Bob Carr warns environment movement ‘in danger of fading’ amid huge challenges

<span>Photograph: Dean Lewins/EPA</span>
Photograph: Dean Lewins/EPA

The former New South Wales premier Bob Carr has warned the environment movement is “in danger of fading” in the face of massive challenges protecting habitats from population pressures and climate change.

The state’s longest serving premier made the statement as he backed an alliance of conservation groups calling for tougher environmental protections and an overhaul of the state’s land-clearing laws.

A report from the new alliance – called the Stand Up for Nature alliance – calls for forests and native vegetation to be protected by “ending habitat destruction, runaway land clearing and industrial native forest logging”.

“I think there’s a danger in recent years of the environment movement fading,” Carr said.

“I want to give them my engagement to maintain their energy levels because saving species is more urgent than ever given the pressures of population growth and the climate shift.”

Related: Emu crossing ahead: the fight to save the coastal emus of northern NSW

Carr said he believed the best results for the environment were achieved when dedicated voluntary conservationists worked with “sympathetic Labor governments”.

“The previous government took a wrecking ball to our environmental protection laws and without decisive action we risk a future where much of the ecosystems we take for granted are no more,” he said.

Carr said he was very confident the premier, Chris Minns, and the environment minister, Penny Sharpe, would work together with the environment movement and farmers on the issue.

The groups – which include the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, the Wilderness Society, Humane Society International and Wires – have outlined 10 urgent actions for the government.

These include fixing the state’s biodiversity offsets scheme, which Sharpe has committed to doing after several inquiries – prompted by extensive Guardian Australia reporting – identified serious flaws.

The groups also want the government to end controversial self-assessment rules for land clearing that were introduced by the previous government.

Brad Smith, the acting chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, said this had contributed to a threefold increase in land clearing and allowed for the destruction of important habitat.

“Most farmers in NSW are now on board with sustainable land management. Now it’s up to the NSW government to fix the current laws,” he said.

A review of the state’s Biodiversity Conservation Act, led by Dr Ken Henry, found the laws were failing to protect the environment and that clearing of vegetation and intensifying land use had led to the destruction of habitat across the state.

The review made 58 recommendations to overhaul state nature protections, including major changes to land-clearing rules and the state’s biodiversity offset scheme.

Related: Australia’s environment must be given legal priority over land-clearing and logging to survive, Ken Henry says

Sharpe said the government was committed to stopping excessive land clearing and this would form part of its response to the Biodiversity Conservation Act review and a separate review of Local Land Services laws.

“Bob Carr is one of NSW’s greatest premiers for the environment. I always take into account his views and expertise,” she said.

“The Henry review pointed to the failures in the current laws. The previous government presided over 12 years of environmental neglect that led to record numbers of threatened species, increased land clearing and saw koalas become endangered and on track to extinction.”

She said recommendations of the reviews would be considered “across government and in close contact with all stakeholders including farmers and land holders”.