This map from WWF shows current forests in green and projected deforestation rates up to 2030 in red. Picture: WWF
This map from WWF shows current forests in green and projected deforestation rates up to 2030 in red. Picture: WWF

Australia’s global shame

EARTH has lost a staggering 60 per cent of its wildlife populations since 1970, a bleak new report has revealed.

But koala numbers in Australia have declined at an even faster rate, and the beloved national animal is at serious risk of disappearing entirely from some areas.

The group WWF today released its Living Planet Report, a comprehensive study tracking 16,704 populations of 4005 vertebrate species across the world from 1970 to 2014.

It described the global decline in species - an average rate of 13.6 per cent every 10 years, or 60 per cent in total - as a "grim" result of the pressure humans place on nature.

While the figures are alarming, koala populations along Australia's east coast have plummeted even faster, at a rate of 21 per cent per decade.

 

Koalas are expected to disappear from the wild in NSW by 2050.
Koalas are expected to disappear from the wild in NSW by 2050.

That shocking statistic can be explained by another figure in the report - eastern Australia is one of the 11 worst deforestation fronts in the world, and the only developed country on the list.

"It is a wakeup call for our east coast to appear alongside notorious forest destruction hot spots such as the Amazon, Congo Basin, Sumatra and Borneo," WWF Australia boss Dermot O'Gorman said.

Clearing for livestock is listed as the primary cause of forest loss, with unsustainable logging an important secondary cause.

 

This map from WWF shows current forests in green and projected deforestation rates up to 2030 in red. Picture: WWF
This map from WWF shows current forests in green and projected deforestation rates up to 2030 in red. Picture: WWF

 

 

The image shows the remnants of woodland trees with cropping paddocks in the background, in northwest NSW. Picture: WWF Australia
The image shows the remnants of woodland trees with cropping paddocks in the background, in northwest NSW. Picture: WWF Australia

By 2050, koalas are likely to disappear completely from the wild in NSW, WWF Australia estimates.

The group blames the axing of forest protection laws by the State Government, saying it all but signing the species' death warrant.

"The Government needs to urgently reverse its recent axing of laws that has led to a tripling of koala habitat destruction in northwest NSW," Mr O'Gorman said.

"The plight of koalas is matched by alarming declines for many other uniquely Australian species who are losing their forest homes.

"Buying land is welcome but will only save a fraction of koala habitat. Stronger forest protection laws are crucial."

 

Labor in New South Wales has announced a strategy to save koala populations.
Labor in New South Wales has announced a strategy to save koala populations.

 

The Queensland Government has made steps to beef up habitat protection and sanctuary investment for koalas in the state, which has also seen large declines in numbers over the past few decades.

This week, the Labor Opposition in NSW announced plans to reinstate land clearing laws and create new national parks, including a dedicated koala region on the north coast.

It will also hold a Koala Summit to plan more effective action across the state, should it win the next election.

 

Koala numbers in Australia’s east have plummeted by 21 per cent each year. Picture: David Caird
Koala numbers in Australia’s east have plummeted by 21 per cent each year. Picture: David Caird

 

Globally, WWF said the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss are the overharvest of wild populations and habitat destruction.

"Nature has been silently sustaining and powering our societies and economies for centuries, and continues to do so today," Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, said.

"In return, the world has continued to take nature and its services for granted, failing to act against the accelerating loss of nature.

"It is time we realised that a healthy, sustainable future for all is only possible on a planet where nature thrives and forests, oceans and rivers are teeming with biodiversity and life."

The Living Planet Report has proposed a road map to reverse the fate of global wildlife, including ambitious protection targets.

 

 

Australia is one of the world’s worst deforestation zones, on par with environmental wastelands like Sumatra (pictured).
Australia is one of the world’s worst deforestation zones, on par with environmental wastelands like Sumatra (pictured).