Category Archives: Forests

Federal Court rules logging in Victoria’s Central Highlands requires Federal approval

 On 27 May, the Federal Court handed down a decision that could have very significant implications for native forest logging in Australia. The case was brought by Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum against VicForests, the agency responsible for management and sale of timber resources in Victorian State Forests. 

The legal action related to the impact of forestry operations on the Greater Glider and Leadbeater’s Possum in 66 coupes in the Central Highlands. The Greater Glider is listed as ‘vulnerable’ and Leadbeater’s Possum as ‘critically endangered’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth). 

The areas in question are covered by the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement (RFA). 

 Background to RFAs 

There are 10 RFAs around Australia, five in Victoria, three in New South Wales, one each in Tasmania and Western Australia. They are agreements between the Commonwealth and the State Governments and were signed between 1997 and 2001. There was an RFA process for South East Queensland but it did not end in an agreement— conservation groups led by ARCS rejected the Federal Government’s proposal and persuaded the Beattie Government to develop a State agreement which eventuated as the South East Queensland Stakeholder/Government Forests Agreement. 

The RFAs came out of the National Forest Policy which was agreed between the Commonwealth and the States in 1992. The 1980s and 90s were the times of the “forest wars”. In 1995, a convoy of logging trucks blockaded Parliament House.

Prime Minister Paul Keating was determined to get the Commonwealth out of the picture and instituted the RFA process. The intention was that these agreements would put an end to the “forest wars”. That was not to be. 

The EPBC Act 

A contentious component of the agreements was that forestry operations carried out under an RFA would be exempt from provisions of the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) including provisions relating to the protection of threatened species. Such species were supposedly to be protected by provisions within the RFAs. These matters were central to the Federal Court’s deliberations. 

 The decision 

Presiding over the Federal Court case was Hon. Justice Debra Mortimer SC. The case involved numerous hearings and stages. In 2018, Judge Mortimer set up a “Separate Question” which was whether VicForests’ forestry operations had the benefit of the exemption in section 38(1) of the EPBC Act. Under the RFA, the Commonwealth accredits the forest management system which includes the Forest Management Plan and the systems and processes established by the Code of Forest Practices for Timber Production. This is the basis for the exemption from section 38(1) of the EPBC Act. 

CentralHighlandsChrisTaylor

Central Highlands logging Photo: Chris Taylor

In relation to the Separate Question, Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum argued that the five-yearly reviews required by the RFA had not been carried out and therefore the exemption did not apply. VicForests argued that as long as forestry operations are conducted within the RFA region the exemption of s 38(1) applies. 

Judge Mortimer rejected both arguments noting in regard to VicForests’ argument that, for the exemption to apply, forestry operations must be undertaken in conformity with the systems of forest management accredited by the RFA. 

A significant focus of the court proceedings was the Code of Practice for Timber Production. Clause 2.2.2.2 of the Code states “The precautionary principle must be applied to the conservation of biodiversity values.” 

For the purposes of the court process, the 66 coupes were divided into Logged Coupes and Scheduled Coupes. Judge Mortimer made the following decision: 

In undertaking forestry operations in the Logged Glider Coupes, VicForests did not apply the precautionary principle to the conservation of biodiversity values in those coupes, as it was required to do by cl 2.2.2.2 of the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014. Specifically, on the applicant’s case, VicForests did not apply the precautionary principle to the conservation of the Greater Glider as a threatened species present in, and using, the forest in thosecoupes. Accordingly, in relation to the forestry operations undertaken by VicForests in the Logged Glider Coupes, its conduct was not covered by the exemption in s 38(1) of the EPBC Act.

 

Judge Mortimer made a similar decision regarding the Scheduled Coupes arguing that VicForests “is unlikely to apply the precautionary principle to the conservation of biodiversity values in those coupes”. 

Based on those arguments, Judge Mortimer concluded that each forestry operation in each of the 66 coupes is an “action” under the EPBC Act. That means that the forestry operations require the approval of the Federal Minister for Environment, presently Hon. Sussan Ley MP. 

Judge Mortimer has given the parties an opportunity to agree on the appropriate orders the court should make. If there is no agreement, the parties may make short submissions and the court will decide on the final orders. 

Other observations by the Judge 

Judge Mortimer made some general observations that illustrate common issues with native forest logging. At the risk of boring readers with details, they are reproduced below. 

First, what the evidence in this proceeding has demonstrated is that the protection and conservation of biodiversity values – in this case relevantly the two listed threatened species in issue – is essentially a practical matter. Although policies and planning are important precursors and elements in protection and conservation, what happens on the ground in the native forest which supports and encompasses those values is how protection and conservation are achieved. Relevantly to the issues in this proceeding (rather than the wider biodiversity values protected by other aspects of the EPBC Act), understanding a native forest as a living, changing, finely balanced and often vulnerable ecosystem, and understanding the way in which all flora and fauna species in fact (rather than theory) use and depend on that native forest, are what best informs protection and conservation of, and the avoidance of adverse impacts on, those species. The evidence demonstrates the need for this approach is acute when dealing with listed threatened species. 

