Population growth has a very high impact on biodiversity says Sustainable Population Australia 

Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) has welcomed the acknowledgement in the State of Environment 2021 Report that human population growth contributes to pressures on the environment and, in particular, that it has ‘very high impact’ on biodiversity.

SPA National President Ms Jenny Goldie says the report makes strong statements about population and biodiversity, such as: ‘Human activity and population growth are major drivers of many pressures on biodiversity. Impacts are associated with urban expansion, tourism, industrial expansion, pollution, fishing, hunting and development of infrastructure. The impacts from population growth are extensive and increasing in many areas.’

“The report is upfront about the impact of population on the environment,” says Ms Goldie.  “For instance, the first graphic in the Overview section says: ‘Population, climate change and industry each put pressure on our environment. When combined, the threat increases and our environment is damaged, sometimes destroyed.’

“Climate change is a major pressure on the environment but it is humans who are responsible for global warming, largely through the burning of fossil fuels and land use change,” Ms Goldie added.

“In each of the 12 chapters, we read how human activity and growth lie at the heart of the problem of environmental decline.  For instance, the report says ‘increasing urban density as well as urban sprawl puts pressure on the natural environment and heritage’.” 

Ms Goldie also notes the report warns that a greater number of people are exposed to risks from extreme weather events. It says: ‘Populations are increasing in exposed regions as the peri-urban population expands, and development continues on floodplains and coastlines.’

The report says the biggest pressure on biodiversity is the clearing of native vegetation, the primary drivers of which are expansion of land dedicated mainly to agriculture and, to a lesser extent, forestry and infrastructure, including urban development.

“The more people there are, the more land is cleared to grow food and fibre, as well as timber for shelter. Indeed, between 2000 and 2017, 7.7 million hectares of habitat for terrestrial threatened species was cleared or substantially degraded,” says Ms Goldie. 

Ms Goldie says any attempts to deal with the dire state of the Australian environment will be ineffectual if not accompanied by policies to stabilise and then reduce the size of the Australian population. 

“Whether Prime Minister Albanese goes for more population growth, or stops such growth for environmental protection reasons, is the test of his real commitment to the protection of Australia’s natural environment,” Ms Goldie concluded.

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