Environment

Species extinction is on the agenda at this election

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Australia derives so much of its identity from its unique flora and fauna that it should take special interest in a damning report by the United Nations released on Monday on the global crisis of extinctions.

The UN biodiversity report warned that close to a million species around the world face extinction, many within decades. Of course, species come and go just like the dinosaurs but the UN says the current rate of extinction is tens to thousands of times faster than at any other time in history.

Koala numbers are falling.

Koala numbers are falling.Credit:Nick Moir

Nature is losing the battle against pollution, human population growth, agriculture and climate change.

Developers, miners and farmers might sometimes regard any attempt to reverse these trends as middle-class meddling.

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Yet increasingly they are out of step with public opinion. The Herald reported on Monday on a poll of 28 countries attitudes to environmental issues which found that Australians are not so worried about air or water pollution, thanks to our generally clean environment, but they are much more concerned than most other countries about wildlife conservation and climate change.

Even though Australians now mostly live in cities, contact with nature remains spiritually important to many people from all walks of life. Material wealth will not compensate for the news that the koala population has declined by 33 per cent in the past 20 years and the next generation of children may never hope to see one of them in the wild.

The UN report points out the collapse of biodiversity is not just about feeling nice. It could also have economic consequences. In Europe and North America the destruction of native forests is killing the insects which are needed to pollinate crops. Marine stocks are collapsing as Australia has seen in the mass fish kills along the Darling River.

Both major political parties have proposed action to stem the tide of extinctions of native flora and fauna but they are reluctant to take the hard decisions.

Last Friday Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged $12 million to research and create sanctuaries for a few species including koalas, WAs black cockatoos, Bruny Islands eastern quolls and Kangaroo Islands endangered dunnart.

Focusing on a few famous animals attracts attention and wins votes but Mr Morrison is pledging only paltry amounts which, at best, will preserve species in a few small areas. As the UN report stresses, preserving species will require much broader changes, especially reducing the rate of human-induced climate change.

Equally, action must be taken to stop habitat destruction, especially from land clearing, and invasive species such as cats and foxes. The NSW Environmental Protection Authority's most recent state of the environment report in 2015 highlighted these as the main rRead More – Source