Biggest pressure on our environment comes from population and economic activity

The Australian government and business community should treat the alarming State of the Environment report released today (Tuesday) just as they would bad news on unemployment, the balance of payments or gross domestic product, according to Sustainable Business Australia chief executive Andrew Petersen.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said a 400 per cent uplift in investment in our natural capital was needed to restore the damage.

While there was some good news in the report, it was overwhelmed by deterioration in key areas.

Tabled in parliament on Tuesday the report singled out the built environment and economic activity as the greatest cause of damage.

Worst impact was “principally in populated coastal areas and some of the growth areas within urban environments, where human pressure is greatest (particularly in south-eastern Australia); and the extensive land-use zone of Australia, where grazing is considered a major threat to biodiversity”.

On the plus side some pressures have decreased – “air quality, poor agricultural practices, commercial fishing, and oil and gas exploration and production in Australia’s marine environment.”

Worsening was the impact of coal mining and the coal-seam gas industry, habitat fragmentation and degradation, invasive species, litter in our coastal and marine environments, and greater traffic volumes in our capital cities.

Mr Petersen said the report was a “key lead economic indicator to the Australian community, business and government that the cost of inaction will cost way more than the cost of action now to address climate change and sustainability issues”.

“A degraded state of the environment impacts on our nation’s economic growth. Lost productivity and the diversion of financial capital and resources from job and wealth generators has to occur to repair and restore our country’s natural capital.”

Australian business was collaborating on biodiversity through the Australian Business and Biodiversity Initiative and the Australian Climate Roundtable was calling for bipartisan climate policy action, but more was needed.

“A starting point for Australian business in examining the impact of their own strategy and operations on Australia’s environment is the United Nation’s led Global Goals for Sustainable Development, which would also provide for important guidance on the protection and sustainable management of Australia’s environment,” Mr Petersen said.

The ACF said the federal government needed invest an additional 400 per cent in environmental conservation and to reverse the dramatic decline in our natural capital.

It said it was most concerned that the report found:

  • climate change is altering the structure and function of natural ecosystems in Australia
  • land clearing is damaging soil, waterways and biodiversity
  • coal mining and the coal-seam gas industry are putting increasing pressure on nature
  • grazing and invasive species continue to pose a significant threat to biodiversity
  • environmental watering and natural floods have benefitted the Murray-Darling rivers
  • insufficient resources and a lack of national coordination hamper environmental policy.

Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said the report documents how “big polluters, mining companies and land clearers continue to greedily grab nature’s gifts – our forests, rivers, air and seas – and exploit them for profit”.

“The people of Australia expect our government to protect this land’s special places and unique wildlife, but this report shows politicians are failing to uphold their duty of care.

“Funding for conservation has been in dramatic decline since 2013 and now only amounts to 5c in every 100 dollars of taxpayer expenditure; meanwhile pollution continues to rise.

“In the upcoming budget the government needs to reverse the cuts it has made and commit to at least a four-fold increase in funding for conservation work if Australia is to seriously tackle this country’s extinction crisis.

“Ultimately, we need a new generation of environment laws that actually protect Australia’s unique wildlife and treasured places,” she said.

The report said a key innovation this year is a new interactive digital platform, SoE Digital, which “provides much greater flexibility for decision-makers, researchers and the public to explore and discover information”.

“The platform allows readers to compare findings with the previous assessment; search for trends in assessments; interact with over 300 maps and graphs; filter the report’s content by theme, trend, topic, grade or reporting framework; and access the data underpinning the graphs and maps.”

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