Climate scientists speaking at a leading biodiversity conference in Ballarat on Friday warned their presentations would be depressing.
Their speeches began with details of the impacts of climate change including photos of dead animals and habitat destruction.
Presenters told of devastating coral bleaching, mass mortality of mangroves, saltwater intrusion into freshwater wetlands, depletion of snow cover, coastal erosion, penetration of wildfires into rainforests, and the world's first climate change-related mammalian extinction seen in just the past few years.
Pulsating throughout the room was a sense of urgency; a feeling reinforced last month with the release of a UN report that says one million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction, and a feeling heightened by news earlier that morning the Queensland government had approved the Adani coal mine.
There is no time left for business as usual.Professor Lesley Hughes
More than 650 conservation experts, local council representatives, school teachers and members of community conservation groups attended the Biodiversity Across the Borders Conference held at Federation University's Mount Helen campus on Friday.
They heard from climate and biodiversity experts on Australia's extinction crisis, managing waterways and ecosystems, connecting people to nature and citizen science.
While the environmental reality presented was shocking and upsetting, the passion and knowledge of expert speakers to create positive environmental change left attendees inspired and with a sense of hope.
"There is no time left for business as usual."
That was the premise of Professor Lesley Hughes' keynote address on the restoration and management of ecosystems in a changing climate.
The Biodiversity Across Borders Conference @FedUniAustralia started with 2 somewhat depressing topics by Prof Lesley Hughes and Prof @BrenWintle on climate change and Australia’s extinction crisis. We have “no time left for business as usual” but there is still some hope #BXB19pic.twitter.com/Ke0PwyNplB— Sarah McColl-Gausden (@sarahmccg) June 14, 2019
A distinguished Professor of Biology and Pro Vice-Chancellor at Macquarie University, Professor Hughes is highly regarded in the field for her work as a former Lead Author in the IPCC's Assessment Report, a former federal Climate Commissioner and now a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia.
With global warming a little more than one degree Celsius above pre-industrial times, Professor Hughes said the future of a business as usual emissions approach was very grim.
Cyclone intensity is increasing, we are getting longer and more severe droughts, snow cover has been declining by about 10 per cent per decade since the 1960s, and bushfire seasons are months longer than they used to be.
Not unexpectedly, Professor Hughes said, these climate changes are having big impacts on our species.
Australia now has a 'terrible' record for mammal extinction and holds the record for first mammal extinction due to climate change.
Referring to the Paris Climate agreement, Professor Hughes said we need to work an awful lot harder to reduce emissions.
"The Paris Climate Agreement embodies an aspiration to keep global temperatures to no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. 195 countries took a pledge for emissions reductions to the Paris meeting. If you assume all of those pledges will be met and on time we still get an estimated three degrees of warming," she said.
"Our carbon budget for 1.5 degrees had been spent by last year. The message for us in the ecological space is we need to plan for at least two degrees warming. The horse has already bolted on keeping global temperatures to 1.5 degrees."
READ MORE: Land clearing is stressing koalas: report
Speaking on Australia's extinction crisis, University of Melbourne Professor Brendan Wintle outlined the tragedy of losing species and failing to act.
"In 2010 we made a promise signed by 192 environment ministers across the globe that by 2020 the extinction of all known threatened species would be prevented. We've got a year. Things aren't going so well," he said.
"The official count is we have lost 110 species. Our extinction track record is astonishing. 35 per cent of all global mammal extinctions since the year 1500 have been in Australia.
Professor Wintle said climate change impacts interacting with other stressors was catastrophic for native species.
ACTION NEEDED NOW
It appeared all attending the conference recognised the need for urgent action.
Professor Hughes said more information was not necessarily leading to more action, so all climate scientists and members of the public need to push for policy change.
Her 'to do list' in conservation outlined the need to shift the goalposts for conservation policy while protecting, restoring and reconnecting landscape that has been fragmented due to clearing.
She said we need to focus on building more habitat to help species survive and move species to new areas before they go extinct.
Perhaps most urgent on the list is to stop coal mining.
Professor Wintle highlighted Australia's 'underspending' on threatened species conservation, outlining a need to spend at least $1.8 billion a year based on success of spending on species conservation in the United States.
Other actions on his list included providing incentives for regenerative agriculture, supporting traditional owners to manage protected areas and policy 'with teeth' that will meet strategy targets.
How do we build a broad based political will for action? That is the question facing conservation managers across the globe.
University of Melbourne Professor Kathryn Williams spoke on the importance of establishing a connection with nature as the first step that would create political will for conservation policy.
Great morning so far at the Biodiversity Across the Borders conference #BXB19. Human engagement and connection with the environment is a reoccuring theme so far. Prof. Kathryn Williams spoke of ways to accomplish this connection with plants. #FedUnipic.twitter.com/1yhOSQpegY— Georgina G-H (@HGeorginag) June 14, 2019
"There is wide concern about disconnection with nature," she said.
"Direct contact with nature is reducing in urban areas. Disconnection can have alarming consequences for attitudes and behaviour and can have long term negative implications for health and conservation.
"These connections matter in terms of political will for action, practical action in our own lives and our own health and well-being."
Professor Williams said creating moments and experiences that establish an enduring connection with nature was one piece of the conservation puzzle that is not thought about enough.
"Activities that support connections with nature could be considered as part of conservation programs. It is about engaging the senses and emotions, not information sharing at the first stage," she said.
Professor Wintle said it was important to have hope and celebrate the success stories, like the power of 15-year-old Greta Thunberg who sparked the schools strikes for climate, and the impact of citizen science and community groups in improving habitat and biodiversity.
"We have to have hope, tell stories about success to the public and engage the general public in conservation," Professor Wintle said.
Conference organiser and Federation University Professor of Environmental Management Singarayer Florentine told The Courier it was important members of the community were engaged in conservation efforts.
"Everyone can contribute towards the conservation of biodiversity. We need to contribute individually as well as groups and organisations to manage species under a fluid environment," he said.
Professor Florentine said there were many opportunities for members of the public to take conservation action locally by joining Landcare, 'Friends Of' and environment groups, as well as getting involved in citizen science projects.
Engaging farmers in conservation awareness and projects was also discussed and recommendations were put forward for incentives for regenerative agricultural practices.
Deakin University researchers shared their project that engages small-property owners as citizen scientists to collect data on small animals like frogs and lizards.
The data will help evaluate impacts of planned burning on small animals.
Team members from Bird Life Australia also shared their citizen science project Birds on Farms.
The program aims to learn more about birds and their habitats on private rural properties - and to use this information in woodland bird education, conservation and habitat enhancement.
The Biodiversity Across the Borders Conference is held once every two years and is one of Australasia's leading biodiversity and ecology events.