We have so much to lose

Climate change will have profoundly negative impacts on nature in NSW if we do not urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions. NSW has a stunning variety of species and ecosystems, with outstanding rainforests, eucalypt forests and woodlands, grasslands, wetlands, coastal heaths, alpine habitats and arid shrub lands. These ecosystems are home to more than 900 animal species, almost 4,700 plants species, and countless insect and fungi species. Since European settlement, native ecosystems and species in NSW have declined significantly. Almost 40% of native vegetation has been cleared, and what’s left is highly degraded. Only 9% is in good condition.

More than 100 species have become extinct since 1788, and over 1000, including 60% of all mammal species, are now threatened with extinction. Key threats are land clearing, habitat fragmentation, invasive species, and changed fire regimes. Human-induced climate change has now been added as a potent part of the mix.

INTRODUCTION FORESTS | EUCALYPT WOODLANDS | GRASSLANDS | ALPINE  | RIVERS & WETLANDS | COASTAL REGIONS | MARINE | SYDNEY BUSHLAND | AGRICULTURAL LANDS | WHAT'S DRIVING CLIMATE CHANGE | CONCLUSIONS | FULL REPORT   

Forests

Most of the forests in NSW occur in the wetter, more fertile regions between the coast and the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range. Trees are the dominant feature of both forests and woodlands, but in forests they generally grow taller and closer together, providing canopy cover from 30% in open forests to 100% in rainforests. These ecosystems are home to an extraordinary array of birds and animals, including iconic species like the koala, powerful owl, greater glider, and spotted quoll.

Species spotlight: Koalas were so abundant last century they were the basis of a vigorous fur trade that in 1924 saw two million pelts exported from the eastern states of Australia to Europe. Today there are fewer than 36,000 koalas left in NSW, and all but a few populations are declining. Between 1990 and 2010, their numbers in NSW plunged 33%.

Regions affected: Coastal regions, Tablelands, Blue Mountains, Snowy Mountains, Western Slopes

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Eucalypt woodlands

Eucalypt woodlands are iconic Australian ecosystems found in an arc from subtropical Queensland to Tasmania, and west to southeast South Australia. While they are found in many areas of eastern NSW, including the coastal and alpine zones, they mostly occur in the wheat-and-sheep belt west of the Great Dividing Range. Trees are the dominant feature of both woodlands and forests, but in woodlands the trees are generally shorter and stand further apart, providing canopy cover ranging from 10% to 30%.

Species spotlight: The regent honeyeater is a small, spectacularly coloured bird with mottled black-and-yellow feathers and a short, curved beak. It lives in temperate woodlands and open forests. Regent honeyeaters can travel large distances on complex migratory courses governed by the flowering of the eucalypt species that they depend on for nectar. The birds were common in woodlands across eastern Australia but there are now only three breeding regions left, including Capertee Valley in the Central West and the Bundarra-Barraba region on the Northern Tablelands.

Regions affected: Northwest, Northern Tablelands, Central Tablelands, Central West, Orana Region, Riverina, South Coast

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Grasslands

Grasslands are found in many regions, from the moist coastal and alpine areas to the hot, semiarid interior of western NSW. These ecosystems are dominated by large perennial tussock grasses, with broad-leaved herbs growing between the tussocks. Many animals forage in grasslands, then shelter in nearby woodlands or shrublands.

Species spotlight: The plains-wanderer is a small, quail-like bird that lives in sparse grasslands in the southwest of NSW. The bird stands 12-15cm tall and weighs up to 95g. Both sexes have yellow legs and bills, and fawncoloured feathers with fine black rosettes. It was once common in semi-arid grasslands on hard red-brown soils in the southwest of the state, but since the 1920s its numbers have crashed and it is now considered extinct in much of its former range.

