Climate change impact on Australia may be irreversible, five-yearly report says

An independent review of the state of Australia’s environment has found the impacts of climate change are increasing and some of the changes could be irreversible.

The latest State of the Environment report, a scientific snapshot across nine areas released by the federal government every five years, says climate change is altering the structure and function of natural ecosystems in Australia, and is affecting heritage, economic activity and human wellbeing.

It warns climate change will result in “location specific vulnerabilities” and says the most severe impacts will be felt by people who are socially and economically disadvantaged.

Record high water temperatures caused “widespread coral bleaching, habitat destruction and species mortality” in the marine environment between 2011 and 2016, it says.

The minister for energy and the environment, Josh Frydenberg, was due to release the report card on Tuesday morning.
In a column for Guardian Australia, Frydenberg says the report indicates the impact of changing weather patterns is being felt in the ocean, on the Great Barrier Reef and on land, affecting biodiversity and species habitat.

“While carbon emissions per capita have declined from 24.1 tonnes in 2011 to 22.2 tonnes in 2015 and energy efficiency improvements are reducing electricity demand, the report makes clear that, for the world to meet its Paris goals, there is much more to do,” Frydenberg says.

The minister says the report makes clear Australia needs to prepare for changes in the environment and “put in place a coordinated, comprehensive, well-resourced, long-term response”.

He warns that failure to do so “will have a direct and detrimental impact on our quality of life and leave a legacy to future generations that is inferior to the one we have inherited”.

The minister says the report presents the government with a mixed picture. “Good progress has been made in the management of the marine and Antarctic environments, natural and cultural heritage and the built environment – while pressures are building in relation to invasive species, climate change, land use and coastal protection,” he says.

Frydenberg says the doubling of Australia’s population in the past 50 years and growing urbanisation “have all combined to contribute to additional pressures on the environment”.

Australia’s heavily populated coastal areas are under pressure, as are “growth areas within urban environments, where human pressure is greatest”, the report finds.

Grazing and invasive species continue to pose a significant threat to biodiversity.

“The main pressures facing the Australian environment today are the same as in 2011: climate change, land use change, habitat fragmentation and degradation, and invasive species,” the report’s summary says. “In addition, the interactions between these and other pressures are resulting in cumulative impacts, amplifying the threats faced by the Australian environment.

“Evidence shows that some individual pressures on the environment have decreased since 2011, such as those associated with air quality, poor agricultural practices, commercial fishing, and oil and gas exploration and production in Australia’s marine environment.

“During the same time, however, other pressures have increased — for example, those associated with coal mining and the coal-seam gas industry, habitat fragmentation and degradation, invasive species, litter in our coastal and marine environments, and greater traffic volumes in our capital cities.”

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Unicast