Climate change threatens to wipe out native Australian animals, report warns

SYDNEY, Australia – Global warming could wipe out some of Australia’s best loved animals and plants in parts of the country before the end of the century, environmentalists warned Monday in a new report.

“Warnings from the Bush,” a collation of the past 10 years of scientific research on Australia’s environment, said unchecked climate change would wreak havoc on the country’s unique flora and fauna.

Among animals at risk from rising temperatures are populations of koalas, possums and wombats found only in Australia, said the report, published by the Climate Action Network Australia, a coalition of more than 20 environmental groups.

Climate change also would devastate World Heritage-listed national parks including the wetlands of Kakadu in northern Australia, the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast and the Wet Tropics, a region of lush rain forest in northeastern Australia, according to the report.

Further south, the Blue Mountains, on the western fringes of Sydney, also would be hit.

The report concluded that 50 per cent of Australia’s wet tropical rain forests would be destroyed by a temperature rise of just 1 degree Celsius (1.8 F).

Citing data from the respected Commonwealth Science and Industry Research Organization, the report predicted that by 2030 average annual temperatures in Australia will be about 0.42 degrees Celsius (0.756 Fahrenheit degrees) higher than in 1990, and by 2070 it could be up to 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 F) warmer.

Hotter temperatures would also decimate many species of eucalyptus trees, allow the spread of native and feral weeds and increase the likelihood of wildfires similar to those in New South Wales state over Christmas which destroyed vast tracts of forest and razed dozens of homes.

“Ninety Australian animals have been specifically identified as at risk from climate change, including the state emblems of Victoria (Leadbeater’s possum), South Australia (hairy-nosed wombat), and Queensland (koala),” the report said.

Dr. Lesley Hughes, of the biological sciences department at Sydney’s Macquarie University, said the report should act as a wake-up call for the entire country.

“Hopefully the government and the public will start to view climate change as a current problem not one that we have to wait for our grandchildren to fix,” said Hughes, who reviewed the report.

She said the grim predictions were based on models showing the climate in regions where certain animals now live and predicted temperature changes in those regions.

“If the future climate for that species … doesn’t overlap with its current distribution it’s a pretty safe bet that that species is going to be in trouble because it has to get to that climate,” Hughes told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television.

CANA called on the Australian government to commission more green power projects and reduce the reliance on fossil fuels.

The Australian government last year said it would not ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change until the United States signed up. US President George W. Bush has refused to ratify Kyoto, saying it was unfair to US industries.

A spokeswoman for Environment Minister David Kemp said the minister had not seen the report and could not comment on its findings.

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