Environmentalist and campaigner Frances Pike explains why Australian native forests are currently facing their greatest threat and how you can make a difference.
The so-called native forest “waste” that is the sticking point in current Renewable Energy Target negotiations is not sawdust, tree stumps or branches. If the industry gets its way it will be thousands of living, breathing trees in State Forests, homes to wildlife, many of them already threatened species that can be burnt to provide subsidised electricity.
The federal LNP government is trying to change how the renewable energy scheme operates. It wants to overturn an existing ban on using native forests as a biomass fuel in subsidised biomass power furnaces. If the LNP plan succeeds it will secure long term corporate access to native forests. They will be exploited, to an even greater degree than they already are, as industrial commodities. Re-subsidising the failing native forest logging sector to supply furnaces with fuel will accelerate the rate of native species loss across the continent.
The political machinations around this issue occur within the context of the Abbott government’s review of the Renewable Energy Target, the RET. Until the LNP came to power there was an agreed “bi-partisan” target for replacement of coal fired power with 41,000 GWh (gigawatt hours) of renewable energy, by 2020.
On gaining power the LNP appointed a self confessed sceptic of man-made climate change to lead a review of this target. Investment in renewable energy in Australia dropped immediately, by 88 per cent. As expected, the review panel recommended cutting the target to 26,000 GWh. This was possibly designed by the LNP to be able to force deals on highly unpopular issues, such as calling native forest biomass power “renewable” energy to open up this market for the logging industry and its international backers.
Unless Labor, Greens and “independent” senators work together to prevent separate deals being done on this issue, native forests will be subsidised to be logged and burnt and called a renewable energy. It could progress to a vote in parliament within a month. The dramatic nature of the implications cannot be overstated.
UPDATE: A meeting between the federal government and Labor officials today has seen an agreement to cut the RET while also maintaining plans to include the burning of native timbers as a renewable energy source. This change to the legislation will go before the senate next week.
To provide certainty to the renewable energy industry Labor agreed to compromise on a lowering of the RET target as put forward by the government’s Clean Energy Council. Its 33,500 GWh was better than the LNP’s review panel’s 26,000 GWh. So the two major parties agreed to agree, until the LNP threw in some LNP fine print. This was that Labor agreed with the LNP aim of getting burning native forest biomass in furnaces declared “renewable” capable of attracting the same remuneration as wind or solar through (tradeable) “renewable energy certificates” (RECS). That would mean burnt forest power would compete directly with the likes of wind and solar, and thereby reducing by up to 15 per cent the RECs available for genuine low or no emission technologies.
The definition of the waste will define the destruction
Fortunately Labor held firm last week and did not agree to subsidising native forest biomass power. This issue has been visited before. In 2012, wisely identifying the danger of an ambiguous definition of native forest biomass “waste”, the Greens worked with federal Labor to close that loophole to exploitation of native forests. This prevented native forest biomass from attracting renewable energy certificates if burnt and an end use that would promote deforestation and further CO2 emissions. (Burning wood for biomass energy produces between 1.5 – 6 times more CO2 emissions than coal, per unit of energy produced.)
The LNP and the timber industry pretend they only want to burn “waste” from “sustainably” logged forests. Ross Hampton claimed this again last week when he exposed the LNP had “promised” this to the logging industry before the election.
Though the rhetoric might be “waste” the detail is in the fine print. The LNP will attempt to ensure that the fine print of the native forest biomass definition accommodates LNP/logging industry pre-election “understandings”.
In 2009 the industry outlined its preferred definition. It wants RECs attracting native forest biomass eligibility to be biomass product from any forest managed under Commonwealth or State agreements.
Look at the fine print of the National Association of Forest Industries (NAFI) submission to the Strategic Directions Paper for National Energy Policy – Framework 2030. The industry argues (p.8) against key provisions of Commonwealth RET regulations which exist to prevent:
- harvesting trees from native forests for RECs rather than “high value products” (such as sawlogs), and
- native forest being cleared to provide biomass fuel.
