8 Biodiversity | 6 Risks to biodiversity
State of the Environment 2011 Committee. Australia state of the environment 2011.
Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Canberra: DSEWPaC, 2011.
At a glance
Many risks facing biodiversity in the short and medium term relate to potential failure to take current opportunities for better management. A major challenge for Australians, not just those in government but across all sectors, is to understand the dependence of humans on ecological processes that are mediated by different elements of biodiversity; and to manage the size and distribution of our population, as well as our consumption of natural resources, in this context.
How Australia manages the interactions between the emergence of climate change and the decline in availability of oil will have profound effects on the social–ecological systems that support biodiversity. There is also the possibility that risks that are just emerging could become bigger problems (e.g. micropollutants, large-scale functional shifts in soils, geoengineering that goes wrong, problems related to genetic engineering, failure of protected areas and widespread failure of people to support action to protect natural assets). The past has shown us that there will be surprises that we cannot anticipate, or fail to see despite the evidence.
New risks to biodiversity that might emerge in the next few decades may be from pressures not previously seen, or from changes in the severity or expression of existing pressures. In addition, some of the risks relate to failure to take actions that we believe are vital for desirable biodiversity outcomes. For example, a number of experts have highlighted the need to make substantial progress in the next few years on understanding, and taking action about, the benefits that people derive from the environment and the consequences of our impacts on the environment. At the same time, some opportunities that might emerge in coming decades could provide possibilities to address current and emerging pressures substantially better than we currently anticipate. In this section, we have identified risks and opportunities primarily from scanning the literature, with particular reliance on a small number of recent studies that have reviewed risks to biodiversity and natural resource management.94,150,209-211 We restrict ourselves in the assessment summary to those that we consider most significant.