Careful native forest harvesting key to carbon capture

Friday 18 Aug 2023

Joel Fitzgibbon, Chair of the Australian Forest Products Association, opinion piece – originally published in the Australian Financial Review 15/8/23 There is no rational reason to shut down native forestry in Australia – and a big bonus in carbon sequestration. Global demand for wood products is forecast to dramatically outpace supply as urban populations grow and renewable wood and innovative wood products play a greater role in our decarbonisation and circular bioeconomy efforts.

As this becomes increasingly apparent, many more Australians will learn to ignore the deliberately misleading campaigns of activists’ intent on closing down our sustainable native forest industries.

Australia’s wood and timber imports are now valued at more than AU$5 billion a year. About 25 per cent of the timber we require for housing construction is imported. Sourcing that product from other countries is going to become harder as global demand continues to outstrip supply. And, of course, much of our imported product is likely to come from jurisdictions that do not have Australia’s environmental standards and world’s-best industry practice.

Having called time on local native harvesting, Victoria is now importing native product from Tasmania, Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia. Unfortunately, Western Australia has also joined in. The situation in Victoria is particularly bizarre. It will result in more numerous and more severe bushfires and more koala and Leadbeater’s possum deaths. It will also reduce both biodiversity and our stock of stored carbon.

Trees sequester less carbon as they mature. When a tree is harvested, the carbon in the wood is stored forever in the built environment. The harvested tree is replaced by a young tree, which absorbs more carbon as it grows.

The activists love selectively to quote the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Well, here’s a quote from the IPCC’s fourth assessment: ‘‘A sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit’’.

Speaking after his review of Australian Carbon Credit Units, former chief scientist Professor Ian Chubb weighed in: ‘‘The only pathway known to science that has the immediate capacity to remove greenhouse gases, particularly CO2, from the atmosphere at scale is photosynthesis’’.

That’s why we must continue to sustainably manage our native estate while also striving to expand our plantation estate. Our ability to further increase native forest carbon stocks has been limited by the activists themselves. But if we can attract more investment, we could expand our plantation estate.

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Source: Australian Forest Products Association

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