The second observation addressed the argument put by VicForests that their decisions had “struck a balance between conservation measures and those that relate to the commercial use and exploitation of forest resources in State Forests” and that where there were “value judgments” to be made about that balance, those judgments were the “province of the legislature or the executive rather than the judiciary”. The judge responded arguing that 

the Court’s function is to determine, on the evidence, whether the applicant has proven, on the facts and on the law as applied to those facts, its allegations against VicForests …. Contrary to VicForests’ submissions, there is a significant factual aspect to the applicant’s allegations, which as a trial court, the Court must decide. It necessarily involves examining the competing evidence (including expert opinion evidence) about topics which are the product of wider policies and practices, and factual topics of more general application. In performing its task, the Court acts on the evidence before it, taking account of the submissions made. Where the legal and statutory framework which the Court must consider, by reason of the parties’ respective cases, includes matters of degree, or has some qualitative or evaluative element, the determination of those matters is part of the exercise of judicial power, and not outside it. 

The third observation related to the inherent contradiction in the role of VicForests — and all other forestry agencies. 

On the one hand, it is required to conduct forestry operations in Victoria’s native forest, rather than only in plantations. That native forest is identified as an available timber resource, indeed a principal available timber resource in Victoria, for VicForests to perform its commercial forestry function, as conferred by statute. On the other hand, VicForests is required by law to conduct those forestry operations in a way which avoids and mitigates adverse impacts on a wide range of biodiversity values, a range that is much wider than listed threatened flora and fauna species, but includes them. As I explain later in these reasons and as both VicForests and various reviewing bodies have recognised, for listed threatened species which are highly dependent on the very native forest which is to be subject to forestry operations, and for whom recovery out of the status of being a threatened species is expressed to be an objective, the avoidance of adverse impacts in a real world sense (rather than just an aspiration) inevitably involves compromising available commercial timber resources. Hence the conflict, which may explain (but not necessarily justify) why the actual conduct of forestry operations on the ground often cannot meet the conservation and protection obligations imposed by law.” 

Broader implications of the decision 

Implications for forestry operations in other RFA areas in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia arise from the finding that where forestry operations do not conform with management prescriptions included in the RFA, they could be found to be “actions” under the EPBC Act and require approval of the Federal Minister, Sussan Ley. 

According to The Guardian, a spokesman for Minister Ley said the Department would “carefully consider the Federal Court’s 450 page judgment, noting that formal orders are yet to be made” and that the findings “will require detailed consideration before the department can discuss possible implications”. 

ToolangiForest_reduced

Toolangi State Forest, Central Highlands     Photo: Peter Campbell


Keith Scott

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Vale Norman Myers

NormanMyersOne of the world’s leading conservation scientists, Dr Norman Myers, died on 20 October 2019 from dementia.

Norman Myers’ most well known scientific contribution was developing the concept of “biodiversity hotspots”. Hotspots were defined as (a) areas with exceptional concentrations of species with high levels of endemism, and (b) areas experiencing exceptional levels of threat. Protecting such areas offered a very effective means of conserving biodiversity.

Norman was born in Lancashire in 1934 to a poor family on a sheep farm but Norman’s mother ensured he had an education and after graduating from grammar school he studied modern languages at Oxford University.

Norman has described developing a great interest in African wildlife as a result of reading Rider Haggard as a boy. In 1958, during the last days of the British Empire, he joined the Colonial Service and took up a post in Kenya. After two or three years, Kenya became independent and Norman lost his job. He became a high school teacher and later a professional wildlife photographer. It was while photographing African wildlife that Norman became interested in species generally.

His studies on cheetah and leopard populations in Kenya earned him a PhD from University of California Berkeley in 1973.

Norman did not have a typical background to being a scientist and never held an academic appointment. Despite that, his scientific contributions have been outstandingly significant. But his contributions were not initially recognised. His first paper on ‘hotspots’ was rejected by mainstream ecology journals but was eventually published in 1988. He developed the concept further and his major paper, Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities, published with colleagues in Nature in 2000, has been cited more than 13,000 times.

In that paper, Myers et al. noted that 44% of all species of vascular plants and 35% of all species in four vertebrate groups are confined to 25 hotspots comprising only 1.4% of the land surface of the Earth.

Norman Myers was particularly interested in tropical forests. His paper, Threatened biotas: “hot spots” in tropical rainforests, published in Environmentalist 8 in 1988, noted that tropical forests contain at least half of all Earth’s species but are being depleted faster than any other biome. In that paper he refers to the tropical rainforests of Queensland as an example of a hot spot area in a developed country, citing ARCS publications on their conservation significance and noting that “despite the scientific value of the area, it continues to be logged, with support from the Queensland Government in the form of abundant subsidies.”

Norman Myers was among the first scientists to draw attention to the increasing rate of species extinctions. In 1979, he published a book The Sinking Ark, A New Look at the Problem of Disappearing Species. At the time, it was general considered that the rate of species extinction was one a year. Myers determined that it was more like one a day. For that he was attacked by the scientific community but was later proved to be right. Leading conservation scientist, Dr Peter Raven of Missouri Botanic Gardens and a friend of ARCS, told science writer Tim Radford “I don’t think Norman’s been seriously wrong on anything.”

