Australia spends billions planting trees – then wipes out carbon gains by bulldozing them

(The Guardian, 17 Oct 2019) Little more than two years of land clearing will cancel out the $1.5bn in taxpayer funds that goes towards protecting native habitat.

Since 2015 the Australian government has committed more than $1.5bn of taxpayer funds to climate change projects that plant or protect native habitat. Over a slightly longer period it has also spent nearly $62m on a policy to plant 20 million trees promised under Tony Abbott.

At the same time the country has significantly stepped up land-clearing programs in several states, bulldozing hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests, mostly for agriculture.

Official data allows an estimate of the scale of the contrast: little more than two years of land clearing will effectively cancel out what the public is spending to avoid 125 million tonnes of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere. The equivalent to what has been planted over several years in the 20 million trees program is wiped out in just six months of land clearing.

“It’s pretty absurd,” says Jess Panegyres, the Wilderness Society’s national nature campaigner.

“We’re putting huge amounts of taxpayer dollars into avoided deforestation and reforestation and at the same time we’re allowing Australia to become a deforestation hotspot globally. Any of the gains that we’re making under these taxpayer-funded schemes are being wiped out almost immediately.”

What is being lost can be cut up in different ways. Using government figures, the Wilderness Society estimates a Melbourne Cricket Ground-sized area of forest and bushland was cleared every two minutes in 2017.

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The Guardian, 17 Oct 2019: Australia spends billions planting trees – then wipes out carbon gains by bulldozing them