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28 Sep 2020 19:28
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  •   Home > News > International

    Australia singled out for mammal extinction in UN's dire global biodiversity report

    The extinction of Australia's Bramble Cay melomys has been singled out for criticism in a United Nation's report on the state of biodiversity across the world.


    The extinction of Australia's Bramble Cay melomys has been singled out for criticism in a United Nation's report on the state of biodiversity across the world.

    The fifth Global Biodiversity Outlook, released last night, warned that biodiversity is declining "at an unprecedented rate [while] the pressures driving this decline are intensifying".

    Australia was named alongside Cameroon, the Galapagos and Brazil as countries having suffered at least one extinction in the last decade.

    The Bramble Cay melomys — a native rodent found on a coral cay in the northern Great Barrier Reef — was officially declared extinct by the Australian Government in 2019, although it was last seen in 2009.

    It is believed to be the world's first mammal extinction due to climate change.

    The latest report is an update on the world's progress with the Aichi biodiversity targets — a set of 20 conservation targets set out in 2010 to be achieved by 2020, and signed off on by 194 countries including Australia.

    Those targets include the elimination of "incentives, including subsidies harmful to biodiversity", and halving "the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests".

    "At the global level, none of the 20 targets have been fully achieved," the report stated, "though six targets have been partially achieved."

    Strengthening and enforcing environmental protection laws is outlined as a key lever to help stop the loss of biodiversity — a warning that Australian Conservation Foundation spokesperson Basha Stasak said the Government needs to pay attention to.

    "The Australian Government's own report to the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity in March 2020 revealed the Government failed to meet or measure the majority of its [Aichi] targets," Ms Stasak said.

    "Yet the Morrison Government is trying to further weaken nature protection in rushed changes to the national environment law due to be debated in the Senate next month."

    Australia's environment laws have come under scrutiny since the interim report into the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, released in July, found that the Act is failing to curb our loss of habitat and species.

    The report's recommendation for an independent "cop" to oversee the enforcement of environment protection laws was rejected by the Government.

    Instead the Government is moving to introduce changes to the EPBC Act which would shift environmental assessments for major development projects to the states — a move critics say will further weaken an already failing system.

    In a statement to the ABC, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment said that the Government was aiming to strengthen environmental protection.

    "The Government continues to work on delivering both short- and long-term change that will make the Act more efficient and result in clearer, stronger protection for the environment," the spokesperson said.

    Australian species at risk of extinction without change

    Australia currently has 21 species listed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list — a globally recognised database of flora and fauna conservation status.

    A further 24 Australian animals are listed as endangered, with 19 of those having decreasing populations.

    One of the biggest failings of our environment protection laws is the self-assessment criteria, according to David Chapple, who heads up Monash University's Evolutionary Ecology of Environmental Change Laboratory.

    Under the self-assessment guidelines, people are required to decide for themselves whether they think their activity needs to be referred to the Federal Government for approval.

    Yet, researchers have found that 93 per cent of the over 7 million hectares of threatened species habitat cleared since 1999 (when the EPBC Act came into effect) were not referred for assessment.

    More than 3 million of that 7 million hectares was koala habitat.

    "Self assessment and whether you actually refer yourself to the Act in the first place is an area where there's a lot of improvement to be made," Dr Chapple said.

    "The [EPBC report] recommendation for an independent panel to oversee the Act is one thing that most conservation biologists think is a key element to [improve] it."

    In research published earlier this month, Dr Chapple and colleague's assessed the conservation trajectory of just lizards and snakes in Australia.

    They found that there are at least 11 species of lizard and snake at significant risk of extinction by 2040.

    The biggest driver of species loss in Australia and globally is habitat loss, according to Associate Professor Chapple.

    He said he wasn't surprised by the poor outcomes in the UN's report today.

    "There wasn't anything in there that surprised me. It's a reinforcement of what we already know," he said.

    "In terms of the Samuel's review of the EPBC Act, it's very timely. It remains to be seen how many of those things [the Government] do take on."

    A Department spokesperson told the ABC the Government has made "significant progress" across its Aichi targets.

    "The Australian Government is investing in dedicated threatened species strategies, national environmental science programs, practical on ground action to reduce threats from feral predators and pests and $200 million in bushfire wildlife and habitat recovery strategies that focus heavily on threatened species impacts."

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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