Friday, November 23, 2012

Saving Australian Endangered Species: A Policy Gap and Political Opportunity

by Professor Stephen Garnett, Professor of Biodiversity and Sustainability at Charles Darwin University, The Conversation:

Map shows biodiversity "hotspots" as...
Map shows biodiversity "hotspots" as defined by Conservation International, with color coding indicating number of Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Threatened bird species occurring in these areas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tim Flannery, in his Quarterly Essay After the Future, is right to deplore the sudden abrogation of responsibility for threatened species by state and federal governments.

The tragedy is that neglecting endangered species is the wrong thing to do on so many counts. It does not reflect the popular will of the people. And it is counter to what is happening elsewhere in the world.

To take the last point first. In Hyderabad recently the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity - which includes representatives of nearly all world governments - agreed to double the funding for the Global Environment Fund (GEF) to $10 billion a year.

Although still less than required for improving the status of all threatened species and for protecting critical habitats, this was still a big step forward.

Significantly, India and several African countries also agreed to contribute to the GEF. The world is taking a serious interest in saving species. And with good reason - there is increasing evidence that biodiversity loss has an influence on ecosystem service provision on a par with drought, ozone loss, acidification and climate warming. Species conservation is an investment in natural capital that provides enormous returns.

So why are Australian governments turning off threatened species? While Australia did contribute $23 million to the GEF through AusAid in 2011-12, here at home there is no coordinated national pool of funds for threatened species. The carbon fund and Caring for Country are lotteries in which winning tickets are too often captured by local agendas unrelated to the risk of species loss.

And the states and territories have always been poor cousins. While they have long employed threatened species managers - often deeply committed individuals who have devoted decades to retaining species for future generations - the operating money has usually had to be gleaned from a reluctant Commonwealth.

Since 2009 that money has been ever harder to obtain. That was when Peter Garrett got up at the INTECOL conference in Brisbane and said that funding would be given to protecting landscapes not species. I wonder if it weighs on his conscience, and those of his advisers, that this statement led directly to extinction of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle, the first mammal extinction in a generation.

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