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Australia losing animals and natural land as environment deteriorates

The new center-left government, which campaigned on greater climate change action, responded to a wide-ranging report by promising new laws.
/ Source: Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia — A five-year government report found Australia’s environment continues to deteriorate due to climate change, resource extraction and other causes, prompting leaders on Tuesday to promise new laws and enforcement of them.

The State of the Environment report also adds political pressure on the government to set a more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target when Parliament resumes next week for the first time since May 21 elections.

The previous conservative government received the report in December but decided against making it public before the elections.

The center-left Labor Party won on pledges including greater action on climate change.

It wants a target to reduce emissions by 43 percent below 2005 by the end of the decade enshrined in law when Parliament sits on July 26.

Several unaligned lawmakers want a more ambitious target. Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the report sent a “very strong message that we need to do better,” but she rejected calls for deeper emission cuts.

“On the 43 percent target, we made a promise to the Australian people. We’re going to keep the promise we made to the Australian people,” Plibersek told the National Press Club.

She said she would introduce new environmental protection laws to Parliament next year and the government would create an agency to enforce them.

Image: The Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia
The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. Officials say they aim to have 30 percent of Australia’s land and surrounding sea declared protected areas.Tony Feder / Getty Images / iStockphoto

The government will also set a target of having 30 percent of Australia’s land and surrounding sea declared protected areas. It wants to create an east Antarctic marine park.

“I am optimistic about the steps that we can take over the next three years. Legislating strong action on climate change is a great start,” Plibersek said.

The wide-ranging report found the number of Australian species listed as threatened had increased 8 percent since the 2016 report.

That number will increase substantially after wildfires in 2019 and 2020 destroyed vast tracts of southeast Australian forests, the report said.

Kelly O’Shanassy, chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation, an environmental organization, said land clearing was the major cause of habitat loss.

“There’s nothing in this report we don’t know. This is the fourth State of the Environment Report and every time it’s told us that the environment is getting worse and worse and worse because we’re not taking the type of action we need,” O’Shanassy told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

She welcomed the government’s commitment to law reform.

“That’s what we need to do pretty quickly, otherwise these endangered species will go extinct and they’ll do that in our lifetimes,” O’Shanassy said.