Regions Affected: Northwest, Southwest, Monaro And Snowy Mountains 

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Alpine Regions

The NSW alpine region includes Australia’s highest peak, Mount Kosciuszko, and is characterised by snow-capped mountain ranges, windswept snowgum forests, heathlands, and chilly mountain streams. The region spans 428,832 hectares of the Snowy Mountains in the southeast of the state and is a major tourist destination, attracting more than 1.3 million domestic and international tourists each year for snow sports, hiking, mountain bike riding, and camping in the warmer months. It is also the last refuge for a range of alpine plant and animal communities at altitudes above 1100m, including snow-patch and groundwater commun-ities such as the short alpine herbfields, bogs, and fens.

Species spotlight: The mountain pygmy-possum is a small marsupial that occurs only in the Australian alps. It is listed as endangered, with fewer than 2,600 individuals left in an area of about 10sq/km in Kosciuszko National Park. As moth populations decline in autumn, it supplements its diet with fruits and seeds before hibernating for up to seven months until the moths return.

Regions affected: Snowy Mountains, Mid-North Coast, Ulladulla, South Coast, Central West

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Rivers & Wetlands

Only a small fraction of aquatic ecosystems in inland areas is within the banks of the main channel of the river. More than 90% occurs across floodplains that in the flat western districts may stretch for kilometres after heavy rains, once every 10 years or so. The irregular pulse of flood and drought in inland NSW drives the ecology of the almost 8000km of river and 4.5 million hectares of lakes, billabongs, lagoons, swamps and waterholes. Climate change will further affect wetlands and the rivers that supply water to them through changes to rainfall and increased temperature and evaporation.

Species spotlight: The iconic river red gum is the most widely distributed tree in Australia. In NSW it is most common along rivers and wetlands where it has formed large forests. These ecosystems provide habitat for yellowbellied gliders, squirrel gliders, magpie geese, glossy-black cockatoos and a host of other threatened species. Many of these forests have declined significantly over the past 50 years because of land clearing, logging, increased salinity, and less frequent flooding as many large dams now capture and store peak flows that would have watered these forests.

Regions affected: Northwest, Southwest, Central West, Murray Basin

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Coastal Regions

The 1900km coastline of NSW contains some of Australia’s most stunning scenery and diverse ecosystems, from tall eucalypt forests, dunes, swamps, and saltmarshes, to tidal lakes, estuaries, beaches, and rocky reefs. With more than 80% of the state’s population living on the strip between the Great Dividing Range and the Tasman Sea, more people will experience the environmental effects of climate change in these regions than elsewhere. Air temperatures are forecast to rise by more than 3°C by 2090 under a high-emissions scenario. This will result in more frequent and longer heat waves and more extreme bushfires that will change the distribution and abundance of species and coastal ecosystems.

Species spotlight: Saltmarshes are found in the upper coastal intertidal zone where there is no strong wave action. They are dominated by stands of salttolerant plants that trap and bind sediments. Crabs, snails, bats, gastropods and even swamp wallabies are part of this complex ecosystem. Saltmarshes play a critical role as nurseries for fish and other marine animals. More than 70% of all fish in Australia’s southeast, as well as many other marine species, depend on salt marshes at some stage in their lifecycle.

Regions affected: North Coast, Mid-North Coast, Central Coast, Sydney, Illawarra, South Coast

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Marine

NSW coastal waters support an extraordinary array of species, from whales and seahorses to kelp forests and seagrass meadows. In the Sydney region where the warm northern and cooler southern waters mix, there occurs almost 580 fish species, more than in the whole of the British Isles. Marine ecosystems are under threat from coastal development, nutrient run-off, plastics, overfishing, and invasive species. Now they face severe impacts from climate change.

Species spotlight: Seagrass meadows are among the most productive ecosystems on earth, storing more carbon per hectare than even the Amazon rainforests. Commonly mistaken for algae, seagrasses evolved from land plants to live entirely in seawater, anchoring their roots in the sandy or muddy bottoms of bays that provide shelter from strong waves that damage the plants. Seagrass meadows are a critical part of the marine ecosystem, providing food for turtles and fish, habitat for crabs, molluscs, and sponges, and acting as nurseries for many marine species.