Norman Myers produced a ground-breaking and highly influential report in 1980 on the loss of tropical rainforests for the National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences.

Norman Myers was a consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and advised FAO on the loss of tropical forests noting the impacts of the “displaced peasant or landless farmer” on deforestation. In 2008, Myers told FAO “What we do – or don’t do – in the next few decades, will determine the future of our planet for at least the next five million years”.

In 1987, ARCS arranged for Norman Myers to visit Brisbane and he gave a talk at an ARCS meeting to a capacity audience in Brisbane City Hall. This event was a peak in our public campaign to protect the rainforests of Northeast Queensland — the Wet Tropics.

Over his lifetime. Norman Myers received many honours. He was appointed foreign member of the US National Academy of Sciences, named by Time magazine as one of its Heroes of the Environment and made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George by the British Government. In 1992, he shared the prestigious Volvo Environment Prize with Peter Raven. He was also appointed distinguished or visiting professor at numerous universities around the world.

His contribution to biodiversity conservation will be sorely missed. He will forever live in our own hearts as a good friend and unstinting supporter.

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Vale Peter Hitchcock AM

PeterHitchcock_John Benson_croppedInternationally recognised conservationist, Peter Hitchcock AM, died on 20 May 2019.

In 1988, Peter Hitchcock was appointed Executive Director of the interim body that later became the Wet Tropics Management Authority (WTMA). Peter had a close association with ARCS through President Aila Keto who was a member of the interim body and later the WTMA Board.

World Heritage listing of the Wet Tropics of Queensland followed years of campaigning and negotiation and was strongly opposed by the Queensland Government led by Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Peter recorded being told by the then State Environment Minister that he had no chance of success and that no-one in North Queensland wanted the World Heritage Area. “It was like walking into an ants’ nest that had been stirred up.” But Peter started talking to local landholders and found the mood to be quite different.

Peter began his career as a forester in the NSW government in the 1960s. When he became more interested in conserving forests rather than logging them, he moved to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service where he rose to the position of Deputy Director (Policy and Wildlife). Over his years in the NPWS, Peter was responsible for the establishment of numerous national parks many of which are now part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. Peter worked closely with the Wran Government and would have had a significant influence on the 1982 decision by Neville Wran to protect rainforests in northeast NSW.

In 1987, Peter was seconded by the federal government led by Bob Hawke to serve on the Commonwealth Commission of Inquiry into the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests of Tasmania to inquire into the possible World Heritage values of the areas and how they could be protected. Peter produced a dissenting report recommending protection of the forests and World Heritage nomination. Most of Peter’s recommendations were accepted by the Commonwealth and in 1989 the areas were added to the Western Tasmanian Wilderness National Parks World Heritage Area created in 1982 to become the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA).

Peter was also instrumental in achieving additions to TWWHA in 2013.

In 2014, the Australian Government led by Tony Abbott put a proposal to the World Heritage Committee to de-list 74,000 hectares of the TWWHA in order to allow logging. The Committee took less than 10 minutes in making a decision to reject the proposal. ARCS was officially represented at the meeting by a delegation headed by Alec Marr, Director of ARCS International World Heritage Programme, and including Peter Hitchcock.

When Peter left WTMA, he established a consultancy practice in Cairns with a focus on natural heritage.

Peter’s contribution to World Heritage was recognised in a tribute by IUCN: “With decades of contributions, both internationally and in his native country of Australia, Peter Hitchcock served over many years as a senior advisor on World Heritage for IUCN. During this time, he undertook numerous missions throughout the globe to monitor the state of conservation of World Heritage sites and evaluate sites nominated for the World Heritage List. He continued to contribute to the reviews of potential new sites up to this very year.”

Peter received a range of awards including Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1990, the IBM Award for Environmental Excellence in 1993 and the IUCN Packard International Parks Merit Award in 1996.

Peter will be sorely missed around the world.

Doha_delegation

Australian delegation at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha, Qatar, June 2015.
Left to right: Peter Hitchcock, Lincoln Siliakus, Alec Marr, Jenny Weber.


Keith Scott

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The Climate Crisis

Governments must acknowledge that ‘Business as Usual’ is unacceptable

The IPCC Special Report

In October 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a Special Report (SR15) on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above preindustrial levels. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

In 2016, more than 160 parties to the Paris Agreement reaffirmed “the goal of limiting global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius, while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees”. The IPCC report provides assessments of the difference in impacts likely to occur between 1.5°C and 2°C temperature rise. For example,

  • global sea level rise by 2100 would be 10 cm lower at 1.5°C compared with 2°C,
  • the likelihood of the Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once a century at 1.5°C compared with at least once per decade at 2°C,
  • coral reefs would decline by 70–90 per cent at 1.5°C compared with greater than 90 per cent at 2°C,
  • of 105,000 species studied, 6 per cent of insects, 8 per cent of plants and 4 per cent of vertebrates are projected to lose over half of their climatically determined geographic range for global warming of 1.5°C, compared with 18 per cent of insects, 16 per cent of plants and 8 per cent of vertebrates for global warming of 2°C.

