Eastern Australia listed in top 24 global deforestation hotspots


Australia is the only developed nation to be listed as one of 24 global deforestation fronts in a new World Wide Fund for Nature report.

The report looks at 24 places with a significant concentration of deforestation hotspots or where large areas of remaining forests are under threat.

Eastern Australia is among the 24 places analysed across 30 countries. Together they made up 52 per cent of the total deforestation in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Oceania between 2004 and 2017.

In eastern Australia, the report said “by far the most significant driver” of forest loss or degradation was due to “cattle ranching”, in which trees are cut down to create pasture for cattle.

An important secondary cause was logging, which the report said “remains significant in some places” in eastern Australia.

“Land clearing rates rocketed after the axing of restrictions in Queensland and NSW,” WWF-Australia conservation scientist Dr Martin Taylor said.

He said the report placed eastern Australia “alongside the most infamous places in the world for forest destruction”.

While Queensland did restore some restrictions in 2018, Dr Taylor said eastern Australia remained a deforestation front.

“That will not change until we see rates of destruction go down,” he said.

Significantly, the impact of the 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires was not included, as the report, Deforestation fronts: Drivers and responses in a changing world, only tracked the destruction between 2004 and 2017.

“Forest destruction was already bad enough for the region to be declared a global deforestation front, then the 2019-20 bushfires burned about 12.6 million hectares in eastern Australia,” Dr Taylor said.

RELATED: Report highlights Australia’s poor performance

Eastern Australia was previously included among a list of 11 deforestation fronts identified in WWF’s Saving Forests at Risk analysis released in 2015.

This year’s report estimates an area of forest six times the size of Tasmania – more than 43 million hectares — was lost among the 24 deforestation fronts over 13 years.

Nine areas were assessed to have undergone “high” rates of deforestation including several in Latin America, such as the Amazon in Brazil and Bolivia, as well as Madagascar in Africa, and Sumatra and Borneo in Southeast Asia.

Eastern Australia was included among 10 fronts considered to have experienced “medium” deforestation, among countries in sub-Saharan Africa such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, along with the Amazon in Colombia and Peru, and the lower Mekong in Laos and Myanmar.

Deforestation includes forest that is being permanently converted to other land uses or there’s been a significant reduction of permanent tree cover. It is considered one of a number of factors that contribute to global warming.

Last year the 2020 Climate Transparency Report highlighted Australia as being one of the worst performers when it comes to emissions reduction in deforestation, transport and energy efficient buildings, when compared to other G20 countries.

Dr Taylor said his Pervasive Inaction report found almost 250,000 hectares of threatened species habitat were destroyed between 2016 and 2018 in Queensland, with no evidence of any referral and approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Dr Taylor also suggests that claims forest area had expanded in Australia were misleading.

“Such claims are based on classifying young regrowth, often only knee-high, from previous clearing, as forest,” he said.

“Knee-high saplings are not a forest and do not ‘balance out’ the ongoing destruction of older forests decades or centuries old.”

Dr Taylor said eastern Australia’s forests, renowned for their biodiversity, and unique species like the koala, were under enormous pressure.

“To stop extinction Australia needs to step up our efforts to protect critical forest habitats for Australian wildlife, particularly unburned low fire-risk refuges, and let those that have been cleared regenerate,” he said.

“WWF wants this to be the last time Australia winds up on this infamous list of deforestation fronts,” he said.

“That will not happen until state safeguards axed in the past decade are restored and until the national environment law starts to be fully enforced.”

He said WWF-Australia had launched Regenerate Australia, the largest wildlife and nature regeneration program in the country’s history, to try and reverse the decline.



• Amazon – Brazil

• Amazon – Colombia

• Amazon – Peru

• Amazon – Bolivia

• Amazon – Venezuela/Guyana

• Gran Chaco – Paraguay/Argentina

• Cerrado – Brazil

• Chocó-Darién – Colombia/Ecuador

• Maya Forests – Mexico/Guatemala


• West Africa – Liberia/Ivory Coast/Ghana

• Central Africa – Cameroon

• Central Africa – Gabon/Cameroon/Republic of Congo

• Central Africa – DRC/CAR

• Central Africa – Angola

• East Africa – Zambia

• East Africa – Mozambique

• East Africa – Madagascar


• Mekong – Cambodia

• Mekong – Laos

• Mekong – Myanmar

• Sumatra – Indonesia

• Borneo – Indonesia/Malaysia

• New Guinea – Indonesia/PNG

• Eastern Australia

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