While climate change is the biggest threat to our biodiversity, there are other major threats driving the decline of our natural world.
The big ones are the conversion of land from its natural state to human use, deforestation and pesticides and pollution. All are driven by an economic system that values profits and growth at the expense of the natural world. This system is not compatible with ongoing life on earth.
We are entering the sixth mass extinction
Research by scientists at World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London found that we have lost half of our wildlife on earth in the last four decades.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that humans now account for about 36 percent of the biomass of all mammals on earth. Domesticated livestock, mostly cows and pigs, account for 60 percent, and wild mammals for only 4 percent. The biomass of poultry is about three times higher than that of wild birds.
On 6 May 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global Assessment reported that nature is in a dangerous decline with unprecedented rates of extinction forecast. Around 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction within decades.
The Australia State of the Environment Report 2011 tells us that 13 per cent of the original estimated extent of Australia's native vegetation has been completely converted to other land uses, predominantly agriculture, and a further 62 per cent has been subject to varying degrees of disturbance and modification. The 2018 report states that native vegetation cover is poor and deteriorating.
The Wilderness Society reports that an MCG-sized area of forest and bush is bulldozed every 2 minutes in Australia. Bulldozers destroy 500,000 ha of forest and bush every year, damaging our soil and water, suffocating the reef, killing wildlife, draining our carbon budget — and leaving our towns and suburbs hotter and less liveable.
In November 2019, a 37-year study revealed that Australia's eastern waterbird population has fallen as much as 90 per cent in the last four decades.
What the world is doing
Following the rise of mass movements raising the alarm on the climate emergency and the extinction crisis, environmental awareness has exploded in recent years and we are beginning to see breakthroughs around the world.
Countries are implementing programs of mass revegetation. New Zealand will plant one billion trees by 2028. The Philippines have made it law that every student must plant 10 trees before graduating from elementary, high school and college as a prerequisite for graduation. Ethiopia planted about 350 million trees in a single day, according to a government minister, as part of an ongoing program to grow 4 billion trees this Summer. The President of Madagascar has announced plans to plant 40,000 hectares of forest each year for the next five years.
Community groups, NGOs and even online influencers are creating mass revegetation projects as well. Not for profit group Tree Sisters has raised funds for communities in tropical countries to plant 2.2 million trees a year. The Edan Reforestation Project reduces extreme poverty and restores healthy forests by employing local villagers to plant millions of trees every year and restore mangrove ecosystems. They have planted over 2.5 million trees and aim to plant a minimum of 500 million trees each year by 2025 and employ tens of thousands of people in countries with extreme poverty.
In March the UN announced a decade of ecosystem restoration and has set a target of restoring 350 million hectares of degraded and deforested land, an area bigger than India, by 2030. The progress report states that 44 million hectares is currently under restoration. India itself has pledged to plant 13 million hectares of forest by 2020, Latin America is aiming at 20 million hectares and African countries 100 million hectares by 2030.
Ensuring that genuine reforestation takes place rather than the planting of monocultures of trees of the same species is crucial to ensuring planting programs actually increase habitat for wildlife. In the world's largest revegetation project, China increased its tree cover by a massive 32% between 2000 and 2015, however, most of this was through converting crop land into tree plantations with little benefit to wildlife.
In 2018, France became the first country to ban all five pesticides that kill bees, surpassing the European Union that has banned three.
Veganism, vegetarianism and flexible diets with less meat are rapidly on the rise, with 90% of people in the UK now identified as flexitarian, meaning they are actively reducing meat in their diet, and veganism rising by 600% in recent years in the USA.
What Australia is doing
In October 2019 the Australian government announced a review of the EPBC Act - the principle piece of legislation designed to protect the environment (which is currently failing to protect anything) - in order to "tackle green tape", in other words, to ensure that environmental considerations did not slow down development proposals. The Australian government has extinguished Traditional Owner land rights and the Western Australian government has de-listed sacred Aboriginal sites to ensure mining projects go ahead.
Funding for National Parks has been slashed at Federal and State levels and the creation of new National Parks and reserves has stalled.
Some of Australia’s most eminent environmental scientists have warned that the Murray-Darling basin plan, the strategy set up to save Australia’s largest river system, is not delivering the environmental outcomes promised. They point to watered down rules, state and federal governments shy of delivering reform, over-extraction and a lack of compliance by irrigators and no allowances for climate change. As a result the river system has seen millions of fish die and flows completely stop in parts of the system.
As described in the climate action section of this website, both the Australian government and opposition party continue to back fossil fuels and are failing to create any effective plans to address the climate emergency.
The threats to Australia's biodiversity including one of the world's highest rates of landclearing, the logging of old growth forest and threatened species habitat, ever expanding urban sprawl, intensive agriculture and a corrupt political system that ensures the weak legal framework that exists to protect the environment does not prevent environmentally damaging industries and developments, means that Australia remains the country with the highest rate of extinction in the world and is continuing at high speed down the path of mass extinction.
The Labor government elected in 2022 have made promises to reverse the damage caused by the previous government, however we are yet to see meaningful action with investment in fossil fuels, land clearing, logging and mining continuing at a devestating pace across the country.