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25 February 2009 - Conservationists call for inclusion of forest carbon protection in Emission Trading Scheme       

Conservationists call for inclusion of forest carbon protection in Emission Trading Scheme

25 February 2009                            

Humane Society International (HSI) calls on Coalition, Green and Independent Senators to ensure that terms of reference for any Senate Inquiry into the Rudd Government’s plans for an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) include evaluation of the potential for changes in forestry and land management practices to contribute to reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases.

Inclusion of carbon store retention in an ETS means that landholders could generate an income stream from decisions to conserve native vegetation. “This would be a win-win opportunity to bind rural and urban Australians together in a time of environmental emergency that affects us all – farm incomes can be maintained while biodiversity is conserved in the fight against dangerous climate change,” said Alistair Graham HSI Special Adviser, Biodiversity & Climate Change.

By contrast, the Rudd Government’s decision to only include planting and delaying harvest of plantations in their CPRS is perverse – it could undermine rural communities while exposing native forests to increased logging.

“HSI is hugely disappointed the Rudd Government has ignored pleas from scientists and conservationists that, if large and cost-effective cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are to be made, remaining terrestrial carbon stores must be protected from ongoing degradation – primarily due to logging of wet eucalypt forests, woodland clearing and inappropriate farming,” said Mr Graham. 

“HSI is worried the Rudd Government’s plans to include establishment and delayed harvesting of plantations in its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) while excluding protection of carbon stores in native forests will have a massively perverse result – by encouraging commercial logging to shift from plantations to native forests with much higher carbon content – not to mention much higher biodiversity value, ” said Mr Graham.

The Bali Action Plan, adopted by the UN Climate Change Convention member governments in December 2007, included ‘REDD’ - a commitment to establish a mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries.  It is a terrible oversight that no matching domestic commitment has been included in the Rudd Government’s CPRS.  “It is obviously unfair that rich, developed countries like Australia should expect developing countries to protect their forests from clearing, draining and logging while not accepting a similar obligation themselves”, said Mr Graham. 

Both globally, and in Australia, it is conservatively estimated that almost 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to land management.

The Coalition is to be congratulated for indicating it is prepared to commit Australia to deeper cuts in emissions than the Rudd Government and for recognising the huge potential for biological carbon to contribute to national efforts to avoid dangerous climate change.   In focusing on biological carbon, the Coalition has opened up opportunities for nature conservation and private landholder interests to collaborate – helping landholders retain the carbon stores they already have in soils and native vegetation is the most cost-effective way of making deep and early cuts in national greenhouse gas emissions. 

However, it is too slow and too costly for the Coalition to seek to make a bigger impact by large-scale plantings.  “The only realistic way to make much deeper cuts in a timely and effective fashion, however, is to put ‘Forests First’ – to immediately include protection of remaining native forests from ongoing degradation from both clearing and logging in a national emissions trading system,” said Mr Graham. 

A relatively modest structural adjustment package to immediately shift commercial wood supply from native forests to already established plantations can minimise social and economic costs of protecting native forests and woodlands rather than logging or clearing them. The current economic downturn makes such a shift even easier and more attractive.

HSI urges all Senators involved in development of the terms of reference for a Senate Inquiry into the Government’s CPRS to ensure that the potential to immediately include a ‘Forests First’ commitment in any emissions trading system is thoroughly evaluated. 

It is hard to escape the conclusion that, if Australia is to invest the time and money needed to commercialise and apply carbon capture and storage technology (CCS), “‘Forests First’ is the only feasible complement that can deliver emissions reductions of the scale needed to meet commitments to deep cuts before 2020 – the earliest date by which CCS might be being rolled out”, said Mr Graham.

Further, the scope of the Senate Inquiry needs to include implications of any expansion of Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets (MRET). If so-called ‘waste’ from native forest logging is included in any definition of ‘renewable energy’, very perverse outcomes would result.  As the cheapest and most readily available alternative fuel source, when compared to solar power, wind power, hot rocks, etc., burning wood will be the favoured source. Unless it is clearly excluded from an expanded MRET scheme, more forests will be destroyed before genuine alternative energy sources are developed and expanded. 

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