Remaining vigilant for the environment during the global health emergency
As we all do what we can to get through this pandemic together, the Wilderness Society remains committed to addressing the continuing dual crises of species extinction and climate change.
The recent catastrophic bushfires have brought home how urgent it is that we ensure a safe climate and put an end to the extinction crisis. We are all concerned that some companies and governments might use the current period—where we are all focused on COVID-19—to approve damaging projects, windback existing environmental protections or fail to make the improvements.
Along with our supporters and local groups we are keeping a close eye on what decisions are made by governments and companies in Australia during this period. We will keep watch, keep records and speak up against moves that damage our natural world, weaken existing environmental protections or take us further away from the path of solving climate change.
We’ll also be sharing visions of hope for a better world, for how we can recover and build back better, we believe nature and climate-solutions can be central to our post-COVID-19 - and bushfire - economic recovery. Adopting nature and climate solutions will result in stronger communities and healthier and happier lives for us all.
Keep checking back to the list below, which we'll update throughout the year, to see what issues we feel are important to keep front of mind during the ongoing health crisis. (Top image: Teresa Hu)
08/09/20: Bitter divisions exposed as Nationals MPs demand urgent changes to planning policy A split has formed in the NSW Coalition government, with Nationals MPs calling for a cabinet meeting to be held on 14 September to discuss planning policy that seeks to protect koala habitat. The Nationals contingent led by Deputy Premier John Barilaro are urgently requesting the meeting with Gladys Berejiklian to look at the planning guidelines. The new rules would increase the number of tree species protected from 10 to 123, which Nationals MPs argue would severely limit the way property owners can manage their land, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. Koalas will be extinct in NSW by 2050 if urgent action isn't taken to stem their decline, largely as a result of habitat loss.
29/09/20: Australia joins US, China and Russia in refusing to sign leaders' pledge on biodiversity
A UN plan to curb the alarming rate of global biodiversity has been endorsed by 64 countries, while Australia, along with China, Brazil, the USA, Russia and India, won't commit. Scott Morrison refused to sign up to the 10-point plan to protect wild places and wildlife, claiming it was inconsistent with Australia's policies, The Guardian reports. The Prime Minister's stance comes as Australia is singled out by the UN for its terrible record of mammalian extinction. The Wilderness Society's Tim Beshara said: “If prime minister Morrison isn’t willing to tell the world we are committed to ending species extinction in Australia, what level of extinction is he willing to tell Australians he is happy with?”
29/08/20: Exmouth Gulf development on ice as Minister orders review
ABC News reports that the WA government has put the brakes on proposals for a slew of developments in Exmouth Gulf, including a controversial oil and gas pipeline facility by Subsea 7 and a multi-use marine facility. The Environment Minister, Stephen Dawson, has asked for the Environment Protection Agency to assess the cumulative impacts of the planned developments in this ecologically sensitive area.
27/08/20: 'A sigh of relief': World Heritage-listed Ningaloo, Shark Bay spared from oil and gas exploration
The Wilderness Society and other environment groups claimed a massive victory after the federal government removed oil and gas exploration acreage from nearby Ningaloo Reef and Shark Bay, WAtoday reports. "Australia’s economic and environmental future should not be determined by a cosy cabal of executives from the fossil fuels industry," said the Wilderness Society's WA campaign manager, Patrick Gardner.
07/08/20: Sussan Ley urged to save Port Stephens koala habitat set to be destroyed by quarry
The expansion of a quarry is threatening to destroy 52 hectares of crucial koala habitat in the Port Stephen area, New South Wales. Residents have called on environment minister Sussan Ley to step in and protect the koalas, reports The Guardian. A parliamentary enquiry recently found that koalas could be extinct by 2050 in NSW, the main driver being habitat loss. The site would also affect the endangered grey-headed flying fox. Sussan Ley will announce whether she has given federal approval for the development on 8 September.
29/07/20: COVID taskforce urges government support for new gas projects
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the COVID taskforce set up by the government to plot an economic recovery from the pandemic, is seeking a massive expansion of the gas industry underwritten by the taxpayer. There have been concerns surrounding conflicts of interest, with many of the handpicked members of the commission having links to the gas industry. Read why proposals like the Narrabri Gas Project, which would see up to 850 gas wells drilled into the Pilliga forest in NSW, are a terrible idea for nature as well as the economy.
