by Adrian Whitehead, National Campaign Manager.
This has been a strange couple of weeks in politics. We have heard Abbot speaking honestly on his opinion of wind farms, describing them as "visually awful” and wishing the Howard Government had never supported the renewable energy target. Now Tony Abbott wants to destroy native forests and is proposing reinstating biomass from native forests as a source of renewable energy as part of the renewable energy target RET.
Logging native forests certainly is not renewable. It takes 1500-2000 years for an old growth forest to recover post a logging event and 100's of tonnes of carbon are released per hectare logged.
So much carbon is released (roughly 400 tones per ha in a wet forest down to 100-150 tones per ha in drier woodlands) that some scientists have estimated the emission from burning native forests will be higher than burning coal.
Why burn native forests?
Native forest destruction is driven economically by pulp logs used for making wood chips which are in turn used to make toilet paper and paper such as Reflex. These pulp logs are branded “waste” by the logging industry. The second economic driver is logs used to make timber. The third is the massive subsidies provided by state forestry organisations that enable these industries to continue.
Back in the 90's when I was campaigning to save the Otway Forests with Otway Ranges Environmental Network, OREN discovered that as much as 60% of the logging coupes were economically not viable without the pulp logs being removed and sold.
Around the world many countries started planting blue glue plantations 20 plus years ago to supply the need for wood chips. Plantations are more economical to plant, manage, harvest and produce a more consistent cleaner product which is cheaper to process, hence the market for native forest wood chips has collapsed.
To save their industry from total collapse the only other market that the native forest destroyers and their political supporters have found for lower quality wood chips is to burn them.
What about Labor?
Labor has always been a native forest destroyer backing the destruction at both State and Federal levels.
Their opposition to allowing native forests to be burnt as part of the Renewable Energy Target is weak.
A quote from the Tristan Edis's article “New RET set to pass - 'helping our enemies destroy a great nation” in the Climate Spectator from June 17th (see link below) shows Labor's current position on burning native forests.
“When Labor’s shadow minister for climate change, Mark Butler, was asked a few days ago whether Labor would block the passage of the government’s bill if they were unsuccessful in making amendments to exclude native forest wood-waste, he explained:
We are focused on the main game here and the main game is to restore investor confidence to the renewable energy sector… So we’re not going to get distracted by this red herring that the Government introduced at the last minute about native wood waste”
Why would Labor support the introduction of a non renewal energy into the RET? Labor has already supported a massive 20% reduction in the amount of large scaler renewable energy being produced at 2020. A criminal act given every addition of Greenhouse gases to our atmosphere pushes us closer to destruction from global warming.
Given this already weak position it is unlikely we should expect them to stop the revised RET to save native forests given their support for native forest destruction in the past.
The bottom line is there are a number of marginal seats in play that can be won or lost by the votes of people aligned to the timber industry. So at any given time time a number of sitting members from the ALP owe their seats to support from the timber industry, the forestry Union, and big businesses associated with native forest destruction.
In away Labor is on a “win win”, they get to support a continuation of the Renewable Energy Target which helps their mates in the wind industry and gives them some Green cred while also being able to support the destruction of native forests while shifting most of the blame onto the Liberals.
Can it be stopped?
The Senate is scheduled to debate whether to include native forest biomass as a renewable energy some time this week. We will need Senate cross bench support to stop the legislation going through so I have listed the cross benches you might want to contact below and a visual meme you can post to your social media sites.
Nick Xenophon (02) 6277 3552 email@example.com
Glenn Lazarus (02) 6277 3204 firstname.lastname@example.org
Dio Wang (02) 6277 3843 email@example.com
Ricky Muir (02) 6277 3040 firstname.lastname@example.org
John Madigan (02) 6277 3471 email@example.com
Bob Day (02) 6277 3373 firstname.lastname@example.org
David Leyonhelm (02) 6277 3054 email@example.com
However given Labor's support and the lack of cross bench support it looks like the legislation will go through.
If this legislation goes through we will need to wait for a change of government from Liberal to Labor. If Labor gets in power it could revisit the RET legislation and remove native forests from the RET as has been done before or it could be simply re-instate a carbon tax and include the emissions of native forestry.
A simple $10 per tone tax on the carbon emissions from native forestry for destroy the economic viability of the industry over night.
We can also boycott any company that chooses to retail or purchase RECs from native forest burning.
Why have we never won the forests?
There are a few of key reasons:
1. The politics on native forests have be won by the forces supporting native forest destruction. Large sums of money from corporate and union sources have gone to the major parties, and timber unions will move their supporter's votes around to ensure support of native forest destruction by both major parties.
The environment movement has failed to create an effective political leverage to provide incentive to for any significant change by either major parties, largely as a result of almost always backing Labor ahead of Liberal.
New Greens-Labor marginals will make things more difficult for Labor but require the environment moment to focus its campaigns in these marginal seats and the Greens to be willing to take a hard line on forest issues if they have the opportunity to support Labor in a minority government.
2. The environment movements has never really ask for native forest logging to be finished. Instead for decades there has been a confused messages around needed to stop industrial scale clear felling while calling for sustainable logging or the protection of specific areas, with a minority of voices calling for the end of native forest logging.
The timber industry has simply counter with “We do grow the trees sustainably” and shown hectares of young regrowing trees in glossy add and this has been enough for most of the public.
3. We haven't been able to split the industry. Plantation owners and farm foresters would benefit strongly for marketing their products aggressively against native forest timbers assocaited with destructive forestry, however many of the big players have a foot in both camps, many of the people involved in the industry have been educated together, worked together and can not even understand the issues surrounding native forest logging. The occasional group breaking away has been induced to return.
Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015 - Explanatory Memorandum
Abbott on wind
Article by Tristan Edis on the new RET - New RET set to pass - 'helping our enemies destroy a great nation – June 17 2015