News spotlight: Australia aims to end extinctions — critics see a plan that picks ‘winners’

<p><em>Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares a recent news story that you should know about.</em></p><p>Australia has lost more mammals to extinction than <a href=""></a><a href="" target="_blank">any other continent</a>.</p><p>That bleak statistic is behind the country&rsquo;s new strategy to protect 110 species over the next decade &mdash; and squash its reputation as &ldquo;the mammal extinction capital of the world,&rdquo; <a href=""></a><a href="" target="_blank">according to</a> Australia&rsquo;s Environment and Water Minister, Tanya Plibersek.</p><p>The <a href=""></a><a href="" target="_blank">Threatened Species Action Plan</a> aims to prevent new extinctions; it comes on the heels of a <a href=""></a><a href="" target="_blank">five-year survey</a> that found Australia&rsquo;s wildlife and ecosystems face a much greater challenge from climate change than previously thought. The 2019-2020 bushfires alone, which were <a href=""></a><a href="" target="_blank">exacerbated by climate change</a>,
are responsible for the deaths and displacements of <a href=""></a><a href="" target="_blank">billions of animals</a>.</p><p>While some conservationists are encouraged by the plan&rsquo;s commitments, it has raised questions about what species are worth protecting in a high-stakes situation, <a href=""></a><a href="" target="_blank">Lisa Cox</a> reported for <a href=""></a><a href="" target="_blank">The Guardian</a>.</p><p>In identifying just 110 priority species out of the nearly 2,000 listed as threatened in the country, critics say the strategy picks &ldquo;winners&rdquo; &mdash; such as the koala, the brush-tailed rock wallaby and the Australian sea lion.</p><p>They warn the plan doesn&rsquo;t go far enough in addressing the underlying causes of Australia&rsquo;s environmental decline &mdash; land clearing, invasive species and the continued <a href=""></a><a href="" target="_blank">reliance on fossil fuels</a> &mdash; and falls short of investments needed to combat the biodiversity and extinction crisis, including new environmental laws and more funding.</p><p>Australia spends about around 7 percent of the targeted 1.6 billion Australian dollars ($1 billion) per year required to halt species loss and recover nationally listed threatened species, according to <a href="–our-report-card-on-the-government%27s-handling-of-australia%27s-extinction-crisis"></a><a href="–our-report-card-on-the-government%27s-handling-of-australia%27s-extinction-crisis" target="_blank">economic analyses</a>.</p><p>Australian authorities say prioritizing certain species doesn&rsquo;t equate to ignoring others. Rather, the priority species are key to entire ecosystems.</p><p>&ldquo;And if we focus on those species, we create a kind of halo effect for the whole ecosystem the plant or animal is part of,&rdquo; Plibersek <a href=""></a><a href="" target="_blank">told</a> the Australian Broadcasting Corporation&rsquo;s Radio National.</p><p>While it&rsquo;s the first time Australia has set a zero-extinction target, the plan builds on the country&rsquo;s commitment to protect <a href=""></a><a href="" target="_blank">30 percent of its land and sea</a> by 2030 &mdash; up from the current 22 percent that&rsquo;s protected.</p><p>The Threatened Species Action Plan includes protecting 50 million hectares (123 million acres) of land and sea by 2027. And there&rsquo;s plenty of research showing that well-managed protected areas are a powerful tool for conserving wildlife.</p><p>A recent <a href=""></a><a href="" target="_blank">study</a>, which Conservation International contributed to, examined mammal diversity in protected and non-protected areas &mdash; and found that diversity in protected
areas outperformed non-protected areas by 66 percent.</p><p>Another <a href=""></a><a href="" target="_blank">study</a> led by Lee Hannah, Conservation International&rsquo;s senior climate change scientist, found that limiting temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius while conserving
30 percent of tropical lands could cut species extinction risk in half.&nbsp;</p><p>And protecting land &ldquo;isn&rsquo;t just about creating national parks or protected areas (although that&rsquo;s a good start for many places),&rdquo; Hannah <a href=""></a><a href="">told Conservation News</a>.
&ldquo;There is a whole suite of possible conservation tools that a government can implement to protect biodiversity while benefiting from the land, including community conservancies, Indigenous-managed conservation areas and land-use zoning.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;The most important thing to do is figure out which conservation system is the best option for a local setting based on social environments, land uses, development needs, the species you are trying to protect and more,&rdquo; he added.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><ul><li>Further reading: <a href=""></a><a href="">Study: Protecting tropics could save half of species on brink</a></li></ul>
<p>Read the full story <a href=""><a href="" target="_blank">here</a></a>.</p>
<p><em>Mary Kate McCoy is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this?&nbsp;<a href="">Sign up for email updates</a>. Also,&nbsp;<a href="">please consider supporting our critical work</a>.</em></p>