Nation In A Deforestation Crisis
Australia is the only developed country in the world known as a hotspot for deforestation. As global warming, climate change and drought continue scorching the Australian landscape, the country continues to bulldoze and burn its forests to make room for more agriculture. In fact, most deforestation and land clearing in Queensland is linked to beef production.
Carbon emissions released by land clearing across Australia are equivalent to about a third of the total emissions released by all of the coal-fired power stations in the country. Once native forest logging emissions are included, this is equivalent to at least half the carbon pollution of all Australian coal-fired power stations.
Australia has pushed many mammals into extinction. Thanks to habitat loss, Australia’s iconic koalas are threatened in the wild today.
Since the 1970s, the greatest rates of forest clearance have been in southeastern Queensland and northern New South Wales, although Victoria is the most cleared state. Today, degradation is occurring in the largely forested tropical north due to rapidly expanding invasive weed species and altered fire regimes.
After decades of mismanagement, the Australian government has officially designated koalas as an endangered species as habitat loss for land use, bushfires, droughts and disease have decimated koalas and their habitat.
The iconic marsupial has been listed as endangered across three states and territories in Australia – New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory – on February 11, which was announced by the Australian environment minister Susan Ley. Though the reclassification from vulnerable to endangered does not require the Australian government to take any special action, Ley has pledged to work towards a national recovery plan for koala bears.
According to recent data released by the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF), the koala population in Australia has reportedly declined by 30% over the span of just three years, where statewide population numbers have dropped down from eight million to 32,000. Queensland and New South Wales saw numbers decreased by as much as 50% or more since 2001.
A separate parliamentary inquiry in 2020 also predicted that koalas could be extinct by 2050 without urgent government intervention. But it is difficult to pin down exactly how many koalas remain today.
The dramatic decline in koala numbers has been a result of land clearing of their natural habitats for urban development and agriculture, and climate change-related events including droughts and the 2019-2020 bushfire seasons, which the World Wildlife Fund-Australia estimated 60,000 koalas to have been “killed, injured or affected in some way.” Additionally, widespread disease and infections among adult koalas, have caused high rates of infertility and death.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a $50 million investment towards recovery and conservation efforts for koalas. Many environmental groups have criticized the government’s current ineffective environmental laws and their inaction in addressing the key drivers of the species loss. The Australian government recently approved the bulldozing of more than 25,000 hectares (61,800 acres) of the animals’ habitat, which obvious flyies in the face of conservation.
“If the clearing of the koala habitat continues, a further status change is imminent – from endangered to extinct.” said Deborah Tabart, chairwoman of the Australian Koala Foundation.
Globally, commercial agriculture and tree plantations are the biggest causes of deforestation. Forest destruction is a threat to more than 700 endangered plants and animals across Australia.
“It’s not surprising that state laws are failing just like our federal environment laws,” said Sarah Hanson-Young, Environment spokesperson for the Australian Greens. “Environmental protection laws in Australia need an overhaul so they actually stop land clearing and prevent destruction of our natural places. If we don’t halt the destruction, we will continue to witness the consequences with more wildlife going extinct and a warming planet resulting in more catastrophic weather events. The recently completed once-in-ten-year review of these laws by Professor Graeme Samuel declared our laws to be failing and resulting in Australia’s environment being on an unsustainable trajectory. We desperately need stronger laws and an independent watchdog to hold developers, miners and governments to account.”