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Australia’s environment has “started its long road to recovery,” with increased rainfall and rebounding populations responsible for improvements to the nation’s overall environmental condition, a new report has revealed.

The latest Australia’s Environment report, published annually by the Australian National University, ranks the health of the nation's natural resources and ecosystems in 2020 at 3.2 out of 10, an improvement of 2.6 points from 2019. The report determines the ranking by pooling scores across categories like percentage of tree cover, soil health and vegetation condition.

"There is reason to hope that our environment will get a chance to rebuild from the horrendous Black Summer," said report co-author Albert van Dijk. "The extreme drought and heat conditions of 2019 and previous years eased after February thanks to increased rainfall, as La Niña climate conditions emerged.”

Van Dijk added: "Rainfall across Australia was about 10% above the 20-year average and replenished dry soils."

The 2019 Australian bushfire season, commonly referred to as the Black Summer period, was categorised by record heat, drought and out-of-control fires, which burned an estimated 18.6 million hectares and affected more than 1 billion mammals, birds and reptiles. 

2019 saw the number of days over 35 degrees celsius increase 36% more than the 2000-2018 average.

The year was classified as the worst for Australia’s environment "in a century or more."

Despite the improvements in 2020, Van Dijk admits it's not all good news. 

The Threatened Species List added a further 15 Australian plant and animal varieties to its register, a 0.6% and 36% increase from 2019 and 2000, respectively. There was also unwelcome news for Australia’s oceans, with high temperatures in the state’s tropical seas causing the third mass bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in five years.

The reef’s southern corals were also affected, as opposed to previous years. 

According to Van Dijk, high temperatures and poor conditions remain across significant sections of the state, particularly the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

"The temperature records over land and in the oceans have been broken year after year, which have been wreaking havoc with our ecosystems and have a very clear link to climate change," Van Dijk said.


Defend the Planet

Australia Scores 3 Out of 10 for Environmental Health: Report

By Madeleine Keck