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Christine responds to Minister's Global Initiative on Forests and Climate

Speeches in Parliament
Christine Milne 29 Mar 2007

MINISTERIAL STATEMENTSGlobal Initiative on Forests and Climate

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (3.52 p.m.)-I also rise to take note of the minister's statement, and this follows from remarks I made following question time. I would like to point out to the Senate that, when the Kyoto protocol was negotiated, there was a considerable debate globally about whether, under the flexible financial mechanisms of the protocol, protection of forests could earn carbon credits. It was determined that that would not be included in the protocol for several reasons.

The first reason was: how could you guarantee permanence? Someone might say they would protect their forest, but then a fire or disease might go through that forest, it might be illegally logged, and so on and so forth; you could not guarantee the forest was permanently there. The second reason was leakage. You could protect some of your forests, but if that meant that the whole logging effort went into the rest of those forests, then you would have leakage and you would have no more improvement. You had to prove additionality-that the efforts to protect forests were additional to what you were going to do anyway, and it was deemed too technically difficult to be able to do those things. And so, under the flexible mechanisms of the Kyoto protocol, they decided to go with reforestation and afforestation. But the key thing is: you only got credits for reforesting or afforesting land that did not have forest on it in 1990. So I suggest the minister goes back and studies that more carefully before he becomes an expert on the Kyoto protocol and what perverse incentives apply.

It is certainly true that the efforts under the protocol to reduce carbon dioxide emissions have led to the development of biofuels, and that the push for biofuels globally is driving deforestation and conversion of forested areas to palm oil plantations and soya plantations and so forth. But that is not under the mechanisms for reforestation and afforestation under the protocol; it is a perverse outcome of the fact that countries are trying to reduce their emissions by switching to biofuels. That is why, if you were really interested in this, you would put money into lignocellulose research, which would mean you could protect your forests, stop the conversion of forests for biofuels and still get biofuels from lignocellulose products.

I want to talk particularly about the claims that the government is making in relation to the regional forest agreement. I see that the claim is, once again: 'We have a world-class regime for sustainable land use and forest management.' I note, from the agenda for the Cairns meeting, that Australian representatives went along to tell the 58 countries' representatives gathered there what a fabulous sustainable forest and land management regime we have-not admitting, of course, that last year a federal court found that logging in Tasmania was illegal because it did not conform to the requirements of the regional forest agreements to adhere to provisions to protect threatened species. Instead of moving to do that, the government just changed the words to make legal that which was illegal. And one could not help thinking today, when they declared the logging in Indonesia illegal, that, if they applied the same mechanisms, then they would just get Jakarta to change the law to declare that all that is illegal is now legal, which is what we did in Australia. So do not be surprised if other regimes do exactly the same and then point the finger at us and say, 'Well, that is what you did in Australia, so why wouldn't we do it here?'

Furthermore, I note the minister's saying that, since 1990, more than 1.1 million hectares of new forests have been planted. Again, I think Minister Turnbull needs to go and study what a forest is. What have been planted are tree lots. They are monoculture plantations. They are not forests. A forest is a complex and diverse ecosystem. A monoculture is no different from any other agricultural crop, except that it is longer standing than an agricultural crop and, in many cases, has worse biodiversity outcomes because of the chemical regime used in its establishment, and because of the amount of water it takes up. So let us not have a nonsense statement like, 'We have planted 1.1 million hectares of new forests.' No; we have planted trees in tree lots or plantations.

Saying that they will remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is true, but what is not being acknowledged is the amount of carbon we are losing from the clear-felling and burning of old-growth forest. In an old-growth forest, you not only have the carbon above ground; you have vast amounts of carbon below ground in the soil carbon, accumulated over hundreds of years. The equation is: it is, by many, many factors, an advantage to preserve old-growth forests rather than convert them. And you will find that to be true.

I noticed earlier, when Senator Bob Brown was speaking about the dropping of incendiaries in Tasmania and the idea that explosives are being used in logging, that Senator Parry had an amused look on his face. Perhaps that is because he does not know that in Tasmania some of those big old trees are so substantial that the forest industry actually places explosives in the base of them and blows them out of the ground, shattering them to smithereens. They are not used for furniture and sawn timber as the government would have you believe. They are shattered into fragments everywhere and then pushed up into rows and burnt, because often they are not even deemed suitable to send off to the woodchippers.

One good thing has happened recently. I note the government has been touting the technology in which you can get DNA from wood and you can determine where, which forest, it came from. I really look forward to DNA tests being done at the woodchip mill in Tasmania. I hope that some of the money that the government is going to use to get rid of illegal logging will be spent on determining the DNA of the wood that turns up at the export woodchip mills, because that will prove, once and for all, what we are saying-that the trees going through the woodchippers in Tasmania are from old-growth and high-conservation-value forests.

It was an absolute disgrace in here yesterday when the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry made a complete fool of himself by standing up and trying to ridicule my colleague from Tasmania Peg Putt, the leader of the Greens there, who was talking about regrowth forests being areas of high conservation value. Apparently the minister did not realise that, under the dodgy definitions we now have, a regrowth forest can be defined as one which a fire went through some 100 years ago. It does not necessarily have to have been logged. Apparently the minister for forests has yet to catch up on the detail in his portfolio and is unaware of that.

The final point I would like to make is in relation to how, in the ministerial statement, the minister talked about Australia taking on leadership. He said that we will work with like-minded countries such as the UK, the US, Germany and Indonesia and international organisations and businesses and so on. That is because that is what is already happening. The fear I have with Australia rushing out and pre-empting the global negotiations looking at market based mechanisms, as well as non-market based mechanisms, post 2012, is that it is going to frustrate and annoy the other countries involved in the process that are working very hard. Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica and Brazil have put forward proposals for the 2012 treaty-a legally binding treaty-to include protection of forests as gaining carbon credit under a post-2012 regime.

I asked the minister in question time whether Australia, with its new-found enthusiasm for stopping deforestation, got in touch with PNG to back that proposal that they have taken to the world community to say Australia wants to protect PNG's forests and that Australia will work with PNG and Costa Rica to make sure that the proposal gets up. No, that will not have happened, because Australia does not want to see all of PNG's forests protected at all. That is why the thrust of this is about tree planting and forest management; it is not about protection of old forests. Australia wants to facilitate the logging and so-called management that we see in Tasmania's forests, which are losing so much carbon every year from conversion of old growth, and they want to take forest practices, like dynamiting old trees, into areas such as PNG under so-called forest management. Can we get a sense from the Australian government whether, when we go to Bali in December this year, Australia will back PNG and Costa Rica in getting forest protection and whether Australia will agree to a legally binding treaty post 2012 that does exactly that?

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