If Australians are to protect what is most distinctive about this country – our unique plants, animals and ecological communities – we urgently need to overcome the key threats facing them. At least 100 species unique to Australia have been lost since 1788 and thousands more are on a path to extinction. About 1800 species and ecological communities are listed nationally as threatened.
It is not possible to recover all of our threatened species one by one through recovery programs. We need a concerted national focus to overcome the major threats our native plants and animals have in common – in particular invasive species, climate change, habitat destruction, changed fire regimes and changed hydrological regimes.
Bringing native species back from the brink of extinction through recovery programs and reducing the known risks to their survival are essential instruments for saving Australia’s most vulnerable native plants and animals. Effective threat abatement can also safeguard many other species not yet recognised as threatened, help recover environmental health, and benefit industries like agriculture and tourism.
State of play
Australia has a national system for responding to threats to nature. Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999, the federal government can list ‘key threatening processes’ and prepare ‘threat abatement plans’.
Currently, 21 threats are listed, two-thirds of which are invasive species.
This system is vital – we need federal leadership, coordination and resources to drive the long-term research and actions needed to overcome major threats to nature. And the system has also worked well for some threats – for example, threat abatement within the longline fishing industry has greatly reduced the numbers of albatross and petrels killed.
But our national threat response system is now failing to abate a number of significant threats. In a review carried out in 2018 we found that many major threats are not yet listed, and that for many of the listed threats there is no national planning, monitoring or reporting. Our review also found that progress in threat abatement has generally been poor.
We have already started work on a project specifically focused on how the existing system might better address the major threats to Australia’s biodiversity. In 2019 we coordinated a Threats to Biodiversity workshop that identified a number of ways in which the national threat abatement system could be reformed. Our Threats to Nature project will build on these findings – taking the process forward under the guidance of an experts working group.
The Australian Communities Foundation has provided funding for the project, supporting a part-time project manager who will work with experts and project partners. The goal of the project is to establish an ambitious, collaborative, well-funded, nationally coordinated threat abatement system as an essential part of reversing Australia’s extinction crisis alongside species recovery plans.
The project began in March 2020 and is planned to run for two and a half years and will have a strong emphasis on building effective relationships between a broad range of stakeholders to drive collaborative abatement programs across jurisdictions and sectors.
Activities will include:
• advancing the threat abatement reform agenda using case studies and analyses;
• identifying and developing innovative projects to demonstrate potential solutions to selected threats;
• refining and delivering an effective reform program that will persuade Australia’s governments to implement effective national threat abatement.