OPINION EDITORIAL: Originally published in The Mercury.
There’s a simple message the scientists advising the climate change talks in Paris would have for those interested in forestry operations in Australia; “If you really care about the climate – back forestry”.
That would be the summary of their sentiment anyway.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the grouping of hundreds of scientists who provide the highest level advice to Governments, spelt it out in their 4th Assessment. They said; “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.”
So that’s the inconvenient truth for those who, for various reasons, are not yet fans of our state based sustainable natural forest operations.
The forestry challenge being discussed in Paris right now is all about stopping deforestation not forestry.
I would be happy to join those marching to demand that we halt the wholesale clearing of forests in less regulated countries for illegal timber-getting or the massive burning which we see every year as more jungle is cleared for other crops.
These activities are enormous contributors to global greenhouse emissions. According to the UN, some 12 million hectares of forest is destroyed each year in this way – responsible for roughly 11 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
But the key thing to understand is this is not happening in Australia.
Forestry certification schemes are a shorthand way to prove that.
Here we have two globally recognised schemes; the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Australian Forestry Standard (AFS which sits under the PEFC umbrella).
You can’t get either of these very onerous ticks if you are not operating in a sustainable manner – that is replanting or resowing after you harvest at a minimum.
All the major forestry operators in Australia have one or both of these certifications. Ninety percent of the world’s forests have neither.
You might not realise actually just how embedded sustainability is in our Australian industry. Across the country we plant some 40 million seedlings each and every winter in our plantations and, when it comes to the native forestry sector, the resowing adds another 20 odd million young trees to that tally. What could be more sustainable than that?
Our research shows by the way, that for Australian’s this is the key message that matters. The question they most want to hear the answer to is ; Do you replant as well as harvest? So the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’.
And if carbon sequestration still hasn’t convinced you that forestry is our ‘greenest’ sector, how about sustainable resource production?
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) issued a world-wide call to arms recently in the form of the “triple-planet crisis” it says is coming at us like a train.
WWF has done the maths and says, based on the current scale of the use of resources, by the time we get to 2050 and we are trying to house, feed and clothe 9.5 billion of us we would need three planets worth of inputs.
It is obvious that that just won’t work. One of the answers is of course to focus much more on delivering our necessities of life from renewable stocks (being careful to never push so far that they are not sustainable).
Working forests are the life-saver of our generation in this regard.
Not only are we able to turn back to traditional timber as a primary building stock (and there are many derivatives which allow us to gain even more from less material) but the whole world of the bio-economy in fuels, plastics, solvents, chemicals and more is providing a renewable alternative to fossil fuel based products.
Finally there is the social and environmental goods which come from forestry. These managed forests are great for recreation and tourism. And because they are looked after by forestry fire crews, who have access through well maintained fire trails, our health and safety is far more assured than would otherwise be the case.
We should be incredibly proud of our forestry operations in Australia. Done well, they are a vital part of our shared future and an inspirational success story to the global leaders in Paris who have few such unambiguous win/wins to hand.
Chief Executive Officer, Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA)
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