'Walking blind into an extinction crisis': Urgent climate change warning

The outlook for Australia’s native species is probably “far more dire” than previously thought, environmentalists warn.

Climate change’s effect has been omitted from 178 of 334 federal programs designed to protect endangered species, according to a new report from the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and GreenLaw.

The findings are significant because extreme events like drought and bushfire have the potential to wipe out entire species, particularly when they live in fragmented habitat.

Australia is walking towards an extinction crisis a new report warns. Source: Getty
Australia is walking towards an extinction crisis a new report warns. Source: Getty

Without an urgent review of threatened species' conservation plans, Australia is “effectively walking blind into an extinction crisis”, the ACF’s Brendan Sydes told Yahoo News.

“The situation is likely to be far more dire for a lot of these threatened species than is currently realised,” he said.

“Despite having worked in this area for a while… I wasn't quite aware of just how systemic the issue is.

“It's a bit of an eye opener just to see how poorly we're doing.”

Endangered species plans accused of being 'climate-blind'

The report analysed Recovery Plans and Conservation Advices for species and ecological communities created under the Commonwealth’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

GreenLaw has warned many of the strategies are likely “climate-blind”, meaning the impact of increased temperatures, habitat loss and other extreme weather events could currently be underestimated.

“Our results demonstrate there is a significant climate gap in the management of Australia’s threatened species,” GreenLaw CEO and report author Annika Reynolds said.

The Department of Environment said it welcomes any new information that supports conservation plan development.

"As part of its modernisation process, the department continues to develop fit-for-purpose conservation plans in response to new information," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"Where relevant, information on climate change informs the development of conservation advice at the time a species is listed and in the development of any recovery plan."

It said the 2021-2026 threatened species strategy includes climate change adaption and resilience as an "action area".

'Concerning' details missing in plans for koalas, flying foxes

Even when climate change is mentioned in conservation plans, the report's authors argue there is a lack of detail.

They say plans meant to protect iconic creatures like greater gliders and whale sharks do not adequately discuss how the issue can be mitigated.

In one example, climate change was described as a “potential threat” in Conservation Advice for the spectacled flying fox, despite a heatwave in 2018 killing off a third of the population.

The Department of Environment did not respond to a specific question asked by Yahoo News about the endangered bat.

Conservation plans for spectacled flying foxes and whale sharks (pictured) do not adequately include the threat posed by climate change according to the report. Source: Getty
Conservation plans for spectacled flying foxes and whale sharks (pictured) do not adequately include the threat posed by climate change according to the report. Source: Getty

When it came to koala protection advice, the report's authors concluded the issue of climate change was discussed in a “generalised and limited” way.

“This is concerning given the koala is vulnerable to a range of climate impacts including drought, extreme heat, more intense bushfire seasons, and long-term impacts on eucalypt species that increase the risk of malnutrition,” the report said.

Australia's flying foxes in focus:

Recovery plan's 'out of date' warns conservation charity

Australians witnessed the impact of climate change when species like the assassin spider and little pygmy possum on Kangaroo Island came close to extinction amid the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires.

Across the country, the blazes wiped out an estimated one third of koalas in northern NSW and South East Queensland, leading the government to list them as vulnerable to extinction in those states and the ACT.

Multiple factors have created the problems identified by ACF, including a lack of funding and commitment to create effective conservation plans, Mr Sydes argues.

He characterises them as "inadequate" and has serious concerns about their ability to turn around Australia's horrifying extinction record.

“They’re just out of date, and don't reflect contemporary knowledge about things like climate change,” he said.

“There’s probably been a systemic reluctance as well to seriously grapple with climate threats, and to recognise what needs to be done.

“It's one thing to just nominate that climate change might be a threat, it's another thing altogether to actually seriously tackle what needs to be done to protect threatened species in the face of climate change.”

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