We were recently made aware of the news that the Amazon basin has switched from a carbon sink to a carbon source. This was global news at the time, highlighting how the growing demand for forest products is fuelling unsustainable forestry practices in places like the Amazon and the negative impact this is having on the environment.
However, such news is ignored in populist politics, and it would seem by the Western Australian government, who have opportunistically announced they are ending native forestry in their state.
This decision is wrong and here’s why.
It is inarguable that forestry products are essential to our existence and that sustainable forestry is critical to our survival.
Timber is a natural, biodegradable and renewable material and well managed forests are one of the best ways we can help the planet; a fact recognised by the global experts at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who state:
“A sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.” IPCC 4th Assessment
Stopping forestry, any sector, simply stops the renewable process of growing trees, drawing carbon from the atmosphere, harvesting it into environmentally friendly, carbon storing products, and then repeating the process all over again.
It also increases the sovereign risk of timber supply and drives our consumers, builders and manufacturers to a reliance on imported timber and it opens up markets for carbon intensive and non-renewable construction materials.
Have WA learnt nothing from the current construction timber shortage which is due in part to Australia’s reliance on imported timber? Currently due to global demand, the 25% of our construction timber that we usually import is not hitting our shores, causing huge delays in the construction sector.
Do they really think the same reliance on imported hardwood window and door frames or flooring and stair treads won’t cause the same delays?
The WA Government has cynically attempted to cloak the real-life impact of their decision by also announcing a $350 million fund to expand plantations.
Don’t get me wrong, any investment in plantations is good news. However, any government announcing such a political advantageous policy needs to be honest with the community.
The trees planted in plantations do not provide the hardwood timber which is used for floors, stairs, doors and windows.
It is a vastly different product.
This is a simple fact and organisations who claim that “plantation only” is the solution are not being honest about the significant differences between the two types of timber, their practical applications or what their substitute may look like or where it might come from.
The WA Government will find that demand of the world’s most environmentally responsible building material doesn’t stop due to this decision.
Demand will continue to grow. It’s just domestic supply that they will stop, alongside the local timber, the local jobs and the local businesses. All due to the populist politics of “not in my back yard” for a few quick votes.
Removing local timber flooring from the market for example will drive consumers to either non-renewable and/or chemical rich flooring such as vinyl, carpet and tiles, or again, to imported timber, contributing to the problem and certainly not part of the solution.
Australian’s love building with timber. To import it or substitute it and call this a solution is an insult to the industry and to the public.
In Tasmania we are lucky, we have got the sustainability balance right and we are fortunate to have a mixed industry of native hardwood and hard and softwood plantation that can provide our construction needs domestically whilst more than 90% of our old growth forests are in reserves.
WA have made a poor decision and put populist politics and real climate solutions on a collision course that will have negative ramifications for decades to come.
It’s time to listen to the science and work with the industry so we can continue to innovate and produce quality, natural, biodegradable and carbon storing timber from our well-managed, renewable working native forests and our plantation estates.
Nick Steel is CEO of the Tasmanian Forest Products Association.