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Australian state fails on koala conservation while relying on faulty offset schemes, experts say

A koala.

The Gumbaynggirr Country is home to the dunggiirr, the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), one of the totem animals for the Gumbaynggirr people. Image by Steve Franklin via Unsplash (Public domain).

  • Two experts join Mongabay’s podcast to discuss the decline in koala populations in the Australian state of New South Wales, and the government’s failure to protect them while allowing the clearing of koala habitats for development projects and using biodiversity offset schemes that don’t work.
  • Despite promising to establish a Great Koala National Park in New South Wales, Premier Chris Minns has delayed gazetting it while allowing logging of native woodland within the borders of the proposed park, says guest Stephen Long of the Australia Institute.
  • One reason for the delay, Minns claims, is the need to monetize the park via carbon credits, even though the land – and therefore the carbon – would be protected anyway, as it is part of a proposed national park.
  • Researcher Yung En Chee from the University of Melbourne also joins the show to explain why biodiversity offset schemes to compensate for the damage housing developments pose to koala habitats do not work, are sometimes based on outdated data, and don’t even come close to satisfying ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity in the state. “I’m not sure how long this failure has to persist before we decide that we really ought to change course,” says Chee.

In the leadup to his election as Premier of New South Wales, Chris Minns promised the establishment of a Great Koala National Park in the Australian state as part of the Labor government’s agenda to protect the endangered koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). One year later, the park is still not established and native woodland logging is happening inside proposed park boundaries, says Stephen Long, a Walkley-award-winning journalist at the Australia Institute, who showed video footage to Mongabay.

Long joins the Mongabay Newscast to discuss the Labor government’s reasons for delaying the park’s establishment, which he says the premier justifies with a need to find a way to monetize its carbon, as Long previously revealed in a video report.

Also joining the podcast is researcher and quantitative ecologist at the University of Melbourne, Yung En Chee, who details the biodiversity offset scheme in New South Wales.

Listen here:

Criticized by the NSW auditor general, the scheme has failed to deliver on outcomes it promises,while sometimes ‘double dipping’ by designating an already protected area as the land benefiting from the biodiversity offset. In some cases, the government stops monitoring conservation projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Housing developments approved using likely incomplete data sets of koala populations have also raised concerns about the efficacy of biodiversity offsets. These issues compound the concerns about the status of one of the world’s most iconic marsupials, and doubts over market-based solutions’ ability to protect biodiversity at scale.

Drone footage of state forestry logging machines in New South Wales clearing native woodland in the area of the proposed great koala national park, according to Stephen Long. Image courtesy of Yasmine Wright Gittins/Australia Institute.

“There seems to be a sort of addiction to the notion of market-based mechanisms and the ability of market-based mechanisms to address market failures like this. So [you get] this sort of ideological commitment to market essentialism, despite the fact that biodiversity is an incredibly complex phenomenon,” says Chee.

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Banner image: Gumbaynggirr Country is home to the dunggiirr, the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), one of the totem animals for the Gumbaynggirr people. Koalas numbers are estimated to be in the tens of thousands in the state of New South Wales. Image by Steve Franklin via Unsplash (Public domain). 

Mike DiGirolamo is a host & associate producer for Mongabay based in Sydney. He co-hosts and edits the Mongabay Newscast. Find him on LinkedInBluesky and Instagram.

Related reading:

What does land mean to Australia’s Indigenous groups fighting logging?

Are biodiversity credits just another business-as-usual finance scheme?

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