The document states these provisions “produced perverse outcomes” and that “wherever forests are managed under Commonwealth and/or State forest management regulations, the products of any harvesting operation should be eligible to produce renewable energy under the Expanded National Renewable Energy Target Scheme.”
The industry argues that Australian forests logged under Regional Forest Agreements (joint Commonwealth and/or State forest management regulations) are logged “sustainably”. Their “products” therefore are “sustainable” and – by a leap of LNP/industry logic – this translates to “renewable”. Hence if burnt for power they should be called a “renewable energy” and be eligible to attract a “renewable” energy certificate per unit of power generated.
Our wildlife desperately needs an intact national forest estate to survive. Back when NAFI was making its demands about the definition of the waste 70 per cent of Australia’s remaining forests were already degraded from logging. If this logging continues or intensifies it will not only kill millions of individual animals and drive to extinction already threatened forest dependent species of the national public forest estate. It will drastically limit the genetic pool strength of the forest dependent wildlife of nature reserves and national parks. They will become islands in a continent that will have lost almost any connectivity through the public native forest estate, making those ecosystems and their species more and more vulnerable to climate change impact and all the other effects that increased fragmentation brings. The impact of this is unthinkable.
Trash or treasure?
Further evidence of the LNP’s intention to open up more than “waste” to biomass burning exists in the alternations to the definition of native forest biomass waste that have already occurred at state level. The Australian Forest and Products Association which succeeded NAFI as the peak timber lobbyist, called for government to “Coordinate and harmonise state and federal regulation to avoid duplication”. The NSW LNP government thus re-wrote its renewable energy policy when it came to power. In keeping with AFPAs recommendation that federal and state forest policy be made consistent, and in anticipation of a federal LNP win (and therefore an almost inevitable overturn of the native forest biomass power ban), the NSW government tore down any barrier to the use of native forest as a biomass fuel.
Existing environmental legislation banning native forest biomass as a renewable was “amended”. The Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Amendment (Native Forest Bio‚Äëmaterial) Regulation 2013 went through so that in NSW native the definition of native forest biomass eligible for subsidy when burnt is “material resulting from forestry operations carried out on land to which an Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (IFOA) applies under Part 5B of the Forestry Act 2012“. But what does this mean?
As IFOA is the term applied to rules for joint federal/state logging operations (RFAs) – there’s that term again – in NSW, this means that material resulting from logging the RFA areas in NSW is eligible for burning as a biomass fuel. For NSW this means most native forest biomass from most public forests. That means whole trees.
Imagine the deforestation if the federal ban on calling native forest biomass power a renewable is lifted, and the definition of the eligible biomass is expanded to “material from RFA areas”. The corporations with access to the continent’s timber resource will earn tradeable renewable energy certificates from logging to supply furnaces.
What Can Be Done?
The LNP are trying to insinuate the inclusion of native forest biomass in the RET. It’s not enough for Labor or others to say they don’t agree. To prevent it being “woven” into the revised regulatory framework, Labor and independent senators must clearly articulate that the loophole the Greens got closed in 2012 stays closed. Labor, independents and Greens must all insist that the RET legislation include a definition of renewable energy eligible to attract RECs which specifically rules out using native forest biomass.
To ensure this happens you need to instruct relevant politicians. Contact any or all of these and insist “the RET legislation must clearly define that renewable energy eligible to attract RECS does NOT include native forest biomass”.
Please ring, email, tweet or send a Facebook message to:
Labor Leader Bill Shorten: (02) 6277 4022 (03) 9326 1300
Shadow Minister for Environment Mark Butler: (02) 6277 4089
Independent and/or Minor Party Senators:
Dio Wang (08) 9221 2233
Ricky Muir (03) 5144 3639 firstname.lastname@example.org
Glenn Lazarus (07) 3001 8940 email@example.com
Nick Xenophon (08) 8232 1144 firstname.lastname@example.org
John Madigan (03) 5331 2321 email@example.com
Bob Day (02) 6277 3373
Jacqui Lambie (03) 6431 2233
David Leyonhjelm (02) 9719 1078
For further information:
Originally Published at http://wild.com.au/people/opinion/australian-forests-need-your-help-today/