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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4490


Senator MILNE (5:00 PM) —I rise today to make some comments in relation to Minister Burke’s response to the issue of the carbon stored in Australia’s forests, and in particular mountain ash forests. It is very interesting because all kinds of distortions are possible in a debate like this, but what is not being recognised—and I have to say that Senator Colbeck failed to recognise it right then—is that the world has realised that global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2015 and then come down.

When people start talking about putting in a forest now and allowing it to go to maturity in 80 or a hundred years, they are not engaging with the fact that right now we have to stop the logging of forests, stop native vegetation clearance and bring down fossil fuel emissions at the same time. It is why the world is now engaged in a vigorous discussion about reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation. It is why we are going to Copenhagen in December with a vigorous debate about what to do. The whole world is moving to try to put pressure on developing countries in particular—because the tropical forests happen to be predominantly in developing countries—to stop the logging of those forests because they emit not only the stores from the trees that are cut down but also the massive store in the soil carbon in those forests. That is our biggest problem here.

The ANU has now shown that the carbon in Tasmania’s old-growth forests and in Victoria’s mountain ash forests as well have larger amounts of carbon stored than those that exist in tropical forests. That this has occurred is a new awareness in science, and people are now recognising that the fastest way for Australia to get its greenhouse gas emissions down would be to stop the logging of native forests and the clearing of native vegetation. That would make a major difference. In the round table that we had, all the scientists were saying about biodiversity impacts and carbon that the first thing you should do is protect your existing forest stores and protect your existing carbon stores.

Not only is this letter adding insult to injury but it fails to point out that the federal government, together with the Tasmanian government, is currently allowing the logging of these native stores to go to woodchips. It is recognised that they are for pulp wood—the minister himself recognises that a large volume is for pulp wood. At the moment, you cannot sell that pulp wood to the Japanese. The woodchip mills are closed in Tasmania two or three days a week because the bottom has dropped out of the market. We are logging precious stores to stockpile woodchips, so now we have hit upon the great scheme of burning those forests in furnaces and selling that energy as renewable energy. The federal government’s renewable energy target is going to allow biomass as an energy source to go into the renewable energy target.

Gunns pulp mill in northern Tasmania—contrary to the view that they have imported machinery to start the pulp mill—have imported machinery for the forest furnace, so that, regardless of whether the pulp mill goes ahead or not, their furnace is there and they will keep logging and chipping those forests, putting them through the furnace and selling them as green energy. In other parts of the country this is known as ‘dead koala credits’. In Tasmania we do not have koalas, but we are nevertheless going to see those woodchips burnt and sold under the renewable energy target. That is something that the Prime Minister, Minister Wong and Minister Garrett—the whole lot of them—endorse. I am going to be moving, in the renewable energy target debate, to delete the biomass from the renewable energy target because it will lead to the burning of Tasmania’s forests to go into so-called green energy.

But let me get back to Kyoto accounting—this is where Senator Colbeck did not represent it as it currently is. The fact of the matter is that, under the Kyoto protocol, the logging of a native forest—providing it is replanted or resown in some way, whether by plantation or regeneration techniques—is deemed to be carbon neutral. That is on the basis that over a rotation, whatever that might be, it is deemed to be carbon neutral. That is wrong. That is based on a European perception of plantations and not on an assessment of the carbon in an Australian forest. That is why we have got such a distortion in the carbon accounting.

The worst aspect of this, with the CPRS, is that, if the government allows opt-in of plantations, we will get those plantations planted under MIS schemes being opted in to try and get some value returned from them. That will drive the logging deeper into our native forests, which is the worst-case outcome for climate change and the worst-case outcome for wood production, because those plantations were planted for wood production and that is why people got tax breaks in order to do it.

What Minister Burke has shown is that he is not across the science. Recently we have had in Australia Dr Rachel Warren from the Tyndall Centre, who is absolutely shocked that Australia would be allowing the logging and burning of native forest to generate energy under a renewable energy target. She is certainly conveying that idea through academia in Australia. For the Australian government to go to Copenhagen bragging about an arrangement with Indonesia—saying that we are going to put $200 million into stopping logging in Indonesia—while we are subsidising the logging of even-more-carbon-rich forests in Australia, will send the rest of the world into shock, because they will not be able to believe the level of hypocrisy from Australia, especially when they find out that it was the Australian government who pressured the Indonesians to overturn Forestry Law 41.

Indonesia actually stopped mining in protected forest areas, and along came BHP Billiton and a whole lot of other mining companies who had got their permits under previous corrupt regimes. They put pressure on the Indonesian government through the Australian embassy in Jakarta and forced them—threatened to take them to international arbitration to get compensation for these permits granted under previous corrupt regimes—to overturn the law so that those areas could be logged, clear-felled, so that the miners could move into those areas in Indonesia. So for Australia to now turn around and say, ‘We’ll give you $200 million to stop logging,’ after we forced the Indonesians to log vast areas on behalf of the mining industry, which had those permits, just makes the developing world sit there and wonder at the hypocrisy of Australia. And this is on top of what I mentioned earlier this afternoon, where Australia blocked the Pacific island countries from including a stronger target than Australia was prepared to have in the communique from the Pacific Islands Forum.

So this is Australia bullying—bullying the rest of the world. And now we are going to get it on reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation. And the one thing the environment movement and the Greens will be doing in Copenhagen is pointing out to the rest of the world this hypocrisy in Australia: lecturing the rest of the developing world about not logging tropical forests while subsidising the logging of temperate forests—the most carbon-rich forests in the world. There will be peer reviewed papers coming out in all kinds of scientific media before Copenhagen and they will show that very clearly. It is no use trying to pretend that wood products out of an old-growth forest store a more significant part or a large part of the carbon. That is nonsense. Less than 10 per cent of the stored carbon ends up in anything durable. The rest is going to the atmosphere and is lost as a carbon store.

But I come back to the carbon budget that we have. What this parliament does not seem to realise is that we have run out of time. If we are going to constrain global warming to less than two degrees we cannot log carbon-rich forests in Australia or anywhere else anymore. And we need to stop doing that at the same time as we bring down our fossil fuel emissions. The idea of trade-offs is no longer feasible. We need to do both at the same time. If you are intent on logging forests you will absolutely have to stop fossil fuel emissions immediately and much more deeply than you are prepared to do. To continue to do both is to guarantee catastrophic climate change, and that is precisely what both sides of this parliament are intent on doing at the moment—no more so than Minister Burke.