Most agribusinesses that unlawfully clear wildlife habitat in Queensland are financed by an Australian bank, new analysis by the Australian Conservation Foundation shows.

More than 364,000 hectares of native vegetation cleared in Queensland from 2018 to 2020 (the latest available official data) was ‘deforestation’ according to the international definition and likely had a significant impact on a listed threatened species or ecological community – and was done without federal approval, making it possibly illegal.

The potentially illegal deforestation occurred on thousands of properties, but more than 50% of the land cleared was on just 267 properties (241 owners), meaning a minority of pastoral businesses are responsible for the majority of ongoing habitat destruction.

Of those 267 properties, 60% were linked to an Australian bank via a mortgage or other security.

Around a quarter of the properties had a security held by NAB. The other main lenders were Rabobank, Commbank, ANZ, Suncorp and Westpac.

“Behind virtually every agribusiness destroying wildlife habitat for cattle grazing and every property developer knocking over trees for suburban sprawl is a bank loan or a mortgage,” said ACF’s Business and Nature campaigner Nathaniel Pelle.

“While the UN says companies cannot claim to be on the path to net zero while still funding deforestation, none of Australia’s big four banks have a ‘no deforestation’ target, raising doubts about the credibility of their net zero commitments.

“By lending to agribusinesses without any conditions relating to deforestation, banks are effectively financing the destruction of habitat for threatened species like the koala, which had 200,000 hectares of habitat destroyed in this last reporting period.

“Banks should do due diligence before lending, set ‘no deforestation’ targets and attach relevant conditions to their loans to agribusinesses and property developers.”

Risky business, ACF’s benchmarking analysis of 20 of Australia’s largest banks and super funds’ approach to managing nature-related risks, released in December 2022, showed 80% of the banks had not set nature-related targets – and only 20% said they planned to. 

Banking on nature destruction: An analysis of Australian bank financing of deforestation

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Journalists with enquiries may contact Josh Meadows on 0439 342 992. For all other enquiries please call 1800 223 669 or email [email protected]