Australia: Knowing More about It

Posted: February 03, 2017

Introduction

The country of Australia or also known as the “continent island” is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Being a progressive and stable country, Australia ranks highly in many intercontinental evaluation of national performance such as quality of life, wellbeing, education, economic stability, and protection of freedom and civil rights (Teske & Vincent 13). Legitimately known as the Commonwealth of Australia, it comprises the mainland of Australia, island of Tasmania, and several minor islands. Among its bordering countries are Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea in the north, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu in the north-east and New Zealand on the south-east (Cannon). It was previously colonized by the British Empire, however, it has made its way to prosper and be recognized as one of the wealthiest countries in the whole world because of its rich natural resources.

Australia is composed of six states, namely: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia; and two major mainland regions - the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory (Wells). Most states are implementing the parliamentary form of government.

Economy and Its Economic Activities

Australia is a wealthy country which generates its primary income from mining, exporting, banking, manufacturing, and also in telecommunications. It has a high GDP and low poverty rate as compared to other countries. In 2013, it has ranked second in the world next to Switzerland in terms of its average wealth (Low 26). Further, Australia was also recognized by the Credit Suisse Research Institute as the nation with the highest median wealth worldwide and the second highest-rank in average wealth per individual in the year 2013 (Reid 2006).

The high GDP of Australia is attributed to the three main economic activities of its population which are services, mining, and agriculture. Service sector of the economy which includes tourism, education, and financial services contributed 70% of the country’s GDP (Wells). Further, the country’s rich natural resources has also contributed much in the progress of its economy through the mining of gold and iron as well as the fossil fuels such as liquefied natural gas and coal (Cannon 198). In agriculture their main products are wheat and wool which account for their major exported products. 

Australia is one of the world’s major exporters of minerals such as gold and iron, agricultural products like wool and wheat, and energy sources like natural gas and coal. Among the largest export markets of Australia are Japan, China, the United States, Korea, and New Zealand (Wells). Moreover, Australia is also recognized as the world’s fourth largest exporter of wine and its wine industry contributed $5.5 billion to the country’s economy annually (Reid).

Biomes and Animals

Australia is one of the few countries which are endowed with rich and variety of landscape and biomes. With its location being surrounded by Pacific and Indian Ocean, Australia is blessed to have tropical rainforest in the north-east side, mountain ranges in the surrounding part, and a dry desert at the center. Cronnin (2009) acknowledges Australia as the flattest continent with the most fertile soil; however, most of its area is desert or semi-arid land and has a temperate climate. The northern part of the country, on the other hand, has a tropical climate consisting of woodland, grassland, and desert. In the north-west part of the continent lays the astonishing sandstone cliffs and the canyon of The Kimberley. Despite the fact that vast part of Australia is arid land or desert, it is still endowed with varied range of habitation and is recognized as mega diverse country (Low 27). Due to the continent’s age, changeable weather patterns and due to its geographic seclusion, the flora and fauna of Australia is distinctive and varied. Its biota is composed of 85% flowering plants, 84% mammals, 45% birds, and 89% of fishes are endemic (Reid). Moreover, Australia is known for the greatest population of reptiles having recorded 755 varieties (Cronin). Among the celebrated animals that are endemic in Australia are platypus and echidna which are both monotremes and egg-laying mammals, the known marsupials also include the kangaroo, koala, and wombats. There are also wide variety of birds such as the emu and the kookaburra. Moreover, the Australian forests are also home of the world’s most venomous snakes. Generally, the two iconic pair of flora and fauna that best describes Australia is koala and eucalyptus. 

Environmental Problems

Just like any other countries all over the world, the rich natural resources and diverse flora and fauna are threatened by some of the disturbing human activities and with the challenges posed by the climate change. Australia, being one of the most urbanized countries worldwide, is facing several environmental issues such as global warming, marine conservation, whaling, problems caused by land clearing, pollution, transport-related problems, energy consumptions, invasion of species, and many others. Of all these environmental issues, the three main problems faced by the Australian government are ocean conservation, land clearing, and ocean dumping (Teske and Vincent 15).

Ocean Conservation

The aggravating condition of climate change has caused the increase in the temperature of bodies of water in the continent. Hence, the government is initiating special care to the water of the Great Barrier Reef against run-off water, climate change, and mass coral bleaching, overfishing and the oil spills from industries, and shipping accidents (Teske & Vincent 15).

Land Caring

Australia has vast forest lands in prehistoric times, however, with the urbanization most of those forest lands have been converted into settlement, agriculture and site for industrialization. Land clearing continued on a greater scale and this has caused extinction of the country’s endemic species. The issue on land clearing has accounted for Australia’s contribution of emitted gas in 1998 and it has also an impact on dry land salinity and soil erosion (Wells).

