A national approach to biodiversity decline Report to the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council

Biodiversity Decline Working Group, 2005

Natural Resource Policies and Programs Committee, Biodiversity Decline Working Group
July 2005

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Executive summary

Over recent decades, all levels of government have been working to prevent the loss of native species and their habitats. Available evidence suggests there is a continuing decline in biodiversity. Species extinctions, secondary salinisation, soil decline, pest outbreaks, and declining native vegetation and water quality and quantity are among a range of symptoms of ecosystems losing the capacity to repair themselves. At the same time, Australians are recognising the environmental, economic and social values of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

The time is right for governments to review progress, policy directions and delivery mechanisms to focus investment and effort according to clear priorities addressing the underlying causes of biodiversity decline.

A wide-ranging review of past biodiversity conservation programs was undertaken by the Biodiversity Decline Working Group, covering 25 programs delivered within states and territories or nationally. Specific attributes of more and less effective programs were identified. Based on this review, the main challenges to achieving most effective delivery of outcomes to address biodiversity decline are considered to be defining clear program objectives and purpose, and improving program design. The Working Group also identified key elements of the most effective approaches for delivery, management interventions and approaches.

The Working Group reviewed key threats to biodiversity, the outcomes sought and the most effective interventions to address these threats. Outcomes and strategies were identified that would benefit from a national approach.

Based on these reviews, the Working Group has proposed a national approach to deliver a range of cost-effective national actions to reduce the impact of system-wide threats that are underlying causes of decline in biodiversity.

The approach focuses on three system-wide threats to biodiversity, where existing responses should be enhanced and where national scale attention is needed for new actions:

  • Drivers of loss of habitat values and decline in ecosystem function
  • Spread of invasive pests, weeds and diseases
  • Climate change impacts on biodiversity.

The approach identifies the highest priority actions, actions that maintain natural systems, actions that advance ecologically sustainable natural resource management, actions that will improve institutional frameworks for delivery, and actions that will embed biodiversity conservation into the economic and social fabric of Australia. Twenty-six actions have been identified to address the three system-wide threats.

A national approach will aim to deliver the following primary outcomes:

  • More effective management that will reverse the decline in extent and condition of populations and habitat of species and communities
  • Reduction in the impact of invasive species on biodiversity
  • Improvement of our preparedness for the impact of climate change on biodiversity
  • A national network of continental scale ecological linkages, including conservation reserves surrounded and linked by sympathetically managed lands, where conservation is incorporated into integrated land use which protects biodiversity in situ and maximises the opportunity for biodiversity to adapt to climate change
  • Improved knowledge of biodiversity condition and status, and better decision-making for biodiversity conservation
  • Engagement of the full capacity of governments, landholders, industries, non-government organisations and communities to conserve Australia’s biodiversity assets.

The key policy directions proposed to achieve these outcomes and improve the overall effort to address biodiversity decline are:

  • Establishment of institutional and governance arrangements that clarify roles and responsibilities and ensure integrated outcomes, including promotion of joint ownership of the problems and solutions
  • Defined landholder duty of care for government managed, leasehold and freehold lands to enable better targeting of investment for conservation activity
  • Establishment of intergovernmental mechanisms to identify and conserve an Australia-wide network of conservation lands and ecological linkages
  • Effective market based mechanisms to deliver biodiversity conservation
  • Continued investment in knowledge creation and social and institutional capacity for effective conservation of biodiversity.

Biodiversity is a simple concept, but its conservation is a complex issue involving multiple stakeholders at a range of scales and across a number of natural resource management and environmental sectors. Arresting the decline in biodiversity will require a range of institutional changes to provide adequate planning and management frameworks and integration of effective delivery mechanisms.

Implementation of a national approach to biodiversity decline requires the cooperation and commitment of all governments. The 26 actions contained in this report will provide more integrated and long-term solutions. Implementation requires further development of a detailed work plan and a collaborative will to adopt these recommendations into the various jurisdictional policy and operational frameworks.