Australian National University 2019 environmental report card paints a grim picture

Fires are burning: : A satellite image taken on Thursday, September 12 of bush fires burning across the north coast NSW. Photo: NSW Rural Fire Service Mid Coast District.

Fires are burning: : A satellite image taken on Thursday, September 12 of bush fires burning across the north coast NSW. Photo: NSW Rural Fire Service Mid Coast District.

The parlous state of the environment has been highlighted in a just-released report by Australian National University's Centre for Water and Landscape Dynamics.

The 2019 environmental report card uses key environmental indicators to calculate a so-called environmental condition score (ECS).

These seven indicators are, high temperatures, river flows, wetlands, soil health, vegetation condition, growth conditions and tree cover.

The report provides an insight into the national standing while drilling down to local government area across Australia.

The annual report also enables comparisons to previous years.

ANU's Professor Professor Albert Van Dijk said he wants more people to be aware of the report and its contents.

"We need to build pressure from people on governments to choose the right path," he said.

"All we are trying to do (with the report) is inform people and get information out in as many ways as possible, including the regional report cards.

"With this information you can argue with councils and MPs to make the necessary policy changes.

"As an environmental scientist, I am pointing out the consequences," he said.

Professor Van Dijk said the current coronavirus threat and the way it has directly impacted our lives shows that if we need to act we can.

It also shows that we cannot live separately from our environment, he said.

"Hopefully people will extend that idea to other areas that concern us all," he added.

For the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, the ECS dropped from 6.4 to sit at just 1.9 for 2019.

The dramatic slide is a reflection of the drought and severe bushfires and those impacts on the farming conditions.

The aftermath: Lisa Willows' great photo shows the extent of the recent bushfires on our environment.

The aftermath: Lisa Willows' great photo shows the extent of the recent bushfires on our environment.

Professor Van Dijk said the impacts were obvious for the many natural areas in the region.

"It is cause for concern but the data reflects what people would have already seen," he said.

"The amount of rainfall was incredibly low but what surprised me a little bit is that your dry conditions had already started in 2018; there did not seem as much rainfall as in previous years.

"People will also know how much forest has been burnt and the quantity of biomass that has been destroyed.

"This data shows the extent of those bushfires - keeping in mind these figures are for 2019 and do not include the first months of 2020.

"I think people will be trying to come to terms with these figures."

Professor Van Dijk said global figures indicated that air temperatures continue to climb while sea ice continues to decline; seven per cent lower than the 2000 to 2018 reporting period.

Global sea levels continued to rise - 6.2mm in 2019, or 72mm since 2000 and 95mm since 1993.

However, sea levels around Australia have been rising faster than the global average with the fastest rise in the Tasman Sea at 150mm since 1992.

Nationally, we experienced our driest and warmest year in Australia's recorded history while the national average rainfall was 229mm - 29 per cent lower than in 2018.

Professor Van Dijk said the data revealed in the report confirmed to him that 2019 was an absolute disaster year.

"It also tells us that bushfires last summer should not have been a surprise because the east coast stopped getting decent rainfall in 2018.

"Forests had been drying out too much and were ready to burn," he said.

"Global warming is continuing and in some cases there are some signs that it is speeding up. We are not doing enough and it is continuing to change.

"Oceans are getting hotter, the atmosphere is getting hotter and pollution is on the rise.

"Globally, the environment continues to go down the drain further," he said.

Towering inferno: The Lake Cathie/Crestwood fire destroyed thousands of hectares of land. Photo Mitchell Wadwell

Towering inferno: The Lake Cathie/Crestwood fire destroyed thousands of hectares of land. Photo Mitchell Wadwell

Professor Van Dijk described the ECS as "useful data for the state and federal governments".

He praised NSW minister for environment Matt Kean for having a clearer picture of the impacts on the environment than his federal government colleagues.

"State governments - and to some extent the NSW government - are starting to take this seriously," he said.

"I just don't think the federal government is taking note (though).

"Certainly this (federal) government has form in denying and ignoring the strife that our environment is in.

"If the facts are clear, don't ignore them otherwise it will just get worse," he said.

Given the government's experience with the devastating impacts of COVID-19, Professor Van Dijk hopes federal leaders "will start to realise that facts are to be ignored at your peril".

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