30 January, 2008

ARTICLE: Flannery's plan: buy forests to help environment

Katharine Murphy, Canberra
January 30, 2008, The Age

Australians could buy a stake in the protection of endangered tropical forests under a groundbreaking scheme being devised by former Australian of the Year Tim Flannery.

Professor Flannery outlined his proposal yesterday in a private meeting with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's hand-picked climate change adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut.

Professor Flannery — Australia's most prominent environmental campaigner — wants to set up an internet-based carbon market with a pilot scheme to be run in Papua New Guinea.

In a paper prepared for Professor Garnaut, Professor Flannery says 20% of global carbon emissions come from the wholesale destruction of tropical forests, so preservation must be part of any effective response to climate change.

His scheme envisages that households and businesses would be able to secure the protection of forests and the replanting of trees through an auction scheme.

Buyers would identify vulnerable forest lands online, using internet technology like Google Earth, and then make bids to secure its protection through a site like e-Bay.

If the bid is accepted by the village, the funds would be held in trust by a non-government organisation until the agreed protection of biodiversity or carbon sequestration has been delivered.

"The purpose of this paper is to outline a practical way to establish a pilot scheme in PNG, which has the potential to guide the development of a tropical forest carbon market worldwide," Professor Flannery says in his paper to the Garnaut Climate Change Review.

Industry and environmentalists are now jockeying in an effort to influence the outcome of Professor Garnaut's review, which will deliver its interim report in June. The review is examining the impact of climate change on the Australian economy and will recommend policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Before yesterday's meeting with Professor Garnaut, Professor Flannery had outlined his forests proposal to federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett and PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare during a meeting late last year.

He told The Age yesterday that he believed his proposal could help deal with some of the problems associated with reforestation schemes in the developing world because it recognised that villagers, not governments, were owners of the forest land.

The scheme would recognise "Mabo-like" principles of land ownership, he said. Sir Michael had expressed interest in PNG, which has clan-based land tenure, being the location for a pilot scheme. "The key thing is you have to buy from the owner," Professor Flannery said.

Households and businesses would buy biodiversity protection in the first instance, followed by carbon sequestration.

Heavy polluters are already seeking access to schemes to help offset their carbon dioxide emissions. Forests are natural carbon dioxide "sinks", which can be used to offset greenhouse emissions.

"My view is you would buy that right for one year," he said. Regular re-auctioning would be an important means of safeguarding progress and keeping villages accountable under the scheme.

Professor Flannery says the scheme would require participation by at least 50 villages. Governments would need to put appropriate regulations in place.

Significant funding would also be required for technology upgrades for remote villages. In a document prepared for Professor Garnaut, Professor Flannery identifies the previous government's $200 million global forests initiative as a source of support.

Article source

29 January, 2008

Families stage logging protest

ABC Gippsland, January 29, 2008

Families from the town in Goongerah in East Gippsland marched into an old-growth logging area this morning.

Eighteen people, including children from the remote south-east Victorian community, are protesting about clear-fell logging in the catchment of the Yalmi River.

Goongerah resident Jarrod Ruch says the logging will reduce the quality and quantity of the town's only water supply.

He says the logging is in an area earmarked for protection at the last state election.

"It's just the every day mums and dads and kids that are up here, there's nothing confrontational happening here today, it's just purely them wanting to make the point that this is important to us as a community to protect our old-growth forest and our water catchment in times of climate change which we're heading into," he said.

Article source

27 January, 2008

LETTER: Just ask us

Lloyd Davies, Mannerim
Letter to the editor, The Age, 27 January 2007

The State Government manages the state forests on my behalf as a Victorian. I do not recall ever giving them the go-ahead to destroy my forests and turn them into paper at a net loss (20/1).

Surely, if we live in a democracy, more than 50% of people would have to want our forests logged before Brumby gave the go-ahead. Why does he not ask us what we want done with our forests?

Source: Letters - theage.com.au

LETTER: Wood for the trees

Bianca Faye, North Fitzroy
Letter to the Editor, The Age, 27 January 2007

Thanks to Peter Weekes, it appears that the real story of the tragic and pointless destruction of Victoria's native forests is finally becoming exposed.

On the back of the embarrassing revelation that the Victorian Government actually makes a loss woodchipping forests that are worth far more as carbon sinks and water catchments, is the latest contribution — that 85% of our logged native forest ends up as woodchips, and a paltry 5% as appearance timber.

While the Brumby Government subsidises the accumulation of shameless profits for woodchip companies, the same forests are about to become more valuable on the global carbon trading market if they are left standing.

Labor governments in NSW, WA and Queensland all grew a brain years ago and have set their logging industries on a path to dependence on plantations. Meanwhile Victoria, with Australia's largest plantations resource, is set to become like Tasmania, where the forest conflict now poisons the social fabric of the island state.

