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The Trees Project Report on Carbon Sequestration

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Tags: Climate Change, Forests, Carbon Storage, Native Forest Logging


Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, we all know that Tasmania has the tallest trees in the southern hemisphere; that these trees grow up to 100 metres high; and we have some of the most carbon-dense forests on the planet.  We have native forests that cover close to half of the island and they store up to 4.4 billion tonnes of carbon, equivalent to eight years of Australian's emissions in 2018.  If we left our forests as they are, undisturbed, they would continue to store carbon indefinitely; but that is not what happens.  Forestry Tasmania every day clearfells and burns carbon-rich, biodiverse native forests and the Liberals continue to hide the reality of this climate crime.

The esteemed Dr Jennifer Sanger, who is well-respected for her highly credentialled research, has done an important body of work for Tasmania.  She has detailed the carbon trail. She shows us what we have known from first principles but we have never had the evidence to prove so far - which is, that native forest logging in Tasmania is the biggest source of carbon emissions by sector and it is our number one climate issue.

Where do our precious bio-carbon stores end up after Forestry Tasmania logs biodiverse forests?  The Government pretends it is a one‑for‑one replacement scheme, with the emissions released through logging forests simply moving sideways and being stored in a different place, such as in furniture and house framing.  That could not be further from the truth.  Dr Sanger's research establishes that when forests are logged or cleared, most of the carbon that is stored in forests is released into the atmosphere - two thirds of the carbon is released within two years and the remainder is released over the next 50 years. 

In Tasmania, only six per cent of the carbon from forests ends up stored in long-term timber products.  Just one per cent of our forests become sawn timber for building houses and furniture; and that one per cent could last for up to 90 years.  Just 5 per cent becomes laminated veneer and plywood, which could last an average of 25 years.  All the rest of it - 60 per cent of the above-ground forest tree mass - the trunks, branches, leaves and the roots get left on the site and those carbon stores are burned and they are released immediately into the atmosphere; or they are left to rot.  Either way, the carbon is released.  The rest of that material is turned into short-term products like paper and cardboard.

What would happen if we stopped native forest logging today?  We would stop the 64 per cent - the two thirds - of forest emissions that are released in the very short-term and the remaining third of emissions that is caused by Forestry Tasmania's decades of logging would break down and be released into the atmosphere for decades.

Mr Speaker, in other words we have vast legacy emissions from decades of forest destruction sitting waiting to add to our overheating climate for decades to come. 

Just how many emissions does Forestry Tasmania contribute?  The Government has taken great pains to hide the true emissions from native forest logging.  It only reports forest activity under a coverall IPCC category, which includes the emissions from logging and burning as well as the carbon from the forest that is drawn down and stored in the same reporting measure.  That means we have a net figure that has not let us know how many greenhouse gas emissions are being released from forestry logging every year. 

Until now. 

Thank you, Dr Jen Sanger.  Her research tells us the shocking truth that the native forest logging sector is the largest emitter in Tasmania.  The Government-subsidised native forest logging industry releases 4.65 million tonnes of carbon‑equivalent gases into our overheating atmosphere every year.

Out of all of Tasmania's sectors, native forest logging is the biggest emitter.  The emissions are nearly two‑and‑a‑half times those of the transport sector.  That includes all of Tasmania's cars, trucks, domestic aviation and shipping.  It is the annual emission equivalent of 1.1 million cars, the annual emissions of 258 000 homes, six times the emissions of the Tasmanian tourism industry, equivalent to 422 000 return flights to London.  That is nearly every child, woman and man in Tasmania. 

How long does it take to recapture those emissions?  What we know is as we gallop towards the Paris target of 1.5 degrees by 2030, the climate is heating up fast.  Every day is more urgent than the last, every fraction of a degree counts and every tonne of emissions matters.

What Dr Sanger's report shows is that forests do regrow after logging but it would take centuries to fully recapture the carbon emitted from the forests that are being destroyed today.  We do not have decades to wait, let alone centuries.  What matters most are the short‑term emissions from native forest logging now.  Around 60 per cent of native forest carbon is released within two years.  At the current rate of logging, that is around 2.21 million tonnes of carbon every year.  When the short‑term emissions are being released, the regrowing forests cannot keep pace and draw down enough carbon to match, which is creating a huge carbon deficit.

Even worse, Forestry Tasmania also puts clear‑felled forest into logging cycles of 40 to 80 years, which means the original amount of carbon is never recovered.  Those forests can only ever store a fraction of their potential carbon when they are being continually logged. 

What do we do?  What do we know?  We know that native forest logging is not carbon‑neutral.  It is a sector that is the biggest source of emissions in Tasmania, that the best use for our native forests is to protect them and allow young forests to keep growing so they can do the work of drawing out huge amounts of carbon in the atmosphere.  We know that protecting native forests is a low-cost, effective, immediate way to have real action on climate change.  We cannot wait centuries for regrowing forests to recapture carbon that has been lost during logging every day.  We need to stop emissions now.  We can absorb 76 million tonnes of carbon by 2050 if we protect our forests instead of logging them.

The Greens know what the children of Tasmania want us to do and that is what we are going to do.  We are going to do everything we can to end native forest logging.  Thank you, Dr Jen Sanger and The Tree Projects, for that excellent report.

Ms O'Connor - Hear, hear.