Zali Steggall speaks about the environmental impact of climate change

5 September 2022

I second the motion. I thank the member for Fremantle for moving this important motion regarding the Australia state of the environment 2021 report. Having been on the Environment and Energy Committee with the member for Fremantle in the last parliament, I know his passion for the environment is incredibly strong.

The report's 'Key findings' begins:

Overall, the state and trend of the environment of Australia are poor and deteriorating as a result of increasing pressures from climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and resource extraction.

Since 2016, the number of listed threatened species rose by eight per cent, and more extinctions are expected. Climate change is increasing that pressure on every ecosystem. There has been a continued decline in the amount and condition of our natural capital; native vegetation, soil, wetlands, reefs, rivers and biodiversity are all under pressure and declining; land clearing remains unacceptably high; and our coastline is in danger of being loved to death. The report has introduced new chapters dedicated to extreme events, as well as climate change and Indigenous stewardship of land. Environmental destruction costs our economy billions of dollars, with climate change and biodiversity loss representing both national and global financial risk. This is not a 'nice to have'; protecting the environment and our biodiversity is a 'must do'.

I welcome the commitment by Minister for the Environment and Water—Minister Plibersek—to continue Australia's promise to protect 30 per cent of Australia's land and waters by 2030, under the '30 by 30' target. Australia has already gone well past the ocean goal, with 45 per cent protected. At present, around 22 per cent of Australia's landmass is protected in our National Reserve System. The problem, as the SOE report highlights, is that biodiversity loss and environmental decline in Australia have continued. In fact, they have accelerated, even as our protected areas have grown in recent decades. So, after years of underfunding, our protected areas urgently need proper resourcing and management. Without that, protected area targets just don't mean much. They won't work.

Environmental management is not well coordinated, and it is one of the biggest challenges to reversing the decline in our natural environment. In total, public protected areas like national parks have only contributed to around five per cent of the expansion of terrestrial protected area since 1996—only five per cent. Non-government organisation land purchases, Indigenous protected areas and individual private land holders have facilitated 95 per cent of the growth.

The coordination of environmental management is vital not only within the protected areas but also outside those areas. We're ignoring the drivers of biodiversity loss, such as land clearing, resource extraction and mismanagement, while drawing lines around poorly funded protected areas. Ultimately, this will defeat the environmental goals. As a case in point, the Albanese government's recent decision to open up 46,000 square kilometres of ocean to oil and gas exploration and seismic testing shows that the new government is big on talk when it comes to the environment, but that is all it will be if you follow it with actions like this. You cannot continue that way. The release of new exploration must be cancelled.

The State of the environment 2021 report credits Indigenous knowledge and management with helping to deliver on-ground change. This includes traditional fire management. Partnerships between traditional owners and the federal government have produced 81 Indigenous protected areas, mainly on native title land. These cover some 85 million hectares, fully 50 per cent of our entire protected land estate. Independent ranger and Indigenous ranger groups are also managing country outside the Indigenous protected area system. Work must still be done to empower Indigenous communities and enable Indigenous communities and their knowledge system to improve our environmental and social outcomes.

Lastly, if we're talking about environmental protection, we must talk about Professor Graeme Samuel's review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. It's very clear that we need strong national environmental standards. We need an environmental assurance commissioner, and we need to ensure that climate change impacts are included in all assessments of projects under the EPBC Act.