World Rainforest Movement

Australia: “carbon sink” plantations invade Tasmania

The expansion of tree monocultures in Tasmania -which is paradoxically the centre of origin of Eucalyptus globulus, one of the most widely used species for establishing monocultures throughout the world- under the Clean Development Mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol is provoking widespread concern in Australia.

The Federal Government’s “Plantation 2020 Vision” programme is aimed at establishing 650,000 hectares of tree plantations in Tasmania over the next twenty years. Federal and State governments in Australia have adopted a market-oriented viewpoint, according to which carbon can be sequestered in tree plantations that will be logged at a later stage for corporate profit. Not only does the National Forestry Policy promote vast tree monocultures, but it is also encouraging deforestation to give place to such plantations, with all the negative environmental impacts that this substitution implies both at the local and the global levels. The potential of old growth forests as reservoirs of large amounts of carbon are completely ignored. Instead, logging has intensified in several parts of the southern island of Tasmania, where native eucalyptus forests are being destroyed. At the same time, opposition to plantations is increasing, even under the form of radical actions such as arson and uprootings. Opposition to plantations has moved beyond the environmental sector and now includes a significant part of the rural community, particularly dairy farmers and local councils. For example, the “Communities Over Plantations” group, recently created in the north of the state, constitutes a pressure group basically composed of traditional rural community members. Dairy farmers oppose plantations because of the devaluation of properties adjoining tree plots and the social isolation caused by wall to wall plantations located in the middle of once-thriving rural communities. Additionally, county administrations have to deal with the loss of revenues from taxes resulting from the substitution of agricultural activities by tree plantations (see WRM Bulletin 26).

Major actors in this carbon sink plantation process are not even Australian companies (see WRM Bulletin 15). For example, the Tokyo Electric Power Corporation (TEPCO) -part of the Mitsubishi corporate empire- established a joint venture with North Ltd to establish over 23,000 hectares of tree farms on agricultural land. This is also the case in Victoria, where a US life insurance company, John Hancock, now owns 150,000 hectares of tree plantations.

The Australian NGO Native Forests Network is advocating for the adoption of more effective, realistic and non destructive practices to face the increase of carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. One of them is to stop the wasteful practice of clearfelling and burning native forests for low-value products such as woodchips. In addition to the massive amounts of carbon that are released through the initial logging of forests and subsequent so-called regeneration burning, woodchips themselves are converted into disposable commodities -such as paper- that are quickly destroyed, thus contributing to increased carbon emissions in a short space of time. A far better response to increased atmospheric carbon pollution is to maintain native forests standing in their respective sites, and promote the restoration of existing cleared or degraded forests. In the same line, the Australian Green Party has denounced that this is but a shortcut of the government to avoid addressing the necessary reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, while Greenpeace Australia considers that the Federal Government should be focusing on renewable energy and take action to cut emissions, rather than trying to reduce their effects.

Article based on information from: Adam Burling, Native Forests Network, Tasmania, 5/5/2000; “Greenpeace fights tree-planting scheme”, Australian Broadcasting Company, April 17, 2000;