Australian government ‘wilfully negligent’ on climate crisis, says scientist studying impact on bees

·3-min read
Fire burns within sight of the  suburban fringe of the city of Canberra on January 31, 2020 (Getty)
Fire burns within sight of the suburban fringe of the city of Canberra on January 31, 2020 (Getty)

A scientist studying the impact of worsening wildfires in Australia on the country’s native bees has accused the government of acting in a “wilfully negligent way when it comes to climate”, failing to protect biodiversity, and not caring about the future.

Dr James Dorey, a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University, and the lead author of new research led by Flinders University, made the remarks following the publication of research revealing the number of threatened Australian native bee species is on course to increase by almost five times after the devastating “Black Summer” bushfires of 2019-2020.

The extensive fires burnt through 24 million hectares, destroying around 3,000 homes, and killed or displaced an estimated 3 billion animals.

The research team assessed 553 bee species – around one-third of Australia’s known bee species – and found marked population reductions among many.

Nine species were assessed as “vulnerable” and two more “endangered” as a direct result of the multiple fire fronts in the 2019-20 bushfires.

Describing the research as a “call to action”, Dr Dorey told The Independent that it was “no surprise”, the species were suffering due to the lack of ambition to tackle the climate crisis in Australia.

“The Australian government is acting in a wilfully negligent way when it comes to climate and I honestly think that we could be punching above our weight when it comes to climate action. Instead, Australia continues to invest public money into climate-wrecking fossil fuel industries,” he said.

“Of course, climate change is a global challenge and Australia is not alone in failing to act, but truly it feels like our federal and many state governments care not a smidge for the natural world of which we should be active and positive custodians.”

He added: “It is no surprise at all that there are species getting pushed towards extinction by climate change and massive disturbance events, like the Black Summer bushfires.”

The study also warned widespread wildfire and forest fire damage is being repeated all around the world, from North America and Europe to the Congo and Asia, causing catastrophic impacts on biodiversity and sudden and marked reduction in population sizes of many species.

Dr Dorey said it was “incredibly frustrating” that Australian prime minister Scott Morrison had suggested he may not attend the UN’s Cop26 climate summit in the UK – a meeting widely regarded as the last chance for governments to act on the runaway climate emergency.

He said: “It feels like an explicit admission that Scott Morrison, and the federal government, doesn’t care at all about our climate or our future.

“The government is not taking the environment seriously, which is terrible because the Australian environment is incredible and worth saving. As are the ecosystems found around the world. I think that our governments should be thinking ahead and for future generations. Not just their next election.”

Fellow author Dr Stefan Caddy-Retalic, from the University of Adelaide and University of Sydney said the research underlines the importance of studying impacts on less visible species.

“Climate change is increasing the frequency of natural disasters like wildfire, which impacts our wildlife.

“Listing severely-impacted species on the IUCN red list and under Australian law represents our best approach to lobby governments to act,” he said, adding that native bees are very important providers of ecosystem services including pollination, but most are poorly known.

Olivia Davies, a Flinders University researcher and also an author on the paper, said: “Most people aren’t aware of just how vulnerable our native bees are because they are not widely studied.

“The fact that no Australian bees are listed by the IUCN shows just how neglected these important species are.”

The research is published in the journal Global Change Biology.

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