15 Feb 2019


The President of WWF International has written an open letter to Australia’s political leaders calling for immediate action to halt biodiversity loss and support a global New Deal for Nature and People.

Pavan Sukhdev, who was appointed WWF’s International President in 2017, is visiting Australia to call for strong action to halt the loss of Australia’s unique wildlife and ecosystems.

“The world is watching to see how Australia will respond to koalas being driven towards extinction due to excess tree clearing, mass fish deaths in the Murray-Darling Basin due to excess water extraction, and coral bleaching and polluted farm run-off pushing the Great Barrier Reef towards extinction,” said Mr Sukhdev.

“This is an onslaught on Australia’s valuable natural assets precisely at a time when the world expects conservation leadership from Australia."

“WWF wants to work with governments and business to mainstream the values of biodiversity and ecosystem services into decision-making at all levels."

“I strongly urge governments, civil society, business and Indigenous communities to commit to a New Deal for Nature and People."

“Koalas need forests, which also make rain and store carbon. Murray cod and river communities need water. We must transform energy systems from coal to renewable to cool the Reef and reduce weather extremes."

“Only by working together can we achieve the systemic change the world needs."

“Australia is the only developed country home to an internationally-recognised ‘deforestation hotspot’. The rate of tree clearing in Australia’s east is comparable to the destruction taking place in the Amazon and Borneo,” Mr Sukhdev said.

In New South Wales koalas declined by 33% over a 20-year period and are now estimated to number at a mere 20,000, down from an estimated several million just 250 years ago. 

“I have written to political leaders calling for stronger federal and state legislation that protects wildlife and reverses the projected extinction of Australia’s unique plants and animals."

“People I speak to around the world are shocked that Australian politicians have enabled an iconic Australian species like the koala to be treated so poorly that they are heading for extinction across wide parts of the country,” Mr Sukhdev said.

“I am most concerned that Australian political leaders appear unresponsive to their country’s environmental crises. Once animal populations shrink to a certain size, it is almost impossible to save a species. We definitely want to avoid that situation with koalas.”

Background on koalas in New South Wales

Since September 2018, a series of WWF reports based on expert and government-commissioned data have found:

  • Koalas in NSW are heading for extinction as early as 2050, and very likely by 2100, primarily due to the bulldozing of their forests.
  • Koala numbers have already recently decreased by 33% over a 20-year period in NSW.
  • They now number perhaps as few as 20,000 in NSW, down from an estimated number in the millions historically.
  • Analysis shows the rate of tree clearing in NSW is increasing by as much as 300% in parts of the state since the NSW Government weakened forest protection laws.
  • A staggering 17 of the state’s 20 deforestation hotspots contain koala habitat that is at risk of tree clearing under new state environmental laws.
  • While animals around the world have declined on average by 13.6%, koalas nationally are declining by 21% per decade.
  • Tree clearing in NSW kills five million animals each year.

Media enquiries: David Crisante, WWF Media Manager, 0428 391 735, dcrisante@wwf.org.au