Regions affected: Northwest, Mid-North Coast, Central Coast, Sydney Coast, Illawarra, South Coast

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Sydney bushland 

Sydney is a region of exceptional natural beauty and home to a wide array of ecosystems, from coastal wetlands and open woodlands, to tall forests, upland swamps, and Banksia heathlands. In the estuaries and coastal sandplains, there are fresh and saltwater wetlands. On the sandstone plateaus, habitats range from dry sclerophyll forest to heath. After more than 200 years of agricultural and urban development, most of Sydney’s bushland and its native animals have been lost, although much remains, especially on the city’s fringes.

Species spotlight: Cumberland Plain Woodland existed across 125,000 hectares of clay soils of Western Sydney from Kurrajong to Picton and was home to more than 450 species of plants and 60 native mammal species, including gliders, brown antechinus, and the New Holland mouse. The woodland canopy is dominated by grey box, narrow-leafed ironbark, thin-leaved stringybark, and spotted gum, while the understorey is generally grassy with herbs and patches of shrubs. Over the past 200 years, these woodlands have been reduced to a few fragmented stands by farming, industry, and housing.

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Agricultural lands 

Agricultural production is included here because threats to farm viability undermine the ability of landholders to be good environmental stewards. The NSW farm sector not only provides food and fibre for millions of people, it manages about 80% of the state, including much wildlife habitat. NSW Department of Primary Industries warns there is a “high” risk that industries, infrastructure, and regional economies will be disrupted by climate change as many crops currently grown cease to be viable in the same location.

Species spotlight: Wheat is the main crop grown in NSW, with the 2013-14 annual harvest more than double the combined volume of barley and sugar cane, the two next biggest. The 6.6 million tonnes harvested in NSW that year made up about a quarter of the national crop, and was worth almost $2 billion. Australia’s wheat farmers are possibly the most efficient in the world, with yields trebling last century until the 1990s, when they leveled out.

Regions affected: All regions 

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What's driving climate change?

Burning fossil fuels, land clearing, agriculture, and waste all contribute to climate pollution warming the planet, driving extreme weather, and pushing species over the edge to extinction.

NSW releases about four times more greenhouse pollution per person than the global average, and three times the European average. This pollution is accelerating climate change, but there is a lot a lot we can do to reduce it. Our pollution is a direct result of our heavy reliance on coal for electricity generation.

More than 80% of the state’s greenhouse pollution comes from burning coal, oil, and gas, while agriculture, industrial processes, and waste make up smaller portions. In addition to our domestic emissions, our coal exports make a huge contribution to global warming. This makes NSW one of the strongest drivers of climate change in the world.

What will it take?

Globally, more than 190 countries have agreed to reduce greenhouse pollution restrict warming below 2°C, and ideally below 1.5°C. To do our fair share in meeting this goal, NSW needs to reduce emissions to zero by 2040 at the latest, and retire our coal-fired power stations by 2030.

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Conclusions and Actions 

New South Wales is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Our forests, wetlands and coastline are fragile. They are places of natural beauty, of refuge for wildlife, and our life support system.

Despite its fragility, nature is resilient and given a chance, will still have time to secure a bright future. But we must act now.

We have the technology and abundant wind and sun to transform our energy system. In just six hours, the sun gives our deserts more energy than the entire world uses in a year. Harvesting a small portion of that energy just makes sense.

Our farmers and land managers are already feeling the impacts of more extreme weather and changed rainfall. We know how to manage our land to store carbon and boost the resilience of ecosystems in the face of climate change, so, let’s get on with it!

Acting on climate change will take a whole-of society response lead by our governments. We are specifically calling on the NSW Government to reform our energy system and upgrade our land management regimes to reduce our contribution to climate change.

We call upon the NSW Government to:

Transform our energy system

  • Source all our power from sun, wind, and water by 2030.
  • Phase out coal and gas-fired power.
  • Help affected workers and communities prepare for jobs with a future.
  • Make sure the transition is fair so everyone, everywhere has access to clean, renewable energy.

Restore our land

  • End native forest logging on public land.
  • Protect native forests, woodlands, and grasslands from inappropriate land clearing.
  • Rule out new coal mines and gas fields in NSW.

Let’s act on climate change now

Sign the Repower petition now

Download a hard copy of the petition here.