Native forest logging adds to the climate-biodiversity crisis

Industry advocates commonly refer to statements in reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that sustainable forest management for timber can contribute to mitigation of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Those statements are based on misleading accounting. It is only a matter of time before the new accounting standard formally accepted by the UN SEEA-EA in March 2021 is adopted in IPCC reports and hence the accounting standard for Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs). It is clearly important to have credible, transparent statistics for the Global Stocktake (GST), a process for taking progressive stock of the world’s collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the Paris Agreement and its short- and long-term goals . It is also important to note that IPCC reports are conservative representing compromises resulting from (a) heavy lobbying from vested interests, (b) various necessary assumptions and (c) simplifications due to the complexity of issues considered.

Native forest logging in Queensland

In Queensland, it is likely that only around 50% of the wood harvested in a native forest operation finds its way to a sawmill . In the harvesting process, only around 40% of the log is recovered as sawn timber. Hence, no more than 20% of the carbon removed from the forest in a native forest logging operation ends up in anything that could be called long-term storage. Up to 80% of the harvested carbon will contribute to GHG emissions and will not be recovered through future growth for many decades. As discussed in the climate change article on pages 1 and 2, reduction in emissions has to occur urgently. Added to the direct emissions are those produced by harvesting machinery, transport and sawmilling. Native forest logging is a direct contributor to Queensland’s GHG emissions. In 2018 Queensland’s GHG emissions were by far the highest of any state or territory in the country. In the same year, Tasmania’s total emissions were negative which represents a 111.2% reduction compared to the year 2005. That reduction is recognised as being the result of reductions in native forest harvesting. In 2018, all states and territories except Queensland and Northern Territory had negative emissions from the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector.

State and Territory Greenhouse Gas Inventories 2018, Australian Government
Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

Biodiversity impacts

The Koala and Greater Glider are now listed as ‘Endangered’ in Queensland and nationally. The south-east subspecies of the Yellow-bellied Glider has been listed as ‘Vulnerable’. The Conservation Advice provided in relation to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act specifies logging as a ‘Severe’ threat to the Greater Glider. All three species occur in State Forests subject to logging. The ‘Code of practice for native forest timber production on Queensland’s State forest estate 2020’ includes requirements for retention of habitat trees for Greater Gliders (and other hollow-dependent species) and feed trees for Yellow-bellied Gliders but otherwise makes no provision for these threatened species. The Koala is not mentioned in the Code. 

Greater Glider — Photo: Esther Beaton

The climate-biodiversity crisis

It is now clear that the climate crisis cannot be solved without solving the biodiversity crisis . They are linked as part of complex adaptive systems which requires systems thinking rather than traditional linear thinking. 

Biodiversity loss is projected to be one of the largest environmental crises of all times and will collapse economies and societies. Swiss Re, the insurance group, estimated the global value of biodiversity at $33 trillion a year, close to the combined GDP of the US and China, with more than half of global GDP dependent on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Urgent and unprecedented transformational change is required across all sectors of society including governance.

Native forest logging must stop

The required transformational change involves considering the future of all activities that are currently contributing to climate change and biodiversity loss. One such activity is native forest logging. As a result of negotiations between the timber industry and the Queensland Government, the ‘Native timber action plan’ was announced in November 2019. The plan aims to provide a sustainable future for the native timber industry. It is inappropriate and unfair to workers in the industry to be giving false hope of security by promoting the objective of a long-term sustainable future for a declining industry fraught with uncertainty. Now is the time to plan for alternative opportunities for both businesses and workers. A key feature of complex adaptive systems is uncertainty and the potential for hard-to-predict, likely irreversible, phase shifts or “tipping points”. For example, populations of common species, even whole ecosystems can suddenly collapse if positive, reinforcing feedback mechanisms become dominant including through management interventions such as logging. 

Keith Scott & Aila Keto 

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Filed under Biodiversity, Climate change, Forests

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