Environment: Call to improve state’s health

state-of-the-environment infographic

Victoria should overhaul its energy supply and change its approach to planned burns as part of efforts to stop worrying declines in the state’s environmental health.

A major stocktake of Victoria’s environment prepared for the state government – the first of its kind in five years – has detailed significant worsening trends in critical areas.

In particular the state’s greenhouse gas emissions rose 12 per cent between 1989-90 and 2010-11. The number of wildlife species under threat has increased in the past five years and the extent and condition of native vegetation is in decline.

Across the 30 indicators used to assess Victoria’s environment, 16 were considered in poor health, six fair and just one good. Five were unknown and a ranking was not appropriate for two.

The report also raises concerns about a lack of data in areas such as water quality, endangered plants and soil health.

The report was prepared by Victoria’s Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability, Professor Kate Auty.

Among her 32 recommendations is a call for an independent transport panel to consider traffic congestion charges to discourage car use. She also recommends expanding a system of high-frequency, direct bus routes to increase access to public transport and suggests a plan to ”modernise” Victoria’s energy system, including encouraging more renewables and increasing energy efficiency.

The report also says the state government should withdraw support for a recommendation by the 2009 Bushfires Royal Commission to burn 5 per cent of public land each year to prevent bushfires. It says this target could mean some areas would be exposed to fire frequency above its tolerance, impacting on biodiversity.

Professor Auty recommends a new approach focusing on protecting key assets from bushfires for both public and private land, with the results reported to demonstrate the risk reduction achieved. She notes the government is yet to report on the biodiversity impacts of planned burns, a recommendation of the royal commission.

Professor Auty also suggests:

? Establishing a plan and targets to protect natural systems, noting a new state biodiversity strategy has not been put in place, despite the previous one being out of date.

? Tightening native vegetation clearing laws, months after the government loosened them.

? A plan for sustainable food production and incentives for farmers to adopt environmentally friendly practices.

On the positive side, the report finds Victoria’s air quality is good, land conservation areas have increased and Victorians are recycling more.

The report, the second of its kind, was tabled in State Parliament on Thursday morning. The government has one year to respond to its recommendations.

A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Ryan Smith said the report was about ”real and tangible wins” for the environment, adding: ”We continue to see great improvements in sustainable timber harvesting, air quality, coastal management and biodiversity.”

Environment Victoria chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said the state urgently needed a plan to fix the environment before it was too late.

Tom Arup Environment editor, The Age

Originally Published at http://www.theage.com.au/environment/environment-call-to-improve-states-health-20131128-2ye5t.html#ixzz2xFHKD2uc

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