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
Australian governments and nongovernment organisations have been debating and trialling a range of new approaches to biodiversity management, including better ways to engage the right stakeholders at the right times and in the right places. This nation is poised to build on these ‘experiments’ and if wise decisions are made there is potential to make major advances in protecting and managing our biodiversity.
The legacies of ongoing pressures like land clearing and invasive species, and emerging challenges like climate change, will take decades to address, so even in the most optimistic scenarios we will not see overnight improvement. As Australia’s population grows, serious thought will need to be given to our dependence on biodiversity and natural resources, and how those resources can be protected.
It is vital that we improve the ways in which we collect the information that will allow us to understand the effects of interactions and interrelationships between humans and biodiversity over the long term. State of the environment reports have highlighted the inadequacy of this information for more than a decade. Another key requirement for preparing for the future is the development of processes to support strategic thinking, anticipation of potential challenges and opportunities, monitoring of emerging change and preparation for change.
It is never possible to predict the future with certainty. Furthermore, it is even less wise now—in a time of major environmental, economic and social change globally—than in the past to try to predict the future of biodiversity in Australia. Much of Australia is at the end of a long period of drought and a time in which various new approaches to environmental governance have been tried with a range of successes. Opinions about the likely long-term suitability of different governance approaches differ and it is by no means clear what policy and management strategies will be adopted by the Australian Government, and by state and territory governments, in the coming decade and beyond. However, there is consensus about several aspects of biodiversity:
- Biodiversity has declined since European settlement, and information on environmental pressures suggests that many species continue to decrease in both population size and genetic diversity.
- Most pressures on biodiversity that arise directly or indirectly from human activities appear to still be strong and those that have declined in some areas, such as land clearing, continue to have legacy effects that will continue for some years or decades.
- Despite promising investment by all jurisdictions in addressing the main pressures on biodiversity, pressures are not being reduced substantially, nor is the decline in biodiversity being arrested or reversed.
- 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.
- The impacts of human activities on biodiversity have the potential to generate negative feedbacks that could decrease 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.
Below, we offer our views about two alternative scenarios, one pessimistic and one optimistic, for the future of biodiversity in Australia. These are at the extremes of the range of plausible futures. The reality is likely to be somewhere in-between.
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