In Australia, livestock expansion fuels record deforestation in the state of Queensland. The phenomenon complicates climate mitigation ambitions in the country
by Matteo Cavallito
Australia is struggling with the consequences of deforestation, and for some time now everyone is paying attention to Queensland, the state located in the northeastern territory of the country that in just a few years has experienced unprecedented destruction. “If Queensland was a country, it would have been the ninth highest forest destroying nation globally in 2019 – just above China,” local network The Conversation wrote in recent months.
At the end of last year, the state government disclosed that logging operations had affected 418,656 hectares of land at the turn of 2019-2020, the latest period for which definitive data exist. In 2018-19, the phenomenon had affected an even larger total area of about 680,700 hectares.
If Queensland was a country, it would have been the ninth highest forest destroying nation globally in 2019.
And it's largely to farm cattle.
This comes at a huge cost to our native animals and plants. https://t.co/YLG8iLnXrt @manammichelle @cyclonewatson @UQ_News
— The Conversation (@ConversationEDU) January 30, 2023
An additional 213 million tons of CO2 from deforestation
The annus horribilis for local forests is definitely 2019. In the twelve months under review, reports Global Forest Watch, a project of the Washington-based nonprofit organization World Resources Institute, the state lost 179 thousand hectares of tree cover alone, 546 percent more than the previous year. The unenviable record has never been remotely approached again.
In just two decades (2001-21), Queensland lost 700 thousand hectares of canopy cover, or 6.5 percent of the total, consequently producing additional emissions of 213 million tons of CO2. Over roughly the same period (2000-20), regrowth almost entirely offset the losses. The area subject to alteration (destruction and regeneration), in any case, amounted to 859 thousand hectares. And concerns, of course, are not missing.
Livestock farms under indictment
The attention of observers has focused on the livestock industry. According to estimates quoted by The Conversation, 85 percent of all logging conducted in 2019-20 was done to create new pastures. In addition, about 52 percent of all vegetation cleared during the same period consisted of old-growth plants (over 15 years old).
In addition, “of the clearing in these regions, 80% was full clearing, meaning bulldozing turned forests or woodlands into areas with less than 10% canopy remaining.”
The data are in line with figures released by the latest report produced by the Queensland Conservation Council and Wilderness Society that in the state “one million hectares of forest was cleared for beef from 2014-2019.” According to the study, 93 percent of the area that housed the cleared forests and vegetation was used for cattle grazing development. The operation reportedly destroyed 73 percent of the habitat of koalas, whose survival has been officially declared at risk in three states of Australia: Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. There are a total of 388 animal species at risk nationwide in grazing lands.
Australia is not doing enough for climate mitigation
Large-scale land destruction would be limiting Australia’s ability to meet its climate goals, according to The Conversation. The government in Camberra has formally committed to achieving net zero – the break-even point between carbon removed from the atmosphere and carbon released – in 2050. But the country still maintains a low profile on the issue of emissions reduction.
Especially weighing on it is the heavy reliance on the fossil fuels, which affects the levels of CO2 released into the atmosphere. Australia’s recorded per capita emissions are still among the highest in the world. A record that dwarfs the mitigation work exerted by the soil.