Ocean Dumping

Ocean dumping is one of the serious environmental issues faced by Australia. There have been a number of reported cases of ships dumping their wastes on bodies of water, especially the navy of Australian government. Another reported case was the alleged dumping of chemical warfare agents from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in 2006 (Cronin). This issue needs to be taken care of by the environmental agencies in order to prevent the damage it may cause to the marine resources of the country.

Main Source of Energy & Energy Problems

Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in terms of coal production. It is also one of the leading countries being an exporter and consumer of the fossil fuels. Annually, the coal production in Australia reached an average of 16.5 tons. In 2003, the country was ranked eight of the highest carbon dioxide emitter due to the combustion during the mining of coal. This large amount of carbon dioxide production placed the country on higher risk to climate change. Moreover, the main source of energy specifically on electricity depends mainly on the coal-fueled thermal plants since the country has limited potentials for hydro-electric power and due to the country’s unwillingness to utilize the uranium resources (Reid).

Climate Change/Global Warming Program  

As the situation of climate change aggravated, the Australian government together with the other environmental agencies took effort in the reduction of the risks caused by the climate change. One of the programs initiated by the government is the mitigation of global warming which includes appropriate actions in the reduction of the production of greenhouse gases. There is also the program that aims to increase the effort in developing modern principle and new technologies that can manage the mitigation of global warming in the country (Reid).

One important program initiated is the CCS or carbon capture and storage which are installed in coal-fueled power plants. The aim of CCS is to minimize the amount of carbon dioxide emitted among power plants. Moreover, the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency has proposed that coal power plants will be charged with carbon taxes as what is implemented in China (Cronin). Another moved initiated by the Australian government is “Clean Energy Future” which is an inclusive program that includes the move to significantly reduce pollution, invest on the utilization of renewable energy, and convert the energy sector from the high polluting sources like brown coal and stock up carbon on lands for better land management (Low 28).

Agriculture/ Environmental Issues
Australia is one of the countries endowed with vast forest lands, however, due to land clearing, 13% of the original Australian vegetation have been removed since the British settlement (Reid). Moreover, overgrazing is also another main issue faced by the agricultural department of the country. The practice has converted the grassland and grassy woodlands into bare lands making soil erosion more rampant (Low 29).

Another main issue in terms of agriculture is the introduction of new and foreign species of animals in the country which threatened the diverse flora and fauna of the country.

Organizations addressing Environmental Problems

The Bureau of Meteorology along with the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency initiated the Australian Climate Change Science Program (ACCSP) which main objective is to make the society understand thoroughly the causes, timing and consequences of climate change (Reid). Moreover, the program also contributes to Australia’s effort of maintaining world class capacity in addressing climate change.

The State of Victoria has its own program to address climate change. On the promulgation of Environment Protection Act 1970, they have also initiated the SV or Sustainability Victoria Act of 2005. Under this act, the state have appointed created aboard for Environment and Climate Change which aims to support and encourage sustainability in the utilization of the state’s natural resources.

Another environmental group in Australia which is the Friends of the Earth Australia had opposed the implementation of biochar. Biochar was proposed by Malcolm Turnbull as an act of burying agricultural waste as an act of mitigating climate change (Reid). The group of Friends of the Earth Australia opposed biochar because they believe that biochar will only lead to the possession of large tracts of land and aggravating the case of soil erosion in places where there are indigenous people (Cronin).

International Treaties
As a means of protecting and sustaining the natural resources and the environment of Australia and being an active member of the United Nations, the government of Australia signed several international treaties. Among the few treaties they participated in are:

a) SREP Action Plan for Managing the Environment of the Pacific Islands Region - this is a four-year proposed agenda in managing the surrounding of the Pacific Islands. The plan exemplifies the vision of the group for a sustained shared management of the environment (Reid).

b) Pacific Ocean Pollution Prevention (PACPOL) which aims to preserve and develop  the quality of the coastal and marine environment in the Pacific Islands through reducing the pollutants coming from ships. Among the expected outputs of the program are reduced cases of oil spills and proper management of the waste product from marine vehicles (Low 28).

c) Convention for the Protection of Natural Resources and Environment of the South Pacific Region – was promulgated in 1986 and it aims at encouraging all participating parties to fully take all the efforts in preventing, reducing and controlling pollution in any form of natural resources. The convention involves two set of rules: the protocol of controlling pollution by dumping and the protocol for cooperation in combating pollution (Cannon 199).

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