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They say money doesn’t grow on trees but, with a national carbon price now in place, trees have the potential to generate significant sums of money just by staying upright.
In the currency of carbon credits, Tasmania’s ancient native forests are some of world’s most valuable.
The state is home to some of the oldest trees on the planet and over their lifetimes, some spanning centuries, carbon stores have amassed within their towering trunks and beneath them – the wooden debris, carbon rich soils and not least their massive root systems.
Their branches hold countless leaves that drop continually, one by one, to the ground below, adding to the forest’s thick carpet.
In the moist conditions, the leaves readily decompose and their embodied carbon soaks through to the dark, soft soils underneath for permanent storage.
Tasmania’s native forests have the potential to significantly reduce Australian carbon emissions if protected from logging and burning
With these processes in place since Gondwanic times, more than 100 million years ago, Tasmania’s native forests have built up a complexity characteristic to only the most carbon-dense of ecosystems.
“Forests with high carbon storage capacities are those in relatively cool, moist climates that have fast growth coupled with low decomposition rates, and older, complex, multi-aged and layered forests with minimal human disturbance,” according to the Climate Commission’s 2011 report The Critical Decade.
As such a rich bank of carbon, Tasmania’s native forests have the potential to significantly reduce Australian carbon emissions if protected from logging and burning.
Currently, ACF is negotiating along with other environmental groups and the forestry union, industry and timber community representatives for an agreement to reform the state’s timber industry and protect an area of Tasmania’s identified high conservation value native forests as reserves.
As part of the Tasmanian Forest Agreement process, an independent group of scientists studied the carbon storage of the proposed reserves and found that the absense of logging could save about 7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
Not only do the reserves have the potential to produce millions of dollars in carbon storage, they also hold immense environmental and recreational value
To put this figure in perspective, the reserves would avoid more than the total annual emissions of a large 1.5 gigawatt coal-fired power station entering the atmosphere.
As a result, the proposed reserves would make up more than 7 per cent of the nation’s total emission reductions, assuming a 5 per cent reduction is achieved by 2020.
The reductions have the potential to generate economic income through forestry management credits, if adopted by the Australian Government. Based on the current carbon price, the value would be about $973 million.
Not only do the reserves have the potential to produce millions of dollars in avoided carbon dioxide emissions, they also hold immense environmental and recreational value.
The proposed reserves contain Tasmania’s highest level of eucalypt diversity, are habitat to iconic endangered wildlife, notably the Tasmanian devil, and make up an irreplaceable asset for the state’s growing tourism industry.
As part of the Tasmanian Forest Intergovernmental Agreement, the federal and state governments have committed funding to help the forestry industry transition to a plantation timber-based future.
By focussing on plantations for wood production, the industry will be able to substantially lower its emissions.
According to The Critical Decade, “Although a fast growing, mono-culture plantation forest may have a rapid rate of carbon uptake for the years of vigorous growth, it will store less carbon in the long term than an old growth forest.”
Leaving Tasmania’s ancient and ecologically matured forests standing will ensure a process of carbon storage that has lasted more than 100 million years will be allowed to continue well into the future.