Pledge to end deforestation by 2030 won't change vegetation management laws

Australian Forest Products Association deputy CEO Victor Violante says the pledge acknowledges reducing deforestation efforts need to be made in concert with increasing sustainable agriculture, sustainable forest management, forest conservation and restoration, and support for Indigenous Peoples and local communities - practices where Australia's forest industries are leading the way.
Australian Forest Products Association deputy CEO Victor Violante says the pledge acknowledges reducing deforestation efforts need to be made in concert with increasing sustainable agriculture, sustainable forest management, forest conservation and restoration, and support for Indigenous Peoples and local communities - practices where Australia's forest industries are leading the way.

Australia's commitment to end deforestation by 2030 will not affect state and territory vegetation management laws.

That's according to a spokesperson for federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley, in response to questioning by Australian Community Media.

Details are scant on what Prime Minister Scott Morrison's decision to sign a zero-deforestation pledge at COP26 last week will mean in practice.

Questions have also arisen over whether Mr Morrison consulted with state and territory leaders, or even members of his own government, before making the commitment.

NT Farmers CEO Paul Burke said the level of detail on the pledge was non-existent.

Mr Burke said there had been no consultation with industry and labelled the move as "an epiphany that no one knew about".

"We really don't understand how it's going to be implemented," Mr Burke said.

"For undeveloped regions like northern Australia the implications are quite high but for fully developed systems in the eastern and southern states it is less of an issue.

"The government needs to come and talk to industry about how it's going to be rolled out because there could be opportunities in it as well for some industries like forestry and broadacre, we just need to understand more clearly what the implications are."

ACM contacted federal Agriculture and Northern Australia Minister David Littleproud about whether the pledge would impact farmers or stifle northern development.

"I sought and got assurances that there would be no bans or restrictions associated with Australia's participation in this declaration," Mr Littleproud said.

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A spokesperson for Ms Ley said the minister fully supports the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use.

"Signing up to this declaration does not affect state and territory vegetation management laws," the spokesperson said.

"There will not be any additional restrictions on land clearing as a result of this declaration.

"Farmers will need to continue to comply with existing Commonwealth and state laws in relation to threatened species and communities on their land."

Australia 'already leading the way'

NSW Farmers president James Jackson said Australia was not exposed at all in terms of deforestation.

"Agriculture is not exposed on forested areas at all because the net amount of timber in Australian agriculture has been increasing for some time, contrary to the Grattan report and various other reports," he said.

Mr Jackson pointed to figures from the Australian National Greenhouse Accounts 2019 inventory report as evidence of this.

"It [deforestation] doesn't happen in Australia and hasn't happened since about 1995," Mr Jackson said.

"There's been a 1.44 million hectare increase in the forested areas since 2000; essentially that's been regrowth on grazing lands.

"It doesn't necessarily mean that is good though because a lot of that is invasive native species which may be good for carbon but terrible for biodiversity."

Farmers will need to continue to comply with existing Commonwealth and state laws in relation to threatened species and communities on their land.

A spokesperson for Environment Minister Sussan Ley

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations defines deforestation as, "the conversion of forest to another land use or the long-term reduction of the tree canopy cover below the minimum 10 per cent threshold".

FAO's definition includes areas of forest converted to agriculture, pasture, water reservoirs and urban areas.

However, it excludes areas where trees are removed as a result of harvesting or logging, and where the forest is expected to regenerate naturally or through silvicultural practices.

According to the Australian Forest Products Association, Australia's plantation and native forestry industries are carbon positive, with plantation estates storing 258 million tonnes of carbon.

AFPA deputy CEO Victor Violante said Australia's forest industries are leading the way when it comes to collaborative efforts to reduce deforestation.

"Australia's sustainable native forestry industries are the most tightly regulated in the world under state and federal environmental laws," Mr Violante said.

"Every native forestry area in Australia is sustainably harvested and regenerated by law, ensuring no net loss of forest area.

"In fact, just six out of every 10,000 trees in Australia are harvested and then replaced for native forestry purposes. That's just 0.06pc of Australia's total native forest estate used annually for timber production, and then replaced."

Mr Violante said Australia's plantation estate is also carefully managed, with replanting occurring after harvest.

"Our plantations replant around 70 million trees annually, and this cycle is carefully managed to ensure we have enough timber for future generations," he said.

Lack of clarity

Queensland Resources Minister Scott Stewart said his department had not been consulted prior to the announcement.

While a spokesperson for the Northern Territory government said they were "working with our colleagues to understand the next steps and conserve forests and other terrestrial ecosystems and accelerate their restoration."

A spokesperson for the Western Australian government said the government supports Australia's participation in the COP26 deforestation pledge.

The WA government has committed to end native logging in 2024 and the Victorian government will phase out the practice by 2030.

"Earlier this year the McGowan government made the historic decision to end native logging in WA's south west forests by 2024," a WA government spokesperson said.

"As the first state in the country to end commercial logging of native forests, we are already leading the way in the fight against deforestation.

"We made this fundamental shift in how we manage our native forests because the sustainability and growth of our native forests is being undermined by climate change and it is vital that we preserve our forests to support regional communities, protect biodiversity, and safeguard important carbon sinks."

Australia's sustainable native forestry industries are the most tightly regulated in the world under state and federal environmental laws.

Victor Violante

However, Mr Violante said the global pledge recognises that Australia's forest industries are world leaders in sustainable native forestry management.

"It should signal to state governments, especially in WA and Victoria, that our local industries are the gold standard for how the rest of the world's forestry practices should operate, and that they should continue to operate," Mr Violante said.

The NSW, Victorian, South Australian and Tasmanian governments were contacted for comment.

This story What the deforestation pledge means for Australian agriculture first appeared on Farm Online.