CATHOLIC environmental advocates say the State of the Environment report recognises the links between climate change and human activity.
Sister of Mercy Wendy Flannery, the convener of Climate Frontlines at Friends of the Earth, Brisbane, said the report “echoes Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ in so many ways”.
She said the report acknowledged what Pope Francis eloquently affirmed throughout his encyclical regarding the impacts of climate change: “Climate change will result in location-specific vulnerabilities, and people who are socially and economically disadvantaged are the most sensitive to climate change”.
Sr Flannery said this was evident in Australia with the impacts on rural communities and people in more heat-affected, lower-income communities struggling to meet rising food, electricity and health costs.
“As one drought-affected woman from a rural community put it: ‘It takes the grass away, it takes the water away, it takes the stock away, it takes hope away’,” she said.
Australian Religious Response to Climate Change president Thea Ormerod said it was time the Federal Government responded with policies to match “the level of severity of the environmental crisis” faced by Australia.
“The State of the Environment Report is clear that coal and gas mining are destructive to our precious environment, both in the short and long term,” she said.
“The Government should be rapidly escalating efforts towards an orderly transition away from an economy dependent on the export and burning of fossil fuels and to the use of renewable energy.
“Whatever their rhetoric, this is not what they are in fact doing. The Australian Government is actually resisting such a transition.
“Our responsibility to care for the earth could reasonably mean some sacrifices on the part of this generation, but our high electricity and gas prices are driven by factors other than renewable energy.
“The fact is that new renewable energy is far more affordable, cleaner and job-creating than new coal or gas, and our coal-fired power stations are ageing and in need of replacement.”
Sr Flannery said while the report concentrated on what was happening in Australia, climate change had devastating impacts on our closest Pacific island neighbours “whose lives are under threat and whose entire livelihoods have already been, as they say, threatened by the choices of people thousands of miles away”.
She said Laudato Si’ also pointed in an important direction as people reflected on the implications of the report.
“Under the section ‘Civic and Political Love’, Pope Frances expands our understanding of ‘social love’ #231,” she said.
“In this framework,” Pope Francis said, “along with the importance of little everyday gestures, social love moves us to devise larger strategies to halt environmental degradation and to encourage a culture of care which permeates all of society.”
“We are so blessed as Catholic Christians to have such leadership and inspiration as we seek to respond to the growing challenge of climate change,” Sr Flannery said.
Australia’s environment receives a mixed report card
The State of Environment report has found that the impact of climate change on the Australian environment and its ecosystems is increasing and some aspects “may be irreversible”.
The Federal Government commissioned report, written by independent experts, says there needs to be national leadership and a more strategic approach to policies for protecting and managing the environment, between now and 2050.
The condition of the environment is “poor” and “deteriorating” in some areas, particularly the more populated coastal areas and urban sprawl where the human footprint is the greatest.
Human litter, including plastic, which makes up about three-quarters of the debris found along the Australian beaches is described as a “new and emerging” stress in coastal and marine zones, while grazing continued to be a “major threat” to biodiversity.
There is also increasing pressures coming from coal-mining, invasive species such as feral cats, and habitat destruction.
The State of the Environment report produced every five years by some of the country’s leading scientists, environmental experts and marine ecologists, hones in on climate changes as “an increasingly important and pervasive pressure on all aspects of the Australian environment”.
“It is altering the structure and function of natural ecosystems, and affecting heritage, economic activity and human wellbeing,” the report said.
“Climate change will result in location-specific vulnerabilities, and people who are socially and economically disadvantaged are most sensitive to climate change.
“Evidence shows that the impacts of climate change are increasing, and some of these impacts may be irreversible.”
Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg, conceded the Government’s target of 23.5 per cent renewable energy generation by 2020 “will be quite a stretch”.
He said climate change continued to be a “major challenge”.
“We’ve seen a bleaching event last year in the Great Barrier Reef and we’re concerned about further bleaching events and climate change and the El Nino effect causes for that,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“We’re also seeing some real challenges with invasive species, particularly feral cats that prey on marsupials and birds and reptiles, many of which are on the endangered list.”
Mr Frydenberg said the report showed improvements in the ozone layer above the Antarctic, although further improvements were necessary.
“We’re seeing more indigenous areas subject to protection and more places listed on the National Heritage list and our World Heritage List,” he said.
At best, Australia’s environment received a mixed report card, during the past five-year period.
The report found the Antarctic environment was “generally in good condition”.
“There is increasing evidence that the ozone layer is starting to recover as a consequence of international controls on the use of human-made ozone-depleting substances,” the report said.
“The Antarctic environment is showing clear signs of impact from climate change.
“Although mining developments have slowed in recent years, the ongoing environmental impact of former mining sites and the expansion of unconventional gas extraction are emerging concerns, particularly because of concerns for safety and competition with other land uses.”
Record high water temperatures caused widespread coral bleaching, habitat destruction and species mortality.