Pacific Conservation Biology Pacific Conservation Biology Society
A journal dedicated to conservation and wildlife management in the Pacific region.
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Deforestation in Australia: drivers, trends and policy responses

Megan C. Evans

The Australian National University, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia. Email: megan.evans@anu.edu.au

Pacific Conservation Biology 22(2) 130-150 https://doi.org/10.1071/PC15052
Submitted: 6 November 2015  Accepted: 4 April 2016   Published: 6 May 2016

Abstract

Australia’s terrestrial environment has been dramatically modified since European colonisation. Deforestation – the clearing and modification of native forest for agricultural, urban and industrial development – remains a significant threat to Australia’s biodiversity. Substantial policy reform over the last 40 years has delivered a range of policy instruments aimed to control deforestation across all Australian States and Territories. Despite these policy efforts – as well as strong governance and high institutional capacity – deforestation rates in Australia were nonetheless globally significant at the turn of this century. Legislation introduced in Queensland and New South Wales during the mid-2000s was at the time seen to have effectively ended broad-scale clearing; however, recent policy changes have raised concerns that Australia may again become a global hotspot for deforestation. Here, I describe the deforestation trends, drivers and policy responses in Australia over the last four decades. Using satellite imagery of forest cover and deforestation events across Australia between 1972 and 2014, I present a comprehensive analysis of deforestation rates at a fine resolution. I discuss trends in deforestation with reference to the institutional, macroeconomic and environmental conditions that are associated with human-induced forest loss in Australia. I provide a detailed history and critique of the native vegetation policies introduced across Australia over the last 40 years, including recent legislative amendments and reviews. Finally, I comment on future prospects for curbing deforestation in Australia, including the role of incentive-based policies such as carbon farming, private land conservation and biodiversity offsets. Despite being a highly active policy space, very little is known of the effectiveness of policy responses to deforestation in Australia, and whether the recent shift away from ‘command and control’ policies will necessarily lead to better outcomes. My analysis demonstrates the need for an effective policy mix to curb deforestation in Australia, including a greater focus on monitoring, evaluation and policy learning.

Additional keywords: biodiversity, biodiversity offsets, conservation, carbon farming, environmental policy, environmental regulation, native vegetation, remote sensing


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