40 scientists alert cross-benchers to RET clause

The acceptance of a perverse definition of ‘wood waste’ and ‘renewable’ is being questioned by 40 Australian scientists in a joint letter to the Federal cross benchers today. They are alarmed that once the door opens on burning Australia’s native forests in power furnaces, it could see our forest heritage drawn in to supplying an export demand to satisfy the expanding number of biomass burners overseas.

“The wood-fuel market has potential to impact even more destructively on our forest ecosystems, wildlife and water catchments than has the export woodchip industry. If it can be burnt – it won’t be safe”, said Peter Gell, Professor of Environmental Science at Federation University. “Ironbarks, bloodwoods, the box-ironbark forests and woodlands, the forest types that the chippers rejected, would all be targets for the resource mix if the RET bill passes parliament as it stands.”

“The current debate centres on the need for an unambiguous definition of waste that excludes native forest wood. Currently it could allow 99 in 100 trees to be cut down for fuel-wood,” said Professor Gell.

“The native forest logging industry continues to decline across Australia as plantations now provide a viable alternative supply for building. There is no logic in basing ‘renewable energy’ on the need to secure viable large supplies of ‘waste’ wood from a fast declining primary industry! We must not condemn Australia’s best carbon storage and capture solutions to onshore or overseas power furnaces by misusing definitions that suit the demands of the logging or power industry.”  

“It’s a falsehood to claim this type of electricity production as ‘renewable’. You can’t ‘renew’ or replace the burnt carbon stored in a 100-600 year old forest in the turnaround time needed to address climate change”, said Professor Gell, “If all Australian native forest log production in 2009 had instead been burned for electricity, it would have substituted as little as 2.8% of our coal based power generation. So, we risk unleashing an industry with the potential appetite to decimate our native forests, and all the services they provide, to gain very limited emissions benefit. That is very poor environmental policy, and even poorer energy policy.

For comment: Peter Gell 0427 870 280

Read the letter (PDF) here

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