Australia is pushing the limits of its "natural life support system" and governments and the public must change the way they consider biodiversity, a new report to the Federal Government says.
The effects of climate change in Australia are already discernible at the genetic, species and ecosystems level in many parts of the continent and coastal areas, the report on Australia's Biodiversity and Climate Change says.
Climate change threatens the biodiversity of such natural features as the Great Barrier Reef, south-west Western Australia, the Australian Alps, Queensland's Wet Tropics and the Kakadu Wetlands, according to the report launched at the 10th International Congress of Ecology or Intecol conference in Brisbane today.
"Much is at stake in dealing effectively with the climate change challenge," the independent expert advisory group behind the report writes.
"Beyond the great richness it lends our most iconic natural areas, biodiversity underpins our quality of life, our economy and much of our national identity."
Significant policy changes will be required as climate change interacts with stresses such as land clearing, fire and invasive species, the scientists say.
The time when species could continue their existence in their present locations and ecosystems in their present composition is already gone.
"A management priority must be to maintain the provision of ecosystem services through a diversity of well-functioning ecosystems, some of which may have no present-day equivalent," the report says.
The report suggests key messages to address the threat to biodiversity from climate change. These include:
- Better management of existing and new threats.
- A new national vision for biodiversity.
- Increased investment in the environment.
- New structures and approaches to conserving biodiversity.
- A strategy to tackle emissions, globally and in Australia.
Launching the report, Environment Minister Peter Garrett said the Rudd Government had already adjusted its environmental focus to meet some of the demands of the report.
"There needs to be a greater effort in conservation, and greater effort in whole-of-ecosystem planning," Mr Garrett said.
"Both of these the Government is already doing."
However challenges remain and need all levels of government to look at the environment as a whole, he said.
"Our economic wealth as a nation is tied strongly to the national health of our ecosystems - that's what this report tells us," Mr Garrett said.
"It's something we're acting on."