The latest annual report on the state of Australia’s environment has suggested that 2022’s higher than average rainfall could provide “a reprieve” for Australia and better enable it to cope with the forecast 2023 dry spell.
However, the report from the Australian National University (ANU) also highlights that overall, climate change, biodiversity loss and our greenhouse gas emissions are still on a worrying trend.
“What’s good about this last year is that at least we had a temporary reprieve,” lead author, ANU Professor Albert Van Dijk, told Cosmos Science.
“Nature got a drink and can hopefully survive some bad years … it could have been so much worse.”
Every year, the team – led by Van Dijk – analyse satellite and field data to calculate 15 environmental indicators. Overall, in 2020, the national score was high (8.7 out of 10) because of an increase in water availability, plant growth and soil conditions.
“My specialty is in how to use observations – satellite and on ground – to monitor our environment natural resources and natural hazards,” Van Dijk told Cosmos Science.
“With satellites, we can look at everything from rainfall to soil cover, significant vegetation, we can map tree cover. We can see what is being flooded – what was being inundated in terms of wetlands and floodplains.”
The team found that the amount of biomass burnt was almost 50% down compared to the 2000-2021 average conditions, and rainfall, river flows, wetland area and plant growth were all up.
However, the number of threatened species rose, and Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have begun rising again. The report notes that per person, Australia’s emissions are 2.8 times the UK’s and seven times India’s.
“Things are rapidly getting out of hand. Temperatures are going up and it’s getting a lot drier but thanks to La Nina, we didn’t really experience that this year in Australia,” Van Dijk told Cosmos Science.
“So, a reprieve, but the underlying issues obviously haven’t gone away – especially climate change is very clear and present.”
For what to do about both biodiversity and climate change, Van Dijk says the most effective thing to do is talk to their local politicians to take faster action.
“The average person should be pressuring their representatives to act faster on emissions and to put more pressure internationally for other countries to also reduce emissions. I think that’s the single biggest problem that we face,” he says.
“We really need to fix some of the ways that electricity is being generated, not only how much we use. And we really need to change zoning laws and protection of species, and so a lot of it comes down to regulation.
“None of us really likes [regulation], but that’s the only way that we can protect the environment, because the environment doesn’t have its own voice.”
You can read the full Australia’s Environment Report here.