According to the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) ‘Living Planet report’, we are chewing through the globe’s non-renewable resources at such an alarming rate that by 2050, when we are trying to house and feed 9.5 billion people, we will need the resources equivalent to three planets.
The truly enormous question is how on earth (literally) can we square that circle since it is out of the question that we consign billions of people in China, India and Africa to poverty or deny them the improvement to their health and well-being which we enjoy.
One practical thing we can do in this country is harvest (and then re-plant) more plantation forestry trees.
If we wish to make a claim to being part of the solution – which of course includes grappling with climate change – it is about time we started carrying our weight in providing one of the only renewable resources the world can get its hands on.
Right now the planet produces 1,737 million m3 of industrial timber products (FAO 2013). These are things we use for housing, furniture, paper and tissue making and all sorts of ‘bio’ products from fuels to plastics. But we will need much, much more.
According to the WWF the demand for timber fibre will triple in the next 25 years. And WWF is not alone in such stark estimates. The National Intelligence Council’s ‘Global Trends 2030’ report says there will be as much construction of housing, transport infrastructure and office buildings in the next forty years than has occurred through human history until now.
The Oxford Economics & Global Construction Perspectives ‘Global Construction 2025’ report says that the world construction market will grow by 70% in the next ten years, driven by 270 million new homes in China and India.
Surely the only sustainable way to meet those massive demand numbers is to rely on forest products sourced from best practice forestry operations?
The big question for Australia is; will we be part of the problem or part of the solution?
Did you know that, despite the fact that we can boast to be the seventh most forested nation on earth, we import far more forest fibre than we export? We are not even supplying all the pine framing we use in our home building.
Overall we export products worth $2.5 billion a year compared with $4.5 billion worth of imports.
Following the demise of most forestry managed investment schemes, and with no other policy in place to help investors bridge the long years of growth before any payback, tree planting in our country has come to a virtual stand-still. We have just over 2 million hectares of plantations.
The COAG Vision 2020 document of 1997 said we needed 3 million hectares by 2020.
How can it be an environmentally, or indeed ethically, defensible position to cross our arms and simply import greater and greater volumes of product from far-flung corners of the globe because we aren’t growing sufficient of our own timber on shore?
With our climate, land, well-trained people, advanced infrastructure, established operations and great tree breeds, we should be a global forestry powerhouse, but we are contributing to just a small fraction of the need.
It is past time to get tree planting policies working again which will drive the planting of the right trees in the right places (close to processing and port facilities for example).
In the lead up to the vital Paris climate talks it is past time that we worked together to provide the best and most sustainable global solutions. The world needs much more, not less, of this sustainable, renewable and truly green resource.
And it needs more of it from Australia.
Ross Hampton Chief Executive Officer, Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA)