Population growth behind biodiversity loss (JUN)

4 June 2003

Media Releases 2003


The combined forces of economic and population growth are responsible for Australia’s unparalleled species loss, according to Sustainable Population Australia (SPA).

In April this year, the Commonwealth Government’s National Land and Water Resources Audit on the state of terrestrial biodiversity described what some have called an “ecological crisis”. It reported that nearly 3000 bushland ecosystems are disappearing and over 1500 species are threatened with extinction.

SPA National President Dr Harry Cohen says that the habitat loss from landclearing and other human activities is the greatest threat to biodiversity.

“Yet what is driving this landclearing? As Australia’s population grows by a quarter million a year, people are spilling out of the major cities along the coast, and more and more habitat is destroyed for housing, industry and farmland,” says Dr Cohen.

“Landclearing is the major driver of ecosystem damage that leads to dryland salinity, declining water quality, greenhouse gas emissions as well as species loss,” he says. “By 2050, 17 million hectares – equivalent in area to three quarters of Victoria – of farmland and remnant bushland will be at risk from salinity.

“We welcome the recent initiatives by the Queensland Government on phasing out landclearing in that state. Nevertheless, landclearing in Australia has accelerated in recent decades with as much land cleared in the last 50 years as the 150 years before. This period was a time of rapid population growth when we grew from a nation of seven to nearly twenty million people.”

Dr Cohen says that on a global level, the prospect of another two billion people by 2030 is frightening and has grave implications for the environment.

“Most of this growth will occur in urban areas of poorer countries. In rural areas, meanwhile, two and a half billion people are already dependent on biomass for fuel – straw, sticks etc – so there will be continued incursions into forests and woodlands for fuel as well as for food such as bush meat (monkeys, apes etc).

“Most worrying, however, is the prospect of one billion hectares of natural vegetation being cleared for farmland to feed nearly three billion more people by mid-century,” Dr Cohen says.

Further information:

Dr Harry Cohen, Ph (w): 08 9381 9729 Ph (m): 0407 426 987 E:president@population.org.au

Jenny Goldie (SPA National Director) Ph: 0401 921 453, 02 6235 5488 E:info@population.org.au


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