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Extreme weather, rising seas, feral animals: the state’s environmental report card is grim

The report, which is released once every five years by Victoria’s Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability, found the environment is in worsening health in 51 of 170 categories.

It is improving in just 18 categories measured by the commission.

Invasive species including cats, foxes, rabbits, carp, deer and horses are growing in number and populating greater areas, while unique native animals including the mountain pygmy possum, Murray crayfish, spotted tree frog and Baw Baw frog are increasingly threatened.

The state’s riverlands are in poor health, although marine and coastal environments are relatively healthy, in one of the report’s few bright findings.

The mountain pygmy possum, one of Australia's most threatened species.

The mountain pygmy possum, one of Australia’s most threatened species.Credit:Nick Moir

Victoria also needs to do more to adapt to the global effects of climate change, which will affect agriculture and even where people live and work.

Planning for the impact of climate change was poor, including coastal regions facing the likelihood of being changed by rising seas.

Sea levels along most of the Victorian coast are predicted to rise by between seven and 18 centimetres by 2030 under one scenario modelled by the CSIRO, the report warned.

Victoria has a legislated target of zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability Dr Gillian Sparkes said the report indicated “there is clearly still much work to do” to transition the state’s energy and transport sectors away from fossil fuels.

The report will increase pressure on the Andrews government to step up its efforts on climate change and biodiversity.

Most species loss comes from practices such as grazing, tree clearing and fire protection on private land.

Dr Sparkes recommended conserving more private land and the appointment of a chief biodiversity scientist.

In the last big dry the Murray River was reduced to a fraction of its normal flow.

In the last big dry the Murray River was reduced to a fraction of its normal flow.Credit:Jessica Shapiro

Overseas, an estimated 40 million climate change refugees could be forced to leave parts of South-East Asia and the Pacific by mid-century, with many bound for Victoria.

The report found nothing is being done to prepare for this likely surge in population.

“An influx of climate refugees is not currently included in Victoria’s population forecast, leading to the potential to disrupt Victoria’s urban planning,” it said.

Minister for the Environment Lily D’Ambrosio said the government welcomed the commission’s independent advice.

“We have taken record action to protect Victoria’s natural environment – including across biodiversity, protecting the Yarra and our marine and coastal areas and tackling climate change,” she said.

Matt Ruchel, executive director of Victorian National Parks Association, said the report painted a bleak outlook for the state’s native plants and animals.

“This is a terrible indictment of Victoria’s capacity to hand our precious natural heritage on to the next generation,” he said.

The report recommends that by 2022, Victoria should adopt the United Nations’ environmental-economic accounting method to measure the value of natural resources such as clean air and water, soil, biodiversity and forests.

The report contains 20 recommendations to the Victorian government, but Dr Sparkes said its findings were relevant to everyone.

“Every Victorian, every city, every town and regional community and every business has a vital interest in protecting the environment they live and work in,” she said.

State Political Correspondent for The Age

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