Have you ever stopped to think about becoming extinct? 

Possibly not, and I’m not sure it occurs to mountain pygmy possums either, but it is one of the most vulnerable native animals to extinction because of climate change.

You won’t find pygmy possums in India, Indonesia or Ireland. They’re uniquely Australian. One of the creatures that make Australia unique, like nowhere else on earth.

Now that it’s confirmed the Albanese government’s climate bill will receive enough support to become law, let’s be clear about what’s at stake if our politicians don’t work together for much greater action: there will be many extinctions in the next 20 years, and the mountain pygmy possum could be among the first to go.

No one, in fact, can afford further delays to meaningful action on climate change. The national State of the Environment report released last month documented how climate change is worsening pressures on every Australian ecosystem, as well as harming our own health.

Too few Australians are aware that Australia already has the worst mammal extinction record on the planet, but the report also warned us that extinctions in Australia are rising and accelerating, driven by climate change, tree clearing and invasive species.

The new Federal Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, has locked in the government’s commitment to reform national environment laws, which are vital if we are to halt the decline of our ecosystems and the extinction of our plants and animals.

But they will not be successful on their own. Climate change must be reined in and fast.

Australians voted for change in May and sent a very clear message that nothing less than leadership on climate change will be tolerated.

Australians voted for change in May and sent a very clear message that nothing less than leadership on climate change will be tolerated.

The new Albanese government has, so far, promised to cut Australia’s greenhouse emissions by at least 43% this decade. It’s difficult to visualise a percentage of emissions reduction and, on its own, its significance – so here’s a plain English explanation: It’s almost twice the action we had, but it’s nowhere near enough.

It’s nowhere near enough because the science evidence says a 75% reduction within the decade is needed to limit temperature rises of more than 1.5 degrees. It’s nowhere near enough for our wildlife or for us.

So, the government’s promise to not limit greater action is critical. We must fix our environmental laws and add a “climate trigger” so that new projects are not approved without consideration of their climate impacts.

The stark reality for Australia and the rest of the world is that we must quickly replace coal and gas-fired energy with renewable power.

If we ramp up action now, industrial hubs in Queensland could be pumping out green hydrogen, steel and aluminium within the coming decade.

We’ll need a lot of renewable energy as we electrify everything from cars, trains, homes and industry. Clean renewable energy is our future, and investors know it, so government needs to ensure its commitments to climate action are a genuine floor to build from, not a ceiling on what’s possible.

To do that we need government to take the breaks off investors so they can build many times more renewable energy projects than we have now. We must turbo-charge renewables to not only drive down our own emissions but to make an additional global contribution by exporting an excess of renewable power.

There are practical solutions that are ready right now to achieve that transition and generate the jobs and opportunities in a renewable future that represents the next chapter of our country’s story.

Together we have the opportunity to create climate solutions as uniquely Australian as the mountain pygmy possum.

The Australian Conservation Foundation is urging all political parties to act with the message of voters from the May election ringing in their ears. Passing the government’s climate bill is just the first step towards securing the survival of the mountain pygmy possum, as well as our own health and safety.

Paul Sinclair is campaigns director at the Australian Conservation Foundation

Header pic by Andrew Nixon, Australian Alps collection, Parks Australia

This piece was first published by the Sydney Morning Herald

Paul Sinclair

Campaigns Director at the Australian Conservation Foundation.