Australia has faced some significant and devastating weather events over the last few years. Bushfires and flooding have been catastrophic, while temperature extremes are increasing.

Most Australians are now recognising that the effects of climate change are being felt in real and tangible ways.

But what does the data actually tell us?

Publicly released by Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek on the 19th July 2022, the latest State of the Environment Report paints a fairly grim picture of how Australia is fairing.

Minister Plibersek labelled the report a “story of crisis and decline”, adding that “now is the time to read the report and take action.”

What do the outcomes of the report mean for Australians? And what is the government doing to address the report findings?

Simon Williams, Director and Principal Environmental Planner at GeoLINK has identified some of the key findings and how they’ll affect us into the future.

What is the State of the Environment Report?
Every five years, the Australian government undertakes a thorough assessment of how our environment is holding up. It’s a health check of Australia’s environment, taking a look at animals, forests, rivers, oceans, climate, communities and cities.

This latest report (2021) determines the health of our environment based on the last 5 years since the last report in 2016. Written by 37 experts it’s a comprehensive snap shot of our environment, key matters of concern and how we manage it.

The biggest threats to nature and our environment are:

  • Habitat destruction and land clearing for agriculture, mining, logging, transport and urban sprawl
  • Invasive species
  • Fire
  • Climate change.
  • Pollution

Key findings of the 2021 State of the Environment Report
For the first time Indigenous and non-Indigenous people worked together to create the assessment. It recognises Indigenous participation in the management of land and sea is important to environmental outcomes.

Below are some of the key findings from the report:

Climate and weather

  • Average land temperatures in Australia have increased by 1.4% since early last century.
  • Marine heatwaves caused mass coral bleaching on the Great barrier Reef in 2016, 2017 and 2020.
  • 33,000 flying foxes were killed by a 2018 heatwave making them endangered.
  • Rising sea levels are affecting low-lying areas including Kakadu wetlands.

Water

  • Beaches near cities are generally in poorer condition
  • Murray Darling Basin had record low levels in 2019
  • More than 1 million fish died across the Murray Darling Basin in 2018-19.

Bushfires

  • Eight million hectares of native vegetation were burned in the 2019-20 bushfires.
  • The bushfires killed or displaced one to three billion animals.
  • Around 9% of known koala habitat was burned and bushfires led to fish deaths due to sediment and ash in waterways.

Biodiversity

  • Australia now has more foreign plant species than native,
  • Since 2016, 202 animal and plant species have been listed as threatened matters of national environmental significance. This follows 175 being added to the list between 2011 to 2016.
  • Australia lost more mammal species than any other continent.
  • At least 19 Australian ecosystems are showing signs of collapse or near collapse.

Cities

  • Growing urban heat, congestion, pollution and waste are the result of Australia’s cities growing faster than typical cities around the world.
  • Sydney has now lost more than 70% of native vegetation to development.

What’s the Australian Government doing?
While all this sounds a bit doom and gloom, the good news is that it’s no secret what’s needed to get on the right path.

Robust laws, adequate funding, climate action and global goals can collectively make a difference.

While national and state governments have tried to address the decline, the report identified:

  • There’s not enough funding dedicated to the environment
  • National leadership with coordination across varying government levels and departments is needed
  • Improved monitoring and reporting is required

The environment minister has said she expects to introduce changes to environment laws to parliament in 2023. This will include the creation of the Environment Protection Agency.

What’s does it mean for Australian businesses and organisations?
For many businesses and organisations likely to be affected by future legislation change, this seems like a wait and see prospect. But there are a few indicators that can help us all plan for the future.

The report notes that further climate change over the next 20–30 years is inevitable, and as a result adaptation to climate change will continue to be important for us all. While government will play a pivotal role, the report acknowledges that the private sector’s treatment of climate risk will become increasingly important. You’ll have an increased responsibility to report on your activities and an obligation to meet tightened prudential requirements.

GeoLINK will continue to keep up to date on any changes as they unfold. As industry leaders, we actively help our clients navigate any changes or requirements they need to meet now and into the future.

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