Wildlife Matters

The case for conservation: an international perspective on Australia’s biodiversity

06 Nov. 2023
Wayne Lawler/AWC

By Lizzy Crotty, National Development Manager UK/Europe

One of the questions I am most asked is ‘why am I talking about Australian wildlife all the way over in the United Kingdom?’ I believe the question stems from three knowledge gaps. Firstly, an unfamiliarity with the unique array of species Australia is home to (with the exception being Kangaroos, Emus and, of course, the iconic Koala). Secondly, the lack of awareness of the severity of threats facing biodiversity across the country and the shameful title of having the worst rate of mammal extinctions globally. Finally, Australia is a wealthy country with an extensive national parks system and not generally seen as a country which requires further assistance from philanthropy overseas.

One of the best parts of my job is seeing faces light up when people learn about bizarre species like the Numbat, Palm Cockatoo or Northern Bettong. It’s thrilling to share the way these animals manage to survive (and thrive!) in extreme environments, adapted to a particular niche in the Australian ecosystem.

One of Australia's many intriguing species is the Palm Cockatoo that uses a tool to drum during courtship. This magnificent bird is pictured here at AWC's Piccaninny Plains Wildlife Sanctuary in Cape York. Helena Stokes/AWC
One of Australia’s many intriguing species is the Palm Cockatoo that uses a tool to drum during courtship. This magnificent bird is pictured here at AWC’s Piccaninny Plains Wildlife Sanctuary in Cape York.

However, if it’s not in your country, if it’s not likely you will ever travel to Australia to see these creatures or the vast landscapes, why should people care?

I argue there is a broader case for the international community to contribute to conservation in Australia, outside of the nice feeling of knowing these places and animals are safely protected. Biodiversity is unevenly distributed across the globe and areas with exceptional abundance and relatively intact diversity are becoming less common. Australia is one of 17 megadiverse countries globally, with many plants, animals and ecosystems found nowhere else in the world. For example, more than 80% of Australia’s mammals and plants occur nowhere else. Loss of Australia’s wildlife poses risks to our food security and to the economy.

Global food security

The past three years have demonstrated that the global food system is not resilient to shocks. Only a handful of countries, such as Australia, USA, Canada, Russia and some in the European Union produce large food surpluses for international trade. Many countries are heavily dependent upon imports for food security.

A recent publication in the scientific journal Nature suggests that the risk of synchronised harvest failures across major crop-producing regions has been underestimated in climate and crop model projections (Kornhuber et al. 2023). The risks emerge from changes in the jet streams during Northern Hemisphere summers, increasing the likelihood of extreme flooding or drought events, resulting in significant yield reduction and therefore supply of global food.

Biodiversity is critical to ensuring the provision of ecosystem services and to maintaining high and stable agricultural production in Australia in the face of these identified risks. Evidenced by the 2022 IPCC report, which identified Australia as one of the most at-risk regions for biodiversity loss with increased warming, a pragmatic approach to sustainable food production is required. AWC’s partnerships with Bullo River Station and NAPCo see conservation and pastoralism working side by side for the benefit of biodiversity. Collaborating with food producers contributes substantially towards AWC’s mission and has the potential to improve the outlook for food security in the face of a changing climate.

Bullo River Station owner Julian Burt with AWC ecologists during a wildlife survey. Brad Leue/AWC
Bullo River Station owner Julian Burt with AWC ecologists during a wildlife survey.

Risks to the global economy

Loss of nature poses a severe financial risk to the global economy. Central banks around the world are beginning to assess the potential economic and financial risks posed by the degradation of nature, in addition to the work they have already been doing to address the threats posed by climate change. The destruction of nature jeopardizes the resources that currently generate around half of global GDP, or an estimated AUD$68 trillion.

The numbers are staggering. Approximately half of Australia’s GDP (49.3% or $893 billion) has a moderate to very high direct dependence on ecosystem services. Sectors that have a high or very high direct dependency on nature are responsible for more than three quarters of Australia’s export earnings, with resources currently accounting for 68.7% of Australia’s export share and agricultural exports another 11.3% (IDEEA Group, 2022).

Charnley landscape
Australia’s vast landscapes and unique biodiversity are worth protecting.

A breakdown of this system could result in severe consequences across the globe. In every scenario modelled by the world’s scientists, except those that incorporate transformative change, the trajectory of nature decline will continue through to 2050. Transformative change to halt and reverse nature destruction requires a shift to production and consumption patterns that not only fit within planetary boundaries but result in a net gain in biodiversity and planetary health, alongside traditional and innovative conservation approaches. AWC’s practical, science-informed land management model that is restoring threatened species and ecosystems, expanding protected areas through innovative partnerships, and including First Nations knowledge and rights into conservation outcomes, is needed now more than ever.

Protecting Australia’s intrinsic natural values – that can’t be found anywhere else – is just the right thing to do.

Read or download this full issue of Wildlife Matters here.

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