07/07/20: Multibillion-dollar gas projects in jeopardy as global market collapses
The Guardian reports that a glut of fossil fuels is making the case for new gas terminals economically unsound, with billions of dollars' worth of proposed infrastructure to ship gas around the world now in jeopardy. As we look at ways to recover the economy following the coronavirus pandemic, it's an opportunity to wean ourselves off gas, not prop up the market with subsidies from the taxpayer.
18/06/20: Enviro groups slam Morrison’s Covid Commission over false claims of consultation
The Wilderness Society signed a joint letter to the Government, refuting claims environment groups have been consulted as part of the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission. Reported in Renew Economy, the letter, with signatories including The Wilderness Society, Greenpeace Australia Pacific and the Australian Marine Conservation Society, decries a lack of consultation, calls for transparency and for any economic recovery to help mitigate the climate crisis.
Read the full letter to the Prime Minister.
16/06/20: 'You can't mine with teaspoons': minister calls for speedy decisions
The Federal Government is looking to change environmental law to fast-track developments, with Resources Minister Keith Pitt blaming an overlap between state and federal governments for holding back billions of dollars' worth of investment, reports The Sydney Morning Herald. In light of the recent destruction of an Indigenous site by mining giant Rio Tinto, deregulation is a cause for concern with environment laws already failing to protect heritage and biodiversity.
Update (27/05/20): Bushland wins last-minute reprieve from developers, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
Update (15/05/20): NSW south coast residents battling to save unburnt bushland ask Sussan Ley to intervene, reports The Guardian.
Update (07/05/20): NSW south coast bushland that survived fires given reprieve from bulldozers, reports The Guardian.
05/05/20: Residents protest to save unburnt forest from developer People from the NSW south coast community of Manyana are staging a lockdown-appropriate protest to protect unburnt forest in the area from a property developer. Ozy Homes is due to start work building what will eventually be 182 lots in the unburnt forest next to Conjola National Park. Conjola was severely damaged in the summer bushfires and unburnt forests represent crucial refuges for wildlife, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.
26/05/20: Australia shows how policy can stifle renewable energy future
A good economic recovery means better outcomes for community, climate and nature. We have the opportunity to use this economic downturn be building back better, together. We can supercharge our economy and create jobs by funding large environment protection projects including investing in clean renewable energy, comments Clyde Russell for The Sydney Morning Herald.
21/05/20: Koalas headed for 'localised extinction' at planned NSW Shenhua coalmine site Koala numbers have dropped drastically at the site of the proposed Shenhua Watermark coalmine, before work has even begun, The Guardian reports. A report on koala numbers at the Liverpool Plains site by the mine's own koala working group found their numbers have declined by 87% since 2012-2013. It's thought a combination of bushfires, drought and chlamydia have put the population under pressure and they would face local extinction if clearing of the site for the mine is started. The state government has been asked to suspend approvals for the mine's koala management plan until the overall health of the state's koalas following the summer bushfires is properly assessed.
21/05/20: Leaked Covid-19 commission report calls for Australian taxpayers to underwrite gas industry expansion
A leaked report of the COVID-19 Commission has revealed that it is set to deliver a plan to roll out a massive expansion of the gas industry, The Guardian and ABC News reports. Led by former Fortescue Metals chief, Nev Power, the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission will call for regulatory hurdles to be removed, as well as public funding to assist new gas projects. These include the Narrabri Gas Project, NSW, which would see coal seam gas wells bored into the Pilliga Forest.
17/05/20: Hands off our sanctuaries!
The South Australian Government is proposing to remove some important marine sanctuary protection in the Great Australian Bight, The Advertiser reports. Wilderness Society South Australia director Peter Owen said proposals to "remove some of the state's most important marine sanctuaries" were "extremely concerning". "The proposal is at odds with expert scientific advice, the interests and expectations of the SA community and the Government's own independent review," he said.
15/05/20: Biomass plant set to power up in NSW’s Hunter Valley
The Australian reports that the former Redbank coal plant in the Hunter Valley, NSW, is set to be repurposed as a biomass plant. The power plant will generate energy by burning wood products and could be supplying the grid in early 2021. The use of ‘wood waste' and trees cleared for supposed hazard reduction is sounding the alarm bells for NSW native forests. These forests have only just finished burning in bushfires and now companies are lining up to start burning them in furnaces.
