Expert finds short cut to emissions target

Australia can meet its emissions reduction target and ease its biodiversity crisis if it decides to end logging in native forests, a leading climate scientist says.

Professor Brendan Mackey, who has co-authored reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says a solution to two of Australia’s most pressing problems is there for the taking.

“Each year about two per cent of our native forests is logged, which results in 15 million tonnes of CO2 emissions,” the Griffith University professor has told a conference in Brisbane.

“We can actually meet the government’s new target (to cut emissions by 43 per cent by 2030) simply by ending native forest logging in Australia.”

He says the other 98 per cent of forest that’s not logged in any given year removes an incredible amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Native forests draw down so many emissions they effectively cancel out emissions from logging and agriculture, Professor Mackey said.

“They even net-out 14 per cent of all the other emissions, including fossil fuel emissions,” he said.

“The reason why our total emissions have declined … over the last 20 years is because there’s actually been overall a reduction in landclearing – believe it or not – and a reduction in native forest logging in places like Tasmania.”

Prof Mackey says Australia gets 88 per cent of its wood supply from plantations that cover less than two per cent of the forest estate, showing its entirely possible to stop hitting native forests that support endangered species.

“We have over 400 vertebrate species, animals species, in Australia that are hollow-dependent. They use the hollows that have formed in old eucalypt trees, which dominate the forest, for nesting and shelter.

“Eucalypt trees don’t start to form hollows until they are about 150 years old. And we know the optimum age for selective logging is about 40 years, and for woodchipping its much less.

“So ending native forest logging is a climate solution for mitigation and it’s removing a major threatening process to some of our most endangered species.”

The conference is being hosted by The Great Eastern Ranges, a conservation group working to protect, connect and restore healthy landscapes across 3600km of eastern Australia.

One international expert says Australia has been embarrassingly slow to embrace the snowballing global effort around connectivity, focused on the unimpeded movement of species and the flow of natural processes to sustain life.

Dr Gary Tabor chairs the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s specialist working group on connectivity and he has a dim view of Australia’s efforts.

“Australia is a laggard,” he says. “Your policies are not keeping up with policies in other parts of the world. Your science is world leading, but your policy is shit.”

He’s assessed 500 conservation plans from around the world over the past 30 years, and notes an exponential growth in implementing the principles of connectivity. But Australia’s yet to get onboard.

“Canada, the least fragmented nation perhaps in the world, has a whole program to support connectivity because they don’t want to become fragmented. In the US we have a national corridor bill coming out.

“Where are you Australia?”

He says one of the reasons for the “almost non-existent” implementation of connectivity conservation may be shame.

“Australia is maybe a little bit embarrassed about being one of the global leaders on land clearing.”


Tracey Ferrier
(Australian Associated Press)


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