My Op Ed column for 14 May 2019

by ray goodlass

The election must heed this new environment report

As yet another Australian election campaign became mired in squabbling over taxation, health care, and the cost of cutting carbon emissions, last week conservation scientists convened in Paris dropped a bombshell that should change the course of this election. It would be a calamity if our duelling politicians failed to take heed.

The bombshell is a new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) that paints an apocalyptic vision of a world not just battered and ravaged by short-sighted human activity, but irrevocably ruined by land-clearing, overfishing and human-made climate change.

The data in the report is calamitous. Around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, way more than at any time in human history. The number is as brutal as it is mind-boggling. Our planet faces the loss of more than 50 species per day, every day, for the next 50 years.

Compiled by 450 scientists and diplomats over three years, the assessment says accelerating species extinction is likely to have significant implications for human society and urgent systemic change to reverse the decline and restore lost ecosystems.

With countries to meet in Kunming, China next year to set targets as part of the global Convention on Biological Diversity, scientists and environment groups urged the next Australian government to take a lead.

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s nature program manager, Basha Stasak, said Australia, as a developed nation with very diverse native life, should be at the forefront of the push for a meaningful deal.

She said the report made clear protecting species and landscapes would require fundamental change, including increasing funding to the national environmental budget, which has been shrunk by the Coalition government by more than a third since 2013.

“It doesn’t seem to have hit home, the state of emergency we’re facing,” said WWF conservation scientist Martin Taylor.

Martine Maron, a professor of environment management at the University of Queensland, said halting the decline of species and ecosystems would not be enough.

Richard Kingsford, the director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW, said “A lot of our decisions are made based on jobs and export dollars, but we are not looking at the long-term costs of what we’re doing. We know that but we’re still making the same mistakes. We’re passing off the economic costs to future generations” he said.

Meanwhile, what are our political parties proposing? Space only allows room to look at the Coalition, Labor and the Greens, but as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party have nothing to say on the issue that’s no great loss.

The Liberal/Nationals coalition trumpets its Climate Solution Package with cash splashes scattered around here and there but warns us that though it has an obligation to protect our environment for future generations we shouldn’t become too keen on saving the environment because  “We must also ensure a strong economy, so that the next generation can find jobs”. The PM also greeted the report with a commitment not to save the environment, but to cut ‘Green Tape’, and to oppose tighter restrictions on land clearing. He also argued that an improved Environmental Protection Authority would slow down the development of projects around the country. Hopefully his bluster didn’t fool too many people.

Labor’s election commitments include new national environmental laws, a federal environment protection authority and a native species protection fund. They are welcome if superficial promises but at this stage no more than that.

Only the Greens have significant proposals. They will begin by rewriting the outdated Howard-era federal environmental laws, thereby introducing a new generation of environmental laws, to be overseen by a federal regulatory body with expanded responsibility and with real power to enforce the law. Crucially, this national Environmental Protection Authority will operate at arm’s length from politicians and lobbyists, and so providing independent advice, free from political or corporate influence.

The Greens will also expand regulatory responsibility to include regulation of land clearing, invasive species and air pollution. And their climate policy will reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2030, thereby making a significant contribution to saving the environment.