What forestry can do for climate change policy
Growing trees is nature’s way of absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. So most would assume that the forest industry would be front and centre of the government’s climate change policy. They’d be wrong.
The government’s carbon price to be introduced from July 2012 will rightly focus on the big emitters but will provide next to no incentives for growth in Australia’s sustainable forest industry – which absorbs and stores carbon from the atmosphere.
Last week Professor Ross Garnaut released his latest report, Update Paper 4: Transforming rural land use, recognising the positive contribution that the industry can make in absorbing carbon emissions. Professor Garnaut pointed out that forestry has big potential for emissions reductions - up to 853 million tonnes annually, compared with 164 million tonnes in agriculture.
To put these figures in perspective, our economy’s total annual emissions are around 560 million tonnes.
Garnaut’s report follows a long list of experts calling for a greater recognition of sustainable forestry including Sir Nicholas Stern and Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore.
Back in 2007, the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment report said ‘‘In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing annual sustained yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.”
The Government’s own CPRS Green Paper in 2008 identified forestry as the only carbon positive industry in Australia. So why is our industry being ignored?
There has been a lot of talk about consultation with the business community on the carbon tax. Yet, the forest industry has been excluded from the Government’s climate change business roundtable announced in October last year, and is yet to receive an invitation to even address one of its meetings.
Putting a price on carbon was agreed by Government and Greens members of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee (MPCCC). The remaining members of this group, Tony Windsor and Robert Oakeshott, have agreed that the proposal should be released for community consultation.
The forest industry nationally employs more than 120,000 people largely in regional Australia. Is this a case where once again rural and regional Australia is being ignored on major policy initiatives?
The government could respond to the forest industry’s criticism by saying its Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) holds great potential for our industry. While on paper the CFI is a good idea, a number of significant changes are needed if the scheme is to promote wider uptake and investment in commercial forestry or agriculture projects for positive carbon outcomes.
For example, the requirement for tree growers to prove that their forestry projects would not have otherwise gone ahead but for the additional financial benefit of receiving CFI carbon credits is a major drawback. This stringent ‘financial additionality’ requirement has popped-up again in the CFI after it was done-away-with in the now defunct Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS).
Professor Garnaut’s report mentioned above also identified this requirement as a major drawback. So what does the forest industry want? The short answer is adequate recognition from the government and policy makers of the potential broad-range of carbon opportunities the forest industry can offer. This includes better recognition of the carbon stored by growing commercial forests, better recognition of carbon in durable wood products such as house frames, furniture and flooring.
Industry wants better recognition of carbon saved by substituting emissions intensive building materials such as steel and concrete with wood; and better recognition of the green energy produced from forest industry wood wastes which can offset emissions from fossil fuels. In essence, we could shift our economy towards products less reliant on finite minerals and fossil fuels.
The debate internationally has shifted in this direction, underpinned by experts such as Stern, Moore, the IPCC and our own Garnaut. Australia must follow suit or risk being left behind.
This is a case of letting nature take its course - by storing more carbon in trees and renewable wood products.