The graph below illustrates the impacts on a range of natural, managed and human systems.

IPCC_impacts

In order to limit global warming to 1.5°C, CO2 emissions will need to be reduced by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. The IPCC report emphasises the need for essentially drastic change: “Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” and “rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities”. It has been increasingly recognised over recent years that natural systems such as forests will play an essential role in achieving a reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Native forests, especially primary (undisturbed) forests, need to be left alone to allow them to continue absorbing CO2. Trees remove CO2 from the atmosphere, accumulate carbon and store it for up to hundreds of years. In the light of the likely impacts of climate change, logging and clearing native forests is simply irresponsible.

ARCS is a partner in the Griffith University project, Information, Policy and Onground Action for Primary Forest Protection. The project is led by Professor Brendan Mackey who is Co-ordinating Lead Author for a chapter in the next IPCC report.

Planting trees, such as the Federal Government’s “20 Million Trees Program”, while helpful in the long-term, will not have an impact within the required timeframe. We have just 11 years to halve net CO2 emissions. It is essential that existing carbon stores in our native forests be protected and allowed to increase. It will not be possible to meet the 1.5°C target without the protection of existing primary forests. And that protection must start now.

 Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, 129 countries signed a UN agreement on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) with 17 goals being defined. The SDG Index, which ranks countries on each goal and overall on all goals, is published annually.

In the 2018 SDG Index, Australia’s overall performance was ranked at 37 out of 156 countries ranked. On the goal of Climate Action, Australia ranks last when exports (coal and gas) are included.

 Australia’s response to IPCC

Clearly, we are facing an extremely serious situation. Unfortunately — distressingly — the Australian Government, along with many other governments, notably USA, has not acknowledged the unavoidable disaster that will result from ‘Business as Usual’. In fact, government ministers have essentially rejected the scientific findings in the IPCC report.

When in October 2018 then Federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price, was questioned about the IPCC report, she questioned the conclusions reached by the 91 scientists involved. In response to the IPCC finding that coal needs to be phased out by 2050, Minister Price said “To say that it’s got to be phased out by 2050 is drawing a very long bow” and “That would be irresponsible of us to be able to commit to that.” She expressed confidence in technology being developed to allow ‘clean coal’. In July 2017, Queensland Labor Government committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Federal Resources Minister, Matt Canavan, responded saying “Instead of trying to save the planet in 2050 the QLD labor should just concentrate on saving jobs today!”.

And Matt Canavan is leading the push for a new coal-burning power station in North Queensland.

Australia and Coal

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal. That coal is burnt somewhere in the world, contributing to climate change. But our commitment to the Paris Agreement does not include our contribution through our coal exports.

It is commonly argued that Australia produces only 1.3 per cent of global emissions and reducing our emissions will not make much difference. But Australia produces around 7 per cent of the world’s coal, all of which is burnt somewhere in the world. Australia is actually a significant contributor to global warming through our exports of coal and LNG. And Australian governments including the Queensland Government are hell-bent on increasing our exports of both coal and LNG.

In the lead up to the Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in 2015, Anote Tong, President of the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati, wrote to world leaders seeking support for a global moratorium on new coal mines.

Just prior to the Paris meeting, President Tong was in Australia to promote the moratorium. In response, the then FederalResources Minister, Josh Frydenberg, said “Well we’re opening new mines where there’s the necessary investment because there’s global demand for it.”

Apart from the recently approved Adani Carmichael coal mine, there are several new coal mines being considered in the Galilee Basin and the Queensland Government is supportive.

Australia’s Paris Agreement commitments

Federal Government Ministers repeatedly claim that Australia will meet the 2030 target of 26–28% reduction in emissions. But the data produced by the Federal Department of Environment and Energy (released late on 7 June) show we are not at all on target. The graph provided by the Department is reproduced below.

Emissions_projections_2018

When confronted with that fact, the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, asserted that the government had developed a plan since the Department provided its forecast. In an interview on ABC RN Breakfast, Angus Taylor claimed that since December the Coalition had laid out a plan “to the last tonne” which would have Australia meeting its target. He specified a saving of 328 million tonnes but the Department’s data show a requirement for 695–762 million tonnes.

Whatever the situation is, our target is not only grossly inadequate but fails to address the much greater contribution of coal exports.

Burning wood from native forests is a double disaster

Burning wood from native forests to generate electricity is a threat to both biodiversity and climate.

Forests in southeast USA are being destroyed to produce pellets exported to Europe as fuel. And there is mounting pressure from the Australian timber industry to follow suit.

The European Union counts burning wood for electricity generation as carbon-neutral and fuel wood as a renewable source. These are myths which are being perpetuated around the world. The fact is that burning wood causes immediate release of carbon to the atmosphere but replacing that carbon through growth of trees will take decades. We don’t have decades.

Further, burning wood to produce electricity releases 50 per cent more CO2 than burning coal.

 What can we expect from our political leaders?