13/05/20: Coronavirus economic recovery committee looks set to push Australia towards gas-fired future
In an effort to revive the economy, the Government's COVID-19 recovery committee looks poised to pour investment into the gas industry, reports ABC News. The National COVID-19 Coordination Commission is headed by Nev Power, former CEO of iron ore miner Fortescue Metals and a shareholder and director of oil and gas company, Strike Energy. Power is backing the development of an ammonia plant in Narrabri, NSW, a proposal put forward by West Australian businessman Vikas Rambal. The project could kickstart Santos's Narrabri Gas Project.
08/05/20: Australian government stops listing major threats to species under environment laws
Environment department documents have revealed that the Government has stopped assessing major threats to species under environment laws, while plans to address listed threats are years out of date or simply not acted on at all. The documents, released under Freedom of Information laws, show that aspects of wildlife protection are optional for the Government, The Guardian reveals.
07/05/20: Resources industry to receive coronavirus boost with land release for coal and gas exploration in Queensland
The Queensland Government has announced that 7000 square kilometres of land will be released for gas and coal exploration. The move, which sees the State Government waiving rent on exploration land until September, is part of a $13.8 million COVID-19 recovery package to ensure the survival of the resources sector, reports ABC News.
06/05/20: 'Compelling evidence' logging native forests has worsened Australian bushfires, scientists warn
Senior Australian scientists have warned in an international journal that logging native forests makes bushfires more severe. As we recover from the summer bushfires, the authors of the piece call for a discussion in the role that forestry and land management played in the catastrophic fire season, reports The Guardian. They also call for a swift transition away from native forest logging and the restoration of logged forests to lessen the severity of bushfires.
01/05/20: Logging returns to NSW native forests hit by bushfires
Despite repeated warnings that wildlife and bushland need time to recover following the catastrophic summer bushfires, logging has recommenced in burnt native forests in NSW, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. Logging these damaged forests is distressing local communities and making it impossible for vulnerable species to recover.
29/04/20: UN chief: don't use taxpayer money to save polluting industries
Public funds should not be channelled into supporting polluting industries in wake of the COVID-19 health crisis, says UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Instead, money needs to support green jobs and sustainable growth. We have an opportunity to use fiscal stimulus to build back better, but many countries, like the US, are still looking to prop up the biggest polluters, reports The Guardian.
29/04/20: Australia's environmental future needs to be decided this year
The EPBC Act, our national set of environment laws, is up for a once-in-a-decade review this year. It represents a golden opportunity to put protections in place for nature that actually work, essential for a healthy society over the coming decade and the ecosystems that support it, say David Shearman and Melissa Haswell for The Canberra Times.
28/04/20: Volunteer food drops help give bushfire-hit wildlife a fighting chance
Volunteers continue to do what they can for wildlife in the aftermath of the summer bushfires. Food drops in the burnt bush around Kangaroo Valley, NSW, could prove vital for populations of wallabies and wombats, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. It's critical that we continue to support populations of key species in their recovery from the bushfires.
27/04/20: Numbers of critically endangered orange-bellied parrot soar from low 20s to more than 100
There are hopes that conservation efforts are bringing one of Australia's rarest animals, the orange-bellied parrot, back from the brink, The Guardian reports. It proves that concerted conservation efforts work, something that will be needed to assist other key species following the summer bushfires.
23/04/20: Coalition is aiming to change Australia's environment laws before review is finished
The Government has suggested that it will look to amend environment legislation before a once-in-a-decade review is complete, The Guardian reports. "Weaker environmental protections and fast-tracked infrastructure approvals are not part of a safe and positive future for Australia as we recover from the coronavirus challenge," says Amelia Young, National Campaigns Director for the Wilderness Society.
22/04/20: Australia's threatened mammals decline by more than a third since 1990s, but there's a silver lining
A new report shows that targeted conservation measures, utilising cat and fox proof fences, have proven to be very effective in boosting mammal numbers, reports ABC News. It gives policy makers a powerful tool to decide where conservation needs to be targeted.
21/04/20: Expansion of Port Kembla gas import terminal could spell end for Narrabri project
Santos's Narrabri gas project, that would see some 850 gas wells installed mostly on state land in the Pilliga Forest, NSW, doesn't stack up economically now that the Port Kembla gas import terminal is set for expansion, ABC News reports.
17/04/20: 'Coronavirus profiteers' condemned as polluters gain bailout billions
The world's worst polluting industries, such as fossil fuels, aviation and timber, are using the Coronavirus pandemic to secure massive government bailouts, delaying a transition to a cleaner global economy. Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, lamented the fact that money is going to the "wrong place", The Guardian reports.