity loss in Australia’s environment.
Inaction is not an option; nor is inadequate action.
The report makes clear that there is a significant under-investment in the scientific knowledge and capacity needed to understand the state of the environment, to aid decision-making and address emerging threats.
It also identifies a concerning lack of expertise in taxonomic sciences, heritage protection and digital analytical capacity, especially in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
What matters most is what steps governments take from here.
To protect our environment, Australia must revisit its emission reduction commitments and work with other countries to provide the leadership and collaboration required to place Australia and the world on a safer climate trajectory.
Climate change has severe ramifications for the economic prosperity of many Australian industries: tourism, recreation, agriculture, fisheries and others, along with the durability of our built infrastructure and the resilience of urban ecosystems.
The Academy backs the report’s call for greater national leadership to help foster coordinated action and encourage investment to address our mounting environmental and heritage issues.
The report highlights other drivers of our declining environment in addition to climate change, including land clearing, habitat loss and invasive species.
Despite finding that the Australian Government’s 2015 Threatened Species Strategy five-year action plan achieved partial success by improving the trajectories of 24 priority plant, mammal and bird species, many did not show improvements and, overall, the number of listed species has grown by 8% since 2016.
The Academy welcomes the inclusion of Indigenous voices and their cultural knowledge for the first time in a state of the environment report. The report is written by a panel of independent authors, including newly elected Fellow of the Academy, Professor Emma Johnston, using the best available evidence.
Professor Chennupati Jagadish AC PresAA FTSE
Australian Academy of Science
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