Source: Letters - theage.com.au

22 January, 2008

ARTICLE: Flying clouds the real climate culprit

Martin Wright, BBC NEWS
Tuesday, 22 January 2008

The aviation industry has become public enemy number one for environmental groups, says Martin Wright. But, he argues in this week's Green Room, they should focus their efforts on "the real elephant in the room" - forest destruction.

Ask some vaguely green people what's the single biggest thing they can do to tackle climate change, and most will respond with a guilty smile: "yes, I know, I should stop flying."

A few brave, selfless souls do just that. But the rest of us are far too used to cheap, quick getaways to kick the habit completely.

There's nothing like a few months of unremitting English mizzle to soften the resolve of the most committed "no flyers".

Environmentalists will always struggle to persuade people to eschew pleasure in favour of the planet. After all, no-one likes being told off for having a good time. Any argument that says, in effect: "save the planet - stay at home in the wet" is hardly going to win hearts and minds.

Sure, there's always the slow train to Provence. But like so much of the Slow Movement (food; travel; life, even), it still reeks of privilege. It's more expensive, it takes (and lasts) longer.

There could be all kinds of ways - from subsidies to sabbaticals - of making it more accessible for those whose only hope of a great escape is an Easyjet south. But for the moment, life in the slow lane is still a velvety green luxury for the favoured few.

So until such time as fuel prices go through the roof, or draconian caps on carbon stifle the market, air travel will remain a seductive option for all but the deepest of greens.

Real carbon culprit

But while we're agonising over our aircraft addiction, we're missing the real "elephant in the living room" of climate change: forest destruction.

It is already the largest single source of carbon emissions after energy, contributing up to 10 times as much as aviation.

The Stern Report, no less, warned that rainforest destruction alone would, in the next four years, release more carbon into the atmosphere than every flight from the dawn of aviation until 2025.

Burning forests produces a particularly nasty double whammy of warming. As they burn, they send vast swathes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And once they're gone, they can't soak up the carbon from industry, cars and power plants.

But despite all this, people get far more exercised over the evils of aviation than they ever do over forest loss.

This is partly because aviation looms large on those instant "carbon calculators", designed to give a rough-and-ready guide to an individual's impact.

Deforestation, for the most part, doesn't, as it's virtually impossible to quantify individual responsibility for forest loss - unless you happen to be a timber trader or a palm oil planter.

But it's also because the forests are disappearing in "faraway countries": the chainsaws and fires aren't exactly on our doorstep, so it's easy to believe it's nothing to do with us - and there's nothing we can do about it, either.

This is bitterly ironic, because politically and economically it would be much easier to make massive reductions in deforestation than to achieve similar cuts in air travel. And in terms of curbing climate change, that would be massively more effective, too.

Tree hugging

So if we could just persuade people to be as excited about saving forests as they feel guilty about flying, then maybe we'd achieve something.

That means making forest conservation everyone's business - literally. And one of the best ways of doing so is to make the future of forests worth investing in - not just for the planet, but for your own pocket, too.

After all, you don't need complex technical fixes to stop forest destruction. You just have to make trees worth more standing than felled. And with the fate of civilisation cradled in their canopy, they should carry quite a price tag.

On paper, it's a no brainer. By any rational calculation, forests can yield better returns when kept intact than when cleared.

Take their role in protecting watersheds, for example, or their value as a source of fruit, nuts, shade-grown coffee, game and medicinal herbs - even, in some cases, a genuinely sustainable source of high-quality timber.

That's been the basis for a range of initiatives known as "payments for ecological services".

In essence, these are deals between forest communities and "buyers", who benefit from the forest remaining in place - such as towns and cities downstream, or the owners of mines or hydro plants, all of whom depend on the water supply that the forest ensures.

Cool Earth, a charity set up by businessman Johan Eliasch, allows individuals to buy parcels of rainforest - not for their own profit, but to hold them in trust on behalf of local communities, so taking them out of the clutches of the loggers.

It's an intriguing scheme, but it's still driven by charity, not business.

Sound investment

But once you introduce forests' ability to store carbon into the equation, then the balance sheet really starts to shift in their favour.

According to one recent study, most ventures which drive forest destruction - whether logging or for agriculture - generate around $5 (£2.50) for every tonne of carbon released as a result of the forest loss.

Europeans are typically paying up to seven times that amount to offset the same amount of carbon.

And as emissions trading takes off, so the carbon price will rise. One estimate puts the value of greenhouse gas storage in some forests at a healthy $2,200 (£1,100) per hectare.

And it's that which is pricking the interest of the financial markets. Invest in a forest now, and you can expect its value to appreciate substantially over the years - especially since, after the recent UN climate conference in Bali, forest owners can expect to "sell" their benefits on the emerging global carbon markets.

All of a sudden, it opens up the prospect of massive investments from pension funds, drawn to the long-term security which standing forests can provide.

