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Forest Furnaces Are Not Renewable Energy

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Tags: Biomass, Native Forest Logging

In a climate emergency, we have a scientific and moral imperative to decrease our carbon emissions to slow down the planet’s warming.  Naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, tells us if we want to rein in global heating we have to stop deforestation and start rewilding.  Burning forests for energy doesn’t fit this picture, but the Gutwein Government is moving down that path.

The government’s proposed legislation establishing a renewable energy target sounds very positive, but for this legislation to have a genuine climate impact it has to be equally genuine and guided by science.

The Gutwein Government’s renewable energy target legislation allows for Energy Minister, Guy Barnett, to decide what is renewable energy, outside solar, wind and water generated power.  He doesn’t have to come back to Parliament to make such a declaration.

Given he has never seen a forest he didn’t want logged and burned, the Greens are very concerned the Minister for Energy and Forestry, Guy Barnett, will use this as a stalking horse to declare biomass burning - or forest furnaces – renewable energy.

The burning of native forests for energy is not clean, or renewable. Carbon is lost in the logging of a forest, the burning of what’s left on the forest floor and then in a forest furnace.  Science tells us it takes more than a century for the carbon that’s been lost in a logging operation to be restored by natural forest recovery.  We don’t have a century to waste, and nor do our grandchildren.

Worryingly, the Liberals in government have incorrectly listed native forest biomass, or forest furnaces, as a renewable energy source on government websites. If they head down this path it will accelerate the destruction of the State’s native forests, and contribute to global warming.

While non-certified Tasmanian native forest products are becoming less and less attractive to global markets who want sustainability, burning them is madness.

Two months ago, the European Parliament’s Academies Science Advisory Council called on EU lawmakers to introduce a “radically new standard” to recognise biomass burning is not carbon neutral, but instead has “massive climate effects”.

The consensus statement from scientists of the 28 EU countries advises that, “swapping coal with biomass often … increases net emissions to the atmosphere when the whole life cycle is properly accounted for”. They note the current carbon emissions calculations do not reflect the reality of climate heating, or the urgency to stop adding more emissions.

Put simply, there isn’t enough time to grow back trees to absorb enough CO2 from the atmosphere to make up for the entire biomass emissions chain.

The science is in: burning native forests is not renewable, green energy.

The Victorian Government ruled out native forest furnaces in 2018.  It explicitly prohibited classifying native forest biomass as renewable energy. We hope, if he’s serious about Tasmania’s future, Premier Gutwein, will do the same.

We also hope Tasmanian Labor take the lead from their Victorian and federal counterparts, and opposes the burning of native forests for energy. No responsible lawmaker could support allowing Minister Barnett to burn Tasmania’s globally significant natural forests for electricity.

The Liberals’ Bill establishes renewable energy targets Tasmania will be committed to meeting for the next 20 years.

Allowing forest furnaces to be included in a renewable energy target Bill would make the legislation Morrison-eque and meaningless. It would be like calling coal-fired power renewable.

As Climate Change Minister, Peter Gutwein knows the next decade is the most perilous for the planet, and the most critical action we can take is to only support emissions-negative technologies.

Native forest biomass burning; it accelerates the loss of carbon stored in forests, and enormous amounts of CO2 emissions are emitted from biomass furnace stacks. The science could not be clearer.

The climate and biodiversity emergency demand forest protection and restoration. Keeping the carbon in the ground and maintaining ecosystems is critical.

A renewable energy target in Tasmania must be real, it must be clean. It can’t include cutting down carbon stores, burning them in a furnace and releasing the emissions into the atmosphere.

In a time of climate emergency, Tasmania needs a diversified, appropriately scaled renewable energy mix. Native forest furnaces, however, should not be in the picture.