8 Biodiversity | Key findings

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.

8 Biodiversity

Key findings

Biodiversity has declined since European settlement.

Although we can reliably establish recent trends in distribution or abundance for only a small proportion of species, data on these suggest that population size, geographic range and genetic diversity are decreasing in a wide range of species across all groups of plants, animals and other forms of life. Unexpected declines in numbers of birds and mammals in northern Australia in particular suggest that trends might be worse than previously expected.

Most pressures on biodiversity that arise directly or indirectly from human activities appear to still be strong.

Those pressures that have decreased, such as land clearing, continue to have legacy effects that will continue for some years or decades. However, other pressures, such as those from invasive species, are generally increasing.

Despite promising investment by all jurisdictions in addressing the main pressures on biodiversity, pressures are not being substantially reduced, nor is the decline in biodiversity being arrested or reversed.

While all jurisdictions have appropriate goals in high-level plans, these are often not matched with implementation plans or levels of resourcing that are capable of achieving the goals. State of the environment reports from around the nation do not suggest any great improvement in biodiversity or reduction in pressures.

The major future drivers of change—climate change, population growth, economic development and associated consumption of natural resources—must be managed carefully if a sustainable relationship between biodiversity and human societies is to be achieved.

Human activities have the potential to further reduce genetic, species and ecosystem biodiversity, which will seriously affect the delivery of environmental benefits to Australians and reduce our quality of life.

Data on long-term trends in biodiversity are limited, making it difficult to interpret the state or trends of major animal and plant groups in most jurisdictions.

The development of a new national approach to environmental information is intended to address this serious deficiency, which has now been identified by four national State of the Environment reports. The ability of all jurisdictions in Australia to develop and enact evidence-based biodiversity policy is severely constrained by the lack of such data.

Australia can improve its biodiversity management significantly.

Australian governments and nongovernment organisations have debated and trialled a range of new approaches to managing our environment, including better stakeholder engagement. Australia is poised to build on these ‘experiments’ and, if wise decisions are made, could make major advances in biodiversity management. However, the legacies of past pressures like land clearing, ongoing pressures like invasive species, and emerging challenges like climate change, will take decades to address fully. Even the most optimistic scenarios envisage gradual, rather than immediate, progress.

Australians cannot afford to see themselves as separate from biodiversity.

Biodiversity depends on us for survival and we depend on it for our survival and wellbeing. Our ecosystems and the biodiversity that they support provide services fundamental to human life, such as regulation of the atmosphere, maintenance of soil fertility, food production, regulation of water flows, filtration of water, pest control and waste disposal. As Australia’s population grows, the Australian community will need to decide how best to protect both biodiversity and human wellbeing.