What can we expect from our political leaders? Based on current indications, very little! Implementation of the Paris Agreement, through development of the Rule Book, has not gone well. The outcomes of the Conference of the Parties in Poland in November were disappointing. We may well have to depend on voluntary market decisions based on investment outlook.

The planet is in dire straits.

Keith Scott

 

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The Biodiversity Crisis

1 Million species threatened with extinction

Last month the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a landmark new report IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The report begins with these headlines:

  • Nature’s dangerous decline ‘Unprecedented’
  • Species extinction rates ‘Accelerating’
  • ‘Transformative changes’ needed to restore and protect nature
  • Opposition from vested interests can be overcome by public good
  • 1,000,000 species threatened with extinction

Following several years of preliminary meetings, IPBES was ‘established’ in 2012. The IPBES report was produced in response to an invitation from the Conference of the Parties, Convention on Biological Diversity to prepare a global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services, “focusing on status and trends, the impact of biodiversity and ecosystem services on human well-being, and the effectiveness of responses, including the Strategic Plan and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets”. The 20 targets can be found at https://www.cbd.int/sp/targets.

The report finds that nature is deteriorating worldwide and biodiversity is declining faster than at any other time in human history.

It would be of no surprise to most people that nature across the globe has been significantly altered by human activities. Seventy- five per cent of the land surface is significantly altered, 66 per cent of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts, and over 85 per cent of the area of wetlands has been lost. Across much of the highly biodiverse tropics, 32 million hectares of primary or recovering forest were lost between 2010 and 2015.

The authors find that human actions threaten more species with global extinction now than ever before. They estimate that around 25 per cent of animal and plant species are threatened, indicating that around one million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken to reduce impacts. The authors conclude that without such action there will be a further acceleration in the global rate of species extinction, which is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.

The report provides statistics to support their conclusion. More than 40 per cent of amphibian species, almost a third of reef-forming corals, sharks and shark relatives and over a third of marine mammals are currently threatened. The proportion of insect species threatened with extinction is a key uncertainty, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10 per cent. Those proportions suggest that, of an estimated 8 million animal and plant species (75% of which are insects), around 1 million are threatened with extinction. A similar picture also emerges from an entirely separate line of evidence. Habitat loss and deterioration, largely caused by human actions, have reduced global terrestrial habitat integrity by 30 per cent relative to an unimpacted baseline; combining that with the longstanding relationship between habitat area and species numbers suggests that around 9 per cent of the world’s estimated 5.9 million terrestrial species – more than 500,000 species – have insufficient habitat for long-term survival, are committed to extinction, many within decades, unless their habitats are restored.

Ecosystem structure

A critical conclusion from the IPBES report is that goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.

Climate change is, and will continue to be, a significant contributor to biodiversity loss. As noted in the article on The Climate Crisis on page 2 of this newsletter, nature conservation and climate change are intrinsically linked. Mitigating climate change will help nature while nature-based measures are essential for mitigation of climate change. The IPBES report concludes that “nature-based solutions with safeguards are estimated to provide 37 per cent of climate change mitigation until 2030 needed to meet 2°C goals with likely co-benefits for biodiversity” and “land-use actions are indispensable, in addition to strong actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use and other industrial and agricultural activities.”

However, the report includes a caution that “large-scale deployment of intensive bioenergy plantations, including monocultures, replacing natural forests and subsistence farmlands, will likely have negative impacts on biodiversity and can threaten food and water security as well as local livelihoods, including by intensifying social conflict”. The report emphasises the importance of strong legislation for the protection of threatened species. In this context, the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) is given as an example of “weaker laws” and “less rigorously implemented and enforced”, and therefore less likely to achieve recovery goals.

Australia’s own extinction crisis

Since European settlement, 28 mammals have been declared extinct in Australia, more than in any other country. In recent years, three mammal species — Christmas Island Forest Skink, Christmas Island Pipistrelle and Bramble Cay Melomys, a Great Barrier Reef endemic. The melomys is the first mammal extinction caused by climate change. Sea level rise destroyed the melomys and its habitat.

The EPBC Act is failing. University of Queensland researchers have concluded that up to 7.47 million hectares of threatened species habitat – an area larger than the state of Tasmania or 3.7 million Melbourne Cricket Grounds – has been destroyed since the operation of the EPBC Act (from 2000-2017).

The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into Australia’s faunal extinction crisis. The scope of the inquiry includes the adequacy of environment laws.

Keith Scott

 

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Vale John Sinclair AO

John SinclairLeading conservationist, John Sinclair AO, died on 3 February 2019.

John Sinclair was born in Maryborough in 1939 and educated at Maryborough Boys State High School. He left school at age 15 but obtained a Diploma of Agriculture at Queensland Agricultural College (now University of Queensland Gatton Campus) in 1959. His first job was with the Department of Education and in 1967 he took a job in the Adult Education office in Maryborough.

John was introduced to Fraser Island when his parents, who had honeymooned on the island, took him on visits to the island in his youth. He fell in love with the island and in the late 1960s he was organising safaris to the island for members of the Maryborough and Bundaberg branches of Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (WPSQ). John was Honorary Secretary of the Maryborough Branch from its formation in 1967 until 1978. During the 1980s, he served as President and Senior Vice-President of WPSQ.

