National

Call for overhaul of ‘failing’ enviro laws

By AAP Newswire

Australian Nobel laureate Peter Doherty is among more than 180 health professionals warning the nation is potentially at risk of being exposed to more pandemics and the impacts of climate change without an overhaul of the nation's environmental laws.

Doctors for the Environment Australia and the Climate and Health Alliance have sent an open letter to federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley as she undertakes a once-in-a-decade review of environmental protection laws.

Australia's Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) was established more than 20 years ago at a time when the doctors say the effects of climate change and its links to human health were not widely considered to be related.

The review comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic and follows Australia's catastrophic summer bushfires with the health professionals warning that failing to conserve the environment will expose Australians to further devastation and health risks.

"We must protect the natural environment in order to prevent further and potentially even more deadly pandemics," the letter says.

"The degradation of Australia's natural environment and loss of our unique biodiversity is in effect a dismantling of our life support systems."

The doctors argue the laws have failed as Australia has the second-highest rate of biodiversity in the world and is recognised as a land clearing and deforestation hotspot.

"The EPBC Act has failed to achieve its objectives of protecting Australia's environment and promoting ecologically sustainable development and biodiversity conservation," the letter says.

The letter, also signed by former Australian of the Year Professor Fiona Stanley, calls for an "entirely new generation" of environmental laws that focus on the impacts on human health and which have greater protections in place for biodiversity.

Associate Professor Katherine Barraclough from Doctors for the Environment Australia argues clearing forests and wildlife habitat increases the risk of infectious diseases being transferred from wildlife to people.

"The COVID-19 pandemic and the summer's fires serve as a wake-up call. We must recognise the interconnections between humans, animals and natural places," she said in a statement.

Climate and Health Alliance founder Fiona Armstrong said the government listened to the science in its response to COVID-19 and should do the same in regards to the environment and climate change.

An interim report into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act review is expected mid-year with the final report expected in October.