My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 2 July 2019

by ray goodlass

We must stem the tide of extinction

Last week ABC TV’s Four Corners aired a damning investigation into Australia’s extinction crisis.

Nearly 2000 plants and animals are at risk, thanks to both specific state and federal government policies, but also their deliberate and disgraceful underfunding of much needed remediation policies. These are sins of both commission and omission.

Some of our most iconic animals, like the koala, Leadbeater’s Possum and the Swift Parrot, are on the verge of sliding into the history books.

Instead of taking urgent action to stop the extinction crisis, the Morrison government is hurtling our native animals closer and closer towards extinction by failing to act on climate change and allowing continued land-clearing and logging of our native forests.

Furthermore, Australia’s extinction rate one of the worst on the planet, for we are host to a staggering number of threatened species.

We have some of the most unique flora and fauna on the planet. In Australia, nearly 50% of our birds, 87% of our mammals and 93% of our flowering plants are unique to us.

But much of it is under threat. Climate breakdown, land clearing and invasive species are wreaking havoc on our natural environment. We’re ranked fourth in the world for plant and animal extinctions, as well as holding the terrible record of being the only developed country listed as a deforestation hotspot.

Globally, the UN tells us there are a million species under threat of extinction. Here we have 511 animals, 1,356 plants and 82 distinct ecological communities listed as nationally threatened, and these numbers are trending in the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, we have a government riddled with climate deniers, intent on sitting on its hands about climate action, while delaying the release of emissions data and wilfully lying about our ability to meet even our meagre Paris commitments.

It has allowed broadscale land clearing to continue, destroying habitat.

And it continues to leave our threatened species floundering, delaying additions to the threatened species list and cutting funding from an environment department already struggling to meet its obligations.

Taking over from the most absent environment minister in our nation’s history, Sussan Ley certainly has her work cut out for her. Her track record as Tony Abbott’s Health Minister and subsequently as a demoted backbencher doesn’t however inspire confidence.

Many Australians however do care deeply about this and are taking actions in their lives and homes to do better. From recycling to water tanks, solar panels, battery storage, planting trees and more, people are taking small actions to improve their environment.

But some problems require political solutions, and if we have the political will they can be solved.

For example, our environment laws need updating. They don’t even account for climate change. For all the talk of Adani’s approvals, drilling in the Bight, and widespread land clearing in Queensland and New South Wales, there is no mechanism in Australian law to consider their climate impacts.

To bring about the needed political changes the Greens have launched several parliamentary actions.

In June last year, the Greens established a Senate inquiry into Australia’s threatened species to help bring the extinction crisis to the forefront of political and public attention, chaired by Senator Janet Rice, Australian Greens spokesperson for Forests and Agriculture.

Furthermore, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the Australian Greens’ environment and water spokesperson, will be introducing a private member’s bill for a ‘climate trigger’

As she explained, “Our environment laws have not kept up with environmental reality. Climate change is at the centre of the threats our environment faces today. While a price on carbon looks unlikely in the near future, with Labor crab-walking away and the Coalition seemingly to abandon any market mechanism, we need something that will limit damage to the climate. This climate trigger would give us a mechanism to assess major developments and approve or reject them based on their emissions.”

If only we had had a ‘climate trigger’ in place during the recent Adani coal mine approvals process!

Senator Hanson-Young is also calling on Minister Ley to, as a bare minimum, commit to the $200m a year environment groups say is necessary to fund our threatened species recovery plans. We must stem the tide of extinction.