In 1969, John became aware of the campaign to save Cooloola, the mainland sandmass immediately to the south of Fraser Island, from sandmining. That campaign was led by Dr Arthur Harrold and Bill and Mavis Huxley who headed The Cooloola Committee though it was really instigated by wildflower artist Kathleen McArthur who, with her friend poet Judith Wright, had conceived the idea of a Cooloola National Park back in 1953. Judith and Kathleen had, with David Fleay and Brian Clouston, formed the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland in 1962.

As part of the Cooloola campaign, Kathleen devised the first significant conservation campaign postcard distribution with 100,000 postcards being widely distributed.

Cooloola postcard

At this time, Queensland was governed by the National Party led by Joh Blelke-Petersen. In December 1969, Bjelke-Petersen announced that areas of Cooloola would be declared national park but before that happened applications were made for sandmining leases. This led to an intense campaign to stop sandmining. Despite Bjelke-Petersen’s support, sandmining was eventually rejected by the Government essentially as a result of opposition from a “Ginger Group” of more progressive Liberal Party members.

The Cooloola campaign had given John Sinclair an insight into campaigning and focused his attention on sandmining on Fraser Island. The Queensland Government had granted Dillingham-Murphyores mining leases in the 1960s and mining was occurring on the southern end of the island. Murphyores applied for additional leases in 1971 and the Mining Warden granted the leases.

That year the Fraser Island Defence Organisation, FIDO, was formed with John as President. Arthur Harrold, barrister Lew Wyvill QC and solicitor Stephen Comino, both of whom had also played a major part in the Cooloola campaign, were influential in the early days of FIDO. John and FIDO successfully appealed the Mining Warden’s decision in the High Court which ruled that mining was not in the public interest, a matter that the Mining Warden was required to consider.

As a Queensland public servant, John was vulnerable to harassment by the government and Bjelke-Petersen publicly questioned John’s ability to do his job in adult education while campaigning against sandmining. John sued him for defamation. As a result his position in Maryborough was abolished. After successfully appealing, he was transferred to Ipswich College of TAFE. John initially won $500 damages and costs for the defamation case but Bjelke-Petersen won an appeal and John was ordered to pay costs.

In May 1975, the Federal Government, which would have been required to approve export of minerals from sandmining on Fraser Island, intervened. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who was also Minister for Environment at the time, commissioned the Fraser Island Environmental Inquiry, one of the first ever environmental impact inquiries in Australia. John was a principal witness to the Inquiry. In October 1976, the Inquiry published its findings recommending prohibiting export of minerals from Fraser Island. In the interim between May 1975 and October 1976, Gough Whitlam had been controversially dismissed by the Governor-General. Consequently, it was Whitlam’s successor, Malcolm Fraser, whose government banned mineral exports from the island.

Fraser Island IMG_5179

Photo: Mark Ash

So, sandmining had been stopped on Fraser Island but logging was still continuing. In the late 1980s, with the Bjelke-Petersen Government still in power, conservation groups began campaigning to stop logging on the island. The critical event was the election of the Labor Government led by Wayne Goss in 1989. In 1990, Goss appointed Tony Fitzgerald QC to head the Commission of Inquiry into the Conservation, Management and Use of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Region. ARCS led the submission process for the Joint Conservation Groups and produced a major submission “The Ecological Impact of Logging Fraser Island Forests”. John Sinclair, of course, also made a number of submissions. Tony Fitzgerald was apparently convinced and recommended that logging cease and the island be nominated for World Heritage Listing.

The Goss Government implemented Fitzgerald’s recommendations and logging on Fraser Island ceased in 1991 after more than 120 years. The government also proceeded with World Heritage nomination and ARCS was commissioned to prepare the nomination as a result of the successful nomination prepared by ARCS for the Wet Tropics of Queensland. Fraser Island was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1992.

Prior to the election of the Goss Government in 1989, a national campaign was running to protect the tropical rainforests of North Queensland from logging. ARCS led the campaign. The Federal Environment Minister in the Hawke Government, Barry Cohen, set up a Working Group on Rainforest Conservation. John and Aila Keto were the environment NGO representatives. The Working Group reported to Cohen in 1995 and that led to an allocation of $22.24 million which was applied to a range of rainforest-related projects (Queensland Forestry Department applied for funds to build a road with picnic areas through rainforest in the Conondale Range.).

John-Sinclair-RESIZED4In 1992 John was appointed to a special committee to advise the Queensland Government on the management of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Bay Region. In 1993 he was awarded the prestigious $60,000 Goldman Environmental Foundation prize in recognition of 20 years work to save Fraser Island.


In 2014, John was made an Officer in the Order of Australia “For distinguished service to conservation and the environment, through advocacy and leadership roles with a range of organisations, and to natural resource management and protection”.

John Sinclair Hon DocJohn received a number of other awards including “The Australian” newspaper’s Australian of the Year in 1976, the Global 500 Roll of Honour in 1990, and in September 2017 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by University of Sunshine Coast.

