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Placating the National Party and NSW Farmers: land clearing looms for NSW after disastrous run in Queensland

Tree-planting efforts, to lower greenhouse gas emissions, wiped out

In 2013, under the Campbell Newman government, Queensland relaxed its land clearing laws. Over the next year, 300,000 hectares of native woodlands were cleared in the state, releasing 36 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, more than six per cent of Australia’s entire emissions.

Meanwhile, the newly elected Abbott government introduced its Direct Action Plan that has since paid farmers $670 million to not cut down trees. Tree-clearing in Queensland in the past three years, however, has virtually wiped out all emissions savings made under Direct Action.

Fortunately, in March, the Queensland Government introduced legislation to reverse Newman’s lax tree-clearing laws, though the bill has been sent to committee. Despite the delay, it is a welcome move and may set an example to other states that are intent on relaxing their own laws, not least in NSW.

Here, the Baird government is proposing to repeal the Native Vegetation Act, Threatened Species Act and parts of the National Parks and Wildlife Act and introduce a new Biodiversity Conservation Act. 

The legislation to be repealed has long been opposed by farming groups and the National Party, tragically highlighted by the case of compliance officer Glen Turner in 2014. He was shot dead on a dirt road near Moree while responding to reports of illegal land clearing.

Drafting the Biodiversity Conservation Act has been done in consultation with NSW Farmers but not environmentalists who walked out of discussions in February. They warn that the surge in land clearing that occurred in Queensland after 2013 will happen in NSW.

Because land clearing gives rise to significant emissions, any weakening of land clearing laws will threaten Australia’s chances of meeting even its modest targets for emission reduction promised in Paris last year.

These targets are not enough to help the world keep global warming to less than 2oC, or ideally, 1.5oC, above pre-industrial levels. Indeed, if all countries adopted the same targets as Australia, the world would warm by 3-4oC which would see the complete demise of the Great Barrier Reef.

On Earth Day, April 22, in New York, Environment Minister Greg Hunt signed the Paris Agreement on behalf of Australia. Significantly, despite attending meetings of the ‘high ambitions coalition’ in Paris, Australia was excluded this time. Clearly, the group deemed our ambitions too low. For many reasons, not least for the sake of the Reef, let us hope Australia lifts its ambition.

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