Forests, Carbon and Climate in Victoria

This post brings together quotes from the latest reports to help value our forests for the carbon they represent if protected from logging operations.

We need our huge carbon sinks left standing in our old forests and we need to draw down more atmospheric carbon into vegetation. And we can use the Victorian Government’s own expert panel report to make this point!

Victoria is at the forefront nationally of action on climate change, but to date this has focused primarily on reducing Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions via replacement of fossil fuels with renewables in the generation of electricity.

Scientists are also strongly advocating that we link the management of forests and other wood reserves or tree-based resources with reducing Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions. The outcomes of the recent Combet report (2019), Climate Change: Reducing Victoria’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions, puts the two together directly, and it suggests ways in which forest management and afforestation/reforestation can be included as part of Victoria’s strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting forests and water supplies, and providing just transition for workers and industries in decline.

Our Forests are precious Carbon Sinks

For emissions reduction in Victoria, the Combet report points out (pg 9) that “… decarbonising electricity generation is by far the largest opportunity.. [and] There are also opportunities to substantially increase the carbon sink provided by Victoria’s land sector …”

Pg 10. “The next largest opportunity (beyond electricity generation) is Victoria’s land sector with significant potential to increase the carbon sink from on farm forestry and changes in forest management on public land. Unlocking this opportunity is highly dependent on strong policy action.”

Pg 6. “The Panel strongly encourages the Victorian Government to work with affected communities to develop clear plans and measures to support local economic transition. The Panel and many stakeholders participating in the Panel’s public consultation process identified the Latrobe Valley community as a key focus for government support, as the coal-fired power stations that have been a foundation of the region’s economy reach the end of their operating lives.”

It is worth noting that the La Trobe Valley is also key to the question of native forest logging in the Victorian Central Highlands. So a government auspiced transition plan for the La Trobe valley arguably should include transition for workers in forest-based industries in the region.

The Combet report makes extensive reference to the opportunities that rethinking native forest management can make towards Victoria’s carbon emissions reduction.

For example, on pg. 33 “The Panel believes that the IPCC special report on 1.5°C of warming points both to the need to start reducing emissions as quickly as possible, and to the importance of investigating options to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This could involve supporting research and development for carbon dioxide removal technologies and, more immediately, developing policies to support increased emissions sequestration through reforestation and forest management, where appropriate, alongside other policy priorities such as biodiversity protection, water, food production and regional jobs and economic development.”

Transition, Skills Transfer and Regeneration

A major independent report: Great Forest National Park: An Economic Boon by the Nous economic evaluation group clearly contrasts the minimal value of continued logging against those of preserving forests and creating a Great Forest National Park.

Skills training required for existing native forest workers for this type of shift will depend on how the protection and enhancement of native forests is framed. If the frame is primarily around creation of national parks for recreation, there will be jobs, with appropriate skills training, for those building tracks and trails, and maintain these, those managing fire, and interpretive services. If the frame is widened to include protection, management and re-afforestation areas for a combination of carbon capture, water production, and biodiversity protection per se, as well as for tourism, then the likelihood of transfer and re-purposing of existing skills is likely to be much larger.

Transfer of workers from native forest harvesting to plantation type industries, for wood production, and for carbon capture and biodiversity enhancement (for example on private land and in existing plantation-oriented holding) is likely to require mapping of new areas some skills training, but not extensive.

A recent report, Socio-economic impacts of the forest industry by University of Canberra for Forest and Wood Products Australia concludes (pg 50): “Businesses operating in different forest types (softwood plantations, hardwood plantations and native forests) reported similar skill requirements in many competency areas … [with] some exceptions …”

Transfer of workers to jobs repairing native forest areas, primarily for carbon sequestration, in combination with biodiversity protection, would probably generate some or even many jobs that could also allow reasonably easy transition from existing logging jobs.

In addition, there are examples of where diversified on-farm development can combine with other farm-related activities to reverse carbon emissions and enhance biodiversity at the same time. In the La Trobe Valley there is now strong emphasis on a just transition for the existing coal-oriented workforce – for example, see the report, Moving beyond ‘Just Transition’ towards transformation from Environment Victoria.

A similar approach could be applied to those working in the existing native forest logging industry, and with good planning this could be folded in to the existing La Trobe Valley transition plans. This work could be facilitated by a future State Labor Government having a focus on skills training, transfer and regeneration, via the revitalization of the Technical and Further Education (TAFE) and Higher Education systems.