John Sinclair’s conservation interests went well beyond Fraser Island. He was a member of the Council of the Australian Conservation Foundation from 1975 to 1989 and served as Vice-President from 1977 to 1985. John was a member of the IUCN’s Commission for Environmental Planning from 1978 and attended the 15th meeting of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in Christchurch, NZ in 1981 and the World Parks Conference in Bali in 1982. He was President of the Australian Committee of the IUCN in 1982-1983.

In 1993, John was engaged as a consultant to the South African ‘Campaign for St Lucia’ group to advise on measures to protect the St Lucia region of northern Natal and the most biologically important estuary on the African continent.

In 1998, John instituted “Go Bush Safaris” taking people to numerous places of conservation interest especially World Heritage Areas in Australia and in other countries.

I first met John around 1971 when FIDO was being formed. Subsequently, in the early 1980s, John encouraged Aila Keto and myself to form the Rainforest Conservation Society and made the newly acquired premises of WPSQ at Petrie Terrace in Brisbane available to us for meetings.

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John & the author at the Climate March in Brisbane in November 2015. Photo: Aila Keto

John will be remembered for his absolute and often selfless dedication to conservation. Some mistook his fierce determination and emphatic expression as arrogant and dogmatic. We knew him as passionate about wanting a better world for nature, as caring and considerate and actually quite humble, prepared to listen and adjust his thinking. John was stoical and to his last days, suffering pain caused by his cancer, he never complained.

Up to his death, John was working on his autobiography which will be published in the future.

Few people have lived a life so devoted to protecting nature and working tirelessly to try to ensure its future. We have fond and lasting memories of John in action. And who could forget his booming voice? We miss you John.

Keith Scott

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Australians don’t want native forests logged

A survey carried out by University of Canberra and commissioned by Forests and Wood Products Australia found a clear majority of Australians consider logging of native forests to be unacceptable.
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Even in regional and rural areas, 65 per cent of people surveyed opposed native forest logging. The number was 70 per cent in urban areas.

The greatest opposition was in South East Queensland where 79 per cent opposed and only 8 per cent supported native forestry. That has potential political implications with support for the Greens growing in SEQ. In 1999, ARCS together with Queensland Conservation Council and The Wilderness Society reached an historic agreement with the timber industry and the Queensland Government, the SEQ Forests Agreement, to phase out native forest logging by 2024. Sadly, and irresponsibly, the Liberal National Party government under Campbell Newman scrapped the Agreement soon after they were elected in 2012. To date, the current Labor government has not restored the Agreement.

The following table provides the results by state.

State Unacceptable
%
Neither acceptable
nor unacceptable
%
Acceptable
%
Don’t know
%
NSW 65 11 18 7
VIC 64 11 17 8
QLD 68 10 15 7
SA 70 10 10 11
WA 64 10 18 8
TAS 61 10 21 8
NT 58 11 16 14

The findings indicated that timber production from native forests is seen as an extractive industry akin to mining. In our view, that is a correct impression and native forest logging should never be seen as sustainable. Logged eucalypt forests never recover their wildlife habitat values. It would take well over a hundred years and they are logged on a cycle of a few decades.

The survey included more than 11,500 rural and regional respondents. The report was leaked to the Sydney Morning Herald in November but will be formally released following peer review.

NSW has entrenched continued native forest logging

In November, the New South Wales and Federal governments renewed the Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) for the Eden, North East and Soutern NSW regions extending them to 2039.

The Eden RFA was not due to expire until August 2019, North East in March 2020 and Southern in April 2021. Renewing them all in November 2018 is no doubt because of the upcoming NSW and Federal elections, both of which will occur before August 2019.

Renewal of the RFAs is a disaster for NSW forests. We covered the issues in a blog published in March 2018.

In addition to renewing the RFAs, the NSW government has approved the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals. These logging rules have been highly contentious and will further add to the impact of the RFA renewals. We covered the IFOA issues in a blog published in June 2018. Our submission to the NSW EPA can be found at https://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/your-environment/native-forestry/forestry-regulatory-reforms/coastal-ifoa-remake. The link will take you to the IFOA Remake site. Click on ‘List of submissions’ to see the full list. The ARCS submission is at the top of the list as ‘Aila Keto’. You may also be interested in the submission from the Community Advisory Committee for Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area.

Keith Scott

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ARCS dismayed at COP24 outcomes

VirginiaYoungThe Australian Rainforest Conservation Society (ARCS) has expressed its dismay over the outcomes of the UN climate conference COP24. Speaking during her return from Katowice in Poland, Director of ARCS Climate and Forests Programme, Virginia Young, expressed shock and disappointment at  the retreat from ambition represented in the COP24 outcomes.

The UN-commissioned IPCC Special Report released in October warned that keeping the Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5C would need “unprecedented changes” in every aspect of society. COP24 has failed dismally to respond to that call.

The most shocking examples of this retreat are the limiting of the scope of Nationally Determined Contributions to just mitigation, in clear violation of the requirements found in Articles 7, 9, 10, and 11 of the Paris Agreement; the systematic purging of all references to human rights and ecosystem integrity in APA3 and APA5 texts; and a Paris Rulebook held hostage to the use of highly questionable Kyoto CDM carbon credits and weak accounting rules.

