From native species to Indigenous land management and water efficiency: Australia’s role in the extinction crisis
— A devastating new UN report shows the planet is in serious danger from the accelerating decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems. Here we look at 10 of the key points from the report – and their relevance for Australia.
1. Human life will be severely impacted if we do not protect biodiversity
More than one million plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction, including 40% of all amphibian species, 33% of reef-forming corals and a third of all marine animals.
Terrestrial native species have declined in abundance by 20% since 1990, and 690 vertebrate species have gone extinct since the 16th century.
Australia alone has lost 27 species of mammal in just over 200 years of colonisation.
If unchecked, loss of biodiversity could lead to the collapse of entire ecosystems.
“We are eroding the very foundation of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life worldwide,” the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services chair, Sir Robert Watson, said.
2. Species are dying at the cost of food security
Modern agricultural practices have seen the diversity of species grown for human consumption narrowed to the most productive varieties. Those varieties are used in place of local species that were farmed previously.
As of 2016, 559 of the 6,190 domesticated breeds of mammals used for agriculture were extinct and a further 1,000 are threatened. Wild relatives of domestic crop species are also under threat.
The report said this “poses a serious risk to global food security by undermining the resilience of many agricultural systems to threats such as pests, pathogens, and climate change.”
3. We should support Indigenous knowledge and land management
Nature is declining less rapidly in land that is owned or managed by Indigenous peoples, but it is still declining due to competing interests including mining and unsustainable agriculture and fishing.
About 25% of all land globally is traditionally owned, managed, used or occupied by Indigenous peoples, including 35% of all formally protected areas and 35% of all remaining terrestrial areas with very low human intervention.
The report found that despite Indigenous peoples “proactively confronting” problems of both climate change and habitat loss, regional and global plans to combat biodiversity loss and climate change do not make use of Indigenous knowledge.
It recommends promoting Indigenous knowledge and land management systems in drafting the global and regional response to looming environmental threats.
4. That includes land rights
About 40% of Australia’s land mass is formally recognised either under native title or land rights laws. According to the UN, we need to bump that number up.
Promoting Indigenous governance and self-determination through the recognition of land tenure is a global recommendation from the report.
Doing so will promote positive contributions of Indigenous peoples and local communities to sustainability.
5. Reforestation for carbon sequestration could harm biodiversity
Restoring native ecosystems is an “indispensable” part of both staving off mass extinction and mitigating the effects of climate change, but what is good for one may harm the other.
The report warns that reforestation of cleared or previously un-forested areas, as well as large-scale bioenergy plantations, risks establishing monocultures. That is bad for biodiversity, could threaten food and water security, undermine local jobs and “intensify social conflict”, the report said.
Scientists have already warned of a version of this occurring in Victoria’s central highlands, where Mountain Ash forests continue to be logged at what experts warn is an unsustainable rate. If logging continues that ecosystem is projected to collapse by 2067 and potentially be replaced by an open acacia woodland, with dire consequences for several threatened species and the security of Melbourne’s water supply.
6. We have to protect green spaces in cities
Urban areas have doubled globally since 1992.
In Australia, one of the fastest growing areas is in western Melbourne, where 55% of the 1,200 native plant species in the remaining grasslands are under threat of extinction in the next 100 years.
The report recommends maintaining green spaces or green wedges in the city as wildlife corridors and cleaning up metropolitan waterways is a key measure to protect biodiversity in urban areas.
It also recommends promoting rooftop gardens, urban agriculture movements, and expanding native vegetation cover in both existing urban and peri-urban areas and in new developments.
7. We are losing a lot of water to agriculture
More than one-third of the world’s land surface and nearly three-quarters of all available freshwater resources are devoted to crop or livestock production.
Crop production occurs on about 12% of all ice-free land worldwide, and grazing on 25% of total ice-free land and 70% of drylands — which includes all of Australia.
The report recommends measures including protecting wetland biodiversity areas, limiting the expansion of unsustainable agriculture and mining, reversing the de-vegetation of catchment areas, reducing fertiliser use that causes polluted run-off, and minimising the negative impact of dams.
It also recommends investing in water efficiency measures – in Australia that would include converting open irrigation channels to closed pipelines – as well as encouraging the use of household rainwater collections.
8. We need to ditch subsidies that encourage environmentally harmful practices
Economic incentives traditionally reward business practices that deliver strong economic returns, often at the price of environmental harm, over those that promote conservation or restoration.
By getting rid of environmentally harmful subsidies and promoting economic incentives that measure value in environmental and social terms, as well as economic terms, we would increase sustainable land and sea management. That move will be opposed by vested interests, the report says, but will promote better outcomes.
9. We will lose all the coral if we can’t keep climate change below 2°C
Half of the live coral cover in the world has been lost since the 1870s and that loss has accelerated in recent decades, notably in the Great Barrier Reef.
If global temperatures increase by 1.5°C coral reef cover is expected to decline again, to 10-30% of former levels. In a 2°C future coral reef cover will be just 1% of what it was before the industrial revolution.
Losing the reefs will increase the risk of floods and hurricanes impacting between 100 million and 300 million people who live in 100-year coastal flood zones. The only way to stave off this damage is to keep climate change below 2°C.
10. We need to take an ecosystem-based approach to managing fisheries
That includes setting quotas, protecting key marine biodiversity areas, and reducing pollution from runoff. About 33% of global fish stocks are overfished while only 7% are under-fished. The companies and profits behind industrial fishing are concentrated in a few countries but cover 55% of the oceans, mainly in the northern hemisphere.
We need to develop legally binding global agreements for responsible fisheries and urgently work towards eliminating illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing.
by Calla Wahlquist | The Guardian