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August 17, 2023

We must stop our forests being sold to fund fossil fuel emissions

There is news of an emerging new threat to our forests and climate. We must stop our forests being sold to fund fossil fuel emissions.

The native forest logging industry has been in steady decline across Australia for some time now. It is being permanently closed in both Western Australia and Victoria from the beginning of next year, and the industry's ‘Plan A’ - business as usual - has now clearly failed. And so it is desperately searching for a rescue plan.

‘Plan B’ was to transition from the woodchipping industry to a biomass energy industry. We effectively killed that plan off last year. Thank you for your help in achieving that crucial outcome.

But now a ‘Plan C’ is emerging: a forest carbon market where ‘avoided emissions’ in one area are traded to allow an increase in emissions in another area.

Here are the facts:

Native forests are a massive store of carbon. In fact, Australia’s old growth eucalypt forests are the most carbon-dense forests on earth. When they are logged, most of that carbon gets emitted back into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases, a huge contributor to climate change.

Under emerging proposals, as little as a 25% reduction in logging could now be seen not as forest protection but as ‘avoided emissions,’ and monetised through Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs). They could then be sold to the highest bidder on the open market, likely to be fossil fuel companies, as a substitute or ‘offset’ for the reduction of their own emissions.

This plan would effectively provide fossil fuel companies with a lifeline, allowing them to pay to maintain their own emissions levels, while assisting a cash-poor logging industry to fund otherwise uneconomical logging elsewhere. And that would continue the ongoing cycle of environmental destruction.

 An imminent marriage of convenience between loggers and fossil fuel companies

We must urgently prevent this emerging alliance of interests between two of our biggest environmental threats - fossil fuel companies and native forest loggers.

The increasingly damaging effects of climate change can only be avoided if we reduce emissions from all sectors and in addition, actually remove carbon from the atmosphere. This is a matter of urgency.

How do forests keep carbon out of the atmosphere?

Ending native forest logging in Australia now would reduce emissions by ~15 Mt CO2 every year.  This would bring Australia considerably close to meeting the existing national target of a 43% reduction in the 2005 emissions level by 2030. And, while global investment in carbon capture technology has historically had disappointing resultsforests are marvelously efficient and easily managed natural systems of carbon capture.

There is no need to trade forest protection on the carbon market to fund climate outcomes. Forest protection should be funded from State and Federal climate change budgets and not commercialised and privatised in a way that helps our worst carbon emitters.

What needs to be done?

Wilderness Australia is leading a science-based education and communication strategy to prevent this plan from unfolding. Here’s our roadmap for the protection of Australia’s native forests:

  • Forestry agencies must be converted to solely plantation managers

The State Government forestry agencies, such as the Forestry Corporation of NSW, manage the logging industry and must urgently be reformed. They have a positive role to play in managing plantation logging, but if allowed to, they will commandeer the carbon market to rescue the native forest logging industry and keep it running for as long as possible.

  • All native forests should be protected in publicly owned conservation reserves and wherever feasible co-managed with traditional owners

Following on from WA and Vic, all ‘state forests’ in NSW, QLD and Tas should be permanently protected and managed to support cultural and conservation objectives

  • Native forests should be excluded from Australian Carbon Credit Unit (ACCU) trading

The monetisation of forest carbon ACCUs that would be purchased by our biggest fossil fuel emitters to offset their own emissions will further delay their exit from fossil fuels. The principles governing the role and use of offsets need to be re-designed to ensure they are used as a last resort and as part of a clear plan to exit reliance on fossil fuels.

Australia has a clear choice to make. Should our forests be used to reduce climate change and protect biodiversity, or to give a free pass for fossil fuel emissions and further logging?

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Australian Foundation for Wilderness Limited
ACN 001 112 143
ABN 84 001 112 143
Advocating as 'Wilderness Australia'
Formerly The Colong Foundation for Wilderness Ltd
Registered Office 8/154 Elizabeth Street Sydney NSW 2000
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