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WWF calls on government to prioritise land protection

A NEW report by Worldwide Fund for Nature-Australia reveals the environmental letdowns that have resulted from Australia’s past inabilities to meet land protection targets. 

This report comes in time for a new landmark pact to protect at least 30 percent of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030, finalised during the fifteenth United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop 15) this month.   

Whilst Australia has agreed to the target and publicly committed to a ‘combined’ 30 percent of domestic land and ocean protection by 2030, WWF-Australia’s chief conservative officer, Rachel Lowry, expects more. 

“The Australian Government should commit to a global and domestic target to protect 30 percent of land and 30 percent of oceans by 2030,” she said. 

“Nations such as the UK, US, and Canada have all made commitments to protect 30 percent of both land and sea.

Australia is falling behind other nations on land protection.” 

The perfunctory response to land protection targets is not new for Australia. 

WWF’s report, ‘Building Nature’s Safety Net 2020: The promise of 2030’ discloses Australia’s failure to meet Aichi Biodiversity Target 11.

Aichi Target 11 is one of 20 biodiversity targets established by the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010. 

Target 11 aimed for ten percent of each bioregion to be conserved and protected by 2020. 

Currently, nearly one-third of Australia’s 88 terrestrial bioregions are below the minimum of 10 percent protected and 26 percent of these ecosystems have no protections, according to WWF-Australia.  

This means Australia has fallen short on its land protection agreement. 

Land protections are specific areas of land or sea that are set aside for nature. 

Protected areas are crucial for nature conservation as they prevent habitat destruction and degradation.

Australia’s response to land protection appeared hopeful in 2009.

The state established a national strategy, known as the Terrestrial National Reserve System, which protected bioregions.

The goal of establishing and managing protected areas was to achieve “the long-term conservation of nature,” according to the Australian Government. 

As a result, bioregions grew from 13.4 percent to 19.7 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the WWF report. 

Whilst the Australian Government provided $200 million in funding the grants program did not extend past 2013.   

This means areas previously reserved for nature under the Terrestrial National Reserve System reversed back to human material use. 

The report found 4.4 percent of green zones in Australian waters, were overridden due to discontinued government support between 2016 and 2020. 

WWF refers to this environmental failure as the “largest downgrade of the level of protection of protected areas in history.” 

As a result, more than 1500 of Australia’s ecosystems on land and sea fall outside Australia’s protected areas. 

The Terrestrial National Reserve System appeared successful while it lasted and indicates Australia’s capacity to exercise land protection targets. 

This is hopeful for Australia’s latest Cop15 protection pact, which WWF-Australia frames as an opportunity to restore ecological damage from past mistakes. 

“Protected areas should be ecologically representative, well-connected, and effectively and equitably managed,” said Ms Lowry. 

“It is not only how much we protect but what gets protected that will be critical if we are to save Australia’s threatened species.”

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Tia Haralabakos

Tia Haralabakos is a Media Communications student at Monash University specialising in Journalism and human rights. She is interested in the multi-faceted landscape of digital media, particularly addressing challenges to online reporting like diversity and content moderation. Tia’s journalistic interests include human rights and social affairs.

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