Australia’s biodiversity crisis and opportunity

Author: Euan G Ritchie

Published in: Science (Letters)

Australia is failing to meet its international obligations to conserve its unique native biodiversity and ecosystems. Most of Australia’s plants and animals are found nowhere else on Earth, but since colonization about 230 years ago, at least 100 endemic species have been driven to extinction, and 17 ecosystems spanning the continent are now showing signs of collapse. Many more species face the same grim fate, with more than 1900 species and ecological communities currently listed as of conservation concern under Australia’s centerpiece environmental legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Numerous reports demonstrate that Australia is simply not doing enough to address key threats to biodiversity, including land clearing and urbanization, invasive species, altered fire regimes, pollution, disease, and climate change. Despite being a member of the G20, Australian federal and state government environmental spending is well short of what’s required to reverse the nation’s biodiversity extinction trajectory.

A stark example of this failure is the newly announced priority threatened species list. Just 100 threatened species — fewer than 6% of the country’s listed threatened species — are earmarked for conservation attention and AUS $10 million of new funding, equating to about $100,000 per species. Of Australia’s Critically Endangered or Endangered species, only 2 of 25 frog species (8%), 7 of 53 invertebrate species (13.2%), and 28 of 776 plant species (3.6%) make the priority list.

Stronger environmental laws, combined with a substantial increase in investment in environmental and conservation spending, will not only benefit Australia’s biodiversity but also undoubtedly deliver substantial social, cultural, and economic benefits. The international community is moving to implement a new post-2020 global biodiversity framework, and heads of state recently met at the United Nations Climate Change Conference to chart a course to avert the climate change crisis deepening. Australia must be a leader of change, not a laggard.

Ritchie EG (2022) Australia’s biodiversity crisis and opportunity. Science PDF DOI