11 July, 2011

Carbon tax set to put value on Tasmanian forests

Felicity Ogilvie
PM, abc.net.au, Monday, July 11, 2011 18:18:00

STEPHEN LONG: In Tasmania there's hope the carbon tax will finally put a price on the value of carbon stored in native forests.

A forestry peace deal between environmental groups and the forestry industry has recommended the creation of new reserves in Tasmania.

Under the carbon tax the trees in those reserves could attract carbon credits.

Felicity Ogilvie.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Environmentalists have spent years arguing that Tasmania's native forests shouldn't be logged.

PHIL PULLINGER: The forests in Tasmania are some of the most carbon dense forests on the face of the planet. They contain up to and over 1000 tonnes per hectare, 1500 tonnes per hectare of carbon.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Now Phil Pullinger from Environment Tasmania is hoping to take advantage of the carbon tax.

PHIL PULLINGER: The carbon tax is generating revenue from some of Australia's biggest polluters and one of the streams that they've allocated that revenue is a biodiversity fund for projects that are aimed at protecting and restoring native forests.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Mr Pullinger has spent more than a year brokering a peace deal with members of the forest industry and unions.

They've decided that large scale native forest logging in Tasmania will end and that 430,000 hectares of new reserves should be created.

They've handed the peace plan to the state and federal governments who are yet to work out how to implement the deal.

One of the key issues is compensation for the loggers, and Terry Edwards from the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania is confident the carbon tax will provide some of the money.

TERRY EDWARDS: Tasmania will after the, even before the current forest peace deal is concluded have the highest reservation of forest in any state of Australia.

And that ought to be recognised by the Federal Government through the biodiversity fund to recognise the carbon that accumulates in those trees which is removed for very long-term storage through carbon sequestration.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Lawyer and carbon trading expert Martijn Wilder explains how he thinks the peace plan can tap into the carbon tax.

MARTIJN WILDER: The scheme will cover projects to protect native forests from clearing or clearfelling. So if under the peace deal it can be shown that the clear intention here is to stop the logging of our forests in order to protect the native forest, then there will be carbon available for that.

There is a slight timing issue. If - you cannot go and find an existing native forest, say look that forest has a lot of carbon in it and we can therefore sell that carbon because that's already in place. That's not an additional activity.

But certainly where you are protecting native forests from clearing or clearfelling you'll be able to get credit for that.

FELICITY OGILVIE: But a spokesman from the Climate Change Minister's office says the Federal Government doesn't envisage the biodiversity fund in the carbon tax being used as part of the Tasmanian forestry peace deal.

The Tasmanian Greens Senator Christine Milne says that doesn't mean that the state can't make money from the new reserves.

CHRISTINE MILNE: There is a real possibility that Tasmania can have it both ways.

Tasmania can benefit immediately from protecting high conservation value forests and having the Commonwealth buy out the contracts and retire those contracts and then work in the future towards putting forward carbon farming projects for avoided degradation in remaining forests as can private land holders.

FELICITY OGILVIE: But the carbon in Tasmania's forests isn't recognised under the Kyoto Protocol. So as Martijn Wilder explains the carbon credits won't be worth as much as they could be.

MARTIJN WILDER: Those credits with the most value will be the Kyoto consistent credits and those will be eligible for the large polluters to buy to help offset their emissions.

Whereas the non-Kyoto credits will be something that's counted more towards people's voluntary obligations so if for example you took a flight on Qantas and you wanted to offset your emissions.

FELICITY OGILVIE: They may not be worth as much as they could be but scientists say the forests are mitigating climate change.

Pep Canadell is a CSIRO scientist who's the executive director of the Global Climate Project.

PEP CANADELL: New data is showing that forests around the world and that includes forests as vigorous as the ones in Tasmania are removing a third of the total fossil fuel emissions that are emitted every year.

So that with forests and the conservation of forests are at the forefront of climate change mitigation.

FELICITY OGILVIE: The State and Federal Governments are still considering how many new forest reserves should be created as part of the Tasmanian peace deal.

STEPHEN LONG: Felicity Ogilvie reporting from Hobart.

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