The decision fails absolutely to reflect the desire of the overwhelming majority of countries for comprehensive and balanced outcome reflecting all elements of the Paris Agreement.  They fail to address the mandate given in APA Article 3.  A comprehensive and balanced outcome should include cross-cutting principles on rights; a central place for equity, that acknowledges differing country capacity and responsibility, including with respect to the Global Stocktake; and a differentiated Transparency Framework.

It is also highly problematic that progress on developing market- and non-market-based responses to combatting climate change, as contained in Article 6, have been left hanging, for determination at another COP.  We are deeply concerned that Brazil is refusing to show ambition, and preventing the adoption of mechanisms in both 6.2 and 6.4 that would deal with problems of environmental integrity and double-counting.  Finally, while a grievance mechanism is established under article 6.4, the deletion of references to human rights under article 6.2 suggests that further environmental, social and governance safeguards still need to be addressed in any future work plan.

Civil society had hoped that in these respects pertaining to NDCs and Transparency, as well as in advancing ambition consistent with the findings of the IPCC Special Report on the 1.5 Degree goal, the development of a Paris Rulebook would strengthen, rather than weaken, the Paris Agreement.  Instead, we are dismayed by documents that are not only unbalanced with respect to outcomes, but that also downgrade the importance of Paris Agreement preambular elements, weaken the commitment to environmental integrity and the prevention of double-counting, and fail to safeguard ecosystem integrity, food security and respect for human rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples.

After three years of negotiations, it is unconscionable that Parties are considering the adoption of such a weak, unbalanced, and loophole-riddled outcome.  We all can, and must, do better.

Virginia Young 0417 223 280

 

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Future of Australian forests is vital to our own

Dr John Van Der Kallen

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Forests add value to our lives in so many ways

They clean our air and water, promote rain formation and protect soils from salinity and erosion.

They are a source of a rich variety of foods, especially for indigenous peoples, as well as bioactive compounds for modern medicines, including plants whose potential medicinal and nutritional value is yet to be determined.

They have multiple health benefits, with some studies showing that spending time in a forest lowers blood pressure, cortisol levels and feelings of stress.

Importantly, they provide indispensable carbon storage – vital in helping to combat climate change, the biggest global health threat this century.

With so many benefits, protecting our public forests is a no brainer.

However, for the past 20 years, Regional Forest Agreements that were introduced in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia to conserve Australia’s forests while permitting logging have failed to deliver.

Initially, RFAs were set up to be reviewed every five years, but the failure to implement this has seen the loss of forests and sustainable jobs for forestry workers.

The NSW government has also proposed new logging laws called Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals.

These would be a disaster as previously protected areas will be logged, animal habitats destroyed and even more impacts to biodiversity.

With the NSW government asking for feedback on these laws and RFAs in most states due to end shortly, we now have the opportunity to shift from destructive logging practices to conservation.

Individuals have the opportunity to enter submissions to government that demand both forests and biodiversity have improved preservation.

If more people make submissions and support forest protection, local members of parliament and government will be pressured to act.

Encouraging statewide campaigns can also help.

The National Parks Association’s “Forests For All” proposal has created an alliance of regional communities, doctors, environment, business and outdoor recreation groups who support the sustainable management of forests across the country.

Not only do campaigns like this help protect forests but they also increase public access to recreation, nature-based tourism, therapeutic opportunities and education therefore, ensuring regional communities thrive.

Meanwhile, maintaining healthy forests will be vital in our bid to reduce the impacts of climate change over the next century.

With so many benefits arising from our forests, protecting them is a win for all.

Dr John Van Der Kallen is a rheumatologist and member of Doctors for the Environment Australia. This article was published in The Examiner, 1 July 2018

 

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Burning biomass for energy threatens forests and the climate

Parties to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will be meeting in December in Poland. At the meeting, parties must finalise the “rulebook” – the operating manual required when the agreement takes force in 2020.

A technical meeting was held in Bonn, Germany, during May 2018 to try to reach agreement on the “rulebook”.

Director of ARCS International Forests and Climate Program, Virginia Young attended the meeting. Virginia gave a presentation, along with Dr Mary Booth, Director, Partnership for Policy Integrity, and Peg Putt, CEO Markets for Change. Their theme was ecosystem integrity and biodiversity protection.

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Dr Mary Booth presented evidence showing that burning biomass, such as wood from native forests, produces more greenhouse gas emissions than coal or gas facilities.

Graph_emissions

On 13 June 2018, European Union policymakers agreed on a new Renewable Energy Directive with potentially disastrous consequences for forests, particularly in USA, as well as for climate. Ignoring advice from hundreds of scientists from around the world, they continued acceptance of burning wood for electricity generation as being “carbon neutral”.

The decision by the EU policymakers appears to have been influenced by lobbying by the UK where biomass is a significant source of energy generation.

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Most of the wood used for power generation in the UK comes from USA where forests are being destroyed as a consequence.

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The link below will take you to the full presentation.

PFPI side event talk

 

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