Seven ways Australia has turned its back on the environment

THE Australian government is taking steps to strip five shark species of 'protection status' in a move described by conservationists as an "unprecedented act of domestic and international environmental vandalism".

This isn't the first time Prime Minister Tony Abbott's government has been subject to international criticism for its controversial environmental policies.

In last months of last year Australia was singled out by politicians from around the world as disruptive and obstinate following its refusal to engage with global climate change talks, and for damage done to the Great Barrier Reef.

From energy to conservation and biodiversity, here are seven ways in which Tony Abbott and his government are damaging the environment.

1. Refuses to talk about climate change

Last year, as he hosted the G20 conference in Brisbane, Abbott came under fire for refusing to contribute to the UN's Green Climate Fund - in which developed countries provide clean energy and climate change aid to developing nations.

>> Abbott still talks down climate change at G20 summit

France, China and the US were among the countries to rebuke Australia for its abstention from global climate change policy.

And a recent study of climate change performance placed Australia among the worst, ranked below every wealthy country besides oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

2. Says coal is 'good for humanity'

Jeebropilly Coal Mine which is operated by New Hope Coal. Photo Sarah Harvey / The Queensland Times
Jeebropilly Coal Mine which is operated by New Hope Coal. Photo Sarah Harvey / The Queensland Times Sarah Harvey

At the G20 he said he was "standing up for coal" and said it was "good for humanity" - to the horror of climate scientists.

>> Darling Downs farmer sends solar message to G20

>> Tony Abbott's win for women: scrapping carbon tax

Last year he fortified Australia's fossil-fuel economy by controversially scrapping the carbon tax.

Falling energy prices, however, may be taking their toll on Australia's chief export.

3. Scraps clean energy targets

The main victim of the Australia's recarbonisation policy is the country's nascent clean energy sector.

In October the government reduced its renewable energy targets, which the Clean Energy Council says will "equate to a 64% reduction in future investment and effectively devastate" the industry.

4. Worsening bushfires

An image taken Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015 shows farmer Sam Randell checking bush fire damage on his Gumeracha, Adelaide Hills property. Fires swept across the hills destroying property and farmland. (AAP image/Russell Millard) No Archiving.
An image taken Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015 shows farmer Sam Randell checking bush fire damage on his Gumeracha, Adelaide Hills property. Fires swept across the hills destroying property and farmland. (AAP image/Russell Millard) No Archiving. RUSSELL MILLARD

Australia is not only under fire, it's on fire - this year's bushfires are the worst in 30 years, with Koala bears burned so bad they need mittens.

>> Abbott hints financial assistance for bushfire victims

>> Third-hottest in history recorded in Australia

But while Abbott dismisses the connection between the climate change and the fires as "hogwash", the Australian Academy of Sciences says there "a clear observed association between extreme heat and catastrophic bushfires".

5. Logging at Tasmanian Forest

Just last week, the state government made plans to begin tourist development in the 1.5m hectare Tasmanian forest, a World Heritage site previously off-limits.

Under the policy plan, the region would become wilderness in name only.

According to conservationists, there 37 undisclosed proposals the government is considering large roads and hotels.

6. Failing the Great Barrier Reef

Lady Elliot Island, on the Great Barrier Reef.
Lady Elliot Island, on the Great Barrier Reef. Contributed

Last year scientists claimed Australia's plan to preserve the Great Barriet Reef doesn't do nearly enough.

The underwater ecosystem is home to 1,500 species - including many endangered - and is already feeling the affects of the warming climate.

US President Obama last year made pointed comments about the Great Barrier Reef's vulnerability, to which Australia's foreign minister Julie Bishop said he "overlooked" all that the country is doing.

>> Experts support Obama on reef worry

>> Obama got it wrong on Great Barrier Reef, says Bishop

A Hawksbill Turtle swims in the Great Barrier Reef A Hawksbill Turtle swims in the Great Barrier Reef
It is thought that Australia's development of ports nearby has done a lot of damage, and major US banks have vowed to not fund Abbott Point's proposed coal port.

Environmental group WWF has also hit out against the country for dumping sediment and water in the delicate wetlands nearby, claiming that it's contaminating the coral reef.

Marine scientist Dr Charlie Veron said the Great Barriet Reef Authority's decision to permit said sediment dumping is akin to "committing suicide".

7. Won't protect sharks

This brings us back to the recent shark protection plan.

Abbott and his government, having agreed in November to granting conservation status to three thresher shark species and two hammerhead sharks, is trying to back out.

Under the protection agreement, due to come into effect on February 8, killing one of these sharks would be a criminal offence.

Though Australia says it already has protections in place, the Humane Society International called the move an "unprecedented act of domestic and international environmental vandalism".


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