When we think about the environment in Australia, it’s easy for our minds to wander to the bushfires of 2019/ 2020 or to the catastrophic floods that ravaged Lismore and the mid-north coast last year.
Sadly, these events are becoming more common as we see the effects of climate change across the country. But another impact we tend to not hear about as much on our shores is deforestation. Even when an estimated 500,000 hectares of native forests and woodlands are bulldozed across Australia annually.
The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) estimates that more than 80% of the deforestation set to occur globally between 2015 and 2030 will take place in 11 ‘fronts’.
One of these fronts is in eastern Australia, placing Queensland and New South Wales amongst the likes of threatened tropical regions such as Borneo and the Amazon.
Causes of deforestation in Australia
The reasons for deforestation in Australia differ from the swathes of jungle we’re losing in South America or Asia.
In Australia, agriculture, particularly for beef production, is the major driver of tree-clearing.
This process was slowed in the 1990s and early 2000s after the introduction of excessive tree-clearing bans in New South Wales and Queensland. Due to changes in both states' legislation, landowners are able to clear trees again.
So much so that in Queensland, following the Liberal National Party’s Campbell Newman’s gutting of the legislation, in 2015 and 2016 about 395,000 hectares of native vegetation were cleared – an area that’s roughly the size of Sydney or Melbourne. The following year, land-clearing in New South Wales rose by more than 50%.
Shockingly, if Queensland was a country, in 2019 it would have been the ninth-highest forest-destroying nation globally. Australia’s deforestation effects include removing the habitats of millions of native wildlife and further contributions to climate change by disrupting biodiversity.
Technology company HP and the WWF are working together on an $80 million global partnership expansion to save, protect and restore nearly one million acres of forest across the globe, including more than 21,500 hectares across the forests of eastern Australia, including much-needed koala habitat.
By restoring critical biodiversity and strengthening the support for protected areas, HP and WWF are helping to provide for the plants, animals and people that live in these deforestation hot spots.
Forest restoration is complex, slow, and expensive. Long before trees go into the ground, intense planning and analysis of the region is needed as well as collaboration with local communities, businesses and governments. While it may take a lot of work, there’s no denying that talking about and restoring forests is vital.
Why should we care?
We all learnt about deforestation in school but for those of us who don’t see the impacts first-hand, it can be hard to quantify just how it affects our environment.
Firstly, forests are one of the best examples of nature-based solutions. They can help to regulate the climate by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In fact, we could remove five to seven billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide annually by protecting and improving the management of forests.
There are a tonne of other reasons as well including maintaining animal habitats, protecting areas from erosion and landslides and providing clean air and water. All pretty important reasons to care and talk about this environmental issue.
What can we do to help?
It’s wild to think that so much of Australia’s environment is being bulldozed for beef.
As a consumer, it is important to understand how your diet choices impact the environment. This includes eating less meat and pushing food producers to shift their supply chains to create deforestation-free produce.
Woolworths and McDonalds, two of the country's biggest beef suppliers, have already committed to remove deforestation from their supply chains and are working to implement these commitments.
According to WWF, housing and infrastructure is also a rising factor for deforestation, as is the pulp and paper industry.
Globally, the paper industry (which makes office and catalogue paper, glossy paper, tissue, paper-based packaging and more) accounts for 13-15% of total wood consumption and uses between 33-40% of all industrial wood traded globally.
HP has a goal of being “forest positive” by 2030 by calculating the paper footprint for millions of its printers and committing to giving back to forests in equal measure or more. This way, you know that your printer is helping, not hindering, the issue of deforestation.
Overall, it’s important to be aware of and talk about this issue as we fight against climate change and its effects. Particularly for those of us living in metropolitan regions who may not see the impact of deforestation first-hand.