Halving forest destruction by 2030, says the Stern Report, would cost around £10-£15 billion a year - that's roughly the same as we spend on alcohol in Britain alone. It is, in other words, a sum which should be readily available - as long as there's the prospect of a decent return.

The Global Canopy Programme - an alliance of forest scientists - is urging the adoption of a global market in forest carbon credits to help unleash a tide of investment.

Forum for the Future and others are working on schemes for forest-backed bonds; some are predicting the launch of Forest PEPs. Such is the potential value in keeping forests intact that even those masters of the dark arts of finance, the hedge funds, are starting to sniff around.

There are all manner of pitfalls, of course. For some, it smacks of "carbon colonialism".

Others warn that such schemes will inevitably favour wealthy landowners, who can cope with all the complex legal processes involved, rather than forest peoples themselves.

Then there's the question of proving that a particular stretch of forest, which may lie in a remote, hard-to-monitor area, really has survived intact.

But these are not insuperable obstacles. Investors don't have to buy up forests to make a return on them; they merely have to ensure they share in the proceeds of their conservation over times.

So they can for example rent, or lease, an interest in the forests from local communities, who are in any case best placed to safeguard the assets - and so can reasonably expect to share in the profits, too.

On the monitoring side, satellite mapping is now sophisticated enough to zero in to the scale of individual trees, providing pinpoint, 24-hour surveillance. Microchips inserted in selected trunks can report instantly if they're felled - and then track the timber, electronically fingering everyone involved.

So in a few years' time, you could sit at home on the sofa, and, via your laptop, check up on the health of "your" patch of forest, in real time.

Result? The world will have a million or more eagle-eyed forest monitors, casting a protective eye over the green canopy of their investments. (And only occasionally, you'd hope, needing to utter the anguished cry: "Oi! That's my pension plan going up in smoke!")

The logic is simple; the implementation will be anything but. But if we wait till we've a perfect system, we'll be wasting precious time; time in which thousands of square miles of forest will be irrevocably lost.

Martin Wright is editor (at large) of Green Futures Magazine

Article source: Flying clouds the real climate culprit, BBC NEWS

20 January, 2008

ARTICLE: Pulped — Vic forests end up as copy paper

Peter Weekes, The Age
January 20, 2008

Most of the trees logged in Victoria's native forests last year ended up as pulp, much of it exported to Japan to become photocopying paper. More than 85% of the 1.59 million cubic metres of the state's native forest logged last financial year — the equivalent of 4745 MCGs — was turned into woodchips, sawdust and waste.

The figures were released after a freedom-of-information request. They show that despite claims the industry is based on providing sawlogs for the state's building needs, this type of wood accounted for only 11.9% of the amount logged, with the remaining 2.8% turned into shipping pallets.

VicForests, the quasi-government agency charged with commercialising the state's forests, said the figures were only indicative as it does not keep records on how the wood is used, but are based on "our industry knowledge".

Luke Chamberlain, of the Wilderness Society, said poor industry practice meant vast areas of forest were being logged for a small amount of sawlog.

He said plantation wood could supply most of the state's needs, other than the highest-quality sawlogs, which he argues should be logged selectively rather than the current practice of clear-felling large coupes of native forest.

"These figures prove that logging of our native forest is not driven by the need for sawlogs, but for woodchips," he said.

"Under the national competition policy and the rules under which VicForests was established, it must be commercially viable and obviously it isn't."

The Sunday Age reported in December that VicForests sold last year's harvest for $99 million but reported a $17,000 loss. Last year, pulp fetched about $10 a metric tonne, while high-quality sawlogs fetched more than $70.

Two of the three big mills that bought the timber — Australian Paper, a subsidiary of PaperlinX and Japanese-owned South East Fibre Exports — posted a combined profit of $87 million last financial year, the Australian Securities Exchange and Australian Securities and Investments Commission filings show.

The privately held Midway did not release its profit.

David Pollard, chief executive of VicForests, said the "proportional and total sawlog level was lower than previous years because of bushfires and subsequent low sawlog-producing fire-salvage operation".

"The amount of pulp log produced in any year is about twice the amount of sawlogs."

Mr Chamberlain said this could not be independently verified as the volume of differing types of wood is not provided in VicForests' annual report or on its website.

Mr Pollard said paper manufacture from pulp was "one of the highest value-adding industries in Australia" and that the pulp industry helps to keep the price of sawlog timber lower.


08 January, 2008

LETTER: The big picture

Vivienne Ortega, Heidelberg Heights
Letter to the editor, The Age, 8/1/08

The Victorian Government focuses on details such as limiting water for household gardens but misses the big picture. We are having one of the greatest droughts on record, with record high temperatures. With Melbourne's water supplies at an all-time low, the catchment areas of the Thomson and Armstrong need to be permanently protected from logging. Thirsty young saplings, the regrowth, need more water than old forests.

Instead of an expensive and unpopular desalination plant, we should be protecting our existing catchment areas, supporting their efficiency and encouraging further water recycling.