Letter: Warning about the latest 'eco-scam'

Land clearing
Land clearing

I am writing to warn residents about the latest illegitimate environmental scheme that is currently in circulation. Some householders may have received a letter offering to register their native vegetation as koala habitat and include it in a so-called biodiversity ‘offset’ scheme, to compensate for the destruction of koala habitat under the shire’s new koala management zoning system. It is worth noting that if residents participate in this scheme they are actually encouraging land-clearing and the destruction of koala habitat.

In an empirically-validated, independent study conducted by myself and five other internationally-recognised environmental policy researchers, biodiversity ‘offsets’ were found to be the lowest performing and least well-governed of a range of market-based environmental policy instruments (Cadman, Eastwood et al. 2015, pp. 134-205).

Biodiversity offsets do not work, for a number of reasons:

1) There is no net gain of biodiversity by clearing habitation and ‘swapping’ it for somewhere else (land-clearing is always land-clearing);

2) It is not possible to ever replicate like with like (all ecosystems are unique);

3) In Australia and overseas ‘offsets’ are open to fraud, and have been issued against asset types that are not even the same (e.g. forest for wetland, etc.);

4) Biodiversity offsets are the only environmental market-mechanism that incentivise environmental destruction (cf. carbon offsets, where there have to be demonstrable emissions reductions).

If shire residents offer up their koala habitat for this ‘offset’ scheme, they will be directly contributing to the destruction of koalas and other native flora and fauna. Instead, shire residents should register their land under a land for wildlife agreement, and place a covenant on their property preventing future land-clearing. This is the only mechanism that works.

Our koalas are under enormous threat from forestry, logging and urban sprawl, and we cannot afford to lose any more habitat. Shire residents seeking to clear their land, and benefit from the scheme should be under no illusions that their conscience is clean – and nor should those who are promoting such ‘greenwash.’

I predict an increase in habitat loss and land-clearing  as a consequence of this scandal, and attach an image of the future of prospects for our urban fringe and native vegetation.

Dr Tim Cadman, Bellingen

Senior Research Fellow, Earth Systems Governance Project Research Fellow, Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law Griffith University