'Emergency point': Australia to enter UN talks amid extinction crisis

With one million of the world’s species facing extinction, Australia could play a key role in global talks next week which could see almost a third of the planet protected.

As biodiversity loss continues at the highest rate human history, the United Nations COP15 summit is set to begin on Monday, hosted in the southern Chinese city of Kunming.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley will join international virtual talks, with her department confirming they "fully support" a global commitment to protect 30 per cent of the world’s land and sea, a goal which signatories will likely ratify.

Left - a koala crossing road sign. Right - an image of the Earth.
COP15 will begin on October 11 as the world faces an extinction crisis. Source: Getty

Characterising the summit as the “most important conference on biodiversity protection in a decade", Nat Pelle from the Australian Conservation Foundation hopes Australia will also commit to protect species at home.

Specific targets to prevent extinction and the restoration of degraded habitats are both on his wish-list.

“The biodiversity crisis has reached an emergency point,” Mr Pelle told Yahoo News Australia.

“We need to achieve an overarching goal or mission, that we will reverse the destruction of biodiversity, so that by 2030, nature is in better health than it is now.”

Australia more reliant on nature than other developed nations

Harbouring between 7 and 10 per cent of the world’s biodiversity mix, Australia’s is home to the second highest number of endemic species, and is listed as one just 17 megadiverse countries.

Despite the nation being more reliant on nature than most other developed countries, it remains a world leader in extinctions, ranking at number four in the world.

The Murray Darling River from above (left) and the Great Barrier Reef showing a diver and coral bleaching(right).
The Murray Darling River (left) and the Great Barrier Reef (right) have experienced severe pressure due to human impacts. Source: Getty / AAP

Nineteen ecosystems including the Great Barrier Reef and the Murray Darling Basin are collapsing, and populations of iconic species like koalas and platypus face extinction in the coming decades without urgent action.

Climate change and deforestation continue to be key extinction drivers in Australia, despite calls from conservation groups for successive governments to do more to protect the environment.

While Mr Pelle has welcomed the Morrison Government's embrace of 30 per cent protection of the globe, he is also campaigning for reforms and increased funding at home.

“We have so much to lose, and our track record is poor, with Australia being a world leader in extinctions and a deforestation hotspot, as the Congo and Amazon are,” Mr Pelle said.

“Federal spending on nature has declined by almost a third in eight years, while 70 per cent of Australians say the government should prevent extinction, no matter the cost.”

Key facts about Australia’s extinction record

  • 35 per cent of all mammal extinctions since 1500 occurred in Australia

  • Australia is the only developed nation listed by World Wide Fund for Nature as a deforestation front

  • Koalas will likely be extinct in NSW by 2050 without urgent action to stop habitat loss

What you need to know about COP15

  • COP15 follows the UN's CMS conference on migratory species and ahead of the COP26 climate talks.

  • The summit will be held in two phases.

  • October 11-15 to be held online and April 25 - May 8 in person.

  • Held every ten years, the 2021 / 2022 talks aim to set goals for 2030 and 2050.

  • The European Union, Costa Rica, Colombia, Britain and Canada are calling for greater ambitions.

How you can help Australia's wildlife

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