There is a massive re-rating of native forest going on, even as world resolve to tackle climate change crumbles. Deforestation accounts for roughly 20 per cent of our greenhouse problem, on the ”sink” side of the ledger (because it’s not just about how much gas we pump up into the atmosphere – by clearing trees we damage the planet’s ability to suck it back down).
The world’s forests are huge carbon stores and Australia’s native forests have among the highest carbon density in the world. They have their doubters, but programs such as the UN’s Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and Australia’s Carbon Farming Initiative aim to give a marketable value to the carbon sequestration in standing forest.
Climate change lifts the value of standing native forest, but the economic benefits of logging it have fallen dramatically for two reasons: there has been so much clearing for plantations, which have matured, that there is a ready alternative resource; and when given a choice, consumers prefer not to buy the products of forest destruction.
Hence the woodchipper Gunns Ltd’s historic concession last year that it would get out of native forest logging because the environment movement had ”won the debate”.
Hence, according to figures compiled by the consulting economist Naomi Edwards, state forestry agencies are losing taxpayer millions each year propping up a barely viable industry: Forestry Tasmania ($8 million loss); Vic Forests ($1.8 million profit, after a bailout); Forests NSW ($14.3 million loss); WA Forest Products Commission ($43.5 million loss).
There appears to be scant commercial justification for native forest logging in Australia and a new environment group, Markets for Change, is moving to reinforce that view.
With anonymous private funding, and working alongside campaigners from traditional environment groups such as Greenpeace and the Wilderness Society, Markets for Change is targeting major retailers of forest products, highlighting exactly where that ream of paper at Officeworks, bit of timber at Bunnings or piece of furniture at Harvey Norman has come from.
The chief executive of Markets for Change, Tim Birch, a former Greenpeace campaigner, says local retailers are way behind the eight-ball, pointing to a recent announcement from Britain’s Marks & Spencer – which aims to become the world’s most sustainable major retailer by 2015 – that it would give shoppers full ”raw material to store” traceability on every single clothing product it sells.
In an April report, Retailing the Forests, Markets for Change said that more than 30 of our largest retail chains stocked furniture, flooring and home improvement or paper products that had originated in native forests. The report argues Australia could be self-sufficient in forest products, relying on its existing plantation base and forgoing imports altogether – a missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle may be the kind of pulp mill Gunns has proposed for Bell Bay.
The organisation argues that companies such as Harvey Norman – the subject of rolling protests over the past month, including the unfurling of a huge ”No Harvey No” banner at a logged forest coupe in Tasmania this week – could get a market advantage if they positioned themselves as native forest-free. Markets for Change traced Australian native forest timber exported by companies such as Gunns, Auswest and Britton Timbers, through traders to Chinese furniture manufacturers, and shipped back to Australian retailers for sale.
According to a report in the Burnie newspaper The Advocate, the chairman of Harvey Norman, Gerry Harvey, was about to stop dealing with the Smithton sawmill, part of Tasmania’s Britton, which would have caused the sawmill to close. He relented after intervention from the state and federal governments and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.
The mill’s owner, Glenn Britton, told the newspaper that up to 70 per cent of the dining furniture in Harvey Norman stores nationwide came from Tasmanian timber and if he’d lost sales worth $3 million a year, ”I’m not joking, I would have had to have closed my plant”.
Harvey himself – copping it from the greenies on one side and industry, unions and government on the other – wouldn’t comment for this article.
Overseas, the stakes are arguably even higher. Earlier this month ABC TV’s Foreign Correspondent documented the destruction of Sumatran forest by the paper maker Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd (APRIL), describing it as ”ecological armageddon”. If you didn’t see the report, you can watch it on iView.
One familiar brand rolled off APRIL’s paper mill: Paper One, sold by Officeworks and Fuji Xerox in Australia, and clearly stamped ”Paper from 100 per cent plantation fiber”.
Almost immediately after the program was aired, Fuji Xerox suspended all business with APRIL. In contrast Mark Ward, the managing director of Officeworks – which is owned by Wesfarmers – told the website Stationerynews.com.au the company took environment issues seriously, that it had sought information from APRIL and had engaged with environment groups, ”as is our practice”.
However, an industry source who contacted this column said that Officeworks’s position was ”greenwash” and the company was ”100 per cent aware” of APRIL’s conduct.
The responses were different again after Greenpeace filmed the gruesome death of a Sumatran tiger booby-trapped near an Asia Pulp and Paper logging operation in July, where the jungle was being destroyed to make Black and Gold toilet paper for the IGA supermarket chain. The video went viral; IGA’s parent, Metcash, said it would find an alternative toilet paper supplier and an APP subsidiary, Solaris – advised by the public relations firm PPR – took out full-page ads in Australian newspapers defending itself.
When the media and marketing website Mumbrella picked up on the story, its comment page was overrun with postings attacking Greenpeace ”scum” and berating IGA for a ”lack of testicles”.
Those responses prompted Mumbrella to do its own digging. It discovered that most of the comments – people who named themselves ”Lover of Country”, ”Crusaders.Fan” and ”Act Responsibly” – were posted from the same IP address, which was registered to office